For our past three Valentine's Days together (in three different Chicago apartments; that's real estate for ya!) my boyfriend and I have each made each other a surprise dish to impress each other with. This tradition is far from out of context: we both love food and we both love cooking, and we are lucky that we've been able to share a common hobby that indulges our competitive and creative sides. Over the years, we've shocked with mushroom bourginon, baked eggs, fancy braised roots and cashew cheese.
Breaking bread together is part of every important relationship I have. Some of my very best memories surround cooking with a dear family member, old or new, in the kitchen. There was the time my youngest sister and I made some dry gingerbread cookie mix I bought on sale at Urban Outfitters for $1. Those were some of the worst cookies we had ever had! But we still bring them up to this day. "Hey Abi, remember those cookies?" (she still calls me Abi from her baby days—isn't that cute? This year, we took the Holiday Cookie class at The Chopping Block together, to commemorate over a decade of baking together and had a blast while we made palmiers, thumbprints and other delights. We're hoping "remember those cookies" might mean a different memory after that, but we're not holding out.
Pictured: my little sister (left) and me (right)
Oh and there was that time in junior high that my best friends bought me a stuffed teddy bear with a heart on it because I talked about how much I hated those big poofy carnival bears as a gesture of teenage love. We spent our sleepover mixing together random ingredients in the kitchen with a spill of rainbow sprinkles. We dubbed it a rainbow loaf. Was it edible? No (that seems to be a theme here…) but we still bring it up all the time. "Remember when we used to make rainbow loaves?" as we cackle into the night in our grown up apartments.
Thanksgiving, 2009 (est.) My Veganomicon cookbook was already in tatters from me having read it so often. It was there I learned about the magic of roasted brussels sprouts. I'd always loved any vegetable and found this to be relatively momentous, but my dad? It was like he'd solved a mid-life crisis without the Yamaha hog! "Em, why don't you make some more of those brussels sprouts this year?" He asks around Thanksgiving and the spate of holidays that follow. My dad is a real meat and potatoes kinda guy, but now I guess, he's a Brussels sprouts kinda guy. This fall for his birthday—the kind where you actually open the AARP magazine instead of just subscribing to it—I took him to our Steakhouse DIY class. We made caesar salad, steak, and an apple crisp. My mom told me he wouldn't stop talking about how much he cooked for months afterward.
My other sister and I used to make "hot chocolate" when we were little. We would take old halloween candy bars and melt them in hot water from the bathroom sink. : / Our parents didn't help us, or stop us (they couldn't; we locked the door, again: cackling), but it's really the memory of them trying our creations—even when they looked majorly unappealing—that meant the most. Food is somewhere between sustenance, art, and craft, and at its most basic, it's a gesture of love. What could express love better, whether it be platonic, romantic or familial, then feeding someone so they can better enjoy the minute, hour, day or week ahead of them?
Working at The Chopping Block, I ask nearly every guest I work with if they cook at home a lot. Often they'll answer back "yes, but I'm not good." To this I say, who cares? If you're having fun and slowing down with loved ones and learning as you go, you're doing it right. And if it turns out terribly at least you'll have a good story to tell the pizza delivery person.
This Valentine's Day we've got some cooking classes that will avalanche you with chocolate and overdose you with romance. We've got family classes too! Even after the dust settles from Valentine's Day, we have a ton of classes for you to check out, no matter your skill level.