Saturday, January 19, 2013

An excellent Christmas dinner

December 25, 2012
  • Beef Rib Roast
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Au Jus
  • Peas & Onions
  • Rosemary Honey Dinner Rolls
  • Creekview Vineyards 2009 Melodius Red Wine
  • Martinelli's Sparkling Cider
  • Chocolate Soufflé

Even though the kids are grown, Christmas is a special day, a day for a special meal. (Diane and I have always been the biggest kids around here, anyway.) We generally have a nice roast beef for Christmas dinner, often served with Yorkshire pudding or popovers. This year I considered several different recipes for roast beef utilizing different cuts of beef, but in the end I decided to go with a rib roast. Prime rib is expensive to buy so we only have it on special occasions and it is relatively easy to prepare.

Food Wishes posted a recipe for dinner rolls just in time for the holiday, so I made them to accompany our meal. This was one time when I wish I had more than one oven in the kitchen. (And while I'm dreaming, a wall oven would be nice, one that is at eye level instead of one you have to bend over to work with.) Since we have only one oven and it would be in use much of the afternoon roasting the beef, I prepared the dinner rolls Christmas morning and then warmed them in the microwave for serving. I thought the rolls could have been more tender, but perhaps I was expecting something like the Parker House rolls that we used to get from Lynch's Bakery back in my home town of Chittenango. I used 1 tablespoon of honey but I think they could have used more. The rosemary came from a plant in or garden and the flavor wasn't very strong in the rolls, I blame this on our old rosemary plant rather than on the recipe.

I used the "Food Wishes Method", formerly known as "Method X" to prepare the roast. This method is designed to be a fool proof route to a pink, juicy medium-rare roast. But I fooled the fool-proof method. I purchased "Beef Rib Roast Bone In Pasture Beef", two ribs and 3.2 pounds for $42. I think this roast came from a smallish cow. The roast was removed from the refrigerator first thing in the morning so that it could come to room temperature for roasting. After six hours or so it was covered with butter that had been seasoned with freshly ground black pepper and Herbs de Provence then liberally salted. A probe thermometer was inserted and the roast was placed in a pre-heated 500° oven for 17 minutes, 5 minutes per pound. The oven was then turned off. The roast cooks for another two hours in the closed oven or until the internal temperature reaches 125°. Unfortunately, and this is where I fooled the fool-proof "Food Wishes Method", I forgot to set the alarm on the probe thermometer. When I checked the temperature after just 75 minutes it was already 131°, probably because this was a smallish roast. I immediately removed it from the oven, worried that it was overdone and ruined. Overdone? A little. Ruined? By no means. The meat was juicy and tender and nicely seasoned. I was worried it would be too salty but even Diane didn't think this was a problem.

I have never felt confident about making gravy from pan drippings. For this meal I used the Food Wishes instructions to make an Au Jus. I didn't follow the recipe explicitly but I did use the method described by Chef John. I added flour to the pan drippings, which I had transferred from the glass baking dish into a skillet after pouring off much of the fat. This was cooked with a little flour, a can (2 cups) of low-sodium beef broth was added, and this was reduced while the rest of the meal was finished. It turned out really good, hot and beefy, and it went well over the potatoes and the beef.

Dinner preparations had begun on Christmas Eve when I prepared make ahead chocolate souffle. This is a convenient dish, which I've written about before, and I have now posted a recipe. Except for the final baking all of the work can be done ahead of time. I should have read my previous post before baking the soufflé as I would have noted that in our oven it needs to bake for a full 20 minutes. The first few souffleés that we ate were a little underdone. Still good, but a little gooey in the middle. Nonetheless they were an excellent finish to an excellent Christmas dinner.

Beef Rib Roast from Food Wishes 
Beef Au Jus from Food Wishes 
Rosemary Honey Pull Apart Dinner Rolls from Food Wishes 
Individual Chocolate Soufflés from Cook's Illustrated

Friday, January 11, 2013

Homemade Pizza, Thin Crust

January 6, 2013
Thin-crust Pizza
Green Salad

Recovering from recent surgery has confined me to the couch, so I was in no condition to fix dinner this Sunday. However, our daughter Caryn is home on winter break and she offered to make pizza, an offer we gladly accepted. Several months ago, Caryn and I shared a homemade Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza for a Sunday dinner. So it seemed especially appropriate that Caryn would make the New York-style pizza for us. She has a lot of pizza experience, too, as she has a part-time job working at Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza, making, though not baking, pizza.

