Saturday, October 31, 2009

Elsie Cooks Breakfast


It was relatively slow at the club today. A steady drizzle deterred all but the most stalwart golfers and we had no events booked for the evening. Executive Chef Andre began doing inventory but soon announced in his lovely Jamaican accent that he was hungry. Normally that can be translated into, "Linda, bake muffins". But today, Elsie offered to make breakfast since she was hungry too. I decided to make cheddar cheese scones as my contribution. At the other end of the kitchen Elsie was furiously chopping, frying, whisking and buttering.

Elsie Dillard is 65 years old and has spent most of her life cooking for others. She can work a full day at the club and go home and whip up dinner for 200 at her church. When friends are in need, Elsie cooks and sells dinners to help them make rent. She holds the unglamorous title of "Prep Cook" at the club, but if she were matched against Joel Robuchon or Thomas Keller, I'd put my money on Elsie. Every morning she surveys the walk-in, starts grabbing a little of this, a little of that and a pile of leftovers. Chopping, throwing, seasoning, tasting - the day's soup is made.

And it's delicious. Always.

Elsie is also responsible for the staff lunch. She rarely gets to use anything fresh - the staff meal exists mainly to get rid of the stuff in the fridge that we would be throwing away if there were no staff to feed. Elsie manages to take aging meat, tired potatoes and wilting vegetables and create a feast for hungry employees. On very lucky days, she will make macaroni and cheese which is on my list of top ten things I've ever put in my mouth. Her salads are alive with flavor and harmonious in their construction.

And so, when Elsie declares that she's making breakfast, we begin our anticipatory drooling.

For me, there's just one catch - I had a heart attack in August and I'm supposed to be on a low-fat, low-carb, low sugar, low-flavor, wish-I'd-just-died-and-gotten-it-over-with diet. My willpower is legendary for its lack of existence, but I've done pretty well - choosing oat cereals, fruit and yogurt, that kind of thing (although I cannot bring myself to eat fake butter). Elsie knows all this, and yet she whacks off another chunk of butter and throws in into the pan. I can smell the bacon ripening in the oven. I deduce that she's trying to kill me.

There's another problem. I have not been able to eat an egg since I saw an episode of "The Next Iron Chef" where the cheftestants had to cook with disgusting ingredients. (Why do they always do that?) One of the chefs had to create a dish using an unborn egg with the fallopian tubes attached. I don't remember what he came up with, but he was voted off. I rememberJeffrey Steingarten snarling, "I can't even taste the fallopian tubes." But I couldn't tell you what happened after that because I was busy throwing up. And now I could hear Elsie whisking those chicken babies to death.

So here's Elsie's breakfast: Piles of scrambled eggs (with cheese, sans fallopian tubes), homefries with onions and peppers, fried apples, bacon and toast. The plate fairly glistened with grease which is exactly what a breakfast is supposed to do, especially here in the South. By pretending the pile of eggs was really a pile of cheese, I was able to choke it down. It was incredibly tasty and I'll just double up on the Lipitor tonight.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yes. You can use a cake mix and still call it "from scratch"

Since the invention of the cake mix in whatever year that was, our palates have become accustomed to the taste and texture of "Party in a Box!" Who has not been confronted at least once, nay a zillion times, by this:

I guarantee you that a cake mix came into play for this cake. I'm not sure what came into play for the icing and as for the decorating, here was the inner monologue: "Hey! After scrawling 'Happy Birthday', I have enough red stuff in this little tube to make dots!"

Cake decorators use mixes all the time. Especially wedding cake bakers. They will tell you it's from scratch, but most of the time it's not. It's a doctored cake mix. But since most cake decorators are jolly, rotund Midwestern women with impeccable morals, they simply add the scratch ingredients to the mix and tell themselves and Jesus that they're not lying to you.

Cake decorators call it "WASC", which stands for White Almond Sour Cream. The "WASC Method" can also be used for every cake mix flavor, not only to pump up the moistness and flavor, but also to pump up the volume. All are good, but the white cake is amazing. A regular cake mix will yield about 24 cupcakes. A WASC cake will yield 36+.


1 white cake mix (without pudding)
1 C. flour
1 C. sugar
3/4 t. salt
2 T. vegetable oil
1 1/3 C. water
2 t. vanilla
2 t. almond extract
1 C. sour cream
4 lg. egg whites

Throw everything into your Kitchen Aid in the order given and beat until well blended. Ha ha! You just think it's well blended. Stop everything and scrape the bottom because dollars to doughnuts, there's dry junk in the bottom of the bowl.

But Linda, why can't I just use the plain old white cake mix, call it day and go watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta? Because sloth is a sin and that's a stupid, stupid show.

These women have never baked a cake, although I'm sure the lady in the purple dress has eaten a few. Today.