An Interview with the Hand that Feeds Me

Q: What did I hate eating when I was younger?
A: You hated mushrooms and that was just about the only thing. I think you dislike more food now than you did then.
Q: Did recipes change with relationships and marriages?
A: When I married Herb [my stepfather] our pasta intake went way down. It was like our own version of the Atkins diet.
Q: How did you start cooking?
A: I started cooking when I married your father. Prior to that, I lived with Grandma and Grandpa and even though I wanted to cook I never had the chance or the room.
Q: What is your favorite meal to make?
A: Probably homemade sausage because we got to spend time with the whole family dividing up and casing 70 pounds of ground pork.
Q: Did your parents cook this well?
A: **Laughing** NO! Aside from the Italian classics, Grandma murdered everything else. When I was little it was all chips and Ding-Dongs then Grandma went on a health kick when I hit high school and I had to sneak around to friend’s houses to eat all the bad stuff.
Q: Did you stop cooking any foods once you started a family?
A: Not really. You and your dad weren’t picky.
Q: How would you rate yourself as a cook?
A: I wouldn’t say that I’m a 10 all around but there are certain dishes that I make that are awesome.
Q: What food (meal) reminds you of me?
A: London broil with béarnaise sauce, butter bowtie pasta, and green beans. You were the only one in grade school that when asked your favorite food replied with an entire meal that didn’t center around pizza or hamburgers.
Q: Do you regret cooking or feeding me anything?
A: Oh tons! I used to make this paprika chicken with the skin still on and I melted a whole stick of butter in the pan. As if it wasn’t bad enough, I used to tip the pan and let all the buttery juices flow to the bottom and dipped the chicken in it. Disgusting!
Q: What do you hope I will cook when I have a family of my own?
A: I hope that you cook healthy foods that won’t leave you with any regrets. I spent too long feeding my family junk food. I guess in a way I kind of did the same thing that my mom did to us only I think my healthy food tastes a lot better, not like carrot juice. Yuck!

I found it very interesting to interview my mother because although we spent years cooking together I haven’t asked her that many questions about family dynamics and cooking.  She was so animated about what she used to cook for us and how terrible it was that it wasn’t a far reach to compare her to her mother and that style of unhealthy cooking turned healthy. Seeing how she has morphed into her mother makes me wonder if I will go through the same journey and become the matriarcal cook for whomever I cook for in the future. Ya know, since it runs in my family…

Good Food

What is good food?

Who knows? Who cares? Does anyone really want an answer? This question cannot be unequivocally answered. It would be impossible to pinpoint exactly what makes food good versus bad, because if it could be people wouldn’t be eating so differently. No one eats something that they think is bad, but to someone else that item may be the Holy Grail of food.  This disclaimer realized, I will now answer the question.

Good food could be described as food that tastes good. This may change from day to day, week to week, even year to year as people’s tastes and moods change.  However, it should always center around what makes you happy. A great tasting meal, whether it is a greasy hamburger from McDonalds or a “mussel and parsley salad with mustard sauce and crispy pancetta” from Chez Panisse, should make the consumer feel full, satisfies and happy.  Good food doesn’t have to come from a fancy restaurant nor do the ingredients need to come from Whole Foods or Fresh and Easy.  My parents raised me with a lot of good food while shopping at our local Food 4 Less and taking the occasional trip to Pizza Hut when I was good.  Too often people associate good food with mistaken synonyms like simple, organic, fresh, or colorful. When will people realize what we all think of as good food may not look the same but all shares one facet…someone, somewhere in the world thinks it tastes good.

 *Quote taken from Chez Panisse’s online menu

**This post is in leiu of the Mission District Post

Chocolate, Tea and ….WHAT!?!?

After reaching into the bag twice and pulling out the ingredients chocolate and earl gray tea I started to feel pretty good about my cooking assignment. Visions of decadent chocolate desserts made with tea instead of water or perhaps with an iced tea shot along with it started to fill my mind. Cakes, cupcakes, biscotti and barks danced in my head like sugarplums on Christmas night. However all these ideas came to a skidding halt when out of the bag i pulled the last ingredient…curry. A seasoned eater myself, I’ve had curry in many different dishes, most notably some great Indian fare but I have never tried it with chocolate.  Trepidations aside, I started looking at recipes online that involved curry but nothing sparked my interest. I knew that I shouldn’t give up on my dessert idea because plenty of hot couture chefs have been pairing savories and sweets and coming up with tastes that lure even the pickiest of eaters to scrape their forks against the bottoms of the plate to get the very last bit into their engorged stomachs.

I finally settled on a recipe originally for Coconut-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip cookies and decided to improvise with my special ingredients. After substituting the tablespoon of milk for my fresh brewed cup of earl gray I also added about a tablespoon of curry powder to the dry ingredients. I watched nervously as the ingredients turned as orange as the tree leaves in the fall, yet continued. As the cookies baked in the oven, slowly spreading, reaching out to meet each other, the aromas of curry and cookies filled the raised ceilings of my home. Though I did indulge my curiosity when the cookies were done I think I’ll let them do the talking. I brought some samples to class and hopefully I won’t find myself or my recipe CHOPPED!

Cities v. Food

The trip into the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown reminded me of two very important things, first I absolutely hate cities and everything about them, and second that America tends to morph the foods from other culture into something most people here will find more appealing or palatable.  I would like to warn my readers that this post is a bit wordy and full of musings that end in more questions than answers…Enjoy!

