Sunday, April 29, 2007

Just like Mom used to make...

For most of us, our mother's cooking sets the standards for how we measure food for the rest of our life. Luckily, my mother is a great cook. Her spaghetti sauce is still my favorite. Her Mexican Wedding Cake cookies still top mine. Everyone loves her homemade baked beans. I'm actually trying to make a batch today, which is why this thread came to me. To varying degrees, I've been able to duplicate most of my old favorites.

I really like chocolate chip cookies, especially the raw dough. Growing up, we'd always dunk Mom's into milk to soften them up. I tried baking a few times growing up, but I don't remember much about those efforts. I do remember the first time I made choc chip cookies. I followed the recipe and used real butter instead of margarine. To my amazement, Mom took one small taste of the dough and could taste it. While in college, I had to make my own. After much trial and error, I got it down and my friends really enjoyed them. I didn't do anything special. I followed the Nestle Tollhouse Cookie recipe in the back of their semi-sweet morsel bag. Eventually, I tried using non-stick, air-insulated sheets, and I loved them. No more burnt cookies. My only change is I doubled the vanilla extract (pure, of course). The strange thing is my cookies came out soft. Mom's were always hard. I'm not sure what I do differently, but somehow I am able to make better chocolate chip cookies. She's not too bitter anymore. :)

Next up are her Mexican Wedding Cakes. Mine are really good. They are really easy to make, but to me they are holiday cookies, so I only make them in November and December. People literally stalk me asking for them. One of my old coworkers would ask me about them at least once or twice a month all year, and once November rolled by, I'm pretty sure she had it circled on her calender. Tara also loves them and gives me the Evil Eye when I tell her they are holiday cookies. She even liked the ones I made with real butter (I'm a margarine person.) As good as mine are, I still prefer Mom's. I'm not sure what she does different, but they always taste better to me.

Her spaghetti sauce was a harder target. Mom is of the "eyeball it" school of cookers. For most of her recipes, she just adds the ingredients and doesn't measure. I have my mostly-unused Electrical Engineering degree, and all that science has forged a need in me for recipes and procedures. The scientific method, if you will. I treat cooking like chemistry. Mom has given us a rough outline of her recipe. While it's still a bit hit-or-miss, Tara can make it spot-on sometimes. Once it was actually better. It was so good I'd actually take cold spoonfuls of it out of the fridge. I'd also dip slices of baguette. It was so good. She's come close since, but that was just heavenly.

The baked beans have been a tougher nut to crack. I've made it maybe a half-dozen times or so, and still can't get it close. I figured I'd try it again today since there's not much going on. They are still baking, so I'll report more later. The recipe itself is simple, but it still eludes me.

Another problem is she no longer has a lot of the recipes I've asked for. Some of them are lost, but sometimes I get lucky. I love Alton Brown's Good Eats on The Food Network. One of his episodes dealt with duplicating a yellow cake recipe. I tried it, and it's almost exactly like Mom's. I was even able to ger her frosting recipe from the Domino sugar web site. The frosting is WAY too sweet for Tara. I made her a birthday cake our first year together, and as she was eating it, I told her what was in the frosting. A little margarine, some milk, and two pounds of powdered sugar. Her response was "So THAT'S why my teeth hurt." :) I still like it and it makes great cupcakes.

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