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.