I'm not one for rigidity in the kitchen, but there are some foods, I think, that should be made a certain way.
Brisket, for example, should aways be marinated in a mixture of Lipton's onion soup mix and French dressing, and that French dressing should be purchased from the supermarket about three blocks from my mother's home in Rockville, Maryland. It should be done this way because, well, it's always been done this way.
Matzoh balls are made from Manischewitz matzoh ball mix, always, and are the size of a lumberjack's clenched fist. The accompanying chicken soup has no salt, but plenty of baby carrots and sliced celery cooked past the point of recognition.
Latke batter, consisting of nothing but potatoes, onions and egg, should always be pureed to a goopy consistency before being plopped, dollop by dollop, into a pan of oil three inches thick. They should never be called potato pancakes. Breakstone's sour cream should be liberally applied to the finished product. Mott's applesauce is served on the side, but consumed only as a palate cleanser.
Chopped liver is made with chicken liver and onions and tiny flecks of chopped egg. Serving size is about 1 1/2 cups per person. Cholesterol is a trick conjured by doctors and malpractice lawyers, as if you needed to ask.
Challah is braided by hand and lovingly baked in the oven after hours of tireless kneading and mixing, and is most certainly not in any way prepared with the help of a Hitachi bread maker that, in fact, supplied the recipe. I resent the insinuation.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered there are people who make brisket with wholesome-sounding things like fresh rosemary and vine-ripened tomatoes. I refuse to believe in something called Texas-style brisket. Whoever heard of such a thing? What do Texans know from French dressing.
I once visited a ramen shop in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn called Dassara that boasted a brunch with items like "Deli Ramen." I was personally offended. For one, the matzoh balls were pitiful little things, about the size of large marbles, and the chef had clearly salted his chicken broth and flavored it with herbs that didn't come dried from Safeway. There were odd bits floating in it, too, like bamboo shoots and seaweed strands and a soft boiled egg that was thick and runny on the inside. It was, I'll concede, delicious.
Years ago I ducked into a Washington, D.C. restaurant called Firefly near Dupont Circle around Hanukkah and learned it served latkes (the menu called them potato pancakes, of course) with trendy toppings like caviar and creme fraiche, chopped liver and chives, and candied apples and walnuts among other blasphemous things. And the potatoes were grated. Can you imagine? Unfortunately, I loved each one more than the last and had no other option than to leave my server a healthy tip.
Perhaps the height of sacrilege, however, are those bacon-wrapped matzoh balls that made the food news rounds a few years ago. You know the ones. Little balls of absolute and total irreverence for decades and probably centuries of well-earned tradition. A matzoh ball is perfect on its own, thank you very much, and I'm fairly certain bacon-wrapped matzoh balls are terrible even though I've never bothered to try them.
My point is this. Just because there are newer, perhaps tastier versions of the things my mother cooks all the time does not mean that they are better. In fact, they are probably worse. I'm sure of it. At least that's what I'm telling my mother.
Photo by Flickr user BrownGuacamole.