About Me

My photo
+++Enter At Your Own Risk+++ At the gentle nudging (I said gentle y'all) of a few friends, I have started these blogs in order to share my culinary goings-on and daily misadventures through my own brand of humor (ok, sarcasm). I just write about stuff! At 50, I have learned that living has gotten in the way of life - and I am going to blaze my own personal trail to fun (hopefully)! If it is feminine, great. If it is not, so much the better! Hopefully fun that does not land me in jail............

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Beer is Proof that God Loves Us

Drinking beer doesn't make you fat, It makes you lean....
Against bars, tables, chairs, and poles.
” ~Unknown

I finally got around to having a beer with cheese, pate’ and water crackers for giggles.

Okay, I do not drink beer as a rule. I do like Belgian Lambics in peach, pear and cherry flavors, but beer in general – no.

Now, being that I am always trying to push my personal envelope instead of falling totally into my usual comfort zones and because I bought a crap load of beer in RI while visiting my daughter, I am having a little fun.

I can tell you I have no idea what I am doing – I do not know the lingo and am not sure I will venture into learning it.  I will just tell you what I, the unlearned non-beer drinker, thinks and experiences.

Today I pulled a chilled bottle of 2010 Chimay Grand Reserve beer.
1PT. 9.4 FL. Oz. thick brown bottle with cork closure
$10.99+- a bottle
9% alcohol by volume
This beer is a representative of one of only six Trappist breweries in the world. Brewed in a cloistered monastery by monks at Scourmont Abbey in Belgium as it has been since 1850.  This beer is bottle conditioned (meaning they allow the beers to ferment further in the bottles to develop more flavor and carbonation). Because this beer (unlike most so it seems) is considered vintage the production year is noted on the individual bottle or closure and can be kept in low to no light for a few years to further develop the beer’s flavor. In case it matters, this beer is not pasteurized.

The cheese I paired with it was actually a cheese I had in the refrigerator from a trip a few months ago. Sweetwater Valley Farms 2008 Reserve Yellow Cheddar Cheese (Extra Sharp). This cheese is made in Philadelphia Tennessee.
$6.00 +- a package. Weight unknown.
Read about Sweetwater Valley Farms here:  http://www.sweetwatervalley.com/

The pate’ was dug out of the freezer. It was a purchase last Christmas from D’artagnan. Mousse Truffle pate’ made from organic chicken and turkey liver plus duck fat, port wine and 2% black truffles.
8 Oz. $7.99

The Chimay beer had an almost fruity smell about it. When poured into the glass, it was dark walnut color and foamed like mad. Yea, it had a nice head on it J.  The flavor was fruity at first with a bit of a bitter finish. The flavor was much milder than the color suggested it would be.

Before opening this bottle, I did a little research at “Google-University” and found that sharp cheese was a good pairing with this beer. I decided to go nutty and add a pate’ while I was at it.

When I paired the cheese with the beer, the flavor of the beer mellowed to that of a flower flavor. The flavor was like licking a lilac. I know that sounds nutty, but that was what it seemed like. And no – I have never licked a lilac.  All I can tell you all is this pairing was worthy for sure.

The pate’, while silky and tasty, did not add nor detract from the beer experience.  It was quite good but would have been just as good without the beer and cheese.

Alrighty y’all, let me just tell you, if you like beer, you need to take this Chimay for a taste-drive. If you like wheat beers/lighter flavored beers, you will be shocked to find this dark beer may be to your liking. If you are not a big beer fan, but would like to have a few beers in your notebook for drinking with beer-swilling friends, go for it. I do not think anyone will be disappointed by this beer.

Friday, December 24, 2010

In The Cheese Now

“Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality”.
     ~Clifton Paul Fadiman

I just returned from a trip to see my daughter and her beau in Providence RI.  On this trip I was treated to some really wonderful meals and food items from all manner of sources.  One night as I was sewing on a skirt for daughter, beau served up adult slim jims (preserved meats) and this one cheese. The cheese was granulated - almost crunchy. The flavor was great! When I say great, I mean both big and wonderful!

I was forced to go on the search for this cheese!  OK, daughter and beau knew exactly where to find it - but I sure was obsessed about getting some of this cheese!

