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A Tribute to Mom on Mother’s Day

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There’s just something about Mom’s cooking, it seems, so on Mother’s Day, we like to give a shout out to our moms to thank them for nurturing our culinary curiosities, encouraging us to try new foods and master old recipes, and of course, for a lifetime of her secret ingredient, that intangible spice she put into every dish she served. Thanks, Mom.

***
When my mom taught me to bake scones in high school, I remember my amazement that just flour, sugar, heavy cream, and baking powder could be transformed into a light, towering wedge of goodness. No eggs or other fat needed? These scones seemed to defy the baking rules I thought I knew.

Although I’ve tinkered with Mom’s cream scone recipe over the years, adding crystallized ginger, dried fruits, and other flavorings, the magic of this formula is its simplicity. A lesson I remind myself repeatedly when cooking up a project in the kitchen.
—Lisa Waddle, managing editor

Mom’s scone recipe couldn’t be simpler—or more perfect.   The hard part: letting the scones cool.

***
I had to laugh a couple of months back when we decided to feature electric skillets in one of our “Test Drive” columns (Feb/Mar 2010). These handy appliances are back in a big way, and we wanted to help readers shop for the best choices. I’m still debating whether or not I want one, a. because cupboard space is tight, and b. because my mom was the master of the electric skillet. She could make everything from spaghetti to pot roast to pancakes in her ever-handy electric skillet; I will surely never be as adept or successful as she was. Except for pancakes: She made amazing little pancakes, thin and crisp around the edges, swimming in butter, never maple syrup. She may not know this, but I think my pancakes may rival hers, and I’m a master at making them in shapes, Disney characters included. But Mom, I’ll never make a plate of spaghetti as good as yours.
—Laurie Buckle, editor

***
I have my mother’s little recipe-filled wooden box that she created for a high school home economics class in the 30s. She got an A. I never make any of those recipes, but I like having them. I have other recipes of hers, too, that I do use from time to time. But what I really learned from Mother, and it was by osmosis more than anything, is that you cook for your family every day. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should taste good, look appealing, and be good for you. I tried to stick to that philosophy while my children were growing up, and now I see my daughter carrying it on for another generation. It’s the best kind of tradition.
—Enid Johnson
, senior copy/production editor

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Having grown up eating a pretty bland 50s diet (I remember cottage cheese-canned peach salad as my grandmother’s specialty) my mom really actively sought out new influences when she started cooking for herself: she read Julia Child, she bought and butchered her own goose from a local farm, she learned to make tabbouleh and kibbeh from a Lebanese friend’s mom…and most importantly, she made me eat all of it. That really instilled an openness in me to eating (and cooking) new things. I only hope when I’m a mom I’ll have some of that willpower!
—Sarah Breckenridge, Web producer

  Definitely not your run-of-the-mill kid-food, but that’s the point. Good job, Mom!

***
My mom was a good teacher especially when it came to cooking. She wasn’t a fancy cook, but she did try some challenging recipes from time to time using her family as guinea pigs. Of course we were always happy to eat her offerings; she rarely made a bad meal. One of the best things she taught me was not so much about cooking as it was about food. She was interested in trying new things and she and dad encouraged my sister and I to try, at least once, everything on our plate. Now that we’re grown, there are very few foods my sister and I don’t like and we both enjoy cooking and trying new foods.
—Pam Winn, associate art director

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I moved from England to New York a year and a half ago, so it’s no longer so easy for me to nip to my mum’s whenever I’m craving a good dose of her cure-all chicken curry, imbued with aromatic roasted spices, fresh cilantro and most importantly, her love and attention. Now when I yearn for a taste of home, I bring out my cast iron Le Creuset pot (my mum swears by it for making curry), buy the most comfortably-reared, organic chicken I can find, and fish out the smuggled jar of my mum’s secret chicken curry spice blend from the fridge.

A couple of times a year, when my mum returns to Malaysia, she grinds her own curry powder in bulk, to supply to all the family. I’ve been sworn to secrecy, so I can’t share the exact formula, but discerning noses will pick up traces of coriander, cumin, fennel, dried chili, fenugreek and black peppercorns. She dries the spices in the sun on bamboo mats then sends them to the local mill.

I begin by sautéing chopped onions, then I add a freshly blended paste of ginger and garlic with a handful of curry leaves, a stick of cinnamon and a couple of star anise. Chopped tomatoes follow. Once they are cooked down to an unctuous pulp, the chicken pieces are added together with a hefty spoonful of curry powder. The mixture is stirred to ensure every piece of meat is coated in the spices, then a dollop of thick yogurt is added along with some water. The chicken simmers in its spicy bath until cooked through and the gravy is thick. Finally, chopped coriander is stirred in for a touch of freshness. I close my eyes, breathe in deeply….and I’m nearly back in my mother’s kitchen. Nearly.
—Nadia Arumugam, contributing editor

***
When I was 8 years old, my mother taught me about the holy trinity of Cuban food: onion, garlic, and cumin; the basic ingredients of Cuban cuisine’s most important component, sofrito.

