Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hold Your Breath!

Can I just tell you that I'm about to pop! Ina Garten is quite possibly my all-time favorite TV food personality. There was a time that Paula Deen was that person who stood on the pedestal of perfection, but she has fallen off. I still like her and still love her when she goes back to the recipes that inspired my love for her.

In spite of Paula's evolution into stardom, Ina has evolved and yet not changed. She has continued to stay the course and allow what she wants to shape her into being the Barefoot Contessa. My stomach is rumbling with that awkward confrontational feeling I get, please understand that I'm not slamming Paula Deen, I just see a huge difference in how each have embraced the celebrity endorsements.

I'm not a reader. The only book I've ever really read is the Bible (so that would be 66 books, right?) because I'm just not a reader. My Mom is a reader. Having said that, if you give me a cookbook I'll read it cover to cover and absorb every recipe trying to figure out how I can change it to suit my tastes. Do you do that? Do you change a recipe the minute you read it, knowing just how to make it your own? I've read hundreds of cookbooks and even more recipes, thousands of recipes. There's just something about cooking and putting together ingredients that make me feel inspired and full of hope. Love to cook.

Ina's cookbooks have a warmth that make you feel like you are reading your favorite Aunt's cookbook that she mailed you, "in advance" [Ina, if you happen to stumble upon this post and fell the compulsion to mail your...favorite nephew and autographed copy please do not hesitate] she has a great style of writing that invites you into her heat and opens you up to the passion that compels her toward another cookbook. The photography is worthy of a coffee table book and gives you great photographs. Some cookbooks make me feel like another person made the dish, say a food stylist, then dolled it all up like a Glamour shot, it's not real. With Ina's photographs I feel like she made the dish, handed it to the photographer and said, "it's ready."

There are some recipes in her cookbooks that I don't have any desire to cook, as it's not in my palate, but there aren't many of those. I've made several of her roasted vegetables, creme' brulee, brownies, cheesecakes, you name it. I just avoid the dishes that seem exotic or "gourmet" and any that have "ocean" things (salmon, shrimp, tuna, fish blech) just not a seafood fan.

I'll have to count my change and shake the couch out to see if I can come up with $35 plus shipping to get this book. Her web page is advertising the release date and offering a signed book...a signed know that Ina Garten touched my book and signed it...actually put her hand on the page and signed her name...well I'd be giddy just giddy. Not as giddy as when Kendra and I were on our honeymoon and I hit a jackpot on the $.25 slots--that was giddy.

I have few vices and do few things to distract me from the schedule and routine commitments of my life. I don't follow, enjoy, or play sports. I don't "hang out" with anyone other than my wife and kiddos. I just don't do anything except pine away for cookbooks and cooking--that I love. Oh yes, and Ventinonfatnowhipwhitemocha's please stir that's a vice I crave and love love love. There's one other cookbook I've wanted for over 10 years and I just haven't bought it, I've dropped it in many an in basket on Amazon over the years, but never have bought it, why? Exactly, why? I guess it's the guilt I feel of indulging in something strictly for myself. I do that...a lot. I'll pick something up and walk around the whole store just waiting for the time to purchase and get it home only to be overcome with guilt and lay it down secretly, skulking out of the store. I start feeling guilty when I rummage through a store for more than twenty minutes, just looking, because I feel like I should buy something. It's a problem. Just add it to the list.

The Dove's Nest is a restaurant in Waxahachie, TX. I've never been to this restaurant or to Waxawhatever, but I have read this cookbook and devoured many of the delicious recipes within. I'd love to go to this restaurant, but won't make a trip to just do that. Someday. Maybe. My friend and fellow foodie, Kay Runnels who was my favorite person on staff at Heritage/Midtown had this cookbook and let me read some excerpts. I was and have been hooked ever since. To get this cookbook would be amazing. Why I haven't bought this book remains a mystery. Isn't it really cool looking, I just love this french Provencal style. Would love to have my kitchen look just like that (minus the live chickens and bunny running around).

