Ham Puffs

by Ashlei Woelk

My mother-in-law is a fabulous cook.  Trish goes into the kitchen, sometimes without any food, and comes back out with dinner.  Granted, her meals most often include some sort of bean, but I can forgive her that.  Everytime we travel to Grandma’s house for a holidy, I wonder where my kids will take their children for holiday dinners.   I go into my kitchen, which almost always has food, and come back out with menus from local restaurants.  “There’s nothing to make really,” I say. 

When my former college roommate, the one who couldn’t sit in the room when I sewed a button on a shirt, came to see me in my first apartment just after the wedding, she opened all my cabinets.   She got to the spice shelves, she exclaimed, “You actually have spices.  I am so impressed.”  I got a job not long after September 11 selling cookware by cooking gourmet dinners in people’s homes.  Another friend said, “I knew it was the end of the world when you started making your living cooking.”  (I once kicked her really hard when she mentioned eating broccoli.)  This was one of my favorite jobs, and I was pretty good at it.  Even Kelly, my best friend didn’t believe me when I told her I made good money selling this cookware.  But, I don’t like cooking.

If you go into my kitchen now, one whole shelf (in a little cabinet) is crammed with cookbooks.  I own Joy of Cooking, a wedding gift, but useful, several The Pampered Chef cookbooks, and I have a subscription to Cooks magazine, a pretty high end cooking rag.   The authors test a thousand ways to fry potatoes to get the perfect mix of soft and crunch.  They cook a  hundred pounds of roast finding the exact conditions that create the juicy, succulent, nicely browned roast to compliment the carrots and potatoes.  One issue tested olive oils to see which one had the best viscocity, flavor, and color.  I love reading this magazine.

I have had to revise my opinion about cooking like I had to revise my opinion about Steinbeck.  I kept saying I hated Steinbeck, but I loved Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden.  It turns out, I only hated the short story The Red Pony that I read in seventh grade.  So, now I say I like Steinbeck.  With cooking, the process followed the same principles.  Mostly, I hate going into the kitchen, looking around, and like MacGuyver, make a meal, interesting and delicious, out of whatever is in there.  In my house, inspired by my domestic friend Kelly, we make menus.  This solves my dilemma.  A week’s worth of meals, all available for me to choose from, I can make them in any order, and we have all the ingredients for each meal. 

The really interesing psychosis begins when you add entertainment.  I would cook eveynight if we had guests over.  “Jana and Kevin are coming over tomorrow – I am going to make chicken alfredo from scratch.”  Or when Kelly’s family comes over this weekend, instead of making hot dogs, like Sam suggested, I want to make King’s Chicken Casserole, homemade guacomole (which I just discovered I like), and cheese sauce, which requires much more cooking than hot dogs do.  Maybe I want to show off; I don’t know why. 

With this luncheon, I could have bought cookies, or even made pre-mixed cookies, but no.  I made Ham Puffs.  I had to go to Target in the pouring rainstorms on Wednesday and buy ingredients.  I had to borrow The Pampered Chef tools from my consultant friend.  I had to rope my reluctanct husband, Sam, into helping me begin at ten pm last night (I promised him at least one puff and pictures of a cool fire that has been burning for forty years).  I have only made this recipe once (two batches) before.  Each batch has turned out differently.  I have learned a few things about cooking these little puffs.  Pre-made crescent roll dough doesn’t give up its pre-cut delineations easily.  And, if you wad it up and start over with your own roller and cutter, the pieces refuse to stay the size you originally cut.  They shrink back in on themselves.  I also learned that the torte shaper, a little wooden dumbell looking thing, only leaves the dough in the mini-torte pan if the ends are coated in flour.  It is also a lot easier to pick the cut sections off the counter if flour dusted the counter first.  Another thing is the dough comes out in a rectangle and my recipe calls for squares.   Even Sam, the math in our family, couldn’t cut 48 squares from a big rectangle.  And, husbands have a different definition of finely chopped.  He did the onions, by the way.

But, today, you will find 36ish ham puffs in a pretty domestic basket (Thanks, Kelly) for your consumption.  Despite my inhibitions and inabilities, these delectible little treats sit at our table.  Maybe I’ll make them for Trish when she comes next week.

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