My mother explained how sofrito (which we put in almost everything) is the soul of the food, you can’t see it but you know it’s there bringing the food to life. Sofrito is comprised of chopped onions, green peppers, garlic, cumin, oregano, tomato sauce, dry cooking wine, and a bay leaf that get sautéed together for a while to meld all the wonderful flavors together. We add it to beef, chicken, fish, vegetables, and beans without needing to alter the recipe. 
—Juli Roberts, editorial assistant

  My mom says that if you can make a good sofrito, everything else will come along because all the food wants to be in the company of such a good sauce. (That saying sounds so much better in Spanish!)

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Sadly, I don’t have any mom-inspired recipes or specific memories of cooking with my mom; but that doesn’t mean she didn’t teach me to cook. Two things I learned from Mom (who raised six kids on her own while working 50 hour weeks): Cooking wasn’t complicated, and I was more than capable of doing it. By the time I was 11, my older sister and I got dinner started every night. Mom instructed us to get out the Betty Crocker Cookbook and read the recipes. Our standards were simple main dishes: spaghetti and homemade meatballs, meatloaf, baked chicken and potatoes. And there was always a fresh green salad with tomatoes and cucumbers on the table.

That’s why I never understand people who say they can’t cook. For me, a big takeaway from those early family meals was, “if you can read, you can cook.”

When I was 29, I lost my mom to heart disease. I suspect she’d be very proud of the meals I make for my family now. I haven’t consulted Betty much recently, but my collection of Fine Cookings sure get a lot of use. After all, I can read, can’t I?
—Kelly Gearity, photo editor

***
My mother’s go-to entertaining meal is pasta with seafood and a gorgeous, red wine vinegar-kissed red sauce. Throughout the years, a buzzing room of guests would immediately hush in anticipation of her dish: a tangle of spaghetti, littleneck clams, large shrimp, sea scallops and calamari dappled with fresh parsley and sliced garlic.

My mother’s seafood pasta, shared among friends and family, is a gift to the senses and the soul, and when I was thirteen, it was the first recipe she taught me to make start to finish.

Mom’s secret? It’s easy if you’re organized. She showed me the proper mise en place; start the tomato sauce in a small saucepan, slice the garlic, clean and prepare the seafood, reserve a bowl of fresh herbs and lemon zest. Cook the seafood in layers; add clams first in white wine so their juices permeate every ingredient (remove as they open, cover and add back just before serving), sea scallops next. Add shrimp and calamari in the last two minutes. Shower with herbs and lemon zest and pour the palimpsest of briny flavor over pasta along with the red sauce. Make sure the meal includes crusty bread, pecorino romano (we don’t discriminate), white wine and friends; sit back and prepare to be worshipped.
—Evan Barbour, freelance editor

***
Both of my parents had reputations as great cooks, thanks to Julia Child. Oddly, the thing I most vividly remember my mom teaching me to make was béchamel sauce. I thought it was so cool how this thin mixture of milk, butter, and flour miraculously thickened up upon hitting a boil. When I left home for college, my mom sent me off with a box of recipe cards of all my favorite dishes. I haven’t made her 1970s-style pork chops with orange paprika sauce in a while—she probably hasn’t either—but whenever there’s a flank steak in my fridge, I still reach for the card titled “teriyaki marinade for flank steak.” It may not inspire worship like Evan’s mom’s seafood pasta, but it’s sure to get you lots of compliments.

Combine 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 2-3 Tbs. minced garlic, 2 Tbs. minced ginger, 2-3 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds (I sometimes substitute with a Tbs. or so of Asian sesame oil), and 1-2 Tbs. ginger sherry (dry sherry that’s been infused with ginger for a week or so; you can use plain sherry, too). Marinate a flank steak in the mixture overnight. Broil or grill as you like it.
—Jennifer Armentrout, senior food editor

***
You can share one of your mom’s recipes at FineCooking.com’s Recipe Exchange, or find something delicious to serve mom on our page dedicated to Mother’s Day recipes.

 



 

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  • KellySusan | 05/06/2010

    Do these scones have a light frosting on top or is that just the cream...also which dried fruits work best with this recipe. Can't wait to try it...thinking of dried cranberries with it... thanks kelly

  • ggearity | 05/04/2010

    Ever since I can remember, I've been resistent to cooking... I think my most potent memory of cooking was when I put a whole bowl of sugar in the box of Corn Flakes, and I couldn't understand why my mom had to throw it away. As a teenager I used to bust out the 'Betty Crocker', scoff at something that took longer than 30 minutes to make, and microwave some pizza rolls instead. My mom would roll her eyes at me (did she learn that from me?) and explain that I was fully capable of doing it if I would just TRY.
    I'm so proud of my mom for what she has accomplished from her humble beginnings, in cooking and in life, and I have since made a stronger effort to resist my cooking-apathy by getting my hands dirty -and delicious- again. My most successful attempt? Irish Soda Bread...simple, from a cookbook, and completely UN-memorized. I, too, can read, can't I? -Genevieve Gearity

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