"Cookbooks, and everything they symbolize," wrote John Lanchester in a recent issue of The New Yorker, "are for people who don't live the way their grandparents did."
There are some dishes that are classics, passed down from generation to generation along with the practical home-cooking tips that make them so special. Sure, everyone has a chicken soup recipe, but no one outside the family knows your grandma’s secret chicken soup recipe. We can't help you when it comes to secret family recipes, but we can teach you how to make the classics, from scratch, the same way it was done by the greatest home cooks in generations past. We're willing to bet that, with a little bit of practice, you can make a dish that will make your family proud.
Even if we can't get our hands on your grandmother’s special spice blend or top-secret technique for cooking a fall-off-the-bone roast, we can show you the basics. Just making a meal from scratch at all goes a long way in making it feel special and taste delicious. Even if you're a little heavy-handed on the basil, for example, your homemade tomato sauce probably tastes way better than the premade, store-bought version.
One of the keys to good cooking (and trying to make a dish the way someone else used to is no exception) is to taste everything as you go. Rather than blindly following a recipe, try a small bite of each component during the cooking process; if you remember your grandmother’s dish being saltier, add some more salt. If her beef stew seemed thinner, dilute it with some beef stock or water. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments that make sense or that could make the dish taste more like you remember it.
The odds are good that you'll never make grandma’s dish exactly the way she did without her help, but you can get pretty darn close. Besides, making a delicious home-cooked dish the old-fashioned way is guaranteed to make her proud regardless of the accuracy.
Matzo Ball Soup
Chicken soup is almost synonymous with amazing dishes grandma used to make from scratch, and, if you grew up in a Jewish household, that chicken soup likely took the form of matzo ball soup. This otherwise traditional recipe calls for some duck fat for extra flavor — which might just have your grandmother asking you for your secret recipe.
Click here for the recipe.
Chicken and Dumplings
You’ll be amazed at what you can do with a few simple ingredients. The secret to making as-good-as-grandma’s chicken and dumplings is letting the chicken cook slowly with the onion, celery, and carrot — this trio of vegetables helps build flavor. The trick to tender biscuits? Don’t over-mix or over-knead the dough.
Click here for the recipe.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.