My friend once asked, “I want to do something special for this guy I’m seeing but I don’t have a big budget…what should I do?” She rejected my ideas for cooking a special meal, or making a dessert for him. She confessed that she was totally inept in the kitchen and had never even attempted to make anything before. I was kind of stumped after that, realizing that making food for someone has always been my go-to special gesture.
There’s nothing like saying “hey, I care about you” by feeding and providing nourishment to another person. Even back when I didn’t know how to cook, I would figure out a way to make something edible. The first time I wanted to make a special treat for my boyfriend, who loves eclairs, I found a Paula Deen recipe for Eclair Cake. It’s an idiot-proof no-bake recipe that basically only requires you to assemble a bunch of pre-made processed foods. But it was delicious and he loved it anyway.
The eclair has made many recurring appearances in our relationship since then. It’s what I make for special occasions, or to brighten those gloomy days. Now that I’m slightly more confident in the kitchen, and way more freaked out by processed food, I decided to step up my eclair cake game for the boyfriend’s 30th birthday. I came across a recipe on The Kitchn for No-Bake Boston Cream Pie Strata. It looked and sounded a lot like the eclair cake, except you know, made out of real food, so I thought it would make a lovely substitution.
The custard tasted real, and the chocolate frosting was perfect. I could never quite find a brand of chocolate frosting I liked, and now it looks like I won’t ever have to. The only thing I wish I had time to do was to make the graham crackers from scratch too. Maybe next time.
But there’s only so much birthday cake one can eat. I thought it would be more meaningful to make him enough of his favorite food so that he wouldn’t need to cook at all during his birthday weekend. And that food is lasagna. I’ve experimented with a few recipes. So far my favorite has been adapting an Ina Garten recipe with sweet Italian sausage instead of turkey, but I thought I’d try the Pioneer Woman’s lasagna recipe for a change. I love that her food is unpretentious, hearty, and scrumptious. I was also sold on the fact that she dared name her recipe THE BEST LASAGNA EVER.
I don’t know if it was the best ever, but it came pretty close. It was a simple non-fussy recipe, and I was skeptical of using cottage cheese instead of ricotta, but it came out great. The boyfriend loooooved it.
Sometimes you cook to feed hunger. Sometimes you cook to feed the soul.