Just Because

JustBecause350Between Three Many Cooks, book projects, and my USA Weekend column, I rarely get to cook on a whim. Last week was different.

I get a call from my friend Ray Ryan who’s caught a fourteen-pound striped bass off Montauk, Long Island. Did I want any? Is Ina Garten the Barefoot Contessa?

Early Monday morning Ray dropped off a gallon Ziplock bag of pristine boneless, skinless striped bass fillets. Maggy, Andy, David, and I had planned to go out for cheap Greek on Tuesday night, but with Ray’s gift in my fridge we happily changed plans.

If I had thoughtlessly picked up striped bass up at grocery store, I wouldn’t have given its cooking much thought. But this fish was different. I knew the person who caught it. In which waters. I wanted to make something special.

Food Network’s Roasted Striped Bass was near the top of my Google search. I checked the ingredient list. Except for a few shrimp and mussels, I had everything. Plus it wasn’t anything I would have thought to make. Added bonus: it was simple—make interesting tomato sauce, pour over seafood, bake.  Before heading into the city, I gather ingredients and make a quick stop at the fish store.

It was an unseasonably warm late-fall evening in New York, but as we casually ate our meal I could have sworn we were in some chic Mediterranean high-rise. The oven roast was superb—more a thick bouillabaisse-y stew—made special with Ray’s fresh Long Island striped bass.

The same Monday Ray dropped off his fish, I walking past the cranberries at the grocery store and got a sudden urge to make Maggy’s cranberry bread for friend Julie Potter who has given our family more loaves of pumpkin bread over the years—plus her recipe—than I could ever repay.

As I hand Julie my cranberry bread, she’s got something for me too—a large sachet of incredibly fragrant Hungarian paprika she brought back from her recent trip to Budapest.

I feel the urge again. I have to (want to!) make something from her paprika. I check the freezer. I’ve got boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs for Chicken Paprika. Except for sour cream I’ve got the rest of the ingredients too.  It’s meatless today. I wait.

Later in the week it’s time to start making dinner. There are plenty of recipes I should make, there’s plenty in the fridge I should eat. I want none of it. I make Chicken Paprika instead, which turned out especially well—partly because it was inspired by a gift, but mostly because I got to make it… just because.

6 Comments

  1. says

    I never really understood the “just because” cooking moment until I worked with you on Meatless Mondays. We would always have so much leftover food from testing or making things for the blog, it never made sense to cook anything. But you know, sometimes you just have to cook something for the love of it. Everything else can wait…or be frozen :)

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