On a recent call with my mom, we started talking about my favorite dish as a kid and I instantly remembered everything about my dad's rum chocolate cake: how the kitchen smelled when my dad put the cake in the oven to the exact location of the best bites (the leftovers in the bottom of the pan). When I mentioned the conversation in the office, we decided pretty much immediately to have a "family recipes" potluck, where we all brought in our favorite, nostalgia-filled meals cooked by parents or a loved one from our childhoods. xEmily
My mom is the baker of the family, but it was this chocolate rum cake my dad made for pretty much every social occasion that I remember most as a kid. It uses a box mix as its base, but it’s all the extra additions that make it one of the best desserts you’ll ever have. And bonus points: even if you destroy it while getting it out of the Bundt pan, people will still gladly polish it off in no time.
My mom could barely boil water, so it's a shock that she actually mastered this dish. While she wasn't that experimental in the kitchen, the fact she used spices like curry, nutmeg, and paprika in a savory dish was something I admire, and the smells of this dish transport me back to my childhood home. It's great served family-style and is also one of those recipes that gets better the next day.
Country Captain Chicken recipe available here.
My mom does vegetables and pasta really well (for my fifth birthday, I requested a bowl of Brussels sprouts instead of a cake soooo some things never change). This recipe tastes like home to me—in fact, she made it this past weekend when I went home!—and is usually served with her signature baked tomatoes with breadcrumbs and either salmon or lamb. The best part is making it barely requires a recipe. When I asked my mom to dictate it to me over the phone she said, "Sauté a bunch of onions with a bunch of zucchinis. Blend them with a bunch of parsley, lemon juice, and Parmesan and add to pinwheel pasta." I've broken it down a bit more clearly below, but you get the gist!
Zucchini Pinwheel Pasta
Olive oil for sautéeing
2 white onion, roughly chopped
5 - 6 large zucchini, sliced into rounds
2 pounds pinwheel pasta (or any pasta shape, but this one captures the sauce really well)
1 bunch parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 cups Parmesan
Salt, to taste (if you want it to be really authentic, my family puts Janes Mixed Up Krazy Salt on everything)
1. Add a glug of olive oil to a large sauté pan (the larger the better so the zucchini brown, instead of steaming) and, once shimmering, add the onion. Sauté until just translucent, then add the zucchini and sauté over medium-high heat. You want to cook them just long enough that they brown, but still maintain their structure (don't get mushy). Stir occasionally, but not constantly—otherwise they won't have a chance to brown.
2. While the zucchini (or as my mom says "zooks") cooks, add the pinwheels to a pot of heavily salted boiling water and cook according to packing instructions to al dente. Reserve one cup of pasta water, then drain it and add back into the pot.
3. Once the zucchini-onion mixture has cooked, add to food processor and blend with the parsley, Parmesan, and lemon juice. (My mom uses a cup of Parmesan, but I doubled it because cheese.) Add salt to taste.
4. Pour the blended sauce over the pasta, and add some pasta water if needed to thin it (I didn't, but it's good to have just in case). Serve while still hot, and the Parmesan is beautifully melted in the pasta!
My family is made up of dessert people. (Once a year, we were even allowed to have a "dessert for dinner" night, which was clearly the highlight of my young life.) It only seemed right to share one of my favorite recipes we requested for special occasions and Jewish holidays (no real reason except that people loved them!). My mom's take on seven-layer bars tastes like pure magic to me: they're simple, sweet, and super chewy—hence their nickname—and only requires six ingredients that I generally always have on hand in my baking cabinet.
1/2 cup of butter
1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
2 cups of chocolate chips
1 cup of pecans
1 cup of unsweetened coconut
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1. Heat the oven to 350° F.
2. Place the butter in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan, and add it to the oven until it's melted, then remove from heat.
3. Sprinkle the graham cracker evenly over the melted butter.
4. Add all the other dry ingredients over the graham cracker crumbs as evenly as possible.
5. Pour the can of sweetened condensed milk over the dry ingredients.
6. Bake for 25 minutes and leave out to cool before cutting!
Every Jewish kid knows that the only silver lining of a Christmas-less December is that Hanukkah grub is some of the best holiday food of all. Don’t @ me; it is tradition to eat as much oily, fried food as possible! While my family certainly partakes in the usual suspects (namely these latkes and Julia Moskin's sufganiyot when we're feeling ambitious), the crown jewel of our meal is my Auntie Arlene’s brisket. It is, without any doubt, the best I have ever had. Her recipe is simple—the leanest brisket you can find, Heinz cocktail sauce, and Lipton’s Soup Mix—and is possibly saltier than all of the eliminated Bachelor contestants combined. That said, her brisket is my most distinct gustatory memory, and eating it feels like a huge hug.
Auntie Arlene's Brisket
One 5 to 8 pound piece untrimmed point OR flat-cut beef brisket. The leaner the better, but be sure that there is some fat!
1 bottle (24oz) Cocktail or Chili Sauce
1 packet Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix
1-2 cups of water
1/2 tablespoon fleshly ground black pepper, optional
**If you have anything you’re trying to get rid of (onions, garlic, celery), feel free to toss ‘em in as well!
1. Pre-heat oven to 325° F.
2. Place rimmed brisket into a large baking pan, fat side up. Combine soup mix and cocktail sauce and rub onto the meat. Pour water around the sides of the pan so that the brisket is almost entirely submerged.
3. Cover pan with tin foil and place into the oven. Let the brisket do her thing for 5-6 hours, depending on the size of the meat. Check tenderness after a few hours with a fork. Meat should come apart easily.
4. Remove when finished cooking and allow to come to room temperature before placing it into the fridge overnight, or for 12 to 24 hours.
5. Once chilled, use a spoon to skim off excess fat that his risen to the top of the pan and from the meat itself.
6. Keeping the remaining drippings in the pan, remove the brisket and place on a cutting board. Slice against the grain and return meat to the sauce. No need to fret if the meat totally falls apart; it means it’ll be delicious!
7. Re-heat in the oven at 350° F until hot and ready to serve!
Growing up, my family always found an excuse to use our hands to get creative. I remember hours of arts and crafts, building dollhouses, designing coloring books, and sculpting cookies and desserts with our very own hands. This recipe is seriously the most easy and delicious and was also so much fun to make as a kid. You get to mix the whole recipe with your hands and create the dessert in less than 15 minutes. Our team's potluck was the first time I made the recipe in years and the flavors and texture felt so nostalgic. You'll be surprised at how yummy it tastes for how simple it is!
Peanut Butter Balls
1 1/2 cup of crushed Ritz Crackers
1 cup of Marshmallow Creme
1 cup of creamy peanut butter
1/2 of mini chocolate chips
Combine all ingredients up to the chocolate chips in a bowl until well mixed, then refrigerate for one hour. Form into balls then roll through the chocolate chips.