When I was a young boy, my father would make food when he got home from work and was proud of every ounce he made, more of it being Mexican food than not. On his days off he would ask us what we would like to eat the spend hours preparing it; cutting vegetables, cooking pasta, boiling meat. While he was not the most skilled cook, he experimented with flavor and got better over the years, choosing vegetables and spices different to previous meals to keep our interest. I started on my way to cooking when he asked my siblings and I to shred chicken for his taquitos. Although it was boring it was done fairly quickly so it never bothered me too much and it started my “career”. Soon after, I started making quesadillas when he was not home, cutting up onions and jalapeños to add flavor to the slightly bland tortilla. When my mother and he got divorced his food became more diverse although he still mainly made Mexican food.
Every once in awhile, my father would make a dish called enchilada pie, being a lasagna like food with enchilada sauce and tortillas instead of pasta and tomato sauce, served with cabbage, beans, and Mexican cheese. This was a rare meal as it takes four hours to make with cooking the tortillas, boiling and shredding chicken placing all of it down layer by layer in sauce, topping it with cheese and baking for two hours. Normally me and my siblings would only do the chicken however he soon taught me how to cook and dip the tortillas in sauce and put them in the casserole dish. My dad would always say, “Always make enough to feed four more people than you plan for, cause you never know who might stop by.” He said this because his friends and family frequently stopped by for dinner if they were in the area. The pie normally could feed eight to ten people and making it was very simple, but takes quite a while to make.
Between my elementary years and high school years I did not do that much cooking. I would make dinners follow recipes for simple meals as I was out for most of the week after school. I did a couple of things like making a German Chocolate cake for my thirteenth birthday and i found that cutting vegetables was easy and did it when i wanted something when I was home but nothing too interesting. Then i started working with beef and chicken and i learned how to season and flavor them to have good taste when barbecued. The same went for potatoes, except those would be more like O’Brien, cooked in a pan with onions and jalapeños added in for extra flavor. I did this for a long time and am still doing this occasionally. I made this dish called hunter’s pie which was a very hearty meal as a pie with beef nuggets, carrots, potatoes, celery and other such things in Worcester sauce that my sister really liked but I never really made again lacking the materials. Between this time and junior year I stopped cooking such things and stuck to single or family meals since we were planning our move to Redlands and my thoughts were on other things.
It was my junior year of high school, and a friend of my mother asked me if I could make her meals weekly as she worked late shifts and would not be home to cook for her and her son. I said yes and told her I would make an enchilada pie as it was enough for her and her son to eat for about a week and could be frozen if necessary. We went to the store and bought the necessary ingredients and when we got home i started cooking the chicken getting the sauce ready which was green giving a different flavor and just getting out the tortillas. Once the chicken was done and shredded I started placing down cooked and dipped tortillas in the large aluminum tray, when the first layer was down i put chicken and cheese on top, then repeated the process for two more layers topping it with the remaining cheese and sauce. I put it in the oven for two hours until the cheese turned golden brown. While it was cooking I took the time to make stuffed bell peppers with rice and jalapeno poppers as snacks for her and her son. When the food was ready I took it out of the oven and let it cool. She took it home and had it for a week before it was gone. It took her and her son a week to finish the food we gave her. This would go on for around a year until her son moved out. Even though i no longer did this for her I still made things for my mother. Burgers, shishkebabs, and other meals I would make for dinner most every night that I was able. I made a lemon meringue pie later that year on pi day for my trigonometry class although not perfect my classmates still enjoyed it. My father started having more and more parties giving me many chances to hone my skills and learn about different types of food and how they cook. This leads into 2017, as my cooking habits have very much remained the same,making simple dinners with the occasional party dish.
Throughout my culinary experiences, I learned that cooking for others is much more gratifying that cooking for yourself, in the way showing your mother and father your art project when you are four years old is gratifying. Cooking for people who do not know the flavors you are capable of creating is one of the most rewarding feelings, which is probably why my father liked doing it so much. Experimentation and creativity are also what I learned from cooking as the flavor is not there when you begin but are expanded upon when you add other ingredients into your food.