Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Recipe Notes: November 2016

13 November 2016

Deep-Dish Apple Pie

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013,  p. 378



I don't make pies as often as I might because I lack confidence in my pastry skills. I just cannot roll out the dough to form a nice circle of uniform thickness! Nonetheless, I hadn't made a pie in a while and since I was not planning to spend time making something new for dinner, I thought I would make something for dessert. I haven't written about this recipe before, thus this essay.

I used the Test Kitchen recipe for "Foolproof Pie Dough" which I have used before. It substitutes vodka for some of the water so the dough is wet and easier to work but still tender. The trick with the filling is cooking the apples in advance to remove moisture. This prevents the pie having a large air space between the filling and top crust. The filling has five pounds of apples: half Golden Delicious and half Granny Smith. It has just a little sugar and a little cinnamon and a little lemon. I made a mistake in the way I added the lemon juice and ended up having more than the recipe called for.

All in all, the pie came out good. I still had trouble rolling it out. It would have helped if I had worked more quickly, I think it became a little too warm as I worked with it. Nonetheless, the final result is tender enough though perhaps not as flaky as it should be. The bottom crust was a little soggy. The filling was good. The Golden Delicious apples broke down providing a nice base for the firmer Granny Smiths. Diane thought it could have used more cinnamon, and I agree. She also thought it had too much lemon. Perhaps I should try a different recipe for the dough next time, maybe look to see what they have at Serious Eats.


20 November 2016

Cast Iron Steak and Baked Potatoes

Steak recipe from Cook's Illustrated, December 2016

Best Baked Potato recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January 2016



Steak is an easy entree to fix for dinner. Good cuts of steak, though, can be expensive, so a good cooking method is required to get the best return on your bovine investment. I have written about steak several times before in this blog but wanted to try a new method.

Cast iron holds heat very well so is good for searing steak, but it does not heat up quickly or evenly. To get around these issues,  you can heat the skillet in the oven and use a generous amount of oil when cooking the steak. Also, after the steak is seared on both sides it is flipped every two minutes until it reaches the desired internal temperature.

I purchased a one-pound strip steak, but I didn't do a good job choosing my steak. The one I got was too thin and the thickness varied. Thus it would be impossible to cook it to uniform doneness. The steak reached an internal temperature of 140° after just two minutes on each side, a little higher than desired. 

Heating the pan in the oven and using a lot of oil did help. Not only was the steak seared uniformly across its surface, but the oil minimized smoking and setting off the smoke alarm. Since the oven had to be on to heat the skillet, I baked potatoes; the potato-baking temperature of 450° was close enough to the 500° recommended for heating the skillet. The recipe called for an herb butter garnish, but I skipped that.



Despite the issues with the steak, both it, and the potatoes, came out well. The potatoes were nice and creamy inside with a crispy skin. The steak was OK, not great, but a thicker, more evenly cut steak would solve that problem. All in all, this was a good method for cooking steak, though the preheating of the pan means you have to plan ahead. The side benefit to this, of course, is great baked potatoes.

24 November 2016

Thanksgiving

Easy Roast Turkey Breast recipe from Cooks Illustrated, November 2007

All-purpose Gravy recipe from Cooks Illustrated, November 2003


I prepared our Thanksgiving dinner for two this year. On the day before Thanksgiving, Diane fixed a vegan Thanksgiving dinner for four as Caryn and Brandon were in town. With just two of us cooking a whole turkey makes no sense. Even a full turkey breast, which can weigh upwards of 7 pounds is too much, so I purchased a three-pound half breast.

The recipe to roast the turkey was, as advertised, easy. The turkey was brined for about three hours. A butter/salt/pepper mixture was rubbed on the breast under the skin. The turkey was roasted in a 325° oven for about 90 minutes with the roasting pan filled with water (the turkey was on a rack above the water). It then rested for 20 minutes before carving.



A disadvantage to cooking a small amount of turkey this way is the lack of drippings for making gravy. I found a recipe for an all-purpose gravy that is made without meat drippings. It uses onion, celery, carrots with a mixture of beef and chicken stock.  I halved the recipe which worked out pretty well for this size turkey.

Thanksgiving dinner was good. We enjoyed the turkey. The gravy was passable though it was not the same as having turkey gravy. We had leftovers for one sandwich, one dinner, and then several nights of our Almond Turkey with Peas.

