Friday, April 15, 2016

Notes: April 2016

10 April 2016

"Sunday Supper: Sloppy Joes"

Recipe from Serious Eats

I am trying another Sloppy Joe recipe, one of many that I have tried and blogged about. My favorite is still the family recipe from my Aunt Peg. This one is similar to that one in its simplicity: a few ingredients, simply prepared, combined, and cooked. The biggest difference between this recipe and Peg's is the celery that this recipe includes. It provided some nice flavor and texture (a little bit of crunch) that we enjoyed. We didn't have any dried mustard so I substituted prepared yellow mustard. The few tablespoons of flour that were added made for a nice texture for the final product.

I think I'll stick to the old family recipe for most occasions, but this is a good recipe, too, with some good ideas that might be used to modify Peg's Sloppy Joes.

16 April 2016

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Recipe from March 2012 issue of Cook's Illustrated

Instead of buying some raisin bread or cinnamon bread at the supermarket for breakfast, I remembered this recipe. I am glad that I did, this is a very good cinnamon raisin bread. It has been a long time since I've tried to make this kind of bread and this recipe solved the problems that I seem to recall those loaves having. 

It is a rich bread that toasts very well, it has great texture and flavor and the cinnamon filling does not separate from the crumb and is well distributed, except at the ends of the loaf. The recipe makes two loaves, one of which I froze. The second loaf helps to make the effort involved in making the bread worthwhile. Like most yeast breads there is some work and time involved in making this but much of the physical work of mixing and kneading is done by the stand mixer and much of the time is just waiting for the bread to rise. This recipe is a keeper!

17 April 2016

"Roasted Bone-In Chicken Breasts for Two"

Recipe from the March 2016 Cook's Illustrated

I used the "for Two" version of this recipe that was on-line and we still ended up with two meals. This version was for two chicken breasts rather than four. The chicken that I purchased weighed a total of 1.4 pounds though one was larger than the other. I guess to get equal sizes I would need to ensure they came from the same chicken.

This was more of a cooking technique lesson than a full-blown recipe. It had just three ingredients: chicken, salt, and oil. The technique is the same as one the Test Kitchen has developed for thick-cut steaks which they call reverse searing.  The chicken is seasoned with salt then cooked in a moderate 325° oven to an internal temperature of 160°; this took about 40 minutes. It is then seared in a hot skillet to brown and crisp the skin. That's all there is to it.

The resulting chicken was OK. It was maybe a little over done but not by much. I didn't make any sauce to go with it so it was pretty plain, which is also OK.  I ate it with some bottled barbecue sauce.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Notes: March 2016

13 March 2016

"All American Beef Stew"

Recipe from Serious Eats

I tried a new recipe for beef stew, this one from the Serious Eats blog.  I didn't note how much time I spent cooking it, but between the stew and the pie (below) and the relaxing I killed a whole Sunday afternoon.

The stew didn't take all that long,  I started with a three-pound chuck roast and it spent about 2½-hours cooking. I followed the times in the recipe and it probably would have benefitted from another half hour or so as some of the beef wasn't as tender as it might have been. The 1-½-hour estimate in the recipe for active time seems about right.

The stew tasted good! I used Thai Fish Sauce, instead of anchovies, in the "umami bomb" that was part of the recipe. We thought it could have used more carrots and some more potatoes would have been okay, too.

The recipe called for cutting the roast into three steaks and browning these all at once in a Dutch oven. However, three steaks were too big and I should have browned them separately. which would have taken some more time.

The sauce was a little thin, it could have reduced more. The stew cooks with the lid only partially covering the stew and I could have exposed more of the stew than I did during cooking.

This stew is worth making again.

Lemon Meringue Pie

"Lemon Meringue Pie" recipe from Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, p. 405
Crust recipe, "Classic Single-Crust Pie Dough for Custard Pies", ibid., p. 373

This is the second time I have made a lemon meringue pie. While it has been too long since the previous pie to make a comparison, I can say this pie came out great. I made it this month because lemons seem to be in season. But that's silly: lemons are available all year and you only need three or four of them to make the pie so there is no reason to make it at any time of year. (And it allowed us to have pie on Pi Day.)

