This night was not about me bringing friends together, or about my food. This night, this dinner, was about family, old and new. On this night, the day after our country celebrated Independence Day, I held my second baby nephew in my arms for the first time, he looked at me with pure innocence and trust, and he slept. While I sat near others, it was a moment between the two of us, one that I will surely tell him about when he is much older. Even as I write this, the significance hits me, my eyes get a little cloudy, and I smile wistfully. It was a perfect moment for me and I wish it was something I could have more often.
This whole cooking thing and love for food is a relatively new phenomenon for me, something that I had not been able to share with most of my family. One day, my brother called me, said he would be bringing his family to southern Illinois, so I quickly volunteered to cook a dinner. In a way, all the meals for my friends were like practice for this special night. I had a 4 hour train ride to Quincy, IL, a small city right on the Mississippi River, so during the time I planned out the whole meal: watermelon gazpacho, Greek salad, lemon chicken pasta, grilled asparagus, and kabobs 3-ways. I planned for 15 people, so needless to say the grocery list was a little intimidating. Upon my arrival, I found my parents, gave a quick hug, and we were on our way to make a quick stop to see my brother, sister-in-law, and baby nephews. We had to maintain focus and go to the grocery store, arriving back to the kitchen with only a few hours to spare before serving up to 15 people a complete dinner. You should have seen my family come together, my brother chopping vegetables, my mom cleaning chicken, my dad boiling water and peeling vegetables, and me barking out orders, showing off my (lack of) knife skills, running from pot to pan to blender, trying to maintain an organized chaos based on my plans from the train ride.
The first two priorities were getting the meats in the marinades and preparing the gazpacho so it could chill. The gazpacho contained watermelon, cucumber, celery, tomatoes, red onion, green pepper, jalapeno, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and…I think that is it. Gazpacho, as with all recipes, is something to taste throughout and add what is needed. The jalapeno, for instance, did not give much heat, but it gave the kick the raw soup needed. Blend it all together, let it chill, good to go. Steak was marinated in red wine vinegar, olive oil, fresh thyme and rosemary, salt and pepper. Pork was marinated in a cajun seasoning blend my mom made, maple syrup, and garlic/onion powder. Chicken was marinated in a dijon honey mustard. Phew, all those parts were done.
Next up, Greek salad, recipe thanks to my incredible girlfriend. Tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, green peppers, feta, red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper, I did a very un-Greek thing and added iceberg lettuce to give the salad a body. Fresh and delicious, one of my favorite things to eat now.
The pasta has been explained in a previous post, so check out the link above. Asparagus was simply tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Kabobs were put together with red onions, red peppers, and the different meats. On a 100 degree day, I slaved over the grill, with beer in hand. Batch after batch of kabobs and asparagus was taken to the table and a clean tray was returned to me in minutes, time after time. The pork and steak were especially good, the quick marinates really gave great flavor.