Getting Recipes from Mom (or “How to Fail at Cooking”)
Overall, my mom is a great cook. There are some things she’s kind of sucky at (like baking — you could bounce her chocolate chip cookies off the pavement), but most of the things she makes are pretty tasty. She’s a rockstar with Korean food but also makes really good non-Asian dishes. They’re not fancy or gourmet, but they’re good comfort food, which is what your mom’s cooking should be.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to miss Mom’s dishes. Since I’m 2,300 miles away from her, it’s not exactly easy to pop over to her place for Sunday dinner. I fancy myself a decent cook (I can follow instructions, plus I have enough sense to throw random things together and have it taste fine), so I’ve tried to get recipes from my mom so that I can recreate some of the tastiest dishes she makes.
The problem with this, however, is that trying to get a recipe from my mom is like an ADHD kid telling you what he learned in school today. She is all over the map, telling me half of the ingredients I need, explaining the process in non-chronological order, randomly remembering other ingredients, saying, “No, no, do this, then add that,” etc. By the time I get off the phone with her, my notes read like a Choose Your Own Adventure. It looks like I’m planning out an offensive strategy for an NFL team instead of making beef stew.
So lately, I’ve been getting a hankering for my mom’s stuffed peppers. These things are like crack — they taste so damn good, and I’ve been pretty nostalgic for them. I pulled up the recipe my mom dictated to me a couple years ago, but it still didn’t seem right. I gave her a call to confirm everything.
Mom: “Okay, you get half pound ground beef, half pound Bob Evans sausage.”
Me: “Before you just told me to get a pound of ground beef.”
Mom: “No, you buy half pound ground beef and half pound Bob Evans sausage…just buy whole pound ground beef and cut it in half.” (As if I couldn’t have figured out how to get a half pound meat from a 1-lb slab.)
Mom: “…and half pound Bob Evans sausage. You know, country sausage.”
Me: “I don’t think we have Bob Evans sausage out here.” (Ahh, Michigan and its Bob Evans. I still remember the jingle. “Bob Evans…down on the farm.”)
Mom: “No? …okay then, get Jimmy Dean. Jimmy Dean good too! You know, it comes in round package.”
Me: “Alright. Then what?”
Mom: “Chop one onion and cook in butter, then cook beef and sausage in it. You got gahlic salt? Use gahlic salt, but not too much! Don’t make too salty. Then you make two cups rice, but make it little dry so it don’t get soggy when you mix with meat.”
Hmm, I didn’t remember rice in her stuffed peppers the last time she made them, but I shrugged and typed out her instructions. She is Asian, after all; the woman manages to find a way to incorporate rice into pretty much everything.
Mom: “Then you scoop it into half bell pepper. You like tomatoes? Mix can diced tomatoes with tablespoon of sugar [of course] and scoop tablespoon tomatoes on top of pepper. Then bake an hour in oven. Three-fif-tee degrees.”
Me, looking at the original recipe she gave me: “Wait a second, before you told me to bake the peppers for 30 minutes. Now you’re telling me an hour?”
Mom, indignantly: “Winter time peppers gonna take longer! Last time you ask me, peppers fresh. In season.”
Mom: “Fresh peppers thirty minutes. Winter peppers one hour.”
Me: “…I’ll just put down ’30 minutes to an hour’ and will keep checking on them.”
Mom, satisfied: “Yeah, do that. Wait ’til golden brown.”
She seemed very pleased that I was going to try and recreate her stuffed peppers, and she told me to call her after I had made them so she could hear how they turned out. I got all of the ingredients together and, a couple days after our phone call, made the peppers. It was a long work day and I was a bit distracted and out of it, but I sauteed the onion and garlic, browned the meats, sliced a bunch of bell peppers in half and hollowed them out, pre-set the oven, stuffed the peppers with meaty goodness, scooped tomatoes on top, and let everything bake. (For the record, it did take closer to an hour. Stupid winter peppers.)
When they were done, my boyfriend and I dished up and dug in. They tasted good, but something crucial was missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but for some reason the peppers didn’t taste complete. They were really juicy/runny and were a bit sloppy to eat.
Me: “Huh…these don’t taste quite like how my mom makes them.”
Jason: “Yeah…it’s like something’s missing.”
Halfway through my second pepper half, it hit me. Holy crap, I had forgotten to make the rice and mix it with the meat. We were eating bell peppers with a crapton of meat filling but no carby goodness to soak up all the fat and juices. I felt like a complete idiot — how the hell did I forget the rice? It was an epic dinner fail. So much for claiming to be competent enough to follow instructions.
The day after my dinner derp, I called my mom. She immediately asked how the recipe turned out.
Mom: “Hi honeyyyy! How peppers turn out?”
Me: “They didn’t taste quite right, and then I realized that I forgot to add the rice to the meat.”
Silence. This is what I pictured going through her head:
She started laughing really hard.
Mom: “Oh my GAHHHHHHH!”
Jason, who was sitting about thirty feet away from me, started laughing because he could hear my mom’s disapproval through the phone.
Mom: “That’s why! Rice the one that suck ‘em up all that and make them stick together. How can you forgot the rice?! That’s the thing! Stuffing, that’s the rice!”
Me: “I don’t know, I just completely forgot! I’ll have to make them again next week so they’ll turn out right.”
Mom: “Next time, when I go over there, I make you stand next to me and show you.”
Normally I’d get all indignant and tell my mom that I’m not a child and that I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself, but since I totally effed up a simple recipe, all I could muster was this response:
Mom, having a Eureka! moment: “Stuffing mix! Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix. Use that. That what really make it awesome-awesome. Awesome stuff pepper.”
Ugh, now I have to alter the recipe again. She really is the ultimate troll. (Also, Mom sure does love her some brand loyalty.) I later found out through my brother that she uses rice when making stuffed peppers for him but switches to stuffing when making it for me because “Rebecca love crouton.” She’s nothing if not accommodating to her children.
Me: “Okay, I’ll make them again and this time I’ll use stuffing mix.”
Mom: “Okay. Do it again. Do right this time, surprise him this time.” (Him meaning Jason — I think the last thing she wants is for my boyfriend to think there’s something wrong with her recipe. She really wants me to emphasize the user error here.)
Me: “K, I will. I’ll talk to you later.”
Mom: “Okay bay-bee, I love you…next week when you ready to make, call me!”
Sigh. Now she wants to walk me through it over the phone. My mother thinks I’m a total retard. (To be fair, I kind of deserve it.)