There are a lot of influencers when it comes to my culinary journey. My grandmother is once such powerful influence. She’s famous (at least in northern California) for her tamales, enchiladas, chili rellenos, and heavenly rice. Rice so fluffy, so tasty with just the perfect amounts of flavoring. Garlic and onion sautéing is one of my top favorite smells in the world, and her cooking always includes those staples. Just about every family gathering included her food, and to this day, people are still ordering tamales from this little, spit-fire woman from Nicaragua.
My mom’s famous pies were the other mainstay for family events, and her snappy and sweet lemon meringue couldn’t be topped! Baking was where it was at for my my mother. Her baked goods (pies, cookies, Swedish pancakes, muffins..) was the freshly made food that I did receive, and man was that incredible!
Like many other baby boomers, my mother was certainly influenced by the ‘canned’ fruits and vegetables revolution passed down from her mom, who lived through a Great Depression, and a couple of world wars. Much of the food of the first half of the 20the century was survival food, food of necessity and convenience. And the remnants of that era ended up on my dinner plate in the form of canned green beans, peaches, pears, etc. We did have a garden for a time, which was amazing, but when life got busy, we leaned on other means to get our veggies. Don’t get me wrong- canning isn’t the root of all evil, and my mom turned out hundreds (thousands?!) of GREAT meals. However I thought I hated vegetables (classic child of the 70’s and 80’s), because I rarely had farm-fresh produce. It just wasn’t very accessible, (perhaps a bit undervalued?) in the urban areas we lived around. So never would I have guessed how much fresh ingredients would play a role in my adult culinary path.
My husband introduced me to the world of grilling and flavor. He experimented often in the kitchen when we were dating, much to my delight!!! He even threw me the most flavorful Thanksgiving dinner one year because I had to work all of Thanksgiving day. He researched and implemented brining techniques, almost always marinated meat, and he perfected the art of moist (not dried out!) BBQed meat. After we married he got a smoker, and can turn out some awesome smoked meat, veggies and fish! I’ve never been a big meat girl, but he definitely brought me around to enjoying and even making it. Dried spices also played a key role in my husbands cooking, which gave him an advantage over the other fellas vying for my attention. (Ha ha.) Brent’s passion for creativity and experimentation in cooking definitely rubbed off on me.
I must admit, the DVR + the Food Network + the Internet have been heavy influencers on my cooking over the past five to ten years. I enjoy learning new cooking techniques from top chefs and cooks and my DVR is constantly cluttered with new cooking shows. I loved printing recipes from the internet. Oftentimes, I’ll watch a show and maybe a month later, I’ll remember the ingredients or techniques and I’ll be able to ‘apply on the fly’ the recipe. I love having a lot of spices and ingredients so that I can turn out a great meal anytime. It’s very empowering to understand cooking temperatures, flavor combinations, and to create foods inspired from countries all over the world.
My sister in law and food allergies are two more significant influencers in my culinary journey. Like me, my sister in law is constantly looking for amazing recipes, techniques and favors. She’s cracked open my brother’s picky eating habits and really opened him up to the world of fresh, home made cooking and baking. She’s amazing in the kitchen and especially excels when it comes to Italian cooking and baking. (She’s Italian, so it’s in her DNA!) I love eating her food and swapping recipes with her.
Oh and did I mention food allergies? My incredible husband has been the recipient of the worst food allergies (and environmental allergies, but that’s another story). And these allergies have only manifested over the past few years. It wasn’t until his 30’s that he had to start omitting massive categories of foods from his diet. We learned the hard way, as he visited the hospital multiple times. This impacted us in several ways. Convenience was gone. We could no longer just eat out anywhere for a quick bite to eat. We had to be sure there were options and accommodations for his meals. We have to basically interrogate servers and restaurant owners to be sure of every single ingredient that goes into his food. This led us to eating out less and less and less. That’s a good thing, I know. But that means we eat mostly at home, and the work of making sure every single ingredient is legit is on our shoulders (and mostly mine). A regular trip to the grocery store takes almost twice as long as it used to, because I’m reading labels, going on the Internet to look up ingredient on my phone, and hunting down not-so-common ingredients.
My husbands food allergies have caused me to be way more intentional in my cooking, and has led me to simple, fresh and amazing ingredients I really never would have considered. It does take a lot of work, but I am truly enjoying the challenge. The food bill has gone up a bit, because I HAVE to buy fresh, quality ingredients (but I trust God to help us there!). Even if we’re invited to a dinner party, I’ll still have a meal ready for us at home because nine times out of ten, my husband won’t be able to eat what’s served.
A final influencer is my daughter and my desire to model for her healthy eating habits. So I try to always give her freshly made food, made with love of course! I don’t think every meal or snack I give her is a total win. But as a family, we eat a lot of fresh produce, cook up incredibly flavored food, and she even helps! She visits the farmers market, and grocery stores with me, and shes an excellent tomatillo peeler! I don’t deny her treats, but I try to let her know that they have their proper place: in moderation and not for breakfast (right Brent?!).
I appreciate all of these influencers, even the challenging ones. And I love cooking for people and swapping recipes with them, and even teaching cooking! (Who knew?!) I am so thankful to live in a country and in a time where I can work with incredible ingredients and eat great food. Truly, we are blessed here in the U.S.
So for my current culinary challenges right now… I want to really be able to create my own recipes! My husband and I have created a few together, and he’s done several on his own (available on Box.net if you’re interested). However’ I want to truly understand food more & more, and I’m getting a little more creative, to where I’m busting out some good ones! Also, I really want to tackle gluten free baking from scratch. That’s a difficult one, but I am motivated to do it!
Oh and here are some of my favorite dishes I love to ‘throw down’, over & over again. Some our my own recipes, some are borrowed.
Mainstays that I don’t get sick of:
- Green rice & stuffed veg poblanos
- Fish tacos
- Tikka Masala
- Indian lentils
- Soy-free Asian stir fry
- Sushi (yes, even the raw stuff)
- Roasted chicken
- All sorts of soups
- Chicken & 40 cloves of garlic
- Roasted, whole fish
- Brown rice salad (with bacon)
- BBQ anything (just about)
- Baked and/or chili beans
- Sautéed, roasted and bbq veggies
I know I’m forgetting some of my ‘regulars’ but I’m starting to get hungry. Which is distracting. So what’s on tap for tonight? A new recipe I’m trying called Buttermilk Baked Chicken. It’s supposed to taste like fried chicken, but healthier! And I’ll be doing the gluten free breading by crushing gluten free crackers and adding thyme and grated Italian cheese. The chicken is in my fridge right now swimming in buttermilk, onion, garlic, lemon juice and hot sauce as I’m writing this. Mmmmmm.