Saturday, November 24, 2012

Appalachian Cider Baked Beans

October 7, 2012
  • Hot Dog
  • Appalachian Cider Baked Beans
  • Sun Chips
  • Koko Brown Ale (Kona Brewing Company)
I like baked beans but I am still searching for the perfect baked bean recipe. A major reason this is a challenge for me is that I don't really know what I am seeking. I think that I'll know the perfect beans when I eat them, but I can't really be sure. Is it the beans that my mother would occasionally prepare that I remember so fondly? Is it the flavor of one of the many brands of canned baked beans that I am searching for? I'm pretty sure it's not Grandma Brown's Baked Beans which I remember from my childhood, and which you can't buy in San Jose except by mail order, but which now seem pretty bland to me. (My mom would bake them with a frosting of browned sugar, probably my favorite part of the dish.) Thus I was intrigued and excited when a Facebook friend posted a recipe for Appalachian Cider Baked Beans. I hadn't considered that parts of the country outside Boston would have their own baked bean traditions. Could this be the Holy Grail of baked beans I seek? I had to try.

On this particular Sunday, way back at the start of October, I was still home alone. It was also the day of the San Jose Rock 'N Roll Half Marathon, an event I haven't missed since its inception six years ago. I generally get home by noon so I should have plenty of time to fix dinner. However, I knew I would not have a lot of energy. The beans take some time to prepare, but not much effort, so I was confident they would be doable. And they pair well with other dishes that are easy to prepare.

The use of apple juice (easier to find than the apple cider called for by the recipe) for baking the beans wasn't the only thing that was different from the other recipes I have used (generally for Boston Baked Beans). Instead of small white, or navy, beans the recipe called for pinto beans. I associate pinto beans with Mexican fare, not with baked beans. The recipe also recommended using sorghum molasses. I didn't have any of this so used normal molasses.

When eating baked beans for dinner I generally enjoy them with either hot dogs or hamburgers. While shopping at Whole Foods I perused their selection and purchased Fork in the Road Honest Dogs with Pasture-Raised Beef. These were uncured hot dogs. I did some research after I got home and discovered that "uncured" means no nitrates or nitrites were added.  They were a little expensive, about $1.25 each, but that's not too bad for a main course, especially when you consider how many times I've spent $5 for a hot dog at a ball game. I enjoyed these hot dogs, they have a nice flavor and are just a little bit spicy, on a toasted store-bought bun with Dijon mustard and sweet pickle relish.

The beans were good: firm and not too sweet. I didn't notice they had much apple flavor though, perhaps because I had used processed juice rather than fresh cider. However, I can't say that I was crazy about them. I think the baked bean recipe I am seeking is for something a bit sweeter and perhaps with more molasses flavor. I will need to continue trying new baked bean recipes until I find the right one.

Appalachian Cider Baked Beans from Leite's Culinaria 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A New York Sunday Dinner for Six

November 18, 2012
  • Easier Beef Burgundy
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Creamy Chocolate Pudding
  • Glenora Yellow Cab Red Table Wine 
  • Castel Grisch Finger Lakes Estate Reserve Burgundy
As those of us north of the equator are heading into the colder months of the year, we have headed to colder climes to spend Thanksgiving with family in Central New York. As the weather gets colder heartier fare becomes more and more appealing, warm rich food to fuel the body and keep us warm and comfortable. Chef John at Food Wishes must have been thinking the same thing a few weeks ago as he re-published an older video recipe for an easier version of Beef Burgundy. So even though I wasn't home but rather staying with one of my sisters, it was Sunday so I volunteered to cook dinner, and beef stew, for that is what Beef Burgundy is, sounded good to all. We were joined for dinner by my dad and brother making a hearty party of six.

I made a few small changes to the Food Wishes recipe. It called for Merlot instead of burgundy, but we had no Merlot and when we went shopping, Sunday morning, we were unable to buy wine. (New York still has blue laws in effect limiting when and where you can purchase wine.) But my sister had a New York burgundy from the Finger Lakes region, Castel Grisch Finger Lakes Estate Reserve Burgundy, so I used it in the stew and also served it with dinner. I simmered the stew by placing it into a 300° oven rather than on the stovetop as this provides more even heating and lessens the chance of burning. I also added a cup of frozen peas just before serving to improve the appearance of the stew and provide another vegetable with almost no extra effort. I used three carrots, rather than two, as they were a little on the small size, and my diners thought that the stew could have used even more.

