Cooking with friends (without a fight)

Q. Too many recipes don’t take into consideration the differences between stoves. When a recipe tells you to sauté something over “medium” or “medium-high” heat, what does that really mean?

A. It means to sauté over medium or medium-high heat, but I hear you. Stoves are instruments. Recipes are sheet music. Words like “medium” or “medium-high” are not precise. They are better understood as analogues of the dynamic markings used in musical notation — “medium” is essentially music’s mezzo, a composer’s instruction, to be interpreted by the artist playing the piece. The best recipes accompany their instructions with explanations: say, to cook the ingredient over medium heat, “until it is lightly browned and just beginning to soften.”

Regardless, use your judgment. If you sauté something over low heat, you’re probably just softening it or, in the language of cooking, “sweating it.” If you’re sautéing over high heat, you’re probably pan-frying it and will want the ingredients to jump around in the pan. (Sauté, from the French verb sauter: to jump.) If you’re sautéing over medium or medium-high heat, you’re doing a little of both, cooking purposefully, making it good.

Q. Can men cook together on equal footing? Or does there have to be a clear hierarchy, like on a boat or a movie set? I get that chef means chief in French, but can two or three men join together to prepare a meal in a collaborative manner (not reality TV contest-style) without (human) blood being spilled?

A. Bro. Of course. You handle the chicken, and I’ll do the potatoes, and Gunther there will knock out that salad he always makes. Dinner is served. Of course, it is not always so simple. Control freakiness is endemic to kitchens in general and male-dominated ones in particular. Some cooks, both male and female, prefer to work alone or in ways that allow the accrual of success to flow mostly, if not entirely, to themselves. And dudes don’t like to talk about that, ever.

So the best thing to do, if the kitchen is not your own, is to ask questions: Would it be helpful if I made the potatoes or the salad or if I manned the grill? (If the answer is no, back away.) In your own kitchen, the best thing to do if you’re cooking with friends is to man up and ask for help: Could you make the green beans, Serge? Because communication — while really difficult for fellows to master — is the key to collaborative kitchen joy.

Q. Once and for all, what does “blanch” refer to? Is it the act of plunging in boiling water and then plunging in ice water? Or is it just the boiling water part, and the ice water is not necessary in all applications?

A. The “Larousse Gastronomique,” first published in 1938 and one of the holy books of the culinary trade, defines blanching as the act of lightly cooking raw ingredients in boiling water and then either refreshing them in cold water or simply draining them and cooking them normally.

That said, the blanch-and-refresh method is awesome, as you’ll discover if you try your hand at this recipe for Venetian cauliflower, by David Tanis of The New York Times. Get cooking!

RECIPE

Venetian Cauliflower

Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 cauliflower, about 1 1/2 pounds

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

Pinch of saffron, crumbled

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1/4 cup currants

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Directions

1. Cut cauliflower in half from top to bottom, then remove the core. With a paring knife, cut into very small florets of equal size. Blanch florets in boiling water for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water and drain.

2. Put olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add saffron, cinnamon, fennel seeds, coriander seeds and red pepper. Season well with salt and pepper.

3. Add lemon zest, currants, raisins and cauliflower florets. Toss with wooden spoons to distribute. Cover with a lid and cook for about 5 minutes more, until cauliflower is tender. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with pine nuts and parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.