Some days it’s easier for me to say hello to a friend via the food I’m eating than it is to pick up the phone.
I spent half of yesterday getting ready for Take It Bake It, which is (gasp!) tonight. As I spread my six shallow metal pans out on the counter and began filling them with strawberry-rhubarb crisp, my mind wandered to Amanda, a friend from Cape Cod who once helped me make twelve dinners for six in a day. Packing up food this way always seems a little strange to me. The foil pans are little life rafts for the food, sailing what might otherwise be destined for waste into the freezer, where technology allows humans to press pause on their lifespan.
Last winter Amanda and I both worked from home, so we’d have lunch together every week or so, alternating houses. Once I showed up and she announced a recipe that struck me as . . . how do I put this delicately? A little . . . ghetto, maybe. She’d mixed equal parts cream cheese and mango salsa, slathered it onto salmon, and baked it. I was hesitant – it certainly wasn’t pretty – but when my fork reached my mouth, the tender, rich fish blended so well with the creamy, slightly spicy pink sauce. Every once in a while I find myself hankering after Amanda’s salmon.
Last night, after making 32 egg yolks’ worth of creme anglaise and folding the seven crisps into their little foil and plastic sleeping bags, I mixed a little cream cheese with peach salsa and piled it onto the swordfish steaks I found marked “sashimi” (really?) in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s. Even as I made it, I doubted it again. This is worse than cream of mushroom soup in a can, said someone in my brain. But it worked, again, and the utter speed of the whole operation made it taste even better.
I sat there thinking about Amanda all through dinner, about how her then 1-year-old learned her name and used it for a week straight to identify every noun and emotion that came to him, about how she puts brownies in s’mores, about the dill bread she’d make almost every time we had lunch in her kitchen, and about how she and her husband taught us how to play Speed Scrabble (which I just found out is also called Idaho Scrabble) . . . Then we dug out the end of a bag of chocolate chips and started eating them straight from the bag for dessert, just like she does. Why do I find this habit of hers so endearing?
It did eventually dawn on me that Amanda’s not eating much swordfish these days because she’s pregnant, but it didn’t matter. I was able to put my finger on why the recipes with the cheesiest, dorkiest names, those most often titled (Method) (Ingredient) (Person), are those we come back to again and again: these are the recipes that bring us the people we miss, no matter how far we feel from them. Baked Swordfish Amanda might not mean much to you. But to me, it means a night with a friend I might not see more than once a year.
Hello, Amanda. It was nice having dinner with you.
Recipe for Baked Swordfish Amanda
Recipe 120 of 365
I guess this is more of a method than a recipe; you simply mix equal parts salsa and cream cheese and spread it over a piece of fish. And I can’t take the credit, either. Amanda got the recipe from somewhere else, I think, but I’m not sure where.
TIME: 5 minutes active time, plus cooking fish
MAKES: 2 servings
2 (1/3 pound) swordfish steaks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup peach, mango, or pineapple salsa
1/4 cup cream cheese, softened (whipped cream cheese works fine)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the fish in a baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Mix the salsa and the cheese together in a small bowl with a fork until blended, and spread it over the top of the fish. Bake roughly 10 minutes per inch of thickness, 10 to 15 minutes for typical swordfish steaks. Serve immediately.
And the “big batch” recipes I made with Amanda, published in the April 2006 issue of Cape Cod Magazine: