Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Recipe Notes: January 2017

8 January 2017
Smoky the Meat Loaf

Recipe from Everyday Cook by Alton Brown, 2016, p. 67. A similar version of this recipe is available online.

I like meat loaf, both the first time and as a leftover. For Christmas I got a new book and decided to try this recipe. It has some unusual directions and ingredients. The meat loaf is meant to be cooked in a smoker, low and slow with smoke. One of the ingredients is "ruffled kettle-style barbecue potato chips", in lieu of bread crumbs; that is pretty specific. After you make the loaf you let it sit for an hour at room temperature before cooking, perhaps if warmer it absorbs more smoke flavor?

With the one hour of resting before cooking plus the low temperatures used, this recipe took over four hours to complete, though a lot of that was hands off. I made a few modifications. Instead of a Fresno chili I used a JalapeƱo from which I removed seeds and ribs. The recipe was pretty specific as to what kinds of ground meats to use, I got as close as I could with a trip to the supermarket (1 pound ground pork, 1.2 pounds 80/20 ground beef, 1.1 pounds 90/10 ground sirloin). Instead of a smoker I cooked this in the oven, placing it on a rack in a foil-lined sheet pan. The glaze was augmented, as suggested in the book, with some liquid smoke. The meat loaf was cooked in a 250° oven; it was taking longer than expected so I increased the temperature to 300° so it would finish in a reasonable time.

The best thing about this meat loaf was its texture. It was very tender and juicy. Other than that it was nothing special, not worth the extra time and unusual ingredients that went into making it. It was a little spicy the first time we ate it but milder as a leftover. We froze half of the loaf, with over 3 pounds of meat (the recipe states it serves 12, thus more than 6 meals for the two of us)  it will take us some time to finish it off.

17 January 2017
Cheese and Tomato Lasagna

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, September 2016

I had never made lasagna, I don't even remember ever eating homemade lasagna. I have had it at volunteer events where it was served from disposable aluminum pans. Though I didn't love it (as they say on Project Runway when they really did not like something) I did like it, so I thought I would give it a try.

It took a little over 2½ hours to make this lasagna, from start to table. It was not too difficult to make. Having never made it before I can't compare the process to anything. The noodles are soaked in boiling water so they become pliable before being layered with the tomato sauce and cheese sauce. Three different cheeses are used: cottage, pecorino romano, and fontina.  The only pecorino romano that I found at the supermarket was finely grated. The recipe called for shredded fontina. Not knowing what shredded means, I grated it using the large holes on a box grater. The lasagne has three layers of noodles, two of cheese sauce, and three of tomato sauce and is garnished with fresh basil.

The finished lasagna was good, but perhaps not so good that I would make it again. It was surprising how much it shrunk during baking, ending up a lot thinner than before it went into the oven. It was a little spicy from red pepper flakes, but not too spicy. We have a lot of it, the recipe says it serves 8 so we will probably get 5 or 6 meals out of it. I have no idea what to do with 4 leftover lasagna noodles.

P.S.  I enjoyed the lasagna better left over than fresh. We got 4½ generous meals from it.

22 January 2017
Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread

Recipe from King Arthur Flour

I have been thinking of switching from the white sandwich bread that I have been making to something with more flavor. I tried using whole wheat flour in my current recipe (instead of 18 oz of all-purpose (AP) flour I tried 15 oz of AP flour and 3 oz of whole wheat). This was a little better but still not as hearty as I would like. I may have to try the Test Kitchen's recipe again, but before taking that step I came across another recipe to try from King Arthur.

This recipe makes two loaves of bread and it took about four hours from when I started to taking the bread from the oven; most of this time is hands off. The recipe uses approximately a 3:1 ratio of all-purpose to whole wheat flour. I used AP flour but not from King Arthur. I kneaded the dough in a stand mixer; it never became "smooth and satiny", it was slightly sticky and a little rough looking. The first rise went quickly. The second rise took 90 minutes (the recipe says 60 to 90) and perhaps could have gone longer.

The resulting bread is good, but I don't think it is quite what I am looking for. The recipe provides a pretty good description: "This is a lovely, soft, mildly sweet loaf ...".  It includes one odd ingredient, cinnamon, that seems out of place in a sandwich loaf, and this plus the mild sweetness mutes the whole wheat flavor. It toasts well and makes good enough sandwiches, but it is not quite what I am looking for in a whole wheat sandwich bread.

29 January 2017
Cast Iron Roast Butterflied Chicken

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen, Season 17 (2017)

America's Test Kitchen is obsessed with roast chicken. They seem to publish a new recipe or two every year, each claiming to produce crispy skin (another obsession) and moist well-seasoned meat. I never found roast chicken, or crispy skin, to be all that enticing, so I have not been tempted by these recipes. However, this year' a new recipe was different and I gave it a try. It was relatively simple and fast and so seemed worth trying.

From start to finish the chicken took less than 2 hours to prepare. I purchased a 4.3 pound organic chicken from Whole Foods. I went to Whole Foods, instead of getting a supermarket chicken, because it was important to have a chicken that weighed no more than 4 pounds. This was the smallest one I could get. When I looked at chickens at the supermarket they ran about 6 pounds. The size matters because the chicken is butterflied and placed in a cast iron skillet to roast; a larger chicken wouldn't fit in the skillet. Butterflying ensures that the chicken cooks evenly and quickly. 

Since to roast the chicken, the oven was already at an appropriate temperature, I baked a potato also using a recent recipe from the Test Kitchen. The most challenging part of the dinner was timing the cooking of the chicken and potato so they would be done at the same time. I started the potato in the 450° oven about 20 minutes before the chicken. Sadly, the potato was finished about 10 minutes before the chicken was ready; starting them at the same time would have worked out better.

We enjoyed the chicken which was moist and well seasoned. We didn't get any crispy skin, though, as when I turned the chicken over the skin stuck to the skillet. The potatoes were also good, very fluffy, well seasoned, though the skins were less than crispy because we didn't get to eat them right out of the oven due to the timing challenges.  We got our money's worth from the organic chicken: we had two chicken dinners, a barbecued chicken sandwich dinner, and two dinners with chicken noodle soup.