Monday, August 31, 2009

Inspired by Julia?

For those that know me, cooking is a passion that has been with me for over 30 years. As mentioned in the previous post, I kind of understand where it came from, but that only hints at how it developed. I have never really questioned my inner self about it until this moment. Right here, right now. So bear with me as I ponder and question my inner self, before your very eyes.

As I mentioned, my mom saw cooking as a chore, and although her mother, who was Italian, could cook, she did not influence me. I don’t remember eating too many of her dishes other than her famous (within our family) fried dough. My other grandmother was Irish and I don’t recall ever having a meal that she cooked. She baked for us once in awhile, but was not known for her cooking skills. No aunts or uncles to pass this down to me. Sorry Karen, but no big sister to teach me. Could it have been Home Economics in seventh grade with Mrs Pitt? Maybe a little bit, and sewing for sure, but that is another story.

Hmmmm, I just can’t come up with a family member or other person who I had contact with other than “the Welz girls and Grammy Thompson”. But there was Julia. I would watch her on TV and giggle as she cooked in her beloved effervescent way. She taught me that cooking was fun and not intimidating. I saw it as an extension to who I was. Nothing was too hard for me to try. And try I did.

In today’s school system, there is no doubt that I would have been labeled and possibly drugged for ADD (Attention Deficit Delight). I refuse to call it a “disorder”. How dare they. I am inquisitive, and quick minded and move fast from subject to subject. I can multi-task with the best of them and this is a trait often needed in the kitchen. I can move in many directions (in my mind) at once, I love to follow directions and this is how I came to REALLY understand the world of cooking and food. I read cookbooks and followed the directions to a T. I collected and collected cookbooks, comparing one recipe with another for the same dish.

The first cookbook I owned was given to me for a bridal shower present in 1979 and written by Julia Child. I was just 19 years old. It was Julia Child & Company (1978). Unfortunately I no longer have it. But I do have, and use often , The Way to Cook.

As I come to the end of my musing, I’m not sure if I have come to a firm conclusion on where I learned my love of cooking. I guess it has just been a journey. One meal and recipe at a time.

Grandma Bishop’s Fried Dough (not really fried at all)

Dough recipe courtesy of

4 cups bread or all purpose flour (white)
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1 packet active dry yeast, or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil (any good brand), but extra virgin is best
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar, or 1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup milk or 1/4 cup water

Preheat oven 450°F.

I prefer using milk for the liquid in this recipe. It adds flavor to your dough. But if you don’t have it, use water.

Using a large ceramic mixing bowl, or any suitable food safe bowl, add the flour, make a “well” in middle, and put in 1 teaspoon salt, stir to combine well. Set aside.

Prepare the starter: In a liquid measuring cup pour in 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water, 1 teaspoon sugar or honey, and one package of active dry yeast. Stir and set aside for 5 minutes. Allow to foam up (or proof).

Next, mix the starter (yeast water) and the milk in the bowl containing the flour with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir together using a wooden spoon or clean hands.

Note: You will need additional flour to knead on the surface that you’re working on. Knead for about 8 minutes or until you get a smooth elastic rubbery dough ball.

Set aside in bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil to keep the dough from drying out. Let dough sit covered lightly with plastic wrap or use a plate or damp clean towel to cover it.

Allow the dough to rise for 30 minutes to an hour.

Grandma Bishop’s preparation

Take a handful of dough and form into small ball. Bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball. Place on oiled cookie sheet (6 to a sheet) and flatten slightly with palm of hand to shape of disc. Cover with towel and let rise for 1 hour.

Heat 1/2 cup of good olive oil in bottom of large skillet on medium heat. You do not want it getting to a smoking level. Carefully place 3-4 pieces of dough into pan and let brown. Flip dough and brown other side. Turn down heat if it is browning too fast. The inside needs to cook as well. If you feel the dough has browned too fast and the inside needs more cooking. Place dough on sheet pan into 350 degree oven to finish cooking.

Top with your favorite sauce and plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Dedication to the Welz Girls and Grammy Thompson

The summer bounty from our garden is in full bloom and with that lots of cooking to make use of these wonderful gifts from God. I just love the process of seeing food go from seeds, to seedlings, to plants, to vegetables and finally to either a simple or complex meal on the table.

Cooking has been a passion of mine since I was a small girl. In my home growing up we had five children of which I was the fourth. Although my mother cooked for the whole family every night, my mom did not enjoy cooking. It was just another chore for this thoroughly modern women of the 60’s and 70’s, and she used prepared food often.

One of my best friends in grammar school, Karen Welz, also came from a family of five, where she too was number four. We went to kindergarten together in Norfolk, Conn and then onto Catholic school in a town thirty minutes away for first and second grade. I don’t really remember the reason, but for third grade my parents sent me and my brother to another Catholic school and Karen changed to the elementary school in the town of Norfolk, Center School. I disliked my new school immensely and cried almost every day on the way to school begging my father not to make me go. It was so traumatic that they finally sent be to a counselor. Actually I think it was a psychiatrist. I was miserable. Again, I don’t remember if it was my ranting or what, but for fourth grade I was finally put in Center School where I reunited with not only Karen, but other friends from town. I was happy again although still somewhat traumatized, and would not spend the night at any friends house until a fateful summer night when I was invited over to the Welzes.

All five girls fawned over me and made it so much fun to spend the night that I stayed for a week. With (I think) brief visits to my home which was walking distance away. Or maybe I saw my mother at our local beach and that was enough to satisfy me that all was well at home. I worried a lot as a child. Which is why latter in life I developed the website

I digress. The Welz’s had a house full of girls and I loved it. The oldest daughter Ann loved to bake and often times (it felt like every day to me) there was a lovely cake or cookies for us to eat. These were not the boxed cakes that I was familiar from in my home, they were sifted and measured and made from fresh ingredients. I thought this was fantastic. It was beyond my imagination and soon I asked my mother if I could bake a cake from “scratch”.

My mom was agreeable and we set to finding the perfect cake. My dad loved bananas and I chose a banana spice cake. The only thing I remember about making this cake was making a “special” list of ingredients to set out for the milkman. Cream, cream cheese and extra eggs.

The next thing I tried to bake was a cheesecake. I must have been about eleven years old. I felt fairly confident in my ability and don’t remember asking for help…thus…I put 3 Tablespoon of salt instead if 3 teaspoons and it was a disaster and had to be thrown away. That was an expensive mistake.

Another best friend of mine was Caryn O’Brien or OB for short. She was an only child and lived with her mom and grandparents. Her home was another, completely different from my own. Here they at “formal” dinners at the expansive dining room table…and they ate late. Most nights I spent there, Caryn and I ate in the enormous eat-in kitchen well before the adults. This was so exotic and wonderful. Her grandmother, Grammy, was a wonderful cook. Straight out of the pages of Julia Childs. I remember watching her make “Chicken Croquettes” and being amazed. I could not believe people ate this way, but for Caryn, it was just the way things were. I was inspired again.

I know for a fact that having these two girls as friends changed my feelings about food forever. I wanted to be able to make anything and know how to do it. As a very young bride of 19, I invited my whole family and by husband at the time’s family over for our first Thanksgiving. My grandparents even flew northeast to share in this event. I made EVERYTHING from scratch. From Boston Brown Bread, Sally Lunn Rolls and pies to ordering a real Smithfield Ham from Virginia to go with the turkey. It still amazes me today.

So cheers to you my friends Caryn and Karen…who I might add are both amazing cooks…for inviting me over and sharing your wonderful homes with me.

Here we are today

Here we are today