Growing up, I was never a food buff. My parents aren’t particularly fussed about creative cooking. They’d experiment from time to time, but having three uninspired and generally picky children kept them from straying too far into the depths of culinary enticement. We have always sat down together for meals, so it was important that they stuck to dishes we would actually eat. I would notice from time to time, though, that my mother would get excited about a new recipe or an opportunity to bring something exciting to a party. We were not the family to ever settle for takeout, so I’ve always known I would one day learn to cook out of necessity. I just never saw it as a priority until recently.
The title of this post is an inspiring set of words from Disney’s delightfully endearing Ratatouille. When this movie hit theaters in 2007, my then boyfriend practically dragged me to it. Those who know me well will of course realize that I don’t need much convincing to see a Disney/Pixar motion picture, but in this case I knew next to nothing about their latest project. The subject matter is certainly and eyebrow-raiser. It’s the story of a rat who likes to cook. Huh.
Jason (the guy I was seeing) was a cooking enthusiast, something I did not know about him before our date to see Ratatouille. As we walked back to my Lexington summer abode, he went on and on about cooking and how much it meant to him. I could see how this children’s movie had infused Jason with a sense of empowerment. It inspired me really. While our relationship was short-lived (with good reason, he was all wrong for me), he instilled in me a sense of wonder in all things culinary. This curiosity has grown steadily over the last 4 years and MasterChef Australia has now thrown me over the edge.
If you live under a rock, I’m guessing you’ve never heard of MasterChef. It’s a fantastic reality competition for amateur and aspiring chefs. I don’t get to watch it often as I’m rarely home in the evenings, but every time I do I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by my desire to mimic the contestants passion and to tweak their visions into my own creations.
Living in France also egged on my growing need to force foods together into masterpieces. My good friend, Elodie, was a talented cook and she never resisted an opportunity to showcase her gift. She taught me how to make fruit crumbles and tartiflette, while I shared my ever-evolving guacamole recipe with her. I am quite the guacamole master if I do say so myself. I never make it exactly the same twice. My latest addition to the recipe is fresh cilantro (or coriander, if you’re Australian) leaves. The secret to keeping guacamole fresh for longer is to leave the pits in the mixture as long as possible. This is especially important when storing it in the fridge. Also, I’ve found that organic avocados last for 2-3 days! This is amazing when regular avocados usually turn the mixture brown by the next morning if not the very same day.Unfortunately for me, my two greatest culinary assets are fairly simple and usually only reserved as party staples. My guacamole is very popular, so I often get requests for it when invited to potluck dinners and bbqs. My other famous dish is one I invented last (American) summer at my family’s cabin. My dad started calling it “Emma’s salad” and insisted I make it with half of our meals for the rest of the time I was at home. Even my friend Hannah (who refuses to mix sweet and salty or savory) loves it.
To make this salad at home, here’s all you’ll need: Fresh strawberries (washed and dried), crisp iceberg lettuce, walnuts (chopped) and poppy seed dressing. There’s no such dressing in Australia unfortunately, so I’ve been substituting honey mustard dressing. I’ve also made this salad with blueberries (in addition, not instead of the strawberries) and with grated cheddar cheese on occasion. It’s an insanely simple salad, but it’s beautiful. Strawberries just aren’t a typical salad ingredient, so that’s the basis of its uniqueness and appeal.
The last of my mastered recipes is one I actually didn’t attempt until I came to Australia, though I have been in love with it since I first tasted it off of Ruby Tuesday’s salad bar many years ago. Turns out it’s just as delicious as I remember! Rather than selecting one Waldorf to embrace as my own, I opted to combine a myriad of ingredients from various recipes to make my ideal salad. I’ve only made it twice so far, but it’s just gorgeous.
There are good and bad things to being a salad master. One upside is that they rarely require much actually cooking. The downside is that they often have many ingredients, which all require chopping, dicing, and other forms of special attention. The other week I made a pasta salad from a cookbook I received for my birthday. Combining all of that dicing PLUS cooking made it the most draining salad experience I’ve ever had. It took me nearly two hours. (I was making it for about 25 people, though.)
I’ve garnered a reputation as the salad expert of our friend group, hence the salad book for my birthday. But now I’m ready to move on to the more complicated and exciting areas of cooking. I feel so much creativity and passion bottled up inside me and ready to burst. Hannah and I have big plans to plow through her MasterChef cookbook over uni holidays and I cannot wait! I’ll be keeping a list of all of my mastered recipes and another of some dishes I intend to tackle this year. Check back for progress and ideas for your own culinary adventures! It’s time to put Ratatouille’s “Anyone Can Cook!” mantra to good use.