Emily and I went up to our hometown a while ago and had lunch with my parents. It was a cloudy, rainy day and a mist was blanketing the redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains. It can be so magical when it rains there. It truly is a rain forest, and you feel like everything kind of just stops and all you need to do is curl up with a good book and stare out a window.
My mom seemed to read our minds and made us chilli and cornbread for lunch. It was THE PERFECT meal for that day. We chatted and watched the rain- their house, the one I grew up in, has windows covering almost every inch of the living and dining rooms. When you live somewhere like that, you want to always feel like you’re outside.
While we ate we asked my mom about cooking and how she got so good at it. She also gave us the recipe for the bomb chilli she made us. Enjoy!
What got you into cooking? Did someone teach you?
I was living over here as an undergraduate and I had been in the dorms up until then, you know, the dining hall and everything. I moved into a place by myself here and Mary Lou [her sister] came over one day (she was living in Felton here too with her husband) and she said “You have nothing in your refrigerator, how do you eat?” I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know. Taco Bell.” And she said “No, no no… I forgot, we never taught you to cook.” All of my other sisters got like, taught, to cook. I never got taught to cook. They were all getting married so they had to learn.
So Mary Lou came over and she brought all these ingredients and these little empty tubs of margarine. We used to eat margarine in plastic tubs and she’d saved a bunch of them. So she brought those over and we spent all day cooking and freezing single-serving amounts in these tubs. And we literally filled my freezer with 3 or 4 different kinds of food. For a while she had to call me in the morning and say, “Go get the thing out of the freezer so you’ll have something to eat this evening.”
“You won’t have to stop at Taco Bell.”
So that’s how I started. She taught me how to make those three things. Then she decided that she wanted to take a Spanish class on Wednesday nights. She was of course working full time as an accountant at the time, for O’Neill downtown. And she said “I won’t be able to take these Spanish lessons, Jerry [her husband at the time] won’t let me go to class if I don’t set it up so you come over and cook. So you take care of him- he comes home from work and you can cook him dinner.” So every Wednesday night I would go over there and cook Jerry dinner. I had the three recipes that she taught me that I had learned, but then she would leave me exact directions on how to make pork chops with peaches and white rice…every step, what pan to use, everything. So I would learn that way. How to make Swedish meatballs, tuna casserole, beef stroganoff, and macaroni and cheese… one of my favorites at the time. And Jerry liked it, too, so I would make macaroni and cheese and a salad. And so I learned that way- you know, the basics.
If you had the president coming over for dinner, and you wanted to impress him, what would be your go-to recipe? (This was Em’s question haha)
I would probably start with hors d’ oeuvres or something, and then I might do a cream of asparagus soup with a nice rustic bread, just to you know… fill him up before (laughs). Then I might make something kind of different… you know… quinoa with prawns and spices, you know? With naan bread. Something like that to make him think I was, you know… hip.
But my go-to recipe for anybody but the president, (laughs) is… Forget the soup. You get no soup. It is chicken cordon bleu (at least it has a French name) and it’s sliced open chicken breast with ham and cheese in it, and you bread the whole thing, and then you bake it. And you serve it with broccoli or asparagus or sliced heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella and basil. And maybe biscuits.
Super Easy Chili Recipe (from Steph’s grandmother):
- 1 lb extra lean ground beef
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 (15 -16 ounce) can of corn
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- Finely sliced celery
- 1 (14 1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- “Lots of” garlic salt with parsley
- 1 (15 -16 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained or 1 (15 -16 ounce) can pinto beans, if desired
- Cook beef, onion and garlic in 3 qt saucepan until beef is brown.
- Stir in remaining ingredients except beans.
- Heat to boiling, reduce heat to low.
- Cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in beans.
- Heat to boiling, reduce heat to low.
- Simmer uncovered about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until desired thickness.
Serve with cornbread and enjoy!