by Chef Jenn Farmer
Much like life, cooking is full of experimentation. Also much like life it can be with great outcome. And other times, well…not so much. Our very existence here is very short in my opinion. Why not try everything we can at least once, or even twice. I tend to try things three or more times before
making a decision. This is partly due to the fact that some of the great things take time to get accustomed to: blue cheese, for example, I disliked deeply the first time I tried it. I didn’t give it another chance until I was working for a chef with an amazing palate and a knack for teaching. He insisted I try the several types of cheese we had, regardless of my past opinions. He also maintained that I needed to know the difference between a good quality and bad quality blue cheese, as well as one that was going rancid. Of course he was right. Blue cheese did not suddenly become my favorite that day, but I did gain a great appreciation, for it, and now I enjoy using it in a multitude of recipes.
Another reason I try things more than once, is that the preparation of an item can change it so drastically. In fact this was the whole reason I got interested in food to begin with. My mother was a single parent, and she worked a lot of hours and for little pay. At the end of a long day she didn’t
have the means or patience for cooking. In fact, in the beginning we did not even have an oven, just a burner and a microwave. She made nice salads from all the ingredients she plucked from the garden, but beyond that, things didn’t always come out so great. She was notorious for overcooking, or over substituting foods in recipes—in fact more than once she started out making one recipe and ended up with another dish all-together because of the substitutions. Looking back I am surprised that food did not end up scaring me, but Mother was always open minded, and intrepid, and she gave me a taste for this mad-scientist style approach to creating food.
As I got older, she acquired a husband who liked to cook and eat and, most important, had some great cookbooks. He told me to stop complaining about the food and do something about it. If I read the books and stopped being lazy, I could learn to make dinner—I was the one in control of the outcome. He was right. Now before I finish this story, don’t start chastising me for “picking” on my beloved Mother, I am not. If she does not agree with my comments, I WILL hear about it from her, and the next time I see her in person I WILL pay for it. She worked hard all of her life, she is stronger and tougher than she looks. In fact I am a bit afraid of her to this day, since she could probably take me.
Needless to say, not all of my cooking was great in the beginning either, but it was fun. As I learned new things, my mind opened, and I had a renewed interest in living and being a part of that big world that is out there. It has become such an integral part of my life that I would not know what to do with myself if suddenly I was not allowed to cook again. Here is a recent hit, from my experiments.
(it’s like guacamole)
- 1 cup shelled edamame
- 3-4 tablespoons water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- 1 garlic clove
- One half cup tomato, small diced
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- One half teaspoon ground cumin
- Salt and pepper
Combine all but tomato in food processor, blend until smooth. Stir in the tomato and check the seasonings. Serve with warm corn chips, crackers or veggies. To be fair to my dear mother, I will tell you about my most recent less than ideal food episodes. Dinner tuned out all right, but other things can always go wrong!
I am the resident housekeeper at an Inn, and the owner’s family decided to make grilled pizza for friends one night. It is easy to make so it seemed like a great idea at the time. The first mistake I made was to increase the dough recipe too much. We were expecting a crowd, so I thought more
dough was necessary. Against my better judgment I expanded the recipe up. Sometimes recipes translate well when they are increased, sometimes not. This time was a NOT. The dough was just too soft; no amount of flour seemed to make it right. I divided it into thirds to make it easier to work
with. I worked more flour into the dough for grilling successfully. One third of the soft dough I put in the fridge, it was the perfect texture for making focaccia for breakfast (and it turned out lovely thank you.). The last third of this soft spongy dough I put into a large baggie and chucked it into the top
drawer of the freezer, for later experiments.
Sounds all hunky dory, but this is not the end of my tale. Much later in the evening I heard my name being called, and “help” following it. I raced from my bedroom to find one of the Inn owners struggling with the freezer drawer (it is one of those pull out drawers, freezer on the bottom style
fridge). He couldn’t open the ice drawer. My dough had continued to expand in the freezer, and then it decided to freeze. We had a giant solid dough ball wedging the freezer door shut. It took me about a half hour with a hammer and chisel to get it out. Even with 20 years kitchen experience, I continue to learn lessons-and laugh.
GRILLED PIZZA (TRIED AND TRUE RECIPE)
- 1 and one quarter cups 100 degree water
- 2 packets dry active yeast
- 1 Tablespoon Honey
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cups bread flour, plus extra for kneading
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Toppings: this is where your creativity comes in, use any toppings you like. I love to use leftovers. Traditional tomato sauce and mozzarella is great, but so is a little white sauce with leftover maple sausage, sage, and fontina cheese. Experiment away!
Combine the water, yeast, honey, and olive oil in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough hook. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes, stirring once to dissolve yeast and honey. Add three cups of flour and the salt and begin to carefully mix the dough. Stop the mixing and carefully add the last cup of flour, pulsing the mixer if necessary to avoid flour explosions. Knead the dough on low for 10 minutes until its smooth. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead 12 turns. Place the elastic and smooth dough into a lightly oiled bowl, and turn it to cover. Toss a kitchen towel over the bowl and let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Divide the dough into 8 balls, and allow them to rest under a damp cloth for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile light your grill and get it very hot. Now it is time to roll the dough. Each ball should yield a 6 inch or so round, don’t worry about perfect; these little crusts are pretty forgiving. Place the crusts on the grill and cook. You may brush the opposite side with oil and then flip them. Add a smear of sauce and toppings. Allow to cook until the crust is crisp and ingredients hot- but watching not to burn them. Yields 8 small pizzas.