Sunday, July 29, 2012

A late dinner of barbecued pulled chicken

July 22, 2012

  • Barbecued Pulled Chicken on Potato Buns
  • Sweet Corn
  • Fruit Salad
  • Kona Longboard Island Lager
  • Häagen-Dazs Bars
I had made these pulled chicken sandwiches once before and I have fond memories of these messy summer-time sandwiches. You might want to call them Sloppy Chicken. However, I had forgotten how much work the pulled chicken required, otherwise I might have planned on having something else for dinner. After the chicken has cooked and cooled it still takes a while to remove it from the bones and shred and chop. I had a lot of things to do around the house this weekend, and the combination of this and my poor planning was a very late dinner.

The pulled chicken is pretty easy to make. The recipe calls for 8 bone-in chicken leg quarters (about 7 pounds). Not finding any chicken leg quarters at the supermarket, we selected a five-pound tray of chicken thighs. The chicken is smoked on the grill for several hours until it reaches an internal temperature of 185°. The recipe allows two hours for this but it took longer on our grill. After 2¾ hours I took the chicken off of the grill and finished cooking it in the microwave oven. At this point you would think (at least I did) that you're almost done, but there's still a ways to go. First, let the chicken cool so that you can pull the meat from the bones with your fingers after discarding the skin and bones. About half of the chicken, the smaller pieces, is chopped in a food processor while you use two forks to pull apart the larger pieces. This combination of chopped and shredded chicken provides an excellent texture for the sandwiches. It also, allows for more of the sauce to be incorporated into the meat. The flavorful, well-balanced sauce includes many ingredients and is neither too sweet nor too sour nor too spicy. It's a relatively mild sauce that goes well with the smoked chicken meat, not overwhelming it.

The current issue of Cook's Illustrated has a recipe for Potato Burger Buns. I have eaten store-bought potato buns and enjoyed their soft texture and thought they would work well with pulled chicken. The recipe cites four advantages provided by the addition of potato to the dough: a quicker rise, a "super-soft crumb", moist texture, and a longer shelf life. If anything, these buns were easier to make than an all-wheat bun because the dough is so easy to work with. Unlike the hot dog buns I made a few month ago, the hamburger buns were reasonably uniform in size and shape.  I probably should have let them rise longer but they still came out well, soft with nice flavor but still strong enough to stand up to the wet filling. A nice fringe benefit is the left over mashed potatoes. I fried these in a little butter, seasoned them with some salt and pepper, topped with ketchup, and enjoyed a snack.

At it most basic level, bread is made from just four ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, and water. While these buns have a few additional ingredients, they come a lot closer to the simple recipe than those you buy at the supermarket. Next time you buy supermarket bread, look at the list of ingredients and count how many there are. How many do you recognize and how many can you even pronounce? Might it be worth the extra effort to make your own bread which tastes better, has much better texture, and is probably healthier, than anything you can buy.

I tried a new method for cooking fresh sweet corn after reading about it in two places this week, on 101 Cooking for Two and the America's Test Kitchen Feed. The unhusked corn was placed in the microwave and cooked for four minutes an ear. The stalk end of the corn was then cut off and the husk removed. It didn't just slip off as described though slitting the husks before pulling it off helped. As I went through the four ears of corn, however, I got better at the process and any difficulties I had may disappear with more experience. Even the silk slips right off the corn and there is little left to pick off. It was an interesting approach and worked pretty well once I started to get the hang of it.

I made a seasonal salad using fruits that we had at hand: watermelon, peach, nectarine, apple, and banana. I sprinkled a little lemon juice over the fruit to help prevent the banana and apple from turning brown.

For Caryn we bought some vegetarian chicken and mixed it with the barbecue sauce so she had very much the same meal as we did. Alex had dinner with us, too, and even with three of us eating the chicken sandwiches we had a lot left over, our portion sizes are apparently smaller than those of the recipe writers.

A lesson to learn from this meal is to be more careful when planning so there is enough time to prepare the food given other commitments. Creating extra pressure on yourself to get the food on the table before it gets too late to eat is not as enjoyable as having time to enjoy your time in the kitchen.

Potato Burger Buns
Barbecued Pulled Chicken

Friday, July 20, 2012

Stateline Brewery Restaurant

July 15, 2012
Jumbo Pacific Prawn Scampi
Rack 'Em Up
Stateline Pilsner

Sunday found Diane and me in South Lake Tahoe to see The Beach Boys at the last stop on the North American leg of their 50th Anniversary Tour. This was the second time we've enjoyed them live this summer; my sister says this qualifies us as groupies. The concert was part of a long, fun weekend with a lot of Bs. We were celebrating our Birthdays. I published my post on Beef Brisket. We went to two San Francisco Giants Baseball games (both of which the Giants won) and we went on a tour of the Ballpark. And then we saw the Beach Boys.

