Saturday, August 30, 2014

I like to drink tree sap

August 24, 2014

Waffles with various toppings
Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage
Peach Pie

Yeasted Waffles from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, 2011, p. 555
Fresh Peach Pie from The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 389

Going into the weekend, I didn't know what to cook for dinner on Sunday. On Saturday morning I was out for my regular morning walk, listening to podcasts. One of them mentioned waffles, reminding me I had experienced a vague craving for maple syrup not too long before. It has been a while since we had a Sunday dinner, or any other meal, that provided an opportunity to use the sweet sticky sap. I don't use commercial pancake syrups, only real maple syrup. Despite the price I like the real thing, sap taken from maple trees in the spring and boiled down. In addition to waffles, maple syrup is good on french toast and pancakes, but the most reliable of these is waffles as I have a recipe that I really like and they make for good leftovers. Diane came home from a church brunch with a bag of leftover blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, great timing as I had been planning to buy berries to top the waffles for those (you know who you are) who don't share my love of maple tree juice.

As I have described before, these waffles are easy to make, easy to cook, and easy to store, they only require some advance preparation. On Saturday evening I prepared the batter and stored it in the refrigerator until time to cook on Sunday. By then the batter had expanded and was quite bubbly, as it should be. We had on hand both bacon and sausage and I chose the sausage as we have it less often than we do bacon. We had a box of the precooked Jimmy Dean original in the freezer and warming it on the stove top took all of 10 minutes. Our favorite beverage when having breakfast for dinner is mimosa. We recently discovered that you can buy little bottles of champagne in a four pack at the supermarket which is much more convenient than buying a big bottle which wouldn't keep well should we not use all of it.

For dessert I wanted to take advantage of the season and have a peach pie. The simplicity of the dinner preparations provided the time needed to make a pie. I had made a peach pie last summer and was disappointed in the result as the filling tasted more of ginger than of fresh peaches. I used a different recipe this time, one with no ginger, but again we were disappointed. I did something wrong making the dough and it was much too wet. Oops. After baking, the bottom crust of the pie was still doughy. Diane didn't like the filling because for her the taste was dominated by the pinch of nutmeg. I thought it was OK but it still didn't have the fresh peach taste that I love. I have decided that the only way to eat peaches in the summer time is to buy them fresh, tree ripened, and local (not the under ripe rocks the supermarket sells) and to just eat them out of hand.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Smoky Pulled Pork

August 17, 2014

Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Potato Salad
Steamed Local Sweet Corn
Beer, Wine

Smoky Pulled Pork on a Gas Grill from Cook's Illustrated 

While touring culinary schools in New England with Caleb, I had my first pulled pork sandwich. We visited several institutions (Caleb would attend the Culinary Institute of America), among them the New England Culinary Institute (NECI). We ate lunch at their restaurant, NECI Commons, in Burlington, Vermont; like all of NECI's restaurants it is staffed by students. I had my first pulled pork sandwich and loved it. Almost every summer since I've smoked a pork shoulder on our gas grill so I could enjoy these sandwiches again. Some of my favorite food comes from long, slow cooking of tough cuts of meat, like pork shoulder and beef brisket. Fortunately the cooked meat freezes well as a five pound pork shoulder goes a long way.

The July/August 2014 issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine presents a new technique for making pulled pork specifically developed for a gas grill. It introduces several new tricks to help impart good smoky flavor to the meat to match or exceed what you get using a charcoal grill for smoking. These include increasing the surface area of the meat by cutting the roast into thirds, adding humidity by placing a pan of water in the grill, placing the meat on the grill while still cold, saving the smoky juices to use in the sauce, and careful construction of the wood chip packets containing.  The meat is seasoned overnight with a simple rub containing salt, pepper, brown sugar, and paprika. I used smoked paprika because that is what we had. Smoking and cooking the pork took a full afternoon to achieve the desired tender, smoky meat that makes these sandwiches great.

The side dishes were all easy to prepare. I visited a farm stand to get local, fresh sweet corn which has been very good this summer; it was steamed in our microwave, our usual preparation method. Diane made potato salad; I enjoyed eating it but can't say much about how it was prepared. We each had a different beverage. Diane had Vella Merlot, I had a nice beer from New Zealand--Tuatara Pilsner with its lizard-scaled bottle, and Caryn had Dead Guy Ale from Rogue Ales in Oregon. We served the pork on some store-bought rolls that have spent a little too much time in the freezer so we need to use them up sooner rather than later.

 Everyone enjoyed this meal. The pork was juicy, tender, and flavorful with a nicely seasoned bark providing some extra texture and flavor. The vinegar sauce did not adhere well to the meat and so it was not very prominent in the sandwiches. I'll try adding some additional at the table when we have these as leftovers. It was a simple, satisfying, summer supper.

Monday, August 4, 2014

July: Cooking and Dining, Yes; Blogging, Not So Much

I did not plan to take off the last six weeks from blogging. I have still been cooking and taking photos of Sunday meals, I just haven't been able to make time to write about them. I like to think that I am busier than ever but I don't know if that's really true. It may be that in my retirement I have become less focused, less efficient; while I stay busy I don't get as much done. I guess that is OK, I am retired after all, except for the frustration of not getting things done. Things like blog posts.

