….otherwise entitled “Just Because The Recipe Has a French Word In It And Scary Amounts of Milkfat Doesn’t Mean You’re Julia Child”
I’ve now achieved a personal best in the flop category and managed to botch a recipe involving only three ingredients. Cheers!
It’s probably a good thing we don’t have regular TV service or cable, or whatever higher tech thingies there are out here nowadays, because I seriously love watching cooking shows and can really lose track of time once I’m hooked.
I love seeing the personalities of the cooks and finding out new ways to make the same old ingredients into new culinary expressions. I love seeing regional specialties, unearthing time-honored favorites, and trying to guesstimate measurements and techniques of cooks who whip together recipes by memory instead of using a cookbook. I loved Julia Child, who never took herself too seriously.
These give me hope.
Sometimes hope is a good thing, helping us navigate the unfamiliar.
And sometimes hope, which they say springs eternal, can get ugly.
It’s ok. My kitchen’s not a cooking show and my half-melted plastic chicken-shaped wind-up timer tells no tales.
But since I have the keypad handy, I can detail The Ugly in case anyone out here is under the delusion that most folks who try to make things from scratch, who love the terms Homesteading/Sufficiency/Handmade, and who have indulged in other exploits with some degree of success at times are always successful. Sometimes they, like me, are seldom successful at certain particulars.
I remember once when the NotDabbling site solicited for reader questions, and one of the readers asked “do you guys ever make mistakes, or have any flops at the things you try?”
Ah hahahahahaha! Around our house, the flops are considered part of life in general, because we just can’t take things that seriously…or we’d feel constantly defeated. And so Hope dangles that tantalizing carrot of possibility again just in front of our noses, and the journey continues. You have to keep a sense of humor…
I can cook well enough to fend off starvation and to keep my husband from looking to other women for sympathy meals. In fact, I’m fairly good at some things, and those have usually come with some practice. After years of honing The Art of the Wheaten Doorstop, the stars aligned and I was finally able to make a decent loaf of bread deemed edible …real butter slathered on much of anything straight from the oven elevates the Humble to the Eaten. I’m pretty good at soups, baked desserts, roasts and meat dishes. I don’t mean good as in gourmet, but there are some recipes guests have requested after meals…always a compliment! So we won’t starve or have to rely on packaged goods too much. And I still love to experiment.
However, there are total blind spots and black holes in my cooking abilities. To date, I have yet to make anything custardish or involving incorporating egg into a warm liquid without ending up with curdled egg yuck. So much for homemade banana pudding with a custard base, boiled custard with nutmeg, certain sauces, and one of my favorites…creme brulee… krem broo-layyyy, oooo-lah lah…
I know better than to inflict my egg or dairy blunders on any recipe inherently French. I just have too much respect for their cuisine (or maybe it’s just fun faking the accent after having had six years of French in high school and college, having traveled to all the European French-speaking countries, and nearly marrying a native French speaker…and yet remaining nearly illiterate in the language, arrgghhh )
When I’ve Googled recipes till my stomach is growling, perused my cookbook shelf for new ideas from some of the pros, I still end up thumbing through the motley collection of Mom ‘n Pop cookbooks …the ones put out as fundraisers for colleges, churches, companies, and special causes. Some of my friends have contributed their family recipes to these cookbooks, and I love cooking things passed down from friends. And I love those Comfort Food fundraiser cookbooks, the sort of meals folks cooked before we knew what was happening to our arteries. Things like chicken spaghetti are a part of my history, though the Cheez Whiz and RoTel will never likely make it into the Taste of Provence books and none of the particular ingredients are likely to remember their origins.
The other day, I remembered a conversation from years ago in which a friend of mine, who is a really good cook, told me she makes a “mock fruit brulee” by putting a layer of green seedless grapes in a glass dish, spreading sour cream over the top, and sprinkling brown sugar over that. Then, according to her, you refrigerate it overnight and the brown sugar forms its own sort of glaze by “melting” into the sour cream…and that’s it. Easy Peasy! Well, different, at least. But this friend is noted for her great meals.
(This is exactly how I begin my downward slide…with a fragment of a memory, and available ingredients. I should be asking myself “do I even LIKE grapes IN anything culinary?? non, non, zut alors! <—by the way, that’s not even a contemporary french phrase. So much for expensive college classes. But you can come by sooooo much faux french by watching Beauty and the Beast 1,235 times with one’s daughter from age two and up. And for so much cheaper..but I digress…)
Well, I’d never tried This Dish before today. But today I had the ingredients, nevermind that my grapes are red rather than green, and nevermind that I could not find my friend’s recipe being duplicated by any online search I did. Hmmm.
(tiny inner voice warning Danger, Will Robinson)
Ignore tiny inner voices.
Hope. Springs eternal.
So here’s what happened. No, these are not grape tomatoes. They are grape grapes.
There. That wasn’t hard, was it?
Next step, sour cream.
Oh yeah, don’t forget the brown sugar. It goes on top of the other two ingredients.
And oh, while we’re at it, how about some cream cheese, mayo, a few sticks of real butter, and some fudge sauce? No?? Ok, we’ll stick to lowfat then…
It’s at this point, I’m either impressed at the ease of this dish, or growing surpremely wary. I mean, when was the last time I made anything featuring grapes in the bottom of a dish, except in the 1970s when lime green jello was all the rage? (till everyone learned it builds up in things like pancreases and spleens and to keep it on the market they’d have had to begin calling it Spleen Green?) You know, back when Food Coloring was its own food group and we drank neon Koolaid with real sugar and rode our bicycles with wild abandon hyped up on a perpetual sugar high? (that is, other kids did…my parents were all sensible and we drank water and tea, woo)
Oh yeah, about the grapes…
I am now becoming insecure and secretely kicking myself for the potential waste of that much sour cream. And brown sugar. I’ve become stingy…or at least frugal…with those in the past few years as we’ve gotten really careful and are making more from scratch. And those grapes would have been great sliced into the chicken salad, hmm.
