Everything’s Better with Real Whipped Cream

So, after 19 years in the South, I finally ate at Waffle House.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s Thanksgiving, aka National Mashed Potato Day, and I want to talk about Waffle House? Not really. It was more a confessional thing. Really good waffles though.

We just put the turkey in the oven. I’m excited and terrified because I feel like this year’s cooking isn’t doing what I wanted. Nothing like potentially poisoning your extended family with cheesecake.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Sour Cream Bourbon topping from Gourmet. It’s an awesome cheesecake, and a great substitution if you’ve hit the point where making another pumpkin pie is going to get you institutionalized.

Normally the cream cheese works with me and everything turns out nicely, with a few small cracks on the top that are easily covered by the sour cream bourbon (or in this case Glenlivet) topping. Not so. Yesterday, I got the San Andreas Fault going through the cheesecake. Did I stop and think, hmmm, how can I fix this? Did I read the recipe as I was making the cheesecake?

No, not so much.

I just put the topping on the cheesecake and kept going. And here’s what it ended up looking like:

photo of pumpkin cheesecake
Luckily, a spoon smooths this topping and makes it look better than this.

Do not start with me. Had I thought about it, I would have put a flag over the fault line because clearly that spot will have more alcohol in it. But here’s the thing about cheesecake:

It’s really hard to tell when it’s done. It jiggles. And it’s cracked, and it’s just odd looking. And it has to sort of set up in the refrigerator after you bake it. So it doesn’t look right when it comes out of the oven. It’s a total crap shoot.

So crap shoot dessert, although the French Apple Pie — do  not start with me about the French on Thanksgiving; everything is better with streusel topping — looks fantastic.

French Apple pie photo
No promises about the turkey or the cheesecake, but we can all feed off the French Apple pie

But we got a surprise phone call and suddenly the turkey cook was tied up, and if you’ve cooked a turkey, you know it has to get in the oven on time if you want to eat before Saturday. So suddenly, I’m working on the turkey. Which was so not what I had planned. Sweet potato casserole, yes. Pie, yes. Main part of the meal that everyone looks at when I’m already nervous about the damned cheesecake? No.

So, a little nervous. And if this works, I will be telling everyone at dinner what I’m thankful for: not killing them with poultry and dairy products.

And pie with real whipped cream. Because everything’s better with whipped cream. As long as it’s homemade.


In Which I Share the Family Eggog Recipe

So, last week I was mourning not getting the job I was perfect for. Perfect. Except they decided they wanted someone with hacking skills. For a writing position. Yes, I try really hard not to whine about the search for a day job, and all the people who do not think I’m perfect (really?), but this one hit hard.

I’ve been looking for a new day job for Seven. Months. Almost eight.

OK, anyway. I was waiting to hear about the job I didn’t get because everyone needs a hacker for an online writing position (no kidding, they said “what we really need is a hacker” and I burst out laughing because even if they did need someone with those skills, which they don’t, that person isn’t interested in a day job because, duh, he’s out hacking something) and I decided to deal with the last two boxes of my mom’s stuff.

photo of woods
About 1.3 seconds after I took this shot from my living room/office the leaves finished turning and are now falling at an alarming rate in the yard. Just something to do now that I’ve gone through the last two boxes of mom’s stuff.

I’ve been moving these two boxes around in my house for four years. God forbid I dive in and deal with it. But at the end of last week I was a little insane and looked at the boxes one night and thought, nope, those Have. To. Go.

I’d been avoiding them because I knew what was in them. You see, we had no fewer than 203 copies of some relative’s application to the DAR. Now, normal people would be able to throw out 202 copies, but some of those copies were thicker than others, so dealing with this mess of paper meant going one page at a time through everything making sure I have everything I need when I apply for the DAR. Or something.

Anyway, tons of family history sitting there, with some odd stuff mixed in. There was a statement from one of mom’s retirement funds, and being four years since I’d managed the estate HAHAHAHAHA! I had to call the company and make sure I still had to keep looking for work. The secretary actually remembered mom and I found myself offering condolences for her loss.

