Disaster, Averted

June 17, 2008

The cake doesn’t look like a disaster, does it? Actually, it wasn’t but it was very close.

You always hear that baking and cooking are two totally different things. To people who do neither, that probably doesn’t make much sense. Both require time in the kitchen, tools, and usually a heat source of some kind. In the end both produce something to eat – how are they totally different?

To be fair, they aren’t totally different. You do, in fact, get to eat the results in both cases. But most people I know cook or bake, not both. Usually, in my circle at least, they cook and don’t bake. Why is this?

Maybe it’s because cooking, as they say (whoever they are) is an art and baking is a science. Cooking allows you to add ingredients on a whim, taste as you go, and adjust. Baking requires you to follow a recipe to the letter and if you stray, suffer the consequences. You can substitute in cooking. Don’t like cilantro? Omit it. The flavor will be different but it will still be good – the dish will work on some level. But omit the baking powder from a recipe and the whole thing will be a disaster.

Or omit the sour cream as I came incredibly close to doing today. I was making this lovely Blueberry Crumb Cake and was, as usual, in a hurry. I am fortunate to have quite a bit of counter space in my kitchen but for some reason, when I bake, I confine myself to a tiny portion of it and stack all kinds of things I don’t need so that they are totally in my way. I was trying to get the whole thing done and in the oven before my baby came over to start playing with the oven dial. And so, as I was just about to fold in the blueberries, I spied behind the cutting board and other junk I had stacked, behind all the used measuring cups and spoons (why don’t I just put them in the sink?), yes, there it was! The sour cream. I put the bowl back under the mixer, added the sour cream, gave it a spin, and then added the blueberries. Disaster averted.

My mom taught me to always re-read the recipe several times in the course making a dish – especially when you bake. I was reminded of her saying that today. So here is my little tip of the day – always re-read the recipe. It takes 12 seconds and can save your dinner (or dessert).

After that little lesson, I am actually going to include the recipe for something completely different. I would love that the photo was inserted here, but I can’t seem to get it go anywhere other than the top. That cute little wedge of pie you see on the dinner plate is a favorite of mine. It is quick, has few ingredients, requires few dishes and no special tools, and plays well with others. And although it is called Feta Ricotta Pie, I have made some substitutions that make it, well, not too fattening. I particularly like it when served with a meal that is heavy on the vegetables. It provides a nice anchor – rich and creamy with no crunch. Tonight I served it with Herb Roasted Onions and Broccolini with a Balsamic Vinaigrette. (I also served a Borscht that I will write about another time…)

Feta and Ricotta Cheese Skillet Pie
Adapted from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
Serves 4 generously

Deborah Madison suggests using a 10 inch cast iron skillet or an earthenware baking dish for this pie. I have had great success making it in a Pyrex pie dish. Just rub it with oil or spray with non-stick spray. I use low fat ricotta cheese and 2% milk and less feta cheese than she calls for, but you could go full fat and use more feta, of course. It’s very important to use good-quality feta here for that is the taste that really comes through.

1/2 pound good feta cheese
1 pound low fat ricotta cheese
4 eggs
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup 2% milk
salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped dill

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix three-quarters of the feta with the ricotta in a medium bowl, without worrying about getting it perfectly smooth – you’ll want some chunks. Beat the eggs into the cheese, then add the flour and milk. Season with salt, pepper and dill.

2. Grease a 9 inch pie plate. Pour in the batter and crumble the remaining cheese over top. Bake until golden, 35-40 minutes. Cut in to wedges and serve.

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