Saturday, November 9, 2013

Terri Austin on her Culinary Journey

My mother used to say a cook is only as good as her equipment (she had an avocado green electric with three busted burners—I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions ). As a teenager, I conquered Kraft macaroni and cheese—mainly because I couldn’t yet drive to McDonald’s and I didn’t want to starve to death. When I got married, I received all sorts of casserole dishes and pans, but I had no idea what to do with them. A lovely lady in my office gave me a hand-written stack of her tried and true recipes. She’d been married for over forty years and was a seasoned cook. I took one look at the recipe cards and asked what broil meant. She thought I was joking. So trust me when I say my culinary skills are few, but hard won. 

I mainly learned to cook by reading countless cookbooks and watching Martha Stewart. What I lacked in skill, I made up for in enthusiasm. Fortunately, my husband has a strong constitution and my kids weren’t picky eaters.

Over the years I’ve had a few triumphs: chili, pork carnitas, killer pot roast. Nothing exotic, yet very comforting and definitely palatable. Still, there have been more flops than I can count (I’m talking to you, clam chowder with scorched milk). But my failures didn’t stop me from trying.

I just bought a new stove. Now the oven door closes all the way and the burners put out more even heat than their predecessor—it’s all terribly exciting. And so I decided to try my hand at canning. Not scary pressure cooker canning (I’m not that brave yet). But I have been making jams and apple butter, experimenting with different flavors and combinations—apple pear butter sweetened with honey makes me googly-eyed. And there’s a lemon marmalade recipe I’m dying to try. Although it’s sometimes tedious work, I find it satisfying, and I like keeping those old-fashioned traditions alive. Also, it’s nice to have a taste of each season all year round.

And talk about kitchen equipment—I also got a new Dutch oven. Anyone know why they’re called that? For its maiden voyage, I experimented by making strawberry syrup. Strawberries and sugar. Pretty easy, but tasted fabulous. I plan on using it for pancakes this weekend.

Lemon marmalade. Strawberry syrup. See the theme?  In my Rose Strickland Mystery Series, I write about a waitress who works at a breakfast-only establishment. Despite the setting, it’s not a culinary mystery. Rose doesn’t cook, unless you count ramen noodles. Still, I’ve done a little research on interesting breakfast foods for Rose to serve up: eggnog pancakes, pumpkin spice French toast, and peach breakfast cobbler to name a few. Since breakfast is my favorite meal, I’m always on the lookout for new recipes to try.

So Jungle Red readers, can you help Rose Strickland?  Do you have any tasty breakfast recipes? (Has anyone made gingerbread pancakes? If so, how they turn out?)

And what’s your favorite new piece of kitchen equipment?

(Jungle Red Writers—thanks for having me on today! It was a pleasure to be here and share my culinary journey.)


  1. Ah, so many good things to cook for breakfast. Fluffy omelet has always been a favorite around our house, but I have no idea why it’s called an omelet.

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    Separate four eggs.
    Beat the whites until stiff.
    Beat the yolks until stiff and lemon-colored.

    While the yolks are beating:
    In a saucepan, mix together 2 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca, 3/4 cup milk, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, dash of freshly ground salt.
    Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter, shredded cheddar cheese to taste [the cheese is optional . . . I always add about 3/4 cup shredded cheese]
    Stir and set aside to cool.

    Add the cooled tapioca mixture to the yolks; mix well.
    Fold in egg whites.

    Spoon into hot, buttered ten-inch iron skillet; cook for three minutes over low heat then pop the skillet into the oven for fifteen minutes.

    While the omelet cooks, I cook bacon, toast muffins or rye bread.

    To serve, cut across the omelet at a right angle to the pan handle [I have no idea why, but the recipe says to do this so I always do; it also says fold the omelet, but I never do because it is too high, like a soufflé . . . .]

    Gingerbread pancakes are yummy and really easy to make . . . if you don’t want to start from scratch, you can make them with gingerbread mix, applesauce, an egg, and some vegetable oil . . . . [Dutch oven, by the way, has nothing to do with the actual pot. It refers to a casting process for pots that was developed in Holland.]

