By MATT CRANE
While Susan Ford admits she came into her cooking abilities later in life, her passion for culinary exploration drives her current kitchen concoctions.
"I remember helping my grandmother make biscuits on Sunday morning and baking a little with my mom," she said. "My mom is a great cook, but whenever she wanted me to help her I didn't have any interest. I guest you could call me a late bloomer."
Ford, a monthly contributing columnist for the Taste section, said she enjoys her occasional writing job and the opportunities it allows for experimenting in the kitchen.
"I really enjoy writing the column because it forces me to look at all of my best recipes and spurs me on to try new things," she said. "I approach cooking like painting, because I rarely make a recipe the same way twice and there is always room to improvise."
Inspired to create a seasonal spread, Ford was inspired by an autumn staple: the pumpkin.
"Nothing says fall or Thanksgiving like pumpkin, but I think it can get way too sweet for my pallet," she said. "I like a pumpkin recipe that balances the sweet with the salty."
Ford created three dishes: a pecan-pumpkin butter appetizer, a cheese ball shaped like a pumpkin and a pumpkin-flavored cheesecake.
"The pecan-pumpkin butter appetizer is something my two girlfriends, Grace and Mary Love, and I discovered at William Sanoma a few year ago while lusting over the bakeware and we all three have made it every fall since then," she said. "(The cheese ball recipe) I got out of Southern Living last fall… I took the cheese ball to a neighborhood Halloween party last year, but it would be great for a tailgate or Thanksgiving appetizer too."
Ford said she was nervous attempting her first try at making a cheesecake, but was pleased with the results she achieved.
"One of my best friends, Mary Love Tagert, is the queen of cheesecakes so I have never seen a reason to attempt one, but I saw this recipe and it was too perfect for the pumpkin theme," she said. "It turned out really well and it had a nice spiced flavor and was sweet, but not too much so."
Ford said while the cheesecake was created to help celebrate the birthday of her close friend, Karen Dabbs, the two did have a backup plan.
"I got to try a new recipe and toast a dear friend all at once," she said. "I just told her that if the cheesecake didn't turn out, we would just have champagne for dessert and she said that sounded delicious!"
Ford said she and her family enjoy entertaining others at their home, but claims the events are not always so formal.
"I am all about a fancy sit down dinner when I have some time on my hands, but usually we do easy things and tell everyone to bring their kids," she said. "I am not one of those women who stresses about the house being perfect when people come over. We have two kids and two dogs, so perfect isn't an option."
Ford said she cherishes the time she spends with her daughters in the kitchen and both are always good about helping.
"Both of my girls love to help in the kitchen, so I think my favorite times are making Valentine's cookies with them," she said. "Harper, my oldest, helps me make lasagna when I am taking one to a family for having a baby or some life change. I make the one to take, and she makes the one that our family eats."
Although she may deem herself the "Queen of messing up a dish," Ford said her advice to new cooks in the kitchen is to experiment while maintaining a plan in case a dish falls through.
"My advice would be to have fun, don't take it too seriously and memorize the number of your favorite pizza joint for backup," she said. "Mine is Dave's Dark Horse Tavern."