Lately I’ve been trying to recreate my mother’s recipes. Dad just saved me a lot of guesswork. He rummaged around and found them, two boxes full. One is a tan metal box marked “Lit-Ning Business Accessories, Fresno, Calif., Model No. 32-HC.” (Obviously recipes, right? How could we miss that?) The other is a sturdy plastic box containing two rows of Betty Crocker recipe cards. There’s an avocado green-and-aqua American eagle emblazoned on the front, along with various foodstuffs like fish, carrots (or perhaps parsnips?), ears of corn, a whole roast turkey, sliced bread, potatoes and a large ham hock. I think the folks at Betty Crocker were trying to convey that cooking wholesome meals is the foundation of American greatness. I couldn’t agree more.
However, the Betty Crocker recipes seemed untouched except for several handwritten recipes crammed in the back — these must be the recipes that Mom really used. There were also two handwritten recipes of my own, for pumpkin drop cookies and pineapple cream cheese muffins. (I went through a massive, and probably annoying, muffin-baking phase in my teens.)
Dad and I spent a pleasant half-hour on the phone as he pulled out recipe cards and we reminisced about Great Meals of the Past. (Yes, I think capitalization is necessary.) Here are Mom’s recipes for meatloaf, cheeseburger-potato pie, steak and onions, pot roast, mulligatawny, macaroni and cheese, peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream. We waxed eloquent about pepper steak, banana pudding, pecan pie and the cranberry Jell-O salad with pineapple cream cheese frosting that appeared beside our plates every Thanksgiving. I even found the recipe for her friend Ruth’s famous baked pineapple, which I promise to make for you this year.
I found the recipe for Mom’s chicken cacciatore — the dish I begged her to make again and again. Turns out this recipe is snipped from a Campbell’s Soup can! I’ll make that soon, but in the meantime, I thought I’d try something written in Mom’s own indecipherable scribble. At first glance, this is a shopping list for someone named Chuck N. Eskwinini, but on closer examination, it’s a recipe for Chicken and Zucchini. The recipe is a bit short on specifics, but I attempted to extrapolate and reconstruct it as I cooked it. If it tastes terrible, it’s actually Mom’s fault because of her poor penmanship. Tsk, tsk.
Kayte’s Chicken and Zucchini
A further note: This is a dish with a lot of summery flavors. Having zucchini and basil in the dead of winter might feel wrong, but it is oh so right. Grocery stores are full of fresh zucchini and basil, even if our gardens aren’t. Someone’s got to buy them.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet, along with a heaping tablespoon of snipped fresh basil and 2 or 3 minced garlic cloves. Thinly slice one medium onion until medium-soft. Add 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, salted and cut into bite-size pieces, and 3 medium-ish sliced zucchini. (I can’t tell how many zucchini to add because the number is kind of a blob, so I’m guessing.) Mix in one can of Italian-style stewed tomatoes, chopped up. Add salt, lemon pepper and more basil to taste. Serve over pasta and top with a pile of grated mozzarella or Parmesan. Mom suggests serving with garlic bread and a salad. That’s a solid “yes” from me — any time garlic bread is involved is a good time indeed. Unfortunately, I forgot to add both salad and garlic bread to this week’s shopping delivery. So, not as much of a good time. Sniff.
For dessert, what else could I make except Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread? I found this recipe typed on a bit of yellowing paper folded neatly in the back of the Betty Crocker recipe file. I don’t remember Mom making it, but it sure looks good to me! Zucchini: good. Chocolate: good. More chocolate: even better.
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat 3 eggs with 2 cups sugar, 1 cup vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add 2 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate (or the equivalent in cocoa powder, 6 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons shortening). Add 3 cups flour, 1 teaspoon each cinnamon, salt and baking soda, along with 1/4 teaspoon baking powder. Mix well. The batter will be almost unmanageably stiff but it will soften up when you mix in 2 cups grated zucchini. Lastly, fold in 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips. Bake in a greased and floured loaf pan for 1 hour or until done.
The recipe must have been written in the Jurassic period because it makes enough batter to feed an apatosaurus. I ended up splitting the batter into two loaf pans, which is fine because now I have a loaf to give to someone who’s been nice to me or withhold from someone who’s been irritating. I also ended up cooking the loaves for more than an hour; one loaf stayed in the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, and the other (oddly) for 1 hour and 25 minutes. In retrospect, I might have given each loaf 5 or 10 minutes less, because although still delicious, it’s a smidge on the dry side. No matter — drink it with enough strong coffee and you’ll be fine, if a bit jittery.