Monday, July 10, 2017

Recipe Notes: July 2017

6 July 2017
Mark Bittman's Brownies

Recipe from the How to Cook Everything

I have written about several brownie recipes. All have been good, all have been easy. When I learned about the seven-ingredient recipe by Mark Bittman, formerly of the New York Times, I thought it worth trying. I was happy to find the recipe is available on several web sites now that the Times has announced they are putting their recipes behind a paywall.

This recipe was quick and easy. The most time-consuming step was melting chocolate and butter together on the stove. This step could have even been shortened by using the microwave carefully to melt these ingredients. The remaining ingredients are simply stirred into the chocolate mixture which is then baked in an 8x8-inch pan for 20-30 minutes. I made a few modifications as I was cooking these brownies in rural New Zealand where some of the recipe ingredients are not available. Instead of unsweetened chocolate, 72% was used. Salted butter was used and salt was then omitted from the recipe. The brownies were baked in a convection oven using the fan (which, surprisingly, could not be turned off).

The resulting brownies were very good. They were chewy and gooey with good chocolate flavor. The edges were crisp and the center soft. Are they better than the other brownies I have made? That is hard to say as all have been good and all have been easy to make so you can't really go wrong. I would still like to try the recipe from Kopp's Canteen Restaurant in my home town of Chittenango, NY,  to see how it compares to those I have made, and to my memories. (But, alas, I don't have the recipe.) I look forward to trying some of the variations that Mark Bittman suggests for his brownies.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Recipe Notes: June 2017

Iowa Loose Meat Sandwiches
4 June 2017

Recipe from Cook's Country, August 2014

This sandwich is inspired by the signature sandwich from the Maid-Rite fast food chain most of whose franchises are in Iowa. I've never had one but the it seemed worth trying. It is a simple ground beef sandwich similar to a sloppy joe but seasoned differently.

The sandwiches took only 20 minutes to make. The ground beef is steamed in a sauce pan with water, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper. That's all there is to it. It is served on a bun (homemade slider buns in our case) with some mustard and onion.

The sandwiches have a very loose texture, as implied by the name, and so you will want to have a fork handy when you eat them. They're OK, but not great, so I don't know if I will make them again. The flavor of the beef is front and center which is a point in their favor.

Skillet French Toast
8 June 2017

Recipe from the New York Times

Even though I am happy with a recipe for french toast that I used last year, this similar recipe looked worth trying. Perhaps what drew me to it was the article which described "the slosher", fixing french toast without a recipe. That is the way I have done it most of my life though of late I have tried various recipes rather than just sloshing ingredients together.

I halved the published recipe and made 6 slices of french toast, with a little batter left over. The batter includes one egg plus one egg yolk, whole milk, vanilla (optional, but I included it), and salt. I used homemade cinnamon raisin bread: I had some in the freezer and I've seen french toast made with this kind of bread on restaurant menus. I cooked the french toast in a preheated cast iron skillet, two slices at a time, with the burner set to "4". I also followed the instructions to sprinkle the second side of the bread with cinnamon sugar. The toast is cooked in butter.  I fixed a dinner of french toast with bacon in about 45 minutes.

Cooking two slices at a time in a preheated cast iron skillet solved problems I have had in the past with uneven cooking. The recipe included some nice directions for cooking with butter and also for testing when done. However, using cinnamon raisin toast did not work well. There were just too many flavors competing for your attention and too much cinnamon. Diane didn't know what kind of jam to use! (I used maple syrup.) This recipe is worth trying again but with a simpler bread. 

Chocolate Sheet Cake
12 June 2017

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March 2017

I don't have much experience making cake. Since Diane doesn't like cake I have to eat it all, and as good as it is, a 13" x 9" cake takes too long to eat and I would get sick of it no matter how good it is. However, when I saw this recipe I was sufficiently impressed to give it a try, despite the challenges.

The cake was easy to make. It took 35 minutes to make the batter then 40 minutes to bake. The frosting took about 30 minutes to make. The dry ingredients were mixed. Milk, bittersweet chocolate, and cocoa are heated to melt the chocolate.  Oil, eggs, and vanilla are whisked in followed by the dry ingredients. The mixture is then baked. To make the frosting, milk chocolate (I didn't have enough so added some semi sweet chocolate. The least expensive way to purchase the milk chocolate: chocolate chips.) are heated over boiling water until smooth then butter is added. The frosting is chilled and then spread on the cake when the latter is cool.

