The first time Tina Grant tried to cook by herself, she wound up at the hospital.
But that didn't scare her off, and she never stopped learning from her mother and grandmother. Now Grant, a mother of three studying for a dental hygienist degree at Erie Community College, is The News' September Cook of the Month.
Ask Grant when she first cooked by herself, and she'll tell you about being 10 years old and trying to cook hamburgers in her Jamestown home. Her mother was working, but she put patties of ground beef into a hot frying pan for herself and her little sister, Amy. She told Amy to "stop monkeying with that pan," and turned away to wash dishes.
Then she noticed flames reaching for the ceiling. Despite the panicky moment, she managed to douse the fire with a box of salt. If she hadn't tried to give Amy a whupping, the day might not have ended too badly.
But when she took off after Amy, she tripped on a loose rug. Landing face-first on the floor, she broke her nose and chipped a tooth.
"That," she said, "was how I was introduced to cooking."
She didn't do much other cooking while she was growing up, but that was because her grandmother and mother handled those duties. They fed a family of nine children, Grant said, frequently putting rice and black-eyed peas on the table, with turnip, collard or mustard greens. "We had those on the table three or four times a week," Grant said. "They were staples."
Grant remembers making fried bologna, and toasted cheese sandwiches from "government cheese," but she didn't start really cooking until she was living on her own, she said.
"When I became an adult with children, I began to find myself doing the same thing my grandmother and mother did, but I began to perfect these foods over a period of years," Grant said.
One of the dishes she agreed to share with News readers is her scaled-down version of her childhood staples, with the beans and greens as part of a buttery rice dish.
"I didn't want to eat them separate any more," she said. "When we sit down, you have your pile of rice, then you have your beans on top, then you have your greens on the side with your meat of whatever. I thought, 'That's just a whole lot of food.' "
Her version, using frozen greens and black-eyed peas, gets to the table with about 30 minutes cooking. Grant likes to serve it alongside some of her remarkably crunchy, moist fried chicken. (She brines the chicken overnight before tossing pieces in seasoned flour and pan-frying them in a stove-top skillet.)
The scents of all that good cooking must be torture for her 16-year-old Chihuahua terrier mix, but Chichi doesn't complain.
Grant also chose an apple dish to share, another taste from her childhood, when apples were a familiar fruit.
"We picked apples in groves, people would drop them off to our house as charity, and we had neighbors with apple trees that we would sneak to pick," Grant said. She remembers the "heavenly scent of apple aroma throughout the house" when an apple pie was in the oven, and sometimes enjoying "fried apples alongside my scrambled eggs at breakfast time."
After searching for an easy, tasty apple recipe, Grant found one online that she's adopted. The Apple Squares recipe, from Allrecipes.com, makes everyone happy with little effort.
She has passed on cooking to her children, and all three can cook, Grant said. Just a few weeks ago, coming home tired from class, Grant was not looking forward to cooking dinner when her daughter T'Anna greeted her with a new dish to taste -- tuna casserole with elbow macaroni, creamed soup, carrots and peas. "I was hoping that something was cooking," Grant said, "and she created something."
But most days, for most meals, it's still Mom at the stove.
Grant's mother still does the cooking for Christmas, but on Thanksgiving the family comes to Tina Grant's place. She'll turn out baked mac and cheese made with American cheese and sharp cheddar, candied yams, cornbread, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey and more.
"For dessert, my mother makes the best sweet potato pie," Grant said. "I haven't mastered that yet." There'll also be banana pudding with vanilla wafers, "and you got to have chocolate cake," she said. "That is a must."
>Tina Grant's Beans and Greens
6 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, preferably red, diced
2 tablespoons Knorr chicken-flavor bouillon (powder)
1 teaspoon dried parsley
2 cups parboiled rice
3/4 cup frozen black-eyed peas
1 cup frozen collard or turnip greens
4 1/4 cups water
In a heavy medium-sized pot, melt butter on low to medium heat. Add onion and cook till transparent.
Add chicken flavor bouillon powder, and mix in with wooden spoon.
Stir in black-eyed peas, greens, parsley and rice until ingredients are well-blended.
Add water and turn up heat to medium high, until boiling. Let boil for 2-3 minutes. Stir ingredients from bottom; cover and reduce heat.
Continue to cook for 20 minutes, or until water has evaporated. Serve.
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped apples
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.
In large bowl, mix melted butter, brown sugar and 1/2 cup white sugar with a wooden spoon. Stir in egg and vanilla.
Blend flour mixture into wet mixture until combined. Then stir in apples and nuts; spread evenly in greased 9-by-9-inch baking pan.
In cup or small bowl, stir together remaining cinnamon and sugar; sprinkle over the bars and put in oven. Cook for 25-30 minutes. Let cool. Cut into squares.
(Grant likes to have serve it warm, topped with vanilla bean ice cream drizzled with caramel.)
Name: Tina Grant
Residence: North Buffalo
Mouths to feed: 3
Go-to instant meal: Salad from what's in fridge
Guilty pleasure: Juicy bacon cheeseburger