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TCP Kitchen

Play with Your Food

Explore the possibilities of eating

I love to eat good food. And since I love to eat good food and didn’t want to eat at a restaurant every night, I learned how to cook.

I was blessed with parents who both knew their way around a kitchen. They gave me an appreciation of well-prepared meals and taught me the art and science of cooking. I remember those dinner staples my mom or my dad would whip up—beef enchiladas, a pot of slow-simmered beans, Sunday fried chicken and fresh-off-the-boat shrimp made into creole or fried golden brown and served with homemade hush puppies and coleslaw.

My folks didn’t just stick with those standards; they also liked to shake things up. A fondue set brought more than one evening of melted cheese heaven. A visit to a German restaurant inspired home-cooked potato pancakes and applesauce. Dad’s culinary experimentation led to many successes and one memorable—if not appetizing—conglomeration of macaroni and cheese with ham and pineapple, proving to us that the sum was sometimes less than the parts. But it was his willingness to try something different that stuck with me.

Dad died several years ago, but Mom is still a great cook. She can toss off those old family favorites with practiced ease. And her cakes, pies and cookies fly off the table at bake sales. I picked up much of my cooking knowledge from her, and Dad imparted to me a willingness to play around with a recipe, to cook by feel as much as rote. I love sampling new cuisines and enjoy the challenge of trying to re-create a dish I have eaten.

So I will approach my new position as food editor with the attitude of exploration. I will share with you the best of the many good recipes that are sent to our offices by our loyal readers every month. And I’ll share my thoughts as I broaden my food horizons.

I’d like to hear your suggestions for recipe topics you’d like to see in the future. It could be a new twist on an old favorite or an area of cooking you’d like to explore. Turn on your creative minds and send me your suggestions. I’ll send a copy of our 60 Years of Home Cooking cookbook to the person who sends me the most interesting topic.

You can e-mail suggestions to: [email protected].

Basic Barbecue Rub

One of my earliest memories of food are the barbecues my parents used to throw for friends and family. It wasn’t just the meat itself, but the heaps of potato salad, coleslaw, beans and other side dishes covering tables. And the meat that came off the old pit smoker Dad had made from a surplus drum just seemed to melt in my mouth, especially the chicken with beautifully browned and crisp skin that had been spiced with a simple rub. So good, you didn’t even need his homemade sauce.

Use marinade in addition to a rub to impart maximum flavor, but if you don’t have time to marinade, rubs are a quick way to spice up your grill. Here’s a good, all-purpose barbecue rub that you can use as a base for your own cooking explorations. I’ll give it to you in proportions so you can make as much or as little as you like.

4 parts salt
4 parts brown sugar
4 parts cracked or coarse-ground black pepper
4 parts paprika
2 parts garlic or onion powder
1 part chili powder
Ground red pepper (cayenne, ancho or chipotle, for example) to taste

Thoroughly mix spices in a bowl with a tight lid. Rub generous amount on all surfaces of meat before grilling or smoking. Keep surplus rub covered.

When using this rub with pork, try adding ginger, dry mustard or turmeric. For beef, crank up the red pepper. Toss in a little lemon pepper or citrus zest with chicken.

Play with your food. You might like what happens. And even if your dish is a dud, you’ve learned something.

July 2008 Recipe Contest