Cooking with inspiration

Kysha Harris | 10/12/2012, 4:25 p.m.

I was invited for another fun-filled weekend at my friends Lisa and Doug's house in the country. My first visit was toward the latter part of the summer, when we could sit on the deck, grill and watch the sun set. I remember fresh-made blueberry muffins in the morning, grilled swordfish with garden vegetables for dinner and grilled stone fruit for dessert.

Fast forward to mid-January, after the major snowstorm when the deck was covered in an eighteen-inch thick blanket of white and a venture out of the house took much discussion. There was a general theme to the weekend's menu: Warm comfort food--satisfying deliciousness.

As per usual, Lisa and I menu-planned to see what the other was thinking and to check the supplies for the lone grocery-shopping day. We decided there had to be a hearty breakfast, piping hot soup, a comforting casserole, a hearty stew and we could summon our strength to venture out for a meal too. As always I brought a few food items for inspiration and to surprise my hosts with later on. Turns out she had some inspiration of her own too...

First up, the rib-sticking breakfast. The star of the show? Grits. Lisa recounted a story of being out of town having breakfast and becoming so taken with the grits that she had to ask the waitress what was in it. The answer: "Heavy cream, honey!" And so it goes...All I could do to keep up with her was to make some salmon cakes. Do I really need to discuss how painfully good those grits were? Well, I won't do it! No!

Moving along in the weekend menu was a casserole of pasta, Gruyere cheese and sweet and hot Italian sausage. It wasn't my best, probably because I was rationing the cheese as its real destiny was French onion soup later in the weekend.

On the same day we decided to brave the weather and head out for lunch and a movie. We went to one of Lisa's favorites, Rubi's. It was steamy in the cafe and bustling with bundled-up patrons. Lisa knew exactly what she was going to get--the tuna melt. Turns out I knew too. It was their Cuban sandwich--porchetta (slow roasted pork), roasted prosciutto, cornichons, Asagio cheese and hot mustard on a baguette.

I know our country is forming a new relationship with Cuba, so we should not tell them that this Italian-style sandwich was better than any Cuban sandwich I have eaten before. In fact, the mustard was so unique and flavorful I had to ask how it was made. My earnestness paid off, as they gave me the recipe.

On our last night we made chicken and dumplings using just two chicken breasts that we marinated and roasted on the bone. While that was happening, I made the base using a mirepoix (carrot, onion and celery), garlic, herbs and chicken broth and Lisa made the dumpling batter of cornmeal, flour, herbs and (she did it again) heavy cream.