Monday, April 10, 2017

Recipe Notes: March 2017

12 March 2017
Quinoa and Vegetable Stew

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen

I'm a little behind typing up my notes so it has been almost a month since I made this dish. I believe I learned about it on a recent episode of America's Test Kitchen on TV. I had also recently heard a podcast talking about quinoa as a "super food" and having little experience with this grain, I gave the stew a try.

The stew was ready to eat 1 hour, 15 minutes after I started preparation. Preparing all of the ingredients in advance, mise en place, helps with the preparation of the stew as ingredients are added in stages to optimize the cooking time of each. The recipe calls for vegetable broth. As with chicken and beef broth, I used a vegetable broth base made by "Better than Bouillon" to make the broth. In addition to quinoa it includes onion, bell pepper, warm spices, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and peas.

The finished stew was garnished with queso fresco, avocado, and fresh cilantro and served with some homemade sourdough bread and chardonnay. We enjoyed the stew and will probably make it again. Leaving out the queso and you have a vegan dinner, good for when our daughter visits. It kept well and the leftovers were good, too. The recipe indicates that it servers 6 to 8; our serving sizes are usually smaller than those used by the recipe writers so we probably got 5 or 6 meals out of this.

19 March 2017
New England Baked Beans

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January-February 2017

I like to eat baked beans. I have tried making them from scratch several times and with several different recipes. However, I never thought that the results matched the effort that was put into the preparation. My go to recipe of late has been from The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook.  But a recent issue of Cook's Illustrated included a new recipe that looked to be easier and quicker than other recipes that used dried beans yet promised flavorful beans. It was worth a try.

The recipe is indeed easy. The beans are soaked in advance for 8 to 24 hours; mine soaked for 16 hours. The ingredients (navy beans, onion, water, salt pork, molasses, brown sugar, soy sauce, dry mustard, bay leaf, salt, pepper) are stirred together in a Dutch oven, brought to a boil on the stove, then baked for about 2½ hours. Baking is mostly hands off other than occasional stirring and removing the lid part way through the cooking. 

These are good beans and worth making again when I have a little time. One of the most challenging parts was finding dried navy beans, two of the three stores I visited didn't have them. They are flavorful with a thick sauce and have kept well.

20 March 2017
Deli Rye Bread

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March-April 2017

My search for good sandwich bread continues. I have found several recipes for white bread that I like and one for a darker loaf that, while good, was not suitable for sandwiches. Still searching for a recipe for a heartier sandwich bread, I was happy to see the recipe for Deli Rye in a recent issue of Cook's Illustrated. I have always liked rye bread but I wasn't sure it could be used as a general-purpose sandwich bread. It's flavor can be so strong that there is little that it goes with. Peanut butter and jelly on rye would not be good. However, this recipe promised a milder flavor mostly by limiting the amount of caraway seed in the loaf.

This bread took longer to prepare than the white sandwich bread, taking a little over four hours. However, most of that time is hands off so the effort to make this bread is not much greater than those simpler loaves. The recipe has both rye flour (which took some shopping to find) and wheat flour. The latter was specified to be King Arthur which has more protein (i.e. gluten) than other brands. Since I didn't have that I used Gold Medal bread flour. The preparation is pretty standard and the dough rises quickly. The method for shaping the loaf is a little involved but not too hard and it results in a nicely shaped loaf of bread.

True to the promise, this is a good, general purpose sandwich bread. It even works with PB&J. It has a flavor reminiscent of whole wheat bread but milder and sweeter. I've had BLTs made with this bread along with ham and it worked well for all of these. I'll be using this bread for a while for my sandwiches until I move on to the next thing. Even then, I expect I will return to this recipe.

23 March 2017
Millionaire's Shortbread

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, November-December 2016

I was not familiar with this British cookie until reading about it in Cook's Illustrated. Apparently it is similar to Twix, but I'm not familiar with that either. 

The bars consist of three layers: shortbread, caramel, and chocolate. The cookies took about six hours to prepare but much of that time is to allow each layer to cool before the subsequent layer is prepared. I used a glass baking pan, rather than metal, and made no adjustments to times or temperatures. The bottom layer is shortbread. This was very easy to make: flour, sugar, and salt are mixed in a bowl, then melted butter is stirred in. This mixture is pressed into the bottom of the baking dish and baked. The second layer is caramel. The ingredients (sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, butter, and salt) are heated to 236° then poured over the cooled shortbread. The final layer is the easiest of all, chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate is melted and spread over the cooled caramel. This is then cut into bars.

