Thanksgiving forces me to face my two kitchen nemeses: pie dough and gravy.
I can make pie dough fine anyone can when they use a food processor. But rolling it out without it sticking to my rolling pin, let alone trying to move it from the pastry cloth to the pie plate has reduced me to tears more times than I care to admit. Thats why I have always kept a stash of store-bought pie crusts in my freezer.
While I have made sausage gravy in the past, and even chocolate gravy on occasion, the thought of trying to make turkey gravy terrifies me. In 2005, I left my friends waiting almost an hour as I struggled to make gravy for a turkey dinner. The gravy kept veering from lumpy to brothy and back again. In the end, I reached for my backup: a jar of the store-bought stuff. That has been my go-to ever since.
Last week, I went into the kitchens of experienced home cooks to learn how to overcome these culinary hang-ups at long last.
What did I learn that Ive been missing? Patience.
When I got to see these cooks in action, it was clear that I was trying to make things happen too fast. I was rushing instead of paying attention to what was happening in the skillet or under my rolling pin. Pie dough and gravy are persnickety. They dont adapt to your schedule. You adapt to theirs or risk failure.
In response to a column about my culinary shortcomings, Glenda Gosztyla of Raleigh sent me an email as if she were my personal pie dough cheerleader. Her words of advice: Practice. Dont give up. Get by yourself in the kitchen. Be in a good mood. If you do not feel good, do not start the pastry.
And so I spent a morning last week watching this pie dough guru work her magic. She took her time, cutting the shortening into the flour, fluffing it with a fork as she added ice-cold water, a few drops at a time. She knew from years of experience what the dough should look like at each step and waited patiently for it to happen.
We sat and drank coffee for 35 minutes while the dough chilled in the fridge and then chatted for 20 more as the dough sat on a pastry cloth on the table, shedding its chill. Gosztyla knew better than to rush that dough.
She rolled it out one stroke at a time, watching to make sure it didnt stick, quick with a dusting of flour if it did. By the end of our almost two-hour lesson, she had created the ideal fluted pie crust ready for whatever filling she might decide to make for her husband that night.
Last week, I also accepted an invitation from Raleigh cooking instructor Sharon Morf to learn how to make gravy. I roasted a chicken the night before to produce drippings and fat for my lesson. Again, I found myself in the kitchen with a teacher who understood that you have to slow down to succeed.
Morf and I stood side-by-side each making gravy. I got to see how she stirred the flour into fat, creating a silky brown sauce, while mine quickly clumped. She eased my pan off the heat until my continued stirring made it look more like hers. With each addition the drippings, wine, cream, sherry Morf danced her skillet on and off the heat while constantly stirring, making sure her gravy didnt clump, didnt thicken too much. It was an exercise in being in the moment.
And then we tasted the gravy. I realized I had never had good gravy before. My mother had also always reached for the jarred kind. As a result, I never understood why people liked gravy or that most of the Thanksgiving meal (turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes) was just an excuse to consume gravy.
Late last week, when I got in the kitchen to try to replicate my lessons, I was rewarded with gravy I want to eat with a spoon and pie crust I want to eat all by itself.
Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl
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