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Is there a recipe from your childhood that you constantly strive to replicate?

worktogthr

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Food is such an important part of my life as I'm sure it is for all of you, or you wouldn't be a member of this site. To me, taste and smell are the two senses that can instantly bring me back to my childhood. In the last few months I have been obsessing over making Sunday gravy like my mom and grandma used to make. Gravy is what my Italian grandma called her rich, tomato based meat sauce that was cooked all day. Starts by browning all kinds of meat (hot and sweet Italian sausage, spare ribs or pork neck bones, chuck, bracciole, and pretty much any meat that would be good for stewing or braising). Then she would cook some garlic in the drippings, deglaze with wine, and add tomatoes and some water , throw all the browned meat back in the pot and stir or all day long until you have this rich, hearty tomato sauce. She would also make and brown meatballs in olive oil and throw those in the sauce about an hour before dinner to finish cooking/warm them. Once it was time for dinner, she would put all the different meats on a big platter and serve everyone macaroni with the meat sauce. We would pass the meat platter around the table and take what we wanted. Big cheesy meatballs, sausage, the beef and pork that would melt in your mouth. Put the meat on your macaroni, ladle even more sauce on top and and sprinkle on plenty of grated Romano. Absolute heaven!

Every time I make it now, it brings me back to holidays and Sunday dinners in Brooklyn or holidays at at home where my mom would be yelling at me for dipping bread in the sauce as it simmered.

Now here is the problem... I really love the Sunday gravy that I make... But it is still missing something that my mom and grandmas had. A certain quality that I just can't pinpoint. Maybe they used more wine, did they use onion? It tortures me. And since there are no written recipes for it and my mom and grandma are gone, I keep tweaking it by memory. I read recipes that are similar, constantly grill my dad about what he remembers, and just obsess over it. Hahah sorry for this lengthy trip down memory lane but back to my original question...

I am curious, what are the recipes from your childhood that you are always trying to replicate or feel you have mastered without the help of a written recipe?

I am going to write everything down for my daughter so she doesn't have to obsess over it like I do.
 

ajbert

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I've got two.

First, my grandma's smother okra.  Like you, I and others have tried to replicate what she did.  We've come close but no cigar.  Sure wish I knew exactly how she made it, but I'm sure it was never the same way twice.  Her version was always fantastic but ours, though good, just has never been the same.

The second was my other grandma's English Toffee.  Thankfully, I have the recipe and have been making it around the holidays for the past 20+ years!
 

moikel

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Called ragu or just sauce here by our Italian community ,very southern. I live in a version of little Italy & the old folks still cook like that. Maybe not as many meat types at once but same principle. Abruzzese often put lamb in the mix,Calabrians like sausage & veal shoulder,veal ribs popular as well.

I learnt from several different friends mothers,Calabrian,Sicilian & Abruzzese.

I take a biggish bit of pig skin about the A4 size,sold in my hood  separate just for this. I lay it flat put thyme parsley,oregano & shallot top & a dried chilli on it .Then roll it up ,tie it so its secure.I then simmer that in the sauce.Gives it a lovely shine. Really old school village cookery but thats where you are coming from ,right?

My late Canadian mother used to make this pork dish which was chops braised in milk with some breadcrumbs on the top. I assume that she got it from the melting pot that was Ontario in the 40s & 50s. Cant find the recipe in any of her cookbooks.
 

graywolf1936

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Worktogthr, are you sure you weren't eating at my house? Iam from upstate N.Y. parents from Calibria and Sicily. We call it "Saugus"(sp). All I can say is buy the best can tomato, go easy on oregano. And heavy on the Basil, use only real garlic. Just my 2 cents worth.
 

worktogthr

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Worktogthr, are you sure you weren't eating at my house? Iam from upstate N.Y. parents from Calibria and Sicily. We call it "Saugus"(sp). All I can say is buy the best can tomato, go easy on oregano. And heavy on the Basil, use only real garlic. Just my 2 cents worth.
Hahah...every italian family has their version! I actually don't use any spices/ herbs other than salt, pepper, and basil because my mom
Always told me that the meat and the bones gave it all the flavor it needed. I use San Marzano tomatoes and I notice a huge difference between that an other cans of tomatoes.
 
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noboundaries

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This thread brought back memories.  Thanks worktogthr!

My grandparents and great-grandparents were also from Calabria.  Grandma was born in Cosenza and my grandfather in Catanzaro.  They immigrated to the US in the early 1900s and settled in Fairmont, West Virginia so the men could work the coal mines.  My grandfather worked in the foundry on the mine site where they made and fixed a lot of the equipment.  I still have some of his stuff in my garage he made while working there, bookends and a sausage press for example. 