Diane still doesn't like cake, this one she thought was too rich and, "it's cake". I liked it. The crumb has a good chocolate flavor, was moist, and was not too sweet. The milk chocolate icing complemented it well and had a nice smooth texture. I also got to share it at a meeting the day after I made it and so I didn't have to eat it all myself. It kept well in the refrigerator and so was good until it was gone.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Recipe Notes: May 2017

7 May 2017
Weeknight Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January 2017

Bolognese is a rich meaty sauce that traditionally consists of many different meats cooked for a long period of time. In this recipe, the Test Kitchen set out to develop a recipe for a Bolognese that could be prepared on a week night, something good to eat but not requiring a lot of time in the kitchen.

To achieve their goals, the test cooks used several techniques to develop flavor in a short period of time. A flavor base of pancetta, carrot, onion, and celery is prepared in a food processor then cooked until quite dark. To this, tomato paste is added and browned. Ground beef which has been treated with a baking soda solution to raise its pH (promoting tenderness) is added along with concentrated beef stock, red wine, and a generous quantity of grated parmesan. Finally, good quality tagliatelle which had been cooked separately is added to the sauce. (The recipe called for just 4 quarts of water to cook the pasta. I added an additional 4 quarts to ensure the pasta was covered with water.) All in all it took just 1½ hours to create this dish. 

The pasta was served with a simple side salad, some home made bread, and red wine and it was garnished with some additional parmesan. (We buy small blocks of parmesan that we grate on a microplane, much less expensive and fresher than the parmesan in the green tube.) We enjoyed this flavorful pasta dish from the start and as a leftover for many more meals. It kept well in the refrigerator. We found the pasta strands to be too long for convenient eating and so for the leftovers we cut them into shorter pieces. The recipe says it serves 4 to 6, the two of us had it for 5 or 6 meals over the course of a few weeks.

22 May 2017
Steak and Ale Pie

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March 2017

This British dish looked interesting when I read about it in Cook's Illustrated. It is a meat pie with no vegetables, unless you count mushrooms. It also has no bottom crust.  So you can think of it as a savory braised beef with a crust topping. It is probably more of a cool weather dish, but I didn't wait until Fall to try it.

The recipe calls for three pounds of boneless beef short ribs. I was unable to get these at the supermarket so I purchased 3.8 pounds of bone-in short ribs. I had less beef than in the recipe after removing bones and trimming fat; I should have gone for the alternative chuck-eye roast which would probably have cost less as well. The filling is made by first treating the beef with a baking soda solution. Bacon is rendered then a pound of cremini mushrooms is added with some beef broth and cooked. Onion, garlic, and thyme are added and cooked until a fond starts to form. (I had no dry thyme so used some Herbes de Provence in its place.) Some flour is added and cooked, then beef broth and beer (Newcastle brown ale) are used to deglaze the pot. This mixture is cooked in the oven for about an hour and a half. For the last half hour I removed the lid because the sauce seemed thin to me. When the beef was tender it was added to a pie dish and covered with the pastry dough. The dough was very easy to work with. It incorporates both egg and sour cream along with butter, flour, and salt. The pie is then baked for 30 minutes. Total time to create this dish was three hours, half of which was hands off. It will create four meals for the two of us.

We both really enjoyed this savory beef pie. The sauce was delicious and the beef was extremely tender, more tender than the mushrooms. The crust was crisp and flaky but the real star of the dish is the rich beefy filling.

24 May 2017
Better Hash Browns

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March 2017

When we have breakfast for dinner I like to include potatoes on the menu, either hash browns or home fries. I usually make home fries, because they come out better than hash browns. So I was interested when a new edition of Cook's Illustrated came out with a new method for preparing hash browns.

It took 45 minutes to prepare the potatoes for cooking and 20 minutes or so to cook them, quite a bit of work for a simple side dish, though the prep work can be done in advance. The supermarket did not have Yukon gold potatoes when I shopped so I bought a two pound bag of "yellow gold" potatoes. These were peeled (a little tedious because they are small) and then shredded using the food processor. The potatoes were rinsed in salt water, drained in a colander, then dried in a kitchen towel. They were microwaved then pressed into a cake in a cake pan which was then covered and stored into the refrigerator. At supper time the cake was removed and fried in vegetable oil.

In principle, the cake should stay together while they cook, very neat and easy to flip and serve. However, my cake fell apart -- perhaps I didn't microwave the potatoes long enough or the cake was too thin because I had fewer potatoes than in the recipe. It was surprising that we comfortably ate two pounds of potatoes at a sitting, but this was after squeezing a lot of water out of them. The potatoes were good, though a little salty, but I doubt I will use this somewhat fussy procedure again. I'll stick with home fries.

