Gratuitous Gratitude #1: The Calculus of Cooking

22 Nov

One day in college, I decided to throw a dinner party.  I didn’t know how to cook, really, but having mastered literacy by the second grade, I felt confident I could at least follow a recipe.  So I picked out several ambitious recipes with about 100 ingredients each, and muddled my way through, to pretty spectacular results (if I do say so myself).  The problem came the next time I offered to make dinner for people: this time, I had deluded myself into thinking I knew how to cook and picked out new, equally-ambitious recipes with even more ingredients. The result was, uh, less-than spectacular.

This persisted for the next four years and led to many nights of apologizing (“I can’t imagine what went wrong with the duck confit, but my isn’t this mango gallete delicious?”), until one day it occurred to me that I had started with calculus before I knew how to multiply.  So I went back to some more basic things and experimented with types of food I wanted to learn how to cook.

So now I present to you: three recipes I am grateful for.   These are three of the easiest, most basic, most instructive recipes I know.  The Bluberry Focacia is a GREAT first-bread to make and you’ll learn a lot about how a dough is supposed to look/rise because you can’t mess it up; the smokey marinara sauce can be paired with ANYTHING and make it better, and the nutella bread pudding (yes… you read that right) is just the best thing you will ever put in your mouth, period.  Plus, they’re so good everyone will be very impressed and think you are a domestic-mother-effing goddess, as some of us are known around these parts. And that’s something to be grateful for.

Also- I don’t know how to make a “jump”–but one day I will, so sorry if these multi-recipe posts give your fingers carpal tunnel from scrolling down.

The easiest bread I’ve ever made: Blueberry Focacia
I got this from Oprah Magazine and it has been a big hit everywhere. DO NOT BE INTIMIDATED.


  • 1 package (1/4 oz) acive dry yeast (you can get this in the baking section of most grocery stores)
  • 2 1/4 c warm water
  • 6 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 lg egg
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter at room temp (seriously room temp– makes everything easier)
  • 5-6 c blueberries (at this time of year, you might be able to get away with 1/2 fresh, 1/2 frozen–but try it once with fresh so you can see what it should be like!)
  • Oven preheated to 400F
     

1. In small bowl, mix yeast and water together and set aside for about
5 minutes (will get a little foamy).  In a large bowl (on standing
mixer if you have one– if not, no biggie), combine flour, HALF cup of
brown sugar (save the rest for later), salt, and cinnamon. Stir the
egg into yeast, then pour wet mixture into dry mixture and mix on low
speed (or combine very quickly if you don’t have standing mixture).
Add butter, mix until combine. Knead dough until smooth and pliable
but still relatively wet– about 5 minutes.
2. Grease large bowl with oil or Pam. Put dough in bowl and cover w
plastic wrap (again– has to be plastic, not tin foil, or it won’t
rise).  Let rise for about an hour in a warm place- dough will double.
3. Grease two baking sheets. Break the dough into two halves and place
one half on each baking sheet. Stretch out slightly until dough is
1-inch thick and oval-shaped. Cover with greased plastic wrap for
another 45-60 min.
4. With greased fingers, “dimple” surface of each loaf. Sprinkle each
loaf with half your berries and 1/4 c brown sugar.  Bake until golden
brown- about 30-35 min.

The most versatile sauce I’ve ever made: Smokey Marinara
Many thanks to the people at myrecipes.com for bringing me this incredible sauce (and, incidentally, the inspiration for butternut squash lasagne)!

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (this is what makes it so delicious
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper 
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained (I cannot say enough how much it matters that they are fire-roasted–the flavor differential is incredible)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained (in late summer, I substitute with fresh heirloom tomatoes and it makes it even better)

Preparation

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add garlic, basil, parsley, and oregano; sauté 1 minute, stirring frequently.
3. Stir in balsamic vinegar and remaining ingredients. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.
 

The best dessert I’ve ever made: Nutella Bread Pudding

Do I even need to preface this? I found this recipe while in South Africa, and since then it has tantalized palates from five countries on four continents. Be careful- it is truly dangerous!

Ingredients
•    6 croissants for a small batch, 12 for a large
•    as much Nutella as you dare (I use about 5/6 a jar for a large batch)
•    2 eggs
•    1 cup cream
•    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•    1/2 cup sugar

1.    Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2.    Slice each croissant in half lengthwise, then slather one side with Nutella. Place the croissants nutella-side-up in an ungreased glass baking pan until you get to the top layer, where I like to do nutella-side-down.  Try and arrange them as equally as possible with as few gaps as possible. This does not have to be pretty!
4.    Whisk/beat Teggs, cream, vanilla extract, and sugar to a medium bowl and until combined.  On good days, I get this to a custard-consistency, but it works even if it doesn’t quite make it there.
5.    Pour the custard over the croissant-nutella-goodness until it is covered. You may need to manipulate this by pushing down on some of the croissant pieces–that is fine.
6.   Let sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes–if you have longer, let it sit for about 90 minutes.
7.  Bake for 30-45 minutes. That is a huge range, I know– but this is an oven-sensitive recipe, so check it a few times.  You want a golden brown top and a “set” pudding– so basically it should look like there’s no more liquid in the mixture.

One Response to “Gratuitous Gratitude #1: The Calculus of Cooking”

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  1. Best of CuK | Cooking Up Kefi - December 10, 2013

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