Friday, November 9, 2007

Don't Judge a Cook by its Mother

Sometimes, it isn’t so much a shortcut as it is the right path to take.

My mother is a wonderful cook. I’m not sure how she arrived at this post because my loving grandmother, admittedly, disliked all manners of cooking and baking. That is not to say she wasn’t capable (and I’ve had the meatballs to prove it), she just avoided the task whenever possible.

In the decades I have known my mother, I have few recollections if any, of her consulting a cookbook or recipe card. She worked off a cache of tried and true recipes whose ingredients lists and directions were safely imbedded in her brain. This is a gift indeed, but not uncommon to those who have been cooking for the better part of a lifetime.
My mother is gifted however, by the simple fact that she always engages in stress-free cooking. And I mean always. Whether she is hosting an impromptu Saturday breakfast for a hoard of hungry grandchildren, or providing a five course spread for a daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner, her feathers remain unruffled. And while we’re on the subject of feathers, she is the only woman I know who goes to the market the day before Thanksgiving to purchase everything but Tom Turkey (who is already comfortably defrosting). One would never know that her menu wasn’t planned weeks in advance by the ease and consistent temperature at which it is delivered.

Enter neurotic daughter.
My mother is amused by me. I know this because I have the uncanny ability to interpret her thoughts simply by observing her eyebrows. I’m not kidding.
I think she was most amused during a period of my chocolate madness which involved the exhausting production of truffles. Not just any truffles mind you; the kind of truffles that involve east-end vacationing sisters to lug eleven-pound blocks of Callebaut chocolate to my doorstep. A doorstep obstructed by UPS packaging which contained the likes of one four-hundred-dollar Chocovision tempering machine and four books dedicated to the methods and practices of home candymaking. A period from which I am still recovering, financially, emotionally and spiritually. (Yes, spiritually; if you’ve had the religious experience so commonly associated with the consumption of one of my homemade truffles, you would not question me).
My mother is also a woman of prayer. She has been since I’ve known her. What concerns me however is that she started praying a whole lot harder when I started cooking. I would like to believe this is merely a coincidence, but I have traced the advent of her attendance at daily mass to right around the time I attempted to broil a whole roast.
It was on the very day my new, electric oven was installed. I phoned her for motherly advice and called her several times more, in panic mode, because said roast remained undercooked (and oddly grey), and hubby was headed home from work with visions of a gourmet meal dancing in his head. She walked me back through the paces of roast preparation and once she was out of solutions, determined that my new oven might in fact, be defective.
If only this were true.
I reluctantly referred to my unopened owner’s manual, only to discover that I had in fact, placed a nineteen dollar roast in my oven’s utility drawer. A drawer intended for the likes of pots, pans and the occasional culinary gadget.
It was from this very day forward that my love affair with the written word (in the form of cookbooks and manuals) began.
I live in a different home now and not surprisingly, I own a gas oven whose broiler function resides within the main oven compartment (there is no drawer to speak of).

Getting back to the subject of my mother’s amusement; if I had to sum it up, I would say that she is most entertained (and I would guess, perplexed) by the fact that I often take the longest, most difficult and costly road to arrive at a destination which offers a much simpler path.
I recall in my seemingly-long-ago childhood, that my mother bestowed holiday gifts of homemade confections upon aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors. One of these confections in particular stands out in my mind (like a flashing neon sign) simply because of its ridiculous, if not unfair moniker. It was called Garbage.
It was a delightfully sweet combination of chocolate, nuts, raisins and probably more ingredients I am too old to recall, but reminiscent of a long ago favorite—the Chunky Bar.
It proudly wore its title because the easy concoction offered the kitchen-sink concept of cooking—that is to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the mix hoping it will taste good.

And my friends, this is where the apple does fall far from the apple tree. So much so, that I am determined to believe that I am in fact, an orange and not an apple at all.

Only a confident woman (and by confidence, I am referring not only to culinary ability but to confidence of self as well), would present a gift by this name without so much as furrowing one single brow (and where my mother’s brows are concerned, this single, furrowed expression would suggest that she is unsure of how to interpret the reaction of the recipient).
Clearly I am not this confident woman.
Despite the fact that her garbage was quite tasty (and we all
licked enough fingers to support this claim), if it were I who crafted such confections (and come to think of it, I have), my first orders of business would include (and not necessarily in this order): changing the name to one that offers a visual interpretation free of debris, replacing the pedestrian variety of chocolate called for with an expensive European brand (thus rendering this economical form of gift giving, not so economical after all), and purchasing the holiday-appropriate, color-coordinated, commercially inspired packaging that speaks nothing of home kitchen production, for these newly-named confections (Martha be damned).
And one wonders why the holiday season is so stressful for some of us.

The fact may be that we are just different.
But my mother’s who-cares-what-it’s-called-as-long-as-it-tastes-good philosophy is one I can only aspire to live by.
I long for the day when I will sit with my holiday guests, free of the did-I-buy-the-right-gift-is-my-house-clean-enough-is-the-turkey-too-dry worries.
I know that I won’t be putting away the cookbooks any time soon. This is not only because of my love for and obsession with culinary format, but also because I haven’t yet gained enough of my own kitchen wisdom to call upon in a time of need.

