Thursday, August 31, 2017

Recipe Notes: August 2017

7 August 2017
French Butter Cake

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January 2017

This cake is from the Brittany region of France where it is known as g√Ęteau Breton. The article in the recent Cook's Illustrated describes it as a "simple, yet pretty cake, rich in butter, with a dense, tender crumb that falls somewhere between shortbread cookies and pound cake." This version includes an interesting apricot jam filling to help offset the richness of the butter-rich cake.

Preparing the cake took less than an hour. The filling was created using dried apricots which are always available. These were chopped and processed in a blender with some water. This mixture was then cooked, with some sugar, to thicken it and then finished off with some lemon juice. The cake batter was made by beating two sticks of butter then adding sugar, egg yolks, rum, vanilla extract, flour, and salt. The recipe calls for dark rum but I used clear rum as we have no dark rum.

The finished cake is attractive and good to eat. It is rich from the butter and egg yolks and not too sweet. It is sturdy enough that it can be eaten out of hand without a fork without making a big mess. The apricot jam filling complements the cake well, I wouldn't mind there be a little more of it in the cake.

13 August 2017
Grilled Chicken Drumsticks

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, May 2017

For a summer supper it's hard to beat grilled chicken. This is particularly true if the chicken has great flavor, is juicy, is easy and quick to prepare on a gas grill, and works well left over. This recipe looked like it could deliver so I gave it a try.

The recipe calls for 5 pounds of chicken drumsticks which is a lot for two people. At the supermarket drumsticks were sold in packages of 6 which weigh a little under 2 pounds. This is a reasonable amount of chicken for us, enough for three meals if we each have one drumstick. Preparation is straightforward: the chicken is first brined. I chose to brine it for the minimum time of 30 minutes to avoid it becoming too salty. It is then rubbed with a spice mixture. Three mixtures were provided in the recipe: barbecue spice rub, jerk-style spice rib, and Ras al Hanout spice rub. I chose the latter, making half of what the recipe details, which includes warm, North African spices: paprika, coriander, cumin, brown sugar, cardamon, cinnamon, salt, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper. The drumsticks are then cooked over indirect heat on the grill. When they are cooked through they spend a few minutes over direct heat to provide a little char and crispiness.

Cooking time was about 50 minutes producing good chicken which was nicely seasoned (not too salty) with crispy skin. It was easy to fix so I must say it fulfills the requirements set out. This is a dish worth making again the next time we want grilled chicken.

28 August 2017
New England Hot Dog Buns

Potato recipe from Bread Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 137
New England hot dog pan usage from King Arthur Flour

I have written about New England hot dog buns but I have not made them for several years. I don't know where to find the recipe that I used, it came with the pan. Thus I need to use another recipe and to figure out how much dough to use to fill the special pan that is used to make these buns. I have been happy using a potato roll recipe recently to make slider buns, would it work for the New England hot dog buns, too? Fortunately I found a web page with instructions for using the pan.  (I did not try the King Arthur recipe because it includes several ingredients that I don't normally have on hand.)

The recipes I found online for using the pan employ 3 cups of flour, but the potato bun recipe uses only 2¼ cups. However, it also uses 1 cup of mashed potatoes so I was hoping the amount of dough would work out OK. I made the dough following the recipe through the first rise of the dough. I then sprayed the pan, pressed the dough into it, and let it rest for 15 minutes. I then stretched the dough to fill the pan, covered it with plastic wrap, and let it rise until it was about ½ inch from the top of the pan. The dough was sprayed with cooking spray, a piece of parchment was placed on top, and this was covered with a weighted sheet pan and baked at 375° for 18 minutes. I verified the temperature of the buns was then greater than 190° and it was done!

The resulting buns are very good. The recipe provided the right amount of dough. I cut the crusts off each end of the loaf so each bun has two sides ready to be buttered and toasted. The buns freeze well. They are pale, compared to most bread, perhaps cooking them for a few minutes without the weighted sheet pan would provide some more color. However, the eternal question remains even with these homemade buns: why do buns come ten at a time when hot dogs come in packages of eight?

29 August 2017
Whole Wheat American Sandwich Bread

Recipe from Bread Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 86

My search for a great whole wheat sandwich bread continues. The previous recipe I tried produced a nice bread and was easy to make. However, it was lacking in whole wheat flavor and texture so I am trying more recipes. This one is based on a recipe for white sandwich bread, substituting some whole wheat flour for white, adding wheat germ and honey. I suspect the result will be similar to the previous recipe I tried, but the recipe is pretty easy so there is no harm in trying.