The crust recipe is pretty standard, using a mixture of vegetable shortening and butter which are mixed with the flour in a food processor. The interesting part is that the use of graham cracker crumbs instead of flour when rolling out the chilled dough. You get a classic flaky pastry crust plus the flavor of graham crackers.

The filling is easy to make. The meringue was fun because it was the first time I've made an Italian meringue. A hot sugar syrup is slowly added to the whipped egg whites in the mixer with the mixer running. This cooks and stiffens the meringue. The end result is smooth and sweet. And it made for great licking of the bowl and other tools used to make the meringue.

This pie is worth making again. I think, though, that I should try making a lemon chiffon pie next.

20 March 2016

"The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies"

Recipe from Serious Eats

The title of the recipe is pretty boastful. I have tried many different recipes for chocolate chip cookies and the New York Times recipe has been my favorite for some time. But perhaps the King is dead, long live the King! I'll have to try a few more to be sure, but the initial impression of these cookies is excellent. They are crispy and chewy with large pockets of chocolate throughout. Like the America's Test Kitchen recipe these use brown butter to give them a nutty toffee flavor. But unlike the ATK cookies here the toffee flavor is more subtle, which I like.  I baked these cookies for about 16 minutes which may have been too long ... next time I should go for 14. The recipe made 28 cookies.

"Better Chicken Marsala"

 Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, November 2015

For the second consecutive month we had chicken marsala. It's a favorite of Diane's and a recent recipe from Cook's Illustrated magazine was worth trying.

The two boneless, skinless chicken breasts were larger than the upper limit in the recipe even though I purchased the smallest ones available: 1.6 pounds. I made a few changes to the recipe:  The Marsala was a mixture of our old bottle (which was not marked "sweet" or "dry" and our new bottle of dry Marsala; the recipe specifies dry. I used dry parsley and oregano because the amounts needed were too small to purchase fresh herbs. The pancetta was thinly sliced rather than the ½-inch pieces in the recipe. I didn't pay close attention to the time but it was probably about 90 minutes in the kitchen to prepare this dinner.

The result, though, was good. The sauce was more richly flavored than the recipe I used last month. In part this was because some of the chicken burned and the sauce was probably over-reduced. The chicken was also a little over cooked and dry. Nonetheless, despite the flaws in execution, this is a recipe worthy trying again because of the rich flavor of the sauce.

"Perfect Quick-and-Easy French Toast"

Recipe from Serious Eats

I have written in this blog several times about French toast. I have not had any for a while and so while home alone for a weekend I tried this recipe. Like most people I didn't usually follow a recipe when making French toast. In this recipe, the author ran various tests to determine the best ratio of milk to egg, for example, as well as optimizing other variables. 

I halved the recipe, making four slices, though I had enough batter to make at least one more. I used homemade sandwich bread which I dried in the oven. I cooked the toast using a square griddle on a round burner on the stove top.

The result was very good. The toast was nicely flavored by the vanilla with hints of spice from cinnamon and nutmeg. It took longer to cook than the recipe said. Perhaps I should have used a higher setting on the stove, though much higher and the butter would have burnt. The slices did not cook evenly because the pan was hotter in the center than in the corners which were not near the heating elements. Cooking just two slices at a time might help with this.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Notes: February 2016

14 February 2016

"Chicken Marsala a la Ryan's Cafe"

Recipe from Food Wishes

This is one of Diane's favorite dishes, along with Steak Diane, and so appropriate for Valentine's Day. I have made it before but not using this recipe which is an old one from Chef John of Food Wishes. As with other versions the preparation is pretty simple, though it took me longer to fix than I expected. 

I served this with noodles, which was a mistake. The star of the dish is the sauce so it is best served with something that can soak up that sauce. The sauce is too thin to stick to wide egg noodles so it was not a good fit. As a leftover Diane served it with boiled white potatoes which was better. Also, I should have pounded the boneless chicken breasts. They would have cooked better if they were of uniform thickness and if the two breasts were of similar thickness. Nonetheless they were good and this recipe is worth using again.

