I can spot a good cook at a thousand meters. Good cooks give themselves away without knowing it. Of course you have to be able to recognize the behavior and it differs depending on their surroundings. In a grocery store, a good cook spends next to no time in the centre of the store. Canned goods and pre-made food rarely make it into their grocery carts. They are the perimeter shoppers. They hover in the fresh food aisles where vegetables, fruit, fresh herbs, seafood, meats and cheeses live. It’s actually quite comical watching a cook fondle food. Everything needs to be touched, gently squeezed and most importantly smelled.
Now if you happen upon a good cook in a restaurant, they are either euphoric or owly because their meal is either perfect or sadly pedestrian. They hate feeling like they should have stayed home and made it themselves.
Years ago, during the renovation at Sister’s Italian Food, we hung a huge blue industrial tarp across the front of the store to keep the mess in and customers out. One Saturday while I was working at the Secret Garden I was running both shops at the time, I watched a woman lift the dusty tarp up and crawl over construction equipment trying to get into the shop. I knew Ralph was there so I waited for her to come right back out. Fifteen minutes went by and finally out she came with a big smile on her face. Once she was out of site, I walked over to find out what she wanted. Ralph was chuckling. “I told her we were closed but she didn’t care. She needed prosciutto and she wasn’t leaving until I sliced it for her”. Ralph hadn’t been able to find the slicer because the whole store was upside down so he gave her a coupon hoping she would come back. She became one of our most loyal customers…
You have to understand that fifteen years ago you couldn’t buy prosciutto anywhere in Saint John except at our shop and I had just gotten my first order in. I wanted to know how she knew that I was carrying prosciutto before I had advertised and more importantly who she was. A girl that was willing to hike over building debris for imported food was a girl that I needed to meet.
And meet we did and have been friends ever since. Her love of food and cooking has had a profound influence on my cooking journey. To give you a little perspective into our friendship, when she had her Viking state of the art stove installed we paid it homage by sitting on the floor in front of the oven watching a prime rib roast while drinking Prosecco. She also introduced me to my favorite bubbly not to mention Jamie Oliver, The River Cafe girls, London and Greece! We’ve cooked together for years. She would be one of those good cooks that would be fun to follow around the grocery store!
Linda is queen of the apps. Her ‘I’m just going to put out a few munchies while I get dinner ready’ would rival most full course dinners. She served Ralph and I this dip on a Sunday afternoon while the guys watched football and we played in the kitchen. I’ve since served it many times and it’s always a home run!
adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast
1 slice [2” thick] peeled fresh ginger
3/4 cup roasted unsalted cashews plus 2 tablespoons for garnishing
1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt I like the dip a little looser so I increase the yogurt to 1/2 cup
1/4 cup packed basil leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
In a food processor, pulse the ginger until finely chopped. Add the 3/4 cup cashews; process until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the yogurt, basil, brown sugar, and curry powder; season with salt. Process until incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed.
Transfer to a serving bowl. Crush the remaining cashews I used my mortar and pestle then sprinkle crushed nuts over the dip.
Serve with cooked shrimp, chicken or beef skewers, crudité or tortilla chips
THE LOVE: The original recipe called for cilantro. I’ve used basil, Italian parsley and oregano, all with great results!
one year ago: radishes with EVOO and pink sea salt
two years ago: wild mushroom risotto