I think this blog needs to move on to its kitchen aspect, especially after that last post. I was in a dark place.
I’ve been sort-of teaching one of my friends to cook. I say “sort-of” because it’s been largely baking, and because we’re just making things, and hoping he learns something along the way. So far I think I have managed to beat this important lesson into his brain, if nothing else –
“READ THE INSTRUCTIONS! AGAIN! AGAIN!!”
I’m not exactly Mr. Miyagi. If he had to wax on, wax off, I’d be constantly taking the rags away from him and saying. “You’re doing ok, but more like this, and you really shouldn’t do that ever, except sometimes. Watch this.” But then, I’m also not Julia Child, doing everything – it irritates him to no end when I stand there with a smirk and say “Pshhh… you wash the dishes, you got them dirty.” (It’s one of my favorite parts, even if I do usually wind up breaking down and drying, if not also rinsing.)
We started with potato salad and Nutella pound cake. (links will take you to the respective recipes) The potato salad was an inspired opening play since it involved several different general-application techniques, and the only thing that could have burned was the bacon. It was also dead simple to make: Fry bacon. Cook and peel eggs. Boil and peel potatoes (it is 100% easier to peel red potatoes after they are boiled, and it also removes the eyes at the same time). Chop veggies. Stir in mayo and mustard. Chill. It was delicious. We, and the third friend whose kitchen we were borrowing, consumed the entire batch in a matter of minutes. Well, I did manage to rescue about one and a half cups of it to take home for lunch the next day. We did halve the recipe though, so we’re not total pigs. I think next time I would not halve the amount of dressing, because the potatoes soaked up a tremendous amount and it was a little less than satisfying the next day, being rather dry.
The pound cake came together beautifully. The loaf pan was buttered and floured immaculately. Yet the darn bottom stuck, so only the top two-thirds came out when we turned it up after letting it cool for almost an hour. The three of us ate the bottom right out of the pan. It was also delicious. Buttery, dense-crumbed pound cake met ribbons of creamy Nutella in a dance which seemed to trail off long after the mass of masticated unhealthiness settled into stomach slumber. We split the loaf into thirds to take home, and I must confess, I ate all of mine in one sitting.
The next session, we made the coy Simple One-Hour Bread and fresh fruit muffins. Let me talk about the muffins first, because they’re the good news. If that muffin recipe were a child, I would adopt it in an instant. Docile, obedient, cheery, versatile, quick to get ready when Mommy’s feeling out of sorts after a long day of wondering why the eldest child (see the bread) is so pesky, troublesome, and worrying… Truly a delightful recipe to have in one’s repertoire. We split the batter into thirds, and added sliced blackberries to one, bananas to another, and strawberries to the last. We had gone to the grocery store earlier that day to get them, which was a lesson in itself on 1. how to pick good fruit and 2. why organic everything is way more expensive than “regular” anything. The berry prices were exactly twice as much. We didn’t bother with making sure the fruit was only 1/3 of a cup, so these muffins were definitely fruity-fortified. They were a dream to make and came out PERFECTLY. No fuss, no muss. Next time I will double the recipe and try out more kinds of fruit. In the following days, The Student made them again on his own with chocolate chips, and he had no problems.
Hmm. Problems. That makes me think of that darn bread recipe. I’ve made it twice now. I followed the recipe with excruciating precision both times, with two unavoidable deviations – I use AP flour and the requisite amount of Bob’s Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten to make up for it instead of bread flour, and I cannot duplicate how “heaping” her measures of yeast are, so I just heap as much as my container and the scant amount of yeast in it will allow, and hope for the best. In her video, her loaves rise to heaven, and her finished product is a testament to billowy pillows of gluteny goodness the world over. They are tall mounds of fluffy dough; reaching up on rockets of yeast, they seem to defy gravity itself. Mine, on the other hand are… squatty. Oh, they rise all right, mostly outwards (not like her beautiful bouncing bushels of bigness, *sob sob*), and then, when I bring out the sharp knife for the slits, they quiver. They quake. I make the cuts as lightly and as quickly as possible – and they slump. Defeated. They look as dead as bread dough can look. I put them in the oven anyway, with all the somber ceremony of a burial. Poor little victims.
