I was set to cook dinner Sunday night for a couple of friends and my wife: a stir-fry of beef, Napa cabbage, onions, garlic, and ginger, dressed with coconut-peanut sauce, served over noodles. I was winging it, working off who-knows-what past kitchen escapades and the knowledge that the presumed eaters didn't have any dietary restrictions or pronounced proclivities.
"Is that coconut milk?" one friend asked, nodding to a can as he did a kitchen fly-by.
"Yup," I said.
"We're not big fans," he said. "Go easy if you can."
Uh oh. I spent a few moments weighing various ratios that might mute the coconut, considering alternate sauce permutations, and finally deciding to forge ahead. My thinking: The sauce would be served on the side, so diners could spoon it on to taste -- or not at all. So, into a small pot to simmer went the entire can of coconut milk ("Bad friend!" my superego scolded my kitchen id), about a half cup of creamy peanut butter, big glug of oyster sauce, splash of rice vinegar, plus a few shakes of cumin and cayenne pepper.
Thirty minutes later, I invited my friend for a taste, warning lightly that I'd opted for the full coconut experience. He sampled from the spoon while I hedged that he could forgo the sauce entirely if its flavor profile floundered... "It's way more peanut than coconut," he said. "I like it. It's delicious."
His wife agreed. They both smiled with satisfaction, I with relief.