For my wedding shower, my mom put together a collection of recipes from all of the guests. It was hardly an original shower gift, but I loved it just the same. Tucked into the floral box amid several truly useless recipes (Puerto Rican Chicken?), Mom had placed handwritten copies of her recipes –many of which opened a floodgate of childhood memories and nostalgia.
At the time, I didn’t appreciate how precious this gift would become. Seven weeks later, Mom died unexpectedly from a ruthless form of cancer. Her funeral took place roughly one month after our wedding.
The recipe book has become the closest I come to a live conversation with my mom. Anyone who knew her would agree that a conversation with Jeanne was never dull. In her sprawling handwriting, Mom would include little notes about when she cooked this and with whom she ate it. And, just as anyone that Mom knew could predict, her recipes can be unbelievably frustrating. Mom was an excellent but imprecise cook. And she was not a particularly clear writer. So an artichoke quiche works something like this: “Eggs, Artichokes, Dough, Mozzarella Cheese. Cook for a while, until brown.” C’mon Jeanne!!! Work with me, please.” Over the years, cooking from Mom’s recipes has evolved into a culinary mystery, one in which I must try to decode her random scratchings (Does “1 t” mean a teaspoon or Tablespoon? Changes from recipe to recipe) and sometimes add my own interpretation.
Yet whenever I feel like really spending some quality time with Jeanne, I’ll open up that sweet box and begin reading and cooking. Even when she pisses me off, I am guaranteed to feel her presence. And that’s a recipe for joy.
So today, when I began pounding chicken for Jeanne’s Chicken Angelo, I had a small epiphany. Why not make like Julie Powell, and start a culinary tribute/blog to my mom? Instead of slaving over Julia Child’s complex French dishes, I will tackle Mom’s simpler fare ---like meatloaf and sausage with peppers. And, frankly, because my waistline can’t afford it…..I’ll do it once a week, instead of every day. Then I’ll write about it, frustrating directions and all.
April 18, 2010
Obviously I’ll begin with the dish that inspired me: Chicken Angelo, a delectable concoction of breaded chicken breasts, Muenster cheese, and mushrooms baked in chicken broth. I also like to add white wine because, well, everything is better with wine, right?
Mom got this recipe from a friend. But to me, it is purely Jeanne –a hearty Italian chicken dish she served over pasta with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese (See wine theory above, replace “wine” with “parmesan cheese.”) I remember having it for Sunday dinner, and thinking it was so sophisticated because of the mushrooms. In fact, Chicken Angelo was one of the first grown-up dishes I ever cooked for a Sunday dinner.
So, as I eased into this Sunday, Chicken Angelo felt about right. Also, oddly enough, Muenster cheese and mushroom were among the only remaining foods in my fridge. When I pulled mom’s recipe from the box, I was initially impressed with how much detail she actually included. There were measurements and words like “beaten” and “pounded.” Not bad. Then I noticed the baking instructions: No mention of a temperature anywhere. (“It’s 350 degree, of course!” Mom would say with a shrug.) Just like her parenting style, Mom cooked by instinct.
Here’s her recipe verbatim, and I added my own adjustments in red.
4 Chicken Cutlets, pounded into thin pieces
1 cup Seasoned Bread Crumbs
3 Eggs beaten
1 stick of butter/olive oil (Thought 1 stick of butter was a bit excessive. Tried to limit myself to 1 Tablespoon oil, but wound up at 3 Tablespoons of olive oil/1 Tablespoon of butter. “Don’t kid yourself, Amy. This is no Cooking Light,” says Jeanne)
¾ pound of Muenster (With only two slices of Muenster, I put a bit of mozzarella in there. Fine.)
1 can of chicken broth (She means a small soup can size)
¼ pound fresh mushrooms
½ cup of white wine (Used a Riesling, which I thought may have been ill-conceived, but tasted just about right when I swigged it out of the bottle. Mom approves.)
Soak chicken in egg – 2 hours
Coat and crumb and brown in olive oil/butter.
Place in baking dish, cover with cheese and mushroom. Pour broth over all. (I actually browned the breaded chicken in the baking dish, and removed. Then I deglazed the pan with the wine, scraping up the brown bits. Let the wine cook down until about ¼ cup remained. Then I added the chicken, cheese, mushrooms and broth) Cover with foil and bake (at 350 degrees) Uncover & bake ½ hour to brown and bubbly.