Beemster X.O. Extra DOUBLE Aged artisan Dutch Gouda
Produced in the Beemster Polder lowland in North Holland.
Cows that produce the milk for this cheese graze on pesticide-free pastures growing on blue sea clay. This gives the milk a sweeter flavor and a softer/creamier texture in the cheeses. Like real champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France, Beemster cheese can only come from the Beemster Polder. How fru-fru is that?

Beemster and Ben & Jerry’s Europe joined forces creating the Caring Dairy Initiative. Cows graze freely Spring thru fall. This results in a better milk and better treatment of the cows producing the milk. It sounds to me like the California Happy Cows campaign is not that original!

Now, most sites will say that the flavor of the Beemster X.O. Gouda hints at Butterscotch, whiskey and pecan.  I say IT IS JUST PLAINLY GREAT TASTING CHEESE!  I have no idea about these delicate nuances. I just know that I really like the cheese.  Considering that I have issues with consuming aged cheeses it says a lot that I risked it - and so far so good!

This cheese would work well grated and served in the place of parmesan…
Aged 26 months
$17.99 per pound
Texture: Brittle

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oh No She Just Didn't....

(Or, “Oh no she did NOT just write that!!!)

So, for giggles and grins, I am going to include a couple more facets in my little blog – just to change it up a bit.

Alcoholic Beverage Factoids (at least as I understand them)
Places to eat (or maybe seriously to avoid)
Little food bites (pun intended)

Yea, there are plenty of places to glean information about booze and eateries; I know this. But, sometimes it is fun reading or hearing of experiences from different people, especially from people that fall into “drama-tic” situations easily.  Yea, I know a few of you reading this know what I am talking about.  “You just can’t make this s#!t up”, “Hey Shannon-Rae, watch this” or “ you will not believe what happened when the elephant stepped out”! If it isn’t that interesting, I will promise to make some tale up (then let you know that I did).

These might include future fun, past disasters, stories from way long ago. One never knows what my mood is and what will come out!


You all know I get rude, in trouble, push the envelope and etc.  Enter at your own risk of a coronary…


Marinated Bean Salad

Marinated Bean Salad

Okay, this bean salad has many names – and they usually include the number of bean types incorporated into the recipe.  My thinking is if you like the bean/pea/legume at all – include it. If you do not like it – leave it out. If you have to make this for a large gathering – use one can of each of MANY items even if you are not keen on them because you won’t taste them with all the other goods going on anyway!

This item is seen on many salad bars and usually does NOT taste that good. Either it is not made with enough of the good stuff (salt, sugar, vinegar and etc.) or it has actually been made but only right before it hit the bar. No marinating happened. No flavors soaked in. No fun to waste stomach space with.

This bad boy is EASY as hell. You do not have to understand physics, chemistry, baking, or why the chicken crossed the road. You just mix, chill and go.

If you are on a bit of a budget, and you need to take a dish to a gathering of say 5 or more people, buy the store brands of the ingredients, mix it up when you have time a day or two earlier and watch people be impressed with your COOKING ABILITY!

If you are only serving maybe 3-6 people, only use maybe 4 of the canned ingredients. If you are serving more, add a can of something per every 2 people expected.  If you add canned goods, make a little more of the marinade. If you love this, make more using more cans because you have about a week or so to eat it.  I stuff my face with it at night when I am too lazy to make anything.

This is the easiest thing to make - and it is SOOOO good IF you let it marinade a day or even two. It simply gets better as it sits. THAT, my friends, is the key!

Marinated Bean Salad

1 can cut green (or French) beans
1 can bean sprouts
1 can lima beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can shoepeg corn
1 can baby corn ears
1 can garbonzos
Ok, pretty much put in 3 or 4 cans of whatever you like up there…
1 onion cut up
1 green pepper cut up
1 cup oil (light olive, corn, etc)
1 cup vinegar (white)
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar

Mix oil, vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
Drain veggies and put everything in a large container (big enough to hold this nightmare)
Pour liquid over veggies.

Marinade AT LEAST 24 hours. Stir occasionally. This gets better as it sits. So, again, this can be made a day or two early instead of rushing the last minute!

Keep refrigerated after mixing...

Okay – the disclaimer?  Yeah, the fine print…

This will make you a gassy gopher baby!  So, if you have to live with any of the people eating this – make them sleep in the guest room…

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Was it Worth it? -OR- Beef Burgundy Part Deux

Yes, It has taken me over a month to follow-up on this first edition (technically second – but
who is counting?).  Since I was trying to finish up my graduate degree and work full-time, I sort of fell off the “living-wagon” for a month or so.

