Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Brownies for snacking, Brownies for sundaes

May 19, 2013

ATK Classic Brownies from Cook's Illustrated

So far as I recall, my mom always used a mix to make brownies. She made a lot of things from scratch, but not brownies. The first scratch brownies that I remember eating were made at Kopp's Canteen Restaurant in my home town of Chittenango, NY. I worked there while in High School, mostly washing dishes but occasionally doing some prep work. They served a wonderful brownie sundae made with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream. Their brownies were not as sweet as those that I had at home, they had more chocolate flavor and a firmer texture. I liked them better but didn't have many opportunities to eat them at the restaurant and I don't have the recipe; I'd love to get it to see how well my memories match the reality.

Having run out of cookies, I decided to make some brownies. I used a recipe that is listed on the Cook's Illustrated  web site as one of their 10 most popular. The brownies were not particularly difficult to make, the mixing is all done by hand. The batter is pretty thick when it is finished, but when you get to this stage a spatula is being used to fold in the flour so it doesn't require a lot of effort. I added the optional toasted walnuts to the top (you can use pecans, too) and they were a good addition. Determining when to take the brownies out of the oven is a little challenging, I have the impression they go from underdone to overdone quickly. I probably took mine out of the oven a few minutes too early and as a result they were too gooey in the middle for my taste.

I can see why these brownies are popular. They are less sweet, and more chocolatey, than brownies from a mix but still more sweet than I remember the Canteen brownies to be. They have a good chocolate flavor and the texture was good except for those gooey ones from the middle of the pan. They kept well, both at room temperature and in the freezer.

I'll definitely have to try these again but I'll need to be more careful about when I remove them from the oven. I'll also try some other recipes. Maybe there's a better brownie out there, but even if there isn't it should be a fun search. If you have the Canteen's recipe, send it to me!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Baked Lemon Salmon

May 11, 2013

Baked Butter Lemon Salmon
Steamed Rice
Sweet White Corn
Vella Chardonnay

Baked Butter Lemon Salmon from 101 Cooking for Two

This was a simple meal, easy and quick to prepare, though it wasn't very photogenic. While the food was all good to eat it wasn't very colorful, presenting a plate of pale portions to the eye and camera.

We don't eat fish very often. With the purported health benefits we should probably eat more fish. Our reluctance to cook it is probably due to upbringing and old habits. Even being raised as a Catholic with meatless Fridays, we didn't eat fish much when I was a kid. My mom usually went grocery shopping with her best friend on Friday evening. She would have dinner at a restaurant, usually the Canteen (sadly, now gone), while dad was left to fix supper. He made good breakfast for dinner and would also sometimes prepare"tomato soup on toast". I made it once for Diane in the early years of our marriage, but I guess once was enough for her.

When we do have fish at home it is usually salmon. I used a recipe for a simple preparation from the blog 101 Cooking for Two. I purchased a 1-pound Atlantic farm-raised salmon fillet from which I had the fishmonger remove the skin. I followed the straight-forward directions closely, making only one change. We had received some fresh sprigs of rosemary in our CSA box, so I chopped some of that up fine and added about 1 tablespoon to the lemon butter sauce used to baste the fish.  I baked the salmon to 120°–130°, removing it from the oven when it seemed to be nice and flaky, about 17 minutes. (The recipe says 145°.) The salmon was good with a nice lemon flavor provided by the sauce. Another few minutes of cooking would have made it a little better. Rosemary flavor, however, was not at all apparent. I will try this dish again but try to add a little more flavor with some herbs. I'll work on that and report here what I develop.

For the rice I used a recipe for "Simple Rice" from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2012. It was good rice but nothing special. The recipe called for ¾ cup of rice which made more than enough for the two of us. I look forward to using other recipes from this book and the 2013 edition; I was able to get both of them for the price of one. (Not that I need more recipes!) We again had sweet white corn which continues to be very good for so early in the year.