Rather than try to catch up by writing a post for every Sunday since my most recent post, a daunting task, I thought I would write one long post which covers the whole month. Then I could check off all of those unfinished items on my to-do list (draft blog post, publish blog post, draft blog post, publish blog post, etc., etc.). It also gives me license to be brief which is good since I don't remember details of dinner a month ago Sunday.

June 29, 2014
Menu: Grilled Burgers on Slider Picnic "Rolls", Yellow Sweet Corn, Salt Potatoes, The Mussel Inn Captain Cooker Manuka Beer, Strawberries and Angel Food
Recipes: Tender Juicy Grilled Burgers from Cook's Illustrated, Mini Picnic Rolls from King Arthur Flour

This was a pretty typical, picnic-y summer meal. I ground beef using the grinder attachment for our stand mixer to make the slider-sized hamburgers. I don't know that it was worth the extra work. It was hard to cook the little patties to medium rare, something you can do safely if you grind the meat yourself, they ended up medium well. The recipe was meant for larger burgers. I made buns using a recipe that suggested using a muffin tin to make slider buns. This created buns that were much too thick. After the first meal we cut a section out of the middle of the bun so there wouldn't be so much bread in the burgers. For salt potatoes I used mini red potatoes; not as good as the little new potatoes from Central New York, but still good. The beer, which Caleb brought from New Zealand, was great! Unfortunately I won't be having  Manuka beer again any time soon. 

July 1, 2014
Recipe: Buttermilk Doughnuts, Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 66.
Not Sunday dinner, but a story worth sharing. When I first wrote about deep frying, Caleb immediately thought of doughnuts. I suspect he remembers doughnuts I made for him many years ago. When he visited for the first time since I got the frying equipment it was important that I make doughnuts.  I had purchased a new doughnut cutter in anticipation of this and so was ready to go. The dough was very easy to make, stir together the dry ingredients, stir together the wet ingredients, and then combine. I used freshly grated nutmeg, a first for me. The donuts came out great! They were crisp on the outside and soft and tender on the inside, faintly flavored by nutmeg, rich but not too sweet. We coated about half of the doughnuts with sugar cinnamon. They are okay as leftovers, not so crispy as fresh, but still good to eat.

July 6, 2014
Menu: Grilled Salmon, Steamed Broccoli, Rice Pilaf, Vella Chardonnay,  Strawberries and Angel Food
Recipes: Rice Pilaf, The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, 2011, p. 222; Steamed Broccoli, ibid., p. 252; Grilled Salmon Fillets, ibid., p. 521.

Caryn finished her intense, two-week EMT Boot Camp and to celebrate she got to choose the menu for Sunday dinner. She decided to have salmon with rice and broccoli. I gathered some recipes from a Cook's Illustrated Cookbook. All were quick and easy, the rice pilaf, at only 30 minutes, took the most time. When all was said and done, the rice turned out to be everyone's favorite part of the meal. It was rinsed well to remove surface starch then sautéed in butter with some onion before it was steamed. Usually we just steam rice, but these few extra steps added significantly more flavor. We had a nice leftover meal, too. The salmon was gently reheated then mixed with greens to make a salad. This was served with the rice and broccoli which had been combined and heated.

July 13, 2014
Menu: Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwiches; Homemade Potato Chips; Baked Beans, Cherries

We were out of town for a wedding on Saturday, and didn't return home until mid-day on Sunday. Thus there was no time for planning, shopping, and cooking an elaborate meal on Sunday. Something simple was called for using what food we had on hand. Rather than creating leftovers for the rest of the week, I used up some leftovers. We had lots of bacon, bread, and tomatoes from our little garden so BLTs seemed a good choice. The beans were left over from an earlier meal. The only cooking I did was to slice some potatoes and deep fry them to make chips. Unlike many meals, timing wasn't an issue as none of the food needed to be served hot.

July 20, 2014
Since returning from vacation in New Zealand I have been enjoying the game of geocaching. Among other fun aspects, it introduces me to new places, in town and beyond. This includes learning about a lot of small, neighborhood parks in the San Jose, I didn't know we had so many! I had been thinking for some time that we would enjoy a picnic for Sunday dinner, even though we eat outdoors at home for half of the year. I took no photos but we packed up some rolls, sliced roast beef, store-bought broccoli salad, and potato chips and headed for a nearby park. We were prepared to visit several parks before finding a table but the first park we tried worked out fine. He had a table all to ourselves and enjoyed a nice dinner. Caryn even found a geocache.

July 27, 2014
Because of a medical test scheduled for the following Monday (I'll spare you the details) I was not allowed to eat this Sunday. So I didn't cook. Everyone was on their own for dinner. Everyone survived.

August 2, 2014
Menu: Spaghetti Carbonara, Homemade Sourdough Bread, Garden Salad

I've been wanting to try a new method for making pulled pork on the grill which was described in latest Cook's Illustrated Magazine. However, the last few weekends have not provided enough time to do that. This weekend didn't, either, as we are about to leave for a week in Oregon; pulled pork provides plentiful leftovers, so I'll put it off another few weeks until we get back.  In its stead, I prepared a pasta dish that we had for the first time last Fall and really enjoyed, Spaghetti Carbonara. Indeed, the full menu very closely matches that meal from last September. Perhaps the biggest change was using spaghetti rather than thin spaghetti for the pasta.