Paula Deen is right: butter makes it better. More on this in a minute.
My love affair with food began almost 30 years ago. I was your typical latchkey kid, with a twist. The whole time I was growing up, my dad had real cool cars. Camaros, Mustangs, a souped-up Ford Fairlane. When I was a teen, he had an Olds 442. It had the awesome paint job with the “442” on the sides, racing strips and mag wheels. In 1981, due to the almost decade-long energy crisis, there just weren’t many sporty options in vehicles, so it was definitely the coolest car in my part of town at the time.
What the heck does that have to do with food? Hang on, I’m getting there. My parents were hard-working people; when they got home in the evening, they were too tired for cooking and cleaning. For me, school let out at 2 in the afternoon. So, Dad made me an offer: help out around the house, get to use the “cool” car on weekends. I started with simple cleaning. Then I graduated to cooking simple dinners. On weekends, my mom would show me tricks, and have me help with her monster-sized southern dinners. I learned just enough to be dangerous, then I got better.
After school, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time as a bachelor, so when I ended up marrying a woman who never learned the first thing about cooking, I just naturally slipped into that role. I’ve been honing my skills ever since.
I realized tonight that I am not really a good cook. Not in the “foodie” sense of the word. Oh, what I cook, I’m pretty good at. But, my menu is limited to the southern, po-folks food I grew up with. I make very little that could be called fancy. I don’t use fresh ingredients very often. Sometimes, I even make stuff with parts out of a box.
I make things like pork chop pie, chicken over eggbread, a mean chilli. I make really good homemade Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. After 30 years, I finally, finally mastered southern pan-fried chicken. It’s probably the hardest thing to get exactly right. My mother tried to teach me when I was young, and it’s taken years and years of frustrations to get right. Don’t ask me the secret, because it’s not a science, it’s an art. It’s something you feel your way through.
I spent 5 years in the pizza business. I learned enough that my homemade pizza pleases even my kids. I make my spaghetti sauce from scratch (it isn’t that hard), as well as my Swedish meatballs (ALWAYS served over egg noodles, thank you).
Tonight, we had pork chops and rice, the simplest of dishes. You just brown boneless pork chops in an electric skillet, set them to the side, make Rice-A-Roni per the directions, and put the chops into the rice mixture as it is cooking. It makes the most wonderfully flavored, juicy chops, and the kids can’t get enough of it.
I had lima beans with it. Limas are the one food I like that no one else in my family likes. I guess everybody’s got one of those.
My mother’s lasagna is the best you will EVER taste. Mine comes in second. Yeah,I’m bragging. Come on over, I’ll feed you some.
Here’s an easy meal: Place a filet of your favorite fish (I like flounder) in a small sheet of aluminum foil. Brush it with butter. Cover it with mixed veggies: broccoli, a little squash, peppers, that kind of thing. Sprinkle lemon pepper seasoning over the whole thing, and close the foil over it all, making your own little roasting pan. Bake the recommended time for the size fish you have, and you’re done!
Breakfast is the hardest meal to get just right. Everything has to be done at exactly the same time. I grew up with a love for eggs over-medium, perfect for sopping with a biscuit. I’ve passed this love down to my daughter.
I’ve already told you about my chicken and dumplins.
I’m realizing as I read over some of the things I like to cook, that food is the essence of who we are. I’ve always felt the tug of war between my wish to be more sophisticated, and my common folk upbringing. Deep down, I’m not very fancy, though I’d like to be. When I was younger, I purposely lost my southern accent; it’s one of the few regrets I have in life. I am glad, though, that I have that connection with my mother and her mother through the food I cook. The fact that my kids like my cooking is a plus.
Oh yeah,one more thing. For at least 20 years, I’ve been on the low fat kick. I’ve pretty much always used margarine. Recently, I decided to try real butter for cooking instead. Folks, I had no idea what I was missing. It’s like putting on glasses for the very first time. It’s like sex. It may even be better. I am absoutely in love with butter. Where has it been all my life?