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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

So keeping this blog at the same time as I’m in grad school is proving fruitful. (Note food allusion.)

I am starting to see that my slavish devotion to recipes is a way of not learning. Learning new things takes time and I have never really been interested in taking the time to learn how to cook. I thought I was getting around the problem by following recipes; I could follow instructions and voila! dinner would appear…

But then I started writing about the process of following recipes and made the unfortunate discovery that it was more relaxing to cook when I didn’t follow recipes. It was upsetting because I still didn’t want to devote the time to learn to cook. Then the lessons of grad school kicked in. It turns out that learning to write is really about learning to pay attention to what’s happening when you read. Reading isn’t something new I have to add to my life, I just need to keep doing the same thing, but differently. And now I think it might be true of cooking: I already do it, if I can pay attention to what’s happening when I cook, I can become a better cook.

The blog is basically a way to pay attention to what goes wrong (and right) and use the information to improve the process. To wit: tonight’s pizza. On Week 2: Sunday Night I lamented my inability to roll out pizza dough. I researched to no avail. Next time we had pizza I made sure to plan it for a night that my husband would be home to roll it out; but I couldn’t keep that up for ever. Plus there was something about knowing I would have to write about the pizza, knowing how boring it would be to  write about how I couldn’t roll it out – again – that made me and my husband pay attention to when rolling the dough worked and when it failed. (Unfortunately for him he’s gotten dragged into the thing now)  And guess what? He figured out a technique that worked! (Remember, he’s the natural cook in the family.)

1) Don’t oil the pizza when you put it in the bowl to rise – oil the bowl that the dough is rising in. The idea is to touch the dough as little as possible and an oiled bowl allows you to flip it out onto the rolling surface without touching it.

2) Drown your work surface in flour before tipping dough out. Don’t be shy. Don’t be stingy. Don’t be obsessed with not wasting things. Flour the surface with gusto, then tip the dough into the middle.

3) Dust the dough & your hands with flour.

4) Punch the dough down & use your knuckles & fingertips to start pushing dough out into circle. Here’s a video of a lady who does this well.

5) When you’ve gotten as far as you can with your hands, use a floured rolling pin to keep expanding the circle. The rolling pin will take it to about 1/2 the size you need.

6) The next step is tricky and I haven’t mastered yet: Lift dough up on closed fists and allow gravity to do the rest of the work stretching the dough out by turning the dough around your fists in an ever widening circle.

I didn’t get that last step quite right this time but I’ll be sure to pay attention next time my husband does it – and I’ll know what to look for. Even still, tonight was the most successful and least stressful interaction I’ve ever had with a ball of dough!

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