I watch a lot of food based reality TV. I’m hooked on Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, and just about anything on Food Network. On Top Chef, a popular challenge, usually either at the beginning or the very end, is to make a dish or meal that represents who they are, on a plate. Every time I watch that, “TACOS!” is the first thing that comes to mind. But I’m pretty sure that’s just because I love tacos…not because they actually represent me on a plate. Sometimes they are asked to make a dish that recreates their first food memory. I don’t really know what my first food memory is; although, my mom will tell you that every day when I was little, the first words out of my mouth were, “mama, I’m hungry.” I guess not much has really changed. 🙂
It’s hard to pinpoint when I really started enjoying cooking and having enough confidence to improvise recipes and create dishes based on taste rather than a recipe. I do, however, have a lot of cooks around me who have inspired and taught me along the way. My dad is a huge influence. My step-mother likes to say that he’d feed the world if he could find a big enough table. I feel that way often. I love to cook for other people! I’m always calling my dad with culinary questions and asking his opinion about substitutions and such. My lasagna recipe came from my step-mother who is also quite competent in the kitchen. In some ways, she’s a very different kind of cook than my dad so it’s good to see variety. She’s not so much about spice which he is. I’m definitely about spice. I picked up some tips and tricks from my former step-father – including knowing that I do not care for cooking in vats of bacon grease. A bit of bacon grease certainly can enhance a dish, but whallops of spoonfuls just makes my insides quake in fear. I did learn from him how to defrost beef pretty quickly and how to hold produce when I’m slicing it. Even though I don’t actually know them, I count many of the Food Network personalities as teachers…especially Alton Brown and Rachael Ray. That’s not an exhaustive list, but it is some of the major players.
Some of my favorite things to make are: all things Mexican, lasagna, bruschetta/caprese salad, cheese fondue, pesto shrimp, tilapia tacos or tilapia with flax seed, soups – particularly tomato basil, quiche, and peanut butter-chocolate brownies. Some things I won’t ever cook with include: mushrooms, yellow squash, collard greens, mushrooms, beets, tofu, turkey bacon, and mushrooms. I also don’t ever want to eat those things.
I’m always interested in learning about the chemistry of food as well. What is it that salt does that makes things taste better? Why on earth does everyone put salt and pepper on practically everything?? (Frequently before tasting it too!) How do sugar, fat, and salt work together to make a dish palatable? Why is it that I can substitute applesauce for butter and it comes out just fine? Can I do 100% substitution or is there a breaking point? What else can be successfully substituted for butter/oil or other ingredients? I just like knowing how it all works out together. It’s very fascinating to me.
Lately I’m into pairing flavors well and figuring out how to cook for two when two have reasonably different palates. He likes brussel sprouts and hot dogs. I like nuts and strawberries. We both like Mexican! It’s a journey. 🙂 My mom gave me The Flavor Bible which is the most amazing book. Go order it right now and come back. I am enjoying this book as it teaches me about flavors and even the tone of food. It’s very fascinating how it all comes together for a delicious meal!