Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Magazine that Changed My Life

Cooking Light changed my life. My mother gave me an issue in June 2002 to read on the airplane as I flew home from visiting my parents in Colorado. I opened the magazine as the plane taxied and hardly looked up until I had read the entire issue. The variety of featured ingredients astonished me, and the food in the photographs made my stomach rumble – not something I expected from “light” cuisine. I cornered page after page of recipes to try.

I suppose it is relevant to say here that in my pre-Cooking Light days, I didn’t cook very much and rarely tried anything new. My limited repertoire featured my mother’s (very good) chili, blueberry muffins, pancakes, chicken breasts and vegetables, and a variety of cookies and desserts. If anything, I was a more experienced baker than cook (which is not saying much, however). But I was hungry – a lot – and I lusted after good food.

The first recipe I prepared from that initial issue of Cooking Light was mango salsa, a rough assemblage of scallion, jalapeno pepper, salt, sugar, cilantro, lime and mango. Perfectly simple to prepare and utterly delicious, it was a flavor-popping marriage of sweet and savory extremes. My fate – as a food lover and food magazine fan – was sealed.

Reading the magazine and trying a recipe or two out of it, I began to believe that I could actually make good food myself, as opposed to always having to go out for it. I also evolved into a more adventurous eater, both at home and at restaurants, adding fresh figs, cilantro, and pomegranate molasses to my list of favorite ingredients. These were revelations that changed the texture of my life immeasurably – from where I travel to how I spend my spare time to how I feed my family. My day-to-day existence is simply more of a pleasure than it ever was before.

As noted in an earlier blog entry, my long-term relationship with food magazines is still going strong today. But Cooking Light was my first love. It may not be the most sophisticated of the culinary mags, but it was the one that seduced me first. For that, it will always have a special place in my heart and in my kitchen.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Recipe Roadtest: Parmesan-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon

I have a love of dates that goes back to a 10-day roadtrip through Morocco in 2000. We picked dates off a tree in Skoura and sampled several varieties from the vendors in Marrakech’s Djemaa el Fna. We ate the sticky fruit in numerous dishes, and learned to appreciate the different varieties.

I have a love of parmesan cheese that definitely does not date back to my childhood when we ate grated parmesan from the green Kraft canister. My affection, nay, adoration for parmesan, is actually a love of Parmigiano. This appreciation for the genuine article was sparked by my first-generation Italian husband and his immigrant parents.

I have a love of bacon that, really, shouldn’t need to be explained.

So, when I saw the recipe for parmesan-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon in the October 2005 issue of Gourmet three of my culinary stars were aligned. I prepared these little lovelies Saturday night when our friend Nicole came over for dinner. She had looked stricken earlier in the week when I asked her if she might like these as an appetizer. She breathlessly assured me that nothing on earth could sound better. I couldn’t agree more.

We were both rewarded for our anticipation. The gooey Parmigiano oozed into the sweet, sticky dates, while the crisp bacon acted as a smoky, salty counterpoint. I waited nearly a year after seeing this recipe to make the stuffed dates, but I didn’t wait nearly that long to prepare another batch. In fact, we still had leftover ingredients after our dinner party, and the dates were a memorable addition to yesterday’s Labor Day dinner.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A First

We reached a food milestone at our home today – our daughter Rosa ate her first solid food. “Solid” is a bit misleading in this case, as her meal consisted of rice cereal thinned considerably with formula. However, she ate from a spoon, and while she seemed a little unsure about her role in the proceedings, Rosa continued to open her mouth for more after each bite.

Feeding Rosa, I thought about how this is her first step on a long journey. Every food she eats she will taste for the first time. Each flavor and texture will be new to her. She has her whole life ahead of her to be nourished by, delighted by, and obsessed with food – both positively and negatively. If she’s anything like her mother, Rosa will think about food during approximately 75% of her waking existence. Hopefully we can spare her that!