Tuesday, November 9, 2010

136. Quick Tomato Sauce for Pizza

Date Cooked: June 13, 2010
Page: 669
Rating: B+

I cooked this almost 5 months ago and I am going to admit my memory is pretty awful about my experience cooking this… but fortunately this wasn’t an awful recipe. As I had said in previous posts I really wanted to bake some homemade pizzas. I figured that if I was going to make dough from scratch I should also make the pizza sauce from scratch. So while the dough was relaxing I set about making the sauce.

Are you ready for a long post delving into the adventure that is quick tomato sauce for pizza? Well too bad… this was simple. I sauteed a little bit of garlic, added a can of crushed tomatoes and seasoned with salt and pepper. I simmered it until it thickened. That really could not have been easier. It barely qualifies as a recipe.

Rating: B+ The end result though was a simple sauce for the pizza which tasted good. The kids ate it on their pizza without complaint.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

135. Pizza Dough

Date Cooked: June 12, 2010
Page: 662
Rating: A-

So I had bought the new Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor and I wanted to really try it out. I figured I had been putting off Pizza Dough for awhile because I didn’t want to make it by hand and my old food processor would have seized and died painfully at the thought of trying to mix pizza dough. So this was a perfect opportunity.

I’m not going to lie. I am still intimidated by a lot of tasks in the kitchen, mostly those that I have never attempted before and pizza dough is one of them. I started by soaking some yeast in warm water while I got the rest of the ingredients in order. Flour and salt were sifted together and then oil and water were added to the yeast mixture.

I pulsed the wet and dry ingredients together in the food processor until it came together into a ball. Even though this processor is rather heavy duty it was bouncing all over the counter as it tried to spin the ball around. I could only imagine what would have happened if my old food processor tried to handle this… bouncing around the counter… motor screaming in agony… smoke pouring forth… and then a final squeal of despair before silence.

I removed the ball of dough and kneaded it quickly before forming it into a nice round ball. The dough was left to rise in a lightly oiled bowl, covered. When the dough had doubled in size I removed it from the bowl and divided it into three pieces. This is where the story of pizza dough ends… I then turned two of these pieces into pizzas and put the other in the freezer… which is still there to this day.

Rating: A- Rating pizza dough by itself is tough. The dough came together very easy and wasn’t that much work. I obviously didn’t taste the dough uncooked but I will say it was a decent tasting dough from the pizzas that were made. How many variations of plain pizza dough are there… water, salt, flour, oil and yeast.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

134. Crispy Fried Chicken

Date Cooked: April 18, 2010
Page: 330
Rating: B

I was watching the Next Food Network Star last night, a show my wife and I love, and some of the contestants had to make fried chicken. It made me think back to the fried chicken I cooked back in April… yes April, I am that negligent with my blog these days. Too many things on the go I guess. Well the chicken I made didn’t turn out as nice as that the Next Food Network Stars made but it was still a great learning experience in the kitchen.

The first thing that I needed to do was brine the chicken in buttermilk, seven cups of it. I think the only reason I even decided to cook this recipe was that fact that I had a carton of buttermilk that was approaching it’s expiration date. I had defrosted a whole chicken and then cut it up into 8 parts… it was supposed to be ten parts… I’ll get to that in a moment when it becomes somewhat humorous. The buttermilk brine contained salt, sugar, paprika, garlic and bay leaves all smashed together before being mixed with the buttermilk. The chicken pieces were then submerged and the bowl set in the fridge.

The chicken breast pieces were really large compared to the rest of the chicken and I was wondering why so I re-read the book. The breasts were supposed to be cut in half which would have provided two similar sized pieces to the rest of the batch. Now what should I do, since the chicken was brining in the fridge. I thought about it carefully and then realized the larger breasts probably wouldn’t deep fry well so I took out the bowl, reached into the brine and pulled out the dripping chicken pieces and sliced through them. Buttermilk brine was dripping everywhere, even though I tried my best to contain the mess. In my mind I was imagining little Salmonella bacterium colonizing every corner of my kitchen, ready to declare war on my family. So I put the four chicken breast pieces back in the brine and then scrubbed my kitchen counters.