Salmon presents a challenge as a leftover, it isn't very good reheated on its own. Diane based our second salmon meal on a recipe from Betty Crocker's Cooking for Two published in 1973. The salmon was combined with peas, mushrooms, and a light cream sauce and served over rice. This made good use of the salmon and an enjoyable dinner.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ribs Like Mom Used to Make

May 4, 2013

Grilled Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Broccoli Salad
White Sweet Corn
Crudité: jicama, celery, Nantes carrots
Newman's Own Virgin Lemonade
Vella Merlot
Strawberries with Angel Food Cake

Grilled Glazed Baby Back Ribs from Cook's Illustrated
Broccoli Salad from Dena

I don't recall my mom serving ribs until after I had grown up and moved away from home. While visiting one summer (we live in California and most of my family is in New York) my mom made ribs for one of her famous backyard picnics. Before having my dad cook them on the grill, she parboiled them to speed up the cooking time and to ensure they were cooked through. It would seem that the Test Kitchen is on to my mom's trick as they published a recipe using this same technique in their most recent issue of Cook's Illustrated.

This does indeed provide a fast way to cook ribs. The recipe was for baby back ribs, but I was unable to find any in the two markets I checked. The closest I could get was a frozen slab of "extra meaty pork loin back ribs", baby back ribs but with more meat on them. The ribs took only an hour or so to prepare, much less time than traditional barbecued ribs that cook low and slow, with smoke, for many hours. Without this process, these ribs did not have a smoky flavor, but they were cooked to perfection, tender but still requiring a little effort to pull the meat off of the bones. The lime sauce was interesting, more tart and less sweet than tomato-based sauces and not as sour as the vinegar-rich North Carolina style barbecue sauces. The Test Kitchen included recipes for two other sauces and also indicated you could use a supermarket sauce.

To accompany the ribs we had other fresh, summery dishes. We've had white sweet corn a few times this year. For so early in the season it is reasonably priced and, unlike many other years, quite good. I made a broccoli salad made using a recipe from my sister Dena which was included in a collection of family recipes we assembled a few years ago. I'm not a big fan of broccoli, but it's OK and I'll eat it when it is served to me. This salad may be my favorite way to eat it. Broccoli is mixed with cheese and bacon then mixed with a sweet dressing.  While making this I considered some modifications to the recipe but didn't use any of them: replace the distilled vinegar with a red wine vinegar, using honey instead of sugar to provide the sweetness, or fresh instead of packaged mozzarella.

It wasn't planned, but everything in this meal was sweet, it seemed. The tart, citrus-glazed ribs, fresh vegetables, sweet corn, and broccoli salad with its sweet dressing. I even had lemonade to drink with the meal while Diane had wine. We ate out on the deck as we do during the warmer months when it is light outside at dinner time. Who says you have to pack up your food and go to a park when you want to have a picnic?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Favorite Family Foods Connect the Generations

April 29, 2013

Peg's Sloppy Joe
Quick Easy Boston Beans
Potato Chips
Gizdich Apple Juice
Vella Merlot

Peg's Sloppy Joe from Aunt Peggy
Quick Easy Boston Beans from America's Test Kitchen

I grew up in Central New York, surrounded by family. Most of my mother's and my father's many siblings lived nearby. Gatherings with with aunts and uncles and cousins were frequent. I remember a summer picnic at Green Lakes State Park when I couldn't have been more than 10 years old. I don't remember the occasion, if there was one, or what trouble we kids got into, but I remember my Aunt Peggy's Sloppy Joe. I'm sure there were many other traditional picnic foods: hot dogs and hamburgers and potato salad and potato chips and soda and Kool Aid. But for some reason I remember the Sloppy Joe, simmering in a sauce pan sitting on the charcoal fire underneath the trees.

When I moved away from home, after college, one of the recipes I was sure to take was for this simple, homey, comforting summer dish. I've made it many times over the years, and even experimented some with the ingredients. But for this Sunday Dinner (fixed on the Monday after the Big Sur International Marathon where, on Sunday, Diane and I did the 10.6 mile walk) I stuck with the original recipe.

The Sloppy Joe is very easy to make: mix together the ingredients and simmer for several hours. The recipe does not specify any particular kind of ground beef but I used 93% lean. I have made it with fattier beef and it came out a little greasy. The fat aids flavor but I gave that up to gain a meatier, less greasy, texture. I added additional water as the Sloppy Joe simmered and became too dry, perhaps as a result of the reduced fat. The result was a dish that was hearty and good and familiar. The meat was tender and well flavored. We served it on slider buns, rather than regular hamburger buns, as these fit our appetites better than full-sized buns.

