My Mom’s Amazing Cooking and a Recipe of My Own*

Me and My Mom . Carole lewis and Kimberly Brooks

I learned how to cook from my mother. And my mother loves to save. It doesn’t matter what, whether it’s photographs or time or money, but nothing drives her more crazy than wasting any of it. An ardent sifter of the racks at the now defunct Loehmann’s Department store, she once arrived with a 50% off coupon, went to the 70% discount rack which was an additional 25% off and they practically paid her to leave with bags of clothes from which she assembled inspiringly fashionable outfits.

The same zany frugality extends to her cooking. She constantly strives for the most fabulous dish with the fewest ingredients. As I was learning to cook, she would call me up and announce, “I just made the best easiest salad: garbanzo beans, toasted pine nuts, avocados and cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinaigrette. That’s it.” Or try this one: “Cherry tomatoes, toasted sesame seed oil, lemon pepper, that’s it.” Or, for Passover, “You must make my brisket — one brisket, two red onions, 1 bag of carrots, potatoes, one jar of Heinz chili sauce, put it in the oven at 300 for six hours — that’s it.” When I was in college, I told her I absolutely loved a cream sauce she made for a fish. “Sour cream, one stick of butter and dried tarragon, in a saute pan — that’s it.” The next time she went to Costco she bought me a quart of tarragon in case I wanted to make it myself. I had that quart for the next four years.

One day, when my husband and I were dating, I thought I would surprise him with my mother’s famous poppy seed cake.

“It only has four ingredients!” I proudly exclaimed. I whipped it up, threw it in a bundt pan and voila, behold the creamiest, most fabulous cake he had ever had.

“This is unbelievable,” he said. “What are the four ingredients?”

“Easy!” I replied. “One tub of sour cream, one cup of poppy seeds, four eggs, and one box of Betty Crocker Yellow Cake Mix. That’s it!

He picked up the box of Betty Crocker Yellow Cake Mix and slowly read all forty two ingredients, something he once did on Johnny Carson with a tub of whipped cream.

I love fresh ingredients and still make all my mother’s simple healthy snacks for my kids: slices of Granny Smith apples with sharp cheddar cheese, celery and peanut butter, a halved avocado with a dollop of mayonnaise, pears and crumbled blue cheese drizzled with honey. I invented this dish because I love both poached and crispy skinned salmon and figured out a way to create both at once, with vegetables, all in the same baking dish! There are never leftovers. Everything I make is famous and this is:

KIMBERLY’S FAMOUS SANTA MONICA SALMON

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

2 lbs farm-raised salmon with skin 1 bunch of dill
 1 carton of cherry tomatoes
 1 lb green beans
1 cup of white wine, any kind
 3 lemons
 A few pinches of black lava salt (any salt will do) 
That’s it!

TO PREPARE

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a glass baking dish, create layers in order: green beans, cherry tomatoes and salmon on top, skin side up. Rearrange the cherry tomatoes to prop up the lower parts of the let so that the surface of the skin is as even as it can be. Cluster a few sprigs of dill at one side only for flavor. Add 2 cups of white wine and ll the rest with water so it reaches just below the skin. Quarter and squeeze a lemon in the water and tuck it amongst the crevices of the salmon. Cover with tin foil. Put in the fridge for as long as 24 hours or as little as thirty minutes.
  3. Bake on the top tray of your oven for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove baking dish from oven, remove tin foil and pour a majority of the poaching liquid in the sink.
  5. Put back in the oven and put it on broil for five minutes. Watch the skin bubble and get crispy.
  6. Remove the baking dish from the oven.
  7. Spread the remaining bushel of dill on a large serving platter. Place the salmon on the dill and surround with deliciously poached cherry tomatoes and green beans. Quarter another lemon and squeeze all over the salmon. Sprinkle lava salt (although any salt will do) and cut crispy skin with a serrated steak knife into the desired portions. Add lemon wedges for garnish.

I can prepare this dish in the morning or night before as the longer the salmon lives in the poaching liquid the tastier the dish. If not coming from the refrigerator, deduct ten minutes from the baking/poaching time. Pair it my version of the world’s best easiest salad: Arugula, watermelon chunks, feta cheese, candied pecans, balsamic vinaigrette (that’s it)

[* This story is excerpted from the newly released book SISTERWRITEREATERS Edited by Claire LaZebnick and Ann Brown]