Monday, January 31, 2011

What's for supper? (and why not to buy cheap baking powder and cocoa)

Tonight's supper:

Subversive Tuna Wrapup with white sauce
Combination of broccoli, red peppers, and a bit of frozen broccoli-red pepper-other mixture veggies
Small panful of frozen french fries

Choice of pie (left over from the weekend) or homemade chocolate pudding

And now a comment on cocoa.  The kind you bake with, not the kind you drink.

Some of us do not normally buy gourmet-type ingredients, nor do we particularly care or notice the difference, say, in whether the cheese mixed with the macaroni is on-sale store-brand or something grander (and necessarily more expensive).  And in many cases, unless you're feeding gourmets who make it their mission to care about such things, or have other reasons such as dietary concerns for wanting a particular level of organic or something-or-other-free, the cheap brand of most ingredients will do nicely for everyday cooking.  Well, okay, so we're a bit fussy about canned tuna--we prefer the next level up from the dog-food-type cheapest kind.  And we do look for a few low-sodium options such as a particular brand of sauerkraut.  But in general, generic is okay with us.  Even in baking, I often go for cheaper alternatives such as imitation vanilla.  I am not trying to win a baking contest, I'm just making oatmeal cookies.

However, there are at least two baking ingredients that it pays to fuss over.  One is the lumpy cheap generic baking powder that leaves little bits of bitter near the top of the muffins.  Blech.  It also comes in a nasty container like a Parmesan cheese can (if you ever buy that kind of Parmesan cheese--I don't) with a swivelling top that's almost impossible to get a tablespoon into, therefore requiring me to decant it into another container, and this shaking-up-and-down-and-out process is time out of my life that I could really spend doing much more interesting things.

So no more of that; I'll either buy it in bulk or spring for the name-brand, which comes with a regular old screw-on lid.  Or substitute cream of tartar plus baking soda (see the Tightwad Gazette or search online for simple instructions).

The other thing I've decided it's worth paying more for is cocoa.  If your cocoa-using recipes come out kind of so-so, it might be the recipe, but on the other hand--it might be the cocoa. The Bulk Barn stores here sell Ruddy Red Cocoa, a Dutch-process alkalized cocoa.  According to their site, "the alkalizing process neutralizes the acidity, leaving a mild but rich tasting cocoa powder that lends a deep chocolate colour to your favourite recipes. If a recipe calls for "Dutch process" cocoa, this is the one to use!"  In the past year or so I've tried it in most of our favourite cakes, brownies, puddings and holiday recipes, and I am a convert.  I much prefer it to the lighter brown supermarket stuff, even if it's messier to scoop.   It's like the difference between fresh-ground pepper and powdered gray stuff.  Or Parmesan cheese in a can vs. freshly grated.  Or fresh nutmeg and pre-ground; not that I always use fresh nutmeg either, but you get the idea?

I finished off the end of the bag in the chocolate pudding, and I guess we will now have to use up some of the regular stuff I have in the pantry.  But I am planning to buy more of it before too long; good cocoa does make a difference.

Here's the chocolate pudding recipe; it's enlarged and adapted from the vanilla/butterscotch/chocolate pudding recipe in Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

Chocolate Pudding

3/4 cup white sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cocoa, see notes above (I might have put in slightly more, since I was dumping out the plastic bag)
3 cups of milk (I used a can of evaporated milk, thinned with water to make 3 cups)
1/2 tbsp. vanilla
chocolate chips for topping, optional

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cocoa with a whisk.  Over medium heat, gradually stir in milk.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.  Be patient, this will take a few minutes and you don't want it to burn; turn on a good radio station or contemplate something worthwhile, but don't forget to pay attention to what's in the pot.  Keep whisking and remove from heat when it comes to a boil; stir in the vanilla.  Pour into a container of some kind--I prefer a square Pyrex cake pan so that it thickens and chills evenly.  Chill in the refrigerator with plastic wrap spread over the top to reduce skin buildup; you can sprinkle the top with chocolate chips first if you want.  Serves 4 to 6.

1 comment:

Lindsey in AL said...

And if you're like my dear husband, you can actually TASTE the difference in store-brand and aluminum-free baking powder. I truly didn't believe him early in our marriage (shame on me) but we've since cleared that up and I buy Rumford's in a 5 pound bucket (usually 2 or 3 at a time to keep some in storage).

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