Once the chicken had soaked in buttermilk long enough I removed it and prepared for the next phase of the operation. A dish of flour was prepared along with a mixture of baking powder, baking soda, egg and buttermilk for battering. I used my deep fryer instead of oil in a pan because it was cleaner and less risk to me. The chicken was deep fried until golden brown and then left drain on a paper towel lined plate before drying on a wire rack.

Rating: B. The skin was nice and crispy but the chicken as a whole was just a little too greasy. That said the kids loved it but they do tend to eat anything deep-fried. I don’t know if I would go through this whole mess again but I might adapt this to home-made chicken strips. I still have to try oven-fried chicken which might be better… I hope.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

133. Mustard Sauce with Vermouth and Thyme

Date Cooked: April 4, 2010
Page: 479
Rating: B+

Wow, I made this sauce with the ham back at the beginning of April. Time is flying by and I am not giving this blog the attention I once used to. Lives change and the logistics of having a third child do make time more precious. But before I can embark on newer recipes I guess I should finish up the posts on these older ones.

When I had made the decision to have Ham for Easter I needed an accompanying sauce to go with it. We had a traditional brown sugar and maple glaze (that came with it) but I wanted something less processed. I personally like mustard based sauces so I was all over this one.

Shallots were softened in butter before vermouth and sugar were added. This was reduced slightly to allow the alcohol to cook off before a mixture of cornstarch and chicken stock were added. The sauce was simmered in order to thicken it, and once done, some Dijon and grainy mustard and thyme were introduced.

I served this alongside the ham.

Rating: B+. I liked this sauce a lot more that the sugar syrup that came with the ham. The flavor helped offset the saltiness of the ham and added real dimension to the meat. My oldest son liked it as well which was a nice surprise.

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Monday, May 31, 2010

132. Spiral-Sliced Ham

Date Cooked: April 4, 2010
Page: 478
Rating: B-

I cooked this recipe almost 2 months ago. Time is flying by with another little one in the house. Definitely takes another chunk of time out of my already precious little time. In addition a few other changes have altered our dietary eating habits so the truth is trying to cook through this book has gotten a little more difficult. But I forge on anyway.

Nothing screams Easter like a 10lb. ham for two. Well actually it wasn’t really two, I have two little eaters as well so I guess it was more like two and a half. This year was a quiet Easter for us but we still wanted a nice family dinner and there is one thing we don’t eat a lot of in our house. Ham. We don’t dislike it but never really seem to want to cook one. Easter is a good excuse to cook one. The book is full of little articles on the best kitchen equipment or brands of product that taster’s recommend. Often this is useless to me because many brands aren’t sold in Canada or they are but are sold under different names. In this case the book recommended Cook’s Spiral-Sliced Smoked Ham. Just so happens that my preferred supermarket had them on sale. 10lbs. of ham is relatively inexpensive ($17) … compared to the 4 lbs of lamb shoulder chops I am looking for ($80).

Easter Sunday was time to get this big guy in the oven. I made some drastic miscalculations with regards to the timing of my meal. Between cooking time and resting time I underestimated by almost 2 hours. This probably would have been okay if it wasn’t for the fact that I was planning on dinner being at 6pm. By time 8pm rolled around we were famished.

Cooking a spiral sliced ham is not exactly rocket science, although I still struggled. In essence you are merely reheating a previously cooked product. The real learning for me was carving the ham. If done right you get a lot of meat with very few cuts. The book nicely outlined how to do this. I will say that I have become rather good at carving turkey, chicken and ham.

Rating: B-. I still can’t say I get overly excited about ham. It is a fine product but I would rather eat a good pork roast over a ham. This was served with a sauce which was rather tasty. Both of my eating children enjoyed the ham which always makes it a winner.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

131. Key Lime Pie

Date Cooked: March 25, 2010
Page: 909
Rating: B+

There is one Whole Foods Market in Toronto and it happens to be close to my sister-in-law’s place. During a quick delivery trip to drop some stuff off for her we decided to peek our heads in and see what the fuss was all about. It was quite an interesting place. I wasn’t entirely blown away by most of the store, but I was enthralled by the produce section. It wasn’t just the variety that was there but the quality of the produce was amazing! As we wandered around I picked up some spices that I couldn’t find in the regular chain and I also grabbed a small bag of Key Limes, I had a plan for these.