I was lucky when embarking on this cooking-fest. My mother volunteered to do the grocery shopping. No people, I do NOT like to grocery shop. Yes, that makes it difficult to do all the cooking I like to do. No, that does not change the fact that I do not really grocery shop.

We started on a Friday night after I drove the hour home from work. My reasoning for cooking on a Friday night for a meal to be served Monday at work was two-fold.
  1. I wanted the stew to develop in flavor – as it does over a few days in my opinion.
  2. Pearl Babeeeez
  3. I had a date Saturday/Sunday, thus would have no time to cook those days.
We doubled the recipe that I posted in November. That means there was a lot of extra work when it came to cleaning and preparing the sheer number of mushrooms and pearl onions.

The only “not so authentic ingredient” was mom used smoked bacon from the freezer for the lardons. I was not keen on this, but it did work fine apparently.

The dollar amount for this meal topped $90 when the wine was included in the bill. Not cheap for a recipe, but when you consider I probably managed 20 good servings...

My mother did some of the sous-chef duties such as peeling most of the pearl onions, cutting the carrots, prepping mushrooms, slicing the large onion and the whole moral support thing like “we are NOT doing this again” and “this is taking 10 times the steps and time any recipe should”. She did all this while I worked on the lardons, cut the beef (not cheese), cooked the beef and etc.

I’ll not chronicle the whole and complete process since it has been over a month ago. I will say that it took upwards of 8 hours to prepare. That number is not adjusted to account for two people working at once and does NOT include the time after all was prepped and the pots sat in the oven baking before or during my over-sleeping a little. It also does not include the time I took driving too and from Knoxville in the middle of it to get the wine bottle opener because mom could not locate hers.

I will tell you that I did crowd the mushrooms when cooking them. I learned that everything Julia Child writes about cooking the mushrooms is correct.  Turn the heat high enough to sear the flavor into mushrooms. Do not crowd them or they will simply steam and lose flavor. The mushrooms do soak up the flavorful hot oil when they start to heat up, cook a bit and then release moisture.  An amazing process you simply need to try.
I did rinse off and dry the beef before cooking it. Julia Child states “Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown properly if it is damp”. My daughter has informed me that
adding a little bit of baking soda to the water used to rinse raw meat gets any meat “stink” off and acts as a tenderizer.

I did cook the stew in the oven in two enameled cast iron Dutch ovens. I made a small portion
sans ‘shrooms’ for a pregnant coworker who is avoiding fungi as well!

A list of the most insane concept in this recipe for me follows:
  1. The lardons must be boiled then fried and removed from their own hot fat in order to cook the beef in the oil.
  2. You must cook the pearl onions and a sauce in a very specific manner prior to adding them to the main dish.
  3. You must cook the mushrooms in a very specific manner prior to adding them to the main dish.
  4. Once the whole recipe is done cooking, you must sieve the contents of the stew, reserving the liquid separately.
  5. The liquid must have the fats skimmed off then reduced only to be added back to the
The normal options for serving BB include serving over new potatoes, rice or flat noodles.  I opted for new potatoes because I think that is a more authentic option and rice is Asian, not French. We were going to dig potatoes from the garden if any were left, but it rained and left a swamp. We decided to skip that knee deep in water field trip and simply bought potatoes to boil whole or halved.

The whole time mom and I worked on this – and up to the point my coworkers tried it – I was paranoid that the red wine flavor would put the benefactors of the meal off. That was SOOOOO unnecessary on my part.  Way too much paranoia.

That Monday morning I took to work bowls just for the stew, mismatched spoons, the stew in an electric crock to heat it and the potatoes to serve it over. I heated it back to hot for several hours.  It was dished out to the first five people at lunch. It earned rave reviews. All in all, I believe 12 people ate this over two days and everyone loved it. I should not have stressed.

We did have a few casualties. Two spoons and two stew plates disappeared from the common area when left to be washed. Oops.  Sorry mom! I will be replacing those...

Twelve out of Twelve thumbs up. The process is long, exacting, even annoying. The end product is still just as wonderful as I remembered.  I am not convinced I will make this recipe again, but I do plan on moving on to make any easier versions I find - just to see if shorter variations come out the same or fall short of the flavor found in Julia Child's version.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf A La Bourguignonne. Boeuf Bourguignon. Bœuf Bourguignon. Beef Burgundy.