"Chocolate Cream Pie"

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 399

I have written several times about French Silk Pie which we really enjoy. I thought about making that for our Valentine's Day dessert, but for some reason I wasn't interested in making a pie crust. (My pie crusts come out OK but still intimidate me, it's the rolling out and shaping where I lack confidence.) So I looked in the Cook's Illustrated Baking Book where I found a recipe for a pie with chocolate custard and an Oreo crust rather than a pastry crust. 

Like graham cracker crust, the Oreo crust is easy to make. Oreos are ground up, filling and all, in the food processor, melted butter is added, the mixture is pressed into a pie pan and baked. I had a little trouble using the bottom of a measuring cup to press the crust into the pan because it stuck to the cup, but my hands worked pretty well.

The filling is a straightforward custard with egg yolks, chocolate, butter, and a few other ingredients. It was pretty easy to make and, unlike the filling for the French Silk Pie, did not require 20 minutes of mixing with a hand mixer on the stove.

This pie is a keeper! It may replace the French Silk Pie because it is easier to make and just about as good. The filling is chocolaty, smooth, and creamy. The crush is crispy, like a cookie. Served with whipped cream we enjoyed for dessert for four nights in succession.

21 February 2016

"Easy Oven-Cooked Pulled Pork"

Recipe from Serious Eats

I had been wanting to try a winter-time, indoor pulled pork for some time. I had been thinking it would be made in a slow cooker until I found this new recipe on Serious Eats.  I was skeptical about the "easy" part of the name when viewing the long ingredient list, but it was indeed easy. The recipe is for a 5 to 7 pound pork shoulder but I was happy to get a 2.7 pound roast at Whole Foods. I did not adjust the amounts of the other ingredients which mostly went into making the barbecue sauce. 

A dry rub is made by mixing spices, all of which I already had. (I got to use our little mortar and pestle grinding up fennel seed.) Some of this is rubbed on the pork which is then browned in a Dutch oven before being roasted in the oven. I cooked it for 3 hours with the lid on and then another 30 minutes without the lid at which time the pork was nicely tender and pull-able.

The star of the dish is the sauce which was also easy to make. It requires no cooking, just mixing, other than the liquid that was used with the pork. The recipe calls for burning off the alcohol in the 1 cup of bourbon, but I didn't do this due to safety concerns. The sauce is rich, dark, and full of flavor. If we don't use it all on the pulled pork I'm confident it will keep and be delicious on other meats after the pork is gone. I applied the sauce as a condiment but I think it would be better to mix the pulled pork and sauce together just before serving.

28 February 2016

"Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Filling and Creamy Chocolate Filling"

Cupcake and Frosting recipes from May 2010 Cook's Illustrated

We rarely have cake of any sort because Diane is not a fan. However, we signed up to bring dessert to a church social event and that seemed a good time to try this recipe. And it is very chocolate. And it is pretty easy to make. It takes a little time because after you melt the chocolate for the ganache, using hot coffee, you need to cool it before you add it to the cake batter.

Even with all of the coffee in the recipe the cupcakes did not have a strong coffee flavor. And they were good with a moist but firm texture that even Diane appreciated. The ganache was not as prominent as I would have liked; perhaps it was not cold enough as it seemed to be at the bottom of the cupcake. The smooth frosting was well balanced, not too sweet, and complimented the cake well.

These were best fresh, though they were OK as leftovers, so this recipe is probably best used when baking for a crowd.

"Tagliatelle with Prosciutto and Peas for Two"

Recipe from March 2015 Cook's Illustrated

This is a nice pasta dish, good to eat and quick to fix taking 45 minutes from start to finish. The ingredient list is short: primarily is includes shallots, prosciutto, cream, peas, and two kinds of cheese -- Parmesan and Gruy√®re to dress the wide egg-noodles.  It could have been even better if I had purchased more expensive prosciutto, but the cheese was expensive enough. The recipe is "for two" but we got two meals out of it, so for us it served four and it made a reasonably good left over. We ate it with some homemade sourdough bread.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Notes: January 2016

10 January 2016 

"Traditional French Cassoulet"

Recipe from Serious Eats.

