A passion for flavor
SIOUX CITY – As Jami Mattox assembles ingredients for one of her favorite recipes, her running conversation reveals a passion for sprucing up traditional recipes.
Mattox, a Sioux City resident, said her appreciation for good food was kindled by her childhood experiences in rural Oklahoma near Tulsa.
“Dinners were simple, (and) usually homemade,” she said. “I think my love of cooking sprung from the idea that cooking and providing meals is a way to show love toward others.
“It doesn’t have to be fancy, just good.”
She said that when she was in her 20s she began trying new foods and developing a taste for flavors she had not been exposed to as a child – Indian, Thai and Mediterranean foods, for example.
“I love all the different flavors,” she said. “After finishing college and living in Tulsa, a city offering restaurants and cafes for just about any cuisine, this interest continued to grow.
“I began checking out cookbooks from the local library and reading through them like you would a novel.”
Mattox said testing new recipes and playing around with flavors has given her confidence in her cooking abilities.
“And now, I love to give recipes my own spin,” she said.
She credits her brother, Josh, with opening the door to yet another of her menu favorites – pork.
An FFA member competing in swine shows in high school, his children are showing hogs while he raises various breeds of hogs, primarily Berkshires, and butchering them for family and friends.
She said fresh cuts of meat are best.
“We enjoyed bacon, sausage, pork chops and country-style ribs regularly,” she said of her childhood.
“Ever since my brother began providing the family with Berkshire pork, I’m much more selective, however, about the pork I enjoy.
“My brother grows fruit and vegetables to sell at his local farmers market, and I always make it a point to visit him when I go home, especially during the summer.”
She has a regular meat shop in downtown Sioux City where she gets her eggs, butter, steaks and seafood.
“Everything is so fresh and well priced” she said. “There are things that I have never been able to find in Sioux City grocery stores – massaman curry paste, specific spices and chili powders.
“There’s lots of barbecue, lots of steakhouses, lots of Tex Mex spots in the larger cities,” she said. “There are large concentrations of immigrant populations, so that means there are always new and hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered.
“We’ve found some great Thai, Vietnamese and Indian restaurants in Sioux City.”
Mattox said she’s responsible for the majority of the cooking in her household.
“On busy weeknights,” she said, “this usually includes a hearty stew, a quick casserole or a dinner of chicken or fish and veggies.
“We also like to eat eggs for dinner quite a bit. On the weekends, I like to prepare meals that take a bit more time, like slow-simmered curries or risotto.”
Mattox works from her home office as a magazine editor.
“I do most of my big-batch cooking on the weekends,” she said. “I’ll make soup, stew, chili, a big pot of beans or pulled pork and freeze it in portions of two.
“This way, if I work late or have an early evening appointment, I can pull dinner out of the freezer to thaw, and by the time I get home it’s ready to heat and eat.
“Cooking at home is simple, but it’s not easy. It takes forethought and planning, even if you’re cooking for one or two.”
She suggests those wanting to venture into new flavors and meals to start simply.
“It’s easiest to learn techniques, like braising, sauteing, and roasting, and build up your cooking repertoire from there,” she said. “It’s easy to visit the grocery store weekly and stock up on fresh vegetables, meats and fish and herbs and spices, and transform those simple ingredients into great meals.
“Chicken and potatoes, for instance, can be stewed with red curry paste and coconut milk for a Thai-inspired dish. They can also be tossed in Parmesan and fresh herbs and roasted for an Italian feel.
“It’s all about using simple ingredients and spices and letting your imagination take over.”
Ancho pork and hominy stew
Ideal when served with cornbread.
2 tablespoons ancho chili powder (regular chili powder works well, too)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds pork stew meat, cubed into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 cups chicken broth
1 28-ounce can of hominy, drained
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
Mix together chili powder, oregano, paprika, cumin and salt. Remove 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture and set aside.
Toss cubed pork in the remaining spice mixture. Heat two teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven.
Add the coated pork and cook until browned, about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pork and set aside.
Add the remaining teaspoon of olive oil to the pan, then toss in onion, bell pepper and garlic and saute five minutes.
Return the pork to the pan and add reserved spice mixture, broth, hominy and tomatoes.
Bring the stew to a boil, partially cover, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes.
Portuguese-style sausage stew
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium or 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 pound kale, deveined and coarsely chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1 pound ground pork or spicy sausage
1 quart chicken broth
Salt, to taste
Add a splash of olive oil to a large Dutch oven. Brown the sausage, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Add remaining olive oil to the pan, and saute onions until soft, about five minutes.
Add smoked paprika, bay leaves, garlic and kale to the pan. Cover and allow kale to wilt, about two minutes.
Add sausage, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and chicken broth to the mixture; bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.
Add salt to taste and serve with bread for dipping.
Green bean salad
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add green beans to the pot and let them cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
Transfer them to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the vibrant green color.
In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, vinegar and olive oil to make a vinaigrette.
Place green beans into a large bowl and pour dressing over them; toss to coat.
Top the green beans with onions and walnuts and serve warm or at room temperature.
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