Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Making Mini Meatloaves

December 22, 2013

Quick Mini Meatloaf
Mashed Potatoes
Rodney Strong 2011 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

We are preparing to leave for a two-week vacation in New Zealand and that drives what is in this Sunday, Dinner for Two post, and what is not. It also explains why it's being posted so much earlier than usual. I needed a Sunday dinner that would not generate any leftovers, or would generate leftovers that could be frozen. I've been wanting to have meat loaf and this recipe for individual meat loaves seemed to meet all of the criteria. Not only could it be made quickly and easily, but it provides us with food that we can prepare quickly when we get back home. We will use up our potatoes by mashing and freezing them so we shouldn't have to go grocery shopping to have an easy complete dinner on our first day back.

The meat loaf recipe came from The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook where it was called "All-American Mini Meatloaves". The technique should be useful with any meat loaf recipe. The small free-form loaves cook quickly and I was able to prepare the whole dinner in well under an hour.  The original recipe calls for 1½ pounds of meat which makes 4 individual serving-sized loaves. These are well browned on one side in an oven-proof skillet. The loaves are then carefully turned over, the glaze is applied (in this case a mixture of brown sugar, ketchup, and vinegar), and they are baked in a 350° oven to an internal temperature of 160° which only takes about 20 minutes.

The meat loaves were pretty good, they were tender and juicy and nicely flavored. They were a little lacking in beef flavor as the flavor from the browned side of the meat was overwhelmed by the glaze. Diane thought the glaze was too sweet but she allowed that this may just be because it is not the kind of meat loaf she grew up with.

For what it's worth, this is my 100th post to Sunday, Dinner for Two.  :-)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Another Quick Cassoulet

December 16, 2013

Quick Pork Cassoulet
Sourdough Bread
Kendall-Jackson 2011 Vintner's Reserve Riesling

Quick Pork Cassoulet from America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook

Growing up, my favorite canned soup was Campbell's Bean with Bacon. I am not as fond of it now as I used to be, both the soup and I have changed. Nonetheless, I have fond memories of the soup and so I am on a quest for a good homemade bean soup recipe. With some bread and wine it makes a comforting and satisfying cool weather meal, an earthy, hearty combination of beans and meat. The best recipe I've found is not really a soup (though the line between soups and stews is blurry) but rather something based on the classic French dish, Cassoulet. The original French dish requires more work than is practical for the home kitchen but fortunately there are some easier versions which are inspired by the original, if not totally faithful. (I would like to try Cassoulet in a restaurant some time to see what the original is like.)

This Sunday I tried a third recipe, a third version of Cassoulet. All three have led to good results and I can recommend any of them, though my favorite was the original recipe I tried from Cook's Illustrated which starts with dry beans, rather than canned, and takes more time and effort than the two "quick" recipes I have used. The other was from Food Wishes.

Today's recipe created the most soup-like cassoulet with a thinner broth than the others which used bread to soak up the liquid and make a thicker dish. It was also the fastest recipe taking me about an hour from start to finish. I tweaked the recipe some, as I often do. I cut the pork tenderloin into smaller, bit-sized pieces rather than the 1-inch chunks in the Cook's Illustrated recipe. This may have led to somewhat tougher pork but it was still reasonably tender and the smaller pieces are easier to eat. Perhaps cooking 1-inch pieces is the way to go as they can be cut into bite-sized pieces after cooking and before being added back into the Cassoulet.

I will continue my search for a good bean soup but I will also be trying out some other cassoulet recipes. I found another version on the America's Test Kitchen web site. I would also like to return to the version that I first tried, but I will make a smaller batch than the first time. I don't know if these experiments will happen this winter, there are so many good recipes and only so many Sunday's, but I'll get around to it eventually.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Stew: Not Beef but Chicken

December 8, 2013

Chicken Stew
Parker House Rolls
Main & Geary 2012 Sonoma County Chardonnay

Chicken Stew from Cook's Illustrated
Chocolate Snowcapped Cookies from Food Wishes 

I've had beef stew many, many times. Who hasn't? But I don't remember ever having chicken stew. Chicken soup, yes, but not chicken stew. A recent issue of Cook's Illustrated introduced a recipe for chicken stew, comparing it quite favorably to beef stew, so I gave it a try.

Making the stew was not a lot of work. While it wasn't a simple dump and stir recipe, the amount of time and work was not overwhelming and much of the time was hands off. The early steps build the rich umami flavor of the stew and its smooth silky texture. Aromatic vegetables are cooked in bacon fat.  A cup of chicken stock was added and then fully reduced. Anchovy paste and browned chicken wings which were included in the stew added additional umami and chicken flavor. No, there is no anchovy flavor in the finished product.

I purchased "party wings" which I could use without additional processing, the wing tips were not included and the wings had been already cut. Instead of just discarding them after cooking, as the recipe instructs, we pulled the meat off the bones and added it to the stew. I also cut up the cooked chicken thighs before serving as they were far from bite sized; we like our stew components to be small enough to eat without having to cut them them.

The sauce was wonderful, full of flavor. The chicken was tender and juicy and the vegetables were cooked just right. This is definitely a dish to make again. It was served with Parker House rolls, which had been made for Thanksgiving, and a slightly oaky Chardonnay that went well with the rich stew.

For dessert we had chocolate cookies well coated with powdered sugar. These were easy to make and good to eat and would make a good Christmas cookie with their snowy topping.