Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kicked-up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. Bam!

September 14, 2014

Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Cheddar and Shallot
Grilled Sweet Corn
Homemade French Fries
three twins Mint Confetti Ice Cream Cones

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Cheddar and Shallot from Cook's Illustrated
Grilled Corn with Flavored Butter from Cook's Illustrated

In the early days of the Food Network it seemed like it was the Emeril network. Chef Emeril Lagasse seemed to be on the air whenever you tuned in. Emeril became well known for his catch phrases including "Bam!" and "kick it up a notch". (He tells an interesting story about the origin of Bam!). The dishes in this week's menu for Sunday dinner are not particularly special, but each, in its own way, is a kicked-up version of the standard preparation.

A grilled cheese sandwich is comfort food to many, but not to me.  I grew up disliking cheese. I'm still unlikely to pick up a piece of cheese and eat it, but I have grown to like cheese as a part of other dishes. I have made grilled cheese sandwiches for family members, but so far as I can remember I have never made one for myself.  Grilled PB&J or grilled ham and Swiss, certainly, but not grilled cheese. When I saw the America's Test Kitchen recipe for a "grown-up" grilled cheese sandwich I was sufficiently intrigued, despite my personal history with cheese. With another busy weekend requiring a meal that could be made without spending a lot of time in the kitchen, this recipe came to mind. Not only is it pretty easy but it would go well with the fresh local sweet corn that will soon be done for the season.

Grilled cheese sandwich: put a slice or two of cheese between slices of bread, butter the outside, and cook in a skillet until golden brown and the cheese has melted. This recipe is essentially that, but differs in several ways. The cheese is aged cheddar, not pre-sliced convenience cheese; the recipe recommended cheese that had been aged a year (but not more) but because of a memorable experience tasting sharp cheddar once, I chose a medium, 60-day, cheddar from Tillamook. Because aged cheddar is dry and doesn't melt well, it is combined in a food processor with brie and some white wine to form a cheese paste. Some minced shallots are added and this is spread between two slices of hearty white sandwich bread. A mixture of butter and Dijon mustard is spread on the outside and the sandwich is cooked slowly in a nonstick skillet. "Kicking it up!" While I should have cooked the sandwich longer so it would be even crispier, I enjoyed eating it. Judging from how fast the sandwich disappeared from Diane's plate, she liked it, too. I've been converted and might even try using a longer-aged cheese next time.

We are still enjoying fresh local sweet corn. Instead of just steaming it in the microwave, again, I used a Test Kitchen recipe which I adapted slightly. The corn was cleaned, sprayed with vegetable oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper. It was then grilled for about 10 minutes, turning as needed to cook all sides. The hot corn was placed in a glass dish with some butter that had been seasoned with chopped basil and parsley. "Bam!" This was then sealed with platstic wrap and cooked in the microwave for three minutes. While neither Diane nor I could taste the basil or parsley, we did enjoy the slightly chewier texture of the corn and the wonderful smoky flavor that was provided by grilling.

We could have had potato chips or frozen french fries. But no, I wanted to make my own from scratch. I used our mandoline (carefully, as always) to make ¼″ square fries from a single russet potato, with skins. These were rinsed to remove surface starch then stored in ice water until time to cook the potatoes. They were deep fried at 325°, removed from the oil, then cooked until brown at 350°. They could have been crisper but they were still very good and better than potato chips or frozen fries. "Oh yeah, babe."

For dessert we often have ice cream, but this ice cream was special. While visiting San Francisco a few months ago, we stopped at this little ice cream shop, "three twins ice cream", in the Lower Haight district and had the best bittersweet chocolate ice cream ever. A little research revealed that they sell their ice cream in supermarkets, too, and we found it was just as good. This week we tried a new flavor, a version of mint and chip called Mint Confetti, which is also excellent: rich, smooth, and creamy with just the right amount of fresh mint flavor accented with pieces of dark chocolate.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Frittata con Pasta

September 7, 2014

Frittata with Pasta
Garden Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Pasta Frittata with Sausage and Peppers, from Cook's Illustrated

Frittata is one of Diane's go-to dishes for weekday supper. It is a baked egg dish, similar to an omelet, to which you add a variety of other ingredients. It is ideal for using up what you have in your refrigerator. It can be prepared in the oven or in the microwave. It is relatively simple, quick, is good left over, and we like it. I once made a Spanish version of this, the tortilla, though I apparently didn't write about it. It is often served cold as tapas in restaurants; it includes a lot of olive oil and potatoes. I liked it but Diane did not enjoy the inclusion of potatoes.

The July/August issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine has a recipe for frittata which includes pasta. Since Diane doesn't like potatoes in frittata I wasn't sure how this would go over, but she was willing to give it a try. The dish originated in Naples as a way to use leftover pasta. This recipe does not rely on leftover pasta but it does rely on a 10-inch nonstick skillet. Our large nonstick skillets have lost their nonstick property and this was a concern for this recipe. The fritatta is prepared in the one pan, including cooking the pasta, which is really appreciated when it is time to clean up; breakfast for dinner usually creates a lot of dirty pans to clean.

In addition to eggs and pasta, this recipe includes sweet Italian sausage, peppers, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and parsley. I made a few minor modifications; I replaced jarred hot cherry peppers with a fresh gypsy pepper which I added to the pan when I browned the sausage. I did encounter some trouble with sticking, particularly for the angel hair pasta which is boiled in a water and oil mixture until all of the water is gone, and then cooked a little more to lightly brown the pasta. I was afraid I would be unable to get the half-cooked fritatta out of the pan so I could flip it over to finish the cooking. I did have some trouble but with a little help from a spatula I got most of it out in one big piece.

