Sunday, February 13, 2011

Celebrating My Cook-at-Home Mentors

Earlier this month, the government updated their dietary guidelines.  The headlines?  Eat less food, eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer SoFAS.  What the heck are SoFAS?  And how do I achieve meeting the new recommendations? 

As defined by the guidelines, SoFAS are solid fat and added sugar.  We are left to draw our own conclusions as to what the authors of the document are referencing since they avoided actually naming the "bad for you" foods.  Here's one interpretation to get you thinking....

If you take to heart some of the criticism in the media regarding the new guidelines, a common theme is how the guidelines fail to include suggestions for achieving a better diet.  One of the obvious ideas that could have been suggested and one of the easiest to achieve is cooking more at home.  By it's very nature, cooking at home helps you control portion size, variety and nutrients where restaurants and prepared food manufacturers are slower to act on your behalf.

My husband and I, while living in Dallas, were neighbors with a restaurateur.  He gave us some freebies once inviting us to sample his establishment.  The portions were huge!  We asked him why so much food had been served (on enormous plates).  He said he hated serving that much food  -- often much of it went to waste -- but he had to because his competition did.  If folks came in and paid $12.00 for an entree they wanted a lot of food.  Even if they could not finish it. 

The idea of cooking at home is easy to embrace if you already like cooking at home.  For me, I not only like,  but love cooking at home.  But had I not had mentors along the way, my path could have been very different.  This thought got me thinking.  Who are my "cook at home" mentors?

Of course magazine recipes, cookbooks and the typical celebrity chefs have played a role.  More importantly, I have very personal mentors who have really inspired me. 

My mom - when using alcohol in cooking says, "Use only what you are willing to drink."  One of my first lessons in using the best ingredients possible.  Go Mom!  The "cooking" Sherry I use is a lovely Sherry from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

Joy, my long ago, co-worker/friend/neighbor showed me the love in making a potluck dish and sharing with friends.  I really do believe you can tell the difference if the cook cares about what they're making.  I still make her chicken enchilada casserole.

A couple we hung with in Chicago, Jan and her husband Bruce (Bruce, a food historian and Jan, a documentary producer/professor) authored a book and produced a series about authentic Mexican food.  They invited my husband and I along with about 4 other couples to be recipe testers in their home kitchen.  The experience demonstrated how to have a great social experience with a group of friends preparing a big, ethnic meal... at home.  We also learned to appreciate the necessity of good communication.  I now jot notes on all my recipes.

The Commander's Palace New Orleans CookbookAnother mentor?  My husband, John.  When we moved to Chicago for my job, he was left with time on his hands before successfully finding work.  He decided to kick up his skills a notch and bought the famous New Orleans restaurant The Commander's Palace cookbook and a killer french cookbook.  What lovely meals were awaiting me upon my arrival from a long day at work.  I marveled at his willingness to dive in and try something new.  He showed me I could do it too.

Our friends Ric and Barb - they were one of our very first dinner guests when we were first married.  I served veal.  Ric ribbed me a bit about my choice of meat.  Did I realize it was a baby cow?  Other than that, the meal was a success.  But from that point forward I was more mindful of my food choices and what I may serve a guest.  To this day, we have never eaten together at a restaurant, our gatherings are over home cooked meals at their house and ours. 

A co-worker from my Dallas days, Nguyen and his wife Thi moved to Los Angeles about the same time we did.  His wife loved to cook, Nguyen being the techno geek that he is, sent to select bloggers and food followers about when and where to sample his wife's cooking.  The word spread and the next thing they knew they were operating an illegal restaurant out of their apartment.  The covert establishment became so successful, they had to go legit. By listening to friends feedback, they dived in and now operate the very successful Starry Kitchen in downtown LA.  They'll be celebrating one year this week.

And our dear friend Nick - he embraces all of the characteristics above.  His Italian mother passed on her culinary talents to her son and he now, the ever patient teacher, showed me how to make pasta in my own kitchen.  And what a sport for participating in a friendly grilled chicken competition with my husband.  Both prepared a fabulous chicken in their own way .... Nick's Coffee Grounds Coated, Beer Up the Butt Chicken and John's ever Succulent Foiled Roasted Chicken w/Secret Herbs.  Nick showed us how to be playful in the kitchen.

I raise my glass of Sherry to each and every one of you for playing a such a big role in my culinary development.

Who are your heroes?


  1. I'm so happy you love that recipe, Sylvia. It's a regular for us as well, and one of my most often asked for recipes.

    Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. I would never THINK of going to a restaurant on this special day. I get to show someone I love dearly, how much I love him through the food I prepare for him. It's one of my favorite cooking Days. Happy Valentine's Day and belated anniverary to you and John. Joy

  2. Were the chocolate chips I was eating while reading about SoFAS SoFAS? How wonderful to have friend owning a restaurant! Congratulations to them. I remember our first dinner with you very well. What a fun evening we had. It set the tone for all of our meals together in all of the years that have followed. Thank you for taking that first step! Barbara

  3. So nice people giving gift to each other. I love the way you are keeping your friendship. Thanks for post there was a lot to learn.

    cool gadgets


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