Sunday, August 3, 2008

My mom's recipe box strikes again

When Jerry's mother gave us a zucchini from her garden last week, which happened to be the biggest specimen I've ever seen in my entire life -- big enough that if it had been sitting in my parking space, I just might've tried to climb in and put my key in the ignition -- I decided a simple slice and saute with garlic and olive oil wouldn't do it justice.

This thing needed to go out in style.

So I dug through my mom's old recipe box to make her killer zucchini bread for the first time. I know I'm mathtarded, but I calculated I could make 947 loaves with this one vegetable and feed the entire neighborhood. Or make Jerry crazy and hold a bake sale off our front porch.

Either way, it sounded like the perfect solution to the giant green thing forming a dent in our kitchen counter.

Then I looked at the recipe, lovingly handwritten on an index card in my mother's cursive:

1c oil
2c sugar
3c flour
2c zucchini
3 eggs
1t salt
1tsp soda
3t cinn
1/4t powder
3t vanilla
Bake 350

Seriously. That's it. No directions. Not even proper abbreviations. I mean, who's to say "powder" isn't cocaine? A quarter teaspoon of the white stuff just might be the reason I've found it to be so absolutely addictive all these years.

And it offers no help whatsoever in the zucchini department. Diced? Sliced? Shredded? Pulverized? Squeezed in a juicer into liquid? Or maybe I'm just supposed to toss the thing in whole.

And the method? Cram everything into a bowl, set it and forget it? Like the crazy rotisserie on the late-night infomercials that does everything short of buy the gigantic slab of meat for you?

Part of me wanted to place the entire zucchini into one of my never-been-used bread tins, sprinkle the other ingredients around it, then put it in a 350 degree oven. Forever. Because there's no indication of how long it should stay in there. Then, after a few weeks when it hardened into a molten globule, I'd mail it to my mom with a sticky note attached: "Followed your instructions. Enjoy!"

This, of course, isn't the first time I've run into a problem with my mother's recipes. There was that incident with the nutmeats in April.

But the rational side of me knows her recipes aren't the problem. It's her cooking skills. The woman could bake this bread in her sleep, so the fact that she even has the ingredients written down at all should humble me. I should be GREATFUL she's even willing to share the secrets to her culinary genius. I should frame the zucchini bread ingredients and spend the rest of my life tirelessly trying to figure out how to form them into some sort of edible substance.

Instead, I just gave up immediately, realizing I'll never cook like she can, not even close, not even if I live to be 2,000.

So I searched for another recipe.

Remembering an excellent roasted vegetable casserole she makes on occasion, I flipped through until I found it. This one had its own issues -- including some ingredients I know she never uses and others that I know she does and were nowhere to be found -- but at least it had actual portions, somewhat discernable abbreviations and directions on how to combine them.

After a few hours that can only be described as complete kitchen chaos, I ended up with something that vaguely resembles my mother's casserole. Sure, mine was super runny because it didn't say to drain the stewed tomatoes. And I used the entire zucchini, which could've been broken down into 17 pans instead of just one. But, luckily, it tasted completely delicious, even though it was missing something. I just couldn't put my finger on what.

I called my mom to ask.

"Breadcrumbs. ... I sprinkle some on top with the cheese."

"I hope you know it's not on the recipe."

"Sorry."

"I knew something was missing, but if you had said 'nutmeats' I was going to kill you."

13 comments:

Marcy said...

You should set up a camcorder in her kitchen to watch her cook and bake, and then you can write down what she did afterwards. Like her own private cooking show. ; )

Jennifer Suarez said...

Aw come on, the bread recipe wasn't too bad! The powder is most likely baking powder. You mash/grind up the zucchini like you would bananas for banana bread and mix all ingredients together would be my guess.

And 350 til done, toothpick will tell you. Estimate around 20-30 mins and go from there.

Of course I come from a long line of partial recipe writers so I am used to this type of recipe. ;-) I love your Mom!

Kristin said...

hahaha.
nutmeats.
It's really rad looking back on your old posts.
In fact, I should go back to your xanga for a little while and reminisce =P

-KrIsTiN-

julie said...