The end result is pretty good. I was concerned about the caramel being too sweet but that is not the case. Diane commented that there is not enough chocolate, and I didn't argue the point. The cookies kept well; I didn't cut the whole concoction into bars at once, but rather refrigerated some it, cutting it as needed to replenish the cookie jar. This is not a health food, there are two sticks of butter in the shortbread and another in the caramel. I don't know if I'll make these again, but it was the first time I'd made caramel and I enjoyed learning about that process.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Recipe Notes, February 2017

15 February 2017
Angel Food Cake

Recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 270

We often buy angel food cake in the summer time to have with fresh strawberries. However, it can be good to have on its own if home made. Caleb made some for us some years ago and since Diane likes this cake I decided it was time for me to attempt it.

The recipe has relatively few ingredients: cake flour, salt, sugar, 12 egg whites, cream of tarter, and vanilla extract. The egg whites, with the cream of tarter and sugar, are whipped to soft peaks at which point the vanilla is added. This happened quickly, in 2-3 minutes rather than the estimate of 6 minutes in the recipe. The remaining ingredients are mixed and gently folded into the egg whites. The mixture is then baked in a tube pan; for me the cake was done after 45 minutes. It is cooled, inverted, to room temperature then removed from the pan.

We enjoyed the cake. It was light and tasty. When fresh the crust provides a nice textural contrast with the soft crumb, but this does not last. One nice feature is that the cake can be eaten out of hand: it is not too sticky and with no icing it is not at all messy. We ate much of it as a dessert with lunch or mid-afternoon snack. We will definitely make this cake again. But now, what to do with a dozen egg yolks??

21 February 2017
Crème Brûlée

Recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 472

I didn't know what to do with the 12 egg yolks that remained from making angel food cake so I asked in a Facebook group. There were many suggestions but the one that appeared the most was to use them to make crème brûlée. I looked up the recipe in the same book that I used for the angel food cake recipe and was pleased to see that it uses exactly 12 egg yolks. That cinched it, I was making crème brûlée. 

This recipe has very few ingredients and is easy to make: vanilla, heavy cream, sugar, salt, and 12 egg yolks. The cream, sugar, and salt are heated then left to cool. The remaining cream is added and this mixture is whisked into the egg yolks in three portions. The mixture is poured into 8 ramekins and baked in a water bath.  The crème brûlée is then refrigerated before serving. The whole process took 25 minutes. Instead of an expensive vanilla bean, I chose to use vanilla extract.

Serving involves sprinkling about a teaspoon of turbinado sugar on top and melting the sugar with a blow torch. The crème brûlée is then refrigerated for 30 minutes before serving. I didn't have a blow torch and after doing some research decided to buy a propane torch at the hardware store rather than a butane kitchen torch, which is smaller but takes longer to melt the sugar and is less versatile. Not that I've ever had a need for a blow torch.

This was a great recipe to use to take advantage of the egg yolks, I don't know that I would make it otherwise. The crème is very smooth and creamy, with a mild flavor. The brûlée (French for burnt, referring to the melted sugar topping) was not a solid topping but was rather thin and sweet, providing a pleasant contrast to the pudding below.  Diane like her sugar less brûléed than I did and this request was easy to accommodate.

27 February 2017
Vietnamese-style Caramel Chicken with Broccoli

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, May 2015

The name sounds strange, chicken with caramel? But this is not the caramel that you would have in a dessert. Caramel is made by cooking sugar with a small amount of water. By cooking the sugar to a higher temperature you create a sauce that is not sweet but rather has an interesting savory flavor. That is what is used in this dish. 

The ingredient list is short and the meal, including steamed broccoli and steamed rice, took an hour and half to make. I purchased "thigh fillets" which I take to be boneless, skinless chicken thighs that have been cut up. Whatever they are, they worked well for this dish. The chicken was briefly marinated in baking soda before cooking as a tenderizer. Sugar and water were cooked to a temperature of 390°; the recipe warned of smoke but there was none. The caramel was quenched with water, stirred to dissolve the sugar, then fish sauce and grated ginger were added. The chicken was added and simmered until the temperature of the chicken was 205°. This is much hotter than chicken is usually cooked! After it reached this temperature, the chicken was removed and the sauce thickened with a little corn starch.