The stew was served over garlic mashed potatoes. I purchased "butter potatoes" at Wegmans, I believe these are similar to Yukon Gold potatoes, low-starch potatoes with a rich, creamy texture. Making garlic mashed potatoes is about the same as making plain mashed potatoes. The potatoes were peeled and boiled in salted water. Also added to the water were peeled garlic cloves; I used two cloves of garlic for each potato. The potatoes were drained and mashed along with the garlic. I added some melted butter (I didn't add much since it would be served with the stew), hot milk,  salt, and pepper.

For dessert I made chocolate pudding from scratch. I even planned ahead and brought some ingredients, which I thought my sister might not have, along with me from California. I should have known better, my sister is an accomplished baker and she had both Dutch processed cocoa and espresso powder. I used a Pyrex sauce pan which was a new experience for me. It worked fine but it did seem to take a little longer to heat up as it took longer for the pudding to come to a boil.

One of the great benefits of my Sunday cooking is the leftovers which make for good, easy to fix, weekday meals. This hearty Sunday dinner for six had no leftovers: no stew, no potatoes, and no pudding. It was a pleasure to fix food for my family, and for them to have enjoyed it. We'll be here next Sunday, too. What should I fix?

Easier Beef Burgundy from Food Wishes
Creamy Chocolate Pudding from Cook's Illustrated

Friday, November 16, 2012

Into the fryer

November 11, 2012
  • French Fries
  • Sloppy Toms
  • Appalachian Cider Baked Beans
  • Vella Merlot
  • Gordon Biersch Czech Style Pilsner

From time to time I see a recipe for deep fried food that I would like to try. But deep frying is such a hassle! What kind of oil do you use? What do you do with it when you're done cooking? Can you keep it and if so how and where? Do you throw it out, and if so how do you do that? How do you pour it without making a mess? How do you control the temperature? How do you remove the cooked food from the hot oil? So many questions.

For many years we have had a deep fryer but we haven't used it for quite a while. The oil it contains is who knows how old and probably not very good. The fryer had a convenient basket to drain and remove the food, a thermostat, and a lid so you could store oil in it between uses. However, it had significant disadvantages: it takes up a lot of room in the cupboard, is difficult to keep clean, has a thermostat that I don't really trust, and exposes the used oil to air which would shorten its life. I've reviewed possible replacement electric fryers but I've never found a satisfactory solution.

The Test Kitchen uses a Dutch Oven equipped with a candy thermometer for deep frying They never show what to do with the left over oil which I think is the biggest challenge to deep fat frying, though they have said that unless you're cooking fish you can reuse it. Earlier this year I found a solution to my deep frying challenge, though, in a somewhat unlikely place. I made sourdough starter which is kept in a glass jar in the refrigerator. It occurred to me that this re-sealable glass jar would be a good place to store used oil. I have a dutch oven and I can use my instant-read thermometer to control the temperature, suspending it in the oil using a rope made of foil. If I had a 2-quart glass jar (2 liters, to be more accurate), a funnel to help transfer the oil, and a "spider" to transfer the food, I should be all set. A few weeks ago I ordered these three items form Amazon and picked up a gallon of peanut oil. I was good to go!

This week, after throwing the old electric fryer into the trash, I made us some french fries for dinner.  I had several Test Kitchen recipes to choose from and I chose "Classic French Fries" as being the simplest, most basic recipe. A russet potato was peeled and cut into long  ¼-inch fries using the mandoline (A scary tool, Diane and I both have cut ourselves on it.) to ensure uniform thickness. The potatoes were placed in cold water with ice and then went into the freezer to chill for 20 minutes or so. (They would have gone into the refrigerator but once again I neglected to read the recipe ahead of time and so needed to chill them faster than otherwise.)  The potatoes were fried twice, first at 325° to cook them through then at 350° to crisp the exterior. I set the dial on our electric stove to 4 or 5 (out of 10) until the proper temperature was reached. I then put in the potatoes and increased the burner setting to 8 or so. I liked the fries, thinking they were better than frozen and having more potato flavor. Diane likened them to the fries you get at In 'N Out but she prefers larger fries, like "steak fries".

She also prefers the convenience of frozen fries to the still significant effort involved in deep frying at home.
After the oil cooled, we filtered it though a fine mesh strainer and a coffee filter and stored it in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator. I found that pouring it from the dutch oven without spilling was not possible and so used a ladle to transfer the oil to the filter. Deep frying at home is still a hassle.

