Sunday, February 1, 2009

Recipes, experience & a calm mind

I have lately started using recipes. Sunday Soup has forced me to. By lately, I mean for the last six months or so. When I first learned to cook I studied techniques and then applied them to improve the things I "thought" I knew how to cook. The quality of our food improved quite a bit. Then I started experimenting and discovered I have a knack for combos and creating recipes. I cooked like that for several years.

When we moved to the island and The Southerner started bringing home foods I didn't know what to do with (beets, zucchini), I got the cookbook Perfect Vegetables (which I highly recommend). Sunday Soup forced my hand though...after just a few weeks I realized I needed help with both bread and soup. I am now ADDICTED to cookbooks. While I usually swap some ingredients out, or change something because it sounds odd, I still love using recipes. I think the big change in my thinking is because when I first started to cook, if I didn't have two or three ingredients on hand, then the recipe was useless to me. Now I just sub confidently because I know a lot more about cooking.

For example, this week I chose to make brown bread from The Zen Monastery Cookbook (which is one of the coolest cookbooks EVER!). I thought I had all the ingredients, but when I was adding the molasses, I realized I was a bit short of one cup (I was doubling it), so I topped it off with honey and just a bit of water because honey is thicker than molasses.

Interestingly enough, the recipe says to "pour" the batter into a loaf pan. Well, let me just tell you that I think those monks might've had a little too much of their home brew* when they wrote this recipe because the "batter" was somewhere between a thick muffin batter and cookie dough. I double, and then triple checked the recipe. All good. I scooped the batter/dough into the pans and it turned out fantastic. I did have to turn the oven down a bit after half an hour and the bread was done after 45 minutes instead of an hour.

The thing is, this is how experience helps you use recipes. Five years ago I would've panicked at the density of the batter, wouldn't have known to turn the oven down, would've cooked it for the whole hour, and been rewarded with bricks. But on the positive side, that's also how I learned what to do in this case. It's all about trial and error. Thank goodness The Southerner will eat anything! It makes the failures that much easier to stomach!

Try this recipe. It's delish:
Brown Bread from The Zen Monestary Cookbook
(adapted from The Peaceful Palate)
2 cups wholewheat flour
1 cup white flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or soymilk)
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup raisisn

Preheat oven to 350. Sift dry ingredients into large mixing bowl, stir to combine.
Mix milk with molasses in separate bowl.
Add raisins and wet to dry. Stir well to combine.
"Pour" into a buttered loaf pan and bake 50 minutes to an hour

Makes one loaf

*Some monks do brew beer, although I don't think these monks do. I think they're at high altitude and I'm at practically no altitude, so that could've made a difference.


AnneB said...

It's true what she says about Perfect Vegetables--it's a fabulous cookbook. I'm going to try the oven-roasted potatoes and Greek potatoes sometime very soon!

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