Friday, September 29, 2017

Recipe Notes: September 2017

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
Turkey Meatloaf

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
Cashew Chicken

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?


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Recipe Notes: August 2017

7 August 2017
French Butter Cake

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January 2017


This cake is from the Brittany region of France where it is known as g√Ęteau Breton. The article in the recent Cook's Illustrated describes it as a "simple, yet pretty cake, rich in butter, with a dense, tender crumb that falls somewhere between shortbread cookies and pound cake." This version includes an interesting apricot jam filling to help offset the richness of the butter-rich cake.


Preparing the cake took less than an hour. The filling was created using dried apricots which are always available. These were chopped and processed in a blender with some water. This mixture was then cooked, with some sugar, to thicken it and then finished off with some lemon juice. The cake batter was made by beating two sticks of butter then adding sugar, egg yolks, rum, vanilla extract, flour, and salt. The recipe calls for dark rum but I used clear rum as we have no dark rum.


The finished cake is attractive and good to eat. It is rich from the butter and egg yolks and not too sweet. It is sturdy enough that it can be eaten out of hand without a fork without making a big mess. The apricot jam filling complements the cake well, I wouldn't mind there be a little more of it in the cake.

13 August 2017
Grilled Chicken Drumsticks

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, May 2017


For a summer supper it's hard to beat grilled chicken. This is particularly true if the chicken has great flavor, is juicy, is easy and quick to prepare on a gas grill, and works well left over. This recipe looked like it could deliver so I gave it a try.


The recipe calls for 5 pounds of chicken drumsticks which is a lot for two people. At the supermarket drumsticks were sold in packages of 6 which weigh a little under 2 pounds. This is a reasonable amount of chicken for us, enough for three meals if we each have one drumstick. Preparation is straightforward: the chicken is first brined. I chose to brine it for the minimum time of 30 minutes to avoid it becoming too salty. It is then rubbed with a spice mixture. Three mixtures were provided in the recipe: barbecue spice rub, jerk-style spice rib, and Ras al Hanout spice rub. I chose the latter, making half of what the recipe details, which includes warm, North African spices: paprika, coriander, cumin, brown sugar, cardamon, cinnamon, salt, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper. The drumsticks are then cooked over indirect heat on the grill. When they are cooked through they spend a few minutes over direct heat to provide a little char and crispiness.


Cooking time was about 50 minutes producing good chicken which was nicely seasoned (not too salty) with crispy skin. It was easy to fix so I must say it fulfills the requirements set out. This is a dish worth making again the next time we want grilled chicken.

28 August 2017
New England Hot Dog Buns

Potato recipe from Bread Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 137
New England hot dog pan usage from King Arthur Flour



I have written about New England hot dog buns but I have not made them for several years. I don't know where to find the recipe that I used, it came with the pan. Thus I need to use another recipe and to figure out how much dough to use to fill the special pan that is used to make these buns. I have been happy using a potato roll recipe recently to make slider buns, would it work for the New England hot dog buns, too? Fortunately I found a web page with instructions for using the pan.  (I did not try the King Arthur recipe because it includes several ingredients that I don't normally have on hand.)


The recipes I found online for using the pan employ 3 cups of flour, but the potato bun recipe uses only 2¼ cups. However, it also uses 1 cup of mashed potatoes so I was hoping the amount of dough would work out OK. I made the dough following the recipe through the first rise of the dough. I then sprayed the pan, pressed the dough into it, and let it rest for 15 minutes. I then stretched the dough to fill the pan, covered it with plastic wrap, and let it rise until it was about ½ inch from the top of the pan. The dough was sprayed with cooking spray, a piece of parchment was placed on top, and this was covered with a weighted sheet pan and baked at 375° for 18 minutes. I verified the temperature of the buns was then greater than 190° and it was done!


The resulting buns are very good. The recipe provided the right amount of dough. I cut the crusts off each end of the loaf so each bun has two sides ready to be buttered and toasted. The buns freeze well. They are pale, compared to most bread, perhaps cooking them for a few minutes without the weighted sheet pan would provide some more color. However, the eternal question remains even with these homemade buns: why do buns come ten at a time when hot dogs come in packages of eight?