"Sauce" was what my grandma would make every Sunday just like you described.  Even though it was filled with chuck, pork, sausage, chicken, and finally meat balls it was a very thin sauce, not thick at all.  Definitely garlic-y but I have no idea what else she put in it.  Grandma used tomatoes canned from their summer garden.  I can remember her opening the jars and squishing the tomatoes in her hands into the big stock pot she used to make the sauce.   Her hands, that must have been the secret.

She made fresh hard crust bread all the time too.  After the sauce cooked a while a thick layer of tomato tinted red fat would float on the top of the sauce.  She'd use slices of bread to soak up the  fat.  We kids would fight to get a piece of that bread.  It was so yummy!

Yeah, that's one recipe that is lost to time because the "sauce" was kind of a "use what we have on hand" kind of throw together.  My mother, who has also passed, put together a few of the family recipes but the sauce wasn't one of them.  Over the years I've developed my own "sauce" and that's what my kids remember.  The red fat on top still gets hard crust bread dipped in it!

I've learned the lesson though of recipes lost to time and use a software called "The Living Cookbook" to put together all my recipes and my wife's recipes so we can share them and pass them to our kids.

I just looked and my all day sauce isn't in the cookbook!!!  Aaaagh!  My quick sauce is there but not the all day 16 quart stock pot recipe.  Have to fix that!  See worktogthr, you saved my kids from the same fate you are enduring.  THANKS!   
 

tc fish bum

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my granny did a killer chicken and dumpling that took all day to get right. it took me 20 years to get it down, but i can replicate it perfectly. I now have my 8 and 10 year old daughters making it so it wont get lost to time! thank you, what a fun thread and good luck, i know you will get it eventualy,
 

worktogthr

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Called ragu or just sauce here by our Italian community ,very southern. I live in a version of little Italy & the old folks still cook like that. Maybe not as many meat types at once but same principle. Abruzzese often put lamb in the mix,Calabrians like sausage & veal shoulder,veal ribs popular as well.
I learnt from several different friends mothers,Calabrian,Sicilian & Abruzzese.
I take a biggish bit of pig skin about the A4 size,sold in my hood  separate just for this. I lay it flat put thyme parsley,oregano & shallot top & a dried chilli on it .Then roll it up ,tie it so its secure.I then simmer that in the sauce.Gives it a lovely shine. Really old school village cookery but thats where you are coming from ,right?
My late Canadian mother used to make this pork dish which was chops braised in milk with some breadcrumbs on the top. I assume that she got it from the melting pot that was Ontario in the 40s & 50s. Cant find the recipe in any of her cookbooks.
That's cool that the kind of sauce I am describing is made in other parts of the world and varies based on what is readily available. Don't think my mom or grandma ever used lamb but like you said my grandma always used whatever was available and probably whatever was the least expensive at the market.
 

worktogthr

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Hahaha, I know all about that layer of fat... All the meats' fat rises to the top... It used to gross out my mom and she skimmed it off and threw it in a big bowl next to the sauce pot... She would yell at me when I dipped bread in it. It was great!
 

worktogthr

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my granny did a killer chicken and dumpling that took all day to get right. it took me 20 years to get it down, but i can replicate it perfectly. I now have my 8 and 10 year old daughters making it so it wont get lost to time! thank you, what a fun thread and good luck, i know you will get it eventualy,
That's great that you are showing your daughters how to make it...can't wait until my daughter is old enough to cook with me! Maybe around 3 I'll teach her how to smoke a pork shoulder haha
 

chef jimmyj

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Same here, Maternal Grandma's sauce and most importantly her Meat Ravioli. They were made with Chicken, Pork and Beef with Spinach and Pecorino Romano. The missing key is she added Nutmeg, Cinnamon and Clove but in 30 years of trying I can't quite get the right proportions. To make things worse, older relatives said she used Allspice...BUT...They all think Allspice is a Blend of the others, no help there. I helped her make both Sauce and Ravioli as a child and teen but never wrote down the proportions. My Mom made her Sauce differently, to my Dad's taste so although at 86 and still alive, can't remember how Grandma made her's. One of the biggest issues was mentioned above. The Tomatoes, Garlic and Onions came from the garden, the meat from the Hog they raised out back, the same with the other meats. Of course in the cities the neighborhood Butchers sourced the best from local farms outside the city. San Marzano canned whole tomatoes are about as close as you will get to homegrown and the Italian Markets in NYC still have brands that the City Grandma's used. Probably the best way to go is forget all the " Cook Healthy " crap that has been pounded in our heads since the 70's and get the fattiest, toughest cuts of Beef and Pork you can get. Cheeks, Shanks/Hocks and Ribs are great choices and Chicken Legs/Thighs are most similar in flavor to the old Stewing Hens Gram's most likely used. An Imported Pecorino Romano Cheese or at least the very fine American brand Locatelli is a must. I have seen very few recipes that did not contain some Onions and I will bet Dollars to Donuts that Grandma added at least one or two whole Carrots to the mix to add some sweetness and balance the acids of the tomatoes. Lastly, while Oregano is a must in Pizza Sauce, it is somewhat more rare in Grandma's Gravy, however fresh Basil and quite often some fresh Parsley is a must. Red Wine is common because of the flavor intensifying affect Alcohol has on Tomatoes but it is most often the flavor most difficult to match. Most Grand Dad's made their own or knew a local source for the good stuff. Find a brand made with Sangiovese Grapes, I like Col Di Saso, if Grandpa went to the local wine store but keep the following in mind. Since the Concord Grape was most commonly grown in back yards on the East Coast and in NYC the Italian neighborhoods were close to the Jewish neighborhoods, you may find a brand like Manischewitz Concord Grape will add that missing flavor...Good Luck to us all...JJ
 

