Are there ingredients that always draw you in - to a dish on a menu or to a recipe in a book? I used to know someone who would melt for anything pomegranate. Of course, we all know people who won't order a dessert without chocolate. And then there are the lemon people - some people are just batty over lemon. At one point I baked for a little gourmet take-out place which offered three or fours desserts at a time. The owner asked me to make a lemon cake, and I stared at him. " You mean the lemon cookies and the lemon bars aren't enough? You want three out of four desserts to be lemon?" It hadn't occurred to him, he just knew he loved that cake and those cookies and those bars.
Personally, I would say my hopeless sucker foods/ingredients are as follows: duck, scallops, bacon, sausage, blackberries, pecans, oranges, dates, figs, ginger, cornmeal, buttermilk, brussel sprouts, beets, molasses, and cardamom.* When I look back over the recipes I've included on this blog, I can't believe how many of them include one of the those ingredients. Not necessarily in the same way twice, mind you. Figs might show up in a fig and onion spread or a fig cake. But, still: figs. Lots of figs.
When you start cooking for someone, the big preferences become clear early on - heavy foods or light, traditional or contemporary, Asian flavors or European, hot or mild. But these small-but-strong preferences take a while to learn. I can only think of a couple people whose palates I know well enough to compile a list for - Mom, for example, loves pecans and walnuts, strawberries, cream, beef and lamb, shrimp, mushrooms. She likes traditional food, not too spicy, lightly salted, a little on the rich side. It can be such a pleasure to know someone's palate and plan a meal accordingly - the favorite food, spiced in just the right way. It doesn't seem like most people get to cook enough today to develop that kind of culinary intimacy. It's too bad.
*No wonder I like winter.