Howeverrrrrrr… They do come out looking as though they’ve just had a wonderful vacation in the Caymans. Beautiful color. Beautiful thumping sound. And delicious. It is darn tasty bread, if somewhat dense – like a normal-bread version of quick bread. That’s why I don’t want to give up on it, even if it makes me stay up all night wondering who its friends are, and whether it’ll come home with a nose ring. After a round of Facebook troubleshooting, the answer may lie in the fact that I slash it after the rising period, and ought to do it beforehand. (But the Lady! She does it afterwards! There is VIDEO PROOF! *SOB SOB SOB*) Seeing as it’s difficult to make decent sandwiches with bread that is only one and a half inches tall (thereby qualifying as midget bread), I want to be able to help this bread be everything it was meant to be. Someday I will have children, and if I can’t even nurture a lump of dough into being its full wonderful potential, then I don’t know what I’m going to do when little Aloysius Theodore Roosevelt becomes an emo kid who stagnates into carving bad poetry into his closet door with a broken key, or whatever horrible things kids will do in the future when they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. (You’re just like that bread recipe, sweetheart! Doomed to dense flatness forever! *SOBS UNCONTROLLABLY*)
Third session: This time at the home of The Student. Projects – sausage cheese pinwheels and the whimsical “Old-Timey Peanut Butter Candies“. Both involved rolling pins! That was a fluke, but a very good one because rolling out any kind of dough is a skill that takes a lot of practice, so I’m glad he got four chances at it. The pinwheels were a snap to make and came out very well, even better than I thought they would. We put the sausage and cheddar combo into one half and rolled it up the short way so they came out very large (I wasn’t thinking), and filled the other half with pepperoni and mozzarella and rolled it up the long way (they were much better proportioned). Next time I would increase the cheese content; the cheddar especially seemed to melt away and disappear. I’ll say it again, because it bears repeating – SO EASY, and an excellent return on investment. You could use all sorts of meats and cheeses, and probably even finely chopped vegetables too – bell peppers and onions, mushrooms and carrots, nom nom nom. Treat them like pizza. It probably would be ok with a little bit on tomato sauce or pesto, too. Just make sure you don’t put on too much filling or they won’t roll up well, or stay cohesive during and after baking.
The candies seemed great. I didn’t have any properly chilled ones (just odds and ends, which to be fair were quite tasty), because I had to leave too soon. However, the recipe has a BIG FAT TYPO in it which threw a spanner in the works and caused me a lot of irritation as well as a sugar headache (and I don’t get those easily. I have a well-developed sweet tooth and can handle large amounts of sugar). The tablespoons of milk should be TEASPOONS. TEASPOONS. TEASPOONS. I was skeptical, but faithfully poured them in one at a time, and thank the Lares for that, because at four I knew that the soup which was forming would take an ENORMOUS amount of added powdered sugar to correct. Sure enough, it did. For the first half of the dough, we stopped a little short of ideal, so the “dough” was unbelievably soft. We kept it in the fridge as much as we could so at least the butter in it could firm up, but it was just. so. soft. For the second half, we added even more powdered sugar so it behaved better but probably not as well as it would have without all that extra milk. We put the two unsliced logs in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes before slicing. The soft one would not quit being soft so slicing was fraught with tension, but it did turn out all right and the other one was much better. The stark white against the brown peanut butter is very pleasing. But man are they SWEET! Next time there won’t be a dairy malfunction so there won’t be as much powdered sugar in the first place, and I will use my usual peanut butter which is just peanuts and some salt, to better cut the SWEET. The bits I had were worth the problems though, so I am confident the tweaking will produce something worth feeding people who know me.
Next Post: Solo Adventures!