I love to cook. And while I never really learned to cook in anything approaching a formal way, sometimes things just turn out. My dad calls it “kitchen voodoo”. Growing up, my mom was a really good cook and so none of us learned how because, why would we? She could do everything better than we. My family has always been obsessed with food – it’s how we remember shared moments of our life. We couldn’t remember a world class art museum, but we always remember the excellent ham and cheese crepe we had at a cart afterward. My freshman year of college I went to Costa Rica, and, through trial and error (and budget considerations) learned how to “cook”. It’s amazing how little experiences shape your life. We carried a bag of rice and some olive oil from town to town and improvised wherever we landed. What ended up were lots of mystery vegetables that were super-fresh at local markets, awesome cheeses, and tomato sauce on everything. Thankfully, I’ve moved past the tomato paste phase, but the basic elements, like sourcing local ingredients and relying on produce, have remained with me.
I never use recipes. Only for baking (because it’s chemistry) and I usually end up improvising on that anyway. I prefer just to think about it, and do something totally crazy. My friends and I used to have weekly dinner parties and I always joked that we were eating something for the first and the last time, as I could never replicate it. Just recently I’ve started to improvise, and then write things down afterwards. That’s what you’ll see here! Everything is roughly estimated, and I encourage you to modify and substitute to your heart’s content! I’ll just share some things as they come along, but if you’re looking for something specific or suggestions based on what you have on hand, I’d love to help!
Southern Style Sweet Tea
I always heard people from the south lament the fact that the rest of us Yankees didn’t know how to make a proper sweet tea. I’d never had it before, but now that I have, there really isn’t any going back. It’s such a nice alternative to sodas and juice! Great for a hot summer day.
2 c. water
1 c. sugar
Put the tea bags and water in a small pan and bring to a boil. Just as the water starts to boil, take it off the heat and let the tea steep 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, place sugar in a pitcher. After the tea has steeped, remove the bags and pour the concentrated tea in with the sugar and stir to dissolve. After that, fill the rest of the pitcher with water and you’re good to go! You’ll have to experience with how much water you add – I make mine a little stronger so the ice doesn’t dillute the tea too much. I keep mine in the fridge in these great bottles from Ikea – you can find them anywhere. They add a touch of class to the table!
Provencial Tomato Chutney
I call this Provencial tomato chutney because it’s got a lot of the yummy herbs and spices found in Provence. I imagine it in a lot of different applications – served as a topping for roasted meat, or accentuating a lovely plate of white fish and potatoes (believe it or not, I can something of this sort in Italy and it was divine). Or even with a pile of homemade pita chips – yum.
4-6 cloves garlic
1 qt. grape tomatoes
1 tbsp. rosemary
1 tbsp. thyme
1 tbsp. basil
olive oil & vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
Dice garlic and onions, and sautee in olive oil until soft. Add rosemary, basil and thyme (fresh or dried, though fresh is a bit stronger) and cook an additional 2-5 minutes. Add grape tomatoes, whole, and let the mixture warm up a bit (5-10 minutes). I add a little bit of water to get the whole thing really cooking. Continue to cook over medium-low heat covered, stirring ocassionally. The tomatoes will naturally pop, but you can hasten the process by smashing them with a wooden spoon when they get soft. Cook until the mixture has reduced in volume by about half, or about an hour. The texture should be thick and not watery, but still liquid.
Flea Market Salsa
This is so named because it was entirely created with ingredients that were sourced at my local flea market (mostly out of the back of pickup trucks). It might be a little unconventional, but you can’t beat the freshness. I like to make it in huge vats, since salsa seems to dissapear quickly, but if you’d like a little less, just halve the recipe!
4 small/3 medium white onions
2 tbsp. vinegar
2 bell peppers (any color, though orange, yellow and green add color)
2 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. chili powder (use your common sense on this – chili powders vary widely)
6-10 garlic cloves
2 large/3 small limes
dash of olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. You might have to do it in several batches, as it ends up being quite a bit of salsa. I like to blend mine until it has a fairly even, liquid consistency, but a food proccessor works much better if you like your salsa chunky.