Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Recipe Notes: September 2016

10 September 2016

Almost No-Knead Sourdough Bread

Recipe from September 2016 Cook's Illustrated

I have my own variation of the Cook's Illustrated recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread to make a sourdough loaf. I replace some of the water with an equal volume of sourdough starter, but left the other ingredients the same including the yeast, beer, and vinegar. This month, Cook's Illustrated included a recipe for sourdough bread which excludes these additions: the only ingredients are flour, salt, water, and sourdough starter. 

The article also included instructions for making and maintaining starter. I already have starter, but I noticed their starter was much thicker. Rather than add ⅓ cup of water and ⅓ cup of flour when "feeding" the starter, as I have been doing, I now add ¼ cup of water and ⅓ cup of flour. I also switched to using bottled water rather than tap water. The Cook's Illustrated instructions also call for discarding most of the starter before feeding; I don't do that but just pour out an amount about equal to what I add.

Before making the bread, I left the starter at room temperature for a few days and fed it daily. Normally it sits in the refrigerator and is fed every other week. The dough was easy to make. Starter is not as active as commercial yeast so it takes longer to rise. The first rise took 2½ hours, the second 2¾ hours. The dough seemed dry to me but in the end it worked out well.

The resulting bread was very good. It rose nicely, had a nice crumb with some large holes, a crisp crust, and a nice tangy flavor. It was perhaps not as tangy as sourdough breads that we have purchased at the supermarket or bakery. 

I have some of "Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough" (see which you can get in dried form for free just by sending in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. I have never gotten around to creating a starter with it, so now I am thinking I will add it to my existing starter. Perhaps some new (old) strains of yeast will add some interesting flavor, if they can compete well with the strains in my established starter.

12 September 2016

Almond Biscotti

Recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 222

I had made this recipe once before and enjoyed the cookies, so was looking forward to having them again. These biscotti are not the tooth-shattering cookies that you feel you need to dunk before you eat them. They are still very crisp but are easy to eat and have a great almond flavor with both almond extract and ground up almonds contributing to the dough.

Most of the preparation happens in a food processor: grinding almonds, mixing dry ingredients, whipping eggs, mixing in sugar. The flour and wet ingredients are folded together in a bowl by hand until just combined. The resulting dough is shaped into two loaves that are baked. These are then cooled, sliced, and the resulting cookies baked again until crisp.

I took what I though was a generous amount of these to a meeting. They all were gone by the end of the meeting.

18 September 2016

Crisp Roasted Potatoes

Recipe from November 2009 Cook's Illustrated

This recipe promised potatoes with a crisp, craggy exterior and creamy interior. Moreover, they were prepared in the oven rather than fried which should make preparation and cleanup easier. Unfortunately, they did not live up to their promise. 

Yukon Gold potatoes were sliced then cooked in salted water until they were almost done. These were then tossed with olive oil and salt to produce a starchy paste on the exterior which would crisp in the oven. They were then roasted on a sheet pan which had been drizzled with olive oil until they were brown and crispy, needing to be flipped once during roasting. Total time was about 70 minutes.

Unfortunately, they did not come out as crispy as hoped. Perhaps I didn't cook them long enough before roasting so they didn't develop as much of a paste as they might have. We also found them to be overly salty. Salt was used in the cooking liquid and when roughing up the exteriors. While the quantities of salt for each step were modest, it seems to have added up. I probably will not be making these again.

19 September 2016

English Muffin Bread

Recipe from April 2012 Cook's Country

I enjoy having English Muffins for breakfast. They toast up to have a crispy exterior with a soft, chewy, and slightly sweet crumb that makes an excellent base for many different toppings (all starting with lots of butter): cinnamon sugar, jam, pb&j. Diane made an English muffin bread many years ago using the microwave which we enjoyed but never repeated for some reason. Real English Muffins, I believe, are not baked but rather cooked on a griddle, suggesting some extra labor to make them. So a recipe for a loaf of bread similar to English Muffins is appealing.

