Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cooking with Santa

January 1, 2012
Braised Pork Shoulder
Butternut Squash Apple Soup
Sourdough Bread
Hogue Late Harvest Riesling

It wasn't by design, truly, but I ended up using Christmas gifts to prepare several of the dishes on this menu, most notably sourdough bread. I received a Sourdough Starter Package which is marketed by Breadtopia.  The Starter Package included a packet of dried sourdough starter and a nice jar for storing the starter. On the Monday following Christmas, after reading the printed instructions and watching the video instructions, I added warm water to the dried starter. Day after day I cultivated it, tenderly feeding it (just flour and water but it wasn't being punished, that's what it wants to eat) and keeping it warm. Before going to bed I would leave it on the stove near the oven vent and turn on the oven, turning it off after reaching temperature. I was rewarded at the end of the week with several cups of sour, floury-smelling, bubbly starter! On Saturday evening I used ¼ cup of the starter in a no-knead bread recipe which has been modified to use sourdough starter instead of yeast. The dough was wetter than my usual Cook's Illustrated recipe for no-knead bread, but it rose nicely during its 18-hour rest and produced a delicious loaf of bread. It had good flavor and texture. It was not as sour as a San Francisco Sourdough bread that you may have had in a restaurant or purchased on Fisherman's Wharf. Some of those breads are made with starters that have been in use since gold-rush days. I am looking forward to learning how my starter changes over time, I plan to make frequent use of it.

When I made Butternut Squash Apple Soup last week I used only half of the squash, so I made it again using the other half of the squash. This provided an opportunity to try the  suggestion for upping the apple flavor made in the comments of  my earlier post.  I used 1 cup apple juice, 1 cup water, and 2 cups vegetable broth in place of the 4 cups vegetable broth I had used before. The resulting soup is still good, and it had a lighter, brighter taste than the first version. Nonetheless, the apple flavor is still very subtle. I don't think this soup is as good as the Silky Butternut Squash Soup that I've made in the past which has a more pronounced squash flavor. I have several other recipes for Butternut Squash soups, with and without apple, which I want to try. I don't know if I'll get to it this year, though. We're near the end of the hard squash season and there are lots of other soups I'd like to make. I don't want to go through the whole winter having only variations of one type of soup.

While cooking the soup I used two new Christmas gadgets. The first is a spoon holder that clips onto the side of the pot. It is clever and handy though this particular spoon turned out to be a tight fit. The second Christmas gadget is an immersion blender which I used to puree the vegetables into soup. The immersion blender was very convenient and much easier to clean up than a standard blender. It didn't really save much time other than for cleanup and it didn't do as good a job as the blender, but it was certainly good enough.

The pork shoulder was braised in apple juice using a slow cooker. The recipe called for a 4-5 lb roast but Whole Foods was able to sell me a 2.5 lb roast. With just the two of us eating it the availability of a smaller cut was a pleasant surprise. I modified the recipe appropriately but forgot to reduce the amount of vinegar. This resulted in a somewhat sour sauce which was OK with me but not as OK with Diane. The cooking time was not reduced by having a smaller cut of meat, it still took 6-7 hours. I got it started late and we were getting pretty hungry after many hours of cooking. I ended up removing the roast from the slow cooker a little earlier than I might have preferred. While it rested I used a fourth Christmas present (this one I bought for myself), a fat separator. This not only strains the solids from the braising liquid (though the strainer is fairly coarse) but after letting the liquid sit for a few minutes I could pour off the broth leaving the fat behind. This saved me from having to skim fat off of the sauce while it reduced. Again I hurried as I reduced the de-fatted braising liquid to create a sauce, since it was pretty late and people were hungry, so the sauce didn't thicken as much as it should. I finished it off with butter and fresh rosemary and thyme because I had those herbs on hand. The roast, though it could  have cooked a little longer, was still very good. As advertised in the video recipe it was tasty and fork tender.

Sourdough No Knead from Breadtopia
Slow Cooker Braised Pork Shoulder Roast with Apple Butter Sauce from Food Wishes
Butternut Squash & Apple Soup, Gizdich Ranch

Note: for recipes from Americas' Test Kitchen you may need to be a member to see the recipe on their web site.

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