My mother may not have been a fancy cook, but she was my favorite cook for years. I loved how she put tuna and mixed vegetables into my macaroni and cheese. I loved her version of scalloped potatoes (which she describes below), with ground beef, potatoes, and tomato soup, layered like a non-pasta lasagna. To this day, no one makes mashed potatoes like she does. And when she used to fire up the grill to make a gorgeous marinated flank steak, look out.
She developed an interest in cooking when I was a young adult. Although she didn’t have much to teach me about gourmet cooking, we have enjoyed learning more about preparing balanced, nutritious meals together, and are forever sharing recipes and looking through each other’s cookbooks. Her inspiration for fine cooking, her Italian-American friend Elena, has also been my inspiration. I’m working now on developing a kosher cioppino recipe (tomato-based fish stew) which I’ll share when I have it down.
And now, without further ado, my mother.
I am Shimshonit’s mother and have a great interest in cooking. However, that interest was not always there, and was in fact a long time coming. I have great admiration for young women who are confident and capable in the kitchen early in their lives as that was not my experience and later I felt it had been a significant loss. Now, though, I feel I have almost made up for it and then some.
I grew up in northern Vermont where food was pretty much just meat and potatoes (and vegetables, of course). My mother was a good cook and seasoned things well, but she wasn’t inventive and we never veered away from the traditional fare for that region. When I was maybe ten or twelve years old my cousin, who was a home economics teacher, gave the family a recipe for homemade pizza and when my mother served it for our dinner one night she was actually thrilled and very excited, couldn’t stop talking about it—the first time I had ever seen her do that with any meal she had served. The pizza was her one main adventure, though she used to make some sort of tamale pie which my brother loved and I hated.
My mother did nearly all the cooking in our house. When I was quite young I put together, with her instructions called from the laundry room where she was ironing, tuna noodle casserole. I didn’t enjoy doing it and only repeated that one dish when she asked me to for her own convenience, but at least I did like eating it. My sister (three years older) did only a little bit more in the kitchen than I did. When she, our brother, and I did dishes together (no dishwasher), it was made a bit more interesting than cooking by our singing rounds which was rather fun.
When I married, I made the few things I had grown up eating and liking, including a dish we called scalloped potatoes, but which in our version had hamburger, onion, and tomato soup with the sliced potatoes instead of a cream sauce. Our menus were boring (my dear children never complained and even their father only once in a great while mumbled something about our having a change) but I just didn’t have much interest in cooking. We managed to survive but it’s a wonder.
And then we moved to California. That was 1981, and in 1982, I went to work in my husband’s business office. A young woman worked in the pathologists’ office next door and we used to gab. When we found we lived near each other we became very friendly, often walking together at the middle school track in the neighborhood when we got out of work in the afternoons. Our topic of conversation most often was about food, menus, and recipes, a subject I was surprised to find actually becoming much more interesting to me. Elena was fifteen years my junior but she was Italian and a marvelous cook. One of the first things she taught me was that I did not have a stocked refrigerator unless I had a bag of fresh parsley in there. I henceforth had a bag of fresh parsley always available, and began trying some of Elena’s recipes. She had many, and suddenly I discovered that cooking was fun! Not only that, but my family appreciated my efforts! I had a new attitude toward cooking and found it most enjoyable and challenging.
When we moved to Oregon in 1988, I got a computer. It took a while for me to get the hang of it but once I found how to get into the Web and look up recipes, I was off and running. I don’t think I ever had as much fun as the enjoyment of tracking down what looked like a good recipe and making it successfully. I began keeping them in my “computer cookbook,” which also became a place to enter and store all those recipes from the cards in my recipe box I’d collected through the years from friends and family. Most of them I’d never used, and typing them into the computer allowed me to read and evaluate them for taste and popularity. Our family has always enjoyed ethnic food, all kinds, and it was an easy step to begin looking up recipes for some of those dishes as well.
When Shim showed signs of also being interested in cooking, it was fun to share ideas and now she has far surpassed me in exploring new sources for foods and dishes. I think, like me (and perhaps even more so), she has found cooking to be most gratifying and creative. It gives me great pleasure to feed people food I have given a great deal of thought to and carefully prepared. If anyone had told me when I was young that I would be such a happy camper in the kitchen I would not have believed them.
The recipe I would like to share is for “15-Minute Chicken.”
4 chicken breasts halves, cut into finger-sized pieces
¼ C. flour
¼ C. olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste
1 T. rosemary (fresh is best but dried is fine)
3 T. fresh lemon juice, sherry, or any wine (I use a mixture of white wine and lemon juice)
1 T. finely chopped parsley
Roll chicken in flour and cook over high heat in oil for 3-5 minutes, until no longer pink. Stir in salt, pepper, and rosemary. Add liquid to deglaze pan, simmering the chicken slowly for just a few minutes. Sprinkle parsley over the top.
Note: I found a recipe similar to this recently only it called for slicing a few potatoes, cooking them in the microwave, then stirring the slices in with the chicken to brown.
Another note: Sometimes I like an excuse to use capers in a recipe, and this is one where they are a lovely addition. I omit the rosemary.
Thank you, mother dear.