The Gleeful Gourmand: September 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Gleeful Gourmand Ditches Recipes

A couple of months ago, one of my best friends, Kiki (formerly of I Still Hate Pickles, now currently writing over at, came into town with her baby, Cooper, for a visit. We had such a great time doing what we do best together: eating, drinking, watching awful movies and TV, and laughing our heads off.

On her last night here she suggested we do something we've never really done together: bake. We've made meals for each other and shared countless meals, but we've never really worked together in the kitchen. Kiki stopped at a grocery store and picked up a handful of random items and gave us a challenge to create something a la "Chopped" with absolutely no peeking online or in cookbooks to help us.


As most of you know, this is not at all how I cook. It has taken me decades to learn how to go off-grid, but only if I've tested an actual recipe about a dozen times. I have plenty of people in my life who throw out the books and recipe cards all the time (my friend Alison calls it cooking with "The Force" which I love), but me? It makes me uptight.

Kiki knows this about me, and I suspect that this little exercise was her way of showing me how fun just making up stuff as you go along is, and that I could do it. But first I was going to have to relax. Out came the wine.

Here's what we were working with:

Soft Ladyfingers
1 package of Chocolate Chunks
Heavy Whipping Cream

Breakin' it down - strawberries, that is. Thanks to Kirsten Oliphant for the great photos!

We brainstormed for a bit, and decided to make what we later called a "Triflemisu" - part Trifle, part Tiramisu. The first thing we decided to do was to macerate the strawberries in about 1 Tbsp. of sugar. While those were breaking down, we ate some dinner, and put all our kids to bed. Then, it was on like Donkey Kong. Out of my liquor cabinet came some Starbucks Coffee Liquor, Chambord (a raspberry liquor), and Godiva Chocolate Liquor to soak the Ladyfingers in.

Next, we whipped up the cream, and melted some of the chocolate chunks. We were going for a chocolate whipped cream. Well, I don't know where my head was, but it definitely wasn't in the game.

"Crap!" I screamed right before pouring the chocolate into the cream. "It's going to melt it!" Into the fridge it went to cool off. More wine was poured.

We added some to the whipped cream after it cooled off, and I mentally smacked my head again as I watched the whipped cream not become chocolatey, but rather sport flecks of chocolate. Fail. I know better than that, I thought. I could have easily used cocoa powder.

"That's okay!" Kiki said, "It looks like cookies n' cream."

Toasted hazelnuts mmmmm...

Lastly, as Kiki toasted the hazelnuts, I decided I would make a ganache for the top of our creation. I had just watched someone do this on TV, and although I had done it myself a few times, I couldn't remember how. I begged Kiki to let me look it up, but she refused. I thought it was something to do with melted chocolate and cream, so I melted the rest of the chocolate chunks, and while it was warm, I added some of the cream and whisked.

Ganache it did not. It turned into a grainy, lumpy mess. Which Kiki then ate with a spoon straight out of the bowl. That girl knows how to make the best out of every kitchen fail! Meanwhile, I looked in our cupboard, and got out a bar of dark chocolate which I chopped and melted. It wouldn't be ganache, but at least we could use it. Bourbon was poured over some ice as we came down the homestretch.

We assembled our creation with layers of Ladyfingers, strawberries, whipped cream, and topped it with the toasted hazelnuts and melted chocolate (which actually gave it a kind of Magic Shell effect). It was a delicious mess. Boozy, sweet, with a wonderful crunchy top. I wouldn't say it was the best thing I've ever made, but it was really good. Buck came home from a night out with the guys and declared it a success. We were pretty pleased with ourselves, and I honestly had fun failing, and turning those failures to our advantage. We also decided that there was no way we could ever be on the show "Chopped."

A beautiful, delicious mess. Behold, the "Triflemisu"

In a couple of weeks, I'm going to try it again - this time I'm going to research some different elements and see what happens when I follow parts of a recipe. Can I make it better? Will it still turn out a delicious mess? Tune in to see what happens!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Old School For Back To School

Three days ago my baby went to Kindergarten, and he didn't come back.

I'm totally kidding. Of course he came back. But according to some non-parents on my Facebook feed, that's how all of us parents were acting on Tuesday - like we thought they might never come back. I know it was all in good fun, but it actually gave me pause.

As a parent, it's hard to explain to those without children the range of emotions you go through as your kids head off to school. On one hand, you're completely elated for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to: 1) They were bored after the first week of summer, and thought you were their main entertainment source (you weren't), 2) They have more energy than you can possibly run off all day long, and there's a mountain of laundry, or dishes, or bills, or blogs, or you have younger kids that need you too (or an outside job to get to!), 3) They love to learn, and as it turns out, you're the world's worst teacher (it's a patience issue for me).

You know that school is the place they need to be for all of those reasons. But on the other side of your elation is The Worrier. The Worrier shows up when you should be sleeping, but simply can't. You wonder: Did I prepare him (or her) enough? Will they be okay? Will they make friends? Will they find their classroom? Will they like their teacher? Will they be safe? That right there is the skipping record The Worrier plays for you: Will they be safe? 

Ready as he'll ever be. But am I?

You know that you have to trust God, and your parenting instincts because it's time to let go. You are ready to let go, and they are ready for you to let them go. But letting go is a huge leap of faith. You're no longer in control for those 7 hours of their day. You hope they'll remember everything you taught them, but you can't be sure. It dawns on you that not being in control is actually a really good thing - kind of liberating in a way.

So on that first day you're excited for them, because they're so excited. You know in your heart of hearts that you've raised a fine son or daughter, but yes, your eyes are just a little misty. Seeing their tiny selves marching bravely onto that bus, the tears are pride, the tears are joy, and the tears are faith.

And whether your son or daughter comes home and exclaims, "It was the most fun I've ever had in my entire life!" or they come home and simply say, "It felt just like a prison," you know that everything will be all right - either way. And if it's not all right, you'll find a way to make it right. The pictures you took and posted are the same photos you'll print and show them when they're getting ready to leave for college. You'll talk about taking leaps of faith, and obstacles, and worries; and you'll realize that no matter what the outcome, or where they go, once upon a time they were very small, and you had to let go. And you both grew from it in unseen ways.

So in that vein, I thought I'd share a recipe from my childhood that I still love: Sea Foam Salad. This delightful concoction has very few ingredients, and looks, well, like sea foam. Sweet from pear juice and Cool Whip, and tart from lime Jell-O, our establishment recommends serving it with a glass of icy cold milk for our younger diners, and a nice, crisp Pinot Grigio for our adult diners. Or any bottle you can get your hands on, because now that the first week of school is finally over, you're gonna need it to celebrate with or keep the stress at bay. Recipe after the photo.

Sea Foam Salad

Sea Foam Salad

2 Tbsp. Milk
1 Small Package of Lime Gelatin
4 oz. Cream Cheese (I accidentally put in 8 oz. and it was just fine)
1 Can Pears
1 Tub of Cool Whip

• Spray a 9x13 inch pan lightly with Pam. Cream the cheese and milk until soft. Heat 1/4 cup of the pear juice and dissolve the lime gelatin in it. Crush the drained pears in a bowl. Add the warm gelatin mixture to the cream cheese; then add the pears. Fold in all of the Cool Whip. Chill for several hours or until firm.