I have started a wish list at and if I ever win the lottery I'll buy it right up. I have to start playing the lottery and get over this feeling of guilt.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Creative Cooking: Five Gallons of Bacon Gravy coming up!

Growing up my sister and I were always at odds with one another. We fought quite a bit and it usually got out of hand as my parents were gone most of the time. Sometimes the fights got really ugly, but usually I would just back off because...well because she was tough as nails and could kick my tail!

When she got engaged, on the night she graduated High School, and began to plan the wedding I was thrilled at the thought of having her out of the house! I couldn't wait to get rid of her! She got married in August and I was finally free of the oppression. I was uninvited to the wedding...on the DAY of the wedding...because I refused to part my hair. I had a Beatles hair style and I agree that I looked like a dork, but that's how I rolled in 1984. I had showered and washed my hair for the occasion what more did she want! Mom and Dad made her take it back, she did reluctantly but reminded me of just how much she hated my guts.

About a month after being married the realization set in that she was married and that she was alone most of the time and that it wasn't as much fan as June Cleaver had made it out to be. One of the biggest drudgeries of her life was that of cooking. She hated to cook and has hated it ever since. I love my sister, but the girls is challenged in the kitchen. Her husband, Doug, has a Mom that is a great cook so I'm sure he was adjustign to life in his house with a bad cook. Sis just couldn't pull it off. She could pull off breakfast and they, often times, ate breakfast for dinner. It was also cheap and they were flat broke!

On one occasion when she was planning her breakfast dinner she decided to really go over the top and serve gravy. Bacon, biscuites, gravy, scrambled eggs what more could a husband want from a young, beautiful wife? One problem, she didn't have a clue how to make gravy. She didn't call me ( granted we had come a LONG way to being friends and liking each other by this time, but I could make gravy!) or my Mom, or my Grandmother, no she called the MIL because she thought her new hubby would love gravy just like Mom made.

"Vera? this is Lesa, I'm making gravy for dinner..."
"Gravy? Oh, are you having roast for dinner, how nice."
"No, no roast I'm cooking breakfast for dinner we are having-"
"Breakfast! For dinner?"
"Yes. Anyway I need to know how to make bacon gravy."
"...Ok. Is the grease in the pan?"
" Well honey, just sprinkle flour over the hot grease until it gets kindly thick, then add milk and bring it to a boil until it's thick and that's it. Don't forget to add salt and pepper."
"That's all you do?"
"That's it."
"Ok, well, thanks for your help."

My sister had fried a whole pound of bacon and thus had a pound's worth of bacon grease in the skillet. Vera failed to check on how much bacon grease there was in the skillet and my sister, being completly oblivious to the ratio required to achieve bacon gravy didn't think about asking, didn't ask. A pound of fried bacon will yield up to 1/4 cup of grease, maybe more. Bacon gravy requires maybe a tablespoon. There are 16 tablespoons in a cup! My sister was about to make eight times the amount of gravy she needed. She added about two cups of flour before it started getting thick enough to add milk, a gallon of milk! My brother in law was home by now and starving to death. My sister had used every pot, pan, and skillet in her kitchen and it was still not thick enough to make the right amount.

"I'm starving!"
"Honey, I'm working on it...dinner is almost ready."
"What are you doing?"
"I"m making gravy."
"Just get it out here, I'm starving."

The biscuits that were covered with gravy filled her plate. Doug, not wanting to hurt her feelings ate very single bite of the revolting sludge that she called gravy, and complimented her on it! And a half pound of bacon along with some scrambled eggs. No milk though because it was used up in the gravy making process.

