Sorry I haven't been about lately.  My dear boy Matt of Geek Casual was here visiting.  A brief review of our dinner at Ristorante Bartolotta will be forthcoming…

Anyhow, as a segue, and even though it seems a bit presumptuous to be taking part in something that so many fantastic foodbloggers have done, Rhi answers The Cook Next Door meme.

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
I'm an American, so mine involves frozen pizza.  [winces]  Yeah.  Er…I have a paranoid fear of getting burned that has no basis (that I'm aware of, at least).  When I was about 10, I made a pizza for myself and my younger brother because Mom and Dad were busy.  We've always had an electric oven, and in my hurry to gingerly take the pizza out, I dropped it onto the heating coil.  Quel horreur.  Not to mention a burned bit of pizza and a mess.
As for actual cooking…when I was 12 or so, a friend and I made cream puffs ourselves, from scratch, using Mom's Betty Crocker Cookbook from the 70s.  They were quite good.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
All of the people in my family who cook, I'd say.  Both grandmothers, my mom, my dad's grilling.  That said, a lot of their cooking isn't overly…creative, it being of the Midwestern German Lutheran 50s Type.  I tend towards slightly more experimental techniques these days.

Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
Not on hand.  I bet Mom or Dad or Grandma have a few.  I have a very strong pleasant memory of making brightly coloured sugar cookies with Grandma, but there aren't any pictures, I don't think.

Mageiricophobia – do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
This is really stupid, but I'm terrified of having water boil over and make a mess, probably because I was criticised for it as a kid when making mac and cheese (which my brother is making now, actually, and freaking out because the date on the box has past).  Also, I hate peeling skin off chicken, but doesn't everyone?

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
Valued: My Wusthoff Trident knife, which disappeared in Scotland, never to be seen again.  That, my rabbit-style corkscrew with a bottle opener on top, a glass baking dish, and a really good Pyrex 1-cup measuring cup.
Letdown: One of those hardboiled egg slicers.  I used to play ours like a guitar when I was a kid, broke one of the 'strings' and got yelled at…these days, I don't see the point.  You can't cut anything else with it, it's not strong enough!

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like – and probably no one else!
Honestly, I don't like much that's too weird.  I'm mortified to state that my absolute favourite food in the whole world is green bean casserole, though.  Kinda declassé, yeah?  I also like to heat up pastries and donuts until they're too hot and soggy, then eat them with a fork.  And I'm the only woman I know who really loves onions.

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without
Besides the above green bean casserole and onions…I'll cheat and say another three, 'cause I can.
-Garlic.  A little garlic makes anything savoury better.
-[yellow tail] Shiraz.  I keep meaning to try and cook with this, because I suspect it would make a great sauce.  It's the #1 selling mid-range red in America for a reason!
-Salami.  I think I like this better than any other meat product.  Either that or I'm just in the mood.

Three quickies:
Your favorite ice-cream…
I honestly like plain vanilla or caramel cashew frozen custard–which you can't get anywhere else but Milwaukee.

You will probably never eat…
Brains or sweetbreads.  I'm a Hannibal fan, so I can't escape the imagery.

Your own signature dish…

Any other questions you'd like to add?
What dish would you love to tackle that you haven't got to, so far?
I'd love to do a whole meal at some point, something Vietnamese or Thai.  Only thing is that I really, really dislike fish and seafood, not to mention bananas.  Big problem, that.  So maybe I'd have to say something Italian.  I'd like to try and make my own pasta.