27 November 2016

Broccoli and Feta Frittata

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, November 2016



Diane frequently makes us frittata for dinner. She will use whatever leftovers we have in the fridge as the filling, often using greens that came in our monthly CSA box of produce. Thus I was excited to try my hand at making one myself when this recipe was published in a recent Cook's Illustrated.

The recipe uses a dozen eggs, more than Diane usually uses, but for the first time making this recipe, why not. We had broccoli from our CSA box so it made sense to use it as the filling. (The magazine and web site also have recipes using asparagus and goat cheese, chorizo and potato, and shiitake mushrooms with pecorino Romano.) The broccoli and seasonings are cooked first, then the eggs are added with milk and the feta. This is cooked on the stovetop for about 8 minutes and then finished in the oven. This meal took less than 45 minutes to prepare, so it is pretty quick. 



The frittata came out good! The eggs had a very nice texture and the ratio of eggs to broccoli to cheese was just right. For our Sunday dinner I served us each one quarter of the frittata, which was too much. For the two meals when we had leftover frittata we had half as much with some bacon or sausage on the side. This is a recipe worth repeating, perhaps trying some of the other fillings and the "for two" version of the recipe from the web site.

28 November 2016

Molasses Spice Cookies

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 202



With cooler temperatures, a spicy molasses cookie seems right. I went to the Cook's Illustrated Baking Book and found a recipe that looked promising and which I had never tried. 

Preparation was straightforward and standard. Butter and sugars are creamed together, then dry ingredients and molasses are incorporated. The cookies are formed into balls, rolled in sugar, and baked. The dried spices are cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, and black pepper. The recipe calls for each cookie to be made with one tablespoon of dough with a yield of about 22 cookies. I used a #60 disher and got more than 40 cookies.


These cookies are really good! They are crisp on the outside, chewy in the middle, and taste great. They keep well, too, and have maintained their consistency for several days.  They are pretty small and I usually eat two at a time. I could try a #30 disher to have cookies closer in size to those specified in the recipe. The recipe also includes an optional dark rum glaze which I did not use and which is probably worth trying as well as a variation that includes "orange essence".

Friday, October 21, 2016

Recipe Notes: October 2016

16 October 2016
Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices

Recipe from January 2016 Cook's Illustrated


Soup is a favorite cool-weather dish, perfect for low temperatures and rainy days, for lunch or dinner. Homemade soup is generally preferred to canned, though it is hard to beat the convenience of canned soup. We will generally have homemade soup for dinner, canned for lunch. 

I was immediately attracted to this recipe for Red Lentil Soup when I read about it, with its easy, quick preparation and interesting spices, and I finally got around to making it now that Fall is here.

The soup was easy to make, taking about an hour total time. The ingredients were readily available at the supermarket, including the essential dried red lentils. These have no skins and so cook very quickly. Onion is softened in butter and then the dried spices are added: coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne. Some garlic and tomato paste complete the flavors. Chicken broth is used as the liquid, it is added to the bloomed spices along with the lentils and some water. This mixture is cooked for only 15 minutes or so and then seasoned with some lemon juice. The lentils break down almost completely in this time and lose most of their red color.

I really enjoyed this soup. It was hearty and has a great flavor from the warm spices which do not overpower your palate. Diane, who is very sensitive to salt, thought the soup was salty though only a small amount of salt was added to help soften the onions. The recipe calls for garnishing with chopped fresh cilantro, which I skipped, and some spiced butter (that's the spots you can see in the photos) but we didn't think that was worth adding. The soup keeps well and tastes almost as good as a leftover as when freshly made. I would guess that the recipe produces around 8 servings. We'll definitely be having this again: good tasting and easy to make.




18 October 2016
Bread and Butter Pickles

Recipe


Two years ago I tried making my mom's bread and butter pickles for the first time. They came out well and I have been enjoying them ever since. That batch has now run out, so it is time to make some more.

Based on that first experience, I made a few changes. The pickles are a little thicker, 1/4" instead of 3/16"; the difference seems small but they do look a lot thicker. As happened last time there wasn't enough pickling liquid to cover the vegetables. I added an additional 1½ cups of vinegar and 2 cups of sugar, roughly the same ratio as the original recipe. I didn't buy special pickling cucumbers but used just regular cucumbers that you can get in the supermarket year around. Even though we had no problems with the pickles from last time (only one jar had to be discarded as it contained a small amount of mold) we "processed" these pickles after they were canned: the sealed jars were immersed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. The yield was 8½ pints: seven pint jars and two ¾-pint jars.

