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I enjoy cooking and baking for my daughter and five sons: Heather (23), Taylor (21), Hunter (18), Blake (10), Nicholas (4) and William (2).
I adore southern-style meals -- basics like fried chicken breasts, ham and beans, corn bread, fried potoatoes, okra and squash -- it's comfort food that reminds me of my childhood and my grandmother, who was a true southern cook, iron skillet, lard and all.
I also enjoy Chinese (Kung Pao Chicken or Moo Goo Gai Pan) and Thai food (anything in a spicy, peanutty sauce). But if I had to chose, I'd say my favorite is Italian. Eggplant parmesan is a dish I love but rarely make, so I am sure to order it when I go to Olive Garden or Pasta House.
When I eat something at a restaurant I love, I try to find a similar recipe so I can make it myself at home. I always order Kung Pao Spaghetti at California Pizza Kitchen, so I was thrilled when I found a cookbook that had the recipe!
One of the best cooking skills I got from my mother is a willingness to "improvise" when making a meal. I often don't have all the ingredients of a recipe or meal I would like to make, so rather than run to the grocery store, I "make do" with a substitution. Sometimes it works out great. Sometimes it doesn't -- like the time I used cocktail sauce instead of tomatoes in a recipe -- it was embarrassingly bad! But experimenting is part of the fun of cooking!!
Another thing my mother taught my sisters and me was to "clean up as you go." This principle has kept me from getting overwhelmed with a mess in the kitchen and makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable. Mom wasn't a fancy cook, but she made so many great meals. I miss her coconut cream pie, banana pudding and Easter bunny cake, as well as her chili and stew!