Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pasta, Greens, and Beans

November 16, 2014

Pasta, Greens, and Beans
Vella Chardonnay

Pasta with Beans, Chard, and Rosemary from Cook's Illustrated, November 2014

I had never heard of greens and beans until I saw this recipe in the November/December 2014 issue of Cook's Illustrated. I thought it would be worth trying, a hearty, one-dish meal with pasta, beans, and greens. It reminds of simple, inexpensive food like red beans and rice. And I am found of beans in various guises and so was happy to try another.

Preparing the meal was easy and took about an hour. I was able to make good use of some of the leftover Parmesan cheese from last week's Sunday dinner. The recipe called for 10 ounces of Swiss chard and I was happy to find that a bundle of Swiss chard from the supermarket weighed just 10 ounces. I did not have the optional Parmesan rind to include with the other ingredients while they simmered. The fresh rosemary came from a container plant in our yard.

We both enjoyed this meal, I don't remember ever having anything like it before. It is like a hearty winter soup or stew, but not really like either of those especially with all of the pasta. Whatever it is, it is a satisfying meal for a cool day. It has a little heat from some red pepper flakes but not too much. With the cheese, greens, beans, and pasta it presents a nice combination of flavors and textures.

As we ate it on Sunday evening, we thought that it might be better as a leftover than fresh, improving over time like a stew or soup. However, this was not the case, as the leftovers seemed to have weaker flavors than the fresh dish, and it bordered on bland.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Chicken Parmesan

November 9, 2014

Chicken Parmesan
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

Best Chicken Parmesan from Cook's Illustrated, March 2013

I have eaten chicken Parmesan in restaurants where I enjoyed the crispy coating and juicy  chicken, but I have never made it at home. Cook's Illustrated published a recipe in their magazine over a year ago and I finally got around to trying it out. I shouldn't have waited so long.

The meal took only 60-90 minutes to prepare. A simple tomato sauce is made with canned crushed tomatoes as the main ingredient. Making your own sauce this way is easy and produces a much fresher tasting sauce than you get buying a jarred sauce. The recipe made enough sauce for two meals of chicken parmesan plus another as a spaghetti topping

The most expensive ingredients were the three cheeses: mozzarella, fontina, and Parmesan. I bought blocks of all three rather than pre-shredded cheese, and grated them myself: the fontina and mozzarella on a box grater and the Parmesan with a microplane. The leftover cheese did not go to waste. Diane had the mozzarella and fontina in her lunch at work and the Parmesan has been used in several dinners.

We both enjoyed this meal and it is worth having again. It was a little salty but we were unable to identify the source of the salt. The sauce wasn't salty so maybe it was the cheese or the brine? As a leftover ,the chicken was just reheated in the microwave. It wasn't as good as the original as the coating was not as crisp, but it was still good.

Cook's Illustrated has some quicker recipes for chicken Parmesan (such as this streamlined thirty-minute version) that might be worth trying and it's usually worth looking at Food Wishes, too.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Grilled Pork Tenderloin Roast

September 21, 2014

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Hoisin Glaze
Grilled Potatoes
Grilled Sweet Corn
Bread and Butter Pickles
Lone Goat Vineyards Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Hoisin Glaze from July, 2013, Cook's Illustrated

It has been a few weeks since we had this Sunday dinner so there are certainly details that I have forgotten. I didn't even take notes right after the meal, as I often do, so my recollections are even more vague. This could be a pretty short post.
Our favorite way to prepare pork tenderloin is to roast it with a maple syrup glaze. The July 2013 issue of Cook's Illustrated has a recipe for a grilled pork tenderloin that I have been wanting to try. Is it better than our favorite?  Several glaze recipes are included and I chose one based on hoisin sauce. One of my favorite dishes at a local Chinese restaurant is Mu Shu Pork which features hoisin sauce, so I am predisposed to like the combination of pork with hoisin.

