Mom was good cook and liked trying new things. Dad was a gourmand and loved to go out. So I wasn't a stranger to fine cooking, and when I liked it I ate a lot of it. But I never had a yen to make it myself.
That changed when I went off to China in my 20s. The teachers' fare in the dining halls was a cut above what the students ate (which was dreck; one reason you rarely see fat Chinese students), but still pretty eh. Boy, did I get tired of Chinese food. (I was very skinny then, and got even skinnier after three years of the Chinese diet. People were always trying to fatten me up. "Tian shengde; mei banfa!" I'd say. I can't help it; I was born this way!)
The best meals I had were cooked by my teaching partners or students and their families, and I started to realize that maybe I could eat better if I learned to make a few things myself.
Fast forward to many years later. I'm still learning how to cook, but I have a grasp of the basics and a willingness to experiment. And I can make bread! It's not fancy bread, but it still feels like alchemy to me. Such simple ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt.
Here's a trick I finally figured out: If you're cooking no-knead bread in a pot and want the cheesy top nice and golden, don't wait until it achieves that color at 450 degrees with the lid off. The bottom will be burnt. Instead, when the top just starts to color, turn the broiler on and brown the top for a minute that way. Perfect!
This photo doesn't really do it justice. I was in a hurry, having miscalculated how long it would take me to throw lunch together. I was also prepping another batch of chard from the garden (yes, there's still some to be harvested).
I am really liking it creamed. You just sautée a bunch of onions in olive oil and butter, throw in the chard and toss it to coat, then cover and let it wilt down. Add a splash of heavy cream and cook it some more. I added some chopped tonsils to it, too, (that's oven-dried tomatoes) and a sprinkle (love sprinkles!) of parmesan. Very tasty.
I also had some very attentive supervision underfoot.
What really threw me off was Jen's apple-cranberry crisp. I was also trying to make that while baking bread and cooking chard. Supposedly to take to work for the cow-orkers. (Manisha made it, too, and it just sounded so good). But I was in such a hurry I didn't cream the butter and sugar properly, I ran out of brown sugar (used light brown demerrera instead), and frankly, the butter was a little off, I think. (It had been in the freezer maybe too long.)
But you know, it came out not half-bad:
I'm going to make it again this weekend, and maybe the cow-orkers will get that batch. I would like it with much more fruit and somewhat less topping, though, so I'll use more apples and a deeper dish next time, and reduce the topping.
But you can never go wrong with vanilla ice cream on it.