This bread was very easy to make, It has just 6 ingredients: bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, baking soda, and milk. There is no kneading: the dry ingredients are mixed together, warm milk is added, and the mixture is stirred. The sticky wet dough then rises before being portioned into two loaf pans for a second rise. It is then baked. Total time was only about two hours.

While the bread does not have all of the same qualities as store-bought English Muffins, it is good in its own right. It toasts up nice and crispy. The crumb is not quite as sweet and chewy as, say Thomas Brothers muffins, but it is still very good. While I will still probably buy English Muffins at the supermarket on occasion, I might do so less often due to this recipe.

25 September 2016

Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chile Sauce

Recipe from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, 2001-2011, p. 288

I've enjoyed enchiladas in Mexican restaurant many times without really knowing what it was. According to Wikipedia, an enchilada is "corn tortilla rolled around a filling and covered with a chili pepper sauce". It goes on to note that the word means to season with chili, which makes sense. The recipe that I tried, from a TV show that aired 10 years ago, was designed to be faster than traditional recipes for enchiladas, promising they could be made in 90 minutes. 

I followed the recipe closely, omitting only the pickled jalepeƱos. The 8-ounces of sharp cheddar cheese was a bag of shredded cheese from the supermarket. and the cheese topping was a triple cheddar blend, also pre-shredded from the supermarket. Chicken thighs were cut into strips which were mixed with an onion and herb blend that had been cooked to bloom the spices. Tomato sauce and water were added and this mixture simmered to produce the filling and sauce. The mixture was poured through a strainer (in batches because our strainer wasn't big enough for all of it) with the liquid portion becoming the sauce. The solids were cooled and mixed with cheese and cilantro to form the filling. The first step in the final assembly was to spray the tortillas with oil and cook them briefly in the oven so they are pliable. They are then rolled around the stuffing, placed in a backing dish with sauce and cheese, and then baked. My stuffing/rolling skills improved after the first few. And, lo and behold, dinner was served about 90 minutes after I started.

We enjoyed the enchiladas. They were garnished with shredded lettuce, sour cream, and avocado and served with refried beans and sangria. We learned that a serving of two enchiladas was too much for us, 1½ or 1 enchilada each would be better. The recipe made 10 (matching the number of tortillas in the package) enchiladas. The chili powder provided the dominant flavor and we were happy that the jalepeƱos were omitted. The enchiladas were good as a leftover too: the flavors were a little milder and better blended though the texture of the tortillas suffered some. This is a dish worth making again.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Notes: August 2016

3 August 2016

White Sandwich Bread

Recipe from KQED

Our local PBS station is not often a source of recipes, but this one is quite good. I had been making sandwich bread using an easy, two-hour recipe. The bread tastes good and easy to make, but it doesn't toast very well, so I went looking for another recipe. I baked a few loaves using a Test Kitchen recipe and then tried this one. 

The KQED bread took a little over 2½ hours to make, most of it hands off, a little longer than the "easy" recipe I had been using. It also took a little more work, but not that much. Most of the mixing and kneading are done in a stand mixer so not much effort needed by the baker.

The resulting bread is good in all respects. It tastes good, toasts well, has a good texture, and keeps well, too. I keep homemade sandwich bread in the refrigerator. This is not the best place to keep it, but given the rate at which we use our bread it would start to mold well before it was gone. It does get a little brittle after a while, but I think that is true for any bread kept at low temperatures.

20 August 2016

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen

It has been many years since I had rhubarb, it is not readily available in San Jose. A year ago I brought some back from New York, my cousin Jon grew it, and kept it in the freezer. Finally I got around to using it to make a pie. Fortunately I had enough rhubarb, the recipe calls for 2 pounds of rhubarb and 1 pound of strawberries. I spent most of an afternoon in the kitchen making the pie, including the crust and filling. Some special effort goes into removing water from the rhubarb and the strawberries so the pie is not too soupy. 

When served fresh the pie had a sour taste, to me it was more sour than tangy. I don't know if this is normal or if perhaps it was a side effect of the rhubarb's age. Certainly, the pie would have had a different texture if the rhubarb had been fresh. The filling did not hold together as well as it might have with fresh rhubarb. 

