Saturday, March 22, 2014

Barbecued Ribs, by Request

March 16, 2014

Barbecued Ribs
Quick Baked Beans
Broccoli Salad
Homemade Sourdough Bread

Barbecued Ribs from Cook's Country
Barbecue Sauce from Cook's Country
No-knead Sourdough Bread from Chicago Tribune

I originally planned a different dinner for this Sunday before St. Patrick's Day. It wasn't entirely by design, but it worked out nicely that I was planning to make Guinness Beef Stew and Irish Soda Bread. But our daughter, Caryn, was going to be home from college for Spring break and she asked for Barbecued Ribs. The weather here in San Jose has been getting warmer: I have been wearing shorts most of the time for a few weeks and Diane and I have started eating dinner outside as we prefer to do. So it seemed like a good time to uncover the grill and do some barbecuing. I don't say this to flaunt our good weather to my family in upstate New York who have had a long, cold, snowy winter, but rather to provide them hope that Spring will certainly come and will be arriving soon.

Because I got a late start cooking, dinner was served late. The St. Louis cut pork spareribs were treated with a dry rub on Friday night and sat in the refrigerator until Sunday afternoon. They were  smoked on the grill for several hours and then cooked for a few more hours in a 250° oven. If not for the lateness of the hour I would have cooked them a little longer in the oven and then let them rest before serving. As a result they were cooked, but still a little tough. Nonetheless they were good and the four of us for dinner, including Caryn's friend Bryan, enjoyed them. We had 1½ racks and at the end we had only a few ribs left over.

I made a barbecue sauce to go with the ribs, though a bottled sauce could also have been used. It was a little too spicy for Diane and me, and there is a lot of it left over that will probably be thrown out. Caryn used two heads of broccoli from our CSA produce box to make a cold broccoli salad. The dressing is quite sweet but this went well with the ribs. I once again made the quick Boston beans that we have enjoyed on several occasions. Surprisingly, for having been made with canned pinto beans, they were a little toothsome and, as always, a little soupy though this is not really a problem. I bought store brand beans, perhaps they aren't cooked as much as the brands I have used previously. I also made a loaf of sourdough bread. The recipe used is different than others in that it includes both starter and yeast. It is a no-knead recipe where the dough is made 18 hours or so in advance and the long rest leads to gluten production. The bread was good.

This was a good dinner based on a good warm-weather menu. I believe I prefer baby back ribs, though, to these spareribs, and I prefer the method I used to cook them last year which was quicker then the multi-step method used for these ribs. I don't regret not having the Irish-themed meal, I was happy to have had the opportunity to grant Caryn's dinner wish.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Honey Fried Chicken

March 9, 2014

Honey Fried Chicken
Skillet Corn Bread
Fruit Salad
Brekle's Brown Ale/Vella Merlot

Honey Fried Chicken from Cook's Country 
Southern-Style Skillet Corn Bread from Cook's Country

After a couple of busy weekends where I chose quick, simple meals to cook for Sunday Dinner, I was able to spend a little more time in the kitchen. I had been wanting to try my hand at frying chicken using my recently acquired tools for deep frying. I had recently seen an episode of Cook's Country on TV featuring a recipe for Honey Fried Chicken and so chose to give it a go.

While there was nothing particularly difficult about making the chicken the process did involve many steps and created many dishes to wash.  And oil to discard. I was in the kitchen for 2 to 2½ hours total making this meal. To save a little money, I purchased a whole chicken and broke it down myself.  The breasts, which I removed from the bones, were cut in half so all the pieces of chicken were about the same size. I discarded the wing tips but kept the drumettes. The chicken pieces were brined, coated with corn starch, then dipped in a batter. They were then fried twice; similar to the method used to make french fries they were first par-fried, then allowed to sit while the oil reheated, then cooked again. Finally they were dipped in a glaze made with honey and hot sauce, a combination of Topatío and Siracha because the bottle of Topatío was empty.

The chicken was really good. I took the temperature of one piece and then timed the cooking of everything else. The dark meat was just right, hot and juicy, though the white meat was a little over done. The outside was very crisp, providing a satisfying snappy crunch when you bit into it. The glaze provided just a hint of heat to complement the sweetness of the honey, but more than that it imparted a nice flavor to the dish.

To go along with the chicken I made a savory, southern-style corn bread which uses no sugar or flour. This contrasts with the more cake-like northern style. Diane prefers the latter while I prefer the former. Finally, I made a simple fruit salad including blueberries, apple, naval orange (which, curiously, was the color of a ruby grapefruit), banana, and purple grapes.

Fried chicken is one of those foods that is almost better leftover than when fresh. It can be eaten hot or cold and so is suitable to take to work for lunch. We didn't do that, however. We reheated it in a 200° oven and had it for supper. The skin was no longer shatteringly crisp but the chicken was still very good to eat.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

American Onion Soup with Ciabatta

March 2, 2014

American Onion Soup
No-knead Ciabatta Bread
Rodney Strong 2010 Sonoma County Merlot 

American Onion Soup from Food Wishes
No-knead Ciabatta from Food Wishes

I've had French onion soup many times in restaurants but never homemade. I've collected several recipes to try and chose one from Food Wishes for this Sunday dinner . The post on Food Wishes is titled "American French Onion Soup": American because it takes short cuts and French because of the way the onions are traditionally cut. (Like French Fries, the name refers to how the vegetable is cut rather than the country of origin.) To go along with the soup I made a loaf of Ciabatta bread using a no-knead recipe also from Food Wishes.