No matter what you call it, or how your pronounce it, it is a little slice of liquid heaven. Say what you will about the French – hoity-toity, snooty lot that they are – but they do have awesome food!

The description of this dish in the book Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck (published in 1961 by Knopf Doubleday) is “Beef Stew in Red Wine, with Bacon, Onions, and Mushrooms.” Let me just say – it is so much more than the sum of its individual ingredients. Wikipedia describes Beef Burgundy as “one of many examples of peasant dishes being slowly refined into haute cuisine. Most likely this particular method of slowly simmering the beef in wine originated as a means of tenderizing cuts of meat that would have been too tough to cook any other way.”

The dish itself was probably, in my opinion, made famous in the US by Julia Child and a cute little movie titled Julie and Julia.

I made this dish (after watching the movie and ordering the cookbook from Abebooks.com) with the help of a tag-team of friends a little over a year ago (ok, 15 months ago) and found it tedious, involved, demanding and picky. HOWEVER, without taking any short-cuts, I found this dish to taste absolutely heavenly when completed and slowly savored over young boiled potatoes served at an inviting table.

Simply put – in my words – this is a French Beef Stew with Booze made in heaven. Yes. That is my educated definition. Beef Stew with a built-in booze factor.

Now, being that I am from the south, I find recipes for soup, chili and stew to basically be “cook the meats a little and toss the raw ingredients together in a pot and heat for hours” sort of dishes. You can vary each ingredient as you see fit. Leave out what you don’t like. Put in more of what you do like. While I am a proponent of this sort of cooking – I find that it more than likely has a singular drawback; a lot of what I cook probably tastes fairly similar. I gravitate towards onion, garlic, pepper, salt, red pepper, potatoes… I must strive to make a recipe complete, from start to finish, ingredient by ingredient (even if I am turned off by any of the ingredients) to know if I like product from it and to stretch my "taste" repertoire. I do believe in using what you have just as my parents, grandparents and great grandparents did, but sometimes sucking it up and buying that extra ingredient really pays off!

Why, you might ask, am I blogging BEFORE the cooking event this time?  Because I can! And, this is such a huge recipe to me - I need to prepare!  Upside #1 - Mom is going to help prep. #2 - Boss is buying the ingredients because I am feeding work again!

My plan is to make Beef Burgundy every few weeks, as time and money allow, using various recipes, ingredients and techniques that I find. I want to know if taking the long route to stew heaven is truly worth it.

The recipe below is the basic recipe from Julia Child and her cadre. It does not have short cuts. There are many steps. From memory, I know that baking this in the oven is a better, providing a more even heat than on the stove-top. I will also do a little more research, before Friday, into marinating beef with red wine and see if doing that a day ahead is worth it.


• One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon

• 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

• 3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes

• 1 carrot, sliced

• 1 onion, sliced

• Salt and pepper

• 2 tablespoons flour

• 3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)

• 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock

• 1 tablespoon tomato paste

• 2 cloves mashed garlic

• 1/2 teaspoon thyme

• A crumbled bay leaf

• 18 to 24 white onions, small

• 3 1/2 tablespoons butter

• Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth) – Yea, I use the cheese cloth – but I place bottled spices within as this recipe is expensive enough!

• 1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered

Cooking Directions

Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides (sealing in the juices nicely). Add it to the lardons.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly.

Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.

Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).

Remove casserole and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.

Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.

Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.

Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.

Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.

Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.

Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.

Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.

Serve with potatoes (my favorite), noodles or rice.

You can find a PDF version of the original recipe from Knopf Doubleday at http://knopfdoubleday.com/marketing/cooking/BoeufBourguignon.pdf

Okay, after reading the recipe and and looking at the link I provided (you know you either have or will) - tell me how desperate for good food does one have to be to embark on this mission.

Prepare for post cooking follow-up.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Unlikely Inspiration? A work in progress...

Unlikely Inspiration? A work in progress...

Inspiration comes from some likely and equally unlikely places.

