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Take Fountain|Simple Scrambled Eggs and Mac & Cheese

The legendary story is that Johnny Carson asked Bette Davis “the best way an aspiring starlet could get into Hollywood,” to which the actress replied “Take Fountain!”*

It’s a wonderful quote, one that I think of a lot while driving here.  I love it because it speaks to the fact that the question is impossible to answer, and yet Ms. Davis does answer with the simplest and easiest solution.  I also like it because, although you could interpret it as being flip, it  has a sense of “don’t be intimidated.”  Just take the first, simple, easy step and go from there.

I never get asked how to “get into” cooking – most people I know who cook have been doing it far longer than I have.  But if I were asked, I would answer with my own version of “take Fountain;” choose something really simple, really easy, really delicious (your “Hollywood” – the end goal – delicious food).  And also something that doesn’t have a lot of weighty consequences.

So, for instance, I wouldn’t try something that included 72 steps and 3 oz. of black truffles, or my grandmother’s sacred pie recipe.  Those are for later, when you’re more confident, when you’ve survived a couple of disasters and know that you still want to go on.

I have said that my mothers never really taught me how to cook, and I’ve always considered the start of my real cooking education to be when I decided to imitate an impossibly complicated strawberry tart on the cover of Food & Wine Magazine.  That’s actually not true.  My mom (the natal one), did teach me how to cook – not Boeuf Bourguignon, but I was in the kitchen making food much younger than many people I know.**  She was the one who showed me my “Fountain” – Scrambled Eggs (which I did manage to screw up memorably at least twice), and Macaroni & Cheese (from scratch).

If you’re intimidated by cooking for any reason, please feel free to try my version of taking Fountain below.  In many ways they are the cornerstones of all the cooking I’ve ended up doing in the last 20 years.  I still make these (not as often as I did before I found Indian food), and they are always there waiting for me if I need them, simple and delicious.  Thanks mom.

Cheers.

Scrambled Eggs (a la Diane and Goose)

Two eggs***
tbsp butter (or less if you’re watching your fat/cholesterol/weight)
Salt and pepper to taste****

Crack the eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly.  If you like, you can add a bit of milk (I believe that’s a Julia Child trick) or a bit of water (that’s a trick from my step-mom, who says this makes them fluffier).  Add a bit of salt and pepper to flavor (you can add more later if you want).  Melt the butter in a small non-stick pan over medium heat.*****  After butter stops foaming, add eggs and stir from time to time with a wooden spatula, moving the eggs off the bottom of the pan as they cook.  It’s probably a good idea to turn the heat down at this point and cook them slowly, until they are like a custard, or more, if you like them drier.

You can also add things like cheese, chives, onion, hot sauce…anything really.  Then they will be your scrambled eggs.  Mine always just have some salt and pepper.

 

Macaroni and Cheese

(very loosely adapted from the 1953 Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book)

Ingredients:

1 8 oz. package elbow macaroni (or about 1/2 of a 16 oz package – probably slightly more)
2 cups cheddar cheese, cubed or roughly shredded on the big holes of a box grater
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper

Directions
Cook macaroni according to directions on package.  Use a big pot and lots of water.  When cooked, drain it well and put it back in the pot (once it’s cooled – if you put it back into a hot pot, the noodles will stick).

Make a white sauce with the butter, flour and milk.******  Start by putting the milk in a small saucepan on a back burner to heat it.  Stir every once in a while so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.  Then melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  When melted, add in flour, whisking well to make a smooth paste.  It will bubble.  Cook for just a minute or two and add a bit of salt and pepper.  Add the hot milk, a little at a time (like a 1/2 cup or so).  Whisk like there’s no tomorrow, making sure you don’t have lumps.  Keep adding the milk until all of it is added, then take a rubber spatula and really scrape the bottom of the pan to see if you have any butter/flour paste in there.  If it comes up, try to blend it into the sauce with the whisk (don’t worry about it too much).  Stir with the spatula until the sauce starts to boil – take it off the heat immediately!  And immediately (while it is still really hot), add the cheese and stir until it’s melted and blended.

Pour this over your macaroni, fold it all together until well mixed (you might want to taste it now, because you’re the cook and you can).******  Pour it into a 1 1/2 quart casserole (I’ve increased amounts here, so hopefully this will all fit – if not, use a bigger casserole).

Bake mixture in moderate oven [350°] 45 minutes. Makes 6 servings.********

If you like a crispy top, you can put it under the broiler for a few minutes, but please keep and eye on it – I don’t want you burning your mac and cheese or your house down in a grease fire!

*If you don’t live in Los Angeles, Fountain Ave cuts across the city and even now when traffic must be much worse than when this quote was said, it’s still can be like a mini freeway through the city.
**I realize this contradicts almost everything I’ve said about my cooking history – it’s too long and complicated to explain in detail, but let’s just say there were “eras” where my mom taught me how to cook, and also when other more pressing things took center stage.
**If you want this to taste really good, these have to be eggs, not whites or any other substitutes.  I eat egg substitutes sometimes, but they are not delicious eggs!
***Pepper not added by my six-year-old self – the very nascent beginning of the “do it like you like it!” philosophy.
****The pan doesn’t have to be small, but it does need to be non-stick.  A larger pan will require more effort to keep the eggs together.
*****Making this recipe is how I learned to make a white sauce, which has been fundamental to my cooking.  It will help you learn how to make gravy, sauce and get you started on all kinds of other things that need to have a hot liquid added to a thickener.
******You also might have some cheese sauce left over, because I’ve altered the recipe.  You want the macaroni to be really smothered by the cheese sauce, but it’s not cheese soup with a few bits of macaroni.  If you do have too much, I apologize for my poor proportions, and I suggest you get a few cubes of something (bread or broccoli or whatever) and scoop the sauce out of the pan with that and eat it.  It’s really pretty good.
*******If you make this and have me over with 5 other people, please double this recipe! 🙂  Seriously, if you’re eating it as a main course, it’s for 2-4 people.  Side dish, maybe 6-8.

2 Comments

  1. Maw says:

    I never get asked how to “get into” cooking

    WHAT? Your mother taught you!!!

  2. Maw says:

    I didn’t read far enough ;+} Thanks, Goose, (you forgot ramen!!!)

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