The second time we had the pie it had sat at room temperature for a few days. This seems to have improved the pie, it no longer had the sour taste it had when fresher. Also, the second serving was accompanied by whipped cream which provided a nice contrast to the tangy pie.

I would make this again if I should ever have rhubarb again. I would like to try it with fresh rhubarb rather than frozen, I think that would be a big improvement.

28 August 2016

Simple Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated,  July 2000

I have written several times about making pulled pork. I used a method I have used several times before to smoke the pork on our gas grill. The search for the best sauce to serve with the pork, however, continues. For this dinner I tried a promising recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It was easy to make as you just combine the ingredients and simmer them for a while. This is a tomato (ketchup) based sauce, which is what I prefer, after having tried mustard and vinegar based sauces. 

Is the winning sauce? Unfortunately, no. It is OK but not what I am looking for. It did improve over time as it sat in the refrigerator. It was a little spicy thanks to the inclusion of hot sauce (I used Sriracha) and chili powder. I think I am looking for a sweeter sauce without the spice. It is possible I found it with the indoor pulled pork I prepared earlier this year, I will have to try that again.

28 August 2016

Potato Burger Buns

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen

Apparently I have made, and written about, this recipe before, but I didn't look at my own blog posts before choosing this recipe. The primary change was making twice as many buns as the recipe calls for, so instead of 9 burger buns I made 18 slider buns. I weighed the dough and the buns as I shaped them, each was made with 40 grams of dough. The dough balls were flattened into disks about 2½″ in diameter. They were then baked using the directions in the recipe and the cooking time wasn't significantly different than the larger buns.

It would be nice to say I have found a great recipe for buns, but that is not the case. I am looking for a soft bun that still has sufficient structure to hold up to a moist filling, including the condiments. These have the structure but not the soft crumb that I desire. They are also a little fragile and in some cases would break into pieces while we were eating. It could be they were over baked, but that seems unlikely. So, when the large collection of buns in the freezer is used up, I'll try another recipe.

That being said, I am happy to learn that I can make slider buns by halving the amount of dough that is used in a normal burger bun.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Notes: July 2016

24 June 2016

"Santa Rosa Plum Compote"

Recipe from

This was a good way to preserve excess plums from our one plum tree. By no means is it better than eating the ripe plums right off of the tree. It is probably also not as good as using the plums to make jelly. But it is better than throwing away good fruit and less work than making jelly. 

We were preparing to be away from home for a week towards the end of the plum season and made the compote to use up the plums. The ingredients (plums, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla) were combined per the instructions; I had just the right amount of plums. Lacking a vanilla bean I substituted 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. The mixture was brought to a simmer over medium heat, simmered on low for about an hour, cooled, and frozen. 

Upon returning home it was thawed. We ate it as is and served over vanilla ice cream. The compote is tarter than ripe berries and is lacking the fresh sweet taste of ripe fruit. (Some of the fruit was ot quite ripe, perhaps this contributed to the tartness.) Nonetheless, it was good with ice cream and would probably go well over shortcake or angel food cake.

Postscript: I learned from Phil Cosentino that Santa Rosa plums are not grown commercially any more. They used to be the most common plums in the supermarket, but no longer. They have a fragile stem and so fall from the trees easily, thus losing money for the growers.

23 July 2016

"Sweet and Tangy Grilled Country-Style Pork Ribs"

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, September 2015

This was a quick and easy recipe for grilled pork ribs. Country-style ribs aren't really ribs, they are from the shoulder. I was concerned about finding these in the supermarket so I had them cut to order at Whole Foods. I should have paid more attention because I got "ribs" with much too much fat, my bad. I didn't even try to trim them, there wouldn't have been much left! It turns out the supermarket had plenty of country-style ribs for sale so my concerns were not borne out.

The ribs were treated with a dry rub and refrigerated for 4 hours. They were then browned over direct heat on the grill and moved to the cool side of the grill to cook to an internal temperature of 150°.  Because of all the fat I had some problems with flare ups and the meat was blackened on one side rather than browned. I used Bullseye Barbecue sauce for basting (after browning) and serving rather than making my own sauce.