No one that knows me now has any inkling that I did not actually cook real food until I was maybe 26 years old – or so.  Prior to that I would cook various odd things such as biscuits, cornbread muffins, beef and green pepper stir-fry, zucchini bread and - uh, that might have been it unless you want to count cooking noodles and adding ketchup or making chocolate/banana milkshakes.  That was real food, but not a meal.  In the military (from mid 1984 until late 1986) I did not have access to a kitchen, only a chow hall and fast-food. While stationed at Darmstadt in then West Germany, I married and gained an apartment with all the usual appliances (although the fridge was SO SMALL as they are in Germany!).  At that point, I only remember cooking hamburger helper and - say it isn't so - Chef BRD.  Kit (then husband) might remember differently and I will update this if he does.

Over the years, I barely ate. Food was not my friend. I did not care for it and could go for days with only
Daughter @ 17
eating very small 'meals.'  Yep, a 'meal' might be a half a can of Chef BRD in a day.  I was THIN.  By ‘thin’ I mean – I had NO relationship with food except pure survival.  Even today, when I cook the things you see posted here, I can only eat small amounts of what I make even though I really like what I cook.  I will not typically make something if it is something I do not eat.  I really only like 2 people enough to cook a food for that I do not like, and one is my daughter.  So, if I attempt to make a dish for anyone that I have no clue how it should taste, you can count yourself special.

At this time I still eat chocolate, cake, Chef BRD, Totino's Pizza Rolls, cake, Coca~Cola, chocolate, grilled cheese, Tv dinners, cake and McD's more than I eat my own food. Yea, I typed chocolate twice and cake three times.  So, I guess I still do not have the best relationship with food.  But, as with things that are important to me, I keep trying.  I never really give up. Did I say I don't give up? Maybe that is why I keep trying to cook and perfect the food/dishes.  I am constantly driven by the hope that I will grow to truly love food like an Italian. Oh, wait, I am not Italian!  LOL English, Irish, Scots, Cherokee...  That English blood might be the problem.  Have you eaten in London?  As a rule, I am not impressed with English food!  I don't think the Brits are known for food. The best London restaurant I ate in – was Italian! I swear I think it was Mafia. If I remember correctly, the door was plain and the entry unmarked in an alley. When you went in, it had a grand entryway complete with a huge staircase down to the tables, washroom attendants, a coat check and etc. Good Food. ☺

My Mother always cooked basic food (don't tell her I said that as it sounds bad…).  It was good food.  
Mom @ 12
Simple, inexpensive, low country food.  She was taught by her mother who I am sure was taught by hers.  I did not really pay that much attention when I was a child but I do remember roasts, stroganoff, mom's canned vegetables and soups, cornbread, rolls, biscuits, chef salads and etc. Dad would cook the hamburgers and steaks on a charcoal grill outside.  I have grown to appreciate that food more today.  My parents always insisted that my brother and I at least TRY the various odd things they came up with.  OK, I am sorry, but I still do not like pork brains – I do not care how you cook them up! I was a picky eater as a child.  I did not like green beans, lima beans, squash, greens, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, cottage cheese, yogurt, vanilla anything.  After awhile they gave up on my eating some foods.  I think they grew tired of watching me sitting there - gagging!  I have since learned to eat all of that except cottage cheese and yogurt. I have to admit though, in the army’s basic training, I ate yogurt because I thought I would starve to death with all the physical activity we had to participate in. I actually ate light bread with butter MASHED onto it. I gained around 30+ pounds in basic training. I suppose part of that was muscle (I like to think so). Four weeks after I arrived in Germany at my permanent duty station, I lost all that plus more. The Army is not known for its food. Duh! 
Dad at about 25?
Mom’s contribution to my need for food perfection was really tweaked by her banana pudding and chocolate pies!
Mmm !

My GrandMa Taylor made the best biscuits and GrandPa Taylor taught me to put butter (from his cow) and honey (from his bees) on them - OMG! Such a tasty memory. GrandMa also made roasts, green beans, no-bake oatmeal cookies, salmon patties (which will end up on here eventually I am sure), cornbread, potatoes, and corn. They grew their own vegetables and apples plus processed their own meats. I did not enjoy the chicken killing, but it was not traumatic for me either – which is rather shocking really.

