Chew On This

Chew On This: Good gravy! Here are my kitchen failures

aweigl@newsobserver.comOctober 1, 2013 

I have a kitchen confession to make. I’m a failure when it comes to two things: making gravy and pie dough.

I was reminded of one of them recently when I decided to make a buttermilk pie. I had purchased a bottle of buttermilk from Maple View Farm in Hillsborough to test a recipe. The buttermilk is so thick and creamy that I didn’t want to see it wasted. I don’t drink buttermilk, but I started looking for recipes to use it. I made biscuits and an Ocracoke fig cake, then decided to make the buttermilk pie in Jean Anderson’s “A Love Affair with Southern Cooking.”

I rarely make pie and often have a stash of store-bought crusts in the freezer. But this time, I thought – once again – “How hard can it be?” It’s a handful of ingredients. It’s not that different from making biscuits, which I believe I’ve mastered.

Of course, within minutes I was cursing and screaming and throwing that ball of dough into the freezer before trying again. On the second attempt, I did get a pie plate-sized round of dough rolled out onto my pastry cloth. But moving that crust from the counter to the pie plate was another matter.

Those cooks in the pages of Martha Stewart’s Living magazine not only keep their pie dough in one piece but create intricate designs: beautiful lattice work, cut-out leaves, etc. My pie crusts end up looking like the head of Frankenstein.

I hope one day to master pie dough, but gravy seems more daunting to me. I think that has to do with my colossal failure with it many years ago.

When I was the legal affairs reporter, I would occasionally write food stories for the food editor. One year for a Thanksgiving story, I cooked a turkey three ways: fried; under a trash can; and stuffed with pineapple, ground veal and 30 other ingredients. I wanted to try to make gravy to go with those turkeys.

My first attempt left my dinner guests waiting an entire hour before I gave up. The gravy just never thickened. And I have turned to the jarred stuff ever since.

I feel like I almost have a mental block when it comes to gravy.

My colleague, Kathleen Purvis, the food editor at The Charlotte Observer, had a gravy breakthrough at a cooking demonstration we both attended in New Orleans. I sat near her and heard chef Frank Brigtsen, the owner of Brigtsen's Restaurant, give the same talk about his tricks for making turkey gravy. The advice clicked in Kathi’s brain but didn’t make a dent in mine.

But I may be softening in my desire to try again with gravy. Why else would I have stashed the drippings from several roast chickens in the freezer?

If you have advice for me on either gravy or pie dough, please send it my way and maybe I’ll be enlightened in time for holiday cooking.

I realize that I’m not alone in my kitchen struggles, so if you have a confession to make, I’m happy to hear it. A conversation about this very topic with my office mates led each women in turn to admit what they had never mastered in the kitchen.

At least, I know I’m not the only one with a stash of jarred gravy in the pantry or frozen pie doughs in the freezer.

Weigl: 919-829-4848 or; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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