Making this loaf was straightforward. The dry ingredients (bread flour, whole wheat flour, toasted wheat germ, instant yeast, salt) were whisked together, the wet ingredients (milk, water, melted butter, honey) were combined, the wet was added to the dry in a stand mixer with a dough hook and mixed and kneaded. I used 2% milk instead of whole milk and I added an additional 2 Tablespoons of flour during kneading because the dough was a little too sticky. The dough rose very well, was shaped into a loaf and rose again until it was 1" above the top of the loaf pan, then baked. The total process took about 3½ hours, mostly hands off, quite reasonable for a loaf of sandwich bread.

My initial impression is that the loaf met my admittedly low expectations. It is a good sandwich bread, perhaps with a little more whole wheat flavor than my previous recipe, soft yet strong enough to stand up to fillings. However, I think I need to try the Test Kitchen's more wheaty recipe, which I have been avoiding so far because it takes a little more effort.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Recipe Notes: July 2017

6 July 2017
Mark Bittman's Brownies

Recipe from the How to Cook Everything

I have written about several brownie recipes. All have been good, all have been easy. When I learned about the seven-ingredient recipe by Mark Bittman, formerly of the New York Times, I thought it worth trying. I was happy to find the recipe is available on several web sites now that the Times has announced they are putting their recipes behind a paywall.

This recipe was quick and easy. The most time-consuming step was melting chocolate and butter together on the stove. This step could have even been shortened by using the microwave carefully to melt these ingredients. The remaining ingredients are simply stirred into the chocolate mixture which is then baked in an 8x8-inch pan for 20-30 minutes. I made a few modifications as I was cooking these brownies in rural New Zealand where some of the recipe ingredients are not available. Instead of unsweetened chocolate, 72% was used. Salted butter was used and salt was then omitted from the recipe. The brownies were baked in a convection oven using the fan (which, surprisingly, could not be turned off).

The resulting brownies were very good. They were chewy and gooey with good chocolate flavor. The edges were crisp and the center soft. Are they better than the other brownies I have made? That is hard to say as all have been good and all have been easy to make so you can't really go wrong. I would still like to try the recipe from Kopp's Canteen Restaurant in my home town of Chittenango, NY,  to see how it compares to those I have made, and to my memories. (But, alas, I don't have the recipe.) I look forward to trying some of the variations that Mark Bittman suggests for his brownies.

Note: I did try these with almond flour and did not enjoy them as much.

24 July 2017
Smoky Pulled Pork

Pulled pork recipe from Cook's Illustrated, July 2014
Barbecue sauce recipe from Serious Eats
Slider bun recipe from Bread Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 137

This is a bit of a mashup. I have made, and written about pulled pork several times on this blog. The pork was smoked on our gas grill using a recipe from Cook's Illustrated. The sauce came from a recipe that I have made once in which the pork is cooked in the oven. I combined the outdoor cooking method with the indoor sauce for this dish.

Since I had a smaller pork shoulder than in either recipe, I only made half of the sauce recipe, and even then there was plenty. When I started the pork was in two pieces totaling about 3 pounds. The pork was treated with a dry rub for about 20 hours before cooking. After the smoking started it was about 5 hours until dinner was ready between the smoking on the grill, roasting in the oven, and resting before being pulled. Since our supermarkets no longer carry slider buns, I make my own. The buns are half the size of regular burger buns, 40 grams of dough comes out about right.

We both thought the pork was too salty when it was first served. I believe the salt came from the dry rub rather than from the sauce. Fortunately, over time, the saltiness seemed to subside and it was not as noticeable when we had it as leftovers: it lasted us a good long time. Originally I put 1¼ cups of sauce on the meat but after the first meal added close to another 2 cups. The sauce was good with a strong molasses flavor. I don't think it is the ideal sauce that I am looking for, bit it is the current front runner.

30 July 2017
Whole-Wheat Honey Sandwich Bread

Recipe from KQED

I have two sandwich bread recipes that I like: a white sandwich bread from the public television station, KQED, and a recipe from Cook's Illustrated for Deli Rye bread. I would like to have a whole wheat sandwich bread recipe. I remember making one from Cook's Illustrated and I wrote about it briefly. I recall it takes more time that other sandwich breads and so I was happy to try this recipe from KQED for a whole-wheat sandwich bread.

The procedure for making this bread is similar to that used to make their white sandwich bread. It is written for active, rather than instant, yeast. I thus modified it so the yeast is not proofed before being used. The dry ingredients, including the yeast, are combined. The wet ingredients are then added in the stand mixer and the rest of the recipe was used as written. I found the resulting dough was a little wet so I ended up adding several additional tablespoons of flour.

