Friday, January 27, 2012

Why I use recipes

January 22, 2012
Slow-Cooker Beef Burgundy over Noodles
No-knead Sourdough  Bread with Steel Cut Oats
BV Coastal Estates Pinot Noir 2009, Vella Merlot
Meyer Lemon Bar Cookies with Rosemary

Beef Burgundy, from this recipe in particular, is one of my favorite dishes. It has a rich, earthy, beefy, umami flavor that can't be beat for a winter's dinner. I've made it several times before and have found it to be very satisfying. The beef is tender and flavorful and the sauce delicious. It is great served over noodles, boiled potatoes, and mashed potatoes and the leftovers are as good, or better, than the original.

Prior to nine hours in the slow cooker, this dish requires some preparation. Not wanting to spend Sunday morning in the kitchen I was happy to see from the recipe that most of the prep work could be done in advance. I bought a 4-pound chuck roast at Whole Foods and cut it into large pieces, as directed in the recipe. I removed and discarded the hard fat that runs through a chuck roast. I cut up and cooked the vegetables, browned half the beef and a half pound of bacon, and mixed the wine (the same Pinot Noir that I served with the meal, though most of the bottle went into the Beef Burgundy) with soy sauce and chicken stock. It took me about an hour and a half to get everything ready and stored in the refrigerator. This work paid off on Sunday morning when it took only a few minutes to retrieve items from the fridge, put them into the slow cooker, add bay leaves and tapioca (a thickener), turn it on low, and leave it for nine hours. When the meat was tender a garnish of wine, pearl onions, fresh parsley, and mushrooms was prepared and added to the stew which was then served over noodles.

It was good, with all of the qualities described above. Sadly, though it was too salty. It's common for a recipe to tell you to adjust a dish's seasoning as the last step. You can add salt or you can add  pepper or you can add both. However, if there's already too much salt or too much pepper there isn't much you can do. This dish had many sources of salt: bacon, chicken broth, soy sauce among them. I didn't use a low-salt chicken broth as the recipe called for. I couldn't find any at the store without buying much more than I needed so I settled for a smaller container that wasn't low sodium. The other source of salt, over which I had significant control, was what I sprinkled onto the meat. Given all of the other sources of salt, in hindsight I should have been less generous in salting than I was. It might have helped if the recipe had specified quantities for salt and pepper, but that's no excuse. You can always add more seasoning later, but you can't remove it.

The bread was also a bit of a disappointment. On Wednesday I took the starter from the refrigerator and let it come up to room temperature. I fed it on both Friday and Saturday, adding ½ cups of flour and ⅓ cups of water. The sourdough was bubbly each day and had a more distinct sour smell than when it was new. The recipe is the same no-knead sourdough I had used before, except for the addition of steel-cut oats. I made the dough on Saturday night and let it ferment for 18 hours. It doubled in volume overnight, as expected. I turned it out and even with a generous sprinkling of flour it was still very wet and sticky. No-knead doughs are meant to be wet, but perhaps this was too wet. I shaped it gingerly and placed it on a sheet of parchment paper to rise. The loaf didn't rise as high as I would expect and the resulting bread was a too dense. I'm thinking the main problem may be with the process I used to reactivate the starter. Rather than doubling the amount of starter with each feeding, as described at Breadtopia, I only give it small amounts of flour and water. Also, the next time I make this I might add some extra flour, enough so that I can knead it a few times by had as in the America's Test Kitchen "Almost no-knead" recipes.

Once a month we receive a box of produce from Farm Fresh to You — we get the Mostly Fruit box. We had four Meyer lemons in the refrigerator from our most recent box with no plans for using them, until I came across the blog, Patty's Food, and her recipe for Meyer Lemon Bars. Patty's recipe was adopted from one in America's Test Kitchen Light and Healthy 2012.  I used all of the zest from our 4 lemons and most of the juice. The lemon bars were easy to make: Ingredients for the dough were mixed in a food processor, pressed into a pan, and baked. After the crust cooled the lemon filling was made, poured on top, and baked.  The end product was very good, though the crust was a little tough. Rosemary is included in the crust but I can't really taste it in the final product. I wonder what this would have been like if it hadn't been made with a Light and Healthy recipe. As is, it is worth making again.

When I was active as a general aviation pilot, I came across the saying (aviation has lots of sayings), "Learn from the mistakes of others. You won't live long enough to make them all yourself." While the consequences of making a mistake while cooking are not as severe as when piloting an aircraft, the sentiment provides some of the reason why I usually follow a recipe rather than throwing things together myself. I don't have the time, skills, equipment, or money it takes to create a good recipe. I leave that to the professionals and then use the results of their efforts. With this meal I had two dishes that were disappointing. In both cases this could have been prevented if I had more carefully followed  the instructions.

Why do I use recipes? Because it results in better food.

Slow-Cooker Beef Burgundy, The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, p. 269
No-knead Sourdough Bread with Steel Cut Oats from Breadtopia
Meyer Lemon Bar Cookies with Rosemary from Patty's Food

Note: You may need to be a member to see the recipe on an Americas' Test Kitchen web site.

Chili is one of those dishes that is better as a leftover. We had only enough left over for one dinner and then the portion sizes were a smidgen too small. I could have stuck with the original recipe which used two pounds of ground beef instead of halving it. Having chili four times over the course of a few weeks would not be a bad thing.

I used up much of the cornbread as a breakfast dish. I warmed it up in the microwave and served it with butter and either jam or honey. It was a little dry, perhaps another indication that it had been slightly overcooked.

Kitchen tip
What do you do with leftover tomato paste? I measure out the leftovers in 1 Tablespoon portions, put them onto a small baking sheet lined with plastic wrap, and freeze them overnight. The next morning they go into a zipper storage bag and back into the freezer. The next time a recipe calls for tomato paste I can just pull it out, thaw it out, and cook it.


  1. I had to look up "umami." I love having a savory new word to use.

    1. It even has its own web site,

  2. Replies
    1. No, I always buy my broth/stock, though I've made it once or twice. Most recipes I use are written for store-bought broth.

  3. Fruits is very healthy food. It is my regular breakfast. This dish looks very attractive and everything is excellent.

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