The roast was created by tying two pork tenderloins together creating a more uniformly-shaped roast which would cook more evenly. The roast was soaked in a brine for an hour and cooked on the gas grill, initially on the cool side of a two-temperature grill, then seared on the hotter side with the glaze. The total grilling time was about 40 minutes. Additional hoisin glaze was served with the sliced pork at the table.

Except for the homemade bread and butter pickles, the side dishes were also grilled.  The last of our fresh, local sweet corn this summer was cooked using the technique that I recently discovered: the corn is oiled, cooked on the grill to char some of the kernels, then finished by steaming it in the microwave. I simplified this from the original, omitting the seasoned butter which didn't seem to add much flavor. Potatoes were grilled, also. White potatoes were cut into ¼-inch slices, coated with oil, seasoned with salt, and pepper, and grilled over direct heat. Simple and delicious.

A quick note on the wine. Our son, Caleb, and his girl friend, Karley, live in a cottage on a winery, Lone Goat Vineyards, near Christchurch, New Zealand. Caleb brought us a bottle of wine from that winery on a visit this previous summer, though the grapes were grown further north.

Do we have a new favorite method for cooking pork tenderloin? I don't think so. While this recipe produced moist, tender slices of pork accented by the hoisin glaze and sauce, it is not quite as good as the maple-glazed pork. However, this is a very good way to cook tenderloin on the grill. Putting two tenderloins together did ensure that the meat along the length of the roast was cooked evenly with no overdone or underdone regions.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Towards Better French Toast

October 5, 2014

French Toast
Fried Bacon
Mixed Berries

Perfect Quick-and-Easy French Toast from Serious Eats

French Toast is one of the first things I learned to cook. I never used a recipe, following my father's example I would gently whisk some eggs, stir in some milk, maybe add some salt or sugar or cinnamon, soak some bread in it, and fry it on a griddle or in a skillet. The results were almost always good but, not surprisingly, inconsistent. What is the best way to make this favorite dish? What is the best ratio of egg to milk? What other seasonings should be added to the batter? What kind of bread should be used? How should it be cooked? There are a lot of variables for such a simple dish. It's time to start experimenting with some recipes!

The goal is an exterior that is crunchy with a velvety, custard-like interior. It should not be soft, wet, and soggy. It should not be too firm and eggy either. It should be easy to fix, not requiring a lot of extra time in the kitchen either preparing the ingredients or cooking.

I started my experimentation this Sunday with a recipe from Serious Eats. The recipe uses eight slices of ½-inch thick white bread. I wanted to use store-bought bread and bought a loaf of "Texas Toast" for its thickness. (Only afterwards did I measure the thickness of the slices and find it was ¾-inch.) The bread is dried in a 200° oven before being dipped in the batter. The main ingredients in the batter are 6 eggs and 2 cups of milk to make 8 slices of french toast. I cooked the toast in a cast iron skillet set over medium heat.

The finished French toast was good but it fell short of the goals. Some of the bread was too soggy in the middle while other slices were OK. None had as crispy an exterior as we would like. The recipe includes a pinch of nutmeg which Diane picked up on almost immediately: she does not like it and is very sensitive to its presence. I suspect the main problem leading to these results is the bread itself. It is a soft American bread and so it is perhaps not surprising that it leads to a soft French toast. It was also thicker than in the recipe so the interior was not properly cooked when the outside was done. I think this recipe might be worth another look some day but with different bread (and no nutmeg). In the meantime I have half a loaf of Texas Toast in the freezer and I can try it using another recipe.

For protein I decided to go with bacon over sausage. I like to have potatoes when we have breakfast for dinner but it seemed a little too much with a starchy dish already on the menu. After a little thought I decided to serve berries. I bought some blackberries and raspberries at the store; at this time of year these are not cheap so this was the most expensive item on the menu. I had them as a side dish while Diane used them as the topping on her French Toast along with whipped cream. I, of course, had maple syrup on my French toast.