Sunday, September 9, 2012

Step Aside, Julia!

I few months back, my friend Ruth told me about a cookbook that she said changed the way she cooks and thinks about food.  Ruth holds a degree in restaurant management and often tries to teach me better ways to feed my family.  In the past she has chuckled when I have asked her if the cookbook comes with pictures.  I like to know if my version matches what it is supposed to look like as I go along.  In short, I am a visual learner.  This book does not have pictures but her website does.  (www.kathleenflinn.com). 

I was at the library and happened to come across the book she had mentioned and decided, what the heck, I would give it a try.  I have a bit of time on my hands these days, and I read about a book a week, it was a library book, so I really had nothing to lose. 

Seriously, you need to check it out.  Check it out so you can read the real directions.  Kathleen is so much more elegant than I am. 

 
 
In the interest of full disclosure, Kathleen Flinn doesn't know I exist, let alone is she compensating me for this post.  I am not sure she will want to be associated with it since I am not sure I do it exactly the way she says to but it is working for me.   This book is based on an experiment that she conducted with about nine volunteers wherein she took self-professed cooking disasters and turned them into competent cooks.  She found that the art of cooking is dying out and things that were considered common cooking knowledge are mysteries to people like me. 
 
My first foray into trying out her ideas was in making bread.  A loaf of bakery bread at our local store is almost $4.00.  When I found out how easy it is to make it myself I feel like I have been robbed.  I was almost angry.  I can make it better myself for about $1.00 a loaf.    Here is all there is to it:
 
 
Mix 3 cups of lukewarm water (at least 100 degrees) with 2 packages of dry yeast.  To that mix 1 tablespoon of kosher salt (I am still not sure what the difference is between regular and kosher, but I went with it.  When I called Ruth from the store, she assured me that it was worth it, and I really should not be cooking with anything else.  Who knew?) and then 6 1/2 cups of flour.  I have found that the bread flour works better, but both do pretty well. This dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks in a tightly sealed container. 
 
Let that sit loosely covered for two hours at room temperature.  It will fill up a 4 qt bowl. 
 
Here is where it gets kind of tricky.  Once it has risen for the two hours you can scoop up about 1/3 of it and form it into a loaf shape.  Put it on some parchment paper that has been covered with corn meal.  If you don't do this it will stick and you will never get it back off without it getting mangled. Also, cover the thing with flour or it will stick to your hands which will also leave you with an ugly, mangled mess.  I speak from experience here.   Let it sit on the parchment paper for about 30 to 90 minutes and then slit the top a few times or else it will erupt in the middle.  You need to preheat the oven and the pan you want to cook the bread in to 450 degrees.  Also, you need to have some sort of oven proof container that you can add water to to create steam while it is preheating.  I use a pie plate.  (I have never actually made a pie, so it is about time I put that wedding present to work. Have I mentioned that I have been married for 16 years?)
 
Once it is preheated, take the pan out of the oven and add the dough.  REMEMBER TO PUT YOUR OVEN MITT BACK ON, BECAUSE THE PAN WILL STILL BE 450 DEGREES EVEN THOUGH IT LOOKS LIKE IT WILL BE COOL. TRUST ME ON THIS AS IT WILL BURN THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF YOUR SKIN! My kids learned some new language that I am not proud of because I had to learn this the hard way.  My hands have healed now, except for the scar on my left pointer finger.  It matches nicely with the scar on my thumb that required seven stiches, but that is a story for another day.  Suffice it to say that I also learned quite a bit from the knife skills chapter.   
 
Make sure you put about 1 cup of water into the steam pan.  This will help you get a crispy crust.  Cook it for 30 minutes, and then take it out and enjoy.  This is what you should end up with.
 
 
My next project is cooking a whole chicken.  It is in the oven now.  I have to tell you that it is not for the weak of stomach, and I had to use some gloves so I didn't have to touch it, but it smells amazing.