Not Really Resolutions

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, per se, but I’m a big fan of reflection and of well-chosen goals, so I ponder a bit this time of year. The very end of December is, if nothing else, a great time for day dreaming about all the things I might just do once the winter holidays and their distractions are over. This January, I’m planning to do a 21-day day kitchen cure, something like the one the Kitchn tends to run annually. I’ll pick a daily project every day for three weeks and, I hope, end up with  a better organized, cleaner, easier to cook in space.

Other food-related things I intend to, or at least would like to, do in 2016 include:

  • continuing to write here, at least weekly, as well as slowly improving the site organization, my posting and pictures techniques, etc.
  • regularly trying food projects that scare me, at least a little bit*
  • helping run (and attending!) a cookbook club, inspired by this article on Serious Eats
  • meatless Mondays
  • more** actual weekly meal planning
  • more cooking with kids (and stepping back and letting kids cook)
  • etc.

What are you up to in the kitchen in 2016?

*suggestions welcome!

**really any weekly meal planning.


Pizza Dough, Revisited Already

rounds of pizza dough spread with tomato sauce

So yesterday I told you how I make pizza dough, but I left out a few notes and sounded way to authoritative about some details. The most important note is: it doesn’t really matter! You can make homemade pizza crust out of just about any bread recipe. You can buy pizza dough in the freezer section of your grocery store. You can use par-baked pizza crusts. You can order delivery pizza. Just do have dinner. Dinner is a great idea.

The dough I usually make can be summed up as “60% hydration”. That’s actually how I remember it. Hydration refers to how much liquid you have in relation to flour. You may also see the term “Baker’s Percentage”. This is all a useful way to think about various bread doughs. Higher hydration is a really wet dough, harder to knead, prone to bigger holes, generally reserved for slow rise, rustic breads like sourdough. Lower hydration is for tighter crumb sandwich breads. The more you make bread, the better idea you’ll get of what sort of hydration you like for what. 60% gives me a really easy to handle dough which is great for make-your-own-pizza, especially when folks want to roll (or toss!) their own crust. A bit wetter or drier would also be fine.

1 tsp active dry yeast works well for about a pound of flour, when you want your dough to rise pretty quickly. Less would make for a slower rise. More could be even quicker. Eventually, you’ll taste too much yeast, however, so don’t go overboard unless you really like the taste of yeast. (On the other end of the spectrum, if you have sourdough starter and more time, you can make overnight dough instead.)

The olive oil I use is actually more like a “glug” than an ounce. I weighed my usual glug and it’s about an ounce, but the precision really doesn’t matter. I find a bit of olive oil makes the dough just a bit more pizza-y, while acknowledging that this is nowhere near traditional pizza dough at all.

Always add salt. This one is a rule. Saltless bread (or pizza or flat bread or…) is a sad, sad thing. The 2 tsp bit in my recipe is approximate though. A bit less or more would be fine. Oh, and also don’t add the salt right on top of your yeast. Yeast likes its salt a bit buffered, so add the salt late, or well mixed with the flour.

Rising times are extremely forgiving for a simple, yeasted dough. An hour or two on the counter works. Just throwing it in the fridge (covered) works. Taking it out a hour before baking is a good idea, but you can probably get away with skipping that too.

Baking time and temperature are also pretty flexible. Lower temp? Bake a bit longer. Higher? Shorter. Check it after ~8 minutes and see.

Oh, and lastly? Put whatever you want on top. Tomato sauce and pepperoni is great! So is olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and mushrooms. So is sliced apple, cheddar, and sage. So is…

Experimenting is awesome.


Talking About Cows with Kids

Recently we were on a lovely, Halloween candy detoxing, ramble through the local woods when the conversation turned to pollution and greenhouse gases. My eight-year-old chimed in with the sober, mostly accurate news that cows burp methane, a greenhouse gas, at alarming rates. Yep, they sure do, I agreed, though I don’t know if your numbers are exactly accurate and there are many factors to consider regarding meat.

I talked some about what I do, which is try to source our meat as carefully as possible, from farmers I feel are doing their best for their land and their animals, and to try to eat nose-to-tail, and then we talked about what more we could do. He suggested if we have salad with every meal we might eat less meat. I brought up meatless Mondays. The truth is neither of us (or anyone else in the household) wants to give up meat altogether. I’ve learned, through trying many different ways of eating, that eating meat makes my body and brain feel better than being vegetarian or vegan, despite knowing something about nutrition and how to prepare a good vegetarian diet. I also have a younger child who already limits what he’ll eat to relatively few things; eliminating chicken and ham would take out major protein sources, eliminating milk would be a huge nutritional blow. In the end, we didn’t come to any conclusions.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do about this question. I want my family to eat delicious, nurturing food. I want to live responsibly in the world. I’m a car driving American who is very fond of good steak, living in a place where it’s much much easier to make a good salad in July than it is in November. I have a kid who would gladly live solely on bread, butter, and milk if I let him and will rarely try something new. (I have another kid who is an adventurous eater, for which I am grateful, but I still have to feed both of them.) I think about this, a lot. I also, sometimes, just feed my family hotdogs and boxed mac and cheese.

A Bit of a Manifesto

I resist online food writing for a variety of reasons: laziness, fear of inadequacy, actual inadequacy. I also resist because I’m no fan of following (or testing) recipes and because, well, I don’t believe there are real answers to anything; whatever I think today, I may just change my mind tomorrow.

That said, I am creating this space to write about food, and, with luck, to read what you, my mysterious yet possible audience, think about food, because food is one of my favorite things. You won’t find many painstaking recipes here. I hope you’ll find instead something to ponder and, perhaps, some inspiration.

That said, here are some things I think today, and will probably think tomorrow, about food & cooking:

Food connects. If I trace dinner far enough back, I find myself contemplating soil organisms and what feeds them. If I trace dinner wide enough, I find the cultures across the globe that influenced this recipe, or that use of a utensil. Every time I cook, I am linked back through the generations of everyone who has cooked. I am linked to everyone at my table and everyone sharing a table with others, across the globe. Much depends on dinner*.

There is no absolute right. This is true both for how we cook, and for how we eat. Yes, there are the ways things have been done and mostly worked out for most people. There are chemical reactions in baking that are fairly reliable. There are rules; those rules are generally breakable. There is huge variation in what produce tastes like, in how baked goods react to the weather, in what we can afford (not just in terms of money, but also time and effort). There is huge variation in what nourishes us. There is huge variation in what we like.

Every choice I make (about food, about anything) has some angle I haven’t considered, some piece of information I acted without or in spite of. Every area is a grey area. There is always more to learn. I still have to eat, though. I have to decide (over and over and over again). I do what I can, when I can, and I try to let the rest go. There is no perfect.

*“Much Depends on Dinner” is the title of a book by Margaret Visser which I haven’t read, but probably would love.