Some sort of meat, potatoes, peas or corn (always overcooked) and some lettuce with Catalina or Thousand Island Dressing – that was basically the food I grew up on. We never had rice, pizza, lamb or zucchini much less any type of ethnic food other than Polish or Lithuanian dishes. Heck, I never even knew other ethnic dishes existed until I was much older. And of course there were no spices and hardly ever any onions, my father thought he couldn’t tolerate them. And definitely never any garlic – my father was sure it was the bane of any stomach issues he would experience – “They must have put garlic in it!” is what he used to say. My palate was basically remedial-to-none for a very long time and my cooking skills were absolutely zilch. My mother never liked to cook so I guess the thought never occurred to her that I should learn or that she should be the one to teach me.
Early on in my working career I worked a later shift, 1:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., so when I got married my husband took on most of the cooking chores. He being the oldest of five children was a great cook and he introduced me to many of the types of foods that I thought I hated but truly enjoy today – brussels sprouts, butternut squash, eggplant and avocado just to name of few. He introduced me to foods of various ethnicities but even with that I could not eat refried beans for many years – it looked like baby poop to me. It wound up that he did most of the cooking and my culinary prowess for many years consisted of Christmas cookies and scrambled eggs and bacon. I could also make a mean pot of coffee but that was basically it.
Fast forward to today and my sojourn into the cooking realm has done a complete 180. It all started innocently enough with a luncheon conversation with a friend. Somehow the subject turned to television viewing habits and she informed me that she was a Food Network junkie. I almost fell on the floor laughing. After all who could spend any amount of time watching people cook – how ridiculous. Then one Saturday morning for a lark I turned on my television and cranked up the Food Network. Rachel Ray was doing 30 Minute Meals. OK, I said to myself, it should take about 30 seconds before I grab for the remote.
To my amazement I didn’t. I actually found the subject matter interesting. After Rachel there was semi-homemade with Sandra Lee, then Ina Garten, Robin Miller and Giada DeLaurentis. Before I knew it I was hooked. Week after week I would watch and in the process began to learn all the things that normally get passed down from mother to daughter (I still love you, mom, don’t worry!). Things like how to cut an avocado, how to sear meat, the importance of letting roasts rest, the best way to dice an onion, how to make a roux, the delights of a gratin, perfect pastry dough, how to make risotto, knife handling skills, the marvels of the crock pot – this whole new world opened up to me. And as my interest grew so did my culinary skills. From roasting to grilling, sauteing, braising, slow cooking – whatever the process would be – I was eager to learn it and eager to master it. Who’d of ever thought I’d be cooking with capers or creme fraiche. Ever hear of tahini paste? Neither did I until I made my own homemade hummus. I never knew panko bread crumbs or okra existed – I do now. Make your own pesto – why sure, but what is it? I know now and I make it now. It’s a whole new world.
For Christmas my husband gave me a gift certificate for cooking classes. I took the first one a few weeks ago. It was fabulous – I learned a lot and found out that I also knew a lot. But the greatest part of all was when I was leaving to take the class. My husband remarked as I walked out the door, “I hope you can teach them something.” I then new I had arrived.
In the spirit of sharing I will share one of my favorite new recipes. Make it – you won’t regret it!