One thing that frustrates me as a person who likes to cook is the barrage of questions that I frequently have to face when feeding new people. "Where did you learn to cook?" "Where did you get this recipe?" Sometimes it isn't questions so much as assumptions--"Wow, your mom did a great job teaching you to cook!" The questions and assumptions on their own wouldn't be all that bad, but people always seem so disappointed in my responses. I learned to cook from reading cookbooks and following the directions. When I didn't know what something meant, I looked it up. More recently, I've expanded my skills using online tools (such as other blogs or sites like Recipezaar). Chances are, I found the recipe online; I think I have a total of two "old family recipes" that I can toss together from memory in my repertoire.
My point here is that, no, my mom didn't teach me how to cook, and I don't think that's a bad thing as so many people seem to. Why is it that everyone always seems disappointed when I say I got a recipe online, or that I taught myself with the help of numerous cookbooks and weeks of my life staring at the computer screen? My mom isn't a bad cook (though she would probably tell you otherwise)--I quite like her cooking, and when she does cook I think it's excellent, but she doesn't love it like I do. We never spent time in the kitchen when I was little with her showing me exactly how she makes a pie crust, and I think it's okay that I found out from a book.
However, the passion and interest must have come from somewhere, and that credit goes to my dad. He never really taught me a recipe, because I'm not sure if he ever really followed a recipe, but I do remember him busy making something for dinner and asking me if I could pit the olives, which was my favorite job because I ate most of them. (I got yelled at for this. Sorry, Dad.) He would chop up peppers for a stir fry and give me slices so that I could learn how much sweeter red peppers are than green peppers. There were nights that my mom and brother and I searched the refrigerator and cabinets and pantry for something to make for dinner, finding an old tomato, some peanut butter, three or four gallons of milk, huge jars of spices, and nothing else. Somehow, on these nights when there was nothing in the house and we were all too lazy to go grocery shopping, my dad could come home and whip up some simple, excellent meal out of our total lack of ingredients.
I never learned to be quite that resourceful, unfortunately--I either plan a meal out and go to the store and get everything I need, or I don't plan a meal and I go to the store wandering around until I find something that inspires me. I also never learned the knife skills that my dad tried to teach me; they're getting slightly better than they used to be but it still takes me at least 6 minutes to chop up a pepper. (I'm getting good at carrots, celery and rhubarb, though.)
So...nobody really taught me how to cook, and I find my recipes wherever I feel like, but I think my dad taught me how to play with my food and enjoy my time in the kitchen. He taught me to triple the garlic in any recipe I read and to like pepper far more than is perhaps healthy. And, without him, I never would have learned to buy twice as many olives as I planned to put in a dish. This recipe is based on one of those things that he used to come home and throw together, leaving the rest of us wondering where the ingredients came from but in the end quite satisfied with our meals. It's quick, simple, and delicious.
RECIPE: Sausage and Pepper Stir-Fry
-1 package of sweet Italian sausages (usually contains 5 or 6) (If you'd like, use half a package of sweet and half a package of hot for some more variety--freeze the rest!)
-1 or 2 green peppers
-1 or 2 red peppers
-1 large onion
-a whole lot of garlic
-some cooked pasta (homemade if possible!)
-ground pepper (or whole pepper in a grinder) (I like to use peppercorn medleys instead of just plain black pepper, but I don't really know what the difference is, so use whichever you prefer)
-extra virgin olive oil
-freshly grated romano or parmesan cheese
1. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan. Once it's hot (a drop of water sizzles and evaporates immediately), add the sausages whole. Fry on each side for a few minutes, until lightly browned and partially cooked through. When you're not tending to the sausages, chop the peppers and onion (and, of course, garlic).
2. Remove the sausages from the pan and slice them into medallions. (If you don't fry them whole first, they won't slice properly and you'll get sausage-balls with little strips of sausage casing, and you don't want that.) Return to the frying pan. Lay as many flat as possible.
3. Fry the sausages until cooked through, flipping occasionally. Once they're done (or mostly done, since they'll still be in the pan) add the peppers, onion and garlic. Sauté until slightly softened, but still crisp enough to crunch a little when you bite it--you don't want soggy vegetables.
4. While the peppers and onions are softening, chop the tomato. Once everything else is done, add the tomato and a a few grinds of pepper, stir, and cook until the tomatoes are hot.
5. Serve over a bed of pasta with a generous amount of cheese to top each dish. Make sure to get some of the juices from the pan onto your plate--they're excellent!
Yum! Mike and I use a ton of vegetables when we stir-fry--that's a BIG pan full of them. We usually end up thinking that we should have used less, but we never do the next time, and we fill up on healthy food and don't have room for ice cream. (Which is really sad--there's key lime and graham cracker gelato in the freezer that we keep being too full to eat.)
That looks like a ton of food, but it's mostly a pile of vegetables. We used leftover homemade whole wheat noodles, which wasn't true to my childhood memories at all but they were perfect with this dish.
I was originally going to post this on Father's Day, but then I had to go to my cousin's graduation party, and then I forgot about it, and then I realized that I never really posted anything for Mother's Day and I didn't know if it was okay to post something for Father's Day and not Mother's Day, and THEN I figured, well, my dad was always the cook, so it makes more sense, and I also gave my mom an awesome scarf and baked her a pie. So, consider this a very belated Father's Day post. (I think he also deserves credit for my tendency to cook with peppers, tomatoes and onions.)
How about you guys? Did you teach yourselves to cook, or did you have a parent or grandparent to show you the ropes? Any family recipes?
I hope everyone (well, everyone in the US) has a great 4th of July tomorrow--we're going to my family's annual grilled-meat-fest (seriously: sausages, steak tips, burgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, and it's all too good to pass up--I think I'll skip breakfast).