The Best Meal I Never Did Cook

The back door was propped open, but the wind just didn't want to push through the screen and offer relief on this warmer-than-average day in mid-June. Wait, hold that thought. It wasn't warm, it was hot and downright sticky like high noon in August, a classic summer day in D.C., and my jangled nerves only contributed to the sweat trickling down the small of my back.

There was a man coming for dinner, and I liked him. Shucks, just a few days earlier, I gave him a piece of my fried chicken, so I knew I wasn't imagining this thing I was feeling. But girl, it was all wrong. The boxes in the front part of the house, stacked on top of one another to the ceiling and waiting for their overseas shipping labels, told a different story. I was about to leave the country. And get married.

He wasn't exactly walking on solid ground, either, separated from his wife, wounded, cynical and considering the emotional salvation of a big-screen television and leather couch in a nondescript high-rise studio.

This wasn't supposed to happen. Let's just chalk it up to a harmless flirtation, a nice life-is-wonderful passing interlude and be on our way, shall we?

But I pressed on, and there were bananas and mangoes to prep, and the time was ticking much more quickly than I expected. Did I have time for a quick rinse in the shower? I poured a rum and tossed it back quickly.

He would be here in 20 minutes. I scanned my mise en place, and everything was indeed in place. (Well, everything in the kitchen.)

The sky began to darken, a sign that Mother Nature would soon offer some relief from the sultry heat, and then I heard the knock on the door.

There he was, looking as nervous and excited as I felt, and I pecked him on the cheek, leading him into the kitchen where I fixed him a drink, a Mount Gay and tonic with lime.

The sky began to rumble, and there was some nervous banter about the impending storm as he found a seat on the stool next to my work table. He asked about the ingredients lined up in their various prep bowls, and I obliged, giving him an overview of the dish I was about to prepare, but omitting the part about how it was kind of a test, to gauge his reaction not only to my cooking, but to the food of my heart. He had passed the fried chicken test, and now it was time for the mango, one of my top three all-time favorite foods (and, in my opinon, the secret to world peace). It would be a sultry melange of flavors, an island kind of thing, with bananas, rum, the heat of chiles and of course, the mango. If he didn't get this dish, I thought, he might not last, and then of course, I'd have my escape hatch and my steeple of boxes destined for the other side of the world and my so-called new life.

We slurped on our drinks, looking at each other tentatively,sizing the other up, and I remember ice clinking, and the wind picking up gusto, finally making its way indoors. I think I leaned in and kissed him first, but he'd probably argue it was the other way around.

Thunder and lightning ensued, literally and interbody-galatically. The mango-banana chicken would just have to wait. It would become one of the finest meals I never did cook.

And mango-banana chicken guy? Well, I decided he could stick around. And I decided to stick around, too.

Share your tales of romantic cooked (and uncooked) feasts in the comments below. The famous yet-to-be cooked chicken recipe follows, below the jump. One last thing: Happy Valentine's Day.

Indies-Style Chicken With Mango, Bananas, Coffee Beans and Rum
From "Chicken" by Elaine Corn


1 large, ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic - about 3-4 cloves
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 bananas, peeled and sliced
1 mango
2 whole (attached, heart-shaped) boneless chicken breasts, skin on (alternatively, 4 unattached breast halves)
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 cinnamon stick
1teaspoon dark-roast coffee beans (9 or 10)
2 tablespoons dark or light molasses or brown sugar
1/3 cup rum
1/2 cup Kahlua or other coffee flavored liqueur (KOD note: I found this be optional; don't sweat it if you don't have any on hand or don't feel like spending the money)
fresh cilantro and/or basil leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a bowl, combine tomato, onion, garlic, jalapeno and bananas. Set aside.

Peel, pet and dice the mango and place in another bowl.

Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels.

In a shallow bowl, mix together flour, salt, allspice and both peppers. Dredge chicken in seasoned flour, shaking off excess.

Melt butter in a large heavy ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken, skin side down and sauté, turning once, until well browned, 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove and reserve on a plate.

