Cream puffs for winter

Already almost half of the first month of the year has come and gone. How this has been lived is a good indication of how you will spend the remainder of the year. If you are happy with it, continue the good work. If not, this is the time to change whatever it is that you don’t like. Time goes very fast we don’t have time in our lives to live in a way that is not good for us. If you are still considering what New Year’s resolutions you should make, you are just a mite behind schedule (so am I!) Maybe it is best to just forget about them. We all know what we need to do to improve ourselves, so just do it and forget about making a bunch of promises to yourself for which you will hate yourself if you fall short on them. Start each day with a smile and an “attitude of gratitude” and everything else will fall into place.

We have already seen Mother Nature’s assortment of weather conditions. Just take what comes since we can’t do anything about it anyway. The trick is to not keep us from what we have planned. There is already a problem with that here on the hill. The “Grandma Taxi” doesn’t run when there is snow or ice, some rain days, night travel in areas other than the immediate area, and when Grandma doesn’t feel like it. One of the benefits of being a little older.

Last weekend was one of the times that grandmas and moms cherish an excursion with a female member of the family, my first grandchild, Amanda, to look for her wedding dress. What a great weekend we had and how honored I felt to be included. Even though the wedding is some months away, she has most the details already set and it promises to be a happy and beautiful wedding. They grow up so fast.

Now, if you REALLY like a cold winter, go to Two Harbors, Minn. There, at the Grand Superior Lodge is an outside Ice Bar in a blue-lit tent. The bar is, of course, ice and even the “glasses” are ice. Parka-clad guests can relax on a fur-covered ice bench as they sip their beer or shots, served in those ice glasses. A hay bale-ringed bonfire outside is where they can thaw out at least, partially. That gives a new meaning to “a cold one.” It is extremely doubtful such an establishment would ever find its way into the Ohio valley, so if you want to see one within the United States, Minnesota is one place you can experience it.

Quite a while ago, I read about an Ice Hotel maybe in the far north of Norway or Sweden. The electric blanket keeps my feet warm here on the hilltop I really don’t think I would enjoy an entire room made of ice. I am just thankful that I was born to a family here in Ohio and not to an Eskimo family. Neither that ice hotel nor the ice bar in Minnesota is on my bucket list.

In fact, that bucket list gets shorter and shorter the older I get. I already have done and seen a lot, and air travel no longer sounds like fun, especially the last few days that there has been so much mechanical trouble with the big jets. It was bad enough to be concerned about people who don’t like us wanting to see us drop from the sky without having to be concerned about the planes turning on us, too. Progress does have its thorns.

Winter is a time for soups and stews. Maybe the chilly outside makes us long for comfort food or maybe the lure of an unread book pushes for less time in the kitchen and more time in the rocking chair in front of the fireplace. Whatever it is, I see no reason to fight it. There are still a couple of books in the stack beside my chair that look more interesting than the chore of cleaning up a kitchen after a cooking session the preparing is fun but the cleanup is just necessary, not fun. It helps to use the trusty old crockpot. Just throw the ingredients in and turn it on. The aroma of a stew or soup cooking fills the house and gives the impression that one has been really busy instead of having an enjoyable interlude with a new book. Of course, many cookbooks are read like this, then they call me to the kitchen to cook. Anyway, the soup thing has been on my mind the past several days, so I will pass on my ideas about that easy, one pot supper.

Anything can be made into soup. Don’t discard the leftover veggies from a meal freeze them until you have enough to turn them into another meal (soup.). Use an immersion blender if you have one it is so much easier (and less messy) than using a blender when making a cream soup. What is stew one meal can be soup for another just add more liquid and blend it up or a creamy soup. Use beef or chicken bouillon powder or dry onion soup mix to add more flavor. Have fun playing with whatever is in your frig.

Get your flu shot if you haven’t already, smile at everyone, and find at least one thing to be happy about on these winter days. Here are some ideas for playing in the kitchen when it gets lonesome and calls you. God Bless.

BASIC CREAM PUFFS

One-half cup butter

Pinch of salt

One teaspoon sugar

One-cup water

One-cup sifted flour

Five eggs

One-teaspoon water

Combine butter, salt, sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, melting butter. Turn heat to low and add flour. Beat until a ball forms in the center of the pan. Remove from the heat and beat in 4 eggs, one at a time. Use an electric mixer unless your arm is super human. The last egg should be beaten with a fork and added a little at a time to lighten the paste until it is just stiff enough to stand in a peak. Continue beating the dough until it is very shiny. Drop paste with a teaspoon onto a buttered baking sheet, two inches apart. Use parchment paper instead of buttering the pan, if you have it. Bake puffs in a preheated 425-degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. If you make larger puffs, continue baking them at 375 degrees for about 10-15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and pierce the side of each puff with a sharp knife. Return pan to oven, turn the heat off and let them sit, with the door ajar, for 10 more minutes. Cool. Then slice tops off and fill and replace tops. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar over top, or drizzle lightly with melted chocolate.

To make puffs for hors d’oeuvres, omit sugar and increase salt to one teaspoon. Fill with chicken salad for a special luncheon.

You can use any filling or whipped cream, but a cream filling is more traditional. Following are two recipes for it.

BASIC CREAM

FILLING

One-third cup sugar

Three tablespoons flour

One-eighth teaspoon salt

One egg

One cup milk

One teaspoon vanilla

Mix sugar, salt and flour. Add beaten egg. Add milk and cook over boiling water in a double boiler until thick. Cool and add vanilla.

FRENCH CUSTARD FOR CREAM PUFFS

One-third cup sugar

One tablespoon flour

One tablespoon cornstarch

One-fourth teaspoon salt

One-half teaspoon unflavored gelatin

One-and-one-half cups milk

One egg, beaten

One-and-one-half teaspoons vanilla, divided

One-half cup whipping cream

Two tablespoons sugar

Mix together the first five ingredients. Stir in milk. Cook mixture until thickened. Add a little hot mixture to the eggs, then return the egg mixture to the custard and cook until thick. Add one teaspoon and cool. Before filling puffs, whip cream with sugar and remaining vanilla and fold into custard.

To make eclairs, pipe puff paste onto baking sheet, using a pastry tube, or shaping the paste with a spoon. Put melted chocolate or chocolate frosting on the top.

CHOCOLATE CREAM PIE

(From a 1937 cookbook)

Two tablespoons butter

Six tablespoons flour

One-and-one-half cups milk

Two squares unsweetened baking chocolate

Three-fourth cup sugar

One-fourth teaspoon salt

Two egg yolks, beaten

One teaspoon vanilla

Two tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Two egg whites, stiffly beaten

One baked pie shell

Melt butter. Add flour, milk, chocolate (cut into pieces), sugar and salt and bring slowly to the boiling point, stirring constantly until thick and smooth. Remove from the fire and add beaten egg yolks and vanilla. Pour into a baked pie shell.

Cover with a meringue made by beating the confectioners’ sugar into the stiffly beaten egg whites. Bake in a moderate oven (325-degrees) for fifteen minutes or until a delicate brown.

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Patty Christopher is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel. Contact her at jkoenitzer@aol.com