Apple Strudel
31 May 2017

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, November 2016

Apple Strudel is a dessert (or breakfast or snack) consisting of an apple filling wrapped in layers of very thin pastry. I've always been interested in strudel, but I knew that I didn't want to take on making the ultra-thin dough at home. Thus I was pleased when Cook's Illustrated published a recipe last Fall that used commercial phyllo dough. I've never worked with phyllo, either, and I was looking forward to using it. A bonus: the Cook's Illustrated web site included a recipe portioned "for two" which I used. It made four portions for us so we we had strudel twice in a week.

The phyllo dough needs to be handled with care. Following instructions that came in the magazine article, I warmed it overnight in the refrigerator and then let it sit at room temperature for half an hour or so before starting on the recipe. Following this, it took just over an hour to prepare the dessert including 20 minutes in the oven. The filling is simple to prepare being a mixture of diced apples (golden delicious), sugar, lemon zest and juice, with a little ground cinnamon and ginger. This is cooked in the microwave oven, drained, and then raisins and bread crumbs (to absorb excess liquid) are added. The pastry "wrap" consists of seven sheets of phyllo dough. In between each pair of pastry sheets is melted butter and confectioners sugar. The filling is piled on top of the stack of dough which is then folded around the apple mixture and baked.

This is a really nice, elegant dessert which was not too difficult to prepare. It is certainly easier to make than a traditional apple pie. I didn't do a good job folding the pastry around the filling, there was a small gap in the pastry when the strudel was removed from the oven. It tasted good and had a nice crisp pastry wrapper. The fruit could have been a little more tender and the bottom crust was a little tough. As a leftover the bottom crust seemed even tougher, but it was still good. This is a dessert that should be made again! 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Recipe Notes: April 2017

9 April 2017
One-hour Broiled Chicken

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March 2017

A few months ago I roasted a whole chicken in a cast iron skillet. This is a similar recipe. In both cases the chicken is butterflied and prepared simply and quickly. In one instance a cast iron skillet is used and the chicken is roasted. In this case the chicken is broiled rather than roasted.

As I did with the cast iron recipe, I went to Whole Foods for the chicken so I could get one near what the recipe calls for which is 4 pounds. I purchased a 4.4 pound organic "whole fryer" which was as small as they had. The chicken was butterflied, the skin perforated,  rubbed with oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper. It was placed in a skillet with some hot oil and then placed under the broiler. The distance from the broiler to the oven rack was about 12 inches which helps ensure more even cooking than would happen if it were closer. After 45 minutes it was done. The recipe includes directions for a very simple pan sauce made from the drippings and some garlic and thyme. The total time to prepare the chicken was just under 90 minutes. Smoke was not a problem.

The chicken was good though the white meat was a little over done. The dark meat, which is more tolerant of overcooking, was fine. The pan sauce was not worthwhile. The pan drippings were almost entirely fat and so the sauce was just too greasy to be any good so we didn't really use it. The skin was nice and crispy. Between the two recipes, this method perhaps preferred because it is a little quicker.

24 April 2017
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January 2017

I don't recall ever eating gumbo so I was interested when I read about this recipe. Gumbo usually involves creating a roux (a mixture of flour and fat) over a long period of time. It also often uses filé powder or okra for thickening, both of which are problematic for some people. 

This gumbo solves the roux problem by incorporating a dry roux. This was intriguing to me, flour, with no additional ingredients, was baked for 40 minutes until browning to the color of cinnamon. This produced a little smoke but not enough to set off our smoke detectors. The flour was mixed with broth and used not only to add flavor to the gumbo but also to thicken the sauce by a careful balancing of the amount of flour and the amount of stock. I used a little more chicken and a little more andouille sausage than the recipe called for just because of package sizes. I left out the thyme but with all of the other flavors this was not a big loss. It took 1 hour and 45 minutes to prepare dinner.

The gumbo is served over steamed rice and goes well with Sangria. Initially, Diane and I had different impressions of the gumbo. She liked it. I liked it but I found it to be too spicy for my taste. Most of the heat comes from the sausage. The recipe made enough gumbo for us to have it five times. Fortunately, the level of heat seems to have subsided some and I enjoyed it more as a leftover than I did when it was fresh. If I make this again using kielbasa instead of andouille might improve it for me.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Recipe Notes: March 2017

12 March 2017
Quinoa and Vegetable Stew

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen

I'm a little behind typing up my notes so it has been almost a month since I made this dish. I believe I learned about it on a recent episode of America's Test Kitchen on TV. I had also recently heard a podcast talking about quinoa as a "super food" and having little experience with this grain, I gave the stew a try.

