Saturday, April 12, 2014

BFD: Morning Glory Muffins

March 23, 2014

Morning Glory Muffins
Scrambled Eggs
Fried Bacon

Morning Glory Muffins from Cook's Country
Perfect Scrambled Eggs for Two from Cook's Illustrated

We already had plenty of leftovers when this Sunday came around. That plus a scheduled trip that would take us out of town for several days this week meant a meal without any leftovers was in order. I originally had learned about Morning Glory Muffins on the Cook's Country TV show a few years ago and I had been wanting to try them ever since. The original recipe was developed at the Morning Glory Cafe in Nantucket, Massachusetts, which closed many years ago.

These are healthy muffins. "Healthy muffins" doesn't sound appealing. It makes me think of bran muffins which for some reason just don't appeal to me. These contain coconut, apple, pineapple, carrots, golden raisins, and walnuts. However, even though they carry a healthy label, they are quite good. They are sweet yet not too sweet for breakfast. They have a nice soft texture and rich flavors provided from the variety of sweet and savory ingredients. They kept well and were still good several days later warmed in the microwave and served with butter.

I don't normally use a recipe to make scrambled eggs, I just beat some eggs with a fork, maybe add some milk, salt, and pepper, then cook them in a hot skillet. The resulting eggs are OK, usually with large curds of cooked egg that is reasonably tender. But some reading suggested there may be a better way. One challenge you face having something that might be better is that it has to overcome your natural resistance to something that is different than the familiar. I used a Cook's Illustrated recipe that mixed the eggs with half and half and then cooked them using two burners, one set to medium (4 on our stove) and the other to low (2). This is tricky stuff and it didn't really work out. Diane thought the eggs were underdone and I had to agree.  We also were put off by how creamy they were, we are not used to creamy scrambled eggs. While scrambled eggs seems to be a simple dish, I have more work to do to learn how to do it well. Maybe I'll try Gordon Ramsey's recipe or try the Cook's Illustrated recipe again but with higher heat, 5-3 instead of 4-2. However I doubt I'll go the Modernist Cuisine route any time soon; it cooks the eggs sous vide and then dispenses them with a whipping siphon.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Barbecued Ribs, by Request

March 16, 2014

Barbecued Ribs
Quick Baked Beans
Broccoli Salad
Homemade Sourdough Bread

Barbecued Ribs from Cook's Country
Barbecue Sauce from Cook's Country
No-knead Sourdough Bread from Chicago Tribune

I originally planned a different dinner for this Sunday before St. Patrick's Day. It wasn't entirely by design, but it worked out nicely that I was planning to make Guinness Beef Stew and Irish Soda Bread. But our daughter, Caryn, was going to be home from college for Spring break and she asked for Barbecued Ribs. The weather here in San Jose has been getting warmer: I have been wearing shorts most of the time for a few weeks and Diane and I have started eating dinner outside as we prefer to do. So it seemed like a good time to uncover the grill and do some barbecuing. I don't say this to flaunt our good weather to my family in upstate New York who have had a long, cold, snowy winter, but rather to provide them hope that Spring will certainly come and will be arriving soon.

Because I got a late start cooking, dinner was served late. The St. Louis cut pork spareribs were treated with a dry rub on Friday night and sat in the refrigerator until Sunday afternoon. They were  smoked on the grill for several hours and then cooked for a few more hours in a 250° oven. If not for the lateness of the hour I would have cooked them a little longer in the oven and then let them rest before serving. As a result they were cooked, but still a little tough. Nonetheless they were good and the four of us for dinner, including Caryn's friend Bryan, enjoyed them. We had 1½ racks and at the end we had only a few ribs left over.

I made a barbecue sauce to go with the ribs, though a bottled sauce could also have been used. It was a little too spicy for Diane and me, and there is a lot of it left over that will probably be thrown out. Caryn used two heads of broccoli from our CSA produce box to make a cold broccoli salad. The dressing is quite sweet but this went well with the ribs. I once again made the quick Boston beans that we have enjoyed on several occasions. Surprisingly, for having been made with canned pinto beans, they were a little toothsome and, as always, a little soupy though this is not really a problem. I bought store brand beans, perhaps they aren't cooked as much as the brands I have used previously. I also made a loaf of sourdough bread. The recipe used is different than others in that it includes both starter and yeast. It is a no-knead recipe where the dough is made 18 hours or so in advance and the long rest leads to gluten production. The bread was good.