The first dilemma is understandable. Even our own “City” is riddled with disgusting smells, horrific parking, innumerable homeless bums, and really overpriced-yet for some strange reason, trendy- coffeehouses. It’s no wonder that there are many who share my views that cities are sometimes nice places to visit but rarely somewhere I would want to spend the majority of my time. The second dilemma is more complex.  Being around first and second generation Chinese, quietly observing as they go about their grocery shopping or lunch dates, today I realized how far off the American version of “Chinese Food” actually is. Not once did I see a group of Chinese people go into a restaurant looking for some cream cheese rangoons and orange chicken. Nor did I see anyone there toting around an extra large Diet Coke with their purchases.  So why aren’t their soft yet crunchy sesame balls or steamed shrimp dumplings being served at most Chinese restaurants in America?

I do think that the two problems could be related. Have you ever noticed that if you go to another country most people will tell you to really get the full experience you should go outside the cities because that’s where the true culture thrives? Why is it that large cities seem to lose their authenticity and could it be recaptured by small concentrated culture centers like Chinatown?

Hearts on Fire

The scorched Cuisinart pan outlasted the boyfriend for whom the dessert was intended. 

Early in the day, on the fourteenth day of February I awoke to an array of ideas for the perfect Valentine’s desserts for my sweetheart.  Recipes strewn over every surface of the kitchen counter reminded my overly romantic self of the rose petals that I’d never seen spread across my bed.  After separating them into piles I decided on a decadent double layer chocolate cake with a homemade chocolate frosting.  The cakes were baked to perfection: clean toothpick, moist cake and deep mahogany coloring. Feeling like this might be a Valentine’s Day for the record book; I got out the ingredients for the frosting not aware of the disaster waiting just down the counter.

The ingredients ready to combine, I dropped the stick of butter to melt in my awaiting saucepan.   The brightness hurt my eyes; the high pitched sizzle pierced my ears so they barely registered the smoke alarm resounding through the house.  The flames leapt from the pan and licked the range hood.  My mind reeling yet blank, all I could do is stare at the light emitted from the butter fueling the kitchen fire. I ended up-somewhat calmly-calling 911, having fireman show up at my house, and still managed to finish the cake and although no one was hurt in the making, I did surrender to using a can of Duncan Hines premade frosting.

This disaster took place two years ago.  Somewhat like the pan, I am still scorched from the relationship but I continue to throw myself into the fire.

Better Then Three Wishes

One of the most memorable meals I can think of was in celebration of my 5th birthday. My parents told me we were going to the airport to have brunch with my grandparents (this, of course was back when you didn’t need to hand over two forms of ID, a boarding pass and your first born child to get past airline security). When we arrived my mother handed me a stack of “Disney Dollars” that I had received from various people at my birthday the day before. I assumed that they were to be used at the Disney Store to buy a plethora of stuffed animals and dressed made for princesses. All at once the pieces of the puzzle came together and I realized that the dollars were actually the precursor to my gift…a trip to the House of Mouse, Happiest Place on Earth aka DISNEYLAND! After impatiently waiting through a plane ride and hotel check in, I finally stood in front of the massive gates behind which dreams come true.

Inside the gates and on the left was a restaurant based on the Aladdin Oasis theme, tucked away in a corner overlooked by most passersby. Ironic as it may be, I don’t remember what meal I had for dinner. After dinner, the waitress, who was informed of my birthday brought the most magnificent dessert I have ever seen in my life. The sound of ohs and ahs erupted from my parents and those around us. Perched on a plate in front of me stood a genie’s lamp molded out of chocolate and filled with a lake of caramel, revealed only when its master took the top off.  While trying to decide what part to break into first, I admired the intricateness of the dessert, from its even deep auburn color to the delicate handle. To this day, that lamp is the most creative meal I have ever indulged in and the gold standard by which I judge all other meals.

A Different Kind of Fruit

Apple. To most, the word brings to mind a picture of a slightly imperfect spherical fruit hanging on a tree branch or picked with the grand intention (or despair in the case of the apple itself) of becoming part of a succulent apple pie, perhaps to be shared amongst family and friends at a special gathering. Still others may envision the crisp crunch that the skin of the apple once bitten into not unlike that of the leaves that have started to fall to the ground during the fall when the apple reins as King of all Fruit.

I however, have to be different. Most days I am surrounded by apples. I feel pretty confident in saying no one else probably sees as many apples as I do in a day. Apples in every shape from bulging bumps to sleek and chic, every size from humongous to some so small you could have sworn you fell down Alice’s hole and into Wonderland. When I walk into this place I don’t smell the tartness of the Granny Smith apples that surround me but the sweet and aromatic aromas of what go on top of our gourmet caramel apples. My job at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is not just one meal or experience with an apple it is an ongoing processional of sweet concoctions one after another from the classic caramel apple with its basic sticky caramel coating to its cousin the Rocky Road Apple which touts caramel plus walnuts, marshmallows, and milk and white chocolate drizzle. Decadent would be the best word to describe what I think of when I think of the word apple.

But aside from all this bragging the greatest part about my apples is not their intoxicatingly divine smell or their taste that encapsulates you into finishing the whole dessert without giving a thought to calories or your waistline. Nor is it the feeling of drool pooling in your mouth as you wait on baited breath for the first bite or the screams of excitement from the child within that wants to run around and fulfill the cliché of a “kid in a candy store.” It is not even the overwhelming number of different combinations of individually hand crafted apples in the window through which passersby ogle trying to dare themselves not to enter. No.  The single most magnificent mystery of my apples is how after four years of being there I still am that kid in the candy store when I first walk in and I will never get tired of apples.