Cooking Up a Feast for the Senses
Eating is a full sensory experience. It isn’t just about how a dish tastes—the color, the texture and the smell of the food all play a part in every dining experience.
I consider myself lucky. I grew up in a home where my mother cooked and baked everything from scratch, so even at a young age, I already appreciated delicious, wholesome food. Not to mention, our kitchen always smelled wonderful. Since my mom liked to try new recipes, Sunday dinners often meant we were treated to something more exotic than the standard weeknight fare of meatloaf or chicken casserole. I especially loved it when she cooked from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
To this day, my mom always follows a recipe. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but it didn’t show me that there was a whole other innovative, intuitive side to cooking. And it turns out, I cannot follow a recipe. Yep, it’s true. In fact, as a teen, I was a horrible cook. The first time I made Jello (which doesn’t even qualify as cooking), it was an inedible mess of syrup on top and rubber on the bottom. I know, hard to imagine one can ruin Jello, yet I managed to—more than once!
And then there was the cinnamon roll debacle. I managed to make the dough just fine, but got bored during the kneading phase and quit after only a few minutes. To my horror, upon removing the rolls from the oven, they were not the luscious, puffed up rounds of perfection I was expecting. (In my defense, I was only 15 and had no idea why kneading was important). I had made rock-hard little discs that my brothers gleefully called “hockey pucks”. And boy did they have fun frisbeeing them off the balcony to see who’s could go the farthest.
My salvation came when I roomed with my sister during our college days. She would open a cupboard or the fridge, pull out a little of this and a little of that, and whip up something amazing for our dinner. I watched in awe, and eventually something truly exciting transpired. I quit using recipes and voilà—I could cook!
Rather than following a recipe verbatim, I might refer to one for inspiration or as a loose guideline, but I started innovating, trusting my intuition. Of course, then I had to throw a lot of dinner parties just so I’d have an excuse to cook (and the oohs and ahs following a delicious meal didn’t hurt either).
Over the years, I have continued to innovate in the kitchen and am not afraid to try unusual or exotic ingredients or combine items that wouldn’t typically be paired. I trust my intuition and it rarely steers me wrong. When I cook, I rely on my sense of sight and of smell, maybe even more than my sense of taste. Starting at the market, it might be the color or fragrance of a fruit or vegetable that kick-starts my imagination, inspiring whatever I might create that day, and I can tell simply by the fragrance of an herb, spice or condiment whether it belongs in the dish or not.
I consider food an artistic medium with which to express myself. In fact, the Italian expression “l’arte di fare qualcosa dal nulla” (the art of making something out of nothing) summarizes my cooking esthetic. I like to use minimal ingredients and turn them into a feast for the senses, always thinking about how the colors and texture of ingredients will complement each other, not just the smells and flavors. It makes me feel connected and inspired and creative.
I recently came across an article asking “Do you eat to live or live to eat?” Tough question. I’d have to say both—with a penchant for eating mindfully. How about you?
If you make this recipe, snap a pic of your dish and hashtag it #kellylenihancooks. I'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!
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