8 September 2017
Spaghetti with Meatless Meat Sauce
Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, May 2017
I was happy to see this recipe in a recent Cook's Illustrated. Since our daughter is vegan it is good to have some appropriate recipes available for when she visits. I didn't have to wait long to try this one as she spent a few days with us in early September.
I spent 75 minutes making the sauce, which I did a few days before it was served. Much of the "knife work" is done using the food processor, saving significant time. Finely chopped mushrooms are cooked in olive oil followed by finely chopped onions and tomato paste. A slurry of minced garlic in oil with red pepper flakes is added to bloom their flavors followed by canned crushed tomatoes and vegetable broth. (We make all of our broths using "Better Than Bouillon" concentrates.) Finally, drained, finely chopped chickpeas are added for a hearty texture and it is seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh basil.
While for me it isn't a replacement for the several meat sauces in my repertoire, it's still a good dish to have for vegan visitors. Diane commented that people might not know it was meatless if they weren't told. It has the texture and much of the flavor of a meat sauce, but without the fat which provides both flavor and a certain mouth feel. The fat also tends to make the sauce feel heavy while the meatless sauce is lighter.
12 September 2017
Olive Oil Cake
Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, May 2017
The name of this cake sounds odd to me. Perhaps it is because I am not an experienced cake maker, but a cake made with olive oil? I wasn't sure how the strongly flavored oil would work in a dessert. However, the article made it sound good and I was encouraged seeing many (incredibly many) favorable comments about the cake online.
The cake was easy to make, taking just over an hour from when I started to removing it from the oven. The recipe has just three steps (though each step includes multiple substeps.) Whole eggs are whipped then sugar and lemon zest are added and the mixture is whipped some more. Next, the olive oil is slowly added and mixed until it is incorporated. A flour mixture (flour, baking powder, salt) is added in portions with milk until it is all mixed. The batter is poured into a springform pan and topped with sugar that forms a crackling crust; no icing needed.
The resulting cake is good! It has a subtle flavor of olives plus a subtle flavor from the lemon. The crumb is very moist and tender, similar to pound cake, and the sugar topping provides a nice textural contrast and some enjoyable sweetness. The cake keeps well at room temperature and was good both fresh and after a few days. I would enjoy some additional lemon flavor and so would add additional lemon zest to the batter and perhaps use a lemon-zest flavored sugar for the topping. This is a cake to make again.
14 September 2017
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Recipe from Bread Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 290
In my continuing quest for better-than-white sandwich breads I had been looking forward to using this recipe. It was designed to maximize the flavor from whole wheat but retain the softer texture that is desirable in a simple sandwich bread. I have tried several recipes recently which substitute whole wheat flour for some of the white flour. This recipe has more whole wheat flour than most and takes extra steps to ensure the texture is correct despite this.
Beginning the evening before, create a "soaker" and a "sponge". The soaker consists of whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and milk; soaking them overnight softens the whole wheat bran which tends to weaken gluten otherwise. The soaker is bread flour, yeast, and water; letting this rise over night develops flavor. It took about 20 minutes to assemble these. I found the soaker to be very wet and added additional flour so I could knead it.
The next day the soaker is broken up and mixed with the sponge, butter, honey, yeast, oil, and salt then kneaded in a stand mixer. I added about ¼ cup of flour while kneading because the dough was too wet. It rises for 45 minutes (mine rose longer because I got tied up in a meeting) and is then shaped into two loaves. These rise and are baked. This whole process takes upward of five hours, though most of it is hands off.
After going through all of this, I am not sure if the extra work is worthwhile. The bread is good but I don't know that it is better enough than other whole wheat sandwich bread recipes to justify the time invested. Given the evidence for too much water in the soaker and the over-long first rise it might be worth trying this recipe again to see if it works out better given a second try.
17 September 2017
Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, July 2017
I like meatloaf but I've never tried turkey meatloaf. I can remember using ground turkey just once, to make Sloppy Toms, a version of Sloppy Joes. As I recall they were quite good. The description for this recipe claims turkey would provide a lighter version of meatloaf. But there was more to creating the recipe than just substituting turkey for beef and pork.
