What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
My mother loved to cook, but categorically refused to bake. If we wanted dessert, we were on our own - which meant we had a lot of store-bought birthday cakes and the like. (She always put fresh strawberries on top, though!) When I was about eight, I decided to make a birthday cake for my sister. Duncan Hines brownies were the best I could manage at the time - but I totally scored immense sister points, and found that cooking on my own wasn't that hard after all. (I'd done a lot of cooking before that, but always with my mom - never on my own.)
Who had the most influence on your cooking?
Definitely my mother. Dinners during the week were always tasty, if a little boring sometimes, but for Shabbat she would outdo herself. Every single Shabbat dinner and Shabbat lunch, we'd have at least a three-course meal with all kinds of interesting food. I learned at least four dozen ways to make chicken, discovered the glory of really fresh ingredients, and memorized a whole bunch of old family recipes. Then, a few times a year, we'd do "exotic" cooking - something that might seem old-hat to people who could call for Chinese takeout, but for us was a revelation. We discovered Chinese, Mexican, Indian and Thai cooking this way, and found out that you could keep kosher and still eat like a king. Except with fewer pigs.
Do you have an old photo as ‘evidence’ of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
Not that I can think of, but I'm sure I've got one somewhere.
Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
Almond Rolla Cake. I don't even have the recipe for this thing, but I vividly remember spending an entire day making this monstrosity (with some help from my mother and sisters). It was the best cake I've ever had, but I've never even considered making it again because of how heinous the process was. Of course, filter all that through my ten-year-old eyes and it might just mean that it involved some extra blending and simmering . . . .
What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest let down?
My biggest let-down was the hand blender that I bought for the boy; I had aspirations of using it to chop things a lot, but I find that I never actually think to use it when it would be useful. (He uses it all the time, though, so I guess it was a good gift!) I can't cook without our set of gradated glass bowls, though. They're incredible - there's always just one more when you need to put something else into a bowl!
Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
Tuna fish with pasta, a little bit of mayo, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Also, tuna and capers on pizza - but it has to be really good Roman-style pizza, light on the cheese.
What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?
I could happily live the rest of my life on cholent (bean-barley-meat-potato stew that's cooked for 24 hours, and that no one really likes unless they grew up on the stuff). My favorite thing to cook with is onions; I love the smell of them frying! And my chosen snack is freshly-popped popcorn, especially when my boy makes it for me. It tastes better when he does it, especially because I tend to burn it (and myself!) when I have to make it alone.
Your favorite ice-cream…
Ben & Jerry's Brownie Batter. It really tastes like brownie batter, the good kind that isn't too chocolatey but is kind of eggy and milky and light. This is one of the few chocolate things that I can tolerate, and one of the few reasons I would ever voluntarily choose to eat ice cream.
You will probably never eat…
Shellfish. Or pork. Or a cheeseburger. You get the picture.
Your own signature dish…
My grandmother's chicken soup. It's incredibly simple and seriously delicious; the key is to simmer cut-up chicken with whole vegetables and a small piece of beef for three to five hours. It makes this delicious, golden, rich broth with big chunks of tender vegetables in it. Adding some white meat from the boiled chicken, some egg noodles and maybe a couple of dumplings makes this a meal.
A common ingredient you just can’t bring yourself to stomach…
I almost vomited when I found out I'd eaten crab by accident. It just tasted like not-food. If that doesn't count, I'm not much of a fan of cilantro.
Which one culture’s food would you most like to sample on its home turf?
I'm totally into Korean food, and I'd like to go to Korea for professional reasons anyhow; it works out well.
The people I am tagging are:
Tag yourselves, folks. I leave it to you.