"I have always been adventuresome" when it comes to food, says Ann Wilder. "I got that from my father, who was a very adventuresome eater."
But desite visiting raw bars and downing oysters at a tender age, Wilder, owner of Vann's spices in Towson, didn't learn to cook until after she got married.
"The first meal I prepared was simply not edible," she says, laughing at the memory.
"The fried chicken caught on fire, the rice was library paste -- I thought you were supposed to cook everything forever."
She began to read cookbooks, food columns and magazines, and finally graduated to such memorable dishes as a beef Wellington (beef with pate in puff pastry) with an unusual pate of "mushrooms and tomatoes and some really wonderful things. That was a knockout."
She's especially fond of the Far Eastern dish called hot pot, a sort of fondue-style meal where everyone sits around the table with the hot pot and keeps tossing in ingredients to cook in the broth -- chicken and shrimp, beef and vegetables.
It's great for a party, she says, "because it's a dish people can't be shy about."
These days she gets her best cooking inspirations from programs on cable TV's food channel, and Cook's Illustrated magazine. She likes cookbooks by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, not surprisingly, "because they rely so heavily on herbs and spices."
Any culinary heights she'd still like to scale? "I have never done a really good Peking duck, and I would love to do that."
Here's the recipe for Ms. Wilder's never-shy party dish.
Mongolian hot pot
Serves 6 to 10
2 quarts of chicken stock, preferably homemade (see note)
1 1/2 to 2 inches thinly sliced ginger
6 to 10 stalks lemon grass (or use 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest)
2 tablespoons of your favorite Thai seasoning or Chinese five-spice powder)
For the ingredients below, figure 1/2 cup per serving (you can add or substitute any of these ingredients to suit your taste): chicken, cut in bite-sized pieces
spring onions, trimmed
bok choy, cut into 1 1/2 -inch pieces
asparagus, cut in 1 1/2 -inch pieces
tofu (firm), cut in 1-inch chunks
fresh lemon grass
dried cloud ear mushrooms, reconstituted in a little warm water
One day before serving, or earlier on the day of the meal, add the lemon grass, ginger and spices to the stock and bring to a boil. Simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Strain. Correct seasoning.
Just before dinner, bring stock to a boil in an electric pot. Take pot and ingredients to the table. Diners select their favorite ingredients and add them to the pot. Place lid on pot and bring back to boil. When meat is done, each person fishes his or her selections out of the pot (use chopsticks, forks or long-handled spoons) and adds further selections for the next round.
Note: If you use canned stock, use the unsalted or low-salt variety. You can also make the hot pot with beef stock and add chunks of steak. If you make your own stock, use peanut oil, not olive oil -- Wilder says, "Fusion cooking can only go so far."
Pub Date: 6/26/96