My GrandMa Garrett cooked cornmeal dusted bluegill fish, fish eggs, cornbread, green beans, corn, potatoes, soft sugar cookies, chicken & dumplings, blackberry & rhubarb cobblers, squirrel, deer, frog legs, pork and etc. GrandPa sure could hunt and fish as well as make a hell of an apple stack cake. GrandPa would probably not be impressed with me saying 'hell.' I remember GrandPa Garrett drying apples in the sun on a table topped with tin roof material and covered with cheese-cloth. I have a photo on the wall of GrandPa long before I was alive, with his rifle, a racoon and what I think was his RedBone hunting dog.  I do not recall eating coon…  ‘Nough said.  They canned their own vegetables and meats. They grew their own vegetables and fruits including grapes, blueberries (which we still pick today), strawberries, melons, peanuts, apples and etc. GrandPa kept potatoes and apples in a root cellar. The underground root cellar is still scary. I was a bit traumatized when I figured out the bacon we had one year - I had named at some point in the recent past. Ooops... Well, PETA can get over it since I did. The smoke house and I did not mind in the end!
Yes! A REAL Root Cellar
So, in all those years, I failed to pay enough attention to my surroundings and learn. What I DID learn from my two sets of GrandParents and my Parents is, however, immeasurable. Now I crave for information and memories. I beg for information from various older family members. I do cook a lot of simple, low country food. Fried everything (okra, green tomatoes, chicken, fish). I've pickle garlic, green tomatoes, carrots and etc. I have learned to make blueberry jelly as well as apple jelly, apple butter, peach butter, pear butter and strawberry jelly. I dry apples, peppers and now tomatoes. I have branched out into various nationalities of food and also cakes and pies. I'm no baker, so I'm still working on cakes and cookies. All I can say about cookies is – a pan is my friend.

The person who actually got my attention when I was younger was one that I did not realize until recently. My cousin Rena. Rena passed away maybe 10+- years ago. When I first remember her, 
I was maybe 7 years old and I think she was already in her 50s or 60s.  I will get to the point. Rena was college educated in home-economics. She cooked, sewed, crafted, created, and etc. When she put food on the table, it was an event. If you finished your plate, she would be upset if you did not go for seconds. She fixed 'fancy' foods. Stir-fry, tarts, torts, fancy cakes, casseroles and etc. She made a simple sandwich meal so fancy and loving. My cousin (her daughter) and I would come back from the pool to fancy pita pocket sandwiches (what, no light-bread?) filled with smoked turkey, lettuce, tomato served up with either potato or pasta salad on the side and chips on the plate. The drink of choice was glass-bottled coke, lemonade or Fresca with ice. Dessert would be some baked good or fresh cut-up fruit. Even my daughter remembers eating at similar 'easy' foods with a side of fresh peaches in cream at Rena's. All this food was served up on red earthenware plates. Her favorite color was red! Rena drank. Rena drank hard alcohol. Only a handful of relatives drink any alcohol in my family even today. Baptists you know. I was amazed that my old cousin drank! I was fascinated by it really.

OK, I am a southern girl. I take a simple story and weave all manner of information into it. Sorry! That will only get worse as I get older.

I guess...

What I eventually learned from Rena was three-fold:
1. Never stop learning - even if it is just in food or art.
2. Take the simple and make it fabulous.
3. Travel all you can manage. The memories may be all you have to hold onto in old age. 

Some ways I tried to live up to my lessons included:
Taking a tray of hot chocolate and small cookies or a tray of drinks, soup and crackers, or of various cheeses out under the tree to the chairs to sit with my daughter. She was maybe 10 at the time I started that. The time-frame gets a little fuzzy now, but, my daughter still seems to remember these times. The presentation would be all fancy, by candle light and cute, almost like a tea party I guess. We did not have much money so our fun food times were simple. There were times when we toasted mini-marshmallows over a burning candle. We had those yard torches burning, roses growing and neighbors watching the odd family. 

In recent years I threw what I call 'gatherings' where I just cooked, cooked and cooked some more around a theme. A pumpkin carving party with friends that included traditional harvest fare. An Italian food gathering with foods I had not tested, but made anyway. That one included 12 people under a dining tent in the rain. The table was made of sawhorses with a supported wood top covered by a huge table cloth and liner (that I had to make to fit such a large ‘table’), china, crystal and candles. Presentation was everything to me. Christmas was a good reason for heavy hors d’oeuvres including mini fried apple pies, hoe-cakes, truffles, sauces, mini Nachitoches meat pies, fried biscuits, cheeses, meats, meatballs, crackers and etc. More china, crystal, Depression glass and candles graced the table. It was a good night. And yes, there were cookies, but not one I tried to make came out – so I had to actually buy those! 