Time will tell, but the pickles came out well. They are not as sour as the batch from two years ago when I didn't add any extra sugar to submerge the vegetables, just vinegar.  They also have a bit more of a crunch because they are thicker. The ingredients in the pickling liquid (vinegar, sugar, turmeric, celery seed, and mustard seed) should probably all be increased by 50% from the original recipe to cover the vegetables.

30 October 2016
"All-American Beef Stew" 

Recipe from Serious Eats



I made stew using this recipe last winter and it was good. I came across the recipe again on my Facebook feed and, given the Fall weather, it seemed like a good time to make some more.

Based on my previous experience (and the notes I posted in this blog) I made a few minor changes. I increased the potatoes from 1 to 1½ pounds and I added a few additional carrots. As before I used Thai Fish Sauce in place of the anchovies in the "umami bomb" because I have it in the refrigerator.  The 3-pound roast was cut into two steaks that were seared separately.  After the 1-hour cooking time for the potatoes I found they were not done and I ended up cooking the stew for an additional hour. By then the peas had lost their color and were way overcooked so I added some more. With the extra cooking time the stew took four hours to prepare, though much of that time was hands off while the stew simmered in the oven.

Once again, this stew came out very good. It has a very rich, beefy flavor that I love. Salt-sensitive Diane thought it tasted salty, but she finished her bowl well before I did. The texture and quantity of the vegetables was good except for the peas that were still pale and overcooked. These should be added fresh when the stew is being reheated just before serving. The umami bomb is created in the blender using 4 cups of chicken stock. When I cleaned the blender I found a fair amount of congealed gelatin at the bottom. I don't know for sure why the gelatin didn't all dissolve, but perhaps it is because the stock, which I made from chicken stock base, was still warm.

30 October 2016
Fluffy Dinner Rolls

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January 2016



I do not have a good recipe for dinner rolls. I have tried several over the years and none have passed the test to become the go-to recipe, either because of the amount of work or the flavor or the texture of the rolls. Dinner rolls should be soft, fluffy, and with a rich, buttery flavor. Thus I was excited when I read the story behind this recipe in Cook's Illustrated. 

What makes these rolls special is an Asian technique, tangzhong.  This is also known as "water roux". A portion of the flour is mixed with water and then gradually heated in the microwave. An amazing transformation takes place as a rather loose mixture turns quickly into a smooth, thick paste. Using this paste in the dough adds more liquid to the dough than otherwise, resulting in a moister, fluffier roll. Other than that, the rolls are made with a pretty standard bread dough that is enriched with butter and milk and has a little sugar added, too. From start to table the rolls took about four hours to make, but much of that time is for the dough to rise.

The finished rolls were very good. They lived up to their billing, having a soft, fluffy crumb with a slightly tougher crust. They were reasonably easy to make; sometimes the hardest part of making dinner rolls is the effort that goes into shaping the dough. In this case it was not too onerous and the dough was pretty easy to work with. If anything the rolls were a little bland, but adding some good butter fixes that minor flaw. Have I found a go-to recipe for dinner rolls? Maybe so.




Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Recipe Notes: September 2016

10 September 2016

Almost No-Knead Sourdough Bread

Recipe from September 2016 Cook's Illustrated

I have my own variation of the Cook's Illustrated recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread to make a sourdough loaf. I replace some of the water with an equal volume of sourdough starter, but left the other ingredients the same including the yeast, beer, and vinegar. This month, Cook's Illustrated included a recipe for sourdough bread which excludes these additions: the only ingredients are flour, salt, water, and sourdough starter. 

The article also included instructions for making and maintaining starter. I already have starter, but I noticed their starter was much thicker. Rather than add ⅓ cup of water and ⅓ cup of flour when "feeding" the starter, as I have been doing, I now add ¼ cup of water and ⅓ cup of flour. I also switched to using bottled water rather than tap water. The Cook's Illustrated instructions also call for discarding most of the starter before feeding; I don't do that but just pour out an amount about equal to what I add.

Before making the bread, I left the starter at room temperature for a few days and fed it daily. Normally it sits in the refrigerator and is fed every other week. The dough was easy to make. Starter is not as active as commercial yeast so it takes longer to rise. The first rise took 2½ hours, the second 2¾ hours. The dough seemed dry to me but in the end it worked out well.

The resulting bread was very good. It rose nicely, had a nice crumb with some large holes, a crisp crust, and a nice tangy flavor. It was perhaps not as tangy as sourdough breads that we have purchased at the supermarket or bakery. 

