Friday, October 21, 2016

Recipe Notes: October 2016

16 October 2016
Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices

Recipe from January 2016 Cook's Illustrated

Soup is a favorite cool-weather dish, perfect for low temperatures and rainy days, for lunch or dinner. Homemade soup is generally preferred to canned, though it is hard to beat the convenience of canned soup. We will generally have homemade soup for dinner, canned for lunch. 

I was immediately attracted to this recipe for Red Lentil Soup when I read about it, with its easy, quick preparation and interesting spices, and I finally got around to making it now that Fall is here.

The soup was easy to make, taking about an hour total time. The ingredients were readily available at the supermarket, including the essential dried red lentils. These have no skins and so cook very quickly. Onion is softened in butter and then the dried spices are added: coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne. Some garlic and tomato paste complete the flavors. Chicken broth is used as the liquid, it is added to the bloomed spices along with the lentils and some water. This mixture is cooked for only 15 minutes or so and then seasoned with some lemon juice. The lentils break down almost completely in this time and lose most of their red color.

I really enjoyed this soup. It was hearty and has a great flavor from the warm spices which do not overpower your palate. Diane, who is very sensitive to salt, thought the soup was salty though only a small amount of salt was added to help soften the onions. The recipe calls for garnishing with chopped fresh cilantro, which I skipped, and some spiced butter (that's the spots you can see in the photos) but we didn't think that was worth adding. The soup keeps well and tastes almost as good as a leftover as when freshly made. I would guess that the recipe produces around 8 servings. We'll definitely be having this again: good tasting and easy to make.

18 October 2016
Bread and Butter Pickles


Two years ago I tried making my mom's bread and butter pickles for the first time. They came out well and I have been enjoying them ever since. That batch has now run out, so it is time to make some more.

Based on that first experience, I made a few changes. The pickles are a little thicker, 1/4" instead of 3/16"; the difference seems small but they do look a lot thicker. As happened last time there wasn't enough pickling liquid to cover the vegetables. I added an additional 1½ cups of vinegar and 2 cups of sugar, roughly the same ratio as the original recipe. I didn't buy special pickling cucumbers but used just regular cucumbers that you can get in the supermarket year around. Even though we had no problems with the pickles from last time (only one jar had to be discarded as it contained a small amount of mold) we "processed" these pickles after they were canned: the sealed jars were immersed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. The yield was 8½ pints: seven pint jars and two ¾-pint jars.

Time will tell, but the pickles came out well. They are not as sour as the batch from two years ago when I didn't add any extra sugar to submerge the vegetables, just vinegar.  They also have a bit more of a crunch because they are thicker. The ingredients in the pickling liquid (vinegar, sugar, turmeric, celery seed, and mustard seed) should probably all be increased by 50% from the original recipe to cover the vegetables.

30 October 2016
"All-American Beef Stew" 

Recipe from Serious Eats

I made stew using this recipe last winter and it was good. I came across the recipe again on my Facebook feed and, given the Fall weather, it seemed like a good time to make some more.

Based on my previous experience (and the notes I posted in this blog) I made a few minor changes. I increased the potatoes from 1 to 1½ pounds and I added a few additional carrots. As before I used Thai Fish Sauce in place of the anchovies in the "umami bomb" because I have it in the refrigerator.  The 3-pound roast was cut into two steaks that were seared separately.  After the 1-hour cooking time for the potatoes I found they were not done and I ended up cooking the stew for an additional hour. By then the peas had lost their color and were way overcooked so I added some more. With the extra cooking time the stew took four hours to prepare, though much of that time was hands off while the stew simmered in the oven.

Once again, this stew came out very good. It has a very rich, beefy flavor that I love. Salt-sensitive Diane thought it tasted salty, but she finished her bowl well before I did. The texture and quantity of the vegetables was good except for the peas that were still pale and overcooked. These should be added fresh when the stew is being reheated just before serving. The umami bomb is created in the blender using 4 cups of chicken stock. When I cleaned the blender I found a fair amount of congealed gelatin at the bottom. I don't know for sure why the gelatin didn't all dissolve, but perhaps it is because the stock, which I made from chicken stock base, was still warm.

30 October 2016
Fluffy Dinner Rolls

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January 2016

I do not have a good recipe for dinner rolls. I have tried several over the years and none have passed the test to become the go-to recipe, either because of the amount of work or the flavor or the texture of the rolls. Dinner rolls should be soft, fluffy, and with a rich, buttery flavor. Thus I was excited when I read the story behind this recipe in Cook's Illustrated. 

What makes these rolls special is an Asian technique, tangzhong.  This is also known as "water roux". A portion of the flour is mixed with water and then gradually heated in the microwave. An amazing transformation takes place as a rather loose mixture turns quickly into a smooth, thick paste. Using this paste in the dough adds more liquid to the dough than otherwise, resulting in a moister, fluffier roll. Other than that, the rolls are made with a pretty standard bread dough that is enriched with butter and milk and has a little sugar added, too. From start to table the rolls took about four hours to make, but much of that time is for the dough to rise.

The finished rolls were very good. They lived up to their billing, having a soft, fluffy crumb with a slightly tougher crust. They were reasonably easy to make; sometimes the hardest part of making dinner rolls is the effort that goes into shaping the dough. In this case it was not too onerous and the dough was pretty easy to work with. If anything the rolls were a little bland, but adding some good butter fixes that minor flaw. Have I found a go-to recipe for dinner rolls? Maybe so.