Creativity was not a word in my mother’s kitchen. Though she made meals nearly every night when I was growing up, my mother did not like to cook. She herself had been raised on a bland Norwegian-based Midwestern diet which, when incorporated into my father’s meat-and-potatoes mentality, meant that seasonings and color — especially any form of fresh vegetable! — were seriously missing from the dinner table in our house. Her eight menus rotated with predictable regularity (Monday, meatloaf; Tuesday, Swiss steak) through our dinner hours. If I never have any of them again the rest of my life, that’s just fine with me.
Some kids, like Chris, for example, react to indifferent food by learning to create something more palatable. But while I made whatever meals it took to pass my Girl Scout cooking merit badge, and later, Home Ec, I had no interest in becoming the next Galloping Gourmet. What I did like to do was bake. Cakes, cookies, desserts. Anything sweet. I knew I’d be hard-pressed to ruin a cookie recipe so thoroughly I wouldn’t eat the results anyway.
Such a background comes as a surprise to many guests who assume I grew up loving to cook, that my flair for the creative, in cooking and in presentation, must be a lifelong skill. Or even better, that I’ve attended culinary school. Ha! What I am is a foodie who is learning continuously how ingredients play off one another, and who has found that cooking and baking offer opportunities for another form of creativity. And creativity in all forms makes my heart sing.
Which is why I am so very gratified when someone visiting A Butler’s Manor asks for one of my recipes. Wow, me?!?
This is adapted from a recipe I originally found at Williams-Sonoma, and is fairly new to my repertoire –which, for the record, is continually being added to and adapted when necessary. Never let it be said that if it’s Tuesday, it must be Banana French Toast!
GRUYERE AND PROSCIUTTO STRATA
1-2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and chopped
2 tsp. olive oil
1 bag seasoned croutons
15 eggs (or two cartons Egg Beaters)
2 cups milk
4 cups grated Gruyere cheese
4 oz. prosciutto, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350. Coat a 15” x 10” Pyrex dish with olive oil cooking spray. Toss croutons with olive oil and scatter in prepared pan.
Whisk together flour, milk, butter, salt and eggs and pour over croutons in prepared pan. Let soak for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, steam leeks for about three minutes; drain. Sprinkle cheese and leeks over egg and bread mixture and stir in. Sprinkle chopped prosciutto on top.
Bake until casserole is set and light golden brown, 35-40 minutes.
Quote of the Day: I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate. —Julia Child