I finally posted a picture of the foot stool you painted for Shobha.

Ray said...

Your mom needs to come over my way and be my personal chef! Haha. Sounds like good food to me (although I've never heard of/or tasted Zucchini bread). And you two should really get together so you can rewrite all the recipes. I wish I had some family recipes of my own, but there are none. Well I hope you enjoyed your casserole.

Take, care.

superprofundo said...

mmmm, what kind of cheese goes on top?

Lisa said...

Don't worry Kelly, I can barely boil water without burning down the kitchen.

Lori :-) said...

HA!! I can sooooooo relate!! My Gram's recipe box, which I inherited, is totally the same. Some recipes are no more than a list of ingredients. No name, no directions, nothing. Just. Ingredients. I have made 2 things with recipes similar to what you describe, with similar results. Let's just say, the M&M cookies - NOT gram's, and the amount of M&M's was apparently taking in to account that my pap would be eating some, ok... well... eating a lot of them while she was baking. And the zucchini bread I tried, I think it was actually a zucchini cake-ish type of thing, maybe. I really should have been paying more attention when she was baking! She was more a handful of this, a palmful of that, type of baker. I think the recipe box was just to humor us.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I've been reading you long enough to recognize filler repeats!

novelle360 said...

Filler repeats? Is this a new blogging term I'm not familiar with yet? Because this post and all my posts are out-of-the-oven fresh.

In fact, it might be the ONLY thing fresh from my oven. Ever.

the plainsman said...

LOL, the old "Bake 350" notation! As someone pointed it out, means "till done," that is when the fresh toothpick (supplied by you) jabbed into the cake or bread comes out without any wet batter on it and before it is burned into a black brick.

The logic of not giving a specific time is that even with digital readouts and timers, many ovens differ as to exact temperature, so results will vary based upon actual conditions, even placement in the oven itself or a city's altitude can have an effect on the time needed.

Anyway, that is what my mom once told me, so no nutmeats aimed in my direction, please!

Beth said...

Hahaha...then you would not like my recipes, either. Because I've been cooking seriously since I was a kid, and most of my recipes are just a scribbled list of ingredients, usually similarly abbreviated, with 'combine in usual manner' at the bottom. Because I KNOW what that is.

And some I just plain have memorized, like buttermilk pancakes (see? 2 1/4 c. buttermilk, 5 T. melted butter, 2 eggs, 2 c. unbleached flour, 3 T. sugar, 1 T. baking powder, 1 t. baking soda, 2 t. salt: combine milk, eggs, butter, set aside; whisk together all dry ingredients, pour in liquids, mix well, pour by 1.4 c. measure onto heated griddle, 380 degrees is what I use for mine, and turn when they begin to bubble and look set. I used to make these in mass quantity for camp....)

Anyway, now I understand more why my cookbook is taking so long to write. There are strict codes that have to be followed, you practically have to say take an egg and BREAK it, because you must not assume the reader will have been cooking for years.

But I do have a lot of people waiting to buy it....once I get done translating, and cutting DOWN the camp-sized recipes I created into normal-sized quantities...apparently 24 dozen cookies at one time is a bit daunting.

Speaking of zucchini, though...next time, if you make Mom's bread, grate ALL of the monster, measure out what you need, freeze the rest. When you defrost it, drain it; if the recipe you want to use it for calls for milk, use the liquid to mix with dry milk for the amount needed.

Or not....;)

Maria said...

The 'nutmeat' story is one of my all time favorites because it reminds me of my own mother.

I went grocery shopping with my mom one day and one of the items on her list was 'cat food', at the time we were seperated so naturally I walked over to the pet food aisle and grabbed a bag of cat food. When I caught up with my mom a few minutes later she asked me why I had a big bag of cat food in the cart, I showed her the list to which she laughed and told me that 'cat food' meant Lean Cusine.

Let me repeat that, 'cat food' to my mother means 'Lean Cuisine'. I'm still trying to figure that one out.