Saturday, November 30, 2013

Chicken Pot Pie and Sharing Thanksgiving Dinner

November 24, 2013

Chicken Pot Pie

Skillet Chicken Pot Pie from Cook's Illustrated
Parker House Rolls from King Arthur Flour 
Slow Roasted Turkey from Cook's Illustrated
Spiced Pumpkin Pie from Penn Live 

There was no dinner for two on Sunday, November 17. Not only did I not cook, I didn't eat, I didn't even get out of bed. I had chills and fever and no energy and no appetite.

By the time November 24 arrived, daughter Caryn was home from college for Thanksgiving break. A few weeks prior I had asked what she would like for dinner while she was home and she requested (somewhat to my surprise) chicken pot pie. My kind of food! I found a recipe and had done the shopping but I was still too sick to spend the necessary time on my feet in the kitchen to make this recipe. Caryn agreed to make the pot pie. Rather than being put out for having to cook the dinner she requested, she rather enjoyed the opportunity to cook something like this. Her usual college fare is far simpler.

The pot pie was very good, though a fair amount of work was required to make it. The crispy tender crust covered a rich filling of dark meat immersed in a thick flavorful sauce. It was good leftover, too, warming it in the oven rather than the microwave so the crust was still crisp. Caryn did a great job, very much appreciated by me, with a complicated recipe.

When Thanksgiving arrived I had recovered sufficiently to be of some use in the kitchen. Nonetheless, so no one had to spend the holiday entirely in the kitchen, we each took on several dishes. Not only did this spread the work it made the feast more of a shared experience to which everyone contributed, kind of like a pot luck even though everyone was in the same house.

I cooked the turkey and gravy and made Parker House Rolls. I bought a half breast and leg quarter which were cooked using Cook's Illustrated's slow roasting technique which is very easy to do and resulted in juicy meat and a flavorful gravy. I made he rolls a day in advance, cooking them until set and then browning them just before dinner. Diane made cranberry relish (cranberries, oranges, and sugar, like my mom always made) and mashed potatoes. Caryn was responsible for the vegetable, serving grilled asparagus and she volunteered to make dessert, a yummy pumpkin pie. Diane and Caryn also collaborated on a turkey crudité which is becoming a new family Thanksgiving tradition, which we picked at all afternoon long leading up to dinner.

After two weeks, many consultations with physicians, and tests galore, I am on the mend. There is no definitive diagnosis, the most likely explanation is a strong immunological response to toxins, perhaps from a bug bite. Despite it all, we had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, and a hearty Sunday, dinner for three this last week, all things for which to give thanks.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Different Sort of Beef Stew

November 10, 2013

Catalan Beef Stew with Mushrooms
Mashed Potatoes
Green Salad
Cranberry-Apple Crisp
Burrell School House 2008 Pinot Noir, "Principal's Choice"

Catalan-style Beef Stew with Mushrooms from Cook's Illustrated
Cranberry-Apple Crisp from Cook's Country

Catalonia is in northeastern Spain bordering France and the Mediterranean. The stew we had for dinner is inspired by flavors and cooking techniques from Catalonia. It is different from the American-style of stew, such as my mom cooked, or stews of France like Beef Burgandy made with red wine. This stew has no vegetables, the primary ingredients are beef and mushrooms, but it has a rich flavor and texture provided in part by sofrito, a rich slow-cooked combination of onions, tomatoes, herbs, and spices, and picada, a combination of toasted bread, toasted almonds, garlic, and parsley. The beef is not browned before being added to the stew, browning occurs in the oven as the stew cooks without a lid with the beef exposed to hot oven air.

I made a few recipe substitutions which didn't affect the essential character of the finished dish. I couldn't find boneless beef short ribs and had to settle for short ribs with the bones. I bought 5.2 lbs ($42!) and after cutting the meat from the bones and trimming the fat and silver skin I had 2¼ pounds of meat. There has to be a more economical way to do this, using a boneless chuck roast should work almost as well. The recipe specifies oyster mushrooms but I used a combination of oyster and button mushrooms as the oyster mushrooms were prepackaged and I needed to supplement them with button mushrooms to have the quantity called for. I used fresh rosemary from our garden rather than buying fresh thyme, much of which would probably end up being discarded. I had no sherry vinegar so used red wine vinegar in its place.

The stew does involve more work than a traditional American stew mainly due to preparation of the sofrito and picada. However, the extra work is rewarded with a beefy, savory stew featuring a rich flavorful sauce. It goes very well served over mashed potatoes with a vegetable or salad on the side. Like most braised dishes, I expect this one will only get better over time.

We are getting toward the end of apple season and starting to look forward to fresh citrus, but there are still opportunities for delicious apple desserts. I made one of our favorites, a dessert that combines sweet and tart apples with tart cranberries and a crisp, sweet and spicy topping. It is one of our favorites and we have it most every year. The crisp topping, which at its best when fresh, does not become totally soggy when you have the dessert as a leftover, retaining much of its texture.

We have had leftover Catalan stew several times and, as expected, it has only improved with time. We have had it over both mashed potatoes and as the topping on a baked potato and it was eminently satisfying both ways.  We are still enjoying leftover Atlanta Brisket which has also improved with time. (Yes, we have lots of beef in the refrigerator.) It was especially good served over noodles, perhaps not too surprising as it has a tomato-based sauce.