Despite the high temperature, the chicken was moist and very tender. The sauce was delicious when poured over the rice, broccoli, and chicken. It wasn't at all sweet and I doubt I would have identified it as caramel if I didn't know that in advance. The ginger and fish sauce added to the sauces complexity and flavor without overpowering it. The recipe made enough chicken (starting with 2 pounds of chicken) for 3 or 4 meals and the leftovers are also good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Recipe Notes: January 2017

8 January 2017
Smoky the Meat Loaf

Recipe from Everyday Cook by Alton Brown, 2016, p. 67. A similar version of this recipe is available online.

I like meat loaf, both the first time and as a leftover. For Christmas I got a new book and decided to try this recipe. It has some unusual directions and ingredients. The meat loaf is meant to be cooked in a smoker, low and slow with smoke. One of the ingredients is "ruffled kettle-style barbecue potato chips", in lieu of bread crumbs; that is pretty specific. After you make the loaf you let it sit for an hour at room temperature before cooking, perhaps if warmer it absorbs more smoke flavor?

With the one hour of resting before cooking plus the low temperatures used, this recipe took over four hours to complete, though a lot of that was hands off. I made a few modifications. Instead of a Fresno chili I used a Jalapeño from which I removed seeds and ribs. The recipe was pretty specific as to what kinds of ground meats to use, I got as close as I could with a trip to the supermarket (1 pound ground pork, 1.2 pounds 80/20 ground beef, 1.1 pounds 90/10 ground sirloin). Instead of a smoker I cooked this in the oven, placing it on a rack in a foil-lined sheet pan. The glaze was augmented, as suggested in the book, with some liquid smoke. The meat loaf was cooked in a 250° oven; it was taking longer than expected so I increased the temperature to 300° so it would finish in a reasonable time.

The best thing about this meat loaf was its texture. It was very tender and juicy. Other than that it was nothing special, not worth the extra time and unusual ingredients that went into making it. It was a little spicy the first time we ate it but milder as a leftover. We froze half of the loaf, with over 3 pounds of meat (the recipe states it serves 12, thus more than 6 meals for the two of us)  it will take us some time to finish it off.

17 January 2017
Cheese and Tomato Lasagna

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, September 2016

I had never made lasagna, I don't even remember ever eating homemade lasagna. I have had it at volunteer events where it was served from disposable aluminum pans. Though I didn't love it (as they say on Project Runway when they really did not like something) I did like it, so I thought I would give it a try.

It took a little over 2½ hours to make this lasagna, from start to table. It was not too difficult to make. Having never made it before I can't compare the process to anything. The noodles are soaked in boiling water so they become pliable before being layered with the tomato sauce and cheese sauce. Three different cheeses are used: cottage, pecorino romano, and fontina.  The only pecorino romano that I found at the supermarket was finely grated. The recipe called for shredded fontina. Not knowing what shredded means, I grated it using the large holes on a box grater. The lasagne has three layers of noodles, two of cheese sauce, and three of tomato sauce and is garnished with fresh basil.

The finished lasagna was good, but perhaps not so good that I would make it again. It was surprising how much it shrunk during baking, ending up a lot thinner than before it went into the oven. It was a little spicy from red pepper flakes, but not too spicy. We have a lot of it, the recipe says it serves 8 so we will probably get 5 or 6 meals out of it. I have no idea what to do with 4 leftover lasagna noodles.

P.S.  I enjoyed the lasagna better left over than fresh. We got 4½ generous meals from it.

22 January 2017
Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread

Recipe from King Arthur Flour

I have been thinking of switching from the white sandwich bread that I have been making to something with more flavor. I tried using whole wheat flour in my current recipe (instead of 18 oz of all-purpose (AP) flour I tried 15 oz of AP flour and 3 oz of whole wheat). This was a little better but still not as hearty as I would like. I may have to try the Test Kitchen's recipe again, but before taking that step I came across another recipe to try from King Arthur.

This recipe makes two loaves of bread and it took about four hours from when I started to taking the bread from the oven; most of this time is hands off. The recipe uses approximately a 3:1 ratio of all-purpose to whole wheat flour. I used AP flour but not from King Arthur. I kneaded the dough in a stand mixer; it never became "smooth and satiny", it was slightly sticky and a little rough looking. The first rise went quickly. The second rise took 90 minutes (the recipe says 60 to 90) and perhaps could have gone longer.

The resulting bread is good, but I don't think it is quite what I am looking for. The recipe provides a pretty good description: "This is a lovely, soft, mildly sweet loaf ...".  It includes one odd ingredient, cinnamon, that seems out of place in a sandwich loaf, and this plus the mild sweetness mutes the whole wheat flavor. It toasts well and makes good enough sandwiches, but it is not quite what I am looking for in a whole wheat sandwich bread.

