Archives for category: cooking

gravy-1 copy

It’s really funny how as I get older, certain cooking techniques just seem to come more naturally. I don’t know where I gleaned some of the information that I apply to my cooking; quite possibly from Food Network, mainly because it’s the channel I watch the most, by far.

Used to be I couldn’t make macaroni and cheese without a full-blown, step by step recipe. I recall using an Alton Brown recipe that required me to temper an egg into the cheese sauce. After all that trouble, the mac & cheese sucked.

Now I know how make a killer mac & cheese with one hand tied. Ditto with creamed spinach, and now, gravy.

I can remember the first time I had to make gravy. I had just moved to Arkansas to live with a home-town fellow who was stationed at Eaker Air Force Base. We were having a couple over for dinner, and I had no clue how to make gravy.

The wife, a good old southern gal, was kind enough to help me. The final product tasted fine, but was so thick, it didn’t really pour. You sort of had to plop dollops of it onto your plate.

As years passed I stuck to either the canned version,  or the stuff in the envelopes that you mix with water. In most cases it was just easier and a real time saver. I mean, it was just gravy after all.

I’m not sure what clicked in me a year or two ago. Perhaps it was from when my sister cooked Thanksgiving for us, and her gravy rocked. she had left a huge container of pan drippings in my freezer, and one evening I decided to use it to make gravy.

I think this is where all those years of watching “Chopped,” “Barefoot Contessa” and Triple D payed off. I sautéed some onions and celery, made a roux, whisked in the stock/drippings and seasoned to taste. A drop or two of Kitchen Bouquet and viola! I had a really good gravy.

For a while my daughter liked her roasted chicken served with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. But not any longer. She knows mom’s gravy is killer – one that makes a respectable pool in her mashed potatoes.

Thanks to Food Network, I guess I’m actually getting wiser as I get older…

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Today I had a salad with cucumbers that I grew in a pot on my front deck – I really dig that. While I didn’t grow them from seed, (for some reason when I do that I never get great cucumbers) I grew them from starter plants bought at from a local farmer.

And even though I’m not growing them in the ground…too many critters and bugs around for that…I got a halfway decent crop of cucumbers that looked like they could’ve been store bought.

I also tried growing tomatoes. For some reason this never works out for me. I only got two tomatoes off the whole plant, and only one of them was edible…the other had split and gone mushy before I had the chance to pick it. I’ll try another variety next summer…maybe cherry tomatoes instead.

The rest of my deck is devoted to herbs. I have pots of parsley, thyme, rosemary, mint, and oregano. Last night I made potato salad, and it was nice to be able to just go out on my deck and grab a handful of fresh herbs to chop up and add in. And the best part is my thyme is from last year. I just left the pot on the deck all winter and this spring, new green shoots appeared.

Next summer I think I’ll buy a few more giant pots and plant some peppers. My neighbors grew jalapeños this year, and I helped myself to a couple while we were pet sitting and made a big pot of chili.

It may not be “farm to table”, but I really like eating food that I’ve grown myself. It’s cool even it it is only deck to table.

cracked-egg

Everybody on the planet has made scrambled eggs before…well except my daughter. I must have made them a thousand times, in several different ways. Beaten fine, beaten rough, adding milk, adding water.

I had a cousin in Czechoslovakia who would pour the beaten eggs in to a pot of hot oil…he spun them around with a fork and voila! Very oily scrambled eggs. I didn’t care for that method.

Yesterday, on Pinterest of all places, I was led to a blog post that promised the best scrambled eggs ever. I was curious to see the method behind these superior scrambles, so I watched the video. It was a Gordon Ramsay video…okay, I kind of dig him. I can’t stomach “Hell’s Kitchen” but I love “Master Chef.”

His method, without all the bells and whistles, was as follows:

Crack two eggs in a pot…not a skillet…a pot, along with a nob of butter. Yes, a nob – how cute. Put the heat on high, and with a spatula, stir the eggs over the heat. Then, take them off the heat, but continue to stir. Repeat this on the heat, off the heat cooking, while always stirring, until the eggs are done. Season only after the eggs are done.

Now, here is where I differed from his recipe. I didn’t add creme fraiche because I don’t have any. I also cooked mine a tad longer because I think wet, loose eggs are disgusting. And I didn’t add chives…again, didn’t have any.

Those things aside, I have to tell you…these were the best, most amazing scrambled eggs I ever had. They were actually creamy – almost how eggs are in a quiche. I can’t wait to make them for my family.

My husband should love this method, because it cuts down on dishes. Now I don’t have to use a bowl and a whisk to scramble the eggs before adding them to the pan.

If you’re interested, I’ve posted the video below. Happy scrambling!

I suck at...

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Practice Makes Perfect?.”

There are certain things I wish I could do, but somehow never mastered.

The Back Handspring
Oh, how I tried! I took gymnastics lessons on and off during my childhood, but I could never get the knack of this gymnastic feat. I remember the instructor telling me that you needed to almost crouch, and begin to fall backwards, which was when you pushed off and flipped over.

I never flipped, but I fell over a lot. Or landed on my head.

There was just something about the mechanics of this move that my brain could not put together. It’s sort of like learning a tricky dance move – like the running man. Except somehow I learned how to do that.

Snapping My Fingers
I just can’t do it. The sound I make is more like a wind fart, rather than a hearty snap.

Figure Skating
Now I have to clarify something. I can skate. I took figure skating lessons while at college at the University of Delaware – same facility Johnny Weir trained at in his youth. I even took it up again before I became pregnant with my second child.

Yeah, I can skate.

But I want to be able to really figure skate with reckless abandon. I have dreams at night sometimes of taking to the ice and just being able to glide and spin and twirl.  I can do the Beillman spin and the Michelle Kwan spiral and my footwork is as good as Scott Hamilton’s. Sometimes in my dreams there isn’t even ice – I can do these moves on grass or pavement.

Oh, and this goes double for roller skating. I always wanted to be the girl in the Dire Straits video Skateaway.

Sewing/Knitting/Crocheting
My mom was very handy. She made clothes for us, was a master at needlework of all kinds, and could whip out an afghan in a few weeks time.

All of my needlework skills stink.

I used to make my first daughter’s Halloween costumes until I realized the time and money it took to make my own was more than double of what it cost to buy a pre-made one. And to add insult to injury – the storebought ones were way better.

I have knitted a few scarves – all of which display a variety of dropped stitches and clumsy conversions from one colored yarn to another. They keep me warm though, which I guess is the point in the end.

I finally mastered the granny square last winter and attempted to make an afghan. While I got crocheting the squares down, knotting them off and then attaching them together was another matter. There is a very small afghan on the back of my couch comprised of very nice little squares replete with loose end strings. It’s not very attractive.

Cooking
This is one case where practice is making – well, I wouldn’t say perfect – but palatable.

There are things I have mastered – I rock breakfast. I can turn an egg without breaking the yolk 9.5 times out of 10. I can whip up pancakes, french toast, egg sandwiches and home fries with ease.  I recently learned how to poach an egg the real way – without using one of those quartered pans over a double boiler.

There are things I can cook flawlessly without looking at a recipe – creamed spinach, mac & cheese and chicken noodle soup to name a few. Yet I can still fuck up the most rudimentary of dishes. Like mashed potatoes.

For me, cooking is pretty much a crap shoot. I mean, there are times my heart is just not into cooking the meal and it invariably shows. But when I’m really excited about creating a meal; work super hard at it and it still fails? That pisses me off.

But when it’s good…really good? There’s not a better feeling. Until you see the pile of dishes. Then you wonder if it was worth it.