Saturday, July 27, 2013

Glenn's Pepper Steak and Peach Pie

July 21, 2013

Glenn's Pepper Steak over Steamed Rice
Vella Merlot
Peach Pie

Peach Pie from Cook's Illustrated

I recently wrote about a recipe in progress from Diane's family. It has always been called Goop but I have re-christened it Glenn's Pepper Steak, named for the woman who created the recipe in the 1960's. The written instructions were vague so I attempted to write them down with enough detail for  others to duplicate it for themselves. My first attempt came up short of the mark but this time I got it right. Cutting the meat into long, thin strips which were browned in two batches produced more tender and flavorful meat. Omitting hot sauce and doubling the amount of allspice provided a more balanced sauce. One of my favorite aspects of this dish is the flavorful sauce with its combination of sweetness from the sugar, tomatoes, and onion; meatiness from the steak; and hint of spice from  allspice. The Goop was served, as usual, over steamed white rice but in a bowl this time rather than on a plate. I appreciated the ability to more easily mix the rice and Goop together.  Diane, however, still preferred using a plate. Either way is fine.

In the summer time I like to take advantage of the wonderful fresh fruit. I enjoy it for lunch every day but I also like to make pie. Peaches might be my favorite summer fruit but I have never made a peach pie until now.  Making the pie was straightforward though it did take a few hours with making the dough, preparing the peaches, assembling the pie, and baking.  I used peaches from the grocery store which were pretty hard when I bought them but they ripened nicely in the day they sat on the kitchen counter; they were sweeter and juicier than I was expecting.  The recipe uses tapioca to thicken the filling and specifies a range of 3-4 tablespoons, depending on the ripeness of the peaches. I used 3½ tablespoons for these peaches which worked out well. Since we are not found of thick, fluted edges on pies, I used a fork to flatten the edges of the crust and this worked out well; no one left crust behind on their plates. The pie was good and we enjoyed it. It would have been better, we think, without the tablespoon of minced crystallized ginger as the ginger flavor overpowered the flavor of the peaches which should be the star of the show.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Steak Diane for Diane's Birthday

July 14, 2013

Steak Diane
Baked Potato
Petite Peas
Poetic Cellars 2007 Zinfandel
Dark Chocolate Mousse

Simple Steak Diane from Betty Crocker's Cookbook
Dark Chocolate Mousse from Cook's Illustrated

One of Diane's favorite dishes is Steak Diane. In restaurants it is often prepared table side with a dramatic flambé finale. Diane ordered this a few years ago in a restaurant in Reno; not realizing how awkward a question it would be, the server asked Diane how she would like her Diane cooked. Oops!

There is an America's Test Kitchen recipe that mimics what you would get in a restaurant. However, for years we have used a simple recipe from the 1974 edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook, though it is interesting that the recipe is not in the 2005 edition. I did some research on-line and found many recipes which were similar to our old favorite, most include butter, onion or shallots, and Worcestershire sauce.

This recipe is extremely easy to make and takes very little time. A sauce is made by melting butter and using it to cook mushrooms, garlic, onion, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and parsley. A thin, tender steak, preferably a tenderloin, is quickly pan fried in butter and then served with the butter sauce.  And that's all there is to it. Because the meat is thin you need to be careful not to overcook it. Care is also needed to avoid burning the butter when frying the steak. Because of the reduced temperature and short cooking time don't expect to develop a lot of color on the surface of the steak.

For our meal, the steak was tender and complemented perfectly by the rich butter sauce enhanced by the earthiness of the mushrooms and the tang from the lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. I used only half the amount of meat the recipe calls for but I made a full recipe of the sauce. Neither of us thought there was too much sauce and there was none left over.

To go with the steak we had several of Diane's favorite side dishes: potatoes, baked in the oven and not the microwave, sweet green peas, and a nice red wine that we purchased at the Poetic Cellars winery. This winery is in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains and we have visited several times for tastings. Dessert was a homemade dark chocolate mousse that was smooth and light with rich chocolate flavor.

I believe that Diane was happy with her birthday dinner and wouldn't complain if it were served more often than once a year.

