When I was growing up, food had a whole different meaning than it does to me now. In a family of five children, meals were a battle to get as much on your plate before a brother or sister dove in and took it all. So, dinners leaned toward volume, not necessarily taste.
And those kitchen rituals and traditions typically handed down from mother to daughter? They were almost nonexistent because my mom was too busy hemming clothes, doing the laundry and chasing after five rambunctious kids. Cooking was just something on a daily list, to be done and checked off.
But as I became more exposed to the Taste of Home family in my new role as chief content officer—a family that shares and celebrates and passes along a love of cooking—I’ve come to grips with the legacy my mother left me. It’s one where food was just sustenance, something cooked to fuel the body. And I decided to do something about it.
Welcome to Not My Mother’s Kitchen
While I’ve always loved food—reading about it and eating it—I’m embarking on an ongoing journey to discover the joy of cooking. And I hope you’ll join me. My first stop? Improving upon my mother’s go-to: pepper steak. In our household, pepper steak was a staple. Some cheap cuts of meat. A few vegetables. Rice. And hours in a crock pot. That’s it. And when I say that’s it, that’s it.
I’ve often joked that we had two types of music while growing up in our household–country and western–and two types of seasoning–salt and pepper. And you didn’t have to use all those seasonings at the same time. What I thought was fine as an 11-year-old could certainly be improved.
The first step: Get a great pepper steak recipe. Then, gather the ingredients. I noticed that the recipe called for garlic—already an improvement on my mother’s seasoning-phobic version. I also modified the recipe by adding some smoked paprika.
I opted for a quality cut of roast—something my mother couldn’t do with a stretched budget.
Onto the peppers. Did you know there are male and female versions of peppers? The male has three bumps, whereas the female has four. The male holds up better for cooking, so that’s what I chose.
I recalled that my mother’s recipe called for canned whole tomatoes, which brought an unnecessary acidity to the dish and also made it a bit of a soupy mess. I was glad to see the Taste of Home recipe didn’t have tomatoes. So, score another improvement.
Perhaps the biggest improvement: My daughter and husband joined in on the prep work, making it a family activity. After the chopping and measuring and ladling and slow cooking, the result was an infinitely better pepper steak. One with flavor. And chunks of vegetables. Spiced. And seasoned.
Although the final dish still had that soupy—dare I say, “mushy”—look I remember (not so fondly), we enjoyed the healthy dish over white rice and lots of dinner-table laughter. So I’m not giving up on the slow cooker. To me, this was the first step in my journey. And I already know the best part of cooking: Enjoying the dish with people you love.