Today I am cooking for my brother. He and my Sister -in-law plus the Bean, the Computer Geek and the Humvee are coming to the Broom Closet for dinner tomorrow. I am trying to pay a small homage to my Ma by cooking some of our favourites. Already I can hear her voice. First off was the chocolate cake, one that she described as doable with her hands tied behind her back, which was likely very true. The problem with my Ma's written recipes is that she always tweaked them herself, and somehow would always forget to tell me about them, and of course, never wrote anything down. How proud I was of myself for remembering the "tweak" in the cake - if something didn't call for salt, especially in baking, she would always add a dash. And so I did, merrily put the cake in the oven, then remembered the other tweak for the recipe, the capful of vanilla extract - never the phony stuff, has to be real. The buttercream icing I will make from scratch, there is no recipe, just a bunch of butter (never margarine!), a lot of icing sugar and cocoa, and the capful of real vanilla, and a few grains of salt. A spoonful of strong coffee if I have it. All done with the dip and taste methodology to perfection.
Next is the pirohy, perogies to the non Ukes in the bunch. I remember last making them about twenty years ago, and do you know what her complaint was then? I used Yukon Gold potatoes instead of plain white. Nothing about the taste, just that the potatoes were wrong. This time I bought white because they were on sale, they are happily boiling on the stove right now, very important to salt the cooking water correctly as they just don't taste the same if you have to salt them after cooking, although a little correction is fine. But I am still going to make them yellower than usual because I use Omega eggs that sport a rich yellow colour. And how difficult was it to find the full fat dry curd cottage cheese for this? Four major stores later, that's how. For a once in a 20 year feat, you cannot use 0.5% fat dry pressed cottage cheese. My Ma would be turning over in her grave if I even considered making this a low fat option. And the idea is that she rest in peace. Now the dough recipe comes from a little sort of contest in small town Saskatchewan, where my Father was born. At every church function, dozens of different pirohy would show up, some were good, some were like eating bullets. So one night they all cooked and presented their pirohy, and when the best dough was determined, everyone had to use that recipe to make consistently good pirohy. I have that recipe. I can't make pie crust to save me arse, but one compliment my Ma gave me is that I made the best pirohy dough, even though she used the same recipe. We'll just see if I can repeat that today. I have her bread board, I don't have her rolling pin. I bought one last night, intending to buy a simple (read: cheap) marble one for $9.99 at Walmart. Came home with the Oxo cadillac at $39.99 plus HST from Home Outfitters. I'm still shaking my head. But, it's non-stick, ergonomic, and you don't scrape your knuckles on the counter as the handles always stay right side up. Uh huh. Technology these days. Oh, and a hole in one of the handles so you can "conveniently" hang it up. I think under the bed is better, more of an element of surprise to any inturders.
The last is the borscht, and even my Ma succumbed to convenience on this one. After bunches of beets that wouldn't boil up regardless of how little or how big, or how old or how young, my Ma turned to canned beets, and they certainly make for a quicker soup. Again I last made this many years ago, following her recipe, which is basically a list of ingredients, and all I got was "it's okay." When I asked what was wrong with it, she just simply said "Well, you know, you did your best." And to this day, I don't know of any tweaks except may be the love she put into it, and how can I replicate that? I had thought it was pretty good. And of course, it still to this day requires the addition of full fat sour cream, low fat doesn't cut it in a vegetable soup. What might have her turning to her side in her grave is the fact that I will use vegetable stock for the vegetarian in the Bean, and not a good homemade chicken stock. Bought to boot, organic and low sodium. That I will tweak as well. And you know what happens when you tweak things, you never make it the same way twice.
And that is my little world today. On Wednesday I am off to my beloved Guatemala for a medical mission, El Salvador for a beer break, and Mexico for another mission.