29 August 2017
Whole Wheat American Sandwich Bread

Recipe from Bread Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 86


My search for a great whole wheat sandwich bread continues. The previous recipe I tried produced a nice bread and was easy to make. However, it was lacking in whole wheat flavor and texture so I am trying more recipes. This one is based on a recipe for white sandwich bread, substituting some whole wheat flour for white, adding wheat germ and honey. I suspect the result will be similar to the previous recipe I tried, but the recipe is pretty easy so there is no harm in trying.


Making this loaf was straightforward. The dry ingredients (bread flour, whole wheat flour, toasted wheat germ, instant yeast, salt) were whisked together, the wet ingredients (milk, water, melted butter, honey) were combined, the wet was added to the dry in a stand mixer with a dough hook and mixed and kneaded. I used 2% milk instead of whole milk and I added an additional 2 Tablespoons of flour during kneading because the dough was a little too sticky. The dough rose very well, was shaped into a loaf and rose again until it was 1" above the top of the loaf pan, then baked. The total process took about 3½ hours, mostly hands off, quite reasonable for a loaf of sandwich bread.


My initial impression is that the loaf met my admittedly low expectations. It is a good sandwich bread, perhaps with a little more whole wheat flavor than my previous recipe, soft yet strong enough to stand up to fillings. However, I think I need to try the Test Kitchen's more wheaty recipe, which I have been avoiding so far because it takes a little more effort.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Recipe Notes: July 2017

6 July 2017
Mark Bittman's Brownies

Recipe from the How to Cook Everything


I have written about several brownie recipes. All have been good, all have been easy. When I learned about the seven-ingredient recipe by Mark Bittman, formerly of the New York Times, I thought it worth trying. I was happy to find the recipe is available on several web sites now that the Times has announced they are putting their recipes behind a paywall.


This recipe was quick and easy. The most time-consuming step was melting chocolate and butter together on the stove. This step could have even been shortened by using the microwave carefully to melt these ingredients. The remaining ingredients are simply stirred into the chocolate mixture which is then baked in an 8x8-inch pan for 20-30 minutes. I made a few modifications as I was cooking these brownies in rural New Zealand where some of the recipe ingredients are not available. Instead of unsweetened chocolate, 72% was used. Salted butter was used and salt was then omitted from the recipe. The brownies were baked in a convection oven using the fan (which, surprisingly, could not be turned off).


The resulting brownies were very good. They were chewy and gooey with good chocolate flavor. The edges were crisp and the center soft. Are they better than the other brownies I have made? That is hard to say as all have been good and all have been easy to make so you can't really go wrong. I would still like to try the recipe from Kopp's Canteen Restaurant in my home town of Chittenango, NY,  to see how it compares to those I have made, and to my memories. (But, alas, I don't have the recipe.) I look forward to trying some of the variations that Mark Bittman suggests for his brownies.

Note: I did try these with almond flour and did not enjoy them as much.


24 July 2017
Smoky Pulled Pork

Pulled pork recipe from Cook's Illustrated, July 2014
Barbecue sauce recipe from Serious Eats
Slider bun recipe from Bread Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen, 2016, p. 137


This is a bit of a mashup. I have made, and written about pulled pork several times on this blog. The pork was smoked on our gas grill using a recipe from Cook's Illustrated. The sauce came from a recipe that I have made once in which the pork is cooked in the oven. I combined the outdoor cooking method with the indoor sauce for this dish.


Since I had a smaller pork shoulder than in either recipe, I only made half of the sauce recipe, and even then there was plenty. When I started the pork was in two pieces totaling about 3 pounds. The pork was treated with a dry rub for about 20 hours before cooking. After the smoking started it was about 5 hours until dinner was ready between the smoking on the grill, roasting in the oven, and resting before being pulled. Since our supermarkets no longer carry slider buns, I make my own. The buns are half the size of regular burger buns, 40 grams of dough comes out about right.


We both thought the pork was too salty when it was first served. I believe the salt came from the dry rub rather than from the sauce. Fortunately, over time, the saltiness seemed to subside and it was not as noticeable when we had it as leftovers: it lasted us a good long time. Originally I put 1¼ cups of sauce on the meat but after the first meal added close to another 2 cups. The sauce was good with a strong molasses flavor. I don't think it is the ideal sauce that I am looking for, bit it is the current front runner.