I have some of "Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough" (see http://carlsfriends.net) which you can get in dried form for free just by sending in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. I have never gotten around to creating a starter with it, so now I am thinking I will add it to my existing starter. Perhaps some new (old) strains of yeast will add some interesting flavor, if they can compete well with the strains in my established starter.





12 September 2016

Almond Biscotti

Recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 222

I had made this recipe once before and enjoyed the cookies, so was looking forward to having them again. These biscotti are not the tooth-shattering cookies that you feel you need to dunk before you eat them. They are still very crisp but are easy to eat and have a great almond flavor with both almond extract and ground up almonds contributing to the dough.

Most of the preparation happens in a food processor: grinding almonds, mixing dry ingredients, whipping eggs, mixing in sugar. The flour and wet ingredients are folded together in a bowl by hand until just combined. The resulting dough is shaped into two loaves that are baked. These are then cooled, sliced, and the resulting cookies baked again until crisp.

I took what I though was a generous amount of these to a meeting. They all were gone by the end of the meeting.



18 September 2016

Crisp Roasted Potatoes

Recipe from November 2009 Cook's Illustrated


This recipe promised potatoes with a crisp, craggy exterior and creamy interior. Moreover, they were prepared in the oven rather than fried which should make preparation and cleanup easier. Unfortunately, they did not live up to their promise. 

Yukon Gold potatoes were sliced then cooked in salted water until they were almost done. These were then tossed with olive oil and salt to produce a starchy paste on the exterior which would crisp in the oven. They were then roasted on a sheet pan which had been drizzled with olive oil until they were brown and crispy, needing to be flipped once during roasting. Total time was about 70 minutes.

Unfortunately, they did not come out as crispy as hoped. Perhaps I didn't cook them long enough before roasting so they didn't develop as much of a paste as they might have. We also found them to be overly salty. Salt was used in the cooking liquid and when roughing up the exteriors. While the quantities of salt for each step were modest, it seems to have added up. I probably will not be making these again.



19 September 2016

English Muffin Bread

Recipe from April 2012 Cook's Country


I enjoy having English Muffins for breakfast. They toast up to have a crispy exterior with a soft, chewy, and slightly sweet crumb that makes an excellent base for many different toppings (all starting with lots of butter): cinnamon sugar, jam, pb&j. Diane made an English muffin bread many years ago using the microwave which we enjoyed but never repeated for some reason. Real English Muffins, I believe, are not baked but rather cooked on a griddle, suggesting some extra labor to make them. So a recipe for a loaf of bread similar to English Muffins is appealing.

This bread was very easy to make, It has just 6 ingredients: bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, baking soda, and milk. There is no kneading: the dry ingredients are mixed together, warm milk is added, and the mixture is stirred. The sticky wet dough then rises before being portioned into two loaf pans for a second rise. It is then baked. Total time was only about two hours.

While the bread does not have all of the same qualities as store-bought English Muffins, it is good in its own right. It toasts up nice and crispy. The crumb is not quite as sweet and chewy as, say Thomas Brothers muffins, but it is still very good. While I will still probably buy English Muffins at the supermarket on occasion, I might do so less often due to this recipe.




25 September 2016

Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chile Sauce

Recipe from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, 2001-2011, p. 288


I've enjoyed enchiladas in Mexican restaurant many times without really knowing what it was. According to Wikipedia, an enchilada is "corn tortilla rolled around a filling and covered with a chili pepper sauce". It goes on to note that the word means to season with chili, which makes sense. The recipe that I tried, from a TV show that aired 10 years ago, was designed to be faster than traditional recipes for enchiladas, promising they could be made in 90 minutes. 

I followed the recipe closely, omitting only the pickled jalepeƱos. The 8-ounces of sharp cheddar cheese was a bag of shredded cheese from the supermarket. and the cheese topping was a triple cheddar blend, also pre-shredded from the supermarket. Chicken thighs were cut into strips which were mixed with an onion and herb blend that had been cooked to bloom the spices. Tomato sauce and water were added and this mixture simmered to produce the filling and sauce. The mixture was poured through a strainer (in batches because our strainer wasn't big enough for all of it) with the liquid portion becoming the sauce. The solids were cooled and mixed with cheese and cilantro to form the filling. The first step in the final assembly was to spray the tortillas with oil and cook them briefly in the oven so they are pliable. They are then rolled around the stuffing, placed in a backing dish with sauce and cheese, and then baked. My stuffing/rolling skills improved after the first few. And, lo and behold, dinner was served about 90 minutes after I started.