About 2am my brother in law became sick. Sicker than he has ever been in his life! He had eaten so much gravy...bacon grease diluted with flour and milk...that he became violently ill. He vomited for almost a solid hour. He was sick, friends, sick as a dog. My sister called Vera, again [she did finally learn to NOT call Vera] and informed her that her son, her baby ripped from her home by this brazen hussy, had become ill. No less than thirty minutes later Vera was on the door step (they lived in another town) crying her eyes out. Black tears streaming down her perfectly done made up face. She had saltine crackers, sprite, and chicken soup for her baby and pretty much tended to her baby while my sister learned how to get...uh..."bacon grease, flour, milk, biscuites, milk, and eggs that have been partially digest by her husband" out of the carpeting that led to their bathroom.

My brother in law, 24 years later, is still not eating gravy-bless his heart. My sister has mastered a few things and managed to keep her family alive. She and I do talk about cooking on occasion and I've walked her through a couple of recipes, but I make sure I know how much of what we are dealing with. Bless her heart.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I'll take that Hot Pink number!

Tomorrow marks the first week of our entry into Public School as Titus, our oldest, has begun kindergarten. Last week we only had one day of school, which is rather odd to me but, "who am I?" So far I would have to give the whole experience a B+. As far as the teacher Titus has, and his class, that's an A. I'll explain the rest (you were afraid I would weren't you?)

Country Lane is one of, it not the biggest elementary school in Broken Arrow. There are currently 1,000 students at Country Lane, which is fine, except each of those 1,000 students have PARENTS! On the same piece of land there is also THE middle school for the district, which has I can only imagine how many students, AND they are just completing a new building to house ALL of the 5th and 6th grade students. It's astonishing, really. Even more astonishing is that these, soon to be 3 schools have made ONE entrance, that's right one.

We live close enough to drop Titus off and pick him up from school each day. We were issued this hot pink number to put into our car so we could get 129 when we rolled up (he's a number!). The drill to pull as far forward as possible, until the teacher stops you, then have your child put into your car and pull off. When and only when you pull all the way forward will you and four cars behind you get your children. This is clearly stated and clearly the way to keep things smooth as there is one way in and one way out. Of course there are parents who feel like they are an exception or order and muck up the whole dad gummed process. Kendra waited in line from 3:20 until 4:15 because there were morons not following the rules.

I think if I were the principle I would have to go up to these no participatory parents and not allow them to be in the pick up line any more--it's over! "Sir, hi, I'm the school principle here and we are trying desperately to get these children picked up so we can go home and see our families. You have cause serious delays in this and we are no longer allowing you to pick up your child, I'll take that hot pink number. If you child doesn't ride the bus, you are welcome to park and come check your child out." Wouldn't that be great?

The whole school is magnetically sealed. The doors all lock by magnet and NO ONE is getting into the building before 8:30--NO ONE. I had to take snacks to school as part of our agreement to help Mrs. Dunnam (Titus' teacher) out. Titus had also not been relieved of his school supplies and was toting them to and from every day. I wanted to walk these into the room, set them down, and walk out--that's all. Let's just say that's not what happened, thus the deduction in points.

It seems that if there are two secretaries in the Elementary school office, then one will be sweet, helpful, and kind while the other is pissy, belligerent, and rude. This was the case at Country Lane. I would love to have a sticker that I can wear the first month that says, "New Parent...Be Nice." that way Miss Pissy would know to call up all of her grace and patience and fake the nice for five minutes.

"Can I help you?" "Yes, I'm here to sign in so I can drop off snacks and supplies for my son's class...and also need to drop him off at the gym to wait for school." Miss Pissy vaguely points to a corner to which I turn my glance in that direction. "Sign in." I knew I was supposed to, but didn't know WHERE in the office. I signed in turned and went out the door to the hallway and tried to pull the door open to get into the school. It wouldn't budge. I looked into the office where Miss Pissy was with a, "push the button and let me in." look...nothing. "You have to wait until 8:30 to get in NO ONE gets in until 8:30." Why didn't she just say that before! I stood at the door and pulled on it?

