Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cooking in a hurry

I never thought I would be a person who made bread. Heck, I never thought I'd be someone who could even cook. I was a picky eater as a kid, much preferring to nibble on this or that and dash off again than to sit still and finish a whole meal. Drove my mom crazy. Hated peas, hated tomatoes, soup was yucky, pasta sauce gross. I couldn't let foods even touch on the plate and preferred to eat my sandwiches as separate components.

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.
That brings me to the parmesan sprinkling. Mix up some basic dough that lives in the fridge, and cut off a hunk when you want to bake. Every day, if you want. Spread the dough in a rectangle, cover it liberally with shredded parm (or cheddar, or jalapeƱo jack) and roll it up.

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.


  1. Vanilla ice cream and apple crisp heals anything!

  2. that bread looks divine! I am glad you cook!

  3. I want cheesy bread right now, but I'm up to elbows in pumpkin today... literally.

    The crisp might not taste the best, but it sure looks great.

  4. I really should do that bread-dough-in-the-fridge thing you suggested. Never underestimate the value of memorizing a quickbread recipe.

  5. I envy your China experience. I wish I'd gone off to live in another country when I was in my 20s, but I was too busy being a yuppie in NY before yuppies were created (and before they were paid well).

    And I love your gardening, your food insights, your sense of neighborhood, your photography......etc.

  6. Gosh and which one would you be in that pic? :-D

    It was the topping for the crisp that sold Medha. My dishes were deeper than a tray so initially I thought it was too much fruit for the topping. The granny smith apples I used were very tart and the cranberries made it even more so. But the topping balanced the tart flavor very well and with ice cream? Heaven! My neighbor loved it so I'm guessing your colleagues will, too!

    Oh and that bread looks simply divine!

  7. You've got that right, Duck!

    Thanks, Mimi!

    Betts, making jack-o-lanterns? The crisp tastes good, just needs some tweaking. Through no fault of the original recipe, either. Gotta fault the cook on this one.

    JGH, it's really so easy. Try it!

    Thanks, Claire! It's not too late, you know.

    Thanks, Manisha! I have not so much of a sweet tooth when it comes to fruity desserts. I do like the tartness the cranberries add. Put that big pot to work and make some bread! You could make little loaves in those cute small pots, too.

  8. Nice looking recipes! I'm glad you clarified the tonsils - I had forgotten that you called them that when you first added them to the jars and I was nervous!

  9. I still eat my sandwiches as separate components! :-)

  10. It was interesting to learn how you became interested in home cooking. It's funny how our lives change in ways we wouldn't expect...