Meme: The Cook Next Door!

I am honored once again to have been tagged, this time by Chefdoc of A Perfect Pear, to participate in Nicky and Oliver‘s new meme entitled The Cook Next Door! I really enjoyed answering these questions, as sifting through my mental archives brought back waves of amusing and heartwarming memories of my (often misguided) attempts to come to grips with my growing passion for all things culinary. There was also a surge in transatlantic familial love inspired by this meme, as my mother, in digging through long-buried albums of my baby pictures, was reminded of just how gosh darn cute I used to be. If only things had stayed that way… πŸ˜‰

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
I have scattered memories of surreptitiously trying to improve things my parents made (the time I snuck a half-cup of sugar into our chili con carne stands out – I’m still sorry you guys!). I also have fond memories of culinary disasters my best friend and I inflicted upon ourselves at the age of 11 or 12: once we tried to make fudge by combining sugar, butter, milk and Carnation hot chocolate powder and baking it for an hour; when that didn’t work we added oatmeal and hoped we’d end up with brownies. Ugh. My favorite memory, however, has to be the time when, at the age of 13, I spied a new carrot cake recipe on the back of our mayonnaise jar that I just had to make. Unfortunately for me we were packing up our entire house in order to move in a few days, and my parents, who were busy cleaning out the garage at the time, surely would have said no if I’d asked. So I didn’t; I snuck into the kitchen, dug the cake pans and electric beaters out of boxes, ran to the corner grocery store to buy cream cheese and carrots, and proceeded to mix the whole thing up in the bathroom. When it came time to bake I opened all the windows in the kitchen wide so the smell wouldn’t permeate the rest of the house and crossed my fingers. The cake was delicious, but I did have the distinct impression my parents weren’t as surprised as they should have been when I triumphantly brought it out of hiding. At least it was good.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
Julia Child, Martin Yan, and Jeff Smith (aka The Frugal Gourmet). The only time in my life I have gotten up early on the weekends was to watch the PBS heavy-hitters cooking up a storm on Saturday mornings. I’m sure my parents wondered why I couldn’t just watch cartoons like normal kids.

Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world?
Yes, as a matter of fact I do. I like to think I was shrieking with delight at being served my favorite meal – spaghetti and meatballs.


Mageiricophobia – do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
I suffer from the fear of one day having to put something to death in my kitchen. I always assumed I’d be able to do it when the time came, but after watching the whole disturbing drama of a lobster being butchered alive on Hell’s Kitchen, I knew I’d never be able to do it myself. Heck, I can barely bring myself to kill spiders (and not from lack of desire…).

What are your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
Without a doubt, I could not live without my immersion blender. I use it for absolutely everything: pureeing soups, making smoothies, blending pesto, making mayonnaise, frothing milk for cappuccinos… I even discovered it works wonders when making ice cream without a machine – I just take the mixture out of the freezer when it’s semi-frozen, blend away, and the ice crystals miraculously disappear! I also love my iSi cream whipper. Just pour in cream, add flavors to taste, charge with gas cartridge and voila! An endless supply of homemade whipped cream at the press of a button. And of course, I don’t know how I lived without my Soehnle digital scale. You simply can’t imagine how exciting it is to measure your ingredients by the gram until you lay your hands on one of these.

My biggest letdown was probably an expensive French foodmill. I’m just too lazy to clean all those different parts, and anyway my immersion blender does the job almost as well…
Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like – and probably no one else does!
Roquefort cheese and strawberry jam.
Hot apple crisp swimming in cold milk.
Garlic jelly.
Garlic ice cream.
Potato chips on sandwiches (preferably BBQ-flavor Pringles!).

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?
1. Cheese – any and all kinds.
2. Ice cream (see below).
3. Cashews.

Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer?  Well then, feel free to add one!

Your favorite ice-cream…  Chocolate, vanilla, caramel, black cherry, mint-chip, coffee, toasted almond, pistachio, lemon, peach, raspberry cheesecake, cookie dough… I like ice cream.

You will probably definitely never eat…  Fugu. But I’m game for most anything else – at least once.

Your own signature dish…   Probably my fudgy flourless chocolate cake. It’s the request I get most often when offering to bring something for a party!

Added by Chefdoc 
Any signs that this passion is going slightly over the edge and may need intervention?

Number of books owned about Linguistics: 9
Number of books owned about food: 90+
Number of cookbooks I currently have in my shopping basket: 17
Number of times I’ve made a cake in the middle of the night for no good reason: 3
Number of times I’ve secretly made a cake in my bathroom: 1
Number of times Manuel has asked me to seek professional help for my condition: 1 (he says he was joking…)
The numbers say it all.

And added by me…
What’s on your all-time foodie dream list? (gadgets, destinations, restaurants, dishes to try…)
An ice cream maker like this.
Eating trips to Morocco, India, Mexico, Vietnam and Japan.
A chance to eat in some of the world’s finest restaurants, just so I know what all the hype’s about: El Bulli, Pierre Gagnaire, Le Cinq, The Fat Duck, Arzak, Troisgros… *sigh*
I tag:
Julie of A Finger in Every Pie
Santos of The Scent of Green Bananas
Meg of I Heart Bacon


21 thoughts on “Meme: The Cook Next Door!

