Monday, April 16, 2018

Recipe Notes: Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

24 March 2018

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated All Time Best Soups, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 123; also available online

I tried another soup recipe from the book I received recently as a gift. I recall making tomato soup like this but all I could find in my blog were notes about making a creamy, rather than creamless, tomato soup. I have no reason to avoid cream but in the spirit of trying new things I made this creamless (indeed, dairy free) tomato soup. When you try new things you sometimes find something very good.

The soup was very easy to make. Onion, garlic, and a bay leaf were cooked in extra virgin olive oil. (I omitted the optional red pepper flakes.) Canned whole tomatoes were added and mashed. Three slices of white bread, crusts removed and cut into 2" pieces, were added as a thickener, along with some brown sugar. The mixture was cooked until the bread started to break down. The bay leaf was removed and the soup was puréed in a blender in two batches. Chicken broth and brandy (optional) were added and the soup was brought to a boil, seasoned, and served. From start to finish it took 45 minutes to make a lot of tomato soup.

The finished product was good. It had a nice texture, good tomato flavor, and it kept well for leftovers. It also had a fruity taste, perhaps from the brandy, that I did not enjoy. I thought this detracted from the tomato flavor and I would omit the brandy if I were to make this soup again, or I would make the creamy tomato soup recipe that includes cream.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Recipe Notes: Chewy Chocolate Cookies

14 March 2018

Recipe from The Perfect Cookie, America's Test Kitchen, 2017, p. 51; also available online

I was flipping though my cookie cookbook and I came across another new recipe for a chocolate cookie. I figured I couldn't go wrong and it might turn out to be better than other recipes that I have tried (e.g. chocolate sugar cookies, chocolate chubbies) that have made very good cookies. Even if it wasn't better it still might be good enough to add to the chocolate cookie repertoire.

Making these cookies was straightforward. Dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt) were whisked together in a bowl. In a separate bowl dark corn syrup, egg white, and vanilla extract were mixed together. In a stand mixer, butter was beaten with a mixture of granulated and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. The corn syrup mixture was mixed followed by the flour mixture. Finally, ½-inch chunks of bittersweet chocolate were added to the dough. The dough was chilled in the refrigerator for 30 minutes then balls of dough (made with a #30 portion scoop) were rolled in granulated sugar and baked until the edges were just set. I got 21 cookies and it took 90 minutes from when I started to removing them from the oven.

These are very good cookies! They have crispy edges and chewy middles enhanced by the melted chunks of chocolate. They are not too sweet but they are very chocolatey.  These are definitely worth making again.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Recipe Notes: Chinese Barbecued Spareribs

11 March 2018

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January 2018

I have enjoyed barbecued ribs on occasion in Chinese restaurants, though not recently. I think of them as being small and lacquered with a slightly sweet, smoky sauce. This recipe from a recent edition of the Cook's Illustrated magazine promised something similar. It was worth a try.

You hardly need a knife to prepare this dish. The meat is cooked in two stages: first braised in a flavorful liquid then roasted. Two racks of St. Louis style pork spareribs (almost 7 pounds) were cut into individual ribs. Fresh ginger and garlic was chopped in the food processor and added to a Dutch oven. To this was added honey, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, water,dry sherry, five-spice powder, red food coloring, and black pepper. The ribs were added, covered, and cooked for 75 minutes on the stove top. After braising, the ribs were removed from the Dutch oven and the liquid was strained and much of the fat was removed using a fat separator. The liquid was returned to the Dutch oven and boiled to thicken it. Half of the ribs were placed on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet, glazed with the reduced liquid, and roasted for 7 minutes in a 425° oven. The second half of the ribs was roasted the same way. Advertised in the magazine as a two-hour preparation, it took me three hours to complete.

The freshly-cooked ribs were chewy, not as tender as traditional Western ribs. The sauce was dominated by the flavor imparted from the five spice powder and not as sweet as the rib sauces we are used to. The best ribs were those with the most glaze. The ribs were better when served as leftovers. We reheated them in a skillet with some of the glaze and served with steamed rice flavored with the glaze.  The meat was more tender and the flavors in the glaze were better blended and balanced than in the original. I will probably stick with a more traditional Western cooking method and sauce for ribs in the future, but this was a worthwhile experiment.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Recipe Notes: Quick Beef and Barley Soup

27 February 2018

Recipe from All Time Best Soups, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 18.

Once again I dove into the soup book that I got last Christmas for a new recipe to try. This time I chose a "quick" beef and barley soup. It looked to be easy to make, consistent with the "quick" in its title. Homemade soup is a great cold-weather entrée and I was hoping this one would be no exception.

I had a bag of pearl barley in the freezer. I wasn't sure if this was the same as "quick" barley, so I didn't look too hard for the latter in the supermarket. The recipe specifies sirloin steak tips for the beef component with a note that this is sometimes called "flap meat". I purchased 1.6 lbs of "flap meet" at Whole Foods; I hoped this was the right stuff. To start making the soup, carrots and onion were cooked in olive oil in a Dutch oven. Once the vegetables were softened, fresh thyme, dried porcini mushrooms, garlic, and tomato paste were added and cooked for 30 seconds. Beef broth, chicken broth, barley, and soy sauce were added and the mixture simmered until the barley was tender. According to the recipe this should have taken about 15 minutes, but for me this took about an hour and I had to add a cup of water due to the extra simmering time. Apparently pearl barley is not "quick-cooking"! In a skillet the beef, having been cut into ½-inch pieces and seasoned, was browned and then added to the Dutch oven once the barley was tender.  Even with the a slower-cooking barley, the soup was ready about two hours after preparations began. 

The result was a soup that we enjoyed as the main course for several meals. It had a nice beefy/umami flavor with a good consistency and tender, flavorful meat. For our first dinner with this soup we served it with sourdough crustini (fancy word for toast) and some red wine for a simple and satisfying dinner. This is a soup to make again, with quick barley or barley that takes a little longer to cook.