May 24, 2011 Getting Intimate With My Kitchen
I’m on a weird cooking kick these days. It seems counter-intuitive. As we slouch into another wet, sticky, languid DC summer, the idea of bonding with my oven should make me run to the arms of my air conditioner.
Instead, my thoughts are occupied with charming vignettes of domesticity–homemade confections birthed from vintage stoneware, retro aprons, a cat encircling my feet as I work.
Especially because I do not have a cat.
Since Sunday my inventory of culinary conquests has included two loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread, a batch of soft vegan ginger cookies and Jean Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman’s recipe for halibut, served with green beans and sticky rice (my addition, not theirs). That’s a whole lotta cooking for a gal who often passes weeks without meaningful interaction with her stove top, let alone her oven.
Not that I don’t cook, or that I don’t enjoy it when I do. I have long history with the kitchen, beginning with helping my mom prepare dinner for our family and sometimes guests, crossing over into college where I regularly cooked for an audience of 100 hungry vegans through the campus co-op system, and even a brief stint as a chef in a cafe in Boulder, Colorado (brunch shift–not a recommended first pro cooking gig).
Apart from the occasional flirtation with winter stews, my regular culinary ambitions don’t extend far. Think warm grain salads mixed with veggies, stuffed sandwiches on the panini press, some simple pastas and whatever my friends at Amy’s Kitchen have frozen and shipped to my local Whole Foods.
In short, I’ve gotten lazy.
This week, I have made attempts to change that.
Preparing savory foods is rarely an endeavor I find particularly daunting. In fact, I tend to cook savory dishes with the abandon of a seven year old boy at recess. Stuff gets thrown in the pot at random, and by the handful. Pans are jostled, their contents flipped in the air with a slick flick of the wrist in a move I often perform for the sheer pleasure of feeling like a total kitchen badass. Maybe it’s simply because I have always cooked these types of dishes, and they are therefore what I am comfortable producing, but savory cooking allows for a level experimentation that I truly enjoy. Throw something in a sauce, taste, and adjust complimentary ingredients accordingly.
But baking. My, that’s another story altogether.
While I baked cookies and muffins as a kid, my completely clichéd and predictable adolescent fat/carbohydrate phobia brought that to a halt. For years, I barely touched the stuff, let alone prepared it.
Last night’s encounter with soft vegan ginger cookies reminded me just how pronounced the differences between cooking and baking are, mainly because baking affords fewer opportunities to course correct. I suspect that experienced bakers can sample cookie dough and know what to do when the dry components overwhelm the wet, and your unbaked cookies refuse to do anything but sit in soft crumbs in the bowl. I however, seem to lack that level of culinary confidence. If the bowl of combined wet ingredients have already mixed with the dry, can I add more of one of the wet ingredients, or will that throw the recipe off? Do I instead need to start over?
You get the drift.
I’ve never baked from Joy the Baker, but I admire her aesthetic and her writing style, so I decided to trust her. I soldiered on. In the end, my cookies came out okay. A bit dry and rock-like, but the ginger flavor was nice. I froze many of them, some were deposited in the kitchen at work, and the rest will be offered up at book club. It’s perverse, but they really do go better with milk. I suppose next time, I should tackle something a little less challenging. It’s probably not wise to attempt a vegan dessert on one’s first baking out in I-don’t-know-how-long.
At least I have plenty of left over crystalized ginger, which will be quite pleasant, I have decided, mixed into this intriguing little number.
More on that experiment later.
The soundtrack to this post was provided by Gillian Welch’s Revival.