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Who is your "Von" and what dish is his/her specialty?

If any of you have followed this thread, there is some interesting discussions:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/817542

So, do you know any Von's in real life? What special dishes does he/she make? Let's acknowledge all the people who've somehow perfected their specialty, have some kind of special touch to make something extraordinary. Are you a Von? Do you have a special dish?

The first person I'd nominate is my MIL. She makes the best eggrolls and nian gao. There's nothing much to them (other than the need to have amazing knife skills) but somehow she elevates both better than I've had anywhere and by anyone else. Even when she does all the prep for my FIL, his, while good, falls short.

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  1. My grandmother's peanut butter cookies. There was a recipe, and you can follow it, but the results aren't the same. She used to make them in volume, though not in the quantities she made when she learned or developed the recipe working in the kitchen at a public junior high school in the 1960s. They were fantastic. I don't even eat peanut butter cookies any more, they were that good.

    In the 70s, she'd made a big batch while over at our house. My older cousin (from the other side of the family, so probably not up on the ins and outs of that grandmother's employment history) dropped by with her then-new boyfriend. The cookies were offered. The boyfriend took one bite and a look of unintentional bliss bloomed across his face. He looked right at my grandmother and said, "These are great! I haven't had a peanut butter cookie this good since South Junior." Yeah, the same school. The same cookies.

    5 Replies
    1. re: lsmutko

      That is an awesome story. How special for your grandmother. So, did they take it as a sign it that their relationship was meant to be?

      1. re: chowser

        They may have -- they did eventually get married. My grandmother doted on him. He made fried mozzeralla for her and had a great relationship. Then the couple divorced, but my gram retained a special place in her heart for him.

        1. re: lsmutko

          That's too bad but maybe the relationship that was meant to be was between him and your grandmother (and the great cookies).;-)

        1. re: sueatmo

          Great story! Could you share the recipe? I am a peanut butter fanatic .

      2. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/817762

        chowser, I'll add Bessie Walnut cookies here since the story was prompted by the Von thread and you asked for the recipe under a separate thread. Hate to see Bessie's legacy get buried.

        My Uncle is a diehard homebaker in DC. A semi-retired microbio professor by day and a neighborhood friendly baker by night. His cookies and cakes have been bartered for for years. One of his specialties is a double chocolate brownie with espresso beans. He's generous with his recipes & baking and for most of my life he's been shipping me baked goodies for my birthday and holidays without fail allowing me the pleasure of sharing them with my extended family, fellow bakers and friends. The Von-ness comes with the nonchalance he has about baking.

        My sister in laws mom grew up in India and made the most delicious samosa. Her version takes some time but when I traveled to the westcoast she always had a batch ready for me and my hubby. She took great pride in her recipe and celebrated being a very frugal cook in her ingredient shopping.

        My oldest daughter runs a cooking school and remains my #1 Von. From the time she was very young she had the knack for recipe writing and experimentation. Much of what I've done with my "second-half" career was because my daughter pushed me to get out of fed work and into the kitchen/classroom where she felt I would be happier. She of course was spot on. Her specialty involves fish..any fish. She just makes fish super tasty. She's the queen of 5 ingredients or less and makes marvelous fish dinners for us.

        These people are just a few of the Von's in my food-life.

        1 Reply
        1. re: HillJ

          Sounds like your daughter didn't fall far from the tree! You're lucky to be especially rich in people like that. It's funny on the spectrum of good bakers--you have those who are incredibly precise, the scientists, or the ones who just throw in a pinch of this and a pinch of that. For both, I think years of doing it and learning from mistakes are key but it leads to an intuition that escapes the rest of us. And, home made samosas--you're really lucky. My friend's ex-MIL made the best tamales. I was so sad that they divorced, not just for her but for the tamales! Actually, the divorce was the best thing for her so just sad for the tamales.

        2. I'm a pretty good home chef and my mom, who doesn't love cooking the way I do- is a decent cook.
          However, my mom, who is from Costa Rica, makes incredibly awesome homemade tortillas and small red beans. Since I was a little girl, I remember her making the tortillas by hand and cooking them in an iron skillet, resulting in toasty outsides and soft insides, which we would then drench in butter, sprinkle with salt and dip in sour cream. Heaven!. I have never been able to replicate her tortillas, nor can I make them by hand as she does. All she uses is Masa and water.
          Same for her small red beans, which are common in Central America. I remember stopping by her home one day as an adult and eating a bowl and they were so good - a rich bean broth that was like a syrup and the beans were soft, but not mushy. I asked her what she seasoned them with- she said nothing- just salt.
          I realize these are humble foods- but to me they are not only comfort food- but for some reason, despite their simplicity, these are dishes that even I, with my pretty good skills, still have not managed to master. My versions are good, but they never come out like my mom's. Even though I grew up eating them. I don't know what the answer is, but there are some dishes that you just can't duplicate, no matter how simple they are, nor how hard you try.

          3 Replies
          1. re: TropiChef

            I think the fewer the ingredients, the more skill it takes to make something good. I'd love to try your mom's tortillas and beans. What awesome memories.

            Interesting, I've never thought about it but it seems the type of dishes that are special are ones that are "humble". They're ones that people make day in and day out but some people seem to elevate that to a higher level. I've never heard of someone talking about a complex dish that way ("no matter how many people have tried to replicate his liquid spheres from sodium alginate, no one could come close...").

            1. re: chowser

              Maybe, it is the doing of the simple dish, continually, with failures and successes that teach us how to do it right finally. How wonderful to have that dish of small red beans so perfectly and simply prepared.

              1. re: sueatmo

                Yes, with the fewer variables and more under your control. I was thinking the same about the tortillas-- so perfectly and simply prepared, essentially one ingredient and water so it'll all about technique.