Sometimes I would bring home olives, lox, and crackers. I would chop up onions, lemons and chives and place all this on glass trays along with cream cheese, sour cream and capers in antique china bowls. This is a snack, with candles, in the middle of the day. Relish trays are our friend! Other times I cut up fresh fruits and make fruit cups mixed with a dash of sugar and lemon or lime juice. Always easy, always tasty, always pretty.

In this way I guess I show my love, or luv, for people who truly appreciate the thought and effort that goes into the act. I just want to make the simple things elegant, thoughtful and fun. Don’t get me wrong, I will toss things on the table and move on, but sometimes I just want it to be special. I am afraid I am not so inspired very often of late. It is really a sad state of affairs when that happens...

OK, so I learned from my parents and grandparents to use what you have, make it great, make it last and always share what you have. What I taught my daughter was all that plus - never turn your nose up at the food a person/family offers as you may insult them. Just because it is not what you are used to does not make it less than or better than what you normally eat - it is just different. AND, NEVER take all the food the person has out as it may very well be all they have for a few days, or a week, or.... Take a small amount on your plate, finish it enthusiastically while being gracious and grateful. 

Thank them from your heart!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Peach Cobbler Part Deux

Welcome to this week’s episode of  Do-Over Time in Tennessee… 

No, I was not kidding about making this cobbler recipe again with tastier peaches and no,  I have not finished eating the first cobbler. Remember, no one to help me eat it this cooking go-around.  Poor me...

It would come as no surprise to anyone who either knows me or follows my FaceBook posts that I am sitting here in my bed, after my second baking misadventure in as many days, thinking about the Maker's on the shelf.  I'll leave it there this time.

Plans for today? Brunch and visit with Mom, aunt and cousin. Meet peeps at the Tennessee Theater for the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s then scream home for the cobbler “Do-Over” with plans to share the "improved" finished product with a friend who taste tests my food and is brutally honest.  Said honesty being good, bad and sometimes ugly.  Remember "Mom makes it this way..."  I do trust their opinion though so I cannot get too bent.

After enjoying the movie with KC, Lib and LB – I screamed home and sorted out peaches to find the ripest three. At this point I realize that I obviously have not had many experiences with super fresh peaches in my life – as I had no idea that 48 hours was NOT LONG ENOUGH TO RIPEN THEM…  I have promised to produce this cobbler at 6:00p today and have run out of ripening time.  The peaches are better at least, so I am moving ahead as planned – again…

As I am peeling peaches for the cobbler that I plan on making and delivering, I learn that the schedule I thought was hammered out as to when to meet my friend  – was NOT.  I was missing a key piece of information apparently.  Together we decided the cobbler would be delivered tomorrow, cold, instead of today while fresh.  I had already peeled and sliced the best peaches. There is no waiting. I continued cooking while bummed and temporarily frustrated.  I remembered why I don't plan a lot of things.  I am not patient or welcoming of change.

After I had the cobbler mixed up using the same recipe as Friday (from memory) and baking in the oven for like 10 minutes, I realized that I FORGOT TO ADD THE VANILLA to the batter.  Bummed meter pegging to the right…

I pulled this puppy out of the oven after checking for doneness and then let it cool about 30 minutes.  I tore a piece of the ‘cake’ portion off the top and tasted it.  I wish I had not pulled the boner of forgetting the vanilla, but it still tastes okay - I think.  I might just have to make it yet again tomorrow after work though since "okay" was not what I was striving for.

Lessons learned today?
Fresh does not equal ripe in peaches (duh!)
Never plan on imperfect information (clarify details...)
Do not try to plan too much in a day (is this a girl trait?)
ALWAYS use the recipe – do NOT go by memory (yea, Mom was right - again...)
Do NOT text and bake (dangerous, simply dangerous)

While I sit propped up on my bed, laptop on lap (where else?) and digging into Friday's cobbler, I ponder why I do this crap.  Well, I guess it is simple...  I don't eat a lot, but when I do, I want it to be worth it.  I like sharing recipes with friends.  I do not want to share a recipe that I have not thoroughly checked out.  I also like cooking for my friends who do not get home cooked momma food often - as they seem to appreciate it the most.

Where's that bourbon?