  2. My first recipe:
    Fry up a pile of bacon
    Leave grease in the frying pan
    Throw in two potatoes, chopped in 1/2 inch squares
    Salt and pepper. Be careful. Already salty
    Cover chopped potatoes with one chopped onion
    Cover chopped veggies with a real cover
    cook 5-8 min. until potatoes brown on one side.
    Flip them and brown other side uncovered
    Remove from grease and let drain.
    Eat with bacon and maybe a fried egg
    Take a Lipitor.

  3. Thanks so much for having me on today, Jungle Red Writers! It's been a pleasure!

    Thanks, Joan. I'm going to try the gingerbread mix pancakes. Sounds like it's right up my alley!

    Jack--yeah, I'd have to take Lipitor after a couple of meals like that. Although for bacon, it might be worth it!

  4. I'm a big fan of easy for breakfast, and my favorite new find is the new Simple Mornings (supposed to be actual, you know, food ingredients and not a bunch of can't-pronounce-it yuck) chocolate chocolate chip muffins. Tasty, fairly healthy, and super easy thanks to my favorite kitchen tool: my kitchenaid stand mixer. :) Great post, Terri!

  5. I completely understand your predicament. My mother was such a great cook, my favorite food growing up was sandwiches. When I learned to cook, I had to look up what color brown they meant by "brown the meat." I finally figured out dinner, but never breakfast. Luckily I have a husband who worked in restaurants starting at age 14. He's our breakfast man. He makes crepes, pancakes, omelets, whatever. I make coffee. Unfortunately, he's not here to ask him how to make anything. My 8 year old made her own omelette this morning. Loved the post!

  6. I love breakfast if someone else cooks it. My husband is usually the breakfast chef on Sundays when we have a good old full English--egg, bacon,sausage, tomatoes and potatoes.
    In England we'd add mushrooms and baked beans but that's going a bit far.

    He's also an expert crepe maker!

  7. Hi Terry! I like making Nigella Lawson's Cheesecakelets. If you cut back a bit on the sugar and use fresh fruit to top, they're actually high in protein and not at all bad for you. They are also delicious and super easy.

  8. I've got one for you. Mini-Egg Pies. You can't mess this up and they even work for lunches or dinner.

    ½ Cup Bisquick
    ½ Cup Milk
    2 Eggs

    Toppings –
    Whatever you have left over in the fridge and grated cheese. Any meat you use should be cooked.

    Whisk together first three ingredients and season to taste. Ladle a tablespoon of the batter into muffin cups. Top with your meat/veggie mixture. Add grated cheese and top with another tablespoon of the mixture.

    Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes.

  9. I'm a big fan of frittatas -- cook for about 10 minutes on the stove top, then finish in the oven. (Yes, under the broiler!) Here's the link to one I tried recently and loved.(You can use regular broccoli or broccoli rabe if your grocery doesn't carry broccolini.)

  10. Thanks so much for all the great ideas, everyone! I'm at a conference today with a spotty internet access, but I'm going to print all these out as soon as I get home. I guess the general consensus is that if you have a mate who knows his/her way around a skillet, you're golden. :) Susan, Nigella's mini cheesecakelets sound delicious! A must try for a weekend morning. Rhys, I just wrote about an English hero and I took great pleasure in describing a full English. I hope I got the details right, but baked beans were on the plate.

  11. Jungle Red Writers, thanks again for having me on today and letting me share my ongoing culinary saga with you! I have lots of new recipes to botch and I can't wait. :)

  12. Hi Terri: I will look to see if I have your regular e-mail address and mail some breakfast recipes to you that were in some of my newspaper food columns from my "former life".

    Have you ever heard of cornmeal pancakes? Delicious if you like cornbread, and even great if you don't like cornbread. :)

    Will do this early in the week; tied up all weekend.

    Take care,


  13. I really enjoyed reading this entry. Thanks for posting.

    I recently read a kitchen mystery that I thought you'd like. It's the first in a series, and I'm so psyched because she includes recipes in the back.

  14. The comment above is mine. Couldn't figure out how to add a comment without it coming up anonymous... didn't want to come off so mysterious in my first post on this site.

  15. I'm back in the land of consistent internet access! Yay!

    I'd love some recipes, Ceblain. I've just messaged you on FB.

    And thanks, Dominick! I'll check that out. It's always fun to find new authors.