  1. You were soo cute!The baking in the bathroom escape has me written all over it… :)A lecturer told us THE WORST STORY about a poor lobster. As he is a crustacean expert he is often asked for his opinion on how best to end a lobster. A lady asked how bad it would be for a lobster if it woke up when it was just to be eaten as live japanese sahimi. He said “it depends on what they did next” she said ” poured boiling oil on it as it was crawling over the floor”. I don’t think I will ever be able to kill a lobster…

  2. Dear Melissa,thanks for your great entry – especially the carrot cake story made me smile πŸ˜‰ You just have to do, what you have to do – no question about that… And the picture is gorgeous, seems like you and the bowl of spagetti really had a fun time!

  3. Garlic ice cream?!?! Now I’ve never! I love the question you’ve added Melissa – I think my answer would be very much like yours, but I’d add “one day owning a darn huge kitchen” to it!

  4. Hi Clare – Don’t tell me there’s someone else in the world who has baked in the bathroom! I thought I must be the only one so insane! And about killing lobsters, it does bother me that I can eat something happily but not be able to kill it myself… then again I’m afraid that simply trying would leave me with post-traumatic stress disorder for several weeks…Hi Nicky – That carrot cake story has been waiting to get itself told for quite a while. Thanks for giving me an excuse πŸ˜‰ And yes, well I’ve always liked to ‘get to know’ my food before eating it! Hi Zarah – Garlic ice cream sounds like a sick joke, but it was really very good! I was at a garlic festival once, where among the more traditional garlic-containing delights I sampled garlic beer (bad idea) garlic jelly (yum!) and garlic ice cream. It was so good I went back three times! Oh, and count me in on the bigger kitchen too!

  5. Hi Melissa,Thank you for giving us wonderful insight into who you are. I feel like I know you that much more now. Thanks for sharing the picture. You are too cute! =)

  6. Melissa,”Julia Child, Martin Yan, and Jeff Smith (aka The Frugal Gourmet).”Do you remember Graham Kerr, The Galloping Gourmet?

  7. Hi Reid – It was my pleasure :)Hi Kevin – I remember Graham Kerr, but his show was never one of my regular views – maybe it was on at the wrong time, maybe the chemistry just wasn’t there between us… I honestly can’t remember! Were you a Galloping Gourmet fan?

  8. “Were you a Galloping Gourmet fan?”I’m a fan of anyone who gets drunk while hosting a national TV show.Apparently he got religion a few years ago, dried out, and started cooking healthy. Boring….

  9. Hi Kevin – That is too funny! I definitely don’t remember that, but you’re right, his current empire seems to be built upon an extreme healthy-eating philosophy. I don’t know who decided wine couldn’t fit into a healthy lifestyle…

  10. looool! i feel the same way about cooking with live critters! and good gracious – you put potato chips on sandwiches? i like doritos on burgers πŸ˜‰

  11. Hi Sarah – Doritos on burgers sounds pretty good to me too! Somebody should really figure out a way to capitalize on this taste – sandwich-size chips, maybe?

  12. Hi Kitchen Chick – What is it about that combination that is so good? People don’t even know what they’re missing – they just eye me over their piles of whipped cream and vanilla ice cream like I’ve got a screw loose…Hi Megwoo – Great post, fantastic pictures!

  13. hi melissa, what a terrific post! and what a cute shrieking-with-glee (greed?) baby pix! the borderline obsessive-compulsive in me totally empathises with the gratification, nay the sheer joy, of being able to measure by the gram. cheers, j

  14. Hi J – Greed, no doubt! Some things never change πŸ˜‰ And to be honest in most other respects I’m anything but obsessive compulsive in my cooking, often not even having the patience to dig out the measuring spoons – but once that scale comes out, I become this wild-eyed, fanatic gram-obsessed mutation of my former self…

  15. I’m late chiming in here, but you could be my grandkid. I taught mine to love ice cold milk over hot fruit crisps or hot brownies/chocolate cake. I also introduced her to potato chips in a PB&J sandwich. Roquefort and strawberry jam sounds good to me!

  16. Hi Melissa,I really enjoyed your responses, especially your multi-part, Harper’s Index-like response to “Any signs that this passion is going slightly over the edge and may need intervention?”Great photo, too.anthony

  17. Hi Penny – It certainly sounds like it! I was trying to remember if there was any one particular person who influenced me in those tastes, but I think it must have just been trial and error. You can be sure, however, that my own offspring will have a helping hand in discovering the more obscure gastronomic pleasures in life! ;)Hi aj – Thanks! You know the scary thing is that there were oh so many more things I could have added to that list…

  18. Hi Melissa,Cool site. Actually, Jeff Smith was one of the first chefs I’ve seen on television while I was a little kid. Since you have such a great love for food and all things culinary, did you ever consider becoming a professional chef?

  19. Hi Quinn – Thanks! I actually have considered life in a professional kitchen several times, but I’ve always come to the conclusion that I don’t have the constitution for it. Ideally, however, I will find a way to make a living from my passion, and maybe I’ll even find a way to combine it with my love of writing, research and travel… πŸ™‚

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