There was no leftover Steak Diane, but I cooked only half of the steak that I had purchased. This recipe is easy enough to make that you can use it for a week night dinner, and that is just what Diane did. We had plenty of mousse left over and so had it for dessert throughout the week. It kept quite well and while not as good as the day it was made it was an enjoyable treat all week long.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Interesting Chocolate Cookies and an Interesting Braising Liquid

July 7, 2013

Pork Loin Braised in Milk
Boiled Yellow Potatoes
Green Peas
Castle Rock 2011 Pinot Noir
Chocolate Chili Cookies

Chocolate Chili Cookies from Food Wishes

America's Test Kitchen (ATK) sent me a recipe to test: pork loin braised in milk. Having never used milk as a braising liquid I was intrigued. The recipe is straightforward, a boneless pork loin is browned then braised in milk seasoned with aromatics: onion, garlic, carrot, celery, bay leaf, rosemary. At the end of the cooking time the milk solids have formed unattractive clumps. The recipe provides three options for dealing with them: serve as is (apparently this is the traditional option),  pureé the liquid with the milk solids in a blender, or strain the sauce. I chose to strain out the milk resulting in a rather thin broth, even after reducing, that does not at all resemble milk. The pork was served with potatoes and peas with the sauce being passed at the table.

Here are some of the comments I provided in the feedback to ATK:
The sauce was very thin, though nicely flavored. We would have preferred a thicker gravy to the thin sauce which we could have used on both the meat and side dish. The meat was a little bland and this would have helped.

What is the purpose of the milk, what does it add to the recipe? I strained the milk solids off as they are not very appealing. Pureeing the sauce rather than straining might have provided a richer, thicker more flavorful sauce.
The recipe should recommend one of the three methods for producing the final sauce. I suspect that pureeing it would be the best approach but I didn't try that. Perhaps something needs to be added to thicken it.

On to dessert! I remember some cookies that Diane made, many years ago, that were surprisingly good. I remember that they were made with chocolate and a surprising ingredient, pepper. I remember that the recipe came from a Hershey's cookbook. I remember wrong. We still have the Hershey cookbook and it does not include a recipe for chocolate pepper cookies. Failing that, I did some searching and found a recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Food Wishes, for "Michele's Chocolate Chili Cookies". Not only do they include both black and cayenne pepper, but also dried currants that have been soaked in Kahula (a coffee liqueur).

These are good cookies,  more complex than most. In addition to rich chocolate flavor there is a bit of a kick from the pepper,  fruitiness from the currants, and complexity from the coffee liqueur. Diane found the texture of the currants a little off putting, partly because you can't see them unlike, say, raisins in oatmeal cookies.  They're not as sweet as many cookies but as I ate them through the week I liked them more and more. They're definitely worth trying.

The challenge is to reheat the pork without drying it out. Diane heated the sauce on the stove to a simmer, added slices of the pork, and turned the burner to low to heat the pork. This worked well, the pork was still reasonably tender.

For our second meal with the leftover pork, it was sliced thinly and warmed in the sauce. I had it as a sandwich, which was good,  and I think it would be very good served with the thin sauce like a french dip sandwich.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Orange Glazed Pork Chops: A Recipe That Needs Some Work

June 30, 2013

Orange Glazed Pork Chops
Steamed Rice
Domaine de Le Rasmus 2007 Sassy and Spicy Gewürtzaminer

I hadn't been planning to make this recipe, but in the midst of a heat wave, with day after day of temperatures approaching 100°, I wanted something easy, quick, and not involving the oven. A simple skillet dinner fit the bill: orange-glazed pork chops served with steamed rice and a crudité of carrot, cucumber, celery, green bell pepper, and red bell pepper.

I have had the recipe for orange-glazed pork chops for a very long time, since before I met Diane. I recall making it as a grad student around 1975. The recipe card is stained, though still readable, and lacking in details. I probably assumed that I would remember how to make this dish so I just recorded the ingredients and bare details for cooking. I know better, now. The recipe card says that the recipe is from Betty Crocker, but I don't remember just where it came from and my efforts to find the recipe on-line were futile.

The sauce is what keeps bringing us back to this dish. While I can recall having juicy, moist pork with this recipe back in 1975, more recently the meat has been overcooked, dry, and tough.

