Saturday, October 11, 2014

Grilled Pork Tenderloin Roast

September 21, 2014

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


Recipe
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

Menu
French Toast
Fried Bacon
Mixed Berries
Mimosa


Recipe
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.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mom's Bread and Butter Pickles


Recipe


My mom regularly canned food. There were three things that she always had on hand: strawberry jam, bread and butter pickles, and chile sauce. Whenever I  traveled to Central New York I would come home with a few jars of each to replenish my supplies. Since she died a few years ago I have had to find new sources for these favorites, or forgo them altogether.

The most popular by far was strawberry jam. Diane and I (mostly Diane, if truth be told) have been making strawberry jam now for several years. I think it is just as good as the jam that mom made. The sweet chile sauce is great with meat loaf. We have been able to get a reasonable version at the supermarket. The bread and butter pickles from the supermarket are good but they are not the same as those my mom made. I have been interested in trying to make these myself for several years. Fortunately we have her recipe but I never watched her make them and so I wasn't confident I could make them based on the instructions in the recipe alone.


 Two recent events changed this. First, a similar recipe was published on the Food Wishes blog which focuses more on teaching cooking methods than on recipes ... just the information that I felt I needed! Second, my sister Dena shared some notes that she made while watching my parents make these pickles. Late summer is the right time of year -- the store has the right kind of cucumbers -- I was confident that I knew what to do, and with Diane's help with the canning I was finally ready to give these a try.

I tried to learn more about the history of the recipe but without much success. I know that my mom's mother made these pickles before she did. Through my cousin, Carol, and her mom, my mother's older sister, Luella, I learned that the recipe is the same as the one my grandmother used but Luella didn't know where it came from.

Chef John suggested the recipe was developed during the Great Depression, when my mom was growing up, as a way to preserve extra cucumbers. Some Internet research bears this out though I didn't find anything definitive. There are several stories describing the origin of the name: it came from the simple sandwiches that would be made with the pickles, or they were considered a staple, like bread and butter, or it referred to the cash people would make selling the pickles.

My goal was to replicate the pickles that my mom made. I used the techniques demonstrated on the Food Wishes video and my mom's recipe augmented with Dena's notes. I made one intentional change to the recipe: 6 medium onions seemed like too many so I used just 3. I made one not-so-intentional change. I had too many cucumbers so I had to add more vinegar to cover the vegetables when cooking. I didn't add any additional sugar so the pickles are a little more sour than I remember. My mom sliced the cucumbers by hand but I used a mandolin and cut them 3/16-inch thick which seemed about right in the end. If I make these again I will probably try making them thicker and perhaps with a crinkle cut since that is easy to do with the mandolin.

I believe I succeeded, for the most part, in replicating my mom's pickles. The thickness and consistency seems right, the proportion of onions and peppers is right, and other than being a little more sour the flavor is also close to what I remember.


My parents were married for over 60 years and in those 60 years they worked together to can a lot of jam, chile sauce, and pickles. From Dena's notes:
After adding the mixture to cans, Mom sticks a butter knife in around the edges to "get the air bubbles out." Dad wipes the rim of the jar with a wet dishcloth and puts the lids on. After they're in jars with lids, Herbie put a dish towel on top to "keep them warm." Mom said it's best if they cool slowly and it keeps the draft from them.

I distinctly remember watching them do this together. It was like a dance.
I never watched this particular dance in person, but it is easy for me to imagine them working together in the kitchen of the home where we all grew up, part of the 60-year dance of their marriage. I am grateful that the dance goes on, not only in our memories but in the recipes we continue to use and the foods we continue to enjoy.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kicked-up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. Bam!

September 14, 2014

Menu
Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Cheddar and Shallot
Grilled Sweet Corn
Homemade French Fries
three twins Mint Confetti Ice Cream Cones


Recipes
Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Cheddar and Shallot from Cook's Illustrated
Grilled Corn with Flavored Butter from Cook's Illustrated



In the early days of the Food Network it seemed like it was the Emeril network. Chef Emeril Lagasse seemed to be on the air whenever you tuned in. Emeril became well known for his catch phrases including "Bam!" and "kick it up a notch". (He tells an interesting story about the origin of Bam!). The dishes in this week's menu for Sunday dinner are not particularly special, but each, in its own way, is a kicked-up version of the standard preparation.

A grilled cheese sandwich is comfort food to many, but not to me.  I grew up disliking cheese. I'm still unlikely to pick up a piece of cheese and eat it, but I have grown to like cheese as a part of other dishes. I have made grilled cheese sandwiches for family members, but so far as I can remember I have never made one for myself.  Grilled PB&J or grilled ham and Swiss, certainly, but not grilled cheese. When I saw the America's Test Kitchen recipe for a "grown-up" grilled cheese sandwich I was sufficiently intrigued, despite my personal history with cheese. With another busy weekend requiring a meal that could be made without spending a lot of time in the kitchen, this recipe came to mind. Not only is it pretty easy but it would go well with the fresh local sweet corn that will soon be done for the season.


Grilled cheese sandwich: put a slice or two of cheese between slices of bread, butter the outside, and cook in a skillet until golden brown and the cheese has melted. This recipe is essentially that, but differs in several ways. The cheese is aged cheddar, not pre-sliced convenience cheese; the recipe recommended cheese that had been aged a year (but not more) but because of a memorable experience tasting sharp cheddar once, I chose a medium, 60-day, cheddar from Tillamook. Because aged cheddar is dry and doesn't melt well, it is combined in a food processor with brie and some white wine to form a cheese paste. Some minced shallots are added and this is spread between two slices of hearty white sandwich bread. A mixture of butter and Dijon mustard is spread on the outside and the sandwich is cooked slowly in a nonstick skillet. "Kicking it up!" While I should have cooked the sandwich longer so it would be even crispier, I enjoyed eating it. Judging from how fast the sandwich disappeared from Diane's plate, she liked it, too. I've been converted and might even try using a longer-aged cheese next time.


We are still enjoying fresh local sweet corn. Instead of just steaming it in the microwave, again, I used a Test Kitchen recipe which I adapted slightly. The corn was cleaned, sprayed with vegetable oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper. It was then grilled for about 10 minutes, turning as needed to cook all sides. The hot corn was placed in a glass dish with some butter that had been seasoned with chopped basil and parsley. "Bam!" This was then sealed with platstic wrap and cooked in the microwave for three minutes. While neither Diane nor I could taste the basil or parsley, we did enjoy the slightly chewier texture of the corn and the wonderful smoky flavor that was provided by grilling.


We could have had potato chips or frozen french fries. But no, I wanted to make my own from scratch. I used our mandoline (carefully, as always) to make ¼″ square fries from a single russet potato, with skins. These were rinsed to remove surface starch then stored in ice water until time to cook the potatoes. They were deep fried at 325°, removed from the oil, then cooked until brown at 350°. They could have been crisper but they were still very good and better than potato chips or frozen fries. "Oh yeah, babe."

For dessert we often have ice cream, but this ice cream was special. While visiting San Francisco a few months ago, we stopped at this little ice cream shop, "three twins ice cream", in the Lower Haight district and had the best bittersweet chocolate ice cream ever. A little research revealed that they sell their ice cream in supermarkets, too, and we found it was just as good. This week we tried a new flavor, a version of mint and chip called Mint Confetti, which is also excellent: rich, smooth, and creamy with just the right amount of fresh mint flavor accented with pieces of dark chocolate.