This month’s Saveur is the annual “100” special issue, a list of 100 people, places, trends, tools and ingredients that tickle the editors’ taste buds. Typically a roundup of big-name tastemakers and high-end products, the list is a who’s who of foodies and what’s what in chowhound-dom. But this year, editor James Oseland has shifted gears, instead celebrating you, me and everyone we know – the home cook.
You’ll meet Margherita Chiaramonte, of Sicily, who shares her recipe for Zuppa di Grano Cuturru (greens and bulgur soup) and Mei Teck Wong, a housewife in Singapore who’s got a knack for making supper based on what’s in the fridge. In his editor’s note, Oseland refers to these women (plus a handful of other home cooks from different corners of the world) as “unsung kitchen heroes” who exemplify “a basic truth … that cooking is one of the most fundamental, and beautiful, expressions of who we are.”
I love this idea: Cooking as an expression of who I am, who you are, who we are.
In addition, the list salutes home cookin’, with a no-nonsense guide to pots and pans, recipes for unpretentious old favorites,including lasagna and fried chicken livers, and thoughts on how to make your own ketchup, vinegar or, get this -- Worcestershire sauce (hmm…who’s game?).
As I paged through the magazine, I thought about the people, places and things that would go on my list of edible favorites. I’ve come up with 20 appetite whetters, tongue ticklers and soul stirrers, a mix of old classics in the Casa Appetite repertoire and recent arrivals that both intrigue and inspire. Here, in no particular order...
1. Mama Lil’s peppers: These pickled Hungarian peppers in olive oil have become a kitchen staple. I use them on sandwiches, with scrambled eggs, atop pizza, with cheese. Mister MA likes’em with salami.
2. A true-blue wok with an iron interior that seasons and develops that a non-stick patina. I’ve had one going on three years and use it for all kinds of dishes -- omelets, fried chicken, sauteed greens, curries. Indispensable.
3. …as is the cast-iron skillet, a workhorse on my stove. I have both enamel-coated and iron on both sides and love them equally.
4., Mechanical, hand-cranked kitchen tools over electric. I can live without a toaster or even a food processor, but would be sad without a mortar and pestle and food mill. I love my wooden citrus reamer and I love to whip egg whites by hand with a balloon whisk.
5. I was very particular about coffee well before I moved to Seattle. On the weekends, I’ll share a big French press with Mister MA, but during the work week, my best friend is a Bialetti three-cupper stovetop espresso pot. I’ve been known to travel with her as well, in the event that I know good, strong coffee is unlikely.
6. Coffee is for morning; tea is for afternoon. Since living in South Africa 16 years ago, I’ve been a big fan of rooibos, a red “tea” made from an indigenous shrub with a hearty English breakfast flavor but without the caffeine. You can add milk and sugar, but it's great without.
7. Lately, though, I can’t get enough Genmaicha, a Japanese green tea with roasted rice that offers a nutty, sometimes popcorn-y flavor.
8. One of my favorite discoveries since moving to Seattle is the canned tuna from Fishing Vessel St. Jude, a local, family-owned business that sells at local farmers' markets and supermarkets. The Malleys troll fish albacore tuna in the Pacific, which they regularly test for mercury. I have become a canned tuna eater again. Don't worry; online ordering is available.
9. For a long time, I stayed away from smoked paprika (also known as pimenton), thinking the hype of this trendy spice would overshadow its virtues. Boy, am I sorry I waited so long. You get both smoke and a delicate sweetness, which does wonder for a meatless pot of beans. Oh, and try it in marinara sauce! Love this stuff.
10. Last September, I spent the better part of a week in the Yup’ik fishing village of Emmonak in western Alaska. I was there documenting the final days of chum salmon season on the Yukon River and getting to know the villagers, who live primarily on a subsistence diet. It was by far one of the most otherworldly and amazing experiences of my life. Last week, I learned that this winter, which arrived early, has been particularly brutal in Emmonak, causing an increased demand for heating oil, which costs $7.83 per gallon. For the villagers of the poorest census district in Alaska (and one of the poorest in the U.S.), it has become a fuel-versus-food crisis.
12. As much as I appreciate the energy and buzz of the urban metropolis, I’ve become enamored by smaller, walkable towns like Red Lodge, Mont., Ann Arbor, Mich., Edmonds, Wash. and Portland, Ore. There’s something very appealing getting to know your neighbors.
13. Although I’ve long been a supporter of independent merchants and business owners, it feels particularly important to support local shops, bars, restaurants and merchants now, as the economy continues to sag.
14. Which leads me to the neighborhood joint. Cafes, bars and taverns, watering holes, diners, luncheonettes. Don’t give up on these places for the lunch alcove at Target. They’re the heart of a community, where people talk, gather and reveal their truest selves.
15. A year ago, I vaguely remembered my last interaction with tempeh; these days, I keep the fermented soybean cakes in the fridge for impromptu suppers that take little time and energy. With its “meaty” texture and toothiness, I much prefer it to the squishy squashy nature of tofu.
16. Mister MA reminded me how much I use Dijon mustard, which goes into my tempeh marinades, vinaigrettes, grilled cheese sandwiches and salads of Caesar, tuna and potato. However, I advise you to steer clear of mustards that use apple cider, unless you like sweet 'n' sour with your Dijon.
17. He shared another interesting tidbit; ever since we started dating, he says he has come to appreciate the flavor of chicken thighs over breasts, something he never thought would happen. That man sure has wizened up.
18. Cooking together: I’m talking about me and him and how he’s taking ownership of the kitchen, but I’m talking about other relationships, too. You and your kids, you and your parents or grandparents. You and the neighbors, or maybe, as they do it over at Cooking With Friends, you and a coupla strangers.
19. Babe’s Dilly Beans and other forms of homemade goodness: My friend Doug’s mom, Babe, is 90, and she is one hot mama. She also knows her way with canning and preserving vegetables. A few weeks ago, I popped open a mason jar of Babe’s snap beans pickled last summer, with plenty of garlic and wild dill. She came to mind with each piquant bite, and I think this summer I need to get schooled so that the recipe lives on.
20. Taking care of our neighbors. Leslie brings by a loaf of locally produced rye, I drop off banana bread or a serving of pasta e fagioli. Karla drops off figs and bunches of basil, I pour her a glass of cold-brewed iced coffee. We talk about the day, our lives, our loves and our dreams.
Have you got a "20" of your own? Share bits and pieces or the whole thing in the comments area, or today at 1ET for the rescheduled What's Cooking.
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