Just like Mum used to make: Our favourite dishes (and the duds we'd rather forget)

Tinned fish pasta bake divides our team's tastes.
Tinned fish pasta bake divides our team's tastes. Photo: Marcel Aucar

Ah, mums. Gotta love 'em. The Good Food team shares the kitchen successes and failures of their respective mothers (and grandmothers), with some recurring, reassuringly beige themes: bechamel, potatoes and pasta bakes.

ANDREA MCGINNISS

"Cauliflower cheese. Hold the cauliflower."
"Cauliflower cheese. Hold the cauliflower." Photo: iStock

My mum made the best ever: bechamel (aka "white") sauce. For years I thought cauliflower was my favourite vegetable, because the only way I ever had it was with our weekly Sunday roast, drowning in mum's cheesy, creamy, thick white sauce. "What do you want for your birthday dinner, Andy?" Cauliflower cheese. Hold the cauliflower.

Then it evolved into the base for other childhood faves: for tuna casserole (add sweetcorn and tuna), chicken pie (add sweetcorn and chicken) and macaroni cheese (add macaroni and even more cheese). The secret? Butter, flour, full fat milk, fistfuls of cheddar. What's not to love?

A dish my mum made that I could happily never eat again is: "Mum's fried rice". Mum's Asian cooking knowledge has come a long way since, but in the '80s it was a salty concoction of rice, way too much soy sauce, some scrambled fragments of egg and peas.

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TRUDI JENKINS

My mum made the best ever: scrambled eggs. It was the first thing I learnt how to cook. LOADS of butter, I'd say close to 40 per cent, cooked really slowly and taken off the heat early so it was never the solid, cut-with-a-knife stuff you got everywhere else. (Even worse, a hotel I visited with my grandmother used powdered eggs, which horrified us both. One of the few times I've sent a dish back, and at the tender age of seven!)

A dish my mum made that I could happily never eat again is: "Curry" made with mince and curry powder. Urgh. I just ate the rice sprinkled with all the accompaniments – chopped peanuts, cucumber, tomato and banana plus sultanas and desiccated coconut.

Potato salad with bacon miso mayonnaise. Picnic salad recipes for Good Food, November 2019. Images and recipes by Katrina Meynink. Good Food use only.

Katrina Meynink's modern potato salad with bacon miso mayonnaise (recipe here). Photo: Katrina Meynink

ANNABEL SMITH

My mum made the best ever: potatoes. Mum shares her name with an instant potato brand, but Mum's spuds leave Deb in the (dehydrated) dust. Baked skin-on desiree potatoes were always perfectly crunchy outside and fluffy within, casually bunged in the oven and confidently retrieved at just the right time, every time.

I've adopted her potato salad, featuring a mix of diced red onion and bacon, pan-fried together 'til the former is soft and the latter is crisp (also an essential topping for those aforementioned baked spuds), and cooled, before being mixed through a big bowl of cooled par-boiled cocktail spuds (ever so slightly underdone so they retain their shape) with a generous dollop of Thomy mayo and finished with scissor-snipped chives.

A dish my mum made that I could happily never eat again is: Pasta bake with tinned salmon – the memory of being told to crunch through the bones still makes me shudder.

EMMA BREHENY

My mum made the best ever: pasta with roasted pumpkin. It might be a turn-of-the-century calling card, but the recipe she saw in a 2001 Gourmet Traveller is full of clever tricks that still stand up (helped by a generous amount of butter). Whole garlic cloves are roasted with the pumpkin and later added to butter sauce for extra oomph, while adding pancetta pieces to the roasting tray for a final few minutes is smart one-pan cooking. Bonus points for getting your kids to eat more veg, Mum.

A dish my mum made that I could happily never eat again is: tuna mornay. My early encounters with corn, peas and hot tuna scattered through a creamy sauce have left me suss on pairing seafood with cream.

A Steve Manfredi Christmas lunch at his Camperdown apartment for family and friends.
Potato and bottarga gnocchi.
SMH THE (SYDNEY) MAGAZINE Picture by JENNIFER SOO
SMAG091126

Hand-formed potato gnocchi. Photo: Jennifer Soo

BIANCA HROVAT

My nonna made the best ever: gnocchi. For those fortunate enough to have tried it, her gnocchi will go down in memory as the G.O.A.T. The melt-in-your-mouth pillows of potato struck that elusive textural balance of soft, yet sturdy, and were deftly dimpled with a wooden paddle to pick up the rich, Napoletana sauce. My family would gorge themselves on it, eating until our stomachs were sore, refusing to let a single, starchy dumpling go to waste. As nonna grew older I took a notepad to the kitchen in an attempt to preserve the magic, but her way of cooking came down to a "feel" that I could never quite recreate.

A dish my nonna made that I could happily never eat again is: green beans. For all of my Nonna's strengths, cooking beans was not one of them. I remember them being boiled to the point of losing all structural integrity, leaving me struggling to pick them up with a fork. Nowadays, I prefer my greens flash-fried.

ROSLYN GRUNDY

My mum made the best ever: roast chicken. Nothing, but nothing, said special occasion like Mum's roast chook. It's not that she did anything wildly creative, either. No stuffing. No fancy marinades or spice mixes. Just bought a good bird, roasted it until the skin was crisp and golden and the flesh was tender but not pink, and sent it out with plenty of gravy and roast potatoes.

It's still my desert island dish, only these days, I prefer it roasted a la Marcella Hazan in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Hazan seasons it inside and out with salt and pepper, stuffs the cavity with two small lemons (punctured several times so the juice spills out), closes it with toothpicks and roasts it initially breast side down before flipping so the breast faces up.

A dish my mum made that I could happily never eat again is: ketchup. Mum is an excellent cook, always willing to try new recipes and spurning waste before that became fashionable again. But I could never get behind her homemade ketchup, which the family dubbed DTS (Dreaded Tomato Sauce). It had a tendency to ferment, resulting in some spectacular explosions. Sorry Mum, but I prefer Heinz.

MEGAN JOHNSTON

My mum made the best ever: It was lemon meringue pie or bust when it came to baking for my Mum. I remember her mixing, rolling and folding the pastry by hand, then layering on tangy yellow lemon curd and spoonfuls of fluffy hand-beaten meringue. The result was sunshine in a bowl, fresher and lighter than anything I've eaten since. Mum's recipe was simple, reminiscent of the Commonsense Cookery version, which uses egg for a richer crust. Passed down and adapted from her mother, it would have originally been made in the residual heat of the wood stove after mains were cooked and served.

A dish my mum made that I could happily never eat again is: Brown rice anything. Sure, it's probably healthier than some white varieties, and it has a chewiness and nutty flavour that works in certain dishes, such as '70s-style stuffed capsicums. But in fried rice? I'd rather the white stuff.