The stew was ready to eat 1 hour, 15 minutes after I started preparation. Preparing all of the ingredients in advance, mise en place, helps with the preparation of the stew as ingredients are added in stages to optimize the cooking time of each. The recipe calls for vegetable broth. As with chicken and beef broth, I used a vegetable broth base made by "Better than Bouillon" to make the broth. In addition to quinoa it includes onion, bell pepper, warm spices, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and peas.

The finished stew was garnished with queso fresco, avocado, and fresh cilantro and served with some homemade sourdough bread and chardonnay. We enjoyed the stew and will probably make it again. Leaving out the queso and you have a vegan dinner, good for when our daughter visits. It kept well and the leftovers were good, too. The recipe indicates that it servers 6 to 8; our serving sizes are usually smaller than those used by the recipe writers so we probably got 5 or 6 meals out of this.

19 March 2017
New England Baked Beans

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, January-February 2017

I like to eat baked beans. I have tried making them from scratch several times and with several different recipes. However, I never thought that the results matched the effort that was put into the preparation. My go to recipe of late has been from The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook.  But a recent issue of Cook's Illustrated included a new recipe that looked to be easier and quicker than other recipes that used dried beans yet promised flavorful beans. It was worth a try.

The recipe is indeed easy. The beans are soaked in advance for 8 to 24 hours; mine soaked for 16 hours. The ingredients (navy beans, onion, water, salt pork, molasses, brown sugar, soy sauce, dry mustard, bay leaf, salt, pepper) are stirred together in a Dutch oven, brought to a boil on the stove, then baked for about 2½ hours. Baking is mostly hands off other than occasional stirring and removing the lid part way through the cooking. 

These are good beans and worth making again when I have a little time. One of the most challenging parts was finding dried navy beans, two of the three stores I visited didn't have them. They are flavorful with a thick sauce and have kept well.

20 March 2017
Deli Rye Bread

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March-April 2017

My search for good sandwich bread continues. I have found several recipes for white bread that I like and one for a darker loaf that, while good, was not suitable for sandwiches. Still searching for a recipe for a heartier sandwich bread, I was happy to see the recipe for Deli Rye in a recent issue of Cook's Illustrated. I have always liked rye bread but I wasn't sure it could be used as a general-purpose sandwich bread. It's flavor can be so strong that there is little that it goes with. Peanut butter and jelly on rye would not be good. However, this recipe promised a milder flavor mostly by limiting the amount of caraway seed in the loaf.

This bread took longer to prepare than the white sandwich bread, taking a little over four hours. However, most of that time is hands off so the effort to make this bread is not much greater than those simpler loaves. The recipe has both rye flour (which took some shopping to find) and wheat flour. The latter was specified to be King Arthur which has more protein (i.e. gluten) than other brands. Since I didn't have that I used Gold Medal bread flour. The preparation is pretty standard and the dough rises quickly. The method for shaping the loaf is a little involved but not too hard and it results in a nicely shaped loaf of bread.

True to the promise, this is a good, general purpose sandwich bread. It even works with PB&J. It has a flavor reminiscent of whole wheat bread but milder and sweeter. I've had BLTs made with this bread along with ham and it worked well for all of these. I'll be using this bread for a while for my sandwiches until I move on to the next thing. Even then, I expect I will return to this recipe.

23 March 2017
Millionaire's Shortbread

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, November-December 2016

I was not familiar with this British cookie until reading about it in Cook's Illustrated. Apparently it is similar to Twix, but I'm not familiar with that either. 

The bars consist of three layers: shortbread, caramel, and chocolate. The cookies took about six hours to prepare but much of that time is to allow each layer to cool before the subsequent layer is prepared. I used a glass baking pan, rather than metal, and made no adjustments to times or temperatures. The bottom layer is shortbread. This was very easy to make: flour, sugar, and salt are mixed in a bowl, then melted butter is stirred in. This mixture is pressed into the bottom of the baking dish and baked. The second layer is caramel. The ingredients (sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, butter, and salt) are heated to 236° then poured over the cooled shortbread. The final layer is the easiest of all, chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate is melted and spread over the cooled caramel. This is then cut into bars.

