Sunday, February 17, 2013

Two Pies for Dinner: Shepherd's and Apple

October 28, 2012
  • Shepherd's Pie
  • Skillet Apple Pie
  • Redwood Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir

It's February 2013 but I have yet to write about our Sunday dinner from last October 28. I haven't posted something for our October 21 dinner, either, but I've decided not to write about that meal. Not that it was a bad meal, to the contrary, but it was very simple (pan-seared New York steak) and I don't have many notes about it.  So now that I've posted something about our October 28 dinner I guess that I'm finally caught up with my weekly posts. (The recipe index I want to make doesn't count, but maybe it will happen now. ) We're visiting Diane's mom in Oregon on Sunday, February 17, so rather than take photos and write about that meal (Cranberry Chicken, I hear) , I think I'll just post something about this meal from last October.

Shepherd's Pie is the kind of meal that I like to eat. I've been known to order it for lunch at Britannia Arms, a British pub located in San Jose. I have yet to settle on a single recipe so I was happy when the November issue of Cook's Illustrated arrived with a new recipe. This version of Shepherds Pie (or "Cottage Pie", some people insist that  "Shepherd's Pie" have lamb) is very good. Visually it is one of the more stunning recipes with the ridges of potato that have been browned under the broiler. It's a one-skillet dish which means a little less to clean up, but a long-handled skillet with the leftovers is harder to store in the refrigerator than a baking dish.  I made one substitution in the recipe. It calls for Madeira or Port; lacking these I used brandy. The carrots in the finished dish were a little crunchy, perhaps they should have been cut into smaller pieces or simmered for a while longer; this is not a major flaw, however. The pie has a rich meaty flavor, thanks in part to the mushrooms and other ingredients that include glutamates. The recipe says it will take just an hour to make but it took me significantly longer. But then, most people don't stop along the way to photograph every step.

It was apple harvest time and we had been to our nearby apple farm, Gizdich Ranch, where I had purchased Newton Pippin apples to bake into a pie. I chose to make a one-crust skillet pie to save myself some work. This pie is relatively easy to make, the filling is tasty, and it is one of my favorites. Partially cooking the apples in advance helps to develop their flavor.

I am still not a good pie maker, I need more experience handling dough: rolling it out, putting it into the pie plate, rolling out the top crust, then pinching the two together to make an attractive pie. With the skillet apple pie you just need to roll the crust out into a circle and set it down on top of the skillet filled with the apple filling, thus avoiding the steps that I really ought to be practicing.

It's not every Sunday that we have a meal with just two courses with both being Pie. But last October we did just that, and had yummy leftovers to have for dinner and dessert the rest of the week.

Shepherd's Pie from Cook's Illustrated
Skillet Apple Pie  from Cook's Illustrated

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Back in the Kitchen Again, Making Chili

February 10, 2012
Fresh Multi-grain Bread
Vella Merlot
Henry Weinhardt's Root Beer

In several recent posts I have mentioned the surgery that has kept me out of the kitchen for over a month. As I transition from a stationary, recovering-from-surgery life style back to normal, this Sunday was the first one that I fixed dinner. It worked out well for us as Diane was away from home all afternoon, making name tags for isolettes with some friends for the March of Dimes. Since I didn't want to spend a long time standing in the kitchen, I looked for something pretty easy to prepare. (What I really want to make is a chocolate pie or some peanut butter sandwich cookies, but let's not get too crazy too soon.) Chili seemed like a good choice for a winter dinner and I went to The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook to find a recipe that would be fast and easy.

The recipe lived up to its billing, it took around an hour to from start to finish with close to half of that time being unattended simmering. It was not quite a dump and stir recipe as an onion needed to be chopped, beans rinsed, and a pure√© prepared in the food processor. I made a few small changes to the recipe. It called for some fresh cilantro to be added as the cooking concluded and I skipped this step. The recipe did not specify cayenne pepper except as an option and I added ¼ teaspoon to provide a little heat. We don't particularly like spicy food but this small amount of cayenne added a nice warmth to the chili without causing noses to run and eyes to water and it was just the right amount for us. I added about 1 teaspoon of salt to the chili when it was done simmering, and no pepper. Diane and I both topped our chili with a little grated cheese. It was a good, straightforward chili, hearty and satisfying. I have to wonder, though, if using a different brand of chili powder (what we had was a store-brand), and perhaps something a little fresher, would have added some additional flavor to the dish.

Normally I would make some bread to go with the chili but since I wanted to minimize my time in the kitchen, Diane bought some at the store. She selected a fresh multi-grain loaf, Henry's Harvest Loaf, from the supermarket's bakery section, presumably something that had been baked the same day. It was a good choice. The bread had a strong enough flavor to stand up to the chili and a nice, chewy crumb.

Quick Beef and Bean Chili from America's Test Kitchen 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Shallow Fried Chicken

December 30, 2012
Easier Fried Chicken
All-Purpose Cornbread
Garden Salad
Villa Chardonnay
Samuel Adams Winter Lager
Chocolate Soufflé

I hadn't cooked chicken in a while,  recent meals have all featured beef or pork. I was thinking this would be another opportunity to deep fry but I ended up choosing a shallow-frying recipe where the chicken is coated and then fried in a relatively small amount of oil. It is then placed in an oven to cook the chicken all the way through and to help crisp up the crust.

While not a simple recipe,  this chicken wasn't too hard to make. I purchased chicken thighs, legs, and boneless breasts (because that is what the store had.) I cut the whole breast apart along the seam between the two halves and I should have cut each half breast in half, too, though this was not a big problem. There are only two major steps in preparing the chicken. First, it is brined in buttermilk. Second, it is dredged in seasoned flour then fried in a small amount of peanut oil and finished in the oven.  The most challenging part of preparing the chicken was controlling the temperature of the oil while cooking multiple batches. I started cooking when the oil reached 375°. I checked the temperature after adding the first batch of chicken and it had dropped to around 320° so I turned up the burner temperature. The oil then got too hot for the second batch of chicken which was a little overcooked, so I turned the burner back down.  Much of the chicken was too dark, looking almost burnt. However, it tasted very good with a crispy, nicely seasoned coating and juicy, flavorful meat on the inside. Both the dark meat and white meat were tender and juicy.

Cornbread is my favorite side dish to have with chicken and I like to have it with butter and honey. I have used several different recipes and after doing some research I chose one which produces bread that is a cross between the the southern version or corn bread, which is light and savory, and the northern version, which is sweet and cakey. The bread came out flavorful with a nice crispy crust. However, even though a tooth pick came out clean, it was a little gummy in the middle. Looking back I think it was underdone as the top was not a uniform deep golden brown, but rather only the edges and some high spots had achieved this hue.

Finally I made a garden salad (or was it a green salad, I don't know the difference) with butter lettuce, parsley, carrot, cucumber, and tomato and enjoyed it with a dark seasonal beer. I prepared this dinner on the eve of surgery which kept me in the hospital for most of the next week. Diane and Caryn enjoyed having fried chicken available for their meals during the week. It has to be one of the most versatile of leftovers as you can eat it either warm or cold. Six weeks later and I am yet to get back into the kitchen to prepare a Sunday dinner, but I hope I'll be ready to do so soon.

 Easier Fried Chicken from Cook's Illustrated Cookbook
All-Purpose Cornbread from Cook's Illustrated Cookbook