Majority of the time I strive to do the healthy thing. Remember I’m an active member of #teamhauteandhealthy, right? But every once in a while it’s OK to have a “Cheat Day.”
The other day just so happened to be that day for me.
I decided to take a cooking lesson after hanging out with my long time friend and culinary novice, Jessica. So as she whipped up one of her favorite recipes, “Bistec en Salsa y Arroz con Gandules,” I took some notes.
Some cook to order while others cook to impress. But for Jessica Council cooking is about satiating appetites and overcoming insecurities. When the timer rings all that matters is the finished product – both on her plate and within.
It’s rare I find myself speechless. But it was hard to find words as the aroma from Jessica’s cooking invaded my nostrils. I felt like a dog salivating in eager anticipation for its next meal as she greased a large skillet with vegetable oil, but this was only just the beginning.
I watched intently as she chopped cubed steak that had marinated in signature Hispanic seasonings like sazón and adobo among many others. Bistec en Salsa y Arroz con Gandules was on tonight’s menu and I couldn’t wait for it to be done. I checked my iPhone again. We still had over an hour left.
Jessica began placing the steak delicately into the skillet. As she poured, added, and stirred other essential ingredients, I couldn’t help but notice how serious her facial expressions would get at times. She wanted and had to have everything turn out perfect. I could tell she wanted to impress me by making such an intricate meal but it was more about proving to herself that she truly could cook, not for self or for family but an outsider.
“I can be very insecure about my food and reluctant to serve it to other people but it always makes me smile when they tell me that they like it and it encourages me to keep trying,” she tells me. “Cooking is a time for me to be by myself and do what I want, with little to no influence from other people. When I cook I don’t usually like help, I like to be alone.”
We continued to talk as Jessica tossed in peppers and onions and mixed in a can of tomato sauce. I was worried some would splash on my clothes but she reassured me with her quiet confidence that she knew what she was doing. She covered the pan and allowed the meat to simmer before starting on the rice. By then I could only hope that she hadn’t heard my stomach’s growls.
I learned that cooking is one of her many hobbies and how Hispanic culture has played a role in her meal selections. “Growing up, I lived in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood so that influenced the seasonings that were in my cabinet and the foods that we cooked. We had a lot of Goya products…they accentuate Hispanic foods,” she says. She informed me of her “affinity for bachata music” and spoke knowledgably about Hispanic seasonings and cooking techniques as she added sofrito, pigeon peas, minced garlic, and a bay leaf to her rice. Jessica checked her simmering steak and told me that the meal she was preparing was her all time favorite to make.
After everything was finished Jessica plated pieces of juicy steak atop a neat bed of rice for me. Right then I remembered her words that the optimal dish is both “savory and satisfying.”
Of course I didn’t hesitate to find out.