Theresa Spear compares cooking to artwork.
"Baking is a little more precise, but with cooking, it's kind of like artwork. You get to play. You get to create. You get to fudge, so to speak, cross your fingers and hope it turns out," the Quincy woman said.
Building a new recipe is "like finding out this color of paint and its viscosity will mix with this to make this absolutely new color that's just brilliant and bold, a focal point of a piece," she said, and when satisfied with the recipe, "I convert everything to measurements that are exact. If you do something, you really want it to taste the same every time."
Enjoying the process is the key ingredient.
"It's wanting to make something and being not afraid to jump in and try something," she said. "If somebody says 'why don't you try this or try that,' I'm game, and if I'm game, then it means (husband) Jeff is involved."
The pair put together different recipes for J and T's Seafood Paprika, a light and healthy dish that relies on Spear's favorite method for cooking seafood – baking at 375 degrees for six minutes, or 8 to 12 minutes for a whole lobster.
Their sons Will and Nick both enjoy cooking – their Estonian son Kristjan, who doesn't cook, still has all the family favorite recipes – and trying to recreate at home dishes eaten out, just like their mom.
A restaurant's soup of the day, for example, turned into Spear's Zucchini Soup, made with zucchini grown by her dad and onions grown by her brother. "We try to use things that are from the garden," Spear said.
A triple batch of soup yields plenty for the freezer to enjoy as is or made even creamier with the addition of half and half.
The freezer also holds the Harry and David Sweet and Hot Pepper and Onion Relish, another dish made with homegrown produce. "Because of the pectin in there, it doesn't really freeze," she said. "If somebody comes over, scoop it out, mix with cream cheese and you have dip."
A new recipe for Coleslaw, developed during a visit to Washington to see son Nick, makes a sweet and creamy side dish with a little spice. "One reason I never cared for coleslaw was the onion in it," she said. "The coleslaw recipe is fabulous without onions."
And homegrown blackberries turn into dessert with Cobbler, a recipe Spear has made since childhood with simple ingredients always on hand in her kitchen.
One of six kids in her family, Spear got her start in cooking thanks to her mom, a very good cook, and being in the kitchen provided a good outlet for her nervous energy.
Searching for gluten-free options for herself and son Will only adds to the challenge, and the fun, of cooking and experimenting with flavors, spices and ingredients.
"It's all about sharing recipes," she said. "There's no such thing, in my opinion, as a recipe you cannot share. That's what it's all about."
Harry and David Sweet and Hot Pepper and Onion Relish
6 cups tomatoes (Roma, cherry and grape tomatoes work well), diced
5 cups red peppers, diced
8 cups sugar or stevia substitute (use package conversion table)
2 tablespoons salt
4 ounces pectin
3 cups white vinegar
2 teaspoons white pepper
4 cups onions, diced
Mix all ingredients together, except pectin, and bring to a boil. Lower heat, and simmer for 2 to 2 ½ hours until thickened. Whisk in two boxes of pectin, and boil for 1 minute.
Relish can be canned in hot water bath for 30 minutes or frozen. It is best to store in ¼-cup containers for freezing, so it's easy to mix with cream cheese for dip.
For dip, mix together and refrigerate 1/8 to ¼ cup relish and 1 (eight-ounce) Philadelphia cream cheese (not low fat or fat free). Serve with crackers.
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups chopped potato
9 cups zucchini, cubed and unpeeled
10 to 12 cups chicken broth
3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon thyme
1 head celery, chopped
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 quart half and half, optional
Saute chopped onion in olive oil in a soup kettle until tender. Add potato, zucchini, broth, salt, thyme and celery, and cook until tender. Puree the cooked soup with an immersion blender.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Slowly add the flour, then slowly ladle 2 to 5 cups of the pureed soup mixture into the thickener. Stir until it is well blended. Slowly add the thickened soup into the main kettle using the immersion blender.
Soup can be served as is, but for a creamier version, add half and half.
1 (14-ounce) package coleslaw cabbage mixture
¾ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
½ tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons celery salt
Mix ingredients together, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.
J and T's Seafood Paprika
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2-3 carrots, cut into 2-inch julienne strips
1 cup sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 (32-ounce) package coleslaw mix or 2 ribs celery, cut into 2-inch julienne strips, and ½ head cabbage, thinly sliced as for slaw
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons paprika
2 cloves garlic, pressed, or 2 teaspoons each ground fennel and ground coriander
1/3 cup lime juice
½ cup (solid style) coconut milk
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon stevia
2 lobsters, cut in cubes, or 1 pound shrimp/prawns
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
In coconut oil, saute carrots, sweet onions and coleslaw mix along with cilantro, white pepper, salt, paprika and garlic. When starting to soften, add lime juice, coconut milk, cornstarch and stevia. When the warm slaw is about ready, cook the lobster or shrimp/prawns.
Toss lobster pieces or shrimp/prawns in olive oil and Kosher salt. Place on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 6 minutes.
Toss lobster or shrimp/prawns with the slaw mixture, and serve.
Makes four servings.
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 pinch salt
½ cup water
Combine together, and pour into a greased six-by-nine-inch casserole dish.
1 cup fruit (raspberries, blackberries, cherries or peaches)
1 tablespoon melted butter
½ cup boiling water
½ cup sugar
Combine together, adding a couple drops of almond extract and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon for blackberries or peaches. Spoon fruit mixture on top of mixture in casserole dish.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until the middle of cobbler is cooked. The bottom will rise over the top, so that the fruit is on the bottom when it is finished.