Saturday, April 10, 2010

Short Cuts

I don't really like short cuts all that much. I associate short cuts with laziness and consumerism. I picture the food industry, the CEO of Kraft Foods perhaps, smirking because they truly have the majority of Americans right where they want them. People use a box or bag or can to create the majority of their food, and inside of that box or bag there are dozens of things that they can't pronounce, let alone understand how that ingredient is made or where it derives from. Everybody gets more and more disconnected from food, the major source that gives us life. I'm sure the pharmaceutical companies must see a nice profit. I'm currently reading Twinkie Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger and he kind of goes behind the scenes of where these crazy ingredients, like Polysorbate 60, come from. So, I've cut out baking from a box, which has been difficult since everyone in my generation has been raised on baking from a box. No more frosting from jars, store bought humus, bread, or fast food.
All of the above wasn't really what I wanted to focus on in this entry. I really had more positive thoughts in mind. The neat thing about cooking, is that once you get into the ritual of doing something it feels like you're taking the short cut, you're saving a buck, and you've put no more effort into baking something from scratch then baking it from a box. I did three things over this break that were true shortcuts that took moments to make and were extremely rewarding.

1. Chocolate Pudding

Who doesn't love chocolate pudding? I can name a few people, my husband is one of them. However, I do think I've won him over. Let me ask him now: "Matt, do you like the chocolate pudding I've been making?" He shrugs his shoulders and says, "It's good." "So you would rather eat something else?" I ask. "No," he responds. "Then what's with the shrug?" I asked. "It's good," he admits. There, even someone like my husband likes this pudding. What's great about it is it takes 10 minutes to make, and dirties up two dishes (six if you count the little glass bowls I put it in). This is the recipe from Joy the Baker (awesome blog!) that I made a few adjustments to.

Milk Chocolate Pudding

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup milk

1 cup half and half

4 ounces fine-quality milk chocolate, chopped (I loved Green and Blacks. Even Hershey chocolate chips were good, but the texture does get a little gritty from the stabilizers in the chips.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder and a pinch of salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat, whisking constantly. Boil, whisking for two minutes. Mixture will be thick. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate pieces and vanilla extract. Stir until melted and smooth.

Transfer pudding to four or six small dishes. Cover the surface with wax paper, to prevent a skin from forming, and place in the fridge until cool and set, about two hours. But they don't get good and cold until 6 or more hours or over night.

2. Bread

This recipe makes two medium-small baguettes. In a bowl mix together 1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water (think slightly above your body temperature), 1/2 tablespoon + 1/4 tablespoon of instant yeast (I use 1 packet), 1/2 tablespoon + 1/4 tablespoon of salt, and then 3 1/4 cups of all purpose flour ( I use King Arthur's unbleached). Mix with a spoon, or if you're lucky to have a mixer, with the dough hook until just combined. The dough should be uniformed but it will be very sticky. Dump the dough out into a container that has a lid. I use a plastic tupperware with a lid. Allow to rise at room temperature, with the lid on, for two hours or until it begins to collapse and has a flat top. Place it in the fridge, and the dough is at your disposal for two weeks.
When you're ready to bake, it couldn't be more simple. Take out a portion, about the size of a grapefruit, add a touch of flour and work it into a ball (not too much, this should take maybe 30-60 seconds). Shape into the desired shape. Place it on a pizza peel dusted with plenty of cornmeal, whole wheat flour, what have you and allow to rise for twenty minues. While you're allowing the bread to rise, prepare the oven. Place a stone in the middle of the oven and a shallow baking pan one the next rack underneath. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. After the twenty minute are up, brush the bread with water, slice with a knife, pour 1 cup of hot water into the shallow pan under the stone, slide your bread on the stone, and bake for 30 minutes. Oh! And though the bread's crust is very crunchy when it first comes out, it will soften with cooling, but will harden back up after completely cooled. So eat it right away or wait until it is finished cooling.