Not on Sunday
My 2012 Cookie of the Year was the Chocolate Chubby, a wonderful cookie that is sort of a cross between a cookie and a brownie. I am ready now to announce my 2013 Cookie of the Year, Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies. I described these a few months ago and I made them again this week. These are about the most peanutty cookies you can imagine. Instead of making the original all-peanut filling I made a chocolate filling which was almost as good. I have added instructions for this filling  to the recipe and encourage you to try these cookies. They're a little more work than most cookies but like the Catalan-style stew you are will be well rewarded for your efforts.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cooking with Cola: Atlanta Brisket

November 3, 2013

Atlanta Brisket
Crisp Roast Potatoes
Green Peas
Smoking Loon 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel

Atlanta Brisket from Cook's Country
Crisp Roasted Potatoes from Cook's Illustrated

I had never heard of Atlanta Brisket until it was featured on a recent version of the Cook's Country TV show. Basically it is beef brisket that is braised with onions, ketchup, Coca Cola (thus the name as Coca Cola is based in Atlanta), and onion soup mix. I have one other recipe that uses coke as an ingredient, a Dutch oven recipe for Coca Cola Chicken that I learned about while in Boy Scouts.  It was an intriguing recipe and worth a try.

Instead of using onion soup mix, this recipe uses a mixture of spices to provide more control over the final flavors. The brisket was juicy and fall-apart tender, so much so that it could not be cut into nice, neat slices. The sauce was interesting with a unique flavor from the combination of sweet and sour ketchup with the sweet, acidic cola. There was no obvious cola flavor in the sauce which had some rough edges.

The roasted potatoes were good, crispy on the outside with creamy interiors. They were prepared something like oven fries; potatoes were sliced, parboiled, coated with olive oil, then roasted in a single layer on a baking sheet. While they were good we thought there were too many steps in the preparation and we will be trying some other roasted potato recipes in the future that will hopefully be simpler.

The potatoes help up well, they were warmed with a little oil in a skillet and they were certainly an easy and acceptable side dish. Like many braised dishes, the brisket improved with a few days sitting. As flowing water will wear down the rough edges of a stone producing a smooth cobble, time smoothed out some of the sauce's rougher, sharper flavors resulting in a more balanced, more pleasant flavor. We had the brisket simply rewarmed in the microwave and then again served on toasted hamburger buns.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Still Searching for a Hearty Homemade Bean Soup

October 27, 2013

Tuscan Bean Soup
Green Salad
Homemade Sourdough Bread
Vella Cabernet Sauvignon

Tuscan Bean Soup from Cook's Illustrated
French Apple Cake from Cook's Illustrated 
Katherine Hepburn Brownies from Brown Eyed Baker

Most of what I cook on Sunday is new to me. Most of what I cook on Sunday I would make again. But sometimes, when you try something new, it doesn't work out. Searching for a recipe for a good, hearty bean soup, I tried "Tuscan Bean Soup". This is not the bean soup recipe I seek.

Tuscan Bean Soup is pretty simple. It is mostly Cannellini beans and onion with additional flavor provided by pork and rosemary. The recipe specified chunks of pancetta, 6 ounces of it, that is browned and used to flavor the broth. I didn't read the recipe carefully enough before going to the store and purchased 3 ounces of thinly sliced pancetta instead to which I added 3 ounces of bacon. The pork and onions combined to make a thin broth with good, though certainly not robust, flavor. But I am looking for something with more body than provided by the thin broth in this recipe. I followed the directions for cooking the beans, cooking them for more time than the recipe suggested, but they still came out less tender and more al dente than they should. Part of the challenge was the direction to cook them until they seemed to be "almost tender"; I thought they had reached this stage but apparently not.

So my search for a hearty bean soup will continue and I may need to develop my own recipe. This is not a bad thing and I will likely write about it on Sunday, Dinner for Two, so watch for it.

Leftover soup generally improves over time. However, time in the refrigerator will not tenderize undercooked beans. It does, though, provide an opportunity to add some additional flavor. Some freshly ground black pepper and shredded pecorino romano improved this soup, giving it some of the flavor it was missing. 

Not on Sunday
While the bean soup was a disappointment, a dessert that I baked on Monday was not. It's still apple season and we made another trip to our local farm to restock. Rather than make another apple pie I made French Apple Cake from the September 2012 edition of Cook's Illustrated. Granny Smith apples are cooked in a cake that has two layers of batter, a custardy lower layer incorporating the apples topped with a light, cakey layer. This recipe turned out very well and we will probably make it again. The apples were distributed through the whole cake, though, so next time I will need to push them down into the batter, but this is a minor flaw. The cake kept well covered in the refrigerator and we enjoyed it all week for dessert.

On Friday I made some brownies that turned out really well. They had a nice crisp outside and soft, chocolatey inside. The recipe is attributed to Katherine Hepburn. We haven't tried them yet with ice cream and chocolate syrup, but I am confident they will be just as good in a sundae as they are eaten plain. I wonder, though, how the cocoa powder version would be, or with pecans rather than walnuts.