The end result is pretty good. I was concerned about the caramel being too sweet but that is not the case. Diane commented that there is not enough chocolate, and I didn't argue the point. The cookies kept well; I didn't cut the whole concoction into bars at once, but rather refrigerated some it, cutting it as needed to replenish the cookie jar. This is not a health food, there are two sticks of butter in the shortbread and another in the caramel. I don't know if I'll make these again, but it was the first time I'd made caramel and I enjoyed learning about that process.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Recipe Notes, February 2017

15 February 2017
Angel Food Cake

Recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 270

We often buy angel food cake in the summer time to have with fresh strawberries. However, it can be good to have on its own if home made. Caleb made some for us some years ago and since Diane likes this cake I decided it was time for me to attempt it.

The recipe has relatively few ingredients: cake flour, salt, sugar, 12 egg whites, cream of tarter, and vanilla extract. The egg whites, with the cream of tarter and sugar, are whipped to soft peaks at which point the vanilla is added. This happened quickly, in 2-3 minutes rather than the estimate of 6 minutes in the recipe. The remaining ingredients are mixed and gently folded into the egg whites. The mixture is then baked in a tube pan; for me the cake was done after 45 minutes. It is cooled, inverted, to room temperature then removed from the pan.

We enjoyed the cake. It was light and tasty. When fresh the crust provides a nice textural contrast with the soft crumb, but this does not last. One nice feature is that the cake can be eaten out of hand: it is not too sticky and with no icing it is not at all messy. We ate much of it as a dessert with lunch or mid-afternoon snack. We will definitely make this cake again. But now, what to do with a dozen egg yolks??

21 February 2017
Crème Brûlée

Recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 472

I didn't know what to do with the 12 egg yolks that remained from making angel food cake so I asked in a Facebook group. There were many suggestions but the one that appeared the most was to use them to make crème brûlée. I looked up the recipe in the same book that I used for the angel food cake recipe and was pleased to see that it uses exactly 12 egg yolks. That cinched it, I was making crème brûlée. 

This recipe has very few ingredients and is easy to make: vanilla, heavy cream, sugar, salt, and 12 egg yolks. The cream, sugar, and salt are heated then left to cool. The remaining cream is added and this mixture is whisked into the egg yolks in three portions. The mixture is poured into 8 ramekins and baked in a water bath.  The crème brûlée is then refrigerated before serving. The whole process took 25 minutes. Instead of an expensive vanilla bean, I chose to use vanilla extract.

Serving involves sprinkling about a teaspoon of turbinado sugar on top and melting the sugar with a blow torch. The crème brûlée is then refrigerated for 30 minutes before serving. I didn't have a blow torch and after doing some research decided to buy a propane torch at the hardware store rather than a butane kitchen torch, which is smaller but takes longer to melt the sugar and is less versatile. Not that I've ever had a need for a blow torch.

This was a great recipe to use to take advantage of the egg yolks, I don't know that I would make it otherwise. The crème is very smooth and creamy, with a mild flavor. The brûlée (French for burnt, referring to the melted sugar topping) was not a solid topping but was rather thin and sweet, providing a pleasant contrast to the pudding below.  Diane like her sugar less brûléed than I did and this request was easy to accommodate.

27 February 2017
Vietnamese-style Caramel Chicken with Broccoli

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, May 2015

The name sounds strange, chicken with caramel? But this is not the caramel that you would have in a dessert. Caramel is made by cooking sugar with a small amount of water. By cooking the sugar to a higher temperature you create a sauce that is not sweet but rather has an interesting savory flavor. That is what is used in this dish. 

The ingredient list is short and the meal, including steamed broccoli and steamed rice, took an hour and half to make. I purchased "thigh fillets" which I take to be boneless, skinless chicken thighs that have been cut up. Whatever they are, they worked well for this dish. The chicken was briefly marinated in baking soda before cooking as a tenderizer. Sugar and water were cooked to a temperature of 390°; the recipe warned of smoke but there was none. The caramel was quenched with water, stirred to dissolve the sugar, then fish sauce and grated ginger were added. The chicken was added and simmered until the temperature of the chicken was 205°. This is much hotter than chicken is usually cooked! After it reached this temperature, the chicken was removed and the sauce thickened with a little corn starch.

Despite the high temperature, the chicken was moist and very tender. The sauce was delicious when poured over the rice, broccoli, and chicken. It wasn't at all sweet and I doubt I would have identified it as caramel if I didn't know that in advance. The ginger and fish sauce added to the sauces complexity and flavor without overpowering it. The recipe made enough chicken (starting with 2 pounds of chicken) for 3 or 4 meals and the leftovers are also good.