Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cooking 101–Spinach and Cheese Soufflé

How do we take our life back and shift it toward the direction we want it to go? It can certainly be done, but when others are dependent on our efforts and responsibilities, we must make the shift gradually or we will disrupt not only our own life, but the lives of many others. I have wanted to be a writer since I was in the fourth grade, but I listened to too many other people giving me “good advice.” I figure that if I don’t start now, I’ll never have enough time left to establish myself as a writer.
After today I will report my own saga as I begin the journey of becoming a writer. I’ll log it in this blog under the title of Life 101 and hereafter all my philosophical musings will be recorded there.

I made a spinach and cheese soufflé for lunch today. It worked perfect and I realized what I had done wrong on the previous two soufflés that caused them to flop. That first soufflé I made, the cheese soufflé, turned out great while the other two failed and I really made them the same, other than ingredients. The problem was that I had made a whole recipe for the first one, since that was our entire meal, and a half recipe for the other two, since that was our dessert and a whole recipe would have been too much. Soufflé doesn’t keep.
The problem isn’t making half a recipe, however, that should work out just fine. The problem was that I had baked the two smaller soufflés in the same size of dish that I baked the first one in. And that is a problem. Okay, so now those of you who are already real cooks are laughing your heads off. But, you see, I don’t have a soufflé mold, so I was using one of our pottery mixing bowls which is pretty much straight sided. It’s a little taller that it needs to be, but, measuring 7” diameter across the top and being 4 1/2” tall, it works rather well for a six-cup soufflé.
The soufflé was really quite good, so I’ll give you my recipe, which (I admit) is a variation on Julia’s recipe.
Now I still don’t know if a fruit-based sauce will work in a soufflé, so I’ll have to experiment with that one again. I plan on making a chocolate soufflé this weekend when Lori and Dawn come over for an early turkey dinner before they join Ben and me for our traditional autumn picnic under the aspens (which this year will just be a light snack, or maybe another dessert, and a bottle of wine).
On to the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease your mold or baking dish (straight sided or slightly tapered, but not wider than seven inches at the top and at least three and a half inches tall) with butter. Do not use melted butter, since you cannot coat the dish heavily enough and your soufflé will stick to the sides and collapse. Smear a teaspoon or so of butter with your bare, washed, fingers to be sure to coat the dish thoroughly and thickly. Set aside.

One tablespoon butter
A handful of fresh spinach leaves
2 Tablespoons of onion, finely diced
In a saucepan, sauté the spinach leaves and onion in the butter until the onions are browned and the moisture from the spinach has evaporated. Set aside.
Make a sauce with:
3 Tablespoons of butter
3 Tablespoons of flour
Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir for a minute or so. Stir in:
1 Cup milk
Add the spinach and onion, bring to a boil and stir until very thick. Set off heat and add:
4 egg yolks
Add them one at a time and thoroughly stir in before adding the next one. Set the mixture aside.
Add one more egg white to the other egg whites for a total of:
5 egg whites
If you’re feeling vigorous, you can whip the whites by hand with a wire whip, otherwise whip them with an electric mixer making sure you’re whipping all the whites thoroughly and not leaving some only partially whipped around the edges. When the whites begin to look fluffy, add:
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Whip until the whites are shiny and stiff enough that when you lift the beaters up and sideways the peaks don’t curl. Don’t overbeat or the whites lose their loft. If you do overbeat and the whites look grainy and the sheen becomes dull, then add another white, stir in and whip just until you have shiny, stiff peaks.
Scoop a big spoonful of the fluffed whites onto the sauce, add:
1 Cup grated cheese (I used a mix of sharp cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan, but you need a mostly strong, flavorful mix of cheeses)
Stir the big spoonful of egg whites and cheese into the sauce, then pile the rest of the whites on top and, with a rubber spatula, cut into the center and quickly fold the whites into the sauce. Do not over-fold, which will deflate your egg whites and soufflé is all about being fluffy. Don’t spend more than a minute folding in the eggs and if you have some bits unblended that’s better than deflating your soufflé.
Scoop the mixture into your baking dish and set in the middle of the oven. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees. (I forgot to do this and had a well-browned soufflé. We both actually really liked it that way, but then we both like burnt cookies, too.)
Bake for thirty to thirty five minutes, a few minutes longer than it takes to brown the top. Do not underbake or the soufflé will quickly collapse. In general, soufflés will begin to collapse several minutes after removing them from the oven, so they should be served as soon as you take them out.
Ta Da! Not so bad, huh? The keys to success are to have the right size of baking dishEmbarrassed smile, don’t have an excess amount of sauce or a runny sauce, and make sure your egg whites are fluffed properly.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cooking 101

At what price do we declare it’s too costly to follow the pathways others set for us?