It took about two hours to make the meatloaf, one hour to prepare and an hour in the oven, not counting the recommended twenty minutes rest when it is baked. Butter is melted in a skillet and a pinch of baking soda is added. (The onion softens more quickly with baking soda.) Chopped onion and salt are added and cooked until the onion starts to brown. The recipe calls for the addition of garlic and fresh thyme; I was unable to purchase fresh thyme and, lacking ground thyme, I added ½ teaspooon herbes de Provence. Finally, Worcestershire sauce is added and the mixture is poured into a bowl. Egg yolks and mustard are stirred into the cooled onion mixture. Finally, ground turkey, grated Parmesan cheese, oats, and parsley are added. This is mixed by hand and shaped into a loaf for baking. Half of a glaze, in this case ketchup-brown sugar, is put onto the loaf before baking with the rest brushed on about half way through. I misread the recipe and used rolled oats instead of quick oats (or chopped up rolled oats).
This is a very good meatloaf! It tastes good and lives up to the description of being lighter than a beef/pork meat loaf. I enjoyed the glaze but Diane did not love it. Cook's Illustrated also gives a recipe for an apricot-mustard glaze and I will have to try that next time I make this keeper of a meatloaf.
18 September 2017
Apple Bundt Cake
Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, September 2017
I usually only make cake when I can share it with other people. Diane is not fond of cake which leaves just me to eat almost the whole thing ... it would be too much. Fortunately, this month I had two meetings where I could take cake. As it was almost Fall I wanted to try this apple cake from the current issue of Cook's Illustrated, even though we haven't had many cool, Fall days this year.
Assembling the ingredients is pretty standard: dry ingredients are mixed, wet ingredients are mixed separately, then stirred into the dry. To get a lot of apple flavor into the cake, however, several nonstandard steps are taken. First, the apples are grated rather than diced: grated apples are more evenly distributed through the cake and avoid the wet patches and holes in the cake that can be produced by larger pieces of fruit. Second, reduced apple cider is used in several ways. Four cups of cider (I used Martinelli apple juice) are boiled down in a skillet to just one cup. (This took about 25 minutes. I overdid it and added some juice back in to bring it up to 1 cup.) The apple reduction is used to make a glaze, is added to the batter, and is poured onto the finished cake after baking. Preparation took about 40 minutes, baking 65 minutes, and the glaze was added after the cake had cooled.
The cake is good: moist and tender with a lot of apple flavor and a hint of cinnamon and allspice. It kept well at room temperature and was popular at the meeting where I served it. I thought it had a bit of an off-flavor which I suspect came from the reduced apple juice. It wasn't bad and no one else commented on it, but I found it to be distracting. Perhaps it was caused by the over reduction or by the particular juice I used. If I were to make this again then perhaps using an unfiltered cider would be the way to go. The French Apple Cake from Cook's Illustrated provides an alternative.
24 September 2017
Recipe from Cook's Country, January 2009
This is an example of a recipe that I normally avoid because it requires rare ingredients. It's not that the ingredients themselves are rare, it's just that food that we cook rarely uses them. Thus, they sit in the cupboard, sometimes for years, after only having been used once. In this case it is mirin and sesame oil (I chose this over the more expensive toasted sesame oil). But I don't often make stir fry dishes and this is one that Diane, who normally avoids Chinese food, does like.
Instead of buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts I bought breasts with ribs and skins; these cost about half as much and removing the bones and skin is easy. After being cut up, the chicken is marinated for about 30 minutes in mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. A sauce consisting of chicken broth, Worcestershire, mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch is prepared and set aside. The chicken is stir fried in vegetable oil first, in two batches, then set aside. Next, snow peas are fried, then ginger, garlic, and pepper flakes are added. Water chestnuts and the broth mixture are added and cooked until thickened. Finally, the chicken is added and cooked until heated through. Cashews (which I did not toast as requested in the recipe) are added at the end. We had extra cashews to add when we served the leftovers. This dish took about 90 minutes to prepare including the time for marinating.
This is a good, but not great, version of cashew chicken. It has a strong, sharp flavor from the fresh ginger and soy. The chicken was very nicely cooked, juicy and tender. When served as a leftover the sharp flavor of the ginger was less pronounce and the dish as a whole a more mellow. Now, what do we do with mirin and sesame oil?