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 filĂ© 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.