by Tara Davis

What’s something you’re known for, in your cooking?  Do you have a family famous recipe, a reunion tradition, a technique perfected over the years?  Do you follow specific guidelines, or do you just wing it?

My family is full of legendary food traditions.  My grandmothers, great aunts, and cousins all earned their own fame – or infamy – from pies to chicken salad,  preserves to dinner rolls. Some of this, I freely admit, I will never live up to.

I am mostly known (in cooking and in life) for being just a little out of the box.  Nothing TOO wild and crazy. Nothing unattainable.  But almost always just a little twisted my own way.  Rather than prattle on about it, I will here, in words, directly encourage you to think about your habitual cooking, and consider things that may elevate it just a notch or two.  Then GO FOR IT!  After all, it’s just food….

The recipes today are from my personal arsenal or tried and true, of my own design, and a couple are even readily available for sale in my storefront.  But food and its art is not meant to be hoarded away. It is meant to be shared, and I, as always, gladly share my personal takes on these dishes in the hopes you will not only try them, but be inspired to try your own versions!

The recipes:

Watermelon Salad – toss together 1 small seedless watermelon, 1 round of cotija cheese, 2 tbsp chili powder, the juice of 5 limes and 1 tsp salt.  Enjoy chilled.

PBJB Sandwich – Spread thick layers of creamy peanut butter and your favorite jelly (mine is local mayhaw) on pieces of whole wheat bread.  Layer 3-4 pieces cooked bacon between the pieces and enjoy as is, or toasted.

Grilled chicken – Trim the fat from 1-2 pieces of chicken per person. Use your favorite cuts.  Season with a mixture of 4 tbsp each garlic powder, paprika, dried parsley, 2 tsp each salt and pepper.  Sear on the grill, then continue to cook 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet and finish in the oven at 350 degrees 10-15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted reads 165 degrees. This method prevents the chicken from becoming too dry or burning on the outside.

Iced tea – Bring 1 gallon of water, 2 family sized black tea bags and 1 earl grey tea bag to a boil, then turn the heat off. Steep 5-10 minutes, until desired strength is reached. Allow to cool to room temperature before refrigerating, to prevent bitterness or cloudiness.

Tomato Sandwiches – slice 1 garden fresh tomato.  Salt and pepper slices. Mix salt and pepper with sour cream or mayonnaise.  Spread toasted bagel halves with mixture, layer tomatoes and dress with green Tabasco sauce.

Chicken Soup – Bring 3-4 chicken pieces of your choice to a boil. (I like a mix of light and dark pieces). Cook 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through.  Remove chicken, reserve stock.  Shred chicken.  Strain stock and save.  Saute 1-2 carrots, 2-3 celery stalks and 1 onion, diced, until tender.  Add 3 cloves garlic, strained stock, salt and pepper to taste, shredded chicken, and 3 stems each fresh rosemary and thyme.  While dried herbs will do in a pinch, the difference really is in the freshness of garlic and herbs. Simmer 20 minutes. Juice one lemon into soup and serve with rice or pasta if desired.