The resulting bread is pretty good. It is soft but stands up well to fillings, it doesn't shred when peanut butter is spread on it or sog-out from ketchup or mustard. It is soft for a whole wheat bread and could benefit from a stronger whole wheat flavor and a hardier texture. It doesn't take long to make, less than three hours total, but I will probably continue trying other recipes for whole-wheat sandwich breads.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Recipe Notes: June 2017

Iowa Loose Meat Sandwiches
4 June 2017

Recipe from Cook's Country, August 2014

This sandwich is inspired by the signature sandwich from the Maid-Rite fast food chain most of whose franchises are in Iowa. I've never had one but the it seemed worth trying. It is a simple ground beef sandwich similar to a sloppy joe but seasoned differently.

The sandwiches took only 20 minutes to make. The ground beef is steamed in a sauce pan with water, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper. That's all there is to it. It is served on a bun (homemade slider buns in our case) with some mustard and onion.

The sandwiches have a very loose texture, as implied by the name, and so you will want to have a fork handy when you eat them. They're OK, but not great, so I don't know if I will make them again. The flavor of the beef is front and center which is a point in their favor.

Skillet French Toast
8 June 2017

Recipe from the New York Times

Even though I am happy with a recipe for french toast that I used last year, this similar recipe looked worth trying. Perhaps what drew me to it was the article which described "the slosher", fixing french toast without a recipe. That is the way I have done it most of my life though of late I have tried various recipes rather than just sloshing ingredients together.

I halved the published recipe and made 6 slices of french toast, with a little batter left over. The batter includes one egg plus one egg yolk, whole milk, vanilla (optional, but I included it), and salt. I used homemade cinnamon raisin bread: I had some in the freezer and I've seen french toast made with this kind of bread on restaurant menus. I cooked the french toast in a preheated cast iron skillet, two slices at a time, with the burner set to "4". I also followed the instructions to sprinkle the second side of the bread with cinnamon sugar. The toast is cooked in butter.  I fixed a dinner of french toast with bacon in about 45 minutes.

Cooking two slices at a time in a preheated cast iron skillet solved problems I have had in the past with uneven cooking. The recipe included some nice directions for cooking with butter and also for testing when done. However, using cinnamon raisin toast did not work well. There were just too many flavors competing for your attention and too much cinnamon. Diane didn't know what kind of jam to use! (I used maple syrup.) This recipe is worth trying again but with a simpler bread. 

Chocolate Sheet Cake
12 June 2017

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March 2017

I don't have much experience making cake. Since Diane doesn't like cake I have to eat it all, and as good as it is, a 13" x 9" cake takes too long to eat and I would get sick of it no matter how good it is. However, when I saw this recipe I was sufficiently impressed to give it a try, despite the challenges.

The cake was easy to make. It took 35 minutes to make the batter then 40 minutes to bake. The frosting took about 30 minutes to make. The dry ingredients were mixed. Milk, bittersweet chocolate, and cocoa are heated to melt the chocolate.  Oil, eggs, and vanilla are whisked in followed by the dry ingredients. The mixture is then baked. To make the frosting, milk chocolate (I didn't have enough so added some semi sweet chocolate. The least expensive way to purchase the milk chocolate: chocolate chips.) are heated over boiling water until smooth then butter is added. The frosting is chilled and then spread on the cake when the latter is cool.

Diane still doesn't like cake, this one she thought was too rich and, "it's cake". I liked it. The crumb has a good chocolate flavor, was moist, and was not too sweet. The milk chocolate icing complemented it well and had a nice smooth texture. I also got to share it at a meeting the day after I made it and so I didn't have to eat it all myself. It kept well in the refrigerator and so was good until it was gone.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Recipe Notes: May 2017

7 May 2017
Weeknight Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January 2017

Bolognese is a rich meaty sauce that traditionally consists of many different meats cooked for a long period of time. In this recipe, the Test Kitchen set out to develop a recipe for a Bolognese that could be prepared on a week night, something good to eat but not requiring a lot of time in the kitchen.

To achieve their goals, the test cooks used several techniques to develop flavor in a short period of time. A flavor base of pancetta, carrot, onion, and celery is prepared in a food processor then cooked until quite dark. To this, tomato paste is added and browned. Ground beef which has been treated with a baking soda solution to raise its pH (promoting tenderness) is added along with concentrated beef stock, red wine, and a generous quantity of grated parmesan. Finally, good quality tagliatelle which had been cooked separately is added to the sauce. (The recipe called for just 4 quarts of water to cook the pasta. I added an additional 4 quarts to ensure the pasta was covered with water.) All in all it took just 1½ hours to create this dish. 

The pasta was served with a simple side salad, some home made bread, and red wine and it was garnished with some additional parmesan. (We buy small blocks of parmesan that we grate on a microplane, much less expensive and fresher than the parmesan in the green tube.) We enjoyed this flavorful pasta dish from the start and as a leftover for many more meals. It kept well in the refrigerator. We found the pasta strands to be too long for convenient eating and so for the leftovers we cut them into shorter pieces. The recipe says it serves 4 to 6, the two of us had it for 5 or 6 meals over the course of a few weeks.