Perhaps my road is indeed, the road less traveled. What I have discovered in my recent past is that there are signs along the way. Signs pointing us in the direction of an easier, more scenic path. One that allows us the luxury of time and the sweet sensation of calm. And one that inevitably points us in the direction of home, where the apple tree stands.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


In the spirit of easy-yet-delicious recipes, my intention was to offer my mother’s recipe for GARBAGE. However, I was unable to reach her by phone to obtain said recipe, because she was at church.

So, I am instead posting a delightful little recipe for the worlds easiest truffles. I sampled these at a holiday cookie swap and I was shocked to find out just how easy they are to prepare. Although I am unsure of the origin of this recipe, these were presented by my friend Lisa, to whom I am also thankful for showing me an easier, less-complicated path.
These are a kid-favorite and just might allow you enough time this holiday season to crack open that bottle of Peppermint Schnapps you've been meaning to get to.

Easy OREO Truffles
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hr. 30 minutes
Yields 3 ½ Dozen or 42 servings

1 Pkg. (1lb. 2 oz) OREO Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
1 Pkg. (8 oz.) Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, softened
2 Pkg. (8 oz. each) Baker’s Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate

Crush 9 of the cookies to fine crumbs in a food processor; reserve for later use (cookies can also be crushed in a Ziploc bag using a rolling pin). Crush remaining 36 cookies to fine crumbs; place in a medium sized bowl. Add cream cheese, mix until well blended. Roll cookie mixture into 42 balls, about 1 inch in diameter.
Melt Bakers chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pot of shallow, simmering water (or use the top of a double boiler.—alternatively you may melt the chocolate in the microwave). When chocolate is melted, allow it to sit for about a minute to cool only slightly. Dip balls in chocolate to coat completely; place on a baking sheet covered with waxed paper. Sprinkle dipped confections with reserved crumbs while still warm. Refrigerate until firm—about one hour. Store leftover truffles, covered, in refrigerator (trust me, there won’t be any left over).

***And for those of you who have the time and would like to try your hand at making elegant confections, I can’t say enough good things about my favorite author on the subject of candymaking; Carole Bloom--who wrote a book called Truffles, Candies & Confections in 1992 which in my opinion, offers the standard by which all homemade candy should be made.
Her directions are user-friendly and her methods offer consistent results, time after time. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a copy of this book, I urge you to try her recipe for Espresso Caramels.


Midge said...


Beth said...

These are the best truffles I've ever tasted!!! While I'm going to make them for Thanksgiving, my dad told us to "never bring them again" (for fear he may east them all!!!) :o)

Thanks for not hoarding this recipe!!!! :o)

CurePdd said...

I live by the 5 ingredients or less rule in life...THIS FAR surpassed my expectations, 3 ingredients!!! AND THEY we're incredible, EASY (**added for your amusement**) SUPER Easy to make! They came out incredible, the family loved them, and I can see a bigger pants size in my near future! THANK YOU FOR THE GREAT RECIPE!

Bill said...

Well, I was looking for an easy recipe & this seemed to fit the bill: 3 ingredients, no baking. What could go wrong?

The kitchen is obviously not my domain. I don't keep inventory & know not the tools potentially at my disposal. For starters, there wasn't a food processor or rolling pin. I did take your advise to put the Oreos in a Ziploc bag (about the only good move I made) & proceeded to crush with my fists.

Then, it was time for the melting of the chocolate. Unfortunately, the double boiler was MIA also. You advised that a microwave could do the trick. I put the chocolate in a big bowl, did a quick calculus on cooking time, & powered up.

After 3 minutes, there was little evidence of melting. I tried for another 3 minutes. This time an acrid smell permeated the error. I opened the 'wave & found that half the chocolate was burnt & the other half was slightly melt. I decided to stir the whole mess & it seemed to be working.

I dipped my truffle balls in the molten chocolate & burnt my fingers. Using more brilliance, I decided to sample my handiwork & burnt the roof of my mouth. Finally, I came up with the idea of using ice tongs to dip the truffles.

I was content that I had at least finished & put the chocolate-covered creation into the fridge. About 10 minutes later, Sue asked why I had extra Oreo crumbs in a bowl. I yelled "Damn it", pulled the baking sheet out of the fridge & covered the already cooling truffles with my crumbs.

The finished product wasn't perfect & there was some burnt chocolate flavoring, but the reviews were still positive.

Once again, I have been humbled by my ambition.

Michelle said...

Kudos to you for your brave attempt! It sounds like Santa needs to add a few kitchen gadgets to his sack. The recipe should have noted that processing is KEY for the oreos to be sufficiently crushed (save the fist for garlic crushing). As for microwaved chocolate; I have learned the same lesson one too many times. I prefer this method: Place a (heat proof) glass bowl over a pot filled with two inches of barely simmering water, being careful not to allow any steam through. Place chocolate in bowl and allow it to melt, stirring frequently. Remove bowl and immediately wipe condensation from bottom (if ANY water or steam gets into melted chocolate it seizes and turns to grainy pebbles). For dipping and rolling, the tongs were a great idea. Two forks or two spoons work well to negotiate chocolate for dipping without coating your hands (although the finger licking is half the fun).
The best part of making mistakes is you get to eat them.
Try this recipe again. You won't be sorry!