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The Aunt Debbi interview: Cooking. June 24, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The ever-entertaining Aunt Debbi of Aunt Debbi’s Garden fame (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/) has been promoted to interviewer-in-chief at her local library, and in order to hone her interviewing skills she called for volunteers to practice on. Naturally, our friend Ben and I volunteered. Turns out, the interview topic is cooking! (Sorry, Ben; maybe she’ll ask you about your MacArthur aspirations and sock aversion some other time… ) Here are Aunt Debbi’s questions and my answers:

At what age did you begin cooking? I can never remember not cooking, but that’s probably more due to my mama’s letting me “help” her in the kitchen from an early age than to really being allowed to do anything much more complicated than assembling bacon-and-tomato sandwiches and making vinaigrette. I still have some of my grade-school-era recipes, and I can only hope that I wasn’t actually allowed to make them!

Who taught you? My mama taught me. Curiously, neither grandmother was a good cook. But Mama and our housekeeper Olivia were both fabulous cooks, and growing up in the kitchen with the two of them was like being in heaven.

What type of food is your favorite? Yikes, that depends on what you mean, and even then, that depends! I love veggies and fresh fruit. Then there are the four major food groups: pasta, pizza, popcorn, and potatoes, and the three minor food groups: butter, cheese, and salt. But if you mean what style of cuisine is my favorite, I’d have a terrible time trying to decide between Indian, Mexican, Thai, Greek, Lebanese, and Chinese. But if you told me I was being exiled to a deserted island and could only eat one style of cooking for the rest of my life, I’d go with the Southern food I grew up with and wouldn’t even have to think about it.

Where do you get your best ingredients? Whew, that’s easier. From our garden, our CSA, the local farmers’ markets (we’re lucky enough to have four here), and the Mennonite farms that have farm stores attached and sell raw milk, Amish-style homemade butter and cheese, every type of pickle and preserves on earth, and many another wonderful treat. I also have my favorite spice haunts: Rice and Spice in nearby Emmaus, PA for all things Indian; Echo Hill Country Store in Fleetwood, PA for herbs and bulk goods, especially pastas, dried fruit, beans, and grains; and Spices-N-Such at Zern’s Market in Gilbertsville, PA for a great array of wonderful herbs, spices and coffees.

Do you know any cooking tricks? You bet. I could go on and on, but here are ten: 1) Few things in life can’t be saved with butter and salt. 2) Always use the very freshest and best ingredients, then keep it simple. 3) Get over yourself and wear a full-body apron or you’ll be sorry. 4) Those boxed veggie stocks you can buy in the soup aisle now are God’s gift to cooking. 5) There’s no such thing as too much basil or cilantro. 6) Use sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla, 1015, or Candy type) and plenty of ’em when you can, and storage (pungent) onions only when you have to. 7) Put your (fresh, please!) herbs in your salad, then dress it simply with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 8) Mushrooms and sweet onion in a butter and wine sauce is a blissful side or topping for pasta or rice. 9) Secret ingredient for #8: a splash of bourbon right before serving. 10) Use bamboo spoons for cooking; they’re easy to clean, a pleasure to use, and they don’t splinter like wood. Here’s a bonus: 11) Use the heaviest pans you can lift. My cooking owes everything to my LeCreuset enamelled cast-iron cookware. I guess I’d better keep working out so I can still lift them a few decades from now!

Will you share a recipe? Sure. This being summer and tomato season, here’s my simple but scrumptious recipe for Caprese salad: Cover a large plate with leaf lettuce (such as Romaine or Butterhead), layering leaves to form a nice bed. Slice several large ripe tomatoes, then halve each slice. (The salad looks most spectacular when you use several colors of tomato, such as red, yellow, green-ripe, and/or black, but any color is fine.) Slice one or more balls of fresh mozzarella, then halve each slice. Wash and pat dry a big bunch of fresh basil leaves, removing them from the stems. To assemble, alternate tomato, mozzarella, and basil, starting around the outside of the plate and working your way to the center until the entire plate is covered. The alternating and overlapping red (etc.), white, and green will create a very colorful pattern. When the salad is assembled, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkle with salt (we like Real Salt). I like to serve the salad sliced in wedges like a pizza. Yum!

        ‘Til next time,