My mom is an awesome cook. All her friends know it, all the family. People comment on it all the time. There are probably aliens on Neptune who are jonesing for an invite. Even she knows it, but she is too modest to let herself remember sometimes. My father has often commented that eating out isn't much of a treat for him, as he eats better at home than he would out. This is a pretty cool compliment, but an accurate one.
Imagine my surprise tonight when my mom confessed that she hesitates to invite me to dinner now that she reads my blog. "I don't cook all gourmet like you do. I just use simple things," she protested. I was surprised and a little sad, because I love eating dinner there and I wouldn't ever want her to feel bad about herself or her hostess skills.
She is the ultimate hostess. She always makes too much food, and it's always so fabulous. She makes sure to account for people's tastes and sensitivities, and makes sure people feel welcomed and at home. Food brings people together, and my mother is the master at this.
I remember reading something Tony Bourdain wrote in A Cook's Tour about what chefs crave. Apparently, chefs play "what would you choose for your last meal?" type games a lot. His point was that each of these chefs, with access to all kinds of foodie frippery, chose something simple. A greasy cheeseburger. A slice of foie gras perfectly seared. A hunk of fresh, crusty bread with a little marrow and a bit of sea salt. (I said simple, not necessarily un-lavish) He said not one of them listed the tasting menu off some posh restaurant.
Do we always cook fancy? No. I might not blog about those nights so much, although I think I do a pretty good job of balancing it out. Darling Husband and I enjoy cooking, coming up with new tastes and experimenting with new ingredients. It's a hobby.
Besides, what's so wrong with simple? I think the simple things are sometimes harder to do well. Rocco DiSpirito espouses this, and I agree. If you're making chili, you can hide imperfections. Lots of tastes and textures can be like a magician's show, distracting your attention from the undesirable. Or, if you like, like a symphonic orchestra. The fifth violin in the section can miss a note or two or, even, stop playing a bit and you wouldn't necessarily hear it. If the soloist does it, or part of a trio, it's much more noticeable. Actually, there's a well worn culinary joke that says the same thing; roughly, that anything tastes good with the right sauce.
My mom does simple well and she does complicated well. She doesn't need to hide it in a sauce, but the sauces she makes kick ass.
For dinner tonight, my mom made artichokes with garlic aioli, grilled chicken marinated in lemon juice and tarragon and fresh beans from her garden. Super fancy? No. Super tasty? Yes. Simple? Maybe, but then again I wouldn't have thought of it that way. The chicken had wonderful brightness and depth (must've marinated a long time), the beans still had the snap of freshness but tenderness as well. The artichokes, a favorite of mine, were not at all water logged (as can so easily happen) and tasted sweet and tender. Her aioli was not harsh, as mine can be, but wonderfully balanced. We also had corn bread from Wegman's, bought my my father and consumed happily by Baby Girl as well as us.
I may be in big trouble for writing this without first letting mom know, but I should be in bigger trouble if I get too big for my britches. I still have a ton to learn from her, in the kitchen and out. (Remember when I made the chicken soup? I texted her to find out how to do it...) I love you, mom. Please keep inviting me to dinner. :o)