To go along with the fires I made a turkey version of sloppy joes appropriately called Sloppy Toms using a recipe from Food Wishes. Since in my mind the fries were the main course, I wanted something that would be pretty easy to prepare, would keep well for leftovers, and which could be frozen as we will be going on vacation in the not too distant future. The Sloppy Toms were pretty easy to make, requiring just one pan. The sandwiches were nice and tender, thanks to a long simmer, and were nicely seasoned. I used about ½ teaspoon of cayenne but should have used only half this amount, they were a little to spicy for us. For the final course we used up some leftover baked beans which I'll get around to writing about one of these days.

Sloppy Toms from
French Fries from The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook, p. 287, "Classic French Fries"
Appalachian Cider Baked Beans from Leite's Culinaria (these were leftovers, I haven't written the blog post about them, yet.)

The pork tenderloin was a good leftover. I cut fairly thick slices, about ½ inches, and heated them in a skillet with a little oil over medium heat. This heated the meat through but didn't dry it out. These were served with the maple glaze that had been reheated in the microwave oven.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Our Favorite Pork Tenderloin

September 30, 2012
  • Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin
  • Boiled Potatoes
  • Green beans
  • Vella Chardonnay
  • Tarte Tatin
For many months I was able to keep up with these blog posts. But I've somehow found a way recently to fall behind. Being home alone for two months is part of the problem as I had not only my own chores to do but Diane's, too. She's been home for several weeks which should have provided me some chance to get caught up, but alas that hasn't happened, as other obligations got in the way. First it was some volunteer work for Destination Imagination, then I was spending time deciding how to vote on the score or so ballot propositions for this year's November election. Then I was too ill to sit at a computer. Sigh.

I try to make notes after each Sunday dinner, and I have many photos, but still it will be a challenge to think back and remember enough about the dinners to write something intelligent, but I'll do my best (the Cub Scout motto) as I endeavor to catch up. I think the blogs are better when I write them immediately after the meal while the story is fresh in my mind, so this should provide some additional motivation to clear the back log.

This dinner featured our favorite recipe for pork tenderloin. Pork tenderloin is a very lean cut, the absence of fat makes it easy to overcook leading to a dry, bland main dish. Brining the meat can help add moisture and flavor but this recipe eschews this step, instead using a delicious sweet glaze to add flavor plus careful cooking to avoid dryness.  The recipe is for two tenderloins but, as I was still home alone, I cooked a single tenderloins which weighed just over one pound without reducing the quantities of the other ingredients. Doing so would be difficult as it is hard to have a half pinch of something and it would have been difficult to control the temperature of the smaller amount of sauce as it cooked in our large skillet. I purchased a Grade B maple syrup, something I'd been wanting to do for some time, for its richer, deeper flavor in comparison to the more common Grade A. Instead of whole grain mustard I substituted Dijon because that's what was in the refrigerator.

The pork was cooked to an internal temperature of 145°. This matches a recent USDA recommendation which also provides assurances that it is OK to eat pink pork to long as it is cooked to this temperature. The resulting pork was indeed a little pink and it was also very juicy and flavorful. We've all been conditioned to be wary of under cooked pork, and the color of this pork can be a little unsettling. However, I will trust the Test Kitchen's recommendation, my thermometer, and the USDA.

Fall is apple season and apples go very well with pork. Chef John apparently agrees with me as he published a recipe for Tarte Tatin, an apple dish that I was not previously familiar with and which is similar  to Skillet Apple Pie and Apple Pandowdey. It's a pretty simple dish to make: you smear butter on a skillet, cover it with sugar, than place apples on top. You cook it on the stove to caramelize the sugar and apples, add a crust, and bake. The recipe is for a 10-inch skillet but I only have a 12-inch skillet. So, I used 4 medium Granny Smith apples instead of 3 as called for in the recipe and after caramelizing the sugar and apples, I scooched everything towards the center of the pan before adding the crust. After baking the tarte is turned out onto a place so the crust is on the bottom. As shown in the Food Wishes video, some of the crust and apples stuck to the pan but they were easily scraped out and added to the serving plate. I was concerned before making the recipe that it would be too sweet with the caramel overpowering the flavor of the apples, but this didn't turn out to be a problem. The dessert is very good with the caramel complementing the flavor of the apples and with a nice, flaky crust. The recipe contains no spices but I didn't miss them, the caramel was sufficient.

Maple-glazed Pork Tenderloin from Cook's Illustrated
Tarte Tatin from Food Wishes