A Mom's Guide to Saving on Groceries


The best thing about bread dough is that it’s not difficult.  The coolest thing about it is that it’s alive!  Yeast are actually fungi, and we have them to thank for bread and anything fermented like wine.  There are some things to remember about yeast dough that will make everything easier for you. 

 ·    Yeast eat sugar, and they must eat to grow and multiply.  There is sugar in flour (carbohydrates) but it takes a while for the yeast to access that.  So provide sugar in the form of white or brown sugar, honey or molasses when you  mix the yeast with water.

 ·   Yeast like to be toasty, but not too hot.  You don’t want to exceed 110° F.  The easy way to do this is to use water or milk that feels warm to you.  Since you are approximately 98.6° F, water that is  somewhere between lukewarm and warm, but not hot is just right.  If you have a thermometer, use it the first couple of times until you have a feel for it.  

 ·   When you put yeasts in a cold place, they snooze.  I’m going to show you my little trick to making bread the easy and convenient way.   True pastry chefs will cringe at the stuff I get away with, but it works for me, and will work for you!  You can complicate it later if you want to. 

 ·   Salt kills yeast.  It causes cell membranes to rupture and burst, which is why it also kills bacteria and is used in preserving.  You will notice the texture of the preserved foods is changed due to this process.  Anyway, don’t add the salt (which makes the bread taste good) at the beginning, but somewhere in the middle, after the yeasts are insulated with flour.  Problem solved.*

*We have Emeril LaGasse to thank for that little tip.  He started out as a baker, and is a master.  

 ·   You really need to use bread flour.  It’s got more protein, and thus more gluten, which is the stuff that makes the dough stretchy, and causes it to hold the rise caused by the yeast.

 ·   Your life will be a zillion times easier if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook. 

·   If I had a bread machine, I’d throw it in the trash can.

Kitchen Magic 07/02/2008

How a tiny bit of chemical know-how can put the fun back into cooking!

 Cooking happens through chemistry, but it’s not hard, and doesn’t have to be complicated.  Ever watch “Good Eats” with Alton Brown?  I highly recommend it as a very enjoyable show on The Food Network.   Of course, you could just watch the show on TV!  Even if you don't like cooking shows, you'll like this one, trust me.  

Alton is a mad scientist, a showman, and a good Southern boy.  Above all, he’s a fabulous cook!  I have to say that he might cringe a little at my laissez-faire treatment of some recipes.  He is nothing if not a perfectionist, while I’m… not.  So I hope he will forgive me, but I’m mostly into shortcuts.   I think he will, because I just watched him make a smoker from a cardboard box.  

 Cool stuff: 

·   Roux-  Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?  This is equal parts butter  (or another fat) and flour.  That’s all.  You melt the fat, add the flour, and cook for a minute or so.  After that, it starts changing color, “carmelizing.”  The darker the roux, the stronger the taste, and the less thickening power it has.  Thickening is the major point of a roux, but as it gets darker, it gets nuttier, more complex, and adds flavor to sauces.

**A tip from a chef friend, Nestor Ramires, keep some roux in the refrigerator, and you'll have an instant thickener any time you need it!
Ok, that was the most complicated, so relax!  

·   Self-rising flour:  If you add liquid to this, then put it in the oven, it will rise.  Add eggs, and it will rise more.  Cool, huh?  Say goodbye to pancake mix.

 ·   Pasta water:  Pasta water is delicious, has vitamins from the pasta, and, guess what, folks?  It has tons of starch from the pasta, as well.  Say goodbye to pasta dinner mixes.  You don’t need them anymore.

 ·   Powdered whole or nonfat milk:  This is a lifesaver in sauces, soups, and breads, as I can add it to the water.  No more “scalded” milk (a hassle which takes time, and makes me wash yet another pan).  Add to the afore-mentioned pasta water, and you get the beginnings of a cream sauce.  I’ll show you the right way, and my quicker, wrong (but oh-so-easy) way.

 ·   Yeast:  Nothing new here.  Yeast are magical all by themselves.  You add water to a package of yeast, and the little guys wake up, and start eating.  This causes them to multiply, and party, all the while expelling great amounts of carbon dioxide.  They make lots of little bubbles, which gives you rise.  More on that in the Dough section.

 ·   Leavening:  baking powder, baking soda, and eggs make things rise. 

 Oils and fats, including milk, make things moist.  Eggs work this way, too, due to the fat in the egg yolk.  These items perform multiple functions, but for now, we'll keep it simple.