When I describe my childhood, the only word I can really think of is "lucky." I grew up with one of the most incredible cooks and bakers any child can hope to. Almost every night, my mom would make us a beautiful dinner, and we'd eat together as a family. Even at the age of 8, I devoured everything. I loved the smell of roasted asparagus and the strong, pungent taste of blue cheese. I fell in love with food the way most kids fall in love with Disney World or video games. Watching my mom cook and bake was always romantic and enchanting. Even on her hardest days, when the four of us were terrorizing her and tearing apart the house, she always had a smile on her face when she was in the kitchen. And now, as the cook of my house, I catch myself with that same smile.
Even though she made so many amazing dishes, one of my favorites growing up was goulash. Now, it's not glamorous or fancy, but it's delicious. It's a dish my great-grandmother used to make for her as a kid, and she made it for us, just the way I'll make it for my kids. It uses everyday, simple ingredients and can be made in less than an hour. It's comfort food to me, and every bite reminds me of those family dinners I had growing up. In fact, I always volunteered to clean up after so I could sneak a few more forkfuls of goulash while my brothers watched TV. This dish is everything my mom is to me — comforting and absolutely incredible.
This is my mom's all-time favorite salad that she would make for us. She made it every single Sunday, sometimes changing out the strawberries for mandarin oranges and the strawberry Jell-O for orange Jell-O. When we were little, she would let us kids drain the pineapple and drink the leftover pineapple juice. We loved that! She would always let us help stir everything together and sneak a few bites. Sometimes we would make this strawberry fluff salad and serve it over waffles or pancakes.
One of the reasons I have such a love for baking and creating dishes is the wonderful memories I have of cooking with my mom. This salad, although simple, holds great memories for me. My mom was never worried about food taking longer to prepare or if we made a mess as we tried to help. She wanted us to have fun and to love creating meals. She spent hours teaching me various tricks in the kitchen and ways to bake better.
Now that I live halfway across the country, I always think about my mom when I make this salad. It's also become a tradition in my home to make waffles with this strawberry fluff salad for Saturday mornings. Whenever I make it, I think about the memories I have of making it with my mom and enjoying it with my family. Food brings people together, but it was my mom that instilled in me a passion and a love for cooking and good food. And whenever I think of good food and my mom's favorite signature dish, it's this salad that brings the greatest memories to me.
I'm betting when most people think of their kitchen and food memories of Mom, they think of mac and cheese, soup or something equally comforting. Sure, my mom made all those things, but that's not what first comes to mind. Almost all of my childhood food memories can be traced back to our small summer backyard garden. Fresh basil, Swiss chard and copious amounts of tomatoes in August are the things that make me think of her.
This dish is a perfect example of what we'd eat night after night in the summer when we had more fresh garden veggies than any family of four could consume. It's a simple Swiss chard and tomato dish studded with fresh basil. It comes together in minutes, and I can't make it without thinking back to my mom in old jeans, picking weeds from the garden while my brother and I played soccer in the backyard.
Deciding on a dish that most reminds me of Mom is easy, because there are only a handful to choose from. Not because she was stuck in a rut, making the same recipes week after week, but because my mom wasn't the cook of the family… That task fell to my dad. So when Mom was in the kitchen, you knew you could count on certain dishes coming out. And the dish I wished for with all my heart was porcupines — super-simple meatballs with rice poking out, cooked in a super-simple sauce.
To this day, the smell of classic Campbell's condensed tomato soup instantly transports me back in time. What is it about this simple meal that I fell so hard for? There are minimal ingredients, none of them fancy, and nothing especially extraordinary about this dish. Except that my mom made it, which makes all the difference.
Even now, 25 years later, though I am tempted to modify any and all recipes I come across, I make this one as written. And for my money, I'll take my mom's version over mine any day. Because doesn't it just taste better when it's made by Mom, no matter how old you are?
My mom is Italian, and when she immigrated to America, she couldn't bring many possessions with her. What she did bring was her passion to cook Italian specialties for her family and friends. I have a hard time recreating many of her dishes no matter how many times I try or how closely I follow her instructions. I've come to reason that it's simply the special touch of a mother. One of her recipes I enjoy is this asparagus frittata.
Asparagus frittata is a simple dish that my mom has made for years, especially during the spring, when asparagus is in season. Growing up in a state with long, snowy winters, this was a welcome dish for my family and a sure sign of a warmer season ahead.
There is one thing about this recipe I haven't perfected: For the prep method, my mom flips her frittata using a plate and finishes cooking it in the pan on the stove top. I typically finish mine without flipping it and place it (in the pan) under the oven broiler.
Mother's Day is the perfect time of year to enjoy an asparagus frittata. When I do, I can't help but think of my mom and the special touch she brings to her cooking.
Want to give Mom the gift of food? Make one of these delectable edibles, infused with love.
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