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.

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.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Notes: May 2016

1 May 2016

"Oklahoma Fried Onion Burgers"

Recipe from August 2012 Cook's Country

I like onions and I like burgers and I like them together so this recipe seemed worth trying. Onions are cut up, salted and squeezed to remove water, then pressed into a hamburger patty and cooked on the stove. The idea is to caramelize the onions then flip the burger over to finish cooking. As usual we made slider-sized burgers and tried to adjust the onion amount accordingly.  The result was disappointing. The burgers matched their name, the flavor of the onions dominating the beef, perhaps because the onions were not cooked as thoroughly as intended, they were too big, or there were too many for our small burgers. It was a nice try, but I don't think we'll be making these again.

1 May 2016

"Lemon Posset with Berries"

Recipe from March 2016 Cook's Illustrated

The subtitle of the magazine article about this recipe ended with, "It's the easiest dessert that you've never made". Not only did the recipe live up to this boast, but it was very good to eat, too. It has just four ingredients, including the berries added when it is served these are cream, sugar, and lemons (both juice and zest are utilized). Cream, sugar, and zest are brought to a boil and reduced. Off heat lemon juice is added. After cooling the mixture is strained and refrigerated. Done. Served with fresh berries it is smooth, rich, and luxurious complemented nicely by the berries. I wish I had added a few more berries, but otherwise this recipe is worth making again and again.

15 May 2016

"Chocolate Chip Brownie Cookies"

Recipe from Serious Eats

This is a pretty standard cookie recipe, but I have fond memories of brownie cookies and so was a sucker to try it when I stumbled upon this on Serious Eats. I made a few minor changes to the recipe to accommodate what we had on hand. I used 60% chocolate instead of 70% and pecans instead of the suggested optional addition of walnuts. The resulting cookies are good, but not great. Diane suggested they would benefit from the addition of coffee to boost the chocolate flavor. They were chewy-fudgy in the center not particularly crispy on the edges and were a little too sweet for our taste.  The recipe made 14 cookies using a #24 disher and I baked them for 12 minutes. Chocolate Chubbies, also from Serious Eats, is a much better version of this type of cookie.

15 May 2016


Recipe from March 2016 Cook's Illustrated

I had never heard of fougasse until reading about it in Cook's Illustrated. It's a yeast bread from Provence and is similar to the Italian focaccia ... but not all that similar. At one point I was thinking this might be a recipe I would make just once and then decide it wasn't worth the effort, but after eating it I changed my mind. It was really good. It has a nice crisp crust and chewy, flavorful crumb. It is great when fresh but no so good when leftover so it would probably be best prepared when there are enough people to eat it while it is still fresh. 

The dough is made ahead of time and rests in the refrigerator for 16 to 48 hours; this dough rested for 21 hours. A little work goes into preparing the dough as it is folded over on itself several times over the course of an hour, but that doesn't take much time other than waiting. Once the dough was removed from the refrigerator it was ready to eat in about two hours. Getting the shape just right wold take some practice, though my loaves came out OK for the first try. I probably should have stretched it out some more after cutting the holes in the loaves prior to baking. The recipe calls for fresh rosemary but I was unable to find any at the supermarket. I baked it for eighteen minutes which worked out well.

22 May 2016

"Pan-Seared Salmon for Two"

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, May 2016

We don't have fish as often as perhaps we should, but we do both like salmon. With this easy method for cooking it there is one less excuse not to have it more often. I spent an hour from start to finish preparing this meal and most of the effort was spent preparing the rice pilaf.

I purchased 0.9 pounds of farm-raised Atlantic salmon at Whole Foods; it wasn't cheap at $13/pound. The salmon is brined for 15 minutes, seasoned, then cooked in a cold nonstick skillet with no oil, skin side down. It is cooked on medium-high heat for about 7 minutes, then flipped and cooked about another 7 minutes until the interior temperature is 125°. That's all there is to it. The resulting fish was nicely cooked, moist on the inside with a nice crust. It was served with lemon wedges, fresh sweet corn, and rice pilaf.

30 May 2016

"Grilled Honey-Glazed Pork Chops"

Recipe from The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook,  p. 269

This was a good, relatively quick, way to fix pork chops. I purchased two center cut bone in pork chops weighing 1.3 pounds; these were the smallest chops I saw in the butcher's display at Whole Foods and even then were on the high end of what the recipe called for. I didn't measure how thick they were but they were about 1&inch; thick as in the recipe. These are enough for two meals for us. Befitting a recipe from the Quick Family Cookbook, this meal took just over an hour to prepare. It included the chops; grilled sweet corn; crudité of carrots, celery, and jicama; some fresh fruit, and chilled Riesling. 

A honey sauce is made by mixing, and reducing, a mixture of honey, vinegar, cornstarch, Dijon mustard, fresh thyme, and a little cayenne pepper. We had plenty of sauce because the recipe called for four pork chops and I only had two but did not halve the sauce recipe. The chops were coated with a mixture of sugar, salt, and pepper then grilled to an internal temperature of 140°. This took a little longer than the recipe allowed, 12-14 minutes. Some of the sauce is applied and briefly cooked and the chops were served with more sauce. I started the corn at the same time as the pork and it was done at the same time. (Corn was simply shucked and put on the grill over direct heat.)

The resulting chops were tender and juicy. The flavor of the sauce did not come through enough for me, even after I added more at the table. Perhaps I should add more or maybe prepare the chops using this recipe but then create the orange glaze from an old recipe that I fondly remember. The grilled corn was very good.