Shine Supper Club: What We Learned About Your Scariest Dish

For the first month of the Shine Supper Club, we asked you to make your scariest dish. Why submit you to this terror? We had a feeling that if we could cook outside our comfort zone and confront a fear, we'd all wind up with more kitchen confidence. Even if our souffle fell, we'd have looked our personal cooking demon straight in the eye, and that takes guts. From there, it's self-fulfilling: more confidence leads to more experimentation, trial and error leads to unexpected triumph, and then whaddya know--we're having fun among the pots and pans on a random Tuesday night. So what did we learn from our first endeavor?

Shine Supper Club - Quick Fried Chicken1. Fried Chicken is Scary
Still smiting from her childhood bout with salmonella, Sarah Lipoff bravely stepped up to the plate to make her own fried chicken, which she'd always worried was a recipe for food poisoning. Sarah approached her scary recipe with a Zen attitude and wound up with a crisp--thoroughly cooked--batch. But there was some debate in the comments: Was Sarah borrowing trouble with another bout of salmonella by keeping her oil too cool?

Lesson Learned: Experts agree you should first heat the oil to 350-375 degrees. After you drop the chicken in, the temperatures they quote range from 300-375. Whatever works, people!

Shine Supper Club: Shrimp Risotto2. Risotto is Scary
It's also exhausting. All that stirring! Milk and Mode took the Shine Supper Club opportunity to make her favorite in-a-restaurant dish at home. The results? A creamy, tomato-studded shrimp risotto worthy of a very special occasion. "My right arm was just about falling off by the time those little arborio suckers were toothsome and right," wrote Milk and Mode. Shine reader K suggested that risotto doesn't have to be stirred continuously and it will "still come out great." So do you need to stir risotto continuously for that creamy, luscious texture?

Lesson Learned: As our friends at The Kitchn point out, it all depends on how you like your risotto. Adding the broth one cup at a time helps the risotto develop its signature silken texture. A no-stir approach will save your arm, but it will turn out a dish more like a creamy casserole than the beloved Italian classic. Say it with me, people: Whatever works!

3. Yeast is Scary
"I want to bake my own bread, but yeast intimidates me," wrote Shine reader Laura toward the beginning of the Shine Supper Club March challenge. A week after Laura's promised to "bite the bullet and try a loaf of whole wheat bread," she had one loaf almost gone, another in the freezer, and one given away. We'd call that a Shine Supper Club success, and maybe one that will inspire Nola Girl, who echoed Laura's fears: "I see I'm not alone when it comes to the 'yeast phobia.' [...] I kill it or don't activate it or get bad yeast. I'm sticking to the latter as I am a very good cook otherwise and it is better for the ego that way." We hear you, Nola Girl! And we agree that the yeast is to blame. But how can you avoid baking disasters when dealing with a living, breathing organism?

Lesson Learned: Respect your yeast. Always check the expiration date on the packets of active dry yeast before baking. If using yeast in jars, be sure to store in the fridge after opening. Avoid leaden baked good by proofing your yeast before baking to make sure it's still active. It's easy: Sprinkle the yeast into warm (110 degrees) water; my mom always suggested it should feel like a warm--but not hot--bath. (I like to proof my yeast with sugar, adding and dissolving about 1 teaspoon into the water before gently stirring in the yeast.) Set the yeast aside. In the next several minutes, it should bubble, creating a creamy foam. This means your yeast passed the test (hooray!), and you can proceed with the recipe. If nothing happens, toss the yeast and try again.

4. Pie Crust is Scary
The phrase "easy as pie" must have come from someone with a sick sense of humor or a master baker; no one I know thinks pie crust is a cinch. As Shine reader Glee wrote, "I watched my mother make it hundreds of times and have attempted it as many times on my own. It never comes out like hers. Her pies were so tender they melted in your mouth. I have her recipe and many others. So far I give myself a C- edible but nothing to write home about. I keep trying." So what's the secret?

Lesson Learned: Epicurious says the secret to the tenderest, flakiest crust like Glee's mom is pie crust made with lard. The downfall is that the flavor can be somewhat bland. As a compromise, many recipes will call for half butter, half lard or shortening. Let your own preferences guide you. Melissa Clark recommends keeping everything cold: butter, ice cold water, and perhaps even storing your flour in the fridge. Don't overblend the dough, make sure to warp it tightly and give it enough time in the fridge to chill (an hour should do it), and use as little extra flour as possible when you're rolling it out.

If we had to settle on a single lesson learned this month, it would be this: cooking is not monolithic. There are as many ways to fry a chicken and cook risotto as there are to skin a cat. Of course we all have our opinions--Do it this way! No, do it that way!--and there might just be room for all of us to be right. Let's remember this as we offer each other our constructive feedback in the Supper Clubs to come. Onward and upward to next month's challenge, which we'll announce on Thursday, April 5th. Stay tuned!

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