Jennifer, 36, grew up in Wood-Ridge, NJ and presently resides in Dumont with her husband of seven years, Jared, and their 4-year-old twin daughters Abigail and Eliza.
Food and the kitchen always remind me of my childhood. Even though it was the smallest room in the house, at family gatherings people migrated to the kitchen. Standing around and chatting while my mother ran from cabinet to cabinet to get dishes, pots and pans, people would laugh and share stories. I never understood why we would all crowd in that room. It was hot because the oven was always on, there wasn't enough seating so everyone was always standing, and my mom was always saying ‘scusi’ to people who were standing in front of the cabinets she needed to access. How annoying. But now that I am older I realize that the kitchen is the heart of the house. My mother used to say that making food for people “showed how much you loved them." So it makes sense that people felt the most love in that small kitchen and gravitated there.
My mother cooked the Italian way, without following a recipe. Looking back, I don't think there was one cookbook in my house…ever. Cooking was all about tasting, a pinch of this, it needs more of that and, finally, more garlic. I would often sit in the kitchen while she cooked and watch her. She never pushed me out of the kitchen, she let me sit and watch. Never teaching me outright—"first you do this”—she let me learn by watching. And watch I did. Mostly because I got the fresh meatball right out of the frying pan first, but mostly because it was a bonding experience. She was a master who effortlessly moved around getting what she needed. Every night there was a new meal on the table; there was no need for leftovers. Leftovers were for the Chinese food on Saturday night; Sunday through Friday it was a homemade meal. I never thought much about it growing up. I thought everyone had a mother who did this. I didn't realize the impact her food, cooking and sharing in the kitchen had until she passed away. At 19, the responsibility of "showing people how much you love them" through food was now passed to me. To be honest, I didn't know if I could live up to the legacy.
At first I stayed away from the kitchen, fearing failure and also because the memories were too strong. I really didn't start cooking and trying new recipes until I moved on my own and into my first apartment. That's when I realized, “Hey, I can cook!" Others, including family members (a huge honor!) started requesting certain dishes: “Make sure you bring your guacamole. Don’t forget those mushrooms.” My twin daughters now make "yummy" noises when they eat certain meals, making me feel like a superstar (Anyone who has picky 4-year-old eaters at home knows how awesome "yum" makes you feel.) By no means am I the best cook, but I better understand what my mom once told me about love and food. I've also come to realize how special growing up Italian really was, and how much I want to pass on those traditions to my daughters.
1 package of uncased sausage—can be sweet or hot, or both
Stuffing mushrooms. The largest you can find and as many as you need
Italian style bread crumbs
1 clove garlic
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Clean mushrooms and remove stem
Mix together 1/2 cup of EVOO and 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
Dip or brush mushrooms in oil/garlic mixture
Fry up the sausage in oil with the clove of garlic, finely chopped
Once brown, add the ½ container of breadcrumbs to sausage
Mix until breadcrumbs have turned brown
Take the sausage breadcrumb mixture and stuff the mushrooms
Bake with love for 25 minutes at 375 degrees or until mushrooms are brown..
Helping in the kitchen at an early age is a Bucco family tradition. Here Abigail and Eliza help mom eat their Grandma Paula's Famous Stuffed Mushrooms.