Both of my grandmother's were good cooks, and I learned a lot from them. They were both in the follow the recipe to the end of the road kind of cooks, where as my mother, was never to make the same meal twice, even if she tried! From an early age my grandma Dorie would allow us to help her in the kitchen. With the patience of Job, she would let us crack the eggs, fish out the broken pieces of shell, and my favorite part, let us use the hand beater to mix up the batter. I liked being in the kitchen while people cooked. Sitting on the counter, watching and asking questions. My mother claims that I asked more questions than all of my siblings combined, an exaggeration I'm sure! I was a good helper in the kitchen and was confident enough at eight to make pancakes for my family of 8.
When I say made pancakes, I am not opening up a box of Bisquick, rather I am reading some food smudged piece of handwritten paper complete with fractions and abbreviations. After I had completed my first batch of beautiful silver dollar sized pancakes, I tasted one. YUCK!!! It tasted like a salt lick, and yes I did know what a salt lick tasted like, as we had them in the goat barn, and I was curious. I had misread ¼ teaspoon of salt for ¼ c. of salt, and there was no salvaging the batch. That was the day I learned that some ingredients are much more powerful than others.
Grandma Dorie tried to teach us girls the traditional skills of home making. We were taught how to embroider, sew, cook, iron, and flower arrange, or at least we liked to think that were were flower arranging the handfuls of weeds we picked for grandma.
I received Betty Crocker's Classic Cookbook from Grandma Dorie when I was 12, with the instructions that it was a great resource for the beginning cook. Inspired, I decided to make my own spinach fettuccine, from scratch with no pasta maker, just my mom's rarely used rolling pin.
I had no idea how hard it would be to roll out pasta. I rolled and rolled and rolled, and what I ended up with was thick, chewy egg noodles. I remember thinking that it was ridiculous to make pasta from scratch when it was only $1 for a pound of it. It took me over four hours to make what really were spinach dumplings, totally unsuitable for Alfredo sauce.
I tried to make Alfredo sauce, too. I think we had it once at a restaurant and I was hooked, thick creamy and vegetarian. I did not understand the concept of reducing liquid levels, and I don't know if I ever had heavy cream to start with. I remember the butter floating around on the top of my “sauce”, which I tried to thicken with Parmesan. It tasted alright, but was not the rich coating of sauce that I wanted. It wasn't until I was out of college and working at Grauman's Deli on the Main Line in the suburbs of Philly where the chef explained to me how to make real Alfredo sauce by reducing the heavy cream by half before adding the cheese-what a discovery!