At 8:39 as I sat there staring at her she looked as Miss Nice, "can HE go take that stuff to the classroom or not?" "Sir may I help you?" "I'm just trying to drop off these supplies for my son, and leave him in the gym so I can get to work." "Thank you for doing this. Why don't you just leave these things here and I'll take them to her room. Who was it?...thank you. If you would, please take your son to the gym, if you would go outside. Thank you." "You are welcome." It really wasn't that hard, Miss Pissy could have done that at 8:15!! The snack weren't delivered until 2 HOURS after snack time!!! GRRRRR. I won't be doing that again I can assure you!

Part of me wants to be involved in the school and part of me doesn't. I know I will, and Kendra too, but I just don't' know how much. Now if they need someone to take pink numbers...SIGN ME UP!!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

First things first.

Yesterday was, "Meet the Teacher" day at Country Lane Elementary for our oldest boy, Mr. Titus Andrew. He's starting Kindergarten on Friday and will be in testing today. Not sure what they will be testing, but I feel confident that my little boy is more than ready to start school. I'm not sure I'M ready for him to start school, but he's ready especially after yesterday.

As we walked the halls of his new elementary and Kendra's and my new elementary (in which we'll be lurking about until Teensy gets our of 5th grade which will be in about 9 years...I'll be on a scooter by then I'm sure) I couldn't help but be reminded of my days in school and the excitement of the first day of school. For me, it was a big event not because I would meet new friends or make new friends, but because it mean school lunch, new clothes, new supplies, and the bus ride with Matt, my one and only elementary friend.

My parents never let me wear the new clothes until the start of school. "Those are for you can't wear them." I would always get three new pair of jeans, seven shirts, two packs of underwear, two packs of socks, new shoes, and a belt. We usually went to Sears for clothes or JC Penny. I can still remember the smell of my room with all those newly dyed clothes fuming up the place. Oh how I loved that smell. I didn't want to wash my new clothes before I wore them because I wanted people to know I had new clothes. I almost always got t-shirt (not many with printed stuff just basic colors and stripes) and not polo type shirts. My jeans were those Sears tough skin jeans. I found this photo of an ad in the Sears archive. I owned one of those leisure suits...hey it was the 70's and Dennis Weaver (McCloud) was cool!
Toughskin jeans are a phenomenon, let me just tell you. I think they are made with barbed wire and steel cable because these suckers are super...well tough. Wearing toughskins new was an experience because they were stiff as all get out. When you sat down in your toughskins they would sometimes pinch your parts and boy did that hurt, especially the back of your thighs. No matter the pain I had new jeans and was going to show them off. The flip side of this is that you have to wash toughskin jeans no less than 650 times before any fading begins to occur, and another 3004 times before they begin to feel worn in and comfortable. Kevlar has nothing on toughskin. My jeans were bright blue, no other color was acceptable because they wouldn't be blue jeans now would they?
Every Sunday my Dad would read the lunch menu for the week to me and I hung on his every word. "Monday: Pizza, golden buttered corn, cookie, milk." "MMMMMM" "Tuesday: Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, cream gravy, seasoned greed beans, congealed salad, milk" "OH MMMMM that will be a good one can't wait for Tuesday." I went on like that every Sunday until 5th grade. I loved school lunch. I loved that every little thing was in it's own little compartment. I loved those lunch ladies all dolled up in their white suits. My lunch ladies all wore their own aprons and not the plastic ones of today. They were so nice, but I had the meanest nastiest grandmother--ever so lunch ladies seemed like Marry Poppins to me!
Me and sis always had to get ourselves up and ready for the bus. Mom and Dad were long gone by the time we rolled out of bed. My dad, in elementary school, would always lay out my clothes on the recliner. He laid them out as if someone had been wearing them and disintegrated. I could probably have figured out which sock to put on which foot and which shoe went on which foot, but it was really cool to know my Dad did that for me. I am pretty sure he ironed them everyday because I now know how he is about wearing clothes that aren't wrinkled and I must say I am the same way. Except when I go to Mildred's because she only owns an iron that's been converted to crafting purposes...and I'm sure she's given up on her ironing board long ago for more space to keep her duke.
I hope Titus has a great experience at school. I plan to be a presence at the school, helping in his classroom, helping with PTA and other things at the school. I just don't want to drop him off and be gone, I want to be there. I plan to have lunch with a lot and just spend time with him, when he doesn't' have time for me. That will be ok because I'm going to love watching him not have time for me. I wonder if a mother bird feels pride in watching their babies fly for the first time? I'm going to love watching him fly and at the same time my heart is going to be in sheer agony knowing that this little boy...this baby I bathed and lubed up and fed and took care of everyday before he went to Miss Diane's house is no longer.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Madeline my madeleine

