Thursday, January 13, 2011

Food Memories

Growing up, dinnertime was always the best time of day. In our house, a day didn't pass without all three of us sitting down to dinner together. And it wasn't a box of Hamburger Helper either. I'm not claiming that my mom was a master chef, but she's a damn good cook. I could rattle off dozens - maybe even hundreds - of meals my mom made that give me warm fuzzies now. But instead of doing that I'm going to try to pick my top 5 foods that bring back amazing memories.

5. Lasagna
My mom's lasagna isn't anything fancy - she doesn't even use ricotta cheese. It's nothing more than layers of her homemade meat sauce, noodles, mozzarella and parmesan. Kraft parmesan, at that. But there's something about this super simple recipe that is oh-so-good. I'm sure the magic is in the sauce. Or perhaps it's the way my dad always served it. If one of my friends was over for dinner, the 9x13-inch pan yieled an exact 4 servings. Very large servings.

4. Meatloaf
I've had a really intense craving for meatloaf lately, as you can probably tell from my multiple mentions of it. Part of this probably stems from my raging desire to prove to Bill that not all meatloaves (or is it meatloafs??) are created equal. He has this crazy notion that everyone bakes their meatloaf with ketchup on top, which is absolutely absurd to me. In fact, I didn't even know people did that until after I moved out of my parents' house. It's simply not a part of my mom's recipe. Her meatloaf is like a giant, plain meatball. Delicious.

3. Raisin Muffins
Admittedly, my mom's raisin muffins start with a base of Bisquick. As a rule, I limit my use of Bisquick because my baking skills are beyond that. But there is something so incredibly delicious about hot, flaky, raisin packed muffins (topped with melted margarine!) for breakfast. My mom made these on the weekends and I could have downed a whole pan. These are going on my to-do list on Saturday morning.

2. Italian Sausage and Fried Potatoes
You can probably see a trend developing - my mom's recipes are simple. So, no, she did not make her own Italian sausages. But this meal was one of my very favorites. She'd fry Italian sausages and serve them alongside VERY thinly sliced, pan-fried potatoes. They were just soft enough not to be chips, and just crispy enough to be chip-like. Hard to describe, but worth being recreated. Another memory that stands out about this meal: Italian sausage night equaled filet of sole night for my dad. I'm not sure what he had against sausage, but my mom and I definitely had something against fish.

1. Meatballs
I already waxed poetic about my mom's meatballs in Monday's post. But that's exactly what makes them my number one food memory. I can taste them just thinking about them. It's a recipe that came from my grandmother that everyone in my family has tried desperately to recreate. But my mom has been the only one successful. And I'm getting pretty close!

I'd include all of the recipes for the things listed above, but they don't actually exist in writing (well, maybe the raisin muffins do, but we'd have to check the back of a box of Bisquick!). That's the beauty of most of these dishes - they're the meals my mom made so often there was no recipe required!

As many of my friends can attest to, my mom always put on quite a spread ... and that wasn't just for company, it was an everyday occurrence! If you've ever wondered why I cook for an army when I host a dinner party for four, there's your answer.

One of the reasons making delicious, home-cooked meals is so important to me now is because Bill doesn't have these same kind of family food memories. I tease him that he had Cheez Whiz and Ritz Crackers for dinner as a kid, but he claims it was more like Hungry Man and Stouffer's :) I'm trying to make up for all of those frozen lasagnas now, so that dinner is more than just another meal.

I have so many more food memories to share. In fact, I should probably dedicate a post to my grandmother's recipes, as well! But in the meantime, I want to hear your food stories!


  1. great post. your mom's lasagna is definately my favorite lasagna. actually, i never enjoyed lasagna until i had your mom's at 17!!! then, when rob and i drove cross country when i was 21 she taught me how to make her sauce.
    my mom makes the BEST chicken enchiladas. nothing particularly fancy but have an awesome roux sauce. i have not attempted to replicate but they are so good that i use to hide the leftovers so jeff would not eat them!

    i feel the same about making food memories because rob did not really grow up with many homemade dishes plus since i love to cook and create it is a great outlet at the end of the day to share a fulfilling creation regardless of how hard/easy it was to make with the one(s) you love:)

  2. Erin, isn't it amazing how something so simple can be so, so good?? Her sauce isn't anything fancy either, but it will always be one of my favorites.

    I have heard about your mom's enchiladas so many times, but I don't think I've ever had them! Do you have the recipe? I'd love to try them out :)

    I bet that Grace is going to grow up to be an awesome cook, too :) Does she help you in the kitchen now??

  3. You're so right, I absolutely remember so many good things your mom has made! Classic Italian mixed simple American and so, so good. Believe it or not, before you came into my life, I had never had anything home cooked that wasn't Polish!

