We had Joe Special for dinner tonight.
It's my go-to dinner when I'm uninspired, if I have hamburger and spinach in the house.
I think it originated with Original Joe's in San Francisco, because I remember eating it as child, though it does not appear on the menu for that restaurant now (and I'm impressed with the number of "Original Joe's" on the internet! That Joe was one busy guy!) But it is still on the menu for Marin Joe's, which was a favorite eatery of my mother and her husband.
It's not a difficult dish to duplicate (and definitely not worth the menu price tag!). You brown hamburger with garlic and when it is browned, add a package of chopped spinach, cooked and drained, and then when that is pretty well incorporated with the meat, add 4-6 beaten eggs. When the eggs are mixed and nearly set, pour in a cup of grated parmesan cheese. Voila: Joe Special!
I told my mother today that I was making Joe Special. "From SCRATCH?" she asked. Then she said that I was always an adventurous cook and that even in the days when she remembered how to cook, she would never have attempted anything so exotic.
My mother was always a good cook and she made some things that were just wonderful and that I have never been able to duplicate (and am angry because she threw away her cookbook when she got tired of cooking, without asking me if I wanted it!). But she was a plain cookin' kind of cook. Roasts, steaks, pot roast, mac 'n' cheese, spaghetti, fried chicken, tuna casserole. That was the kind of thing she cooked. I've never been able to duplicate her pot roast, which I loved. She made a great turkey stuffing, but toward the end of her cooking days, she couldn't remember how to do it, and it wasn't the same as the kind I'd always loved. In the meantime I had developed a recipe of my own that I use now.
The most exotic thing she made was enchiladas, because a Mexican neighbor showed her how to make them (it took 2-3 days to make chorizo, because it had to age). I finally did get her to sit down and tell me how to make that recipe, but it was after we moved to Davis and long after she had made them the last time. I'm not sure she remembered the recipe correctly. They don't taste the same as hers did, served up on romaine lettuce cups. I loved those enchiladas.
She never taught me to cook when I was living at home. I can't ever remember cooking with her. She liked doing what she was doing and it never occurred to her to show Karen or me how to do any of it. (Just like ironing. She loved to iron and was impatient when I didn't do it the way she wanted it to be done, so I never learned to iron until I moved out of the house [and never could understand the love she found in it. How happy I was when the "rumpled look" became popular]).
I learned to cook by cooking for a bunch of guys living in a house near my dorm. Walt was one of those guys. I don't what prompted me to volunteer to cook for them, but with only one exception, they all let me cook when it was their day to cook. And that's how I started experimenting with recipes and realized that I loved cooking. I also learned how to feed 9 of us on a ridiculously small amount of money (breast of lamb was a big favorite in those days--I could buy it for 25 cents a pound!)
When I moved into my own apartment, I experimented with recipes. My roommate Gerry and I made so many things out of bananas that I ended up putting together a banana cookbook (would you believe banana meatloaf? It wasn't bad!)
Most people cook the things they know when they are having guests. If a person I know (or knew) was going to serve something new to guests, she would make it for her family a couple of nights before so she knew how it was going to turn out.
Not me. I rarely made something I had cooked before when we had guests. I almost always tried out new recipes on the unsuspecting guest and with very rare exceptions, things always turned out very good (difficult lesson learned: unripe avocado does NOT improve by cooking! Learned that back in the early 1960s). I taught myself to prepare an Indian meal, I took a series of classes in Chinese cooking, from having all those Brasilians around, I became a pretty authentic Brasilian cook for awhile. I even tried a few of Julia's French recipes. And of course, Italian is a given--it's the food I grew up on.
My mother has always marveled at my expertise, but really I am, like her, a simple cook. I look at a recipe, decide if it has more steps than I want to take and if it does not, I make it. A few simple techniques are all you really need and you can look more impressive than you really are. The difference between us is that I'm not afraid to try anything that sounds good to me.
I don't know if I taught my kids to cook. I like to think I did. I got two gourmet cooks out of it, so maybe I did show them some things. Tom and Ned are great cooks. Jeri married a good cook and has learned to be more adventurous from him.