leah elisheva

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L'Chaim! (I didn't think anyone knew what "Manischewitz" even was)! Smiles.

But leave it to our talented Chef Jimmy to share the best use of it that I have ever, ever, heard! Bar none.

Chef; your sauce sounds fantastic!

Cheers to all! - Leah
 

noboundaries

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Chef Jimmy, you hit the nail on the head!  I completely spaced out the carrots!  My grandpa made all his own wine from grapes he bought at "the market," which was actually a little Italian store that smelled like Italian heaven when you walked in there.  The wine always went in the sauce but that wine was never aged long enough to get rid of the green taste.  He bottled it in gallon jugs. And many times I can remember tasting it when it started to get a bit of a vinegar edge.  They'd drink it anyway until it was ready to use on salads, which was pronounced "sah-Lahd" with their accents.
 

graywolf1936

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The other "type" of pasta sauce that I remember and made for Christmas Eve is stuffed squid with a thickred sauce over any thin pasta.
 

noboundaries

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Yep. Meatless Christmas Eve, baccala salad, squid fixed in sauce, soup, and fried. Cod. Smelt. Took me years to duplicate the baccala (reconstituted salt cod). Now when I
make it the family comes out of the woodwork! What used to be cheap is what I now call the $100 salad bowl!
 
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mneeley490

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Yep, my grandmother made a mince-meat pie that was to die for. She used elk neck meat. That's something that I can't just pick up at the local grocery store.

And my mother, who was not a good cook, did have the best fried chicken I have ever tasted. Some combination of flour, black pepper, and Lawry's Seasoning Salt, but I've never been able to duplicate it.
 

worktogthr

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My Mom was a career woman and not a cook as much as a wonderful "everything else."

However, she made the best damn paella in the world, and I have a ball trying to replicate that indeed!

Cheers! - Leah


Leah...your posts are great.  I love the passion you have for food.  That Paella look amazing.  Honestly, I am not much of a seafood fan, but you make it mighty appealing!
 

moikel

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Chef Jimmy, you hit the nail on the head!  I completely spaced out the carrots!  My grandpa made all his own wine from grapes he bought at "the market," which was actually a little Italian store that smelled like Italian heaven when you walked in there.  The wine always went in the sauce but that wine was never aged long enough to get rid of the green taste.  He bottled it in gallon jugs. And many times I can remember tasting it when it started to get a bit of a vinegar edge.  They'd drink it anyway until it was ready to use on salads, which was pronounced "sah-Lahd" with their accents.
The paint shop at the end of my street sells full range of winemaking gear.I mean full. They promised nonno that they would continue because it was so much part of the local community. 

Anyway the only way was to take it upmarket a bit.A lot of younger Italo/Aussies wanted to make better wine than nonno so they take classes. A fully qualified chemist holds court there on saturdays in season.You can bring in your grapes or your first press & he will test & advise on everything. There can be 20 guys there at a time,good place to get cooking tips or an arguement or both


People club together & buy grapes by the ton,our wholesale fruit & veg dominated by Calabrians,who also have a big presence in grape growing. 

A lot of the "new" winemakers are making some impressive table wines in their garages. It used to be that a semi trailer would just park at the petrol station & sell boxes of grapes of the back of the truck.Got a lot more sophisticated ,I remember the "green" taste.
 

noboundaries

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Because my grandpa made wine I made wine for a HS science project using Welch's Concord Grape Juice, yeast, and sugar.  Nasty stuff but it was wine!  That inspired my dad to make garage wine and he did pretty good actually!  Sometimes he used canned grape concentrates he bought from a place called The Wine Art Store.  Sometimes he made it from scratch.  My university dorm rooms always had about 15 gallons of jug wine in it.  I was very popular.

Homemade wine is so much better than store bought if you know what you are doing.  One of my daughters is about to marry into an Italian family who belong to a co-op winery.  They press 5-8 tons a year, usually three different types of wine.  We help them bottle each Sept/Oct, depending on the timing of the arrival of the next batch of grapes.  Below is a picture of one of our favorites from their little winery, a 2010 Sangiovese.  14.9% alcohol.  Heck, I'm having a glass right now!  Salute!

Okay, back to replicating missing family recipes.

 

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