Sunday, March 31, 2013

French Silk Chocolate Pie Marks a Milestone

March 10, 2013
  • Pan Fried Pork Chops
  • Steamed Beets
  • Boiled Sweet Potatoes
  • Schmitt Söhne Riesling
  • French Silk Chocolate Pie 
For me, this dinner was more about the dessert than any of the other courses.  Looking at some of my older posts, I had seen one where I described making French Silk Chocolate Pie. Ever since then I have been looking forward to making it again. However, the surgery I underwent at the start of the year kept me out of the kitchen until I healed enough to spend the required time standing to make this pie. We also needed a weekend with enough free time to spend making a pie. The day finally arrived, marking another milestone in my recovery, and it was worth waiting for (not that I had a choice).

But before dessert, there's the entreé and the rest of dinner to describe. Because of the time needed to make the pie I chose an easy menu. Perusing my collection of saved recipes, I decided on pan fried pork chops. We enjoy pork chops, hadn't had them in a while, and the recipe looked like it would be pretty easy and not take a lot of time. This turned out to be true as the chops just need to be seasoned, dredged in flour, then fried for about 10 minutes. The finished pork was good, well seasoned with the dominant flavor coming from garlic powder. If you make these you will want to be sure you have fresh garlic powder on hand and not a jar that is so old you can't read the best-by date. The recipe calls for center cut or rib chops. Since I shopped at a supermarket I had to take what shrink-wrapped chops were available and they were called "loin chops", a pretty useless label. It might have been worth taking the extra time and money to get the chops from a butcher to be sure of what I was getting. The chops were a little tough and this may be due to the mystery cut of meat that I started with.

For side dishes I purchased some fresh beets and sweet potatoes. The beets were steamed, the potatoes boiled, and I started cooking them at the same time. Steaming was a good method for cooking the beets. I peeled them after cooking by rubbing them with paper towels, a method which worked very well. Unfortunately the potatoes cooked much faster than the beats. Though they were overcooked and quite soft by the time the beets were done, the sweetness of the potatoes complemented the pork nicely. The beets, though fresh, were a little bland probably due to the season. Perhaps a sweeter vegetable, carrots or peas, would have been better, or maybe some homemade applesauce.

Now to the star of the show. The pie was as good as I remember it. It takes some time and patience to make as you spend 20 minutes beating the pudding with a hand mixer while it cooks, but it is worth the time and effort to make every once and a while. The filling is smooth, light, and very chocolatey. I still need more practice making pie crust, though. This one was flaky with a good buttery flavor but a little tough, perhaps I over baked it. I also had trouble removing the weights used when blind baking the crust. I used coins, too may coins it turned out, as their weight was more than the aluminum foil that separated the coins and crust could lift without tearing. As a result, the bottom of the crust got torn as I had to move a gloved hand between the foil and crust to support the weight of the coins. Fortunately, the bulk of the damage was hidden by the filling. I'll just have to try again. And maybe buy some real pie weights.

Pan Fried Pork Chops from Cook's Country
French Silk Chocolate Pie from Cook's Country

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Breakfast for dinner: A go-to recipe for waffles

March 3, 2013
  • Waffles
  • Maple pork sausage patties
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Mimosa
For the second consecutive weekend, Diane and I volunteered all day Saturday at a Destination Imagination tournament. For the second consecutive Sunday, I planned a dinner that was easy to prepare. Unlike the previous weekend where my plans for an easy time in the kitchen did not work out,  my plans worked out as this was an easy meal to prepare. Not only was each item easy but the menu didn't present the timing issues that caused problems like those I encountered the previous week.

I don't recall what inspired me to have waffles this week. Unlike many other dishes, though, where I don't have a go-to recipe, I do have a favorite for waffles. Once I tried the recipe for yeasted waffles a few years ago I knew I had a winner. They are very easy to prepare, though some advance planning is required. I prepared the batter for the waffles on Saturday night after we got home from the Tournament. Mixing the ingredients together takes only a few minutes. Perhaps because it was at the end of a long day, I missed the instruction to put the batter into the refrigerator so it stayed at room temperature overnight. I did get it into the fridge the following morning and I don't think this delay in cooling is a problem for either safety or quality. I certainly didn't detect any problems with the final product. The finished waffles were nice and crispy with a soft, rich, and flavorful interior. They were served with butter, maple syrup (Grade B, which is made from sap that flows later in the season, is darker and more strongly flavored than Grade A), and a selection of fruit jams.

