Post # 203 A Couple of Funny Things

December 18, 2013 at 2:12 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 203 A Couple of Funny Things

There’s a lot going on today, what with the holidays coming up, etc.  Today’s post will be a couple of funny stories, but I hope they will be object lessons, too.

Several years ago, when partner/spouse and I moved into our first house together, I was making spaghetti.  It’s one of those meals that everyone likes, and no matter how much you make, it’s always too much.  I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t like my spaghetti so I’m a little proud of it.  I tweak it at times, make it taste different from the last time I made it.  Sometimes, I’ll use just garlic and basil; other times I’ll use the full gamut of Italian seasoning and heavy on the oregano.  It always seems to come out right.  This particular evening, I wanted to try cooking the pasta in the sauce directly.  I thought I could eliminate a step in the process.  I knew I was going to have to get the sauce boiling hot or the pasta wouldn’t cook properly.  I also knew I was going to have to maintain that temp for several minutes without burning so I was ready to stir as much as I thought necessary.  I wanted to use fast cooking pasta so I selected angel hair since it cooks in just a couple of minutes rather than the full twelve to fifteen thicker pastas need.  So all was in readiness, I broke the pasta in half to get it all in the pot at the same time, and threw it all in.  My wonderful, beautiful spaghetti sauce almost immediately turned into a starchy, gluey mess that went from red, to orange, to pink.  Eventually, I was left with a pink pasty mess that had meat chunks suspended in it.  There was a vague flavor of tomato and herbs, but nothing anyone would want to eat.  Everyone tried a taste, and though they tried to spare my feelings, it was pretty obvious no one wanted to eat that glop.  Neither did I.

Moral of that story?  Always cook pasta in boiling water then add to the sauce after draining.  What happened was the starch in the flour melted into the sauce, thickening it.  It’s the same principle behind adding a small amount of the pasta water to a sauce you’re adding pasta to.  Never again will I ever try to cook the pasta in anything other than boiling water.  Ever.

In my kitchen, I try to use as professional a utensil as I can.  When I first started cooking, I used the “got by” theory and all my recipes turned out well.  But as I started using the proper tools for the job, the job miraculously got easier.  I’m also a cheap bastard and would rather wear something out than buy a new one.  And I will never throw something away until I have its replacement.  It’s a truism in my life that as soon as I throw something away, I’m going to need it.  If I don’t have it, or its replacement, then I’m stumped.  One of the tools I use often are my baking sheets.  I use the shiny aluminum half-sheets.  I can fit a dozen cookies on them, two dozen meatballs, a couple of pounds of various vegetables to roast, an entire jelly roll batter, etc.  Very utilitarian.  These are the “go to” baking sheets for professional cooks, and are made to be expendable, almost throw away.  I’m on my second pair, and I’ve had these for nearly four years.  Doesn’t sound like throw away to me.  But you do have to treat them right.  Here’s an example of one:

baking sheet 1

It’s important to keep the shiny surface intact to insure even cooking, and a nice brown bottom on whatever you’re cooking on the sheet.  They are definitely wash by hand with gentle soap.  The instructions that came with them even said to wash while they are still warm for easier removal of food debris.  I treat my pans with cooking spray or shortening before every use to help make clean up easier.  When you don’t treat them properly, here’s the result:

baking sheet 2

This pan was part of my first set of two.  It was the better of the two so I kept it for purposes other than cooking.  When I’d had them for about two months, I unthinkingly put them through the dishwasher.  The result was this picture.  The shiny surface was gone.  Aluminum oxide was rampant.  The other one had turned black and gritty.  Also, I’d used the pan above to cook a pizza and had cut the pizza in the pan.  You can see the knife scoring on the right side of the pan.  I threw this pan out about a month after this picture was taken.  Oxidation had caught up to it and turned black, too.  Lesson learned:  it pays to heed the instructions.

Finally, today, I wanted to make a pound cake.  I haven’t made one in a long time.  I like pound cake.  It has a good flavor by itself, and can be used as a base for a lot of other desserts if you want it to.  So I went to the trusty internet thingy and looked up a different pound cake recipe and latched on to one by Ms. Paula Deen.  Now, the basis for the pound cake is that all the main ingredients are measured by the pound.  A pound of butter, a pound of eggs, a pound of sugar, and a pound of flour.  A couple of other ingredients are added, vanilla, salt, baking powder, but in minimal quantities.  Ms. Deen’s recipe was basically the same with some tweaks she’d learned from her mother and grandmother.  One thing the instructions were clear to point out was to butter and flour the cake pan.  I used a cooking spray designed specifically for baking.  You know the one.  I used my “fluted cake pan”, a bundt pan with ridges.  I sprayed it heavily, baked the cake, then let it cool.  I tipped it out onto a plate and about 99.9% of the cake came out.  Several small and one large section of the crust stayed in the pan.  The cake looked okay except for a few pits, and once I glazed it (I used a lemon glaze) it looks fine.  But lesson learned:  when Paula Deen says of her own recipe to generously grease and flour the pan, that’s what I’m going to do!


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