If you don’t already know it, I LOVE FOOD. I come from a family of food lovers and it is not surprising that I married a person who happens to cook. Have you heard the story about how I ate raw onions as a baby? Evidently, there was not a thing that I would NOT put in my mouth. As a young child, my mom watched in horror as I chomped down on a half-eaten apple in the parking lot outside our townhouse. I believe I was simply priming my gourmet palate for greater foods upon the horizon.
I remember so many wonderful foods and smells coming from our kitchen growing up: baked apples, pumpkin bread, spaghetti, fried chicken, chicken divan and so many more scrumptious dishes.
Dad loved to bake and it was not uncommon to see him cooking his heart out, on a Saturday afternoon. He has been crowned “Billy Crocker” because of his delectable pies, sweet rolls and breads that rival some of the best bakers in town. He has made some real classics over the years that are a “must” at our family gatherings.
Mom made all of our meals growing up and she worked so hard at making sure all of our them were balanced and nutritious. She would wake up every morning and ask us what we wanted for breakfast. I think she would have made cheese blintzes for us if we asked. I think she enjoys cooking a lot more now that we are adults (maybe there aren’t as many interruptions) and truly has become one of the best cooks I know. My mouth waters every time we sit down for a meal at her house. All of her dishes are like Lady Di herself: simple, clever, divine and delicious. Many of Dee Dee’s dishes are in this cookbook.
I have a LOT of memories of my Grandma’s cooking because I think we spent most of our time in her kitchen preparing our next meal. I believe that when you go to your grandparent’s house, you want to eat specific meals that only YOUR grandparents make for you, every time you visit. Our standard breakfast was soft scrambled eggs (her trick was cooking the eggs VERY SLOW on low heat with a little butter), Pepperidge Farm VERY thin white toast, bacon and a small cup of extra sweet, creamy coffee. She had a booth in her kitchen like a restaurant and Sarah and I would sit down to eat our breakfast with Grandma and Papa—and it was always the same routine, EVERY time. Grandma would kick me under the table and say “Who is that kicking your leg? Who IS that kicking your leg?”. Sarah and I would burst into giggles and watch Grandma and Papa beam with pride at their two grandchildren. Grandma never varied from that meal and I think that gave us a sense of comfort. My memories of Papa included raw oysters. He would take me into the kitchen, open up the refrigerator, pull out oysters, one by one, from a jar and give me a spoon of ketchup to chase it down with. We would eat several oysters like this with the refrigerator door open. Grandma would scream, “I swear, I have never seen a child eat RAW oysters like that. Allen, can you get a plate and close the refrigerator door?” Other unforgettable Grandma dishes were: Potato Soup, Scalloped Potatoes, and Forgotten Cookies. When I eat those foods, they remind me of Grandma and I could swear she is right here with me, snapping green beans and making jokes in her kitchen.
Mimi and Dickie also loved to cook. When all of the cousins spent the night, Dickie would get up real early and make breakfast for the kids. He would make coffee for him and a huge pot of cream of wheat for us. I love how Dickie made Cream of Wheat. It was hot, lumpy, yet creamy and really sweet. Mimi liked to make the kids Spaghetti-O’s for dinner and scrambled eggs with Season salt for breakfast. The smell of Season Salt, Joy dishwashing liquid, Jergins Hand Lotion, Sherry and Chicklets reminds me of Mimi (“Who wants some Chewn Gum? and “Who’s the best girl in the world?” and “Look who ate all their spaghetti-o’s” were some familiar phrases from Mimi). I know, it sounds like Mimi didn’t really cook, but this woman was passionate about food. When the kids were finished eating, she would dish out huge helpings of Seafood Cioppino and Chicken Coc Au Vin for the adults. I can still see her at the stove, stirring that big white and black pot . And as Frances said, “With a martini in one hand and a leopard print housecoat and kitten heels—dressed to the nines!”
I loved to play around in the kitchen when I was in high school and came up with a million different ways to prepare mashed potatoes. I believe my specialty was A-1 Steak Sauce mashed potatoes. It sounds dreadful, but it was really very good. One time, my Dad and I made ricotta cheese stuffed Manicotti. We had stuffed each pasta shell lovingly with ricotta and mozzarella cheese, poured home-made tomato sauce over the top and after five hours of preparing and an hour in the oven, we had a wonderful Italian meal.
And then I met Pete and he opened my eyes to all sorts of wonderful, exotic foods. During our first month of dating, he made me a simple sandwich and soup. There was nothing outwardly exciting about this meal, but he took the time to toast the bread and make the Campbell’s Tomato Soup extra creamy with milk (not water!). He had me at “Here’s your lunch”….. I remember meeting his parents for the first time. It was at a picnic and Ed was so excited he ran to the parking lot to meet us at our car. Zofia had on a gold lame headband and was in rare form, excited to meet her son’s new girlfriend. His parents were so warm and welcoming and I felt an instant connection with these wonderful people who would soon become my in-laws. It wasn’t until I went to their house for dinner that I realized what an amazing cook, Zofia was. We had these delicious meatballs and home-made polish Pierogies. It was unbelievable! I wanted to crawl into Zofia’s lap and never leave. I was in HEAVEN!!! After meeting the Fordonski’s, I worked in their restaurant and was introduced to Zofia’s Almond Chicken Salad, Turkey Timothy’s, Cream of Mushroom soup, Golumpki’s (Polish Stuffed Cabbage) and Potato Knishes.
Sarah started out, just like I did, as a very nervous cook. This also made Stephen nervous and after a few cooking scars (that darn fried chicken), she soon developed her own cooking style. Sarah likes to get cozy as much as possible and this warm, welcoming feeling is reflected in her cooking. She just oozes comfort with dishes like Cheddar Chicken Chowder and her South of The Border Chicken Casserole. Through years of practice, she has fast become master of the square meal in the Hyser household and Stephen can’t wait to come to the dinner table. What a good mommy!
And speaking of Stephen...Uncle Steve is known for his love of all things meat, even dessert meat. He is our resident “pancake maker” and can be seen at the stove, on Saturday mornings, cooking Molly’s favorite pancake breakfast. He also enjoys cooking his own hearty Chili and has come up with a secret spice combination that only HE knows the recipe for. Stephen could not be reached for comment, but his “publicist” tells me he is preparing a press conference.
Pete is a brilliant cook and has many signature dishes that are my absolute favorites: home-made Chicken Parmesan, Campfire Salmon, and Grouper Imperial to name a few. Pete never uses a recipe and cooks from feel, smell and taste. I envy his ease in the kitchen and his creative menus. He is a true artist with food and it is very difficult pulling recipes from him because he stores them all in his head. It would literally take us years to figure out how to put it all down on paper. In this cookbook, I have managed to un-veil the following recipes from Pete: Cream of Spinach, Port wine mushrooms & onions gravy and Bread Crumb Green Beans. I hope we can do another cookbook with all of his recipes. Until then, they will remain a mystery and we will continue eating each and every morsel.
So as you can see, I have a love affair with food. It has brought me and my family so much joy over the years with all of our dinners and gatherings. Great memories were made at each dining room table. I decided that this Christmas, I wanted to celebrate all of our favorite dishes by putting together a Family Cook Book: THE BEST EVER COOKBOOK. I hope that as you cook with these recipes you will be joined by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present and the wisdom of cookbook writers. There is an old Irish proverb that says “ Laughter is brightest when food is best” That is so true with our family because we are a family who loves to laugh and we ALL can cook! Enjoy!