The Times West Virginian

August 15, 2012

Art of cooking

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Kim Holbert isn’t one of those “Try it; you’ll like it” kind of cooks.

She’s more like, “You like it; I’ll make it.”

“If I know that you have a preference toward something, I aim it that way,” she said.

That’s what she likes about cooking.

She serves up a diverse menu of foods, culled from being “not really from anywhere,” as she puts it. Explanation?

“I’m a military brat,” she says. She’s lived just outside New Orleans, in sunny California, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and, now, in West Virginia with her husband, Pastor Matt Holbert, a Wheeling native.

She learned to love spicy foods while living near the Big Easy (“You kind of have to.”), health food while on the West Coast (“But I never really got into the tofu thing.”), the meat-and-potatoes of the Midwest (“They are big beef eaters there.”) and the church-supper-as-fifth-restaurant tradition of Altoona (“Everybody went, no matter your denomination.”).

“You can take something out of every community,” she said. “Everybody has something they’re proud of. Around here, it’s pepperoni rolls. Down South, it’s seafood.

“I love to take all these cuisines and mix and match.”

She and Matt have been in West Virginia for about 2 1/2 years.

“I’ve been with him for about 12 years. His family is from West Virginia. So I have 12 years of Christmases and holidays. They were close enough to Ohio, so it wasn’t that much different, except there were a lot more deer recipes,” she said, laughing.

“Now, my grandmother, who lives in Indiana, got me the Conservation Officer’s Cookbook. It’s got recipes for small game, fish and reptiles, and mudbugs.”

And it has a recipe for turtle soup that calls for a 2-by-4.

“That’s to hang the turtle up by its tail to drain the shell.

“I have not made that soup ... and I probably won’t ever make it,” she said, laughing. “I’m more citified. I like knowing the USDA has approved of my food.”

She’s got this theory about eating and cooking.

“If you eat, you need to learn to cook. It’s not a girl thing. It’s not a boy thing. If you eat, you cook. Period. There were seven of us, five kids and two parents. At 3 or 4 o’clock, everybody started with dinner.

“You just did it. Everybody had to pitch in. I jokingly say I learned to cook for a family of seven and I haven’t changed my recipe sizes. Only now I cook for a power lifter and two young boys.”

Now, she said, she’s getting into baking.

“My theory is baking is a science and cooking is an art. With baking, you have to be very precise because of the chemical reactions. If you want to substitute an ingredient, you have to use something similar. You won’t find out until you’re done if you did a good job.

“But with cooking and you want to substitute or leave something out, it’s not as critical. It’s more of an art to me. You can add more of this and less of that, and tinker with it while you’re going.”

She likes getting recipes off the Internet because she can read the comments from other people who have already made the food.

“I’ll look for 20 recipes and see what you absolutely have to have, what most of the recipes have and what are the surprise ingredients, and then read the reviews.”

That’s where she got the recipe for Buffalo Chicken Garbage Bread.

It has a few basic ingredients, but you can switch to rev it up or take it down to your taste buds’ content.

Wing sauce: “You can make it as spicy or not as you want,” she said. She makes her own wing sauce but you can use store-bought.

Chicken: You can cook your own, use rotisserie chicken or even try those packaged, already prepared chicken strips.

Dressing: It calls for bleu cheese but you can also use ranch. “Bleu cheese is more traditional,” she said.

Cheese: It calls for cheddar and mozzarella but that’s not written in stone either.

Pizza dough: Make your own or use already prepared.

Sautée the seasoned chicken chunks and coat with wing sauce. Stretch the room-temperature pizza dough into a rectangle (on a floured surface), and spread with dressing and drizzle with hot sauce, leaving an inch or so from the edges of the dough. Add the chicken, top with cheese, fold the dough, tuck in the ends and roll the dough into a pinwheel.

Bake, let cool, slice and stand back while everyone devours it.

“This is not a pretty dish,” she said with a laugh. “Maybe that’s why they call it garbage bread.”

Her Southern Pralines are the perfect sweet counterbalance to the kick of the garbage bread.

“Growing up, lollipops were our fundraisers,” she said. “Our parents couldn’t afford to give us allowances, but they could afford to buy candy-making supplies. We’d make lollipops and sell them. And what we didn’t sell, we ate.”

She uses a candy thermometer, but you can use any thermometer that gets to 236 degrees, she said.

Do not stir the sugar mixture while it’s heating up, she said.

“You’ll break up the sugar crystals you’re trying to form and it will be grainy.

“And don’t use a nonstick pan. You have to use a wooden or metal spoon with this, and the heat would mess up plastic.”

It calls for whole or half pecans.

“But you can use pieces, whatever you can find and afford. Pieces are quite a bit cheaper.”

As the pecans cook, their flavor changes.

“Raw pecans, to steal a phrase from Alton Brown, are not good eats,” she said with a laugh.

When the mixture is finished cooking, pour onto parchment paper in little circles. Let cool and eat with the garbage bread.

Every Wednesday through September, Take 5 wants you to take us on a picnic. Submit your summertime recipes to Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or dwilson@ timeswv.com.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.