Friday, April 27, 2012

A Delicious Disneyland Eve Dinner

April 22, 2012

  • Famous Prime Rib French Dip Sandwich
  • Crispy Chicken Sandwich
  • Grilled Scottish Salmon
My middle sister, Deb, was coming to California for a conference in Anaheim and was able to come early. We all saw this as a wonderful opportunity to get together and go to Disneyland. Diane and Disneyland are the same age (born within days of each other) and we like to go there regularly.  Disneyland celebrates their anniversaries every every five years which is when we plan our regular visits. Thus while we were there just two years ago it has been over 35 years since Deb's only visit when she and my family came out from New York for our wedding. She has been to Disney World several times since then but not to the original theme park in Anaheim.

Her flight was scheduled to arrive at the John Wayne airport in Santa Ana shortly after noon on Sunday. While she was at the airport in Chicago awaiting her connecting flight, we arose early and started the long drive south to meet her. The timing worked out very well ... she  waited at the arrivals curb for only a few minutes before we arrived from San Jose to pick her up.

After checking in to our motel we  headed for the Balboa Peninsula for the afternoon. It was a nice but not spectacular Sunday afternoon, being overcast and not particularly warm for Southern California. Nonetheless, many others had decided to visit the beach this day and it took us some time to find a place to park. We ended up at a metered spot on the street and so had only a limited time to explore, which we did, strolling along the beach and onto the Balboa Pier, enjoying the sites and sounds along this wide sandy beach.

It was still early when we returned to our car but we were ready for dinner. We returned to the mainland using the Balboa Island Ferry (mostly for fun) and drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway looking for a place to eat. We were hungry and this made it harder for us to make a choice. Eventually, we pulled over and did some on-line searching using our smart phones. We finally selected Bandera based on its menu and the on-line reviews. We could have just gotten out of the car at that point, we were that close, but we turned around and parked at the restaurant. We arrived early enough to get a table right away.

We each ordered a different meal and all were wonderful. Diane had wine with her salmon while Deb and I chose a Mission Brewery ale to go with our sandwiches. The food, beer, and wine were all excellent as was the atmosphere in the restaurant. We were seated in a booth near the very large bar. I was concerned at first that would be a noisy spot but it never became such. The bar seemed to be in use more for dining than for drinking.

It was an excellent start to our mini-SoCal vacation.

We've had the roast pork shoulder three times since the it was prepared and we still have enough for probably one more meal. Twice it was simply reheated in the microwave and the third time it was shredded and mixed with barbecue sauce for pulled pork sandwiches.  The peach sauce was reduced further before being used and it was much improved, being thick and syrupy and did not have quite as dominant a mustard taste as it did originally.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The last roast of the season?

April 15, 2012

  • Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Peach Sauce
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Peas & Onions
  • Thomas Fogarty 2009 Gew├╝rztraminer

I often watch the America's Test Kitchen or Cooks' Country TV shows, recorded on our DVR, as I eat my lunch. A few weeks ago I viewed the Fall Favorites episode from ATK and, even though it is Spring and not Fall, I was inspired to try the roasted pork shoulder. I have used this cut of meat, also known as Boston butt, several times before, smoking it for pulled pork sandwiches. It has a lot of connective tissue and fat which benefits from long cooking times. I had never cooked it in the oven and thought it was worth a try. With the approach of warmer weather we soon won't want to run the oven all day so this seemed like a good time to try this.

I first went to Whole Foods to find the meat but was disappointed to learn they do not carry the bone-in pork shoulder that the recipe called for, and I walked out of the store empty handed. I then remembered that a new store, New Leaf Community Markets, had recently opened nearby and I had yet to pay a visit. I went there and talked to the butcher, asking for a bone-in pork shoulder roast. No problem, he went into the back and came out with a huge hunk of meat, I think it weighed around twelve pounds. I asked for a five pound portion and the band saw made quick work of it. The final piece weighted closer to six pounds than to five and it had a thick fat cap. In retrospect I should have taken him up on his offer to trim off some of that fat.

On Saturday night the fat cap was scored and the roast rubbed with a mixture of salt and brown sugar. The salt added flavor and the sugar enhanced browning. This was wrapped and refrigerated over night. Around noon on Sunday it was unwrapped and placed in a roasting pan in a 325° oven until reaching an internal temperature of 190°. Water was placed in the bottom of the roasting pan to prevent burning and provide the basis for the sauce.

After five hours the target temperature was reached and the roast removed from the oven. The directions were to let it rest for an hour but it rested longer than this. The bone was pretty easy to remove, but not so easy as on the show suggesting it could have cooked a little longer.

While the pork rested, I prepared a sauce with frozen peaches, jus, wine, and vinegar. Just before it was served I added some yellow mustard; the recipe called for whole-grain mustard but we don't usually have it on hand. I reduced the sauce for half an hour or so but in the smallish sauce pan that wasn't really enough, the sauce was thin and runny. The mustard was the dominant flavor to my palate, though not to Diane's, and it complemented the tender, juicy pork well.

Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Peach Sauce,  Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, p. 418
Also see this post from the blog My Year Cooking with Chris Kimball.

The Shepherd's Pie was very good leftover and was the featured dish in four subsequent meals.  It was simply reheated in the microwave. Halving the original recipe for the two of us is still probably the right strategy, however we never grew tired of having this meal over the course of 10+ days.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Where are the sheep?

April 8, 2012
Shepherd's Pie
Sourdough Bread
Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel
Peanut Butter Cookies

I first learned about Shepherd's Pie from the mother of one of my good friends in high school. I got her recipe and though I can't find it now I recall it was pretty simple: a three-layer casserole with browned ground beef and corn topped with mashed potatoes. I haven't made this in many years. Indeed, I've made it only once since getting married because Diane didn't like it.  I have had Shepherd's Pie several times for lunch at Britannia Arms, a British pub here in San Jose, and enjoyed it each time. Their casserole has a lot of flavor, much more than my friend's mom's, and this inspired me to try it again at home.

I had several recipes to choose from including versions using lamb and ground bison. However, I decided against the exotic and chose a recipe using ground beef from Cook's Country which I found published in a blog from Maine. The concept is a two layer casserole, a meat filling topped with mashed potatoes. The key to the dish, as exemplified by the Britannia Arms version, is in the flavor of the filling. The Cook's recipe has nothing too exotic, no spices, but it works well. The most surprising ingredient is beer. I had two choices in the refrigerator: apricot beer and Hefeweizen and it was easy to choose the Hefeweizen. The other flavor ingredients are tomato paste, soy, thyme, onion, carrots, and peas.

The decision that I struggled with the most was in the choice of dish for baking. It needed to be oven and broiler safe plus large enough to hold the ingredients. I finally settled on a 13x9 inch Pyrex baking dish and it worked out well. It took a little over two hours from start to finish to prepare this meal.  Both of us, including Diane, enjoyed this Shepherd's Pie which is good as we have a lot of it. Next time I'll consider using one pound of meat, rather than two as in the recipe.

I tried a new recipe for peanut butter cookies for dessert. This basic recipe (Chef John called them "classic" because they included no secret ingredients, and no new modern techniques) produced cookies that had a thin crispy exterior and soft interior that tasted a lot like peanut butter. However, I found that I prefer the America's Test Kitchen recipe for peanut butter cookies: they have more peanut flavor and a better texture from  crunchy, instead of smooth, peanut butter and chopped peanuts.

I enjoy the mystery involved in cooking. Or more accurately, I enjoy the pleasant surprise and satisfaction that comes from eating good food that I've prepared myself. Whenever I try a new recipe, which is mostly what I do with Sunday dinners, I don't know how it will turn out until it's done and I eat it. Even though I select items that appeal to me there's no guarantee that my ingredients will be good enough or that my execution will result in the desired end product. When the meal is good it's always a very pleasant surprise. I used to feel the same way when I took a good photo back in the day when I used film. I never knew if the photos were going to be good until I got them in the mail from the processing lab and it was such a good feeling when the photo worked.

Shepherd's Pie from Cook's Country via Madeleine's Madeleines
Classic Peanut Butter Cookies from Food Wishes

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Engaged in what?"

April 1, 2012
Mushroom & Bleu Filet Mignon
Classic Baked Potato
Grilled Asparagus

Filet Mignon, Center Cut
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Grilled Asparagus

Cabernet Sauvignon

It was a busy weekend with little time for planning a meal, shopping for ingredients, or cooking. We left home on Friday afternoon for Clovis and the California Creativity State Finals tournament, not returning until Sunday afternoon.

Besides, it was a special day. On April 1 in 1976 I was a graduate student at UC Irvine, Diane was an undergraduate, and we had been dating for several months. On this day we had lunch together at my on-campus apartment in Verano Place. Relaxing (no, that is not a euphemism) after our meal, I turned to her and, on the spur of the moment, asked, "wanna get married?" While I had been thinking about proposing and had even mentioned it some weeks earlier, the proposal wasn't planned and it had nothing to do with April Fool's Day. I was elated when she replied, "uh huh" which meant yes.

So while April 1 is not our wedding anniversary, it is the anniversary of a special day and we don't let it go by unnoticed. The busy weekend provided ample excuse for us to go out to dinner to celebrate. As Diane had mentioned steak several times recently, I suggested the Black Angus Steakhouse which we had not been to in some time.

As seems to happen more and more often,  we ordered very similar meals. Diane had  Mushroom & Bleu Filet Mignon with baked potato and grilled asparagus while I had Center Cut Filet Mignon with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. We cleaned our plates.

The cassoulet was better left over than on the first night. We had enough for 2½ more dinners over the course of the following week.