by Tara Pederson

I have always had family members who really do throw caution to the wind.  Who don’t seem to own measuring spoons and cups or thermometers.  Who are so instinctual in their cooking one couldn’t bear to imagine an imperfect dish emerging from their ovens.

I also have friends and relatives who measure to 1/8 teaspoon, who follow directions to a “t”, and for whom the idea of chopping vegetables or cooking chicken not from a can is unthinkable. I’m sure you do too-

With this in mind, I bring you a peek into my abnormal week of cooking.

Last week I talked about salt and pepper.  Which led me down a path of thought (I’ll skip to the important parts-) which led to my decision to cook without using it for a week.  To, in fact, not use two of my go-to favorite ingredients for a week.

You see, I am renowned for my love of all things capsaicin and citrus.  I’ve written about both in this very column.  But oh, friends, little did I know the challenges ahead of me.  No lemon juice?  No black pepper? In anything?!?  What have I done?

I have the tendency to take things from my fridge and pantry which are still good, but need to be used, and season them up into something fun and interesting and tasty.  Fresh fruit loves dried oranges and lime zest.  But no – that can’t happen this week, so… grapes were tossed with grated ginger and fresh thyme for a sweet, herbaceous palate cleanser.  Plums were dressed in vanilla and sweet cream.  No cooking necessary.   

Dinner without spice or prickle is a foreign concept in my house.  But portobellos stuffed with boiled, shredded chicken I dressed in a simple mixture of dill and dijon and topped with parmesan was a great change up.

Instead of citrus, I used roasted garlic mashed with salt and vinegar to toss my sauteed vegetables in, with delightful result.

I strongly encourage you to be bold, both in cooking and in life!  But I can only advise you pertaining to the former.

Consider pairing unlikely flavors, like the sweet and spicy of mango and chile,  bright and herby like lemon and rosemary, savory and tangy, like pickled onions on a burger,  or bitter and mild, like balsamic on bread.  None of these things sound too weird or scary, right?  But don’t shy away from weird! It is often well worth the risk.

Let me not neglect the extreme importance of another crucial kitchen staple (also often discussed here) herbs, both fresh and dried.  Play with your favorites to make your own versatile house blend, or get creative and throw some things in you rarely think of. Maybe try out fennel, ancho chiles or specialty vinegars.

Scour your cabinets, pull out everything you have and take stock.  Mix and match and give it a good think.  Next time you’re at the store, grab a spice or ingredient you haven’t ever used and throw it in your meal that evening!

(In a couple of weeks, we’ll cook with MY never before used ingredients. )

With that, I leave you an ever so easy recipe for roasting garlic-

Cut the tops off several heads of garlic.  Place on a sheet tray, drizzle the exposed tops with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Bake at 250 degrees 60-90 minutes, until very soft. Allow to cool completely, then squeeze out the cloves and refrigerate or freeze.  Mash and add desired amount to your sauces or dishes.