3. 1 Hour Dress
My mom freaked out when we came across this fabric at a store that is already smocked at the top. Her, Diane, and another lady reminisced about making dresses from this type of fabric as teenagers and how easy it is. You literally just put a seam down the back and hem to the desired length. I decided to add pockets to mine, because a dress or skirt with pockets is like a million dollars.

The learning bug has bit me big time. I start pottery classes in two weeks and I'm thinking about guitar lessons.

Decide what you want to be, and go be it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Heat Wave

Sweltering hot and only the first week in April. April is cool breezes, rain showers, cold dew in the morning, and always unpredictable. Where is spring? All anyone can talk about around here is how to avoid turning on the AC.

I got to get my hands dirty again, this time really feeling the sweat and heat. A little taste of the torture I will endure this summer. My garden is starting to fill up! Cilantro, parsley, and borage are planted, but I think I might have planted them too deep. They might not make it up to see the light of day. Insert sad face here. But now I have a row of red onions, lavender, cinnamon basil, sweet basil, and radishes. I've always liked deer, such sweet and quiet creatures. But if one of those doe-eyed animals decides my onions will make a sweet snack, I might be tempted to go hunting come this September...or invest in a crazy, electric deer fence.

My dad is thirty some years older than I am yet could have done five-times the amount of work as I did. I've got to build up some endurance to withstand the heat and back aches. There is something very satisfying about doing physical labor. I don't experience it often, but I do know that my beer tasted better and a bath felt luxurious.

Baking disaster #193: Red Velvet Cake
Kevin requested a red velvet cake for his birthday, so I made him banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. They were truly yummy. But mom wanted another cake made for the weekend and I had to cave in and try the trashiest cake known to humanity, red velvet. The name reminds me of molded carpet heavy with the scent of cigarettes. Three tablespoons of red food coloring made the cake smell like play dough and taste like it too. Never again, never again. At least it looked pretty. Oh, and the frosting was good. Everybody ate the frosting.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Picnic Blanket

Four or five years ago I found this quilt made by my grandmother. I pretty much stole it from my mother...but I think she knows and is okay with that. I guess parents are used to such crimes. It has been my faithful companion through the spring and summer months, holding up as a beautiful and comfortable picnic blanket. It's covered in stains and would shred into a thousand tiny little pieces if I put it in a washing machine. I once hand washed it and hung it from a shower rack, which immediately gave way and broke due to the weight. I don't know why I'm writing about the blanket. It's just kind of special to me and part of the backdrop to many special memories.

Finally the rows were run and I got three types of seeds into the ground: cilantro, parsley, and borage. According to dad most people around here plant their seeds around Easter. I guess that means tomorrow or Sunday I'll be planting the remainder of my plants. I just hope there won't be any more frosts between now and then. Kevin helped me till the rows, remove a ridiculous amount of wire grass, and crumble giant dirt clods into manageable soil. I am very thankful that someone was there to help. You don't just sprinkling seeds and cover them up. Did you know that watering the seeds after planting isn't the wisest thing to do? Instead plant when there is a little moisture in the soil, so the seed can get some water to produce growth. But if you water the seed, the growth starts immediately and then lack of rain stops the growing process and your seed is stunned.

As I was working on Wednesday I had several run-in's with dad's bees. We might have a problem since my garden is right beside their hive. I hate getting stung by a bee. You'd think I would be used to it by now. When we were little my cousins told me that after May you had to go outside barefooted. I was always trusting enough to agree to whatever truths they declared, and therefore got my share of splinters, stings, cuts, and scrapes. Our drive way was shaded by chestnut tree after chestnut tree for heaven's sake! If I had any sense I would have always wore shoes.

Almost forgot! I love the bread dough from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day. I was really amazed at how little effort I put forth into making really great loaves of bread. There is a great crust on the bread and a tasty chewy center. The dough that had been refrigerated longer tasted more yeasty, which I loved. We ate an entire loaf with goat cheese and apples for lunch today. YUM!