29 January 2017
Cast Iron Roast Butterflied Chicken

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen, Season 17 (2017)

America's Test Kitchen is obsessed with roast chicken. They seem to publish a new recipe or two every year, each claiming to produce crispy skin (another obsession) and moist well-seasoned meat. I never found roast chicken, or crispy skin, to be all that enticing, so I have not been tempted by these recipes. However, this year' a new recipe was different and I gave it a try. It was relatively simple and fast and so seemed worth trying.

From start to finish the chicken took less than 2 hours to prepare. I purchased a 4.3 pound organic chicken from Whole Foods. I went to Whole Foods, instead of getting a supermarket chicken, because it was important to have a chicken that weighed no more than 4 pounds. This was the smallest one I could get. When I looked at chickens at the supermarket they ran about 6 pounds. The size matters because the chicken is butterflied and placed in a cast iron skillet to roast; a larger chicken wouldn't fit in the skillet. Butterflying ensures that the chicken cooks evenly and quickly. 

Since to roast the chicken, the oven was already at an appropriate temperature, I baked a potato also using a recent recipe from the Test Kitchen. The most challenging part of the dinner was timing the cooking of the chicken and potato so they would be done at the same time. I started the potato in the 450° oven about 20 minutes before the chicken. Sadly, the potato was finished about 10 minutes before the chicken was ready; starting them at the same time would have worked out better.

We enjoyed the chicken which was moist and well seasoned. We didn't get any crispy skin, though, as when I turned the chicken over the skin stuck to the skillet. The potatoes were also good, very fluffy, well seasoned, though the skins were less than crispy because we didn't get to eat them right out of the oven due to the timing challenges.  We got our money's worth from the organic chicken: we had two chicken dinners, a barbecued chicken sandwich dinner, and two dinners with chicken noodle soup.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Recipe Notes: December 2016

11 December 2016

Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen

For a busy winter weekend a simple chili, that I could make in advance, is a good choice. We had vegetarian company so I needed to find vegetarian chili. Searching on the America's Test Kitchen web site led to a promising recipe which I was able to make a day ahead, ready to eat when we needed it.

Making the chili was straightforward and took about 55 minutes. I used a combination of red kidney and pinto beans from the choices recommended in the recipe. These were combined with pureed tomatoes, canned diced tomatoes were pureed in a food processor. The spices include chili powder and cumin with onions and garlic added. The recipe also specified 2-3 teaspoons of minced chipotle chilis in adobo sauce; I used two chipotle chilis. Some frozen corn finishes the dish, and I skipped adding 2 tablespoons of minced fresh cilantro.

When it was "fresh" the chili was pretty spicy, perhaps too spicy for our taste, but it mellowed in the refrigerator and was not too hot when we had it for dinner. We liked the chili. It was a little lighter, perhaps, than a meaty chili and that is OK. I would make this again when we wanted a lighter chili. I would plan to make it in advance to let the spices mellow. To my eyes the chili is not only vegetarian but qualifies as vegan, too.

23 December 2016

Chocolate Financiers

Recipe from Cook's Science

Cook's Science is the newest brand from America's Test Kitchen. I subscribe to their newsletter and this recipe was included in a recent edition. I am not familiar with "financier" but they looked good and not too hard to make, so I gave them a try.

Making 12 financiers only took an hour or so and they were ready to eat, still warm, after only a brief time to cool. They are made with almond flour (which I bought at the supermarket) and egg whites, rather than whole eggs. The other ingredients, including some wheat flour, unsweetened chocolate, Dutch processed cocoa, and a generous quantity of butter, are pretty standard. All mixing is done by hand. The recipe is available in units that American cooks are accustomed to, but you can also use a recipe with the ingredient quantities all as weights, in grams, which is what I enjoyed using.

The finished financiers are very good! They're like a brownie with a lot of chocolate flavor. However, they are much lighter than a brownie, due, I suspect, to the use of almond flour and the absence of egg yolks. We ate them fresh (the best!), plain, and served with ice cream and whipped cream. They have held up well stored in zipper-lock bags. These are definitely worth making again.

25 December 2016

Ultimate Cinnamon Buns

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 70; available online

For the last few years I have been making our traditional Christmas morning cinnamon buns from scratch. I tried a new recipe this year from my Cook's Illustrated Baking Book. Christmas comes but once a year so I am willing to spend a little extra time to make something special.