Thanks to the shortcuts, making the soup was not a lot of work, though it did take some time. Much of the work of caramelizing the onions occurs in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, with only occasional stirring. It was a bit of a risk making the soup using store-brought broths but the soup came out very good, Diane and I both enjoyed it. If anything the portions were too small. I had to use ramekins since I melted the cheese using the broiler and our other bowls are not broiler safe. The recipe calls for the optional addition of sherry vinegar. I like Chef John's suggestion to treat it like salt and pepper,  adding a small amount to suit your taste. I don't  have any sherry vinegar so I didn't add any.

Baking the bread turned into something of an adventure. I placed a square Pyrex baking pan on the bottom rack of the 425° oven to generate steam for baking. Just before I was to put the bread into the oven, I poured boiling water into the Pyrex. The dish shattered. It didn't shatter all at once into a lot of tiny pieces. It shattered into large pieces that then slowly shattered further, leaving a pile of glass on the bottom rack and floor of the oven. I turned the oven off and used tongs to remove the largest pieces of glass, leaving the rest on the oven floor to deal with later. I then put a metal baking dish on the bottom rack. I added boiling water to the dish and put in the bread to bake. However, when I went to check on it I found the oven was still off. I thought I had turned it back on, but apparently not. I turned it back on and monitored the bread closely and took it out when it reached an internal temperature of 210°.

Despite these problems, the bread is delicious! When fresh it had a nice crisp crust, soft, slightly chewy crumb, and nice, simple flavor. It is good toasted but, because of its shape, not so good for sandwiches. I used a coarse corn meal on the baking sheet which made the bottom crust a little too crunchy. The holes in the bread weren't as large as I was expecting, perhaps because of the lower initial oven temperature.

We are still working through the last of the ham. It has turned out to be a great bargain with all of the meals it has provided us. This week Diane made a great split pea and ham soup from Forks over Knives and a nice ham and potato hash from Simply Recipes, served with fried eggs.

We have more soup than we can use soon, so we froze about half of the onion soup. It's too early to tell but this should not harm the soup at all.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Seven Minute Casserole For Another Quick Meal

February 23, 2014

Seven-Minute Casserole
Parker House Rolls
Vella Merlot


This is not the first Sunday dinner following the Silicon Valley Destination Imagination tournament when I've prepared Seven-Minute Casserole. It is the second Sunday in a row when a long Saturday at a Destination Imagination tournament led me to plan and prepare a simple meal rather than spending a lot time in the kitchen on Sunday.

A lot of people have busy lives and many of these never take the time to cook their own meals. Restaurants and fast food and take-out and convenience foods dominate many a diet, and that is too bad. Cooking meals from scratch is fun and rewarding, provides healthier, tastier meals, and is a good break from otherwise busy lives.

Seven-Minute Casserole is not really a from-scratch dish. It uses onion gravy mix for most of the seasoning and is topped with canned fried onions and drizzled with Worcestershire Sauce. It's a hybrid of home-cooked and convenience. Whatever, it's less than an hour total time to prepare and close to half of that is hands off cooking. We enjoy it from time to time; I especially appreciate it as a platform to enjoy Worcestershire and the fried onions.

I had been planning to buy a loaf of fresh bread at a bakery or the supermarket to go with this one-dish meal but fortunately I remembered the brown-and-serve Parker House rolls that I had in the freezer from a few weeks ago. I removed four frozen rolls from the freezer, let them warm to room temperature, then put them into a preheated 400° oven for 10 minutes or so. They came out good, warm and crisp and with all the flavor they had before being frozen. Their buttery goodness complemented the seven-minute casserole well. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Peg's Sloppy Joe for a Quck Meal

February 16, 2014

Peg's Sloppy Joe
Homemade Potato Chips
Frozen sweet corn and canned Mexicorn
Vella Merlot / Henry Weinhard's Root Beer


This weekend was the first of two in a row when we would be away from home all day Saturday at a Regional Destination Imagination tournament. This Sunday was thus be the first of two where I would prepare a relatively simple meal, one that would not keep me in the kitchen for long. All the stuff that I would have done on Saturday needs to be done on Sunday. I had been thinking of deep frying some chicken but I decided instead to make Sloppy Joe using my Aunt's recipe.

I made a few additions to the recipe: half of a red bell pepper, a few drops of liquid smoke, and a few drops of hot sauce. I omitted the sugar (not intentionally, it was a mistake) yet the sandwich had some sweetness from the ripe bell pepper and I like the color that it adds. It wasn't particularly smoky or spicy, I guess I didn't add enough of these flavorings, but I'd rather do that than have too much.

To make a suitable accompaniment for Sloppy Joes I got my jar of peanut oil out of the freezer, got set up for deep frying, and made some potato chips. I used the same technique as I had previously but I made the potato slices twice as thick, ⅛-inch. (You can slice foods quickly using a mandolin but I apparently don't have enough experience to do this. The slices were not uniformly thick.) Just as last time the chips came out great. They seemed to take longer to cook than I remember, which makes sense for the thicker potato slices I was cooking. They had more fresh potato flavor than store-bought chips, I could control the amount of salt, and they were irresistible: there are no leftovers.