Sheeze… well, “what’s did is did.”
Oh the flashbacks to Home Ec awkwardness…the days of trying to make a basic icing (with food coloring, what else?) and having to repeatedly unpick sewing errors on a mint green dotted swiss dress I hated even in the Butterick picture.
I soldier on. If three ingredients qualify anything as soldiering. My friend was so sure this easy recipe is foolproof, and good.
Next step, fridge. And it’s a good thing…the brown sugar’s already beginning to dissolve into the sour cream…
Fridge picture made possible by the Letter P, for Papertowel. I didn’t have time for the Full Monte Fridge Cleaning.
At this point in the procedure, I’m underwhelmed.
I go and cook less picturesque, but entirely dependable things. Such as dinner. Tonight was homemade calabaza soup. It’s total peasant fare, but my husband loves it. Hooray for soup!
And then I took care of the beloved furball. Here’s what the family canine had for dinner…
Eight hours later, time for a fridge check.
There’s no photo, so I’ll just draw everyone a little word picture. Brown melted goo escaping in a lava flow over the edge of the glass dish, making a sticky oozing Crakatoa landscape of that shelf in the fridge. So much for procrastinating cleaning any longer.
I consult some Google recipes that are similar, which call for hardening the brown sugar melty stuff under a broiler for about three minutes. Convinced that a puddle of wet brown sugar is not quite the effect originally intended, I heat the broiler and have the good sense to put the dish on a cookie sheet before putting it into the oven.
An oven check after two minutes shows it bubbly (is it supposed to be bubbly?) and resulting in a slightly thicker but still melty brown liquid. I have a few seconds to decide its fate. Does it need to heat up just the merest bit more? The online advice suggested not burning it. I put it in for one more minute.
It went into a total oven rejection, and when I pulled it out, the sour cream had slumped down unevenly over the (poor poor unsuspecting) grapes. The brown sugar was a horrid mess. I shoved it back into the fridge.
I’ll deal with it later. (cue Gone With the Wind music as Scarlett assures everyone tomorrow is another day)
Maybe sheer neglect will work wonders and it will take on the fridge interior-nuanced Terroir of green tomato relish, acidophilus yogurt, turkey stock, assorted condiments, and valencia orange juice? And then it will have to be named something frou-frou chi-chi like Chateau Qu’est-ce Que C’est, or Specialite de la Maison Frigidaire …
It’s at this point that most people would quit, having the sense to know when to retreat and wave the white flag. I was just ticked off at having wasted that much of my luxury pantry items stash in one lousy, ill-planned dish. I don’t even like fruit dip. This topping was like a fruit dip disaster. I have no idea what I’ll do with the sour cream mess. Here’s what it looks like….
Please thank me right now for not including the photo. It aesthetically induces the same kind of nausea I had my first trimester when pregnant with my daughter…
So, as you can see, it’s not all about successes.
But let’s see what we learned today:
1. Ditch the fruit goop. Robbyn hates grapes all gooped up with other things. Lesson learned! Unless it’s anything resembling a cobbler or pie. Different story altogether…
2. I am not a From Memory person. I do well to remember my name. I should not be trusted with “vintage recipe memories” sans written evidence.
3. Robbyn cannot engage dairy products and heat together without curdling them to kingdom come. But she can enrage them. If you need a curdler, I’m your girl!
4. One refrigerator shelf got cleaned. Hot caramel sauce blends beautifully with SO MANY OTHER things sitting together on glass surfaces. Especially after having cooled to a bricklike density. It might be the first time a chisel has ever found a practical use there beyond the icebox. And now for the other shelves…
5. Robbyn should refrain from science experiments involving copious quantities of brown sugar unless they are entitled “Oatmeal Cookies,” “Molasses Walnut Cookies,” or the like.
6. Keep feeding the man soup. Soup erases all ills. Equilibrium will not be breached if this one important rule is obeyed.
So, to recap, here’s the recipe:
Les Raisins Miserables
Grapes. Lots of sour cream. Plenty of brown sugar. Why? Because you can. And it’s the only three ingredients you remember. And you never forget. Stick to that story, no matter what.
Layer them in a clean glass dish and put into fridge for 8 or more hours, or until fully coating all the other contents nearby.
Scratch head and wonder why you decided to attempt this, while preheating oven broiler and placing rack 4 inches below top of oven interior. Place funky goop mixture dish below broiler and close oven. Pace floor and stare at the timer. You can set timer for anything you like because you’ll either undercook or overcook this..there is no other option. If you opt to undercook it, remove from oven after three minutes and marvel at the wilted grapes peering up, confused, through the newly-formed curd crevasses, as brown sugar lava seeps down, down, down.
Hastily return the dish to the fridge shelf. Be sure to do this while still very hot, so it will partially warm all the other fridge ingredients to unsafe temps in order to precipitate bacterial blooms so intrinsic to the contribution of your own unique”terroir” (those subtle tastes from the surrounding area). Keep it uncovered. You know, just for fun. Then when it takes on a special patina, take it as a surprise to the friend who gave you the recipe in the first place. Or discard it entirely, throw all caution to the wind, and just whip up a retro batch of lime jello.