I confess. I can’t cook. I keep my family alive, sure, but 99 percent of the time, it isn’t what I would call “cooking.“ Opening a box, can or jar doesn’t really “count” to me. Again, it keeps dinner on the table, but not per se a skill set I have.
Ironically, I love watching cooking shows. I’m addicted to Food Network. I also love learning from others. If I can watch someone else do it, have them explain it to me or ideally write down step-by-step instructions, I can generally at least give it a try.
When it comes to family holidays, my aunt still does all the work. She is a great cook, and makes amazing food. As she (and OK the rest of us in the family too) get older, I feel responsible to carry on our traditions. I love the foods she makes, but quite frankly, now that my grandmother is not up to the task, she is the only one that knows how to do it. When it comes to holidays, it is all about tradition for me.
Both due to a traditional obligation and my own quest to get good at new things, I hope to learn all her tricks. If I could cook like that for my own family, especially on special occasions, I’d be so proud of myself. So, a girl’s gotta start somewhere.
Soon after college, I learned how to make my grandmother’s cheesy potatoes. They are my own family’s forever favorite. They ask for it constantly, and love the comfort of its warm, gooey goodness.
But, when it comes to most holidays, what makes my aunt’s cooking the best is the sauce. With sausage, meatballs, pork ribs, the bubbling red stock pot makes our meals complete.
While my own mixed heritage is hazy, I’d call my biological family’s cooking “American” at best. That’s being generous. We’ve taken our backgrounds and found ways to make them from a box. We’re a long line of working moms, what can we say? But let’s face it, we didn’t start with lands famed for food. Have you ever craved Irish food? Yeah, neither do the Irish.
But, my father's wife is half Polish and half Italian. Thankfully, my thusly inherited step-family, who has been my family for most of my life, taught me a lot about awesome, made-from-scratch foods. I’m lucky in more ways than one to have the extra relatives, and the food is one of my favorite parts. (I have the waistline to prove it).
The secret is in the sauce, right? I always figured due to my lack of biology, it would be near impossible to make it true to form. I thought it would be this vast, challenging mystery. So much so, that until this weekend, I’d never even thought of making my own sauce. I’ve always been a Ragu kind of girl.
In my quest to learn her ways, I made many mental notes during the Easter break. I asked questions and learned the tricks of the trade. And this weekend, I finally worked up the nerve to try it myself.
I made my own meatballs from scratch. I painstakingly created my own sauce. Short of growing my own tomatoes, I did it all on my own. I let it simmer (smelling so amazingly good) for more than three hours.
And, what was the outcome? Out of this world. As my son put it, “Oh my God, this is good.” My husband said his forever favorite is now changed. In this family, it is for so long, cheesy potatoes. (To be fair, my daughter requested Apple Jacks instead. However, that is her typical dinner at age 4.)
What did I think? I’m pretty damn proud of myself. I may never open another jar of Ragu. I’m one step closer to making a family dinner for a holiday. A small step, but a very tasty one. Thanks, Aunt Debbie! You’re my favorite.