04 September 2008

Cook on the Run

The qualities of an exceptional cook are akin to those of a successful tightrope walker: an abiding passion for the task, courage to go out on a limb and an impeccable sense of balance.
~ Bryan Miller

A sense of balance. Does that include remembering to take the orange juice out of the fridge while racing madly out the door?

The past few months I have done a lot more work with both the marketing and commercial sales departments at my company. It has been a very interesting lateral move for me. But it is, of course, not my passion. So when our local sales rep found out about my deep love of cooking, she asked if I would cater her monthly breakfast meeting this month. I jumped at the chance to show off and cook for people outside my normal social circle.

Ro said I could make whatever I wanted, so I chose two dishes which are fairly easy and relatively inexpensive: biscuits and sausage gravy and scrambled eggs. I knew what she normally spent on catering and I wanted to beat it and come out ahead.

No cooking adventure is an adventure worth the telling if things don’t go horribly, comically wrong at some point in the story! ;-) I decided that I would make as much as possible the evening before the meeting, saving myself time and frustration in the wee hours of the morning. Ahh ~ “the best laid plans of mice and men….” Everything went well at first. I browned four packages of pork sausage, took the meat out with a slotted spoon and set it aside. I added flour, milk, cream and pepper and whisked the gravy until it was perfection. Even my mother could not have made a better, tastier gravy. I added the sausage back in and put the pan in the fridge to heat up the next morning.

While the meat was browning, I took 2 dozen eggs and mixed them with half a pound of grated sharp cheddar. Then I sautéed some garlic, green onions, chopped mushrooms, some spices and added that to the mix as well and put it in the fridge to scramble up in the morning. The only two things left were the biscuits for the sausage gravy and a fruit platter.

Blame it on the amount of stress I have been under the past few weeks. Or the fact that I am not detail-oriented. At all. Blame it on the fact that I was not feeling well and had not slept much the night before. Whatever the reason or excuse fits, I looked at two different recipes for biscuits (sorry Mom, couldn’t find yours!), combined them and managed to leave out the key ingredient: leavening. One recipe called for yeast, but mom had never used yeast in her biscuit mix. I proceeded and my dough looked beautiful and felt soft and wonderful doughy and while my little biscuits looked small, I had high hopes for them once they were cooked.

Alas! They did not have high anything! I kept looking at them in the oven, wondering why they stayed flat. These were not my mother’s biscuits, nor my grandmother’s. I bewailed the fact that I had not used the tried and true family recipe. And then I remembered. Mom never used yeast in her biscuits, true. But she did use self-rising flour. Argh! Needless to say, I will not let my Southern half of the family know about this latest cooking faux pas. One of my uncle’s used to make fun of my mom’s biscuits, claiming he could use them in place of baseballs. Mine were not baseball worthy. They were hockey pucks!

The next morning came way too early. Somehow I managed to fall behind even though I got up an hour and half earlier than normal. (Wait ~ why did I agree to cater a morning meeting? I dislike getting up in the morning!) My little tower of gastronomical delight fell faster than a soufflé. When I took out the sausage gravy to heat it up, I made the discovery that if you are going to cook sausage gravy for an event on a subsequent day, it would be better to keep the sausage and the gravy separated until the day of the meal. Adding the meat back in and re-heating introduces more grease and fat then I thought existed on one little pig.

It is a rare thing, but I was very tempted to cry or throw something. But this is not the way of this cook. I got out another pan and whisked up some more gravy and added it to the now heated up sausage gravy. I thought it looked a tad….how do I say this?....already digested. But I had to remind myself that it was sausage gravy and really, it is solid comfort food of salt of the earth people. You cannot make sausage gravy look like crème brulee. (Hmmm, now there’s a thought….) And I was feeding 10 grown men. They were not going to care what it looked like. Really.

Ten grown men. Whew. While I was solving the gravy problem, another one was forming. I was also scrambling the eggs. And let me tell you, 24 eggs sounds like an awful lot. But once you put it in the serving tray, it looks like nothing. So I cooked up the remaining 6. Even 36 eggs seemed small and insignificant in that pan. And truth be told, there was not much left over after the meeting. Which makes me wonder: how many eggs does one normally cook for 10 adults?

Perhaps part of my problem stems from the fact that for me, if the tray is not overflowing; if the table isn’t ready to fall over from the weight of the amount of food on it, then I am a failure as a cook and a hostess. Someone might not get enough to eat! When there are leftovers, I think that no one liked the food. When there are no leftovers, I think that I must not have cooked enough. Someone please tell me ~ is this “chef guilt” a Southern tradition? Or do other cooks experience it as well?

Well, whatever. Everything turned out beautifully: I finally got everything plated and “trayed” and into the car at 7:09am and quickly drove to the local German bakery to pick up some freshly made rolls to accompany my sausage gravy and raced to the office, getting there just in time to remember that I had left the orange juice in the other fridge. Sigh.

Ro wants me to cater the meeting next month. French toast? No worries. ;-)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
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