Looking back, this is the fourth cassoulet recipe that I've tried. I can's say that any would be a favorite, partly because I can't remember the various versions very well and it has been some time since I used the America's Test Kitchen recipe that introduced me to this dish.

This was a good hearty fare perfect for a winter meal. In addition to the main component, the beans, it includes chicken and garlic sausage. The amount of work was reasonable. Great northern beans were substituted for cannellini beans because that's what they had at the supermarket. The dish was too salty, even for me and certainly for Diane. If I make it again I should not include salt in the soaking liquid for the dried beans or the salt pork should be soaked before it is cooked to reduce its salt content.

17 January 2016

"Broiled Pork Tenderloin for Two"

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, September & October 2014.
Served with "Sun-dried tomato and basil salsa for two" (recipe), from the same edition of the magazine.

This was a quick meal to prepare, taking under an hour with rice pilaf requiring the most work to prepare. The tenderloin is tied, seasoned with a mixture of salt, pepper, baking soda, and oil, then broiled. It is placed in a disposable aluminum pan for broiling with the test kitchen found leads to more even broiling, a challenge for broiler recipes because broilers vary so much.

The meat was good if not great. I thought it was a little bland but that the salsa provided enough extra flavor to make up for the relatively bland protein. Diane wasn't fond of the salsa but liked the pork. There are several other sauce recipes accompanying the pork tenderloin recipe that could be used if we have this again.

24 January 2016

"Best Ground Beef Chili"

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, November & December, 2015

This recipe was accompanied by an article titled, "Bringing Back Ground Beef Chili".  Rather than using ready-made chili powder from the store, chili powder was home made from using a variety of homemade spices plus dried ancho chilis which were toasted, mixed with the other spices, and then ground in the food processor. The ground beef was treated with baking soda prior to cooking. 

As advertised, the chili was "highly flavored" and, as recommended, we always ate it with rice or tortilla chips. Due to the treatment with baking soda the ground beef was very tender. This is a trick that I have seen in other recent Test Kitchen recipes.

I probably won't make this chili again. The flavor was just too strong and the work involved in making your own chili powder, while not extreme, just is not worth it for us. A good supermarket chili powder used in a simple quick recipe (like this one) is perfectly acceptable and much quicker. 

"The Ultimate Flourless Chocolate Cake"

Recipe from, published March 1998.

This was a good cake but not for the dieter. The ingredient list is very short: 8 eggs, 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, and ½-pound butter. And that's all. It calls for an optional ¼-cup of strong coffee but I left that out; Diane would have liked me to include it. 

Cooking the cake, as the short ingredient list suggests, is pretty easy. The chocolate and butter are gently melted in a bowl, and the eggs are beaten. The beaten eggs are gently folded into the chocolate mixture. This is baked using a springform pan immersed in a water bath.

It is a good cake which we both enjoyed and would make again.

31 January 2016

"Frosted Meatloaf"

Recipe from Cook's Country, February/March 2014

This is a dish, meat loaf with a frosting of mashed potatoes, is from the rationing days of World War II when it was probably served with a thicker layer of potatoes to extend the weekly meat ration. It is a meat loaf with a frosting of mashed potatoes. After seeing it on TV I thought it was worth trying; we like meat loaf, it is a great winter comfort food, we like mashed potatoes, and they go well together. It reminded me of Shepherd's Pie which I have written about here several times. 

While there was nothing wrong with this dish, I doubt I will make it again. It was worthwhile once for the novelty (we're not old enough for it to be nostalgic) but it wasn't particularly special. The meat loaf was good and the mashed potatoes were good and the glaze (between the meat loaf and the potatoes) was very good. But there was not much advantage to welding them together other than perhaps some convenience when having leftovers.