When it comes to Bill Stanford's cooking, the eyes have it.
An awful pun however you slice it . . . but the Tustin optometrist does like his dishes to look as good as they taste, and he works hard at presentation for the often-elaborate meals he prepares for family and guests.
He says he has been cooking since he was a child and "learned a lot almost by osmosis, like you would a language," by sitting around the kitchen watching his Viennese-born mother work her culinary magic. "She was--and still is--a great cook," says Stanford, 41.
One of the most treasured compliments he has received after years of cooking came from his mother: "She said my Bavarian rye bread is the closest thing to the real thing she's ever had in this country."
It is a recipe he developed after he moved to Orange County in 1974 and was unable to find what he considered authentic European rye, which he says "differs greatly from Jewish rye bread, which is what you find in most delicatessens."
"I kept playing with it, adding a little something here and there until one day I said to myself, 'This is it!' and stopped experimenting."
Stanford says his wife, Janice, is also an excellent cook "but is more than happy to relinquish the kitchen to me whenever I want it. Cooking to her is routine, while to me it's therapy."
His daughters--Wendy, 15, and Christine, 10--"are just getting into cooking," he says, "and I'm confident they'll be fine cooks because they enjoy it."
Other than breads and pastries, Stanford's favorite dishes "are anything with tomatoes in them--sauces for pasta, stuff like that."
That, he says, is basically what the recipe he shared with Guys & Galleys is--"a spaghetti sauce turned into a soup."
He calls it "Tomato Soup Montecito," even though that isn't the Santa Barbara community where he first found it: "Actually, I discovered it in Goleta, some miles north of Montecito, but 'Tomato Soup Goleta' doesn't do it justice."
His wife had "kidnaped" him from his office on his birthday a few years ago, he says, and spirited him away for a weekend. "We were in this little place in Goleta and had some soup and salad," he says. "The salad was OK, but the soup was marvelous."
The proprietors wouldn't give him the recipe, so he started experimenting, adding a few spices and guessing at other ingredients until he satisfied himself, as with the rye bread, that "this is it!"
BILL STANFORD'S TOMATO SOUP MONTECITO
1 small onion
1/3 cup celery
1 large clove garlic
3 tablespoons fresh spinach
20 ounces beef stock or bouillon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes
1 cup small-shell pasta
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet basil
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground dill weed
Slice onion thinly. Finely dice celery and garlic. Finely chop spinach. Heat olive oil in heavy pot and saute onion, celery and garlic until onions are tender. Add beef stock and tomatoes (break them up after they are in pot). Stir, then add all other ingredients except pasta. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Parboil pasta and add to soup. Simmer 15 minutes more. Serve with warm, fresh bread. (Serves 6 to 8.)
Each week, Orange County Life will spotlight a man who enjoys cooking and feature one of his favorite recipes. Tell us about your candidate. Write to: Guys & Galleys, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626.