But, mixed in all that stuff, was the family Eggnog recipe. I’ve never had it, but reading it just cracked me up. I always wondered why nobody got salmonella poisoning from all the raw eggs, but then I read how much alcohol was in it, and I’m no longer surprised.

So, here you go, an early gift for your holiday enjoyment!

Eggnog In Quantity (yes, it really says that!)

photo of handwritten eggnog recipe
I blame the condition of the recipe card on the 4-6 cups of alcohol the recipe calls for.

1. Beat till light: 12 egg yolks
2. Beat in gradually 1 pound powdered sugar
3. Add very slowly, beating constantly: 2 cups booze of choice (I use brandy and rum)
4. Let mixture stand covered for 1 hour to dispel “eggy” taste.
5. Add, beating constantly:

2-4 cups more booze

2 quarts heavy whipping cream

6. Refrigerate, covered, 3 hours.
7. Beat till stiff, but not dry: 8-12 egg whites
8. Fold into other ingredients and serve via punch bowl.


How can you not enjoy a pound of powdered sugar, half a cow’s worth of cream, 24 eggs and, you know, 6 cups of alcohol? A lot of my holiday memories were explained when I read this recipe.

Which I may need to whip up if I don’t find work soon because I am really tired of spending all my free time looking for work, when I could be writing romance novels. Which I am off to do. As soon as I apply for yet another day job.


Kids in the Kitchen: Gazpacho

Yeah, I know. You wanted Underwear Rant #2. I figure I could do a week-long series on women’s underwear, which is scary. But for the weeks that I was down to one functional hand, the kids did a lot of cooking, and they deserve their time in the sun, er kitchen.

A few weeks ago we were going to try living wheat-free (don’t ask, there’s a blog coming that’s devoted to it). So while Snarky Daughter was getting her hair cut, I was putting together a shopping list of all sorts of healthy stuff. Woo-hoo! But it was about 1000 degrees outside and who really wants to cook in that? And then I remembered…a really awesome Californian restaurant from the 70s. You walked in and you had to stop and let your eyes adjust because it was so dark. Dark wood paneling, dark green booths, dark everything. Salesguys went there to close semiconductor chip deals and my mom would meet with big name editors there after work for a drink. People went there at lunch for a drink. I miss the 70s.

Anyway, when the Bay Area hit 105, the Velvet Turtle was the place to go because it was dark and cold. And they had the best gazpacho. They served it in individual servings in glass bowls packed in crushed ice. You could almost see ice crystals on the top of the soup.

Sitting in the hair salon, that’s what I remembered. Heaven on ice.

And it’s healthy, and it doesn’t have wheat, making it a better choice than a maple frosted doughnut or a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. And did I mention how awesome ice cold soup would be when it’s 1000 degrees outside and the relative humidity is about 120%?

Snarky Daughter cooks Velvet Turtle Gazpacho
Snarky Daughter “cooking”

Also, you make it in a blender!

Here’s a link to the recipe, which some saint at the LA Times got the Velvet Turtle to give up back in 1981.

Read through it and there’s only one real problem: 1 tsp. seasoning blend. Undaunted, and refusing to believe that might be the key to the soup, we pressed on, assuming that 1 tsp of cumin (thereabouts) and some oregano were what they meant.

As usual, Snarky Daughter was only mildly excited about making dinner, but I was looking totally pitiful with my new, can’t move my thumb or wrist at all brace, so what was she really going to say? Well, she’s mine, so she could have said a lot, but what actually came out of her mouth was, “Uh, sure. I make it in the blender?”

So, this is totally a dump and blend thing. Soup in 20 minutes because you’re obliterating everything in the blender so it’s not like you have to carefully chop the veggies. Then we put it in the freezer for another 20 so it would be ice cold. And we served it with a couple of tortilla chips (corn-based, so I choose to believe they lack wheat), and presto! Summer Dinner!

