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!

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