The main side dish was a version of baked beans from the recent America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook.  Baked beans is one of those dishes where I am still searching for the perfect recipe. Much to my surprise, this recipe, which uses canned beans, is about as good as any that I have tried which use dry beans and hours of soaking and baking. It is easy to make, taking less than an hour, and produced a really tasty side dish. It was a little soupy, I probably should have simmered it a while longer, but that's a problem easily solved by using a slotted serving spoon. The beans only got better with time as we had then in subsequent meals.

I made a crudité with left over asparagus, jicama, carrots, cucumber, and celery which added crisp fresh flavors to the meal with no cooking. We had purchased a gallon of apple juice at Gizdich Ranch returning from Big Sur and it was a flavorful and refreshing beverage which went well with this meal.

It's probably been over 50 years since that picnic at Green Lakes and I still remember my aunt's Sloppy Joe. It's funny what you remember from long ago and how those memories can be triggered when you don't expect it. Taste, odors, and sounds often provide the key to unlock these pleasant memories from long ago. It is so important to hang on to your family's food traditions and to pass them along to the next generation so they, too, will have memories to cherish.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Grill Roasted Turkey Breast

April 21, 2013

Grill Roasted Turkey Breast
Oven Roasted Carrots
Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry Relish
Oak Leaf Pinot Grigio

Roasted Carrots from Cook's Illustrated

I'd been thinking of having turkey for a while and finally it happened. I found a recipe for a grill-roasted turkey breast in my collection of saved recipes. Roasting a whole turkey for just the two of us was out of the question, but this would produce enough turkey for a good Sunday dinner and a generous amount of leftovers for the following week.

The recipe is for a full bone-in, skin-on turkey breast, 5-7 pounds worth. To prepare it you split the breast, remove the bones, and tie the halves together making a compact boneless roast. When I got to the butcher case at the market I found that for a $1 more a pound I could get a boneless turkey breast. I purchased one of the larger ones which weighed 2¾ pounds, a much better size and better deal when there are only the two of us to feed.

The turkey is easily prepared for grilling. It is first sprinkled with kosher salt and refrigerated for an hour. The roast is then rubbed with vegetable oil and seasoned with black pepper. It is roasted on indirect heat until it reaches an internal  temperature of 150°, which took about 75 minutes on our grill, but it could take much less time on a hotter grill. The meat is then put on direct heat for a few minutes and browned on all sides.

The biggest challenge was determining the temperature. I used a probe thermometer to get an initial reading then an instant read thermometer for more accuracy. The instant read thermometer met varying degrees of resistance when inserted into the roast and the temperature varied greatly from place to place. At one point I found temperatures ranging from 95° to 140°. After 60 minutes the roast was still not done and I turned the burner on the cool side of the grill on low to speed things up a little. This led to a flare-up which was easily controlled by moving the meat. I took the turkey off of the grill when the temperature reached 150° in the firmest part of the roast.

For side dishes we had mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, and something new: roasted carrots. The cranberry relish is a Thanksgiving tradition that my mom always made. Diane made the relish by grinding fresh cranberries that we had frozen together with a whole orange (peel and all) then adding sugar to taste. It's a wonderful condiment that brightens up the meal with a mix of sweet, sour, and bitter flavors all mixed together. In contrast, the carrots were less sweet than raw or glazed carrots, having an earthy flavor that worked well with the bright relish and mild-flavored turkey breast.

This was a nice meal which we both enjoyed. (Our cats enjoyed it too, one of them, Shenzi by name, stole a slice of the turkey without our noticing until it was gone.) The meat tasted good but it was a little dry, probably overdone as a result of the problems getting an accurate temperature. The turkey was easy to roast on the grill. To add more flavor I should have added a packet of wood chips to produce some flavorful smoke. And like the ham from the previous week, we now have some really good leftover meals to anticipate.

We had leftover turkey prepared several different ways during the week. We had turkey slices served with mashed potatoes, peas, cranberry relish, and gravy from a mix (which helped the dry turkey) and open-faced hot turkey sandwiches. Diane fixed one of our favorite leftover turkey recipes: Almond Turkey with Peas from our old copy of the Sunset Wok Cookbook which features chunks of turkey with fresh snow peas and crisp, crunchy water chestnuts.