I followed the recommendation from the magazine article and served the frittata with a garden salad that included red leaf lettuce, cucumber, celery, parsley, and heirloom tomato dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. I had considered serving it with some toasted English muffin but the frittata had enough carbs in it already with the pasta.

While eggs and cooked pasta at first seemed a strange combination it worked quite well, bad pan and all. Diane seemed to be pleased with it as well. The recipe uses 8 eggs and says it makes 4 to 6 servings; we will get 8 from it. It was good as a leftover simply reheated in the microwave. I don't know that Diane will add it to her regular repertoire, we rarely have leftover, undressed pasta, but I may try it again after buying a new skillet.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Summer Winds Down, Still Eating Summer Food

August 31, 2014

Steamed Fresh, Local Yellow Corn
Polish Sausage
Homemade Potato Chips
Sutter Home Gewurztraminer, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Extra Crunchy Potato Chips from Serious Eats

We are coming to the end of summer. School has been in session here for several weeks. The pumpkin sellers are setting up their retail patches. Gizdich Ranch has apples for the picking. However, the weather still says summer and there should be a lot of warm weather left before Fall gets here. I hope there are still many warm weather meals to be eaten before we start roasting and braising and diving into the soups from last Winter still waiting in the freezer.

This Sunday dinner menu started with sweet corn; while we still have it I want to eat it. Saturday was a busy day for us with a Giants game to attend so I wanted something pretty simple. I was originally thinking hot dogs; we had some buns to use up and I would prefer to eat them fresh than to freeze them for later. At the supermarket on Sunday morning, though, I kept my eyes open and purchased some Evergood brand Polish sausage to have instead of hot dogs. We used to get Polish sausage at Giants games in preference to hot dogs until the Giants changed their supplier a few years ago, but we still have Polish sausage regularly for dinner at home.

It wouldn't be a Sunday Dinner without trying something new. When we buy potato chips we always get plain kettle style potato chips, no barbecue vinegar sour cream jalapeƱo onion cheese flavored chips for us, thank you. I went searching for kettle style chip recipes and discovered they are really no different than regular chips, at least when you make them at home. I found an interesting recipe at Serious Eats and gave it a try. These chips are a little thicker than usual, ⅛″. After carefully slicing a russet potato on the mandolin, I rinsed the slices thoroughly to remove surface starch. Then, this recipe's trick: I boiled the slices for 3 minutes in water to which a little vinegar had been added. The vinegar did not flavor the potatoes but the lower pH helped keep the thin potato slices from falling apart during boiling. The par-cooked potato slices were deep fried until they stopped bubbling, removed from the oil, salted, and eaten. The goal of the recipe was to provide crunchy chips and it certainly did that, though I am still a little fuzzy on the discussion which differentiated between crispy and crunchy.

Everything about this meal was good and summery. The fresh corn, the fresh crispy crunchy chips, the sausage, and the weather. I expect we will be enjoying the warm weather and summer dinners for another month or so and continue eating outside. Darkness is starting to fall earlier, though, and it was pretty dark when our late dinner was finished, but all we need do is turn on some lights.

For the first time ever when I've made potato chips, we didn't eat them all with dinner. The leftovers were stored in a zipper top bag and finished off the next day. They were great, still crispy and crunchy with good potato flavor.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I like to drink tree sap

August 24, 2014

Waffles with various toppings
Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage
Peach Pie

Yeasted Waffles from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, 2011, p. 555
Fresh Peach Pie from The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 389

Going into the weekend, I didn't know what to cook for dinner on Sunday. On Saturday morning I was out for my regular morning walk, listening to podcasts. One of them mentioned waffles, reminding me I had experienced a vague craving for maple syrup not too long before. It has been a while since we had a Sunday dinner, or any other meal, that provided an opportunity to use the sweet sticky sap. I don't use commercial pancake syrups, only real maple syrup. Despite the price I like the real thing, sap taken from maple trees in the spring and boiled down. In addition to waffles, maple syrup is good on french toast and pancakes, but the most reliable of these is waffles as I have a recipe that I really like and they make for good leftovers. Diane came home from a church brunch with a bag of leftover blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, great timing as I had been planning to buy berries to top the waffles for those (you know who you are) who don't share my love of maple tree juice.

As I have described before, these waffles are easy to make, easy to cook, and easy to store, they only require some advance preparation. On Saturday evening I prepared the batter and stored it in the refrigerator until time to cook on Sunday. By then the batter had expanded and was quite bubbly, as it should be. We had on hand both bacon and sausage and I chose the sausage as we have it less often than we do bacon. We had a box of the precooked Jimmy Dean original in the freezer and warming it on the stove top took all of 10 minutes. Our favorite beverage when having breakfast for dinner is mimosa. We recently discovered that you can buy little bottles of champagne in a four pack at the supermarket which is much more convenient than buying a big bottle which wouldn't keep well should we not use all of it.

For dessert I wanted to take advantage of the season and have a peach pie. The simplicity of the dinner preparations provided the time needed to make a pie. I had made a peach pie last summer and was disappointed in the result as the filling tasted more of ginger than of fresh peaches. I used a different recipe this time, one with no ginger, but again we were disappointed. I did something wrong making the dough and it was much too wet. Oops. After baking, the bottom crust of the pie was still doughy. Diane didn't like the filling because for her the taste was dominated by the pinch of nutmeg. I thought it was OK but it still didn't have the fresh peach taste that I love. I have decided that the only way to eat peaches in the summer time is to buy them fresh, tree ripened, and local (not the under ripe rocks the supermarket sells) and to just eat them out of hand.