[ back ]
Recipes, old or new, stir tasty adventures
VITAL TRIFLE, BY LAURI GROSS
Recipes, old or new, stir tasty adventures
Perhaps the question asked most in homes across the world as evening approaches in high rises, bungalows and mansions alike, is, "What's for dinner?" Answering the question can bring anxiety, remorse, conflict and guilt as often as joy, love and hope. Whether you're dining at a restaurant, bringing home takeout, ordering pizza, heating leftovers, microwaving a frozen prepared meal or actually -- gasp! -- cooking, much has to be done, and many questions have to answered before that meal is finally served.
In my house, like most of yours, no doubt, we do our share of takeout and whatnot, but it's the meals we actually cook that hold a clue to our family's past, present and future.
As a rule, I do not collect cookbooks, but I do collect recipes. The indexes of the half dozen faithful cookbooks I keep on hand are full of circles, indicating which recipes I have tried. The page of each of these recipes always includes my notes on what worked, what didn't, what changes to make, who liked what, which part of the directions were not even close to being right, which ingredients can be substituted (did you know you can almost always replace sour cream with fat-free plain yogurt without anyone noticing?) and whether the recipe is worth making again, along with a fair amount of splatters and drip stains.
Even though most of these cookbooks are 10 to 20 years old, I have only tried a small fraction of the recipes inside. Every once in a while, I make a concerted effort to try new ones, so, little by little, more circles are appearing in the indexes.
My daughter, who has been a vegetarian for a year and a half, recently identified many vegetarian recipes she wanted to try. Even before Katie stopped eating meat, I cooked a lot of vegetarian meals and have gotten good at making vegetarian versions of many recipes originally intended for omnivores.
So Katie combed through the "Vegetarian Epicure," a 1970s-era cookbook that my mother-in-law gave me decades ago. We love it, although we try to ignore the fact that, in the intro, the author suggests that many of her recipes go well with marijuana. Katie found about a dozen new recipes to try, and, over the course of a few weeks, we tried them all, with varying degrees of success. A few have worked their way into our regular cycle of meals, a true sign of acceptance.
Katie can often be found cooking by my side, and, although my son is not as interested in cooking as Katie, Noah has been known to help, usually if we are making something he loves, like quesadillas or cheesecake.
Besides discovering new recipes in old cookbooks, I also collect recipes from relatives, friends and magazines. Often, while leafing through a magazine in a doctor's waiting room, I'll discover a recipe worth trying. I scribble it onto whatever paper scrap I find in my purse and eventually remember to try it.
Favorite recipes are usually family heirlooms. My mom has taught me several ancient family recipes from Italy never written down until I asked her to undertake the task. Some of these are now standard dinner fare. Sometimes we make these recipes with the whole extended family pitching in. Other times my daughter and I will make some with her friends, who also enjoying cooking.
About 20 years ago, my mother-in-law typed up dozens of dessert recipes that she perfected over the years. The packet, which she gave to both her daughters-in-law, is complete with a personal note from her on the front. It says, among other things, "I know you don't do much baking now, but someday you might." She was right, and now that she has been gone for seven years, we cherish the recipes and her notes in the margins even more.
One of these old recipes is an unusual jelly-roll kind of a thing, called Makusch. The dough contains red wine, whiskey, cloves, sour cream, vinegar and ginger, in addition to the usual flour and butter and whatnot. The filling is chopped nuts, sugar, raisins and prune jelly. Despite the fact that your nose is probably crinkled right now from reading that odd assortment of ingredients, this is actually a delicious treat. One Christmas I made several loaves and sent one to my husband's aunt, the older sister of my mother-in-law, who had been gone a few years by then. Aunt Margie loved the Makusch and said it tasted exactly as she remembered.
My daughter has a friend of Greek descent whose mom has a collection of old family recipes that she shared with me. Recently, we enlisted this girl's help in making baklava from her mom's recipe collection, a recipe that earned Eleni a prize in last year's Great Geauga County Fair. Ours, too, was a success.
Sometimes I do miss the mark on trying to recreate remembered tastes. My brother-in-law said that when I made his mom's gazpacho -- a recipe she gave me in her own handwriting -- mine was not even close to hers but is still delicious. Similarly, my husband swears my mushroom-barley soup, also from his mom's own handwriting, is completely different than he remembers.
I'm embarrassed to say that I really screwed up something as simple at meatloaf, even with coaching from my mom and sister. I do fine, however, with complicated African recipes containing dozens of ingredients from one of our favorite cookbooks, simply called "Hot and Spicy." Subtitle: "Unusual, Innovative Recipes from the World's Fiery Cuisines."
Now that my senses are tingling from all this thinking about food, I am left wondering what I'll make for dinner tonight.
[ back ]