Friday, March 16, 2007

Dancing in the Kitchen

You really shouldn't. Dance in the kitchen, I mean. But this post is dedicated to my good friend Stefan who, with his dancing partner, won his first blue ribbon at a ballroom dancing competition. Congratulations, Stefan!

Really, though, I think cooking can be like a well-choreographed dance. When I was much younger, and just starting to cook actual meals, I remember my aunt telling me that you can't be a good cook if you leave your kitchen a mess. I really took those words to heart. And so cooking involves a certain amount of planning, to make things in the right sequence so that your whole meal comes to the table at the same time, the hot items hot, the cold items cold. You plan so you use the minimum number of utensils and wash up as you go in the lulls that occur, so you don't clutter up your work area. Economy of motion, smooth transitions, bursts of speed and activity, moments for contemplation. Is it a wonder that many people find cooking and/or baking therapeutic?
The first recipe I tried for lemon poppy seed muffins didn't turn out very well, and ever since I've been on the lookout for another recipe to try. I found one in the Williams-Sonoma Muffins book by Beth Hensperger, and I got up early this morning just to test it out. This time I had lemons for lemon zest (organic lemons, actually), which I didn't have for the last recipe. There's also buttermilk, and I used powdered buttermilk, which keeps a long time and works (according to Cooks Illustrated) just about as well. When using powdered buttermilk, add the powder to your dry ingredients, and then add the appropriate volume of water (for example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of buttermilk, you use one cup of water) when it's time to add your liquids.
I mixed together the dry ingredients. Then I creamed the butter and sugar together. At this point, I should have added egg yolks to the butter mixture, but I forgot. Instead, I mixed the dry ingredients, the liquids (water instead of liquid buttermilk, lemon juice and vanilla extract) and the butter mixture together, then added the egg yolks. After that, I whipped the egg whites into soft peaks and folded that into the batter.
The batter went into the muffin tin, and then into the oven until they were golden brown. They didn't rise as much as I wanted them to; maybe I'm still over-mixing. However, the flavour was much improved from the previous recipe (both in lemony-ness and sweetness), the crumb was good and the muffins were moist. Next time, I'll be just a little more careful with my mixing, and perhaps they'll turn out as beautifully as they look in the book.
And, at the end, 8 minutes of washing up left this (and the muffins) as the only evidence of my activity.
Right now, I'm working on another new recipe. Something that I've never made before, and haven't often had the chance to eat. Corned beef! It is going to be St. Patrick's Day, and I really liked homemade corned beef the first (and last) time I had it. I also managed to snatch up a Chefmate enameled dutch oven/casserole from Target for just $40! This is the dutch oven that Cook's Illustrated touted as excellent performance for your money (dutch ovens can often be over $100). So I bought the smallest piece of corned beef from the supermarket that I could find, and am following a recipe from the AllRecipes website. This first time, I decided to go the old-fashioned route and do it on the stove top, instead of using the slow cooker. There's something infinitely satisfying about that. The house smell heavenly. Come back later for a look at the finished product.


MooCow said...

did u use muffin tins, or are those cupcake tins i see?

Lana said...

*google-eyed* Is there are difference?

MooCow said...

muffin tins are larger. oh well, consider it portion control.