Both kids and Snarky Roommate liked it. And I went back in time. I wonder what my dad drank when he ate this at the Turtle…


Kids in the Kitchen: I Scream, You Scream…

“Hey mom,” said Scout Son the other day. “What’s that?” He pointed to an appliance next to the toaster that had been used maybe three times in the past 15 years.

Mental groan. “Um, an ice cream machine.”

Stunned silence was followed by, “We have an ice cream maker?”

“I think technically it’s a gelato maker. Your grandfather thought we’d like it.”

More silence as he mulled over this latest parental failure.

“We have an ice cream maker and we don’t use it? That’s not right.”

photo of Gelato Boy separating eggs
Scout Son, aka Gelato Boy, separating eggs for the ice cream.

“Look, we have a gelato machine and we don’t use it. It’s a pain to clean up, you have to cook a custard in order to make ice cream and all three of us have to agree on a flavor. Or, I can go to the grocery store, point at the freezer and you and your sister can each buy a half gallon of whatever, and I can get a pint of Hagen Dazs. It’s easier.”

Now, here’s the problem. Yes, it’s easier. But that kid of mine isn’t stupid. Since coming back from Italy two years ago, we dream about gelato. All rules went out the window while in Italy in July. Gelato for breakfast. Gelato for second breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Dessert. If I could have gotten them to float a scoop of vanilla gelato in my cappuccino every morning, it would have been the perfect meal.

Yes, we take ice cream very seriously. And I knew what would happen if we started using the ice cream maker. I’d have to make ice cream. A lot. Because once you have real ice cream, you don’t want to go back.

Back to the conversation at hand.

“We should make some,” says Scout Son. “Chocolate.”

“No, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to make Salted Caramel from Cooking Light so I can either put the “try it” recipe in the binder of good stuff or in the recycling bin.” So, in the interest of household cleanup, we made ice cream.

I know, that whole ice cream in Cooking Light thing threw you. I keep telling you. They’ve put taste back into food, which means by default, a little fat, but compared to that crap we’d been buying at the store, we’re in good shape. This stuff is so rich you don’t want more than a half a cup. Seriously.

Now we get into why I don’t make ice cream. You need things like candy thermometers. Which I have. But to me, you should just dump all the stuff in the machine, walk away and come back later to ice cream. Which is pretty much what we do… after we cook and cool the custard that becomes ice cream when mixed and frozen. Why this is mentally more difficult than cookie dough is beyond me.

photo of Gelato Boy
After dinner, Gelato Boy prepares to try the final product.

Long story short, Scout Son was fascinated with the whole concept of having to heat the cream and brown sugar to a certain temperature, then add stuff and get that to a higher temperature. Note to self: get the kid some kitchen thermometers. Snarky Daughter wandered in halfway through the process, stared at the saucepan and said, “That’s all that goes into caramel?” Truthfully, I have no idea, but I know it’s the base for pralines, which are basically the same thing.

And finally, the notes on the recipe. It calls for 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. I’d make it a scant teaspoon. The salt gives it a kick and without it I think this would be too sweet, but ours ended up a little salty to my taste (for just caramel ice cream, they suggest dropping the salt to 1/8 teaspoon). We also omitted the flake salt that you can sprinkle over the top.

Caramel isn’t Scout Son’s favorite, so he hasn’t been inhaling this be he does like it. And he was thrilled to see a recipe in the machine’s manual for chocolate gelato. All through Italy I told him there were other flavors, but he still doesn’t believe me.


But it occurs to me, it’s summer, and on the other side of the toaster, there’s a cappuccino maker. I think it’s time to flavor my coffee this afternoon…



Kids in the Kitchen: Chicken Marsala

Snarky Daughter: I just finished reading Bet Me. Can we make Chicken Marsala?

Me: Yes, please. But it’s heavy on the mushrooms. You don’t eat mushrooms.

SD: I’ll pick them out.

Me: They’re the best part.

SD: More for you.

Me: OK, but I’ll have to find some marsala wine and that’s not going to be easy.