When we’ve lost ourselves to the dreams and schemes of others, how long will it take to gain our own lives back? How much of the little time we have in this life will have been wasted before we realize we are who we know we are and not who others want us to be?

Last week Ben was making a sort of quiche and we wanted a crust under it (I was the one who mentioned it, but my main motive was that it takes a lot of elbow grease to clean egg dishes out of the pan). Ben thought it would be a good idea to make a crepe for the crust so he picked up Julia’s book, found the recipes for crepes and spent, oh, maybe a couple of minutes looking through them. Then he whipped up the recipe in the blender and made an incredible quiche.

The next day he whipped up another crepe for an apple dumpling kind of thing . . . without even looking at the recipe again.Green with envy And again it was excellent. Steaming mad 

But it wasn’t soufflé.

So. Tomorrow I’m going to try another soufflé. I’m not sure what it will be, yet. Maybe a spinach soufflé. But I’ll have to study the recipe again, since the last two weren’t so successful . . .

My cooking 101 lesson for this week, then, was humility. How am I doing?Angel


The aspens in the mountain are turning gold. Yesterday Ben and I went hiking with Lori and Dawn. It wasn’t a particularly nice day, because of wind, but we found a beautiful grove and lay on the ground watching the leaves quake and the clouds flying by. The breaking sunlight flashed brilliant on the gold leaves, then was doused again as another cloud soared beneath the sun. The sky was an intense blue contrasted by the billowing white; together they bounced the brilliant yellow of the aspens and the deep green of the pines on a reverberatory canvas of my memory. We stayed beneath the aspens far longer than Ben and I had planned and, so, didn’t get our main chore for the day done – namely, butchering the old hens. We were bothered only because now that chore is once again set into the future as an undone task.


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Our favorite fall hiking area takes us past this little cabin: our grand and elusive fantasy home.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Elizabeth Mae

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Our friends Sonja and Brendan lost their infant daughter, Elizabeth Mae early this year, so with people across the globe burning candles in remembrance, we are burning one to remember Elizabeth.



Friday, October 14, 2011

The Fall of Autumn–Flight of the Geese

We humans are paradoxical beings. We tend to stew our lives in hope, spiced with either pessimism or optimism, depending on how we view our circumstances of the moment. When times are rough, we sprinkle heavily with pessimism; when all is well, we’re liberal with optimism.

The term ‘karma’ is largely misunderstood by most of the western world. It is not a predetermined destiny as we’ve been trained to believe, but a predeterminable outcome based on our reaction to a given set of circumstances. In order to change our futures for the better, we must change the way we view and interpret the way our life plays out, which will change our reactions and, thereby, the results of those reactions. That doesn’t mean you have to give up your goals and aspirations; quite the contrary, what you have to give up is the habit of giving in when you encounter obstacles in your pathway to achieving your goals and aspirations.


All my bright and beautiful leaves are falling, stripping the luster of autumn.

The geese are flying over our place every morning at around ten o’clock to spend the day at the reservoir to the west of us. At seven in the evening they fly back to the field beyond a ridge to the east of us. A couple of weeks ago there were probably about four or five flocks of around fifteen or twenty geese per flock. Now there are nearly twice that many. Before long there will be more still and then, one day they won’t stop at the field beyond the ridge and they’ll be gone for another year.

We haven’t watched the geese as closely as we did last year, when they landed in the field across the road every evening. We carried our chairs out to the front lawn and sat there every evening just before seven o’clock to watch them return from the reservoir. One evening early last fall, when there were still only a few flocks, we noticed a couple of geese in one flock flip a quarter turn in the air as they began their descent. We weren’t quite sure we saw what we thought we saw until the following evening when we then saw a few more do the same flip. The sound from their wings fluttered as though they had faltered, but they did the same thing again just before landing, some of them flipping halfway over and then back upright.

Over the next few nights several more geese began flipping on their descent and within a week or so geese from all the flocks were flipping. Shortly after new flocks joined our original group, some of them began flipping and by then most of the originals were doing flips, several now flipping a full circle. Before they all left, nearly all the geese were doing flips and some of them flipped several times, plummeting toward the earth before pulling into a soaring coast into the field.

This year we were curious to see if they were still doing their descent flipping, but for the first several evenings we couldn’t see, since they were descending on the other side of that ridge. We watched carefully for several days, then finally saw – as they flew over a saddle in the ridge – that, yes, they were still doing their flips. We clapped and cheered as they vanished behind the ridge.



Ben took this photo last week and within a couple of days the aspen leaves were turning brown and the red Amur maple leaves were falling.



The wreath we made today from some of the last leaves of the grove of trees above.


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A foggy day last week.