22 May 2017
Steak and Ale Pie

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March 2017

This British dish looked interesting when I read about it in Cook's Illustrated. It is a meat pie with no vegetables, unless you count mushrooms. It also has no bottom crust.  So you can think of it as a savory braised beef with a crust topping. It is probably more of a cool weather dish, but I didn't wait until Fall to try it.

The recipe calls for three pounds of boneless beef short ribs. I was unable to get these at the supermarket so I purchased 3.8 pounds of bone-in short ribs. I had less beef than in the recipe after removing bones and trimming fat; I should have gone for the alternative chuck-eye roast which would probably have cost less as well. The filling is made by first treating the beef with a baking soda solution. Bacon is rendered then a pound of cremini mushrooms is added with some beef broth and cooked. Onion, garlic, and thyme are added and cooked until a fond starts to form. (I had no dry thyme so used some Herbes de Provence in its place.) Some flour is added and cooked, then beef broth and beer (Newcastle brown ale) are used to deglaze the pot. This mixture is cooked in the oven for about an hour and a half. For the last half hour I removed the lid because the sauce seemed thin to me. When the beef was tender it was added to a pie dish and covered with the pastry dough. The dough was very easy to work with. It incorporates both egg and sour cream along with butter, flour, and salt. The pie is then baked for 30 minutes. Total time to create this dish was three hours, half of which was hands off. It will create four meals for the two of us.

We both really enjoyed this savory beef pie. The sauce was delicious and the beef was extremely tender, more tender than the mushrooms. The crust was crisp and flaky but the real star of the dish is the rich beefy filling.

24 May 2017
Better Hash Browns

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March 2017

When we have breakfast for dinner I like to include potatoes on the menu, either hash browns or home fries. I usually make home fries, because they come out better than hash browns. So I was interested when a new edition of Cook's Illustrated came out with a new method for preparing hash browns.

It took 45 minutes to prepare the potatoes for cooking and 20 minutes or so to cook them, quite a bit of work for a simple side dish, though the prep work can be done in advance. The supermarket did not have Yukon gold potatoes when I shopped so I bought a two pound bag of "yellow gold" potatoes. These were peeled (a little tedious because they are small) and then shredded using the food processor. The potatoes were rinsed in salt water, drained in a colander, then dried in a kitchen towel. They were microwaved then pressed into a cake in a cake pan which was then covered and stored into the refrigerator. At supper time the cake was removed and fried in vegetable oil.

In principle, the cake should stay together while they cook, very neat and easy to flip and serve. However, my cake fell apart -- perhaps I didn't microwave the potatoes long enough or the cake was too thin because I had fewer potatoes than in the recipe. It was surprising that we comfortably ate two pounds of potatoes at a sitting, but this was after squeezing a lot of water out of them. The potatoes were good, though a little salty, but I doubt I will use this somewhat fussy procedure again. I'll stick with home fries.

Apple Strudel
31 May 2017

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, November 2016

Apple Strudel is a dessert (or breakfast or snack) consisting of an apple filling wrapped in layers of very thin pastry. I've always been interested in strudel, but I knew that I didn't want to take on making the ultra-thin dough at home. Thus I was pleased when Cook's Illustrated published a recipe last Fall that used commercial phyllo dough. I've never worked with phyllo, either, and I was looking forward to using it. A bonus: the Cook's Illustrated web site included a recipe portioned "for two" which I used. It made four portions for us so we we had strudel twice in a week.

The phyllo dough needs to be handled with care. Following instructions that came in the magazine article, I warmed it overnight in the refrigerator and then let it sit at room temperature for half an hour or so before starting on the recipe. Following this, it took just over an hour to prepare the dessert including 20 minutes in the oven. The filling is simple to prepare being a mixture of diced apples (golden delicious), sugar, lemon zest and juice, with a little ground cinnamon and ginger. This is cooked in the microwave oven, drained, and then raisins and bread crumbs (to absorb excess liquid) are added. The pastry "wrap" consists of seven sheets of phyllo dough. In between each pair of pastry sheets is melted butter and confectioners sugar. The filling is piled on top of the stack of dough which is then folded around the apple mixture and baked.

This is a really nice, elegant dessert which was not too difficult to prepare. It is certainly easier to make than a traditional apple pie. I didn't do a good job folding the pastry around the filling, there was a small gap in the pastry when the strudel was removed from the oven. It tasted good and had a nice crisp pastry wrapper. The fruit could have been a little more tender and the bottom crust was a little tough. As a leftover the bottom crust seemed even tougher, but it was still good. This is a dessert that should be made again!