Saturday, September 21, 2013

More deep frying: Fish and Chips

September 15, 2013

Fish and Chips
Steamed Local Sweet Corn
Bella Sera 2012 Pinot Grigio
Chocolate Chip Cookies

Fish and Chips from Cook's Illustrated
David Lebovitz's Chocolate Chip Cookies from Serious Eats

I suppose it was inevitable that we would have fish and chips for dinner. For many years we never ate fish at home, only when eating out. Fish and chips, eaten with large quantities of ketchup, was my favorite piscine meal. Now that I am trying to have more fish at home and I am doing some deep frying it is only natural to make the quintessential English fast food.

Because of its much better selection, I went to Whole Foods to buy the fish where I found "Alaskan True Cod Fillets MSC CE Wild Fresh". I asked for a thick piece and was satisfied with the 0.8-pound fillet that I received. This turned out to be a good amount for a dinner for two. The coating on the fish came out great, light and crispy with no tendency to fall off of the fish. The fish itself was cooked perfectly: hot, flaky, and tender. The cod didn't have a lot of flavor and we both had it with some ketchup. The traditional condiments are malt vinegar and tarter sauce but we had neither, we don't really eat enough fish to justify buying either one.

The fries/chips were good but not as crispy as hey should have been. We had fresh local sweet corn as we are nearing the end of the season and wanted to take advantage of what corn is still available.

Speaking of chips, I tried a new recipe for chocolate chip cookies. The dough for these is rolled and refrigerated before baking which is convenient. Each roll makes a dozen cookies so it was convenient to freeze three of the four rolls of dough so we can have fresh baked cookies on four different days. The cookies are good, though there are more nuts in them than I would have liked, they detract from the chocolate. My favorite chocolate chip cookies remains the version from the New York Times but I will continue trying variants in search of the perfect cookie.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Appreciating Spaghetti Carbonara

September 8, 2013

Spaghetti Carbonara
Homemade Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread
Garden Salad
Bella Sera 2012 Pinot Grigio
Strawberry Mousse

Spaghetti Carbonara from Cook's Illustrated
Strawberry Mousse from One Perfect Bite

Is it a coincidence or a mini food trend? I had never heard of Spaghetti Carbonara until reading about it in the March 2013 issue of Cook's Illustrated. Not being a cheese eater (not even a spaghetti eater until I was in my twenties) I ate spaghetti almost exclusively with tomato-based sauces. Nonetheless my interest was piqued when reading the recipe so I planned to make it. My decision was reinforced when This Week for Dinner published Easy Spaghetti Carbonara at around the same time. Apparently everyone who is anyone knows about this dish except me and it was time to rectify that.

The sauce, which combines eggs and cheese, is easy to make. The recipe employs some interesting techniques to create a sauce that is not so rich that it weighs you down and yet has a delicious creamy flavor accented by chewy smoky bacon pieces. The proportions of ingredients in this recipe are just right as the sauce smoothly and evenly coats every strand of pasta (we used thin spaghetti) but does not from a puddle in the bottom of the bowl. The Pecorino Romano cheese has a strong odor on its own but this is nicely restrained in the sauce.

My sourdough starter continues to evolve and this bread had the best sourdough flavor of any I have made. I have been very good about feeding it every other week for the last few months which, along with its maturity, may explain the enhanced flavor. I used my standby Cook's Illustrated recipe for Almost No Knead Whole Wheat Bread but substituted ¼ cup of starter for ¼ teaspoon yeast. While the bread was very good the dough was wetter than usual and the bread did not develop a real good crust. I did not heat the Dutch oven before adding the dough, this and the extra moisture may explain the weaker crust.

For dessert I made a simple strawberry mousse. It was easy to make: pureƩ a pound of berries with a little sugar, fold in whipped cream, and chill. It was a light, refreshing dessert that we both enjoyed.

I have often seen pasta on restaurant menus with a non-tomato sauce but I almost always order the more familiar red sauce. Now that I've had and enjoyed pasta with a white sauce I will be more likely to try other sauces in the future, both at home and at restaurants.

I was reluctant to cut this recipe in half when I made it so we ended up with a fair amount leftover. Diane simply dished some up, warmed it in the microwave, and added some freshly grated Pecorino. I was worried that crispy bacon would become soggy in the leftovers; this was not an issue, however, because the bacon was cooked with water so rather than being crispy it was chewy. While not as good as fresh it was still a good dish, certainly suitable for a weeknight meal.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fresh Local Produce, Barbecued Chicken, and a Torte

September 2, 2013

Sweet and Tangy Barbecued Chicken
Homemade Sandwich Bread
Fresh Sweet Corn
Fresh Fruit Salad
Chocolate Raspberry Torte

Sweet and Tangy Barbecued Chicken from Cook's Illustrated
Classic Sandwich Bread from King Arthur Flour
Chocolate-Raspberry Torte from Cook's Illustrated

There is a wonderful variety of local fruit and vegetables available in San Jose at this time of year. From my favorite orchard stand we had plums, peaches, and nectarines. A short drive let us pick our own beautiful strawberries and raspberries (most of which Diane turned into jam) and purchase some fresh apples. An even shorter drive provided local sweet corn. With all of this fresh local produce and a recently published recipe for barbecued chicken, a late summertime menu featuring fresh local ingredients came together easily.

Many things can go wrong when grilling chicken. Everyone has probably had dry tough overcooked chicken, chicken that was raw at the bone, chicken burnt from flare ups, chicken with a burnt sauce, and chicken with little flavor. Happily this chicken had none of these problems. It was tender, both the white meat and the dark were moist and juicy.  We did not love the sauce, which was sweet and tangy, as advertised, but it was a little too spicy for us. It improved with time, though, and we enjoyed it more as a leftover as the passage of time tempered the heat.

The fruit salad demonstrated the great variety of fresh local fruit available this time of year: peach, plum, nectarine, Valencia orange, gravenstein apple, strawberry, and raspberry. It was a very good salad though the tart raspberries with their strong flavor tended to overwhelm the other fruits.

I haven't made sandwich bread in a long time, usually I make a more rustic bread with a crisp crust and chewy crumb. Sandwich bread is richer with a tender crust and crumb. It hold up better (the crust on the more rustic bread softens when stored), makes good toast and sandwiches, and is way better than store bought sandwich bread. I was inspired, too, by the bread we had recently with dinner at Sonora Cookhouse. Not having a go-to recipe for sandwich bread I selected the most popular recipe on the King Arthur Flour web site. I didn't use all-purpose King Arthur Flour as the recipe calls for. Instead I used another brand and chose bread flour rather than all-purpose. It worked well: the bread rose nicely, browned evenly, and has a tender flavorful crumb. And it is easy to make.

Having fresh raspberries, I made the chocolate-raspberry torte that has been on my wish list for dessert for some time. It was pretty easy to make this elegant-looking cake with assembling and decorating being the most challenged aspects of the process as I have little experience. The recipe included instructions for using cardboard cake rounds to help manipulate the cake. Not having these, my cake didn't come out as pretty as it could have: one of the layers broke and the icing and almonds on the side all collected around the bottom of the cake. Nonetheless it looked good and tasted good but next time I'll invest in some cake rounds; they don't cost much and would make the assembly easier.

As summer wanes the availability of local stone fruits, berries, and sweet corn will diminish. But already local apples are becoming available as the Fall season brings with it its own delights for the dinner table.