I've been intrigued...OK obsessed with with Madeleine cookies for the past couple of months. I have seen them, they are shell shaped cookies that look like yellow cake, and wondered if they were tasty or not. Then I heard or read about someone making cornbread Madeleine's and that was it...I had to get me one of those Madeleine pans. Thus enters the problem in that I don't buy things for myself. Since I've lost weight I have had to buy clothes that fit, but I just don't go out and buy myself things. I'll go pick them up and walk around with them but put them down and skulk out of the store.

I'm doing a dessert buffet for JBF 24 hour workers on Tuesday and had the menu all planned when I found out one of the owners, "everything sounds good, but I was thinking more fingery things." [thunk]Back to the drawing board. I want people to have things they don't normally get and I immediately thought about Madeleine cookies. You can change them up with just a tweak of the ingredients and all the blog posts i read made them sound super simple to make. One problem--you have to have the pan. Off I went to Williams-Sonoma and $54 later i had a Madeleine pan ($14)...all in one zyliss zester grater microplane and some Key lime lemon curd (for another recipe it was on clearance). I'm super excited about the zester grater thing--too cool. I was pretty excited about the pan, too. Mine is silver, bright shiny silver.
As I typed this post and scoured the Internet for pictures (thanks Williams-Sonoma for supplying the photos. Please visit their site and purchase something.) I realized I had been spelling Madeleine wrong...imagine that! It is spelled m-a-d-a-l-E-i-n-e which would explain the bizarre recipes and even worse pictures. I'll have much better luck researching the recipe with people who know how to spell the thing!
The recipe I found (with the wrong spelled name) was good. It's the one I'll post today. I highly recommend you getting yourself a Madeleine pan...these suckers took all of 20 minutes from start to finish to make that's it! I'm so excited about trying cornbread in them. More on that later.
Here's the recipe for Madeleine cookies. if you don't have a can cook these babies in a muffin tin (mini or not) and they turn out the same you just can't call them Madeleine''d have to call them by her evil little sister's name...Agatha.
5 T. butter (melted and cooled)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 t. grated lemon zest (or lime, or, orange, or you get it)
Powdered sugar for dusting.
Preheat oven to 375 (if your pan is dark go with 350). Spray pan with non0stick spray (I use the flour/nonstick spray).
In a medium bowl: sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl: add egg, vanilla, zest, and sugar and mix until blended. Add flour to egg mixture and mix until blended. Slowly add your melted butter and stir to combine.
Spoon a heaping tablespoon of batter into each mold. Bake until puffed and golden around the edges (about 12 minutes) 10-15 minutes. Remove from pan and dust with powdered sugar. Now go to a closet and eat the whole batch. I used my small ice cream scoop because it's exactly a tablespoon (yes...I measured) and worked great. I had maybe two tablespoons of batter remaining, but didn't mess with it. You'll want to fill the molds to 2/3 full.
I've seen pictures with these babies dipped in chocolate. This made one batch of 12 large cookies.
Try these. If you have ever eaten a tea cake and said to yourself, "i wish it were crispier...and shaped like a shell" then you'd be in luck. Seriously, though they are good and do remind me of tea cakes (the good kind, not the ones that will absorb all of the saliva in your mouth and shut your salivary glands down).