Add tomato-banana mixture, cinnamon stick and coffee beans to the pan and cook over medium heat about five minutes. Stir in molasses or sugar.

Increase heat to high, add rum and ignite with a match. When flame dies out, add mango, return chicken to the pan and spoon sauce over the pieces. Cover, transfer to the oven and bake until cooked through, 10-15 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a cutting board to catch juices. Return juices to sauté pan and bring remaining juices up to a boil for about 30 seconds to thicken.

Add the Kahlua and stir. Remove sauce from the heat; it should be thick and bananas will be broken up.

Slice chicken on diagonal and top with sauce. Serve with rice. Makes four servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 14, 2008; 10:51 AM ET Kitchen Musings , Valentine's Day
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

"Pet" the mango, Kim? hee hee.

Posted by: Washington, DC | February 14, 2008 12:34 PM

*This* is great storytelling...

Posted by: Rose | February 14, 2008 1:44 PM

what became of overseas-guy?

Posted by: wow! | February 14, 2008 1:51 PM

Kim, may we nominate you for Ms. Liz's Thursday List? I know that this isn't exactly a movie, but it's very romantic...

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | February 14, 2008 1:58 PM

Wow. That is a great short story.

Posted by: md | February 14, 2008 2:05 PM

Sorry, Kim.... We have a HUGE difference of opinion. There's only ONE way to eat mango: Thai style, with sticky rice, laced with coconut cream.

Best mangoes? In India, Alfonsos are reckoned the best. I'm not particularly enthusiastic about the Hayden, the most common mango here in Hawaii, but the Golden Glow (a cross created I think by Dr Yee) is delish. The mangoes most to my taste were in Singapore (from Pakistan, I was told) and in Bangkok. Mangoes with a round cross-section rarely please me. I prefer the yellow varieties with a flattish cross section (the Filipina produce sellers at Maui Mall Shopping Center often have this style of mango, brought in from Mexico. I would expect them to be available in your neck of the woods.

My alltime favourite fruit: Lychees aka Instant Sex. Try them in a sweetsour chicken stirfry. I first had them this way in SF Chinatown aeons ago. Unforgettable.

Posted by: David Lewiston | February 14, 2008 2:26 PM

The day Matthew Shepard died, I decided being Out wasn't enough and found a local LGBT group that does a lot of community service work. At my first event (a happy hour to introduce new members) I met Dave. On our first date, I went to his place to make dinner for two... I had to bring tools and stuff as his kitchen was BARE. That was more than 9 year

Posted by: Dennis in Arlington | February 14, 2008 4:49 PM

part 2... and I've been cooking him dinner ever since.

Posted by: Dennis in Arlington | February 14, 2008 6:42 PM

wherefore the Kahlua??

Posted by: spence | February 16, 2008 12:41 AM

Spence, thanks for the catch. You add it at the end after you've removed the chicken and you've just brought sauce up to a boil. I'll add these notes in the recipe right now. And by the way, if you don't add the Kahlua, it's okay. The dish is still tasty (yes, I've actually made it before!)

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 16, 2008 10:31 AM

There's only one way to cook with mango? That's like saying there's only one way to make love!

Mango salsa. Moosewood has a terrific recipe.

Mango pudding (also a Thai recipe I think). Mango, condensed milk, sugar. Yumm!!!

The Post had a sensational mango and shrimp with basil recipe a few months ago.

And, of course, the straight stuff. I remember my favorite restaurant in Sheffield, England, when the fresh mangos came into season. Cut in half and cross-hatched. Heaven!


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 19, 2008 11:28 PM

BB, I agree with you. The mango is but a muse and it inspires all kinds of creativity. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 20, 2008 7:56 AM

Congratulations on your anniversary. This is a great piece of writing - as all of yours are. I hope you and Mr. M A have many wonderful years together.

Posted by: Newton | February 20, 2008 8:06 PM

Nice to read the FULL story. You didn't tell us about the dinner! I am drinking Costa Rican coffee, freshly ground, as I read this.
Lots of love,

Posted by: Your Pura Vida pal, Jacqueline | February 25, 2008 8:40 AM

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