It’s that time of year again, folks, the season where I timidly enter the kitchen and do everything Jene’ tells me to do.
I will note here that my mother has passed on from this life, but she never really passed on any lessons from the kitchen. I did learn to how to turn the dishwasher on, how to prepare Soup Starter, and how to cook eggs in the microwave. No blame is assigned, this is just one of many reasons why I don’t do much cooking.
Jene’ works retail and worked from 7-4 today and will work 11-6 on Friday. She had a migraine this past weekend and doesn’t feel well. This translates into ME doing a lot of things that are foreign to me. Like baking.
Alas, I volunteered for baking duty, one to help Jene’ out because I know she’s tired and needs her rest, and two, to get to wear the apron I made when I was 14 and took Home Economics. Incidentally, Home Ec was also the last time I made a pie (which is different than assembling a pie – buying a crust and tossing a can of cherry pie filling into it).
Jene’ makes these incredible dinner rolls every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She doesn’t measure, she just starts throwing flour and yeast and eggs and milk and butter and sugar and salt around after the flour dust settles, there’s dough ready to rise.
It seems so simple. I watch her and try to translate what she’s doing into terms I can understand. Therefore, cooking for me is best measured out and exact like a science experiment. That sort of thing I can do. I can follow directions.
Jene’ asked me to make the dough for the rolls while she was at work today. Therefore, I was home alone baking SOLO. A frightening combination that always yields interesting results. With the job she works at, Jene’ is not accessible so I couldn’t really pick up the phone and ask questions. I could always call Jene’s Mama, but I’m 36 and really should be able to make dinner rolls by myself without the aid of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. (Mama, I had my cell phone in my pocket in case of emergency or fire, or both, but thank goodness neither happened).
Last night, Jene’ left the Betty Crocker cookbook (which I purchased years ago and is still in mint condition) open to a recipe for dinner rolls. It has exact measurements. Directions. Should have been easy, right?
At 2:30 pm, I assembled all the ingredients on the kitchen counter. I had a little trouble finding the yeast, then remembered that dry, active yeast lasts longer in the refrigerator and I finally found it and set it out with the rest of my science experiment.
Mixing the yeast and flour went well. I whipped up the two eggs in a separate bowl, as directed. I combined the milk, salt, sugar and butter in a sauce pan. It was all going so well. Then I got cocky and put the eggs into the milk/butter combo and then read I was supposed to heat it up.
I am familiar with egg drop soup and how it is made and this knowledge crept in as I wondered how I was going to get myself out of this mess without starting all over and wasting milk and eggs.
A “brilliant idea” then hit me: Remove stick of butter and put it in rinsed out bowl where eggs should still be. Microwave butter to melt (as directed) and then poured it back into the milk combo, catching the part of the eggs in the mixture that had transfered to the rinsed out bowl… the part that had cooked like the egg in egg drop soup. I heated the mixture slightly (but as I found out later, not enough) and combined with the flour as directed.
The big, I can twist your arm off in five seconds mixer that Jene’ has in the kitchen is tricky. If the kneading rods aren’t put in just so, the mixer has a tendency to want to leap off of the counter when the dough gets thick. Fortunately, I was between the mixer and the edge of the counter.
Apparently if the recipe says to grease a bowl, they don’t mean cooking oil. They mean something like Crisco. I had never seen Crisco in my house growing up. My aunt used it, but my mother did not. My grandmother used something like it, but I’m not sure what it was. My great grandma Pearl used lard. My mother, who majored in Home Ec in college, would grease a pan with oil. She would take oil and put it on a papertowel and rub that around the bowl and it would then be “greased.” She would do that or use Pam cooking spray when a recipe called for a greased pan.
Tip: Pam cooking spray is also good to spray on the lug nuts on your tires, because they come off much quicker that way when you have to change the tire. Just ask the tire changers on NASCAR pit crews.
But I digress. I did not use Crisco. I used oil. This made my dough ball slick, but it did not seal it as Crisco would. (This oversight was tended to by Jene’ when she arrived home).
After an hour, I expected the dough to rise to scary heights and I could get the joy of punching it down, but it had not exceeded my expectations. Apparently, the HEAT in the milk/sugar/butter mixture helps it rise quickly. By this time, however, Jene’ was home and told me to boil some water in the microwave and then stick the dough inside to let that warm moisture help it rise.
Dough is finally punched, and little balls of dough are placed in GREASED pan by Crisco greased hands. Apparently a smooth ball of dough is desired, and made by flattening and then bringing the corners in.
Tip: Stretching the dough is not desired. Twisting the little bit of dough off the main ball of dough, is best.
Rolls are ready to bake for tomorrow. One project down, one to go.
Then Jene’ asked which kind of pie I want and tells me I’m going to bake it. Pumpkin it is. First, however, I must make pie crust. I am the pickiest person in the world when it comes to pie crust. If the crust isn’t flaky and light, I usually don’t eat it. In fact, Jene’s pie crust is one of the few pie crusts I will eat.
1 1/2 cups of flour in a bowl with 1/3 cup Crisco blended in with pastry blender after the flour and Crisco sit in the bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes. Also put a cup of water in the freezer to get cold. After the Crisco is blended in, add the cold water in until a good, stiff dough is made.
(Note: until I recently purchased a potato masher, I have been using the pastry blender to mash black beans for my black bean dip).
Another good tip, in case you didn’t know, a good way to measure Crisco is to fill up a measuring cup to 2/3 with water and spoon Crisco into the water until it displaces to 1 cup. Then you know you have 1/3 cup of Crisco without having to spoon it out of a measuring cup and make a big mess (as I am apt to do).
I rolled out the crust into a circle while Jene’ checked her e-mail. The first thing I did was remember to put flour on the counter and the rolling pin (learned that in Home Ec 22 years ago and still remembered that… No dough stuck on rolling pin for me).
The crust, of course, rolled out into a nice circle and promptly split three inches toward the middle. The crust was too dry to re-roll into a ball and start over so I did a very creative patch job and continued to roll it out. It will be interesting to see how that part of the pie turns out.
Making the pumpkin pie filling wasn’t nearly as scary or difficult and went quickly and smoothly. I poured everything together and set the timer.
* Big points to me for remembering to preheat the oven. *
Other than the pie baking about five minutes too long (it did not burn, though), I came through tonight’s experience unscathed. The kitchen is clean again, and I will rejoin Jene’ downstairs at 8:30 AM to prepare the turkey for cooking.
Apparently, I have to stick my hand up this turkey’s…