Food tastes best when it shows signs of a mother's touch

HAPPY EATER

May 08, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Today, in the name of motherhood, many women will be "treated" to meals that would have tasted better if the moms had cooked the food themselves.

Not that the moms will complain. Most will be delighted at the attention they are getting from family members whose usual contribution to a meal consists of asking, "What are we havin'?"

So the moms will not roll their eyes when their French toast is blackened, or the meat is tough, or the service is slow at the restaurant with the lovely view and the brunch that every mother within a 50-mile radius has been escorted to.

Today is Mother's Day, and moms are determined to enjoy the meals in their honor, regardless of what the food tastes like.

Not all the home-cooked meals whipped up in honor of Mom today will be awful. This is, after all, 1994, and lots of non-mom types can cook, even husbands and sons.

While there are some guys who can cook everything from souffles to spanakopita, most guys have what we call our "specialties."

That means we have a few dishes that we cook for a big gathering, any big gathering. We fix them for wakes and weddings, and all the finest balls. And we cook them for Mother's Day. But the big difference is that on Mother's Day we also do the dishes.

A few specialties that guys will probably be cooking today are pancakes, steak and many varieties of lasagna.

Chili is a very popular cooking specialty of guys. But chili is not usually a good Mother's Day menu item. It presents too much of a threat to Mom's Mother's Day outfit.

My specialty is cooking food on the barbecue grill. As of this writing I do not know what my sons and I are going to serve at the Mother's Day dinner at our house. But I do know that whether it is pizza or pork loin, it will be grilled.

Moms, of course, have different levels of interest in food. Some are content with a Mother's Day meal that has been "beeped" in the microwave oven. Others prefer the food fixed by restaurant chefs or attempts at cuisine by family members.

All mothers don't cook. And in 1994 I think it is fair to say that women now feel comfortable with "fixing" dinner the way many men have been fixing it for years. Namely, picking up a phone and ordering takeout.

Nonetheless, I think the standard of excellence that most kitchen-cooked meals are measured against is still: Is it as good as Mom's?

And I think that is not going to change until the phrase "Dad's apple pie" causes the same warm glow of anticipation among eaters as the phrase "Mom's apple pie."

In our household, some of the most valued recipes -- ones for corn bread, banana bread and baked beans -- have "Mother's" scrawled atop their 3-by-5 recipe cards. These recipes came from my wife's mother. When my wife makes these dishes, she follows the instructions to the letter. And when the dishes emerge from the oven, they quickly draw a tableful of appreciative eaters. Other corn breads, banana breads and baked beans are sniffed at. Only "Mother's" will do.

On my side of the family, it is brisket. One of my goals in life is to be able to cook a beef brisket as well as my mother does.

Her technique is not complicated. She sprinkles a 4-pound brisket, trimmed of fat, with a packet of dry onion soup. She puts a cup and a half of water on the bottom of the pan, being careful not to pour the water over the beef. She cooks the beef uncovered at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes, then covers it and lets it cook until it passes the fork test -- the brisket is done when a fork easily pierces it but the meat still holds its shape. It usually cooks for about three hours. About 40 minutes before the meat is finished, she tosses in peeled potatoes cut in half. The potatoes cook in the liquid in the bottom of the pan, next to the brisket. Everything comes out brown.

I have tried this recipe several times. The meat never quite tastes the same as when my mom fixes it. The meat is either dry or chewy. The crust of the meat is not quite right. And the potatoes are spotty brown, not the uniform Coppertone color that Mom's potatoes have.

In short, my brisket, while flavorful, is lacking that special something that takes a dish from the level of ordinary old food and moves it into the realm of an extraordinary dining pleasure.

4( That special something is "Momness."

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