 Starting from the old recipe card and my memory, I came up with a recipe with a some details:
  • Buy two pork chops, ¾–1-inch thick, about 1 pound.
  • In a small bowl combine the ingredients for the sauce.
  • Pat the chops dry and cut slits in the fat and connective tissue on the edges to prevent the meat from cupping when it is cooked.
  • Season the chops with ½ teaspoon Kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to a skillet over medium and heat until just smoking.
  • Brown the chops on both sides, approximately 2-3 minutes per side.
  • Reduce the heat to low, add the sauce, and simmer until the internal temperature of the meat is  145°.
  • Move the chops to a serving platter and pour the glaze over them.

Several things went wrong with this recipe. First, the internal temperature of the chops after 20 minutes was already190°!  Second, I left the chops simmering in the pan while the rice cooked and even though the heat was turned down the sauce burned.

So the meat was way overdone very quickly which explains why this recipe often produces tough, dry pork chops. In the years since this recipe was developed, farmers have been producing leaner pork and what might have worked 40 years ago does not work today. The sauce includes a lot of sugar and so is easy to burn if you're not careful. I was able to salvage this meal by quickly making some more sauce, but it is clear the recipe needs some work to bring it up to date. A long, slow simmer is clearly not the way to go when cooking typical supermarket pork chops. I'll do some research, looking at  at recipes for Easy Pork Chops,  and Jack Be Quick Orange Glazed Pork Chops, among others. The sauce is good and it deserves to be served with a tender, juicy chop.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Grilled Naked Chicken and Flourless Chocolate Cake

June 23, 2013

Grilled Whole Chicken with Lemon
Steamed Local Sweet Corn
Boiled Potatoes
Beringer 2011 White Merlot
Flourless Chocolate Cake

Grilled Whole Chicken with Lemon from Cook's Illustrated
Fourless Chocolate Cake from Cook's Illustrated

The title of the Cook's Illustrated article got my attention, "Grilled Naked Chicken". I am no poultry voyeur, but I had to wonder what it meant for a dead fowl that probably never wore a stitch of clothing in its short life to be naked. In this case, it means that the skin is removed from a whole chicken before it is grilled which prevents flair-ups in the grill. To add injury to insult, the backbone of the chicken is also removed and the bird is flattened so that it will cook evenly; this is also called a spatchcock or butterflied chicken.

The original recipe was for a 3½–4 pound chicken, but the smallest I found at the supermarket was almost 5 pounds.  It was a "young chicken" from Foster Farms which I don't really understand as all factory-farm chickens are slaughtered young. While we noticed that the dark meat wasn't particularly dark, both the dark and light meat tasted good, juicy and well seasoned with good lemon flavor. It took longer to cook than the recipe said and I hurried it along by igniting a burner on the cold side of the grill towards the end of the cooking time. I originally wanted to grill the potatoes and corn, too, but the chicken used the whole grill.

I don't recall every having white Merlot before and we found it to be a nice, light, refreshing wine which went down very well on a warm summer evening. It was a good accompaniment to the grilled entreé.

For dessert we had flourless chocolate cake. Like bread, which requires only 4 ingredients (flour, water, yeast, and salt), this cake is made with just 4 ingredients: chocolate, butter, eggs and, optionally, brewed coffee or liqueur. As you might expect given the number of ingredients, the cake was pretty easy to make. The springform pan I used was 9" in diameter yet the cake took 24 minutes to bake, showing once again that you need to take the times given in recipes with a grain of salt. I checked the internal temperature at 18 and 21 minutes and the cake wasn't done, yet at 24 minutes it was perhaps a little over done, the temperature in the middle was over 150°. We didn't let the cake "mellow" in the refrigerator overnight as recommended, we couldn't wait to try it after only 3 hours of mellowing. It was very good, but even better the following evening when it was smoother with better blending of flavors and less coffee flavor.

Diane heated the leftover chicken in a 200° oven for an hour, covered with foil with the roasted lemons. This resulted in chicken that was still moist and tender with a strong lemon flavor. For our second meal of leftover chicken we had it in salad.

Kitchen Tip
This comes from my sister, Deb. If you have fruit flies in your kitchen, and you want to get rid of them, put out a small glass of cider vinegar to which you add a few drops of dish washing liquid.