Friday, January 7, 2011

New Cookbook

I got a Borders gift card from my wonderful brother and sister-in-law (among other fabulous presents), so I went down to Borders for their big after Christmas sale, and found some great bargains. One of those is The Essential Baking Cookbook (ISBN 978-0681025936) published by Bay Books.

This book has everything from bread to cakes and pies to cookies and muffins. I didn't realize at first, but it's an Australian publication which means it has lots of cool things you don't normally find in U.S. cookbooks (though it also lacks some things you'd expect to find in a U.S. cookbook). Ingredient measurements are offered in cups, grams, and ounces unless they are smaller than a 1/4 cup--then they are in teaspoons and tablespoons.

I made rolls from the bread section on Sunday, and they turned out well. I don't have a lot of experience making yeast bread, so I was a little nervous. I made sure I set the timer so I'd knead the dough for long enough, and I bugged my mom with lots of questions about whether it seemed to be rising properly. The rolls turned out tasty and the texture was right. They tasted good, but there seemed to be something lacking, but I had a hard time putting my finger on it. My mom and I finally decided it might be that a little more salt or sugar was needed. The recipe called for 1 tsp. of salt and 4 tsp. of sugar (divided) for 4 cups of flour. I'll probably up the salt by 1/2 tsp. and the sugar by 1 tsp. next time and see if that makes a difference.

I had a problem with how the rolls browned. The book gave examples of different glazes to use either before or after baking. I did an egg wash that was supposed to give the rolls a "deep colour in the crust." I didn't find it to work well. The bottoms browned faster than the tops, and the tops stayed kind of pale. I will consult the "What Went Wrong" section of the cookbook to see what I can do next time to get they outcome I want.

I have lots of great recipes to experiment with in the coming year. I also will be attempting to plan ahead meals more. It's much easier to get dinner going when you know you have the ingredients on hand to make one of a selection of recipes. What I've done occasionally in the past is to pick out 5 meals to make for dinners for a week (the other 2 days are for leftovers), and then shop for those meals specifically. Then I leave the list of meals on the fridge and when I ask myself "What am I making for dinner tonight?" I can go consult the list and pick out what looks good (or is easiest to make, depending on how I'm feeling about cooking that day). This is probably not revolutionary meal planning to anyone except me, but I like how well it works, especially in avoiding the curse of indecision which leads to ordering pizza or going out to eat.

I've been doing pretty well incorporating more vegetables into my meal plans, listing not just the main dish but also possible veggies to serve as well. Having those veggies listed right on my weekly meal list is a good reminder so I don't end up finishing the main dish without having made any vegetable accompaniment. That's not really a problem if the meal already incorporates veggies in the recipe--like the roasted vegetable and chicken bake, but when I'm making something like oven baked bbq ribs, I hate finding myself with a ready-to-serve main dish but nothing to serve with it.

I'm going to continue to plan meals with plenty of vegetables; I always feel particularly virtuous after eating a dinner with lots of veggies. The baked chicken with roasted vegetables is now on the regular dinner rotation. There's a lot of prep, but it's not hard to make. And really, if I chose just 2 or 3 types of veggies instead of 5 or 6, it would probably take less time to prep.

What I really want to do is improve at making stir fry. Mine seems to always turn out with either overdone or underdone veggies. Perhaps I need a wok instead of using the large skillet. Hmm, maybe I can convince my mom she needs a wok. I will be researching stir fry techniques, but if anyone has a good method they use, please post a comment. Thanks.

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