    I'm curious to hear about those pan fried potatoes. In my house, my mom used to take leftover plain boiled potatoes and fry them, but they were already cooked, therefore the slices had to be much fatter. A bit like classic hashbrowns I suppose.

    Most of my food memories revolve around really traditional Polish stuff- pierogi, of course, filled with a mashed white potato mixture consisting of white potatoes, white farmer's cheese (like ricotta) and fried onion. Also these cabbage rolls which I guess are popular in all of Eastern Europe- ground beef and turkey mixed with onion and spices (a lot like a meatloaf/meatball!) rolled in cabbage leaves and cooked in thick tomato sauce. There was white sausage, I'm not sure what made it so "white", but that's what it's called! Fried with onion, or baked all together with red potatoes and peppers. And of course there's that beef tartar... just plain on toast. I don't know if there were any other ten year olds out there who ate that as readily as I did. Haha!

    Also, a tradition around our house was flourless walnut cake. It's basically ground walnuts mixed with with egg white meringue, so it's super light and moist. The frosting was buttercream with a hint of coffee. I remember having to mix the frosting by hand, the sugar used was granulated so you had to use a giant wooden thing that looked like a rounded mallet to crush all the sugar (I'm guessing someone got smart and changed the recipe to call for confectioner's sugar, thereby making it possible to use a handmixer!). So much work, but so incredibly good!

    Other than that, a more recent food memory is me and Jackie finally trying our hand at cooking on holidays and developing our own recipe for the most sugary sweet potatoes on the planet. Mashed potatoes, condensed milk, toasted coconut, a bit of butter and cinnamon, with a massive layer of giant marshmallows. I also did it once with a simple cinnamon pecan streusel. Idiot proof yam crack and the reason none of my pants fit after the holidays!

  4. You're absolutely right about that, I remember so many great things your mom has made. Classic Italian mixed with simple American and so, so good! Believe it or not, before you came into my life, I had never had anything home cooked that wasn't Polish!

    I'm super curious about the pan fried potatoes. Around my house, we fried leftover potatoes, but they had to be cut in thick slices or else they'd fall apart. They were a lot closer to traditional hashbrowns than those thin ones, I've never had ones like those.

  5. Naturally, most of my food memories mostly involve traditional Polish stuff:

    Pierogi (of course, no self respecting Polish kid didn't shovel eight thousand of these every Christmas!). Made with a mixture of mashed white potatoes, white farmer's cheese (much like ricotta) and browned diced onion. These were even better the next day when the leftovers were pan fried.

    Cabbage rolls, which are common in Eastern Europe I hear. Mix of ground beef and turkey, rice and spices, rolled in cabbage leaves and cooked in tomato sauce.

    Flourless walnut cake, which was a diehard tradition around our house for many years. All it is is ground walnuts, egg yolks and egg meringue, but so moist. The buttercream is butter, granulated sugar (such a workout to break that up into the butter!) and egg yolks, with a hint of coffee dropped in. Never come across anything like this outside of home.

    Then there's the beef tartar of course. I don't think there were any other ten year olds out there that could've put away raw beef, raw egg yolk and raw onion like I did!

    The most recent of my food memories consists of me and Jackie developing the most sugary sweet potato casserole on the planet. It's been ten years in the making, but we've perfected it: mashed sweet potatoes, condensed milk, toasted coconut, raisins, and a bit of butter and cinnamon, topped with the thickest layer of giant marshmallows you can possibly handle. I've also made it with cinnamon pecan streusel on top. Idiot proof yam crack! (And the reason none of my pants fit after the holidays!)

  6. How did that double post! LOL, I thought I lost the post and had to rewrite. It's those trolls again..

  7. Odd, very odd. Good thing that's not happening to me when I'm writing my posts or else I'd just give up!

    And BTW, I SOOOOOOOO want to make pierogi. They're like the Polish version of ravioli! (Which I happen to be making tomorrow, actually!) In fact, Mario has a potato ravioli recipe that's probably more remniscent of pierogi. I should give it a shot.

  8. Jen-
    Yes, Grace LOVES to cook. She does a lot of baking which I hardly ever did prior to her because I am not a huge sweets fan but it is easier to bake with a child than actually cook. Although, when she was only a year to about 2 years she would help me peel garlic for a 50 clove garlic chicken I make in our crockpot!! She no longer will help with that but it was pretty amazing how well she did. Every Saturday we have homemade pizza and her and Rob make the crust. She has a little knife and cutting board for when she helps chop things. It's pretty amazing what a little one can do.
    I will look for the enchilada recipe. I am pretty sure I have it. I will email you when I find it:)