Our restaurant choice on this Sunday evening was dictated by our need to get to the concert on time. We chose Stateline Brewery because it was open for dinner early enough to match our schedule and it was close by. We were able to walk from our motel to the restaurant and then to the concert. Diane ordered prawns and I had a half rack of ribs. The food was good. My ribs were cooked well, they were tender yet still had good texture and were served with a well-balanced barbecue sauce: not too sweet and not too sour. Diane reports that her prawns, which were served on pasta, were also very good. I tried one of the beers that was brewed on site and I enjoyed it, it was very drinkable, and went down easily, and was a good complement to the ribs and pleasant summer evening.

I took photos but all I got after I downloaded them was some black rectangles. :-( I have no idea what happened to them.

The beef brisket was delicious when fresh and it made great sandwiches.  Need more be said?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Barbecued Brisket and Summer Berry Pie

July 8, 2012
Barbecued Brisket
Steamed White Corn
Fresh Summer Fruit Salad
Homemade Beer
Summer Berry Pie

I had long wanted to try this recipe for barbecued brisket. I have had brisket in barbecue restaurants and at AT&T Park and have always enjoyed it. I have been putting off cooking it at home because of the size of brisket. A full brisket weighs over ten pounds and even the flat cut, which is called for in the recipe, weighs five to six pounds. I love leftovers but this is too much meat for two people. Brisket is a tough cut of beef requiring a long cooking time to become tender. It is usually barbecued or braised and it is always served well done. I purchased a six-pound flat cut brisket from Whole Foods that was labelled "pasture beef". It wasn't cheap, $48, but given the number of meals we would get from it I decided it was worthwhile. Also, instead of our usual two people we would have five for dinner this Sunday. Our daughter Caryn is home for the summer and she invited her boyfriend, Alex, to join us. Our son, Caleb, was also present, visiting us in California while en route from New York to New Zealand. I probably wouldn't get such a good chance to try cooking brisket for some time, so this was the day!

The entire process of cooking the brisket took over seven hours. The techniques are easy and most of this time is hands off, so while it takes a long time it's not a lot of work. Preparation can be  divided into four major parts. First, the meat is brined for two hours to season and tenderize the meat. Second, it is smoked for three hours on a gas grill. A packet of hickory chips on the primary burner provided a long-lasting supply of smoke for the full cooking time. The temperature of the grill was maintained at around 300° according to the thermometer on the grill lid. I had never used this technique when smoking meat on the gas grill and it worked very well, the sweet smell of hickory smoke inviting us to the back yard for the entire cooking time. Third, the meat was roasted in a 325° oven for 2.5 hours until it reached an internal temperature of 195°. I found the internal temperature to be uneven and I took the brisket out of the oven while some portions were over and some under this temperature. I figured any reheating for leftovers would finish the cooking for the cooler parts. Fourth, the meat rested for 30 minutes before being carved, across the grain, for serving.

The side dishes were simple summer standards featuring fresh local produce. White corn was husked and put into a baking dish with a little water. It was then microwaved on high for 2½ minutes per ear. A fresh fruit salad was prepared with blackberries, pineapple, apple, orange, banana, strawberry, and cantaloupe. (I could have added plums and nectarines, too, but didn't need to.) Some rustic white bread which Caleb had purchased on his drive across the country, in Montana, competed the menu. He had also brought along beer that he had made just before leaving New York. He said it needed more time aging in the bottles but I thought it was just dandy the way it was, I have several more bottles aging in the refrigerator. Caleb tried a brown ale from Hawaii and didn't like it: too much toasted coconut for his taste.

For dessert, a fresh berry pie featuring blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries with a simple-to-make graham cracker crust. We've made this amazing pie before several times. The graham cracker crust is really easy to make and its  earthy-sweet flavor contrasts nicely to the bright, acidic sweetness of the fresh berries. The base for the filling is a jelly made from the same mix of berries that top the pie. These have been glazed with melted apple jelly to make them shine. Any mixture of summer berries would do here, but the supermarket had just the three varieties called for in the recipe in packages that were pretty close in size to what the recipe calls for.

The brisket was really, really, good –  meaty and smoky and tender with a crispy, salty crust reminiscent of the famed burnt ends from Kansas City barbecue. The four of us eating the brisket consumed half of the 6-pound (before cooking) roast at one sitting. (Caryn enjoyed Vegan Black Pepper Steaks from Vegetarian Plus.) The side dishes were all light and fresh, perfect complements to the brisket. The compliments I received were gratifying, but the demand for seconds was even more so. The pie, too, was well received and Chef Caleb, who loves his fresh fruit, had seconds. I look forward to having the leftover brisket during the upcoming week.

