Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Quick Chicken, Quick Cookies, Quick Cookbook

September 26, 2012  
Not a Sunday, not for two

  • Quick Orange Glazed Chicken
  • Steamed Rice
  • Peas
  • Vella Chardonnay
  • Quick Chocolate Chip Cookie with Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

The new America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook, which I mentioned a few weeks ago, has arrived. It's a big book with over 750 recipes in a ring binder. I appreciate this format in our kitchen where counter space is at a premium: it's easier to find a place to put a few pieces of paper than it is to find a safe, clean place to put a cookbook. In addition to recipes the book includes summaries from Test Kitchen reviews of kitchen equipment and common ingredients, a section on knife skills, and "Test Kitchen Tips" scattered throughout. Every recipe in the book can be completed in 45 minutes or less and some are labelled as "super fast", designed to be completed in under 25 minutes. This book reminds of the Betty Crocker Cookbook that we've had on the shelf for over three decades and which is still Diane's favorite, the book that was so worn I recently went online to buy a replacement copy of the same edition. 

This dinner was not prepared on a Sunday as I was at the California International Air Show in Salinas with friends, an event I've attended every year since 2001. This was a full-day outing and we had dinner at an Outback Steakhouse on the way home. Thus, this meal was prepared on a weeknight and it took just 40 minutes to complete; the chicken recipe was categorized as "super fast". I would have been faster but for the thickness of the chicken and pausing to take photos along the way. Buying boneless skinless chicken breasts at the supermarket that weigh less than 8 ounces was nigh on impossible. I ended up buying a tray pack containing three "Breast Fillets" weighing a total of 1.5 pounds. What is a chicken "breast fillet" or, for that matter, a "breast steak", which they also had for sale?

The chicken was very easy to prepare, requiring a small number of ingredients and no complicated techniques. I didn't have any apricot preserves so I substituted orange marmalade in the glaze. The chicken took an extra five minutes for the thinnest piece to reach 160° because the "fillets" were so thick. It came out really well, moist, juicy, and tender. The simple glaze provided a nice, bright accompaniment though the mustard might have been a little too strong, dominating the orange flavor. I prepared steamed rice as I had described recently, however I rinsed the rice before cooking it as suggested in the comments to my post. This removes starch from the surface of the grains, which acts like glue when it is cooked in water. Thus the cooked rice grains don't stick together so much ... I liked the result. The meal was finished with frozen peas and a glass of our standard box white wine.

This recipe even works with some significant changes. Diane, still out of town, fixed this dish without shopping, using what she could find in the kitchen. Bone-in thighs instead of boneless breasts, so it needed to cook longer (probably no longer "super fast"). Blackberry jam replaced the apricot preserves and produced a pretty pink sauce. Finally, spicy jalapeño mustard instead of Dijon which made the sauce spicy but not too much.

For dessert I made Chocolate Chip Cookies using a recipe from the Quick Family Cookbook. This recipe differs in several ways from the standard cookie recipes. For example, instead of creaming together the sugar and butter in a stand mixer, the butter is melted and just stirred into the sugars. This not only allowed me to make over two dozen cookies in 40 minutes (and this counts picture taking) but it also generates far fewer dirty dishes to wash. The cookies are very good. They are soft, chewy cookies with just a bit of crispness. I accidentally cooked a few longer than the recipe calls for, cooking them until they were set almost all the way through instead of just at the edges, and in some ways I like these crispier cookies better. Are these my favorite chocolate chip cookies ever? No. Are they my favorites that can be made in 40 minutes. You bet!

Quick Orange Glazed Chicken from The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook
Quick Chocolate Chip Cookies from The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook

The Meatier Meatloaf is very good left over. To reheat, I cut ½-inch slices and warmed them gently in a small skillet with a little vegetable oil. If the sides browned a little bit, that was OK, it added a little extra flavor and texture. The result was still flavorful, tender, and juicy. I froze about half of the meat loaf and I expect it will continue to be good when thawed.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Meatier Meatloaf Revisited

September 16, 2012
  • Meatier Meatloaf
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Braised Beets with Orange and Walnuts
  • Vella Merlot
A few months ago I wrote about testing a new recipe for "Meatier Meatloaf" for America's Test Kitchen as part of their recipe development process. The final version of that recipe has now appeared, in the September 2012 edition of Cook's Illustrated. I like meat loaf, it's comfort food for me, and it makes for good leftovers. Rereading my blog post, it seems we weren't particularly impressed with the test recipe and thus made several suggestions in the survey provided with the test recipe. Comparing the published recipe with the test version, I noted several changes that were consistent with our suggestions. I don't know how much influence our particular suggestions had, the Test Kitchen solicits comments from many home cooks, but it is gratifying to see the changes. The best part, of course, is the meat loaf was better.

If you like working with your hands, meat loaf can be fun to make. I followed the recipe closely, using 1 pound of ground beef and 1 pound of ground pork, both labelled as 85% lean.. The other ingredients, after some cutting and chopping and cooking to develop their flavor, are added to the meat. You use your hands to combine them and then to mold the meat into a loaf of the desired size and shape. Somehow, I just can't see my mom, for example, using her hands to do this. When she made meat loaf she mixed it with a spoon and then cooked it in a loaf pan. It was good meat loaf, of course, and the reason why I think of it as a comfort food. It was perhaps something in the way they taught people to cook in the 1940's, when my mom was in high school, or maybe just my mother's preference, but I don't recall her ever using her hands to mix food. 

The Meatier Meatloaf was very good: moist, juicy, and tender. It took just 75 minutes to reach the recipe temperature of 165°.  I liked the ketchup glaze used in the published recipe (my mom also glazed meat loaf with ketchup) much better than the mustard glaze in the test version. The addition of a little hot sauce (I used Tapatío Salsa Picante) was a nice touch, providing just a hint of heat. 

This was not a particularly quick recipe to prepare, it took me about three hours from start to serving. It probably won't take you as long unless you pause to take photos along the way, too.

The mashed potatoes were made without referring to a recipe. I peeled and cut up a couple or russet potatoes and cooked them in salted water. While the potatoes cooked I combined some unsalted butter and milk in a Pyrex measuring cup and warmed them in the microwave until the butter melted. When the potatoes were tender I drained them and let them sit for a few minutes to dry. I mashed them, added a little freshly ground black pepper, then gradually stirred in the milk mixture until achieving the right consistency. I made extra because I love left over mashed potatoes which I fry in a little butter. (I think I should try oil, I could get it hotter and perhaps form a nice crust of fried potato.)

The beet recipe was, coincidentally, another recipe that the Test Kitchen had sent us to test. Diane made this during her recent visit and I still had some left over in the refrigerator. The beets went very well with the meat loaf. They have an interesting flavor with the fresh beets combined with orange, not something I would have thought of doing myself. The walnuts added a nice crunch to the original dish though that is lost in the leftovers. I thought the orange flavor was a little too strong and Diane thought there were too many walnuts, we'll see how it turns out in a few months.

Meatier Meat Loaf from Cook's Illustrated
     For another home cook's take on this recipe, see this post from My Year Cooking with Chris Kimball.