AUTHOR: Julia TITLE: Burning Down the House DATE: 9/12/2008 10:05:00 AM ----- BODY:
In my past life, I used to lead Interactive dinner parties. I would go into people’s homes and give a cooking demonstration while preparing a gourmet, three-course dinner. I had relationships with my clients similar to what a bartender might have with his customers. People let me into the hearth of their homes and cook for them. It’s a convivial relationship.

And new clients always ask for stories about past clients.

Client Tina thought I was infallible. I had been helping her with dinner parties and giving her private cooking lesson for years. She had never seen me burn, undercook, over-season or otherwise screw up a dish. Boy, did I have her fooled! It’s especially surprising since she had a challenging, albeit fancy, kitchen. The burners were induction and her oven was Gagganeau. The burners required practice to learn how to control the heat. And the oven…. Well the ovens had a series of marking – lines and squiggles – that were supposed to indicate the basic functions: bake, broil and convection.

For Valentine’s Day one year we planned a special meal for her and her husband, including a salad with croutons. We diced some bread, tossed it with melted butter, salt and pepper and put them in the oven. Since I didn’t understand the markings on the oven, I can only tell you it was set to 400F.

After 10 minutes, I started to smell something burning. I opened the oven and the croutons inhaled just enough oxygen that they immediately burst into flames. I guess I had unknowingly broiled them. And thankfully, Tina got a good laugh in knowing that, in fact, I’m not perfect… not even in the kitchen.

I wish that were the only time I had set fire in a client’s kitchen. (yes, I did have insurance). Again, it was the fault of the client’s equipment (it’s never my fault). And again, it was in the oven. This time it involved gougères – cream puffs with cheese folded in. This time, though, I was able to read the markings, and accurately set the electric oven to bake at 375F. I piped out perfect little rounds of dough onto (the client’s) cookie sheet, and put them in the oven. The sheet buckled in the heat and all the gougères slid off and onto the electric coil, igniting instantly.

Unlike the first time, when I could grab the tray of croutons and quickly run outside, this was a little trickier to salvage. But with a quick cut of heat and dousing of salt, the fire quickly extinguished.

Thanks to Kristen at Dine & Dish for conjuring up these memories.

Gougères are a great hors d'oeuvre. Be sure, when baking them that you have a high quality, thick bottomed cookie sheet with sides.

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup water
4 tbs. butter
4-5 eggs
½ cup grated or cubed gruyere cheese.

1. Bring water, butter and salt to a boil. Stir in flour all at once and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring constantly. Let cool slightly.

2. Beat in eggs, one at a time into flour mixture. Do not add next egg until first one is fully incorporated.

3. Spoon (or pipe) 1” round mounds onto a baking sheet, and bake at 400 for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and cook for 25 minutes more.

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----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Kristen DATE:9/12/2008 01:19:00 PM OMG - that is too funny! I didn't realize you did all of this while at a clients house. That makes your story that much better! LOL :) ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) DATE:9/12/2008 03:43:00 PM Always nice to know I'm not the only one who does things like this in the kitchen! When I first got my stove -- the first I've had with a "live fire" infrared broiler -- I burned everything I put in to broil. Then I avoided the broiler entirely, for at least 6 months. Now we've made peace... ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Julia DATE:9/12/2008 03:59:00 PM Kristen, Thankfully I can laugh at it too!

Lydia, I can assure you, whatever gaffe you've made in the kitchen, I've done too, and probably twice as bad! I'm glad you and the broiler made up. It's such a handy apparatus. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous bishop22 DATE:9/12/2008 10:00:00 PM Hillarious! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Psychgrad DATE:9/14/2008 12:03:00 AM I've had gougères on my list of recipes to try since I started blogging. I just haven't found an occasion where they made the final menu. I'm always worried that they have to be eaten right away - which creates a lot of stress when guests arrive fashionably late. What's your opinion? Are they best fresh out of the oven?

Leading interactive dinner parties sounds like fun. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Julia DATE:9/14/2008 09:22:00 AM PG - The nice thing about gougeres is that they're easy to make and freeze well - so it's not too much stress to make an extra large batch They are nice fresh from the oven when the cheese is a little gooey, but good at room temperature too. ----- --------