Cooking Influences

Every cook chooses recipes and prepares them with a history of influences behind her.  Here are a few of mine.
My family—When it comes down to it, they’re my greatest influence.  As in, Will they eat it?  The Reverend (my hubby) will eat just about anything but lima beans (he tries them every time I make them and just doesn’t like them.)  He’s wonderfully supportive and appreciative of my culinary efforts.  The Oldest is 6 and super picky, although he’s gotten a lot better.  He pronounces just about everything “yucky” and on good days my ego isn’t bruised by that at all.  Middleman is almost 4 and eats just about anything, including straight Tabasco.  Baby Girl isn’t much of a baby anymore at 2, and she seems willing to eat just about anything, too, with a strong preference for pizza (one of her clearest words right now) and fruit, which we have to hide if we want her to eat anything else.

My mom—Growing up, my mom often didn’t have much of a food budget.  She could make a thousand recipes with ground beef or chicken pieces, because that’s what we could afford, and she made it all taste great.  I learned to be frugally creative, or creatively frugal from her, I think.  She in turn was influenced by the farm cooking of her mom, although of her three sisters, she probably moved away from that style of cooking the most.  She was also heavily influenced by her mother-in-law, my grandma, who taught her to make delicious meatballs I still can’t quite get right.  Mom is willing to try new recipes, but she’s a pretty no-fuss cook, which is something I think I get from her, too.
My mother-in-law—My MIL is one of the best cooks I know.  She grew up cooking with her mom and grandma, both wonderful Pennsylvania Dutch cooks.  My MIL has never met a recipe she wasn’t willing to give a shot, and she cooks for a crowd like no one else I know.  She has endless patience in the kitchen, and I marvel at her ability to clean as she goes.  When she finishes making a huge meal and takes it to the table, the kitchen looks like no one has been in it.  How does she do that?!  She and my FIL plant a large garden every summer, and we’re the happy beneficiaries of lots of wonderful fresh produce that I try to put to good use.
Rachel Ray—When I first ventured out on my own after college and was learning to cook for myself regularly, I learned a lot of tips and tricks from Rachel Ray.  I appreciate that her recipes use shortcuts without resorting to a lot of processed foods to get to great taste.  She also gave me the courage to stop measuring everything and just eyeball it and trust the aromas and flavors while I’m cooking.
Alton Brown—The scientist in me loves Alton’s approach to cooking.  Knowing the “why” of cooking isn’t just interesting, it helps make me a better cook.  Rachel and Alton are the only two cooks on TV I really enjoyed watching until I discovered America’s Test Kitchen. 
Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines—These two magazines are my current favorites, with Cook’s Country getting a thin lead for featuring really accessible recipes.  It’s like combining the best of Alton and Rachel—I love to read about the lengths they go to when they test recipes, and the why of what works, and I love that they will use shortcuts, but not condensed soups.  Those guys hate condensed soups!  CI has great recipes, but they usually involve a little more fuss than I’m willing to put in to most meals.  When I can, I like to watch the cooks actually make some of the recipes on America’s Test Kitchen or Cook’s Country on PBS.
All You—This is the only other magazine that I regularly turn to for recipes.  They’re budget- and time-conscious, just a little adventurous, and use real, mostly un-processed food in their recipes.  I haven’t made a recipe from them that hasn’t been a hit, and a few have made it into regular rotation at our house.

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