Waffles alone does not a full meal make, though breakfast for dinner tends to be a meal lacking in some of the major food groups. (Perhaps I should have included some fresh fruit?) In a recent taste test on Cook's Country, we were surprised (as were the testers) to learn that pre-cooked sausages are better than those you have to cook. We had some Jimmie Dean sausages in the freezer and these were easily thawed and warmed; they were good. In addition, I scrambled some eggs: 4 eggs, a tablespoons of 2% milk, about a teaspoon of salt, and some pepper were whisked together until they were combined. These were then cooked in 1 tablespoon of butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. This simple procedure produced good eggs; they were fluffy and tender though a little runny so I could have cooked them for another minute or so. (A little underdone, though, is better than having eggs that are overcooked and rubbery.) They were also a little too salty so I'll have to remember to cut down on the salt next time. Finally, we had mimosas. I bought an inexpensive brut champagne (it made sense to me to use a dry champagne since it was to be mixed with fruit juice) and mixed it with an equal amount of orange juice.

While I might not have learned as much from this dinner as from the previous week's meal, it was a success. It was simple, everything was good to eat, and it didn't take a lot of time or energy to prepare.

Yeasted Waffles from Cook's Illustrated

The recipe made many more waffles than two of us could have for dinner. But that is OK as I could then  have re-heated waffles every morning for breakfast for the following week. After cooling, the waffles were placed in a zipper lock sandwich bag, half of a 7" waffle in each one, and frozen. At breakfast time they were removed from the freezer and placed in the toaster which was set on 3 (out of 10) and had the frozen option selected. They were served with butter and either jam or some maple syrup that was warmed in the microwave.

Friday, March 8, 2013

When you're in a hurry, why not have steak?

February 24, 2013
  • Panfried Ribeye Steak
  • Whipped Potatoes
  • Glazed Carrots
  • Poetic Cellars 2007 Mantra
  • Marionberry Pie
This dinner wasn't supposed to be present any challenges. I chose pan fried steak as the main course because it is so easy and so quick to prepare and so good to eat. But then I decided to try a new (for me) recipe for whipped potatoes, how hard could that be? And then, since I was preparing steak and potatoes, I thought we should have a fresh vegetable instead of frozen, except it's winter so there aren't any local vegetables. But carrots are always available, so carrots it is. While none of these dishes is particularly challenging in itself, they have one thing in common that made this a challenging meal. All three require your attention at the last minute. I don't know about you, but I find it difficult to do two things at once, say nothing about three.

The recipe recommended using ribeye, sirloin, or strip steak. Of these, the best looking in the butcher case at the store were some nice ribeye steaks. They appeared to be about the right thickness, 1-1¼", so I asked the butcher to pick one out. It weighed in at 1.2 pounds, good for the two of us to share for dinner and probably have enough for a second meal. As I was getting ready to cook I measured the steak and found it to be 2" thick. Oops. Pan frying using this recipe would probably not cook the middle so I turned on the oven to 300° so I could finish cooking the steak there after frying.

I followed the directions for frying, 5 minutes on the first side and 4 minutes on the second. This developed a nice brown crust, but checking the temperature confirmed that the middle was far from done. I transferred it to the oven to cook through, but due to the timing of the other dishes it wasn't there long enough to reach  125° for medium rare. We cut our pieces from the thinner end of the steak and they were done well enough to eat. The underdone leftovers provide an advantage as they are less likely to be overdone upon reheating, so it was not a disaster.

Common wisdom cautions against using a mixer to make mashed potatoes as they come out gummy, although Diane does this fairly often and I don't remember her serving me gummy mashed potatoes. The secret to avoiding this, according to the Test Kitchen, is to steam the potatoes rather than boiling them. It's the extra water they pick up that makes them gummy. Well, it turns out that when Diane cooks potatoes to mash she doesn't fill the sauce pan with water. So while some of the potatoes are submerged, many are not, and so are steamed rather than boiled. These potatoes, which were cooked in a steamer basket, turned out really well. They were light and fluffy and very well seasoned. I used two pounds of potatoes and that made 4 servings, enough for this meal plus one more.

I really liked the glazed carrots, despite them getting done early and having to sit for a few minutes while the potatoes and steak were finished. They were sweet without being too sweet from the added sugar, the natural sweetness of the carrots was still apparent. We opened a bottle of wine from Poetic Cellars, a winery in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains which we have visited several times. It was a blend of 45% Syrah, 45% Mourvedre, and 45% Sagiovese and it went very well with this meal. The bottle came with a short romantic poem on the label. For dessert, we had some pie that I bought at the supermarket.

In 20-20 hind sight, I should have done a few things differently. I wanted an easy meal to prepare, in large part because I was away from home all day Saturday at a Destination Imagination Tournament. I should have cut the steak into two 1" thick steaks when I learned how thick it was. I should have gone with frozen peas. I should have baked the potatoes (which is Diane's favorite way to fix potatoes anyway). It would have been so much easier. But then, I wouldn't have learned as much, so I guess it's all good. I get to try again next weekend as I have an even longer day at another  Destination Imagination Tournament, so I'll be looking for another easy meal.


Panfried Steaks from Cook's Illustrated
Whipped Potatoes from Cook's Country
Glazed Carrots from Cook's Illustrated


 For dinner one night the following week, Diane reheated the steak in a skillet, baked some potatoes, and served some peas, for a great and quick week night meal. This is what I should have done for Sunday.