Most of the work was done the afternoon before Christmas. I neglected to note the how much time was invested, it took several hours but much of that was letting the dough rise before shaping the buns. The buns are made from a very rich dough with much butter, significantly more than in the Alton Brown recipe I used two years ago. Most of the hard work of mixing and kneading is done by the mixer. It is important to plan ahead so the butter is softened and the the eggs are at room temperature, though there are ways to speed up the warming for both of these. The dough is rolled into an 18"x18" square, buttered, and then covered with the filling which is made of brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little salt. This is rolled up and sliced to make the buns. I made 12, though you can make fewer if you want larger buns. Rather than letting these rise immediately they were covered and put in the refrigerator overnight. On Christmas morning they sat for an hour at room temperature before baking and icing. The total time on Christmas morning before they are ready to eat is about two hours.

These are very good rolls/buns. They have a soft, rich crumb and a well balanced icing made from cream cheese and powdered sugar. They are great for the holidays and work well left over with just a little warming in the microwave. I had some trouble with the outside layer unrolling when they were cut, I needed to roll them tighter. This also might have decreased the amount of filling that fell out before and during baking. These buns are a little large for my normal breakfast, it would be worth it to figure out how to make fewer, smaller rolls the next time I make these.

28 December 2016

Oven-grilled London Broil

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, May 1998

According to Cook's Illustrated, "London Broil doesn't refer to a particular cut of meet at all.  Rather, it's a generic label bandied about by butchers to sell large, cheap, unfamiliar steaks ...". Whatever it is, I had some leftover from making "Glenn's Pepper Steak".  When I've cooked London Broil in the past it often comes out quite tough, so I looked online to find a better way and discovered this recipe.

It is very easy: the meat is seasoned with salt and pepper. One side is seared on high heat in a heavy skillet for just a few seconds. It is then popped onto a pizza stone in a preheated 500° oven. The steak is flipped after 3-4 minutes and cooked to an internal temperature of 125°, another 3-4 minutes. Rest, cut against the grain into thin slices, and serve.

This will never be a great, or tender, piece of steak. However this simple method produced a London Broil that is as good as I can remember having. We were worried that the high heats used would set off the smoke alarm. As a precaution we pulled the battery, but found this was not necessary as there was no great amount of smoke. We did remember to put the battery back.

31 December 2016

Double-chocolate Cream Pie

Recipe(s) from Serious Eats

I had high hopes for this recipe. I was hoping for a recipe that produced something as good, or better, as the French Silk Pie that we enjoy. That is not what I got, though the problems that I had perhaps make it difficult to say for sure. It is rare for me to invest time (and money) into making something that turns out inedible. The dessert was made with three different recipes, all new to me, from Serious Eats: "Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough", "Perfect Swiss Meringue", and the chocolate custard for the filling. I had problems with all three.

The pastry for the crust was the easiest of any that I have ever made and was a joy to handle when it was done. The recipe called for blind baking it, but to use sugar for weight. I chose instead to use pie weights. I don't know if that was the problem, but the crust slumped badly.

The custard didn't set, probably because I didn't cook it long enough. As I do always, I followed the instructions but apparently not well. (They say heat it gently until you see the first bubble, then cook for 90 seconds. But there were lots of little bubbles, do they count?) The pudding did not set and so in the final pie it was a chocolate soup rather than a thick rich custard.

I had the best luck with the Swiss meringue which actually came out pretty well. A mixture of sugar, egg whites, and few other items, is heated to 175° then whipped in a stand mixer. As the the mixture heated, using a double boiler and the bowl from the stand mixer, the egg whites started to cook, to congeal. I just continued heating and stirring and the finished meringue showed no ill effects that I detected.

I am trying not to blame the recipes, I have had good luck with recipes from Serious Eats in the past. But I believe some of the fault lies there and I question whether these were ever tested by home cooks before they were published. Some of the techniques and equipment used were odd. For example, the custard is suppose to be cooked in a saucier which is, I believe, rare in home kitchens. I used a sauce pan. Another example, the meringue mixture was cooked in the mixing bowl which was to be set on a ring of foil set in a wide pan of hot water; I used a sauce pan but this probably put the bottom of the mixing bowl in contact with the water leading to overheating at the bottom of the mixing bowl. 

The crust was tough, the custard didn't set, and the meringue was too sweet. The results were not good, and the total effort was greater than the French Silk Pie. I probably won't use any of these recipes again.