Cook of the Week: Picky eater learns to branch out
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By Abby Scalf
Daily Herald Correspondent
Nick Ninedorf admits he was a picky eater growing up.
"My parents struggled to get me to eat anything other than macaroni and cheese and hot dogs," he admits.
But working in a restaurant in college changed his outlook on food. Nick says while watching the chefs, he learned to mimic their recipes and discovered that how you pair ingredients can create wonderful meals at home.
"In a soup, it's onion, carrots and celery and the simplicity of adding salt and pepper to meat," the Wheaton resident says. "Learning what tastes well together, and by smell what seasonings go well together allows you to branch out on your own."
He adds, "I've discovered some good pairings that I can show my parents and open their minds as well."
A financial adviser, Nick said he does not get a chance to cook as often as he'd like. But when he can, once or twice a week, he likes to cook meals that are quick, fresh and healthy.
"One night I had mint leaves, basil and threw them in with tomatoes, kalamata olives and made a great chicken salad," he said. "I try to make things that are fun and quick because if I take too much time cooking, it's a chore."
Nick prefers bold flavors as he balances taste, temperature and texture. His homemade pizza, for example, includes cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and prosciutto; once out of the oven it gets topped with fresh arugula.
He's also discovered that cooking sometimes can create delicious food, but with an amusing and unintended appearance, as was the case with a recent batch of lamb and butternut squash soup.
"We cooked the lamb in the wine first, and the wine turned the meat purple, so the presentation was a little strange," he said. "It looked like we chopped up Grimace from McDonald's, but it was delicious."
Normally, Nick will cook for himself and his girlfriend. At times, he may cook for a small group of family and friends. But Nick went beyond his comfort zone when he was encouraged last year to enter "60 Men Who Cook," a cooking competition/fundraiser organized by the Geneva Chamber of Commerce. For this, he had to make 200-plus servings.
"The most people I had ever cooked for was six," he said. "When I learned I had to prepare 300 servings, I knew it was too late to back out."
Influenced by a television show where the competitors made Korean tacos, Nick decided the mix of spicy, crunchy, hot and cold would be the perfect combination to prepare an appetizer.
Nick marinated the cubed pork in a combination of soy sauce, brown sugar, mirin, sesame oil, garlic, scallions and ginger before grilling. The meat gets topped with a Korean slaw made from cabbage, bean sprouts, lime juice and sriracha. Some of the marinade is set aside and poured on as the final touch. He saved the grilling until the last minute so guests could enjoy a hot taco.
The tacos were so well received that Nick won the event's appetizer category. While the tacos were tasty, don't ask Nick to make them anytime soon.
"When you make 300 of something, measuring in gallons and using soy, mirin and fragrant things that stain your clothes, you don't want to smell these again," he said. "I've made enough Korean tacos to last a lifetime. It's been almost a year, and I haven't made even a small batch."
Yet he hasn't given up his drive to explore more bold cuisines, such as the Thai-style wings he shares today. He hopes other eaters, even former picky ones like himself, will get into the kitchen, explore flavors and enjoy the process.
"Seeing a group of amateurs get together and cook something that is extraordinary hopefully may encourage others," he said.
Editor's note: Tickets still are available for this year's culinary fundraiser, 30 Men and 30 Women Who Cook, April 19 at the Kane County Fairgrounds. Order through the Geneva Chamber of Commerce at genevachamber.com.
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