This one's not really about a specific food, but it was important to me being able to cook the way I do now. When I was between my sophomore and junior years in high school, I made a deal with my mother. I'd cook all summer if she'd teach me how. She hated to cook. She made the deal. It was a fun summer for me. I learned how to cook all the meat and potatoes dishes my dad liked. I learned to make spaghetti, which was about the only Italian dish my dad would eat. She taught me some good prep techniques.
I don't cook very many of those dishes anymore. The ones I do make, I don't cook the way she taught me. She was so afraid we'd get sick if food was undercooked that she overcompensated. We got lots of leathery meat and mushy pasta when she manned the stove. Even though the result she taught me wasn't that good, her training gave me something to build on when I got my own kitchen to play in.
During that summer of cooking, I discovered I'm extremely sensitive to onions. I'd invited my boyfriend over for spaghetti. I'm chopping the onions and my eyes are watering. Poor guy. He thought I was crying. I milked that for a hug and kiss or two.
I've tried several things over the years to keep the tears away. Sharp knives and eyes blurry with tears are not exactly the safest combination. I tried chilling the onion. That kind of works. Freezing it works a bit better, but the onion gets a bit mushy. During that time cooking shows had gotten a lot more interesting. No more boring home economists. We got Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet. I lived for the Galloping Gourmet. What I saw was that the pros didn't take their knife and keep chopping away at the bits on the cutting board until they were the size they wanted. They sliced onion halves in three directions to make cubes the size they wanted. I tried it and, voila, no tears. The pros technique doesn't splash the juice around, which stops the irritation that causes the tears. I'll never be as fast as Graham Kerr, but I don't need to be. I just need to be proficient enough to chop onions instead of fingers.