Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Recipe Notes: Baked Orange-flavored Chicken

11 February 2018

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, Mary 2006

You've probably had orange-flavored chicken. It is a staple at casual Chinese restaurants, places like those you find the food court in the mall. Crispy bits of chicken served in a pungent, orange-flavored sauce is popular, it has an undeniable appeal. So why not try it at home? Especially with a recipe that does not require deep frying.

Preparing the dish is straightforward. A sauce/marinade is made by combining chicken broth, orange juice, orange zest, strips of orange peel, distilled vinegar, soy sauce, dark brown sugar, garlic, grated fresh ginger, and cayenne pepper. Some of the liquid is used to marinade 1½-pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1½-inch pieces. The rest is brought to a boil then thickened with a cornstarch slurry. The chicken pieces are coated with lightly beaten egg white followed with a flour/cornstarch mixture. These are then cooked on a rimmed baking sheet in ½-cup oil in a 500° oven, turning the chicken over half way though cooking. Making this dish took just under two hours.

The method for coating the chicken worked very well, the chicken was evenly coated and easy to handle. However, the chicken pieces cooked unevenly on the baking sheet, though all came out nicely crispy. The small amount of oil was not enough to evenly coat the baking sheet and it generated a lot of smoke, setting off the smoke alarm. The dish is okay but not great. The flavor of the sauce/marinade is dominated by the grated ginger which largely overpowers the flavor of the other ingredients. All in all this is probably not a dish I would make again.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Recipe Notes: Anadama Bread

11 February 2018

Recipe from Bread Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 106; a similar recipe is available online.

It was only recently that I first  heard of Anadama bread. It originate in New England and is characterized by including both molasses and cornmeal as ingredients. As I continue trying different sandwich loaves I was eager to try this variation of a hearty loaf which promises to have more flavor and character than white bread. Not that I have anything against white bread.

This bread has a short ingredient list and is easy to make. The dry ingredients--flour, cornmeal, yeast, salt--are whisked together. The wet ingredients--water, molasses, melted butter--are whisked together separately. Using a stand mixer with dough hook, the wet ingredients are added to the dry and kneaded. I added an additional few tablespoons of flour to the dough as it was kneading so it would form a cohesive dough. The dough rises until doubled in size, is shaped and placed in a loaf pan, and rises again. The loaf is baked at 350° until done to an internal temperature of 205°. The total time is about 4 hours, most of which is hands off. 

This is a very good, hearty sandwich bread. It makes very good sandwiches and is also good toasted. It freezes well. Like most homemade breads, after a few days at room temperature it starts to get stale and tends to break apart more easily as you eat your sandwich. It doesn't have a strong molasses flavor or corn flavor that I notice. This is a bread to make again and again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Recipe Notes: Chicken Piccata

4 February 2018

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January 2018

I believe that I have had chicken piccata before, probably in a restaurant where it is a safe dish to order when you aren't sure about the other choices. Chicken breasts are browned gently and served with a bright sauce with lemons and capers. It could make for a good, quick dinner.

The Cook's Illustrated web site includes a "for two" version of this recipe using just 2, rather than 4, chicken breasts. Each breast is cut into 3 pieces so we had this dish for 3 meals. I didn't note how long it took to prepare, but I would guess about an hour. The chicken is seasoned and set aside for 15 minutes. It is then dredged in flour and cooked in a skillet until golden brown on each side which takes only 5-6 minutes.  While the chicken rests the sauce is prepared in the same skillet. Shallot is cooked in oil until softened and garlic is added and cooked until fragrant. To this, chicken broth, lemon juice, and lemon slices (with the zest) are added and simmered. The chicken cutlets are placed in the sauce and simmered for 4 minutes. The chicken is moved to a serving platter and the sauce simmered for a few more minutes to thicken it. It is finished with butter, capers, and fresh parsley.

Unfortunately I have fallen behind with my blogging so it has been a month it chicken was too pale. Comparing it with the video on the Cook's Illustrated web site, though, suggests it was okay. If anything, I overcooked the chicken thinking it should be browner. Even with this flaw, we enjoyed chicken piccata for several meals. The sauce was bright with just the right amount of acidity and seasoning. This is a dish worth making again: quick and easy, just a handful of common ingredients, just don't go too crazy with the sides.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Recipe Notes: Split Pea and Ham Soup

28 January 2018

Recipe from All Time Best Soups, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 163; also available online

This is another recipe from the new cookbook that I got for Christmas. Split pea and ham soup has long been one of my favorites. Traditionally to make this you need a leftover ham bone plus scraps of meat. However with just the two of us we never buy a large ham with a bone, so we never have leftovers for soup. Thus I was happy to find this recipe that takes a different approach not requiring a ham bone.

Two ingredients are used in place of the ham bone: ham steak and bacon. The soup is easy to make and is ready about two hours after preparations begin. Onion is cooked in butter in a Dutch oven followed by some garlic. Water (not stock or broth) is combined with the ham steak, dried split peas, bacon, fresh thyme, and bay leaves and cooked for about 45 minutes until the peas are just tender. At this point the ham steak is removed and set aside. Diced carrots and celery are added and cooked until tender, about 30 minutes. (I did this with the lid off in order to thicken the soup.) The bacon, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves are removed, shredded ham steaks are added back in (I cut the ham up instead of shredding it), the soup is seasoned (I added a little pepper), and served. 

We enjoyed this soup, both fresh and as a left over and will be making it again. It had a great consistency and flavor and was both easy and convenient to make. Two hours isn't a lot of time to invest for a soup and much of that time was hands off.