This was a good dinner based on a good warm-weather menu. I believe I prefer baby back ribs, though, to these spareribs, and I prefer the method I used to cook them last year which was quicker then the multi-step method used for these ribs. I don't regret not having the Irish-themed meal, I was happy to have had the opportunity to grant Caryn's dinner wish.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Honey Fried Chicken

March 9, 2014

Honey Fried Chicken
Skillet Corn Bread
Fruit Salad
Brekle's Brown Ale/Vella Merlot

Honey Fried Chicken from Cook's Country 
Southern-Style Skillet Corn Bread from Cook's Country

After a couple of busy weekends where I chose quick, simple meals to cook for Sunday Dinner, I was able to spend a little more time in the kitchen. I had been wanting to try my hand at frying chicken using my recently acquired tools for deep frying. I had recently seen an episode of Cook's Country on TV featuring a recipe for Honey Fried Chicken and so chose to give it a go.

While there was nothing particularly difficult about making the chicken the process did involve many steps and created many dishes to wash.  And oil to discard. I was in the kitchen for 2 to 2½ hours total making this meal. To save a little money, I purchased a whole chicken and broke it down myself.  The breasts, which I removed from the bones, were cut in half so all the pieces of chicken were about the same size. I discarded the wing tips but kept the drumettes. The chicken pieces were brined, coated with corn starch, then dipped in a batter. They were then fried twice; similar to the method used to make french fries they were first par-fried, then allowed to sit while the oil reheated, then cooked again. Finally they were dipped in a glaze made with honey and hot sauce, a combination of Topatío and Siracha because the bottle of Topatío was empty.

The chicken was really good. I took the temperature of one piece and then timed the cooking of everything else. The dark meat was just right, hot and juicy, though the white meat was a little over done. The outside was very crisp, providing a satisfying snappy crunch when you bit into it. The glaze provided just a hint of heat to complement the sweetness of the honey, but more than that it imparted a nice flavor to the dish.

To go along with the chicken I made a savory, southern-style corn bread which uses no sugar or flour. This contrasts with the more cake-like northern style. Diane prefers the latter while I prefer the former. Finally, I made a simple fruit salad including blueberries, apple, naval orange (which, curiously, was the color of a ruby grapefruit), banana, and purple grapes.

Fried chicken is one of those foods that is almost better leftover than when fresh. It can be eaten hot or cold and so is suitable to take to work for lunch. We didn't do that, however. We reheated it in a 200° oven and had it for supper. The skin was no longer shatteringly crisp but the chicken was still very good to eat.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

American Onion Soup with Ciabatta

March 2, 2014

American Onion Soup
No-knead Ciabatta Bread
Rodney Strong 2010 Sonoma County Merlot 

American Onion Soup from Food Wishes
No-knead Ciabatta from Food Wishes

I've had French onion soup many times in restaurants but never homemade. I've collected several recipes to try and chose one from Food Wishes for this Sunday dinner . The post on Food Wishes is titled "American French Onion Soup": American because it takes short cuts and French because of the way the onions are traditionally cut. (Like French Fries, the name refers to how the vegetable is cut rather than the country of origin.) To go along with the soup I made a loaf of Ciabatta bread using a no-knead recipe also from Food Wishes.

Thanks to the shortcuts, making the soup was not a lot of work, though it did take some time. Much of the work of caramelizing the onions occurs in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, with only occasional stirring. It was a bit of a risk making the soup using store-brought broths but the soup came out very good, Diane and I both enjoyed it. If anything the portions were too small. I had to use ramekins since I melted the cheese using the broiler and our other bowls are not broiler safe. The recipe calls for the optional addition of sherry vinegar. I like Chef John's suggestion to treat it like salt and pepper,  adding a small amount to suit your taste. I don't  have any sherry vinegar so I didn't add any.

Baking the bread turned into something of an adventure. I placed a square Pyrex baking pan on the bottom rack of the 425° oven to generate steam for baking. Just before I was to put the bread into the oven, I poured boiling water into the Pyrex. The dish shattered. It didn't shatter all at once into a lot of tiny pieces. It shattered into large pieces that then slowly shattered further, leaving a pile of glass on the bottom rack and floor of the oven. I turned the oven off and used tongs to remove the largest pieces of glass, leaving the rest on the oven floor to deal with later. I then put a metal baking dish on the bottom rack. I added boiling water to the dish and put in the bread to bake. However, when I went to check on it I found the oven was still off. I thought I had turned it back on, but apparently not. I turned it back on and monitored the bread closely and took it out when it reached an internal temperature of 210°.

Despite these problems, the bread is delicious! When fresh it had a nice crisp crust, soft, slightly chewy crumb, and nice, simple flavor. It is good toasted but, because of its shape, not so good for sandwiches. I used a coarse corn meal on the baking sheet which made the bottom crust a little too crunchy. The holes in the bread weren't as large as I was expecting, perhaps because of the lower initial oven temperature.

We are still working through the last of the ham. It has turned out to be a great bargain with all of the meals it has provided us. This week Diane made a great split pea and ham soup from Forks over Knives and a nice ham and potato hash from Simply Recipes, served with fried eggs.

We have more soup than we can use soon, so we froze about half of the onion soup. It's too early to tell but this should not harm the soup at all.