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Garden color – broccoli leaf

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Meatballs and White Sauce

We humans tend to hate chaos. We want everything to fit into neat, tidy parameters. But the entire universe functions on chaos and all the plant and animal kingdom, except us, thrives because of that chaos. We want tidy, weed-free lawns and flower beds – and we work hard to achieve that – and we want the rest of our lives to be like our lawns and gardens. We also tend to want simple answers to everything,and for everything to fit into a well-planned scenario we can buy into without having to study or think about it. And when chaos enters in spite of all our efforts, we fall apart.
I made meatballs yesterday. They’re not Julia Child kind of food, but I am really fond of meatballs. I researched meatball recipes on the internet, combined a few recipes and took out ingredients we don’t have and came up with a really delicious dish. So here it is. Change ingredients around according to your own taste. (For example, those of you who love garlic, add more to the meatballs and put some in the sauce as well.) It’s a complex recipe, but it’s really worth it.
1 lb. lean burger (I used beef, because we grow our own beef)
2 eggs
1/2 C. onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
1 C. cooked brown rice or bread crumbs
1/4 C. soy sauce
1/4 t. cloves
1/2 t. allspice
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. white pepper
1 T. Italian Seasoning
1 T. fresh rosemary, chopped fine
1 T. fresh oregano, chopped fine
1/2 C. grated parmesan cheese
Mix thoroughly. Roll into ping pong size balls. Makes about 30 meatballs. Fry on medium heat in a few tablespoons of canola oil until browned all around. (As they warm up they tend to flatten some, so roll them often to keep them round.) Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes. (Although you can skip frying the meatballs and just bake them, they will go flat on one side. You could, though, fry the meatballs, set them aside while you prepare the sauce and simmer them, covered, for twenty to twenty five minutes. If you do that, though, you won’t need the oil or the flour, but after you’re done simmering the meatballs, add two and a half tablespoons of cornstarch to a quarter cup of cold milk or water and add that to the sauce to thicken it.)
When the meatballs have only a few minutes left to bake, prepare White Sauce:
3 T. canola oil
3 T. flour
Heat oil, (I used the oil left in the pan from the meatballs, which added more flavor to the sauce) add flour and stir into the oil. Cook for a minute or two, then add:
3 C. milk
1/2 C. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 T. or 1 cube beef bullion
2 T. ground dried onion
1 T. Italian seasoning
Bring to a boil and simmer on low until thick. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water and stir. Add meatballs to sauce and simmer for five minutes or so. Serve over pasta with salad on the side.

Our weather has finally shifted and it appears the cool temperatures will be around at least for awhile. We got snow on the mountains which showed up yesterday when the clouds finally lifted.




Monday, October 3, 2011

Happy Hollandaise and S@!*# Soufflé

We have to keep picking ourselves up and trudging along, striving to maintain our balance and improve ourselves. If we can do this and pass what we learn to the next generation, and if they can improve on that and pass their wisdom on to the next generation, then some day . . . some day we’ll have a genuine era of enlightenment.

It won’t be in our lifetime or the one after, or even the one after that. We can make remarkable improvements in our own lives; however, until we learn that if we don’t each allow others to grow and develop and advance, it will never be possible for ourselves.


I did finally get to making a proper hollandaise sauce. The eggs are not cooked, but since we have our own chickens and I know that our eggs are safe, I didn’t worry about them. However, the sauce was rather boring compared to a lot of other sauces made in America. I decided not to pursue hollandaise, since I cannot recommend the sauce for any of you who don’t know the diet and health of the flock laying your eggs.

So, I moved on to soufflés. I read that section very carefully a few times before my first attempt, which was a cheese soufflé. And, actually. it turned out exceptionally well. The essence of a soufflé, Julia said was getting the eggs whipped up to form shiny, stiff peaks and to fold your sauce into the egg whites quickly and smoothly so you don’t flatten the whites. Simple enough. I got it.  I was so confident, in fact that I decided to try a rhubarb soufflé just yesterday. It looked beautiful (and tasted wonderful) as it went into the oven.

It flopped.

I studied several other types of fruit desserts to see where I might have gone wrong, but found that Julia doesn’t reference any sauced fruit soufflés. She did make something similar, but called it a custard, unbaked she called it a cream to put into cream puffs. My crashed rhubarb soufflé, had actually tasted really good and reminded Ben and me of a bread pudding. (Custard.) But it wasn’t, of course, a soufflé.

Today, then, to soothe my corpulent, male cranium, I decided to try a chocolate soufflé. Simple, right?

It flopped.

It did make a good chocolate pudding. So, after Ben and I had a dinner of meatball burgers, Swiss chard with balsamic vinegar, and borscht, we ate the chocolate pudding with chokecherry sauce. It was so unbelievably delicious that I nearly cried when it was gone.

But it wasn’t soufflé.

Obviously I didn’t learn the lesson. Therefore, I’m heading back to the book. (I was so ready to move on!)



So, I’m drifting back into the beauty of Autumn for a couple of days to console myself.


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