My lovely friend Emma and I met at university when we stayed in the same hall of residence and rapidly bonded over a shared interest in food (combining Oreos, peanut butter and bananas; dyeing water green; and baking and eating Presidential cookies all featured) and TV (Veronica Mars especially). (There was more to it than that, but you get the idea). Emma is originally from the US but now lives in Tbilisi, Georgia, and writes the fabulously informative blog Cookies and the Caucasus, which is a must-read if you are planning a trip to Georgia (her post on how to have the iconic Georgian dinner out is an excellent start). She kindly agreed to open her fridge door for this series (first post here).
Who do you cook for?
I cook for myself, and about half the time my boyfriend eats with me. I like cooking for others, too, but I usually do that at friends’ houses, because my flat is small (the kitchen is good-sized, but it takes up half the flat).
Do you have a cooking philosophy or approach of any kind?
I try to cook one big dish on the weekend that will keep throughout the week for lunches to bring to work and quick dinners, so that tends to be a stew/curry or a salad. I often wind up working around one ingredient, either something Georgian that I don’t know and want to explore, or something non-Georgian that I’m so excited to see that I snap it up first and figure out what to do with it later. I don’t like touching raw meat, so I don’t cook a lot of meat. Sometimes I’ll buy a rotisserie chicken, or raw meat pre-cut into the necessary shape so I can just throw it into the pan.
Where do you buy your groceries?
Mostly at the grocery store across the street from my house (it’s called Universami) and at the grocery store across the street from my friend’s house (Furshet). I also stop at the fruit and vegetable stand on my way home if I’ll be cooking, or if I have time to wash and cut something for the next few days. I make it to the Carrefour Hypermarket about once a month, where I can get more specialty ingredients.
Tell us a little bit about your kitchen. Is it minimal or cluttered?
I rented the place furnished, so I can’t take any credit for the kitchen. It’s recently renovated, so the cupboards are quite nice. Sadly, though, the oven doesn’t work, only 3/4 of the burners on the cooker turn on, and I was in the flat for 2 and a half months before I got a fridge…so you could say it’s minimal.
What’s in your fridge?
I just got back from my post-paycheck grocery shopping spree, so my fridge is quite full right now. I’ve got a lot of condiments–I like to keep both the Georgian and American basics around, and I also like to make curries and stir fries, so I have the basics for those, too. Summer produce season is in full swing–you can see mulberries, blueberries, lettuce, and ekala (it’s, like, a twig…the scientific name is Smilax excelsa) [Ed: sarsparilla is part of the same family]. I’ve also got herbs and a big head of broccoli in the veg drawer, in addition to the stuff not in the fridge.
What are the three most useful ingredients in your kitchen (and why)?
Garlic, olive oil….I can’t think of a third that’s at the same level. I’ll eat pretty much anything with garlic and olive oil on it. I suppose salt is necessary for the garlic and olive oil to do their magic, so that’ll be number 3.
Is anything currently missing from your fridge?
Like I said before, it’s fuller than usual as I just got back from shopping. I realized when I got home that I had forgotten to put parmesan on my list, so that’s missing. Usually all those ingredients would be turned into dishes, and there would be stacks of containers in the fridge. That’s the plan for this evening.
What treats do you keep in your fridge (or cupboards)?
I don’t really keep treats around…I make myself walk to the store if I have a craving. I always have tea, which is comforting, so I guess it can fill the “treat” slot.
What foods were always in the house when you were growing up?
Fruit, lots of varieties of cheese, tortillas
What three gadgets or tools are most important/helpful for you when cooking?
I only have three gadgets: an immersion blender, a WonderBag, and a julienne peeler. They’re all fairly new to me, and have really expanded my repertoire!
If you had to make yourself a meal with the food in your fridge (and pantry) right now, without going to the shops, what would you make?
I’m going to make some pkhali (Georgian vegetable puree) this evening, so I’ve got the ingredients for that. The obvious dinner is to cook up those ravioli, and I’m sure I’ve got pesto in the fridge somewhere. I’ve also got lovely tomatoes. But more in line with the spirit of the question, I’d make an herb omelette, as I have lots of herbs lingering in my vegetable drawer, and I always have eggs. The cheese I have, smoked sulguni, wouldn’t be my first choice for an omelette, but in a pinch I think it would be fine.
When there really is nothing in your fridge, where do you go out to eat?
Khachapuri, preferably adjaruli, but whatever’s hot at the local bakery will suffice. If I’m too lazy to cook, I’m usually also too lazy to go anywhere, but I want to give a shout-out to our embattled Kiwi Cafe. Often when I go there to meet friends, I’ll get a dish or two takeaway to preempt running out of food in the fridge, because they cook the kind of things I like to cook, it just saves me some effort.