A few weeks back I baked a key lime pie (from a box mix) and the kids liked it. But I wanted to know what real key lime pie was like. That is the new curse I live with. I am always trying to figure out a way to make everything from scratch… I have even started looking into the possibility of cheese making! But that will be another time. This time I was simply tackling a pie and since I found key limes I figured this was perfect.

So as I started to flip through the recipe in the book, I’m reading the blurb about the limes and it turns out the book actually recommends regular limes, both because they are easier to find and juice easier, and there is little difference between the flavor of key limes and regular. I was a little disappointed, because I could have done this pie sooner and I could have spent less for the limes. But I soldiered on anyway.

First I need three tablespoons of zest from the key limes. Well, score one for the book. Zesting tiny key limes sucks. Thank god I purchased a microplane zester awhile back, it made a tedious job slightly quicker, although that sharp zester can wreck havoc on your fingers if you slip. Once I had acquired the requisite amount of zest I then needed to juice this little orb. It took nine key limes to extract enough juice. I will say these particular limes really gave up a good amount of juice each. So with the lime processing complete it was time to get busy.

The zest was beaten in with some eggs yolks and then condensed milk and lime juice was added and the mixture was set aside to thicken. I’m not sure what size condensed milk cans are supposed to come in but the size they use in the book (14oz) was not the size they sell at the grocery store (10oz). I was lucky I purchased 2 cans because I didn’t realize this until I was at home. So I ended up using almost a can and a half. Any suggestions on what I can use 5ozs of sweetened condensed milk for? With the filling thickening I moved onto the graham cracker crust.

Graham crackers were processed with some sugar and melted butter and then spread out onto a pie plate. This was baked for about ten minutes and then allowed to cool. Once cooled the filling was added and the pie was baked for an additional 15 minutes. This entire pie then needed to cool for 3 hours… Since it was already 10pm I figured we would have this for dessert the next night.

When it was finally time to enjoy this pie I whipped up some cream and confectioner’s sugar with the KitchenAid. I probably should have sifted the confectioner’s sugar. When tasting the whipped cream for “quality” I found a small lump of sugar. I won’t lie…. I actually liked that. The pie was garnished with some thinly sliced limes (I need a good quality mandoline) and sliced to be served.

Rating: B+. I liked the pie and it definitely tasted more real than the pie mix I had used previously. It was definitely tart but not overpowering. I only had one real complaint. The three tablespoons of zest needed to be very finely chopped to ensure it better blended into the pie. I also wouldn’t even bother with the lime garnish… not unless I get more creative with them. My oldest son liked the pie (which is no surprise since he likes anything sweet), his brother wasn’t as big a fan.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

130. Gas-Grilled Bone-In Chicken Breasts

Date Cooked: March 16, 2010
Page: 609
Rating: B

Ever since we won our grill last summer I have been a lot more enthused about grilling, and now that winter was beginning to close I figured I should fire it up and make sure it was ready for a new season. Grilled chicken sounded like a reasonably simple meal and I figured a rub or paste would spice things up.

Preparation for this meal was not exactly tough. I didn’t brine the chicken due to time constraints and the paste was pretty quick to throw together, so this recipe was all about the grill. I will confess. I am not a griller. While I have made big strides in the kitchen I still struggle on the grill, constantly double guessing myself and prone to burn food. I wouldn’t call what I do grilling… I’d probably call it arson. Isn’t grilling supposed to be buried deep in the male DNA? Or is it buried so deep in mine it got lost? Anyway let’s see how this first foray into grilling for the season turned out.

I spread the Asian spice paste on the skin side of the chicken breasts before placing them on the hot grill skin side down. While the skin side seared I spread the paste on the chicken’s other side. Once the skin side had sufficiently burned, I flipped it to burn the other side. I suppose referring to it as burning isn’t to promising is it. After searing both sides I moved the chicken to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking. After several minutes I returned to a hot smoking grill to remove the charred poultry remains.

Rating: B-. I didn’t hate this recipe but I need to figure out how to better understand my grill temperature. The chicken wasn’t overcooked except for the outside of it which was well beyond overcooked. I wish I could really comment on the taste of the Asian spice paste but I have no idea what it really tasted like since it was pretty much burned off. I really must not skip brining, but it is so hard to find that hour to brine when I get home from work.
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