30 July 2017
Whole-Wheat Honey Sandwich Bread

Recipe from KQED


I have two sandwich bread recipes that I like: a white sandwich bread from the public television station, KQED, and a recipe from Cook's Illustrated for Deli Rye bread. I would like to have a whole wheat sandwich bread recipe. I remember making one from Cook's Illustrated and I wrote about it briefly. I recall it takes more time that other sandwich breads and so I was happy to try this recipe from KQED for a whole-wheat sandwich bread.


The procedure for making this bread is similar to that used to make their white sandwich bread. It is written for active, rather than instant, yeast. I thus modified it so the yeast is not proofed before being used. The dry ingredients, including the yeast, are combined. The wet ingredients are then added in the stand mixer and the rest of the recipe was used as written. I found the resulting dough was a little wet so I ended up adding several additional tablespoons of flour.


The resulting bread is pretty good. It is soft but stands up well to fillings, it doesn't shred when peanut butter is spread on it or sog-out from ketchup or mustard. It is soft for a whole wheat bread and could benefit from a stronger whole wheat flavor and a hardier texture. It doesn't take long to make, less than three hours total, but I will probably continue trying other recipes for whole-wheat sandwich breads.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Recipe Notes: June 2017

Iowa Loose Meat Sandwiches
4 June 2017

Recipe from Cook's Country, August 2014


This sandwich is inspired by the signature sandwich from the Maid-Rite fast food chain most of whose franchises are in Iowa. I've never had one but the it seemed worth trying. It is a simple ground beef sandwich similar to a sloppy joe but seasoned differently.

The sandwiches took only 20 minutes to make. The ground beef is steamed in a sauce pan with water, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper. That's all there is to it. It is served on a bun (homemade slider buns in our case) with some mustard and onion.


The sandwiches have a very loose texture, as implied by the name, and so you will want to have a fork handy when you eat them. They're OK, but not great, so I don't know if I will make them again. The flavor of the beef is front and center which is a point in their favor.

Skillet French Toast
8 June 2017

Recipe from the New York Times


Even though I am happy with a recipe for french toast that I used last year, this similar recipe looked worth trying. Perhaps what drew me to it was the article which described "the slosher", fixing french toast without a recipe. That is the way I have done it most of my life though of late I have tried various recipes rather than just sloshing ingredients together.

I halved the published recipe and made 6 slices of french toast, with a little batter left over. The batter includes one egg plus one egg yolk, whole milk, vanilla (optional, but I included it), and salt. I used homemade cinnamon raisin bread: I had some in the freezer and I've seen french toast made with this kind of bread on restaurant menus. I cooked the french toast in a preheated cast iron skillet, two slices at a time, with the burner set to "4". I also followed the instructions to sprinkle the second side of the bread with cinnamon sugar. The toast is cooked in butter.  I fixed a dinner of french toast with bacon in about 45 minutes.

Cooking two slices at a time in a preheated cast iron skillet solved problems I have had in the past with uneven cooking. The recipe included some nice directions for cooking with butter and also for testing when done. However, using cinnamon raisin toast did not work well. There were just too many flavors competing for your attention and too much cinnamon. Diane didn't know what kind of jam to use! (I used maple syrup.) This recipe is worth trying again but with a simpler bread. 

Chocolate Sheet Cake
12 June 2017

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March 2017


I don't have much experience making cake. Since Diane doesn't like cake I have to eat it all, and as good as it is, a 13" x 9" cake takes too long to eat and I would get sick of it no matter how good it is. However, when I saw this recipe I was sufficiently impressed to give it a try, despite the challenges.


The cake was easy to make. It took 35 minutes to make the batter then 40 minutes to bake. The frosting took about 30 minutes to make. The dry ingredients were mixed. Milk, bittersweet chocolate, and cocoa are heated to melt the chocolate.  Oil, eggs, and vanilla are whisked in followed by the dry ingredients. The mixture is then baked. To make the frosting, milk chocolate (I didn't have enough so added some semi sweet chocolate. The least expensive way to purchase the milk chocolate: chocolate chips.) are heated over boiling water until smooth then butter is added. The frosting is chilled and then spread on the cake when the latter is cool.


Diane still doesn't like cake, this one she thought was too rich and, "it's cake". I liked it. The crumb has a good chocolate flavor, was moist, and was not too sweet. The milk chocolate icing complemented it well and had a nice smooth texture. I also got to share it at a meeting the day after I made it and so I didn't have to eat it all myself. It kept well in the refrigerator and so was good until it was gone.