Barbecued Brisket
Summer Berry Pie

Glazed Salmon was reheated in the microwave. It was OK but in the future I will not plan on preparing enough salmon to have leftovers. Perhaps if I'd saved some of the leftover glaze it would have been better, but I doubt it would have been worthwhile even then.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Glazed Salmon

July 1, 2012

Salmon with Soy-Mustard Glaze
Glazed Rainbow Carrots
Green Salad
Classic Lemonade
Fresh Strawberry Pie

For the second week it was just Caryn and me for Sunday dinner. Caryn is a flexible vegetarian; she chooses not to eat meat because of the way animals are treated on the factory farms that produce most of the meat we eat as well as for health and environmental reasons. Thus her decisions about what to eat and what not to eat are driven by her own conscience rather than the dictates of any external agencies or by what someone else might say is correct fare for a vegetarian. She recently mentioned she had eaten  salmon at a friend's house, thus opening the door to us having salmon together. 

I shopped at Whole Foods for the fish. They had four or five different varieties of salmon to choose from, both farm raised and wild. I was immediately drawn to the wild sockeye salmon because of its bright red color, especially compared to the other salmon. While it was neither the most nor the least expensive choice it was towards the high end at $19 a pound. The fish monger was very knowledgeable and helpful; after listening to his descriptions of the various varieties I stuck with my original decision and purchased a 1 pound fillet of the sockeye. The recipe called for using a 1½ to 2 pound fillet, but with just the two of us a pound would be enough for Sunday dinner plus some left over for another day.

The salmon and its glaze were very easy to prepare. The glaze was made by combining the ingredients in a sauce pan and simmering them for a minute or two to thicken. I made several substitutions to accommodate the contents of our pantry. I used low-salt soy sauce, water in place of mirin, red wine vinegar instead of sherry vinegar, and dijon mustard replaced whole grain mustard. I try to avoid buying ingredients which will be used for only a single recipe, especially if we have a reasonable substitute in stock. The fish was seasoned, browned on top of the stove, and finished in the oven. A coating of brown sugar on the fish helped with browning and cornstarch helped the glaze stick to the salmon. Even with the changes I made, the glaze was delicious. The soy and mustard were not overpowering and complemented the salmon very well.

We got rainbow carrots in our monthly box from Farm Fresh To You. There were only two colors, purple and white, to which I added regular orange carrots. I used a dependable recipe from America's Test Kitchen (ATK) to prepare them, substituting water for the chicken stock the recipe called for as this is not on Caryn's OK list. The stock provides some added flavor but the recipe works fine with water. Rainbow carrots taste very much like orange carrots, being perhaps just a little less sweet. They look strangely like fruit to me in the photos of the finished carrots, perhaps because the purple carrots dyed the cooking liquid.

Lemonade was prepared using another ATK recipe. (I think I set a record this month, using five America's Test Kitchen recipes.) The lemons were sliced then mashed with sugar creating a syrup rather than just juicing them. This extracts additional lemon flavor from the zest. I was concerned, though, that it would also extract bitterness from the membranes and pith that lies under the zest. The lemonade turned out well and was extra lemony with no bitterness. I did adjust the sugar, adding a few additional tablespoons. However, I don't think this lemonade was good enough, compared to lemonade made with juice alone, to justify the extra effort it takes to slice and mash the fruit. Lemonade made from fresh lemons is superior to bottled lemonade no matter how you make it.

It's summer time and with all the fresh fruit that is now available it is time to start making pies. I'm still a novice with pie crust so enjoyed an opportunity to practice. I used the recipe for "foolproof" pie crust from the Test Kitchen. It replaces some of the water with vodka to make the dough easier to handle but still tender. The fresh strawberry pie that I made uses just one crust so I also got to blind-bake a crust for the first time. I have no pie weights so used coins from a jar that sits on my nightstand. The filling consisted of fresh strawberries that were held together with a strawberry jam. My crust came out pretty well this time. I was able to roll it out into a reasonable circle and transfer it into the baking dish without tearing. I even crimped the edge, though there is certainly still room for me to improve. The raw berries surrounded by jam were fresh and juicy, though there was more jam than needed to hold the berries together.


Glazed Rainbow Carrots from Cook's Illustrated

Kitchen tip

When using on-line recipes, I like to print them and hang them on the stove hood using magnets. They are then at eye level, easy to read, and not taking up precious counter space in our small kitchen.


We had leftover deep dish pizza for lunch several days. It was good either warmed in the microwave or, to get a crisp crust, heated in a skillet then microwaved.