Despite the poor quality meat and flare ups, these were pretty good. The meat was tender with a little chew and had good flavor. The investment in time and effort was minimal, they were very easy to make and quick to cook, so worth making again, but with better meat.

31 July 2016

"Chocolate Crinkle Cookies"

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, November 2014

I made a similar cookie once before using a different recipe. I didn't say much about it in my blog but I recall it was pretty good, so it seemed worthwhile to try it again with a different set of instructions.

I followed the recipe and instructions pretty closely. It is nice that a mixer is not required, the relatively-thin dough can be mixed easily by hand. I used Dutch process cocoa, the recipe says either Dutch or natural is OK. I substituted bittersweet chocolate for half of the unsweetened chocolate because I did not have enough of the latter. Finally, I used only 1 teaspoon of the optional 4 teaspoons of instant espresso powder.

The resulting cookies look really good. They have a very thin crisp coating and a soft, sweet interior. Diane thought they were too sweet, perhaps because of the chocolate substitution I made. I thought the coffee flavor was OK, not too strong. The cookies are good and I will enjoy eating them (the recipe makes 22 cookies). But they're not great and so probably not something I will make again, except maybe as a showy holiday cookie.

P.S.  After eating these for a while I am becoming more of a fan. They keep really well, both at room temperature and frozen. They maintain their texture well, even the thin crust.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Notes: June 2016

5 June 2016

"Skillet-Roasted Chicken in Lemon Sauce"

Recipe from the June 2016 Cook's Illustrated

This recipe for lemon chicken is inspired by a famous dish at Rao's, a famous Italian restaurant in New York City. (Nope, I had never heard of it.) We like the Chinese restaurant versions of lemon chicken so this seemed worth trying.

The recipe calls for 3 pounds of bone-in chicken pieces. I purchased a 4.5 pound whole chicken (air chilled organic at Lucky, $2.99/lb) which provided 2.75 pounds of chicken after being broken down: two legs, two thighs, four breast pieces. Dinner took two hours to prepare but it would have been less if I had remembered to turn on the oven sooner. The chicken was served with sautéd carrots, noodles, and Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc. The recipe claims it will serve four; it will likely serve the two of us for four meals. 

The chicken pieces were brined for 50 minutes then browned in a skillet until the skin was golden and crispy. While the chicken rested the sauce was made using oil, butter, shallot, garlic, flour, chicken broth, lemon zest, and lemon juice. The chicken was gently added to the sauce then roasted in a 475&deg oven until done; this took about 20 minutes, significantly longer than the recipe suggested.  The carrots and noodles were started when the chicken was placed into the oven; both were ready well before the chicken was done. Some chopped fresh parsley and oregano were combined with a little lemon zest and added to the sauce just before serving and used as a garnish on the serving plate.

The chicken was very good, moist and nicely cooked but the sauce disappointed. It was too too acidic, too tangy from the lemon juice. It improved some when served as a left over and made a nice dressing for noodles and boiled potatoes, too.

12 June 2016

"Grilled Glazed Baby Back Ribs"

Recipe from May 2013 Cook's Illustrated

I've written about this recipe before but thought it was worth another mention. This is a relatively quick recipe as the ribs are not smoked on the grill. Rather, they are first boiled to an internal temperature of 195° and then finished on the grill using a glaze. This is a relatively quick way to prepare grilled ribs, this dinner took about an hour to prepare, perhaps a bit more. The ribs were served with "Easy Boston Beans" from The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook and steamed (in the microwave) sweet corn.

I purchased a three pound rack of "pork loin back ribs" which worked our well for two meals for the two of us. Rather than making one of the glazes I used store-bought: a combination of Bulls Eye and Dinosaur Barbecue Sauce. I had to use the combination because both jars were low on sauce; I ended up finishing both off and still wanting some more sauce. They ribs came out great, this is a good way to go when grilling ribs at home.