We enjoyed the enchiladas. They were garnished with shredded lettuce, sour cream, and avocado and served with refried beans and sangria. We learned that a serving of two enchiladas was too much for us, 1½ or 1 enchilada each would be better. The recipe made 10 (matching the number of tortillas in the package) enchiladas. The chili powder provided the dominant flavor and we were happy that the jalepeƱos were omitted. The enchiladas were good as a leftover too: the flavors were a little milder and better blended though the texture of the tortillas suffered some. This is a dish worth making again.




Monday, August 22, 2016

Notes: August 2016

3 August 2016

White Sandwich Bread

Recipe from KQED


Our local PBS station is not often a source of recipes, but this one is quite good. I had been making sandwich bread using an easy, two-hour recipe. The bread tastes good and easy to make, but it doesn't toast very well, so I went looking for another recipe. I baked a few loaves using a Test Kitchen recipe and then tried this one. 

The KQED bread took a little over 2½ hours to make, most of it hands off, a little longer than the "easy" recipe I had been using. It also took a little more work, but not that much. Most of the mixing and kneading are done in a stand mixer so not much effort needed by the baker.

The resulting bread is good in all respects. It tastes good, toasts well, has a good texture, and keeps well, too. I keep homemade sandwich bread in the refrigerator. This is not the best place to keep it, but given the rate at which we use our bread it would start to mold well before it was gone. It does get a little brittle after a while, but I think that is true for any bread kept at low temperatures.





20 August 2016

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen

It has been many years since I had rhubarb, it is not readily available in San Jose. A year ago I brought some back from New York, my cousin Jon grew it, and kept it in the freezer. Finally I got around to using it to make a pie. Fortunately I had enough rhubarb, the recipe calls for 2 pounds of rhubarb and 1 pound of strawberries. I spent most of an afternoon in the kitchen making the pie, including the crust and filling. Some special effort goes into removing water from the rhubarb and the strawberries so the pie is not too soupy. 

When served fresh the pie had a sour taste, to me it was more sour than tangy. I don't know if this is normal or if perhaps it was a side effect of the rhubarb's age. Certainly, the pie would have had a different texture if the rhubarb had been fresh. The filling did not hold together as well as it might have with fresh rhubarb. 

The second time we had the pie it had sat at room temperature for a few days. This seems to have improved the pie, it no longer had the sour taste it had when fresher. Also, the second serving was accompanied by whipped cream which provided a nice contrast to the tangy pie.

I would make this again if I should ever have rhubarb again. I would like to try it with fresh rhubarb rather than frozen, I think that would be a big improvement.





28 August 2016

Simple Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated,  July 2000

I have written several times about making pulled pork. I used a method I have used several times before to smoke the pork on our gas grill. The search for the best sauce to serve with the pork, however, continues. For this dinner I tried a promising recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It was easy to make as you just combine the ingredients and simmer them for a while. This is a tomato (ketchup) based sauce, which is what I prefer, after having tried mustard and vinegar based sauces. 

Is the winning sauce? Unfortunately, no. It is OK but not what I am looking for. It did improve over time as it sat in the refrigerator. It was a little spicy thanks to the inclusion of hot sauce (I used Sriracha) and chili powder. I think I am looking for a sweeter sauce without the spice. It is possible I found it with the indoor pulled pork I prepared earlier this year, I will have to try that again.




28 August 2016

Potato Burger Buns

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen

Apparently I have made, and written about, this recipe before, but I didn't look at my own blog posts before choosing this recipe. The primary change was making twice as many buns as the recipe calls for, so instead of 9 burger buns I made 18 slider buns. I weighed the dough and the buns as I shaped them, each was made with 40 grams of dough. The dough balls were flattened into disks about 2½″ in diameter. They were then baked using the directions in the recipe and the cooking time wasn't significantly different than the larger buns.

It would be nice to say I have found a great recipe for buns, but that is not the case. I am looking for a soft bun that still has sufficient structure to hold up to a moist filling, including the condiments. These have the structure but not the soft crumb that I desire. They are also a little fragile and in some cases would break into pieces while we were eating. It could be they were over baked, but that seems unlikely. So, when the large collection of buns in the freezer is used up, I'll try another recipe.

That being said, I am happy to learn that I can make slider buns by halving the amount of dough that is used in a normal burger bun.