The America's Test Kitchen recipe for thin-crust pizza includes instructions for the dough and the sauce. Caryn made the dough Saturday afternoon and it rested, developing flavor, in the refrigerator for one day. According the recipe this step can last up to three days. The sauce, based on canned whole tomatoes, requires no cooking. The pizza was topped simply with olives, mushrooms, baby sweet peppers, onions, and pineapple, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. To prevent the Parmesan from burning it is not put on top of the pizza. The order for adding the toppings is sauce, Parmesan, mozzarella, toppings, mozzarella. The pizza is baked on a pizza stone set at the top of a 500° oven. (The baking sheet that was used as a peel to transfer the pizza into the oven should have had more flour on it to lubricate the pizza's journey. As it was the pizza stuck and the subsequent shaking led to the sacrifice of some of the toppings. However, people who got slices with a lot of toppings commented that the pizza was a little soggy.) The pizza was accompanied by a green salad made with organic mixed greens, tomato, and carrot.

I have had New York-style pizza in restaurants that I didn't like. I like pizza with a nice, bready crust and too often pizzeria pizzas have a blackened crust that is so crispy that it's like eating a cracker rather than bread. This crust was almost perfect. Caryn thought she didn't get the dough thin enough but I liked it. It wasn't so thick that all you tasted was bread yet it had enough structure so the pizza was easily picked up and eaten. This was one of the best pizzas I've ever eaten. Really. I'm sure I'll be having this again once I recover and get back into the kitchen to prepare Sunday dinner.

Thin-crust pizza from America's Test Kitchen.

Madelyn's "Spaghetti Genovese" and Ciabatta

December 23, 2012
  • Madelyn's "Spaghetti Genovese"
  • Garden Salad
  • Ciabatta
  • Gabbiano 2009 Chianti Classico

It's hard to believe that it's been thirty years since we started making this spaghetti sauce. The recipe came from a co-worker of Diane's when she was working at the since defunct House of Fabrics store in the also defunct Sunnyvale Town Center Mall. This is a thick, rich, hearty sauce, full of meat, and it makes a great cold-weather meal. The ingredients are all easily obtained at the supermarket. I haven't made this sauce in several years and it was easier to make than what I remember.  With up to three pounds of meat the recipe can be used to feed a crowd (I fed twenty people at a family reunion) or frozen for later use.

The recipe specifies quantity ranges for each of the three meats which you can mix and match to suit your taste or based on what is available at the supermarket. Much of the flavor of the sauce comes from the Italian sausage. I always choose a mild or sweet sausage but for a spicy version you can use hot Italian sausage, too. I don't shy away from fattier ground meats as the fats contribute to the flavor. For this batch I used 1 pound 85% lean ground pork, 1.4 pounds 80% lean ground beef, and 0.67 pounds (two) pork mild Italian sausage. The most difficult part of the sauce's preparation can be in cleaning up. The sauce is boiled for ten minutes, with constant stirring, and it bubbles and bloops and splatters all over the stove. I wear an old oven mitt to protect my hand while stirring and I carefully cover the area around the pot with paper towels to ease the clean up. I use a stock pot, also, to help minimize the mess as its tall sides keep most of the sauce inside the pot. But after this step the preparation is hands off for the rest of the day as the sauce simmers. It's nice to have the major component of your dinner finished by 9 AM.

To accompany the spaghetti I made ciabatta bread. I've been wanting to make ciabatta for some time and with the success recently of the brioche I made I was encouraged to try another new bread recipe. The bread is made with a biga.  Biga sounds like the name of a Pokémon character but its  a mixture of yeast, flour, and water that is prepared the night before and allowed to ferment at room temperature to develop flavor for the bread.  It's similar in some ways to a sourdough starter. The wet dough is handled almost entirely in the stand mixer. The final loaves (ciabatta is literally "slipper" in Italian, though I don't think the loaves look like comfortable footwear) are on the smallish side, three of us comfortably finished off a loaf at one sitting. The bread is crusty, though less so than the almost no-knead bread that is baked in a dutch oven. It has an open crumb and is delicious. We ate it warm from the oven, letting it cool long enough to set up, and it was very good with the spaghetti.

Our side salad included butter lettuce, tomato, cucumber, celery, carrot, parsley,  and almond/cranberry accents. I often go by the old saying, "when you eat Italian, drink Italian", and so served a hearty Italian Chianti to accompany the bread and hearty sauce.

We've lost touch with Madelyn, who used to babysit for our son way back when, but we still enjoy her recipe. She'd be about 97 years old now and as far as I can tell from some googling she's still living up in Sunnyvale. It's nice to be reminded of her whenever we make this recipe.

Madelyn's Spaghetti Genovese from a family recipe
Ciabatta from Cook's Illustrated

The pork loin pot roast, which we weren't too crazy about to begin with, was served in several ways as a leftover: reheated pork, pork fried rice, and pork hash. It didn't make for a good leftover without transforming it some how and even then it was only acceptable.

The brioche, however, not only kept well but we found it was good for sandwiches and as a dinner side dish. It didn't make very good toast but we think it could make good french toast, though we didn't try this ourselves.