Two weeks later, I’d finally had the idea to go to the Total Wine store. Duh. They had four choices. You want sweet marsala. I froze what we didn’t use so I could use it later. No idea what that does to the alcohol content, but it can’t hurt the taste.

Photo of Snarky Daughter Cooking Chicken Marsala
A little wine for the chicken

We got the recipe from Jenny Crusie’s website. This recipe is as fun to read as it is to make, and watching Snarky Daughter pound chicken with a frying pan (as directed) was priceless. In the words of Flynn in Tangled, “Frying Pans. Who knew? Right?”

So, we’ve got a recipe with no measurements on it. Which really fits the book it comes from, because in Bet Me, it’s all about getting the taste right. But that was really part of the fun of making this meal with SD. She pounded chicken, I sliced shallots and made jokes about wine for the chicken and wine for the cook.

Photo of Chicken MarsalaAnd we all loved it. I always assumed Chicken Marsala must be a pain to make, but it’s easier and faster than my macaroni and cheese recipe. The only thing we did to speed up the process slightly is mix about a tablespoon of flour with a shot of cold water (this is how you avoid lumpy gravy) and added it to the sauce to thicken it a bit. Yes, I could have cooked it down more, but it smelled fantastic and I’m an instant gratification kind of girl.

With two cups of wine in the freezer, Chicken Marsala just ceased to be a special occasion sort of meal.



The Recipe Challenge

Scout Son once said there could never be too much chocolate. Today, he recanted.

I love to cook. My ex-husband would question that, and to be fair, there was a 10 year period when I hated to cook. But really, when every meal is met with “Eeeewwwww! Nnnnnoooooo!” by the short people in my house, who would want to cook?

But those years of child torture paid off, and now I can cook again. Which is good since during those years I collected a lot of recipes. Like, inches of magazine recipes. Here’s the thing. I never make those recipes.

I’m like most of you. I have maybe 10 go to recipes. You know the ones I mean. You’re on your way home from work and you need to make something for dinner and you decide on spaghetti because you know everything that goes into the sauce because you lived off of it for those 10 years when you weren’t allowed to cook anything challenging.

The problem is that half of my go to recipes are desserts. What can I say? Come to my house, I can whip up a cake from scratch. Dinner? Um…

So last week I challenged the kids. I dumped all the recipes on the table and said, “Pick two each, one real meal, one dessert. I’ll make them this week.” And going forward, we’re picking a couple of recipes every other week to try, until we work through the pile. Keepers actually get hole-punched and put into the recipe binder.

Linguine with Four Cheese Sauce
Linguine with Four Cheese Sauce

Scout Son immediately picks up Rotini and Cheese (Cooking Light, November 2010). And I think, really? Glorified mac and cheese? That wasn’t even the recipe I had wanted to try on that page! But as I was lamenting the lack of challenge, Scout Son and Snarky Daughter came through. Linguine with Two-Cheese Sauce (Cooking Light, July 2011). Brown Sugar Soufflé with Crème Anglaise (Cooking Light, June 2011).

Yeah, if you think Cooking Light is non-fat, non-taste food, go back. They’ve changed. Now it’s healthy, low-fat awesome stuff. Recipes with bacon, butter and sugar. In moderation.


Anyway, Scout Son still had a dessert to pick. And he didn’t

Too much chocolate? They are a bit rich.
Too much chocolate? They are a bit rich.

disappoint, although once again, not what I had pulled the page for: Double-Chocolate Profiteroles (Real Simple, December 2010). Puff pastry with chocolate ice cream and dark chocolate sauce.

These are what have my son decided might have too much chocolate. They don’t really, but quantity is key here. Three is too many because these suckers are rich. But if you’re having a bad day, or need something to go with a big red wine, buongiorno profiteroles!

I made three out of four. The soufflés will have to wait, mostly because I don’t have the right pans.

No awesome new recipes this week. Tomorrow, in honor of fall, it’s Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream (epicurious.com). It’s not one of the 10 recipes yet – I forgot the leeks and will be headed back to the grocery store tomorrow – but it’s a family favorite.

And sometimes, favorites are more important than trying new things.