Featured Cook: Mandi Lynn
In my family, cooking is not just about food. It’s not a chore that must be completed. It’s how we love each other. In our home, my father was the main cook. He’s always been proud of himself in the kitchen, and just like at Gram’s house, he would make us all gather around and admire his meat-cooking, pizza-dough-tossing skills. My dad will always give me a task to complete as he hovers over my shoulder, looking suspicious and mumbling about how he’s not going to eat anything with vegetables in it. He’s still the best cook in town in his book. I guess that’s where I get it from, and these experiences growing up inspired me to always have my daughter around when I’m cooking. She watches me daily, asking about what ingredients I’m using and making sure that I’ll write everything down for her someday so that she can cook for her family when she grows up. My friends always tease me about getting emotional about food, and claiming that certain foods or recipes will change your life, but for me food is family, it’s love, and it’s tradition.
Meet Mandi Lynn, one of our most inspiring cooks, mother, writer, survivor.
What’s your Cucumbertown story?
I found out about Cucumbertown thanks to a friend who suggested that since I’m in the kitchen so much I should post my recipes on this great new site. Little did I know that it would be more than just a recipe posting site. It’s a place where I’ve learned new things, been inspired to create new recipes, and met great new friends.
How would you define your cooking style?
My cooking style is probably a mix of many. Since I live in a mixed culture household, I make a wide variety of foods. I love to make the few traditional dishes my grandmothers made while I was growing up. I also like to experiment with Middle Eastern food, healthy recipes, comfort food, and many more.
Do you find a strong influence from the Middle East in your cooking or are you still true to classic American?
If anything I put an American twist on the Middle Eastern food that I cook. My favorite fusion of the two cuisines is my homemade pizza topped with a mix of pizza sauce, za’atar, and olive oil. Divine!
Which recipe would you recommend to beginner cooks to impress a special someone?
I think soups are an easy way to seem like a fancier cook than you are. Toss some veggies with olive oil, roast in the oven, add some broth and a dash of cream, puree and you’ll be on your way to a gourmet meal with very little effort.
With so many fussy eaters around, do you have any secrets to raising a child with good food habits?
I grew up as a picky eater because my parents never introduced me to a variety of foods, so when my daughter was ready for solid foods I swore I wouldn’t let her end up the same way. Luckily, she’ll eat just about anything now, but for the foods that she doesn’t prefer I find ways to disguise them so she doesn’t know what she’s eating. Veggies can be grated and sneaked into rice or pasta dishes, or pureed and added to soups or sauces. She claims to dislike onions, so I grate them or chop them finely. It’s all about creativity.
What’s the one dish you can have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and never get tired of?
Do I have to pick just one? I like breakfast foods any old time and we often have things like pancakes, french toast, biscuits and gravy, or eggs for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I’m also a carboholic, so I could never get tired of pizza, pasta, potatoes, or fresh baked bread!
Your nemesis dish?
Rice! With the exception of a few dishes that have taken me literally YEARS not to destroy, I am a failure when it comes to cooking rice. I’ve tried all methods, taken tips from friends and relatives, I’ve even tried cheating and buying a rice cooker. Still, I end up with burned, sticky, mushy, or crunchy rice. Sometimes I end up with an interesting combination of all of those things. But I’m not giving up anytime soon. Someday people all over the world will talk about how my rice is the best they’ve ever tasted.
Based solely on cuisine, if you had the choice to be reborn in another place, which country would you choose?
It’s a tossup between Italy and India, but since I can only pick one, and since Italian food is relatively easy to master even if you haven’t grown up in Italy, I’d pick India. The vast variety of cuisines, the use of spices, the powerful flavors and intoxicating aromas. I could only dream of being able to actually cook it all myself! For now, I’ll stick to the restaurants.
Visit Mandi’s kitchen and try out any of her gorgeous recipes. You simply can’t go wrong with them.