Cook of the Week: Cooking, laughing, learning go hand in hand
Maria Anderson has fond childhood memories and even some amusing ones of working in the kitchen with her mom and two sisters.
She recalls traveling to a farm to pick bushels of tomatoes and spending days at home canning. And there's the time she was asked to clean vegetable greens. She didn't know cleaning them did not require using soap and water.
"I remember my uncle saying this tastes really soapy," she recalls with a chuckle.
Whether the time produced a delicious meal, laughs or both, the Palatine resident developed a love of cooking. Along the way she learned how to make Italian favorites, knowledge she shares with her daughters Erica, 27, and Alexis, 22.
"The difference is in my family of origin it was expected you were going to grow up and cook like your mom did. With my kids, I try to make sure they had fun, that it was a shared experience," she said.
Maria admits her husband, Bud, would love if they ate mostaccioli every Sunday as she did as a child. But they prefer a lower carb lifestyle, so pasta comes to the table once a month and dinners rely more upon chicken and fish. The family also focuses on being health conscious adding vegetables to a dish. Maria said she often uses spinach, adding to meat loaf or mixing it with garlic and feta into ground chicken to make burgers.
When she indulges in an Italian classic, she may make meatballs or a ragu with pork shoulder served with polenta (inspired by Ina Garten) topped with mascarpone cheese. And while Maria often makes her mom's sauce, when she's making a slow-cooked favorite she doesn't mind turning to supermarket prepared sauce.
"If you are making country-style ribs or pork shoulder or cooking meatballs on the stove for hours and hours, the meat imparts its oils into the sauce and it mellows. It's really a different sauce than when you open the jar," she said.
When Maria cooks with her daughters, they do something she discovered others may not. "We say to each other even now when we're cooking together what do you like to do? One of us will say I like chopping onions and another will say I don't like chopping onions but I like chopping celery. I have a daughter that loves mixing," she said. "With every little step, my daughters and I know what each of us likes to do so we play to each other's strengths."
One thing she hopes her kids have inherited is confidence.
"You have to understand what brings out flavor. What flavors compliment each other," she said. "You have to feel comfortable and enjoy the process."
Erica shared with her mom one thing she also learned that Maria didn't realize.
Erica told her, "I learned from you that there are times when you want to be kind to someone who is in need, so you bring them a meal. She said not everyone does that, but everyone appreciates it. And I learned that from you."
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