Friday, July 16, 2010

The Trials and Tribulations of Making a Simple Peach Cobbler

Who knew making a peach cobbler could be so fret with drama? A recipe with 7 ingredients should not be a problem for a country cooking maniac – right?

I am sitting here in my bedroom, at 9:00p at night, sweating from the event, drinking Maker’s 46 on the rocks to calm my nerves and wondering about so many things.

-  What do I not know about tonight?  Nough said.
-  Who will eat my peach cobbler?  Anyone?  I cannot eat it all myself.  I think I cook well enough for most people. Alas, there are those ever picky peeps out there who think it is ok to compare anything I make to “Momma’s.” Always fun to hear – and NEVER really welcome unless the thought ends in COOKIE'S IS BETTER.  The dieting peeps who are – dieting – so they don’t eat this or don’t eat that.  Ever hear of rock soup?  And the rest of my peeps are too far away to sample it for me but would happily do it. Where are you people?  Help me out!
-  What recipe do I use?  Imagine my shock when I opened my series of old-time cookbooks (ok, old to me ranges from 10 to 40 years) only to find no peach cobbler recipes?  Wait, I have one cookbook from the “Society of Farm Women of Pennsylvania” that is at about 500 pages. It will have one! Farm women got it going on...  There I learn that even though the individual chapters are listed by page number, there are NO page numbers on the individual pages. Is this possible? It took a while to find out there are no peach cobbler recipes in that promising cookbook or any of the others I had planned on using. My favorite cookbook had ONE recipe and all it said was “Peach Cobbler” 1 stick butter, 1 cup self rising flour, 1 cup sugar. Mix. Bake at 400 degrees. Seriously?  Could I have a little more than that?  I think it actually failed to include actual peaches, so I had little faith in the validity of that recipe.  I finally land on a simple recipe online.
-  Where to get the peaches?  I decide to buy my peaches from the roadside peach vendors because theirs will be fresher than the store - RIGHT?  So I thought. I just barely managed to find South Carolina peaches today - after missing the peach vendors on my way to work and home every day for 3 days. Are my work hours that off?  I finally catch the vendor today near my house and buy $15 worth of peaches picked fresh this morning.  Huh, did it occur to me that the peaches would need to ripen a few extra days?  Of course not… They are fresh.  And by the way, if the roadside guy is there from 8:00a until at least 5:00p, how did he pick the peaches and get them to Tennessee – today?  

Just say'n.

I digress.

I start the process in the spice cave.  Do you ever have to stick your hand in places that you are just not sure about?  Okay, don’t answer that.  I went spelunking through the pantry in search of simple plain old vanilla and cinnamon. These are staples in most every kitchen.  Even the kitchens where women don’t really cook - have THESE spices at hand.  These should easily be found in my pantry (of all the pantries I know) any day of the week, right?  RIGHT?  So what do I drag my hands through tonight - in the dark?  Three containers of whole cloves, two cayenne, two red pepper and another 30 or so containers of various goods? REALLY?  I barely found the cinnamon and vanilla. It ought not be this difficult.

So, I get down to the business of making the cobbler itself. I turn the oven on, gather the rest of the ingredients, prepare the dry ones, melt the butter and prepare the peaches. Could the fruits of my labor have managed to be a little more tart?  Oh crap, I’m in it now, so keep going – right?  I might as well see this through since I have all this mess out on the counter.

I toss the peaches with sugar and cinnamon then set them aside, praying that by some stroke of luck, they will taste fine after baking. I commence to mixing the milk into the dry ingredients – using only what the recipe calls for - and find that I have what amounts to SOUP.  What?  Fine...  I go for it. No modification of the recipe.  Have faith wee one, have faith.

The outcome?  Amazingly enough, the cobbler isn’t half bad. If I wait 24 to 48 hours to make it again, the peach flavor will be better for sure.

The kitchen is trashed, the oven is cooling, I’m thinking about doing this all over again Sunday and I am drinking…  Long live Maker’s Mark.   Hum, bourbon peach cobbler anyone?

Simple Peach Cobbler

1 stick butter melted
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 375
Pour melted butter into a 2 quart baking dish. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of the sugar and flour; stir to blend. Stir in the milk and vanilla until blended. Pour the batter over the melted butter. Toss the peaches with the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. Arrange the peach slices over the batter. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. The top will be browned and the cake will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Serves 6

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...