For a few years, I have been trying to emulate my grandmother’s cooking. I’m lucky because she is still alive and I talk to her nearly every day. So when I have questions about how to make her albondigas or Mexican rice, I can call her and see what I’ve done wrong. About two years ago, I went to Southern California for ten days with the sole plan of learning several of her recipes. Each day we’d pick one or two things to cook, and I would photograph and take notes and voice record the process.
I cherish those voice recordings because her spirit and her personality come through. Though the recipe learning was purely for selfish reasons, she acknowledged through her questions that there may be a larger audience. “What do I tell them,” she asked “about salt? It’s such a personal thing.” I said, “Oh, we can just say ‘to taste’.” After that, and throughout the recording, any time she adds salt, then pauses for a beat, and then she says “to taste.”
Though I am getting some of the recipes straight — I can make a mean cocido and my albondigas are coming close — my every day cooking tastes very different than grandma’s. Until I had a revelation recently. For most any dish that I make, I cut up fresh garlic and use it along with any fresh herbs, alliums and other flavor builders. The other day, I was completely exhausted so I made a very fast pork stew by tossing the pork with salt, pepper, and something I never use: garlic powder. I had a small container that I had purchased from Penzey’s for a particular recipe or two, and that sits in my cupboard mostly ignored.
I’ll be darned if that stew didn’t come out tasting exactly like it was from grandma’s kitchen. I’m not saying that I know everything about cooking, but it amazes me that, being in my mid-thirties and cooking pretty much every day, I can still have culinary epiphanies that completely change my point of view. I don’t think that I will be using garlic powder in everything I cook, and I treat it like a totally different flavor than fresh garlic, but it’s nice to have another Silva family secret in my back pocket to use in the kitchen.