I blurted out, “I don’t know, cinnamon rolls, baked beans, homemade pizza? Both the question and the answer bothered me the rest of the night. No one had ever asked me that before and I really didn’t know if I had a specialty.
I just like to cook. I like to cook for people. What I make is delicious and ordinary and lacks in fancy presentation. As a cupcake is a vehicle to frosting, or a chip to salsa, so the food I prepare is a vehicle for conversation, connection, community.
We bought a square table that seats eight so when guests join us everyone can hear well and be part of what’s happening. No one gets left out down on the end. A large lazy-susan sits in the center making it easy to spin butter and salt, more potatoes and salad to whoever needs it. The person telling a joke or sharing a story has a captive small group audience. One evening I threw out this table topic: “What is something you’ve done that might surprise the rest of us?” If it were not for the square table we may have missed the one quieter guest. She put down her fork, and said, “spending the night in a mexican jail.” She then picked her fork back up and started eating again. The room got loud with questions and comments and the demand she stop eating and share the detailed version.
Food invites people to join in, maybe even helps make people comfortable so they will engage. That has been my experience. Most of the time we have people over is in the evening. Most of the time I spend preparing food, even on ordinary days, is for the evening meal. I’ve decided that my specialty is dinner.
It could be that my specialty has its roots in my early years of learning. More correctly stated; being forced to learn. Mother Mary (my mother) was determined to teach cooking to this strong-willed daughter. My memory is that she MADE me make something every other weekend. It seemed to be a silly thing for me to cook bad when everything she made was so wonderful. Ask anyone about her cooking to this very day – you leave wanting more, wanting the recipe, wanting to come over again. She won. I cooked. I learned to make one whole meal and repeated it because Father Andrew (my dad) loved it. The Menu: “Coating For Chicken” , twice baked potatoes, and cream puffs with vanilla custard, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. There may have been something vegetable as well, I just have no memory of that.
Sorry mom for all the grief I provided. Thanks mom for teaching me to cook good.
Tonight, one of the house favorites: homemade pizza with JR’s favorite crust. Which could I guess be a specialty within the specialty.
Chicago Style Pizza Crust
- 1 pkg active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp from the jar)
- 1 Tlb sugar
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 3 1/2 cups of flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal (this is what really makes this crust delish)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 Tlb olive oil
- 2 tsp olive oil for the bowl
- JR;s favorite toppings: sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, jalapeno. Use your favorites.
- Sauce it, cheese it, top it, bake it for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees until crust is brown and cheese is bubbly. This makes one large thicker crust pizza or 2 large thin crusts.
Coating for Chicken – from the Sioux Falls Christian HIgh Cookbook
- 1 cup Ritz cracker crumbs
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp garlic salt.
- Melt butter; mix crackers with cheese, paprika and salt. Dip chicken in butter, roll in crumb mixture. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil and spray with non-stick something. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1/2 hours.