My Love of Food & Cooking

I like watching “Mexico, One Plate at a Time,” hosted by Chef Rick Bayless. He seems to have a wonderful personality and life. I love the interaction between Rick and his daughter, when she is on the show. Through several years of episodes, you have seen a slightly pudgy girl grow into a slimmed down, pleasant young woman. I can only think that the young man who she turns her romantic attentions toward will be blessed. He will have to be a special person also.

Before the show came on this afternoon, it comes on our PBS station – UNC TV on Sundays, I had gotten off the couch to fix lunch. For some reason, I decided to fix some linguine, and mix it with the following, which I prepared on the stove top: a little olive oil, country sausage, onions, garlic, salad tomatoes, basil, Italian parsley, some tomato paste, salt, ground pepper & coriander, anise seed and a little sweetener (brown sugar). It all came together pretty quickly and had good flavor.

I like lime juice and use it quite often in both food and drinks. I had fresh limeade with my meal.  Compare Foods (a Hispanic grocery chain) sometimes sells fresh limes at 10 for $1.00. Even in the off season, Compare normally sells limes below any other local source.

Today Rick Bayless focused upon guacamole and it’s source, the avocado. I love the flavor and texture of avocados, but never had training in how to select them, other than the experience of buying ones that were “hard as rocks,” or “mushy with black flesh.”

As Rick progressed through the show, he repeatedly added fresh lime juice to almost all of the guacamole derivatives he created. He also used tomatillos, which he used both cooked (in the microwave for 3 minutes, and then pureed) and fresh (chopped in a blender) with lime juice in the same recipe.

Toward the end of the show, he showed how to select a ripe avocado. Look for the nub on the vine end. Apparently, if it is missing, the flesh around that end will probably be blackened. If pressing on the opposite end of the fruit (?) causes it to compress easily, then it will most likely provide a beautiful green flesh.

For most of my life, I rarely went beyond cooking hamburgers on the stove, boiling eggs for breakfast in a pot, or fixing rice and adding butter or margarine to it. Seasoning was with Morton’s Salt and McCormicks Ground Black Pepper and condiments were the big three: Hunt’s catchup, French’s yellow mustard and Duke’s mayonnaise.

For the last seven years, my culinary tastes have exploded. I have tried more varied types of foods and seasonings, spices and assorted condiments. I have not been consistently cooking my own meals for the last year, but have  run through cycles of having fun with food preparation. I understand how to combine foods and seasonings in my mind. I recognize many more spices, vegetables and fruits and have a taste memory for many of them.

Several years ago, although saffron was an expensive spice, I bought a small bottle at Food Lion. I told myself that if I did not try it now, I might die before I got the chance. I did not realize how little space the spice actually would take up in the vial. A small package was folded up which contained about a thumb joint portion of rust red flower stamens (Are they from the Crocus flower?). I found that you could add just a few of the stamens to steamed white rice to both add flavor and color. The rice became bright yellow, which worked well if you added frozen garden peas (the ones that are bright green). I don’t think I actually tasted the nuance of flavor that the saffron added to the rice, the first time I tried it. Maybe not even the second time, but eventually, I found a very distinctive flavor which was pleasant.

While on my jaunt to Washington, NC and almost to Phelps Lake yesterday, at some point, I began to rehearse the varied foods that I liked to eat. There are very few foods that I do not like the flavor of, cooked in some manner. I like chicken, steak, pork, and lamb. Most seafood and raw or fried oysters or clams. Most fruits, raw, cooked or dried. Nuts, peas, and beans. Vegetables from Asparagus to Zucchini fresh and cooked. I like soups, sauces, gravies and bread. I like most cheeses, except Limburger (It really does smell as if it is spoiled, and though the flavor is okay, it’s not worth suffering the smell.) About the only cheese I ate growing up was either Kraft Extra Sharpe (usually on cheese toast), or American Cheese slices (either on a bologna or ham sandwich, or on toasted white bread).

I like desserts, but prefer most of the other items before I would ever think about dessert. A good coconut cream pie with a hot cup of coffee (with cream & sugar) is pleasing. How about a blueberry pie or apple pie with a cold glass of milk? Or, a toasted English muffin, buttered slightly with Orange Marmalade in the morning?  I like various flavored teas.

One of my favorite foods that I can do well in the slow cooker are blackeyed peas with ham hock. Let these cook down for four hours and get tender. They are better if you refrigerate them for a day and serve them the next day. Reheat them, chop up some Vidalia onion, and I could eat just that, with a glass of sweet tea for the whole meal.

Another item which works well in a slow cooker are “pigs feet”. Put in enough water to completely cover them and then just a slight amount of apple cider vinegar. If you add too much vinegar, it will become bitter as the broth cooks down. There is not much meat to them, but the meat, skin and connective tissue are pleasing.

I once had some green beans and small potatoes seasoned with bacon, that a senior citizen had fixed for a community dinner. I chose to have a second helping instead of dessert.

My mother was not a good cook. The one meal that she did well was Sunday dinner. That’s lunch. She would fry chicken, and I would get the drum sticks. She would fix a sweet, potato salad (with pickle relish and mayo – no mustard) and I don’t recall the other vegetables she might serve, but probably corn, green beans or maybe even lima beans.

My love of good cooking came originally from my Aunt Sis (Carrie Kellum), my mother’s sister. She was a good cook in a country way. There were always two meats on the stove, and about three veggies, when I came in from school. She recycled food well. Left-over meat and veggies might go into a soup, or some other combined form the third day. She seasoned her veggies well with pork products. Long before Emeril Legasse let me know that “Pork fat rules,” my aunt had provided me with years of physical proof. I must have liked her “made from scratch” biscuits, and cornbread.   She made good chicken & pastry, and cornmeal dumplings in green beans.  I seem to recall a “divinity fudge” that was white with gelled fruit bits in it, but she definitely made a chocolate fudge that was almost pure sugar and chocolate.

Aunt Sis’ daughter, Mary Ann (Sharpe) was also a very good cook, but in her own style. I do not recall the difference between their two styles of cooking, but in the many years of enjoying Mary Ann’s cooking I only recall once (there might have been another time that I blocked out;-) that she fixed something that really wasn’t enjoyable. It was just a few years ago, and it was a tasteless clear gravy. She has not repeated that failure since… I am glad.