Wednesday, December 17, 2008

46. Savory Pie Dough Topping

Date Cooked: December 16, 2008
Page: 352

Rating: B

This was made as a component to a Chicken Pot Pie I made. It was also my very first attempt at making pie dough of any kind. I’ve been intimidated by pastry for quite awhile since I always here horror stories about unworkable dough and using just the right amount of water and making sure butter is chilled, etc. But since I was behind on cooking from the book and I happened to have all the ingredients for this I figured I would dive in and see what the worst could be. If you’ve been following this blog you can imagine that the worst can be bad… this time it wasn’t too bad.

The flour and salt got a quick workout in the food processor to mix. I am beginning to hate my food processor for mixing dry ingredients. I have mentioned it before but everytime I pulsed a cloud of ingredients puffed out of it and it and covered everything. And cleaning up flour with a damp cloth really sucks and is somewhat gross. The cloth gets all covered in some sort of pseudo-dough. Nasty.

Anyway I cut in some lard (the recipe asked for vegetable shortening but I didn’t have any on hand) and then some chilled butter. I don’t think it was chilled enough because it sort of melted and would get clumpy. Anyway I dumped the mixture into a bowl and mixed in some ice water. This was where inexperience hurt me. I didn’t really know what the dough should look or feel like. I figured if I could form it into a ball and it just held together, then that was enough. I don’t know if that is right.
I wrapped the ball, flattened it a bit and left it in the fridge while I prepared the main dish.

When it was time for the dough I took it out and got ready to roll. This is the rolling “pin” I have to work with.

It’s a pampered chef contraption and my wife says lots of people love this thing. I’ve used it for smaller quantities of things needing to be rolled and it works pretty good, but it definitely doesn’t work well for firmer dough or large quantities. The dough was tough to roll and would constantly split around the edges. I managed to work it out into a shape large enough to cover the pot pie (13x9). I had to keep folding the edges over in order to get them to hold shape but in the end it worked out pretty well. I will definitely be investing in a heavier rolling pin. Any suggestions? The dough was definitely strong enough to move from the work surface to place on top of the filling.

Rating: B. It gets a B rating for a few reasons. The most critical one being taste. It tasted like flour. It wasn’t really bad but definitely detracted from the taste. The dough wasn’t super flaky either but it had a great texture nonetheless. Overall I was proud of it. I’m sure I will get better as I make pie dough more often and find the right technique for me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

45. Stir-Fried Broccoli with Hot-and-Sour Sauce

Date Cooked: November 30, 2008
Page: 141
Rating: D-

Not every recipe can be a winner and when I am cooking the odds are stacked even higher against them. This sounded good and lately I have been looking for simpler recipes for cooking. I thought this would be good to use up some vegetables in the fridge. I doomed this one from the start.

The recipe calls for steamed broccoli to be stir-fried. I had some leftover plain steamed broccoli from the previous night and thought this would be a good use for it. Strike one. The recipe also called for jalapeno peppers and I didn’t have fresh so I used some from a jar. Strike two. Let’s step back a bit and talk about how this monstrosity came together.

The broccoli was tossed in a pan and fried briefly until tender. In this case it was just heated through. Then some garlic, ginger and jalapeno get added and fried up until fragrant before the whole dish gets tossed with a sauce to complete. It really did sound good to me. But all of these things together added up to… strike three. The problem to me was mostly the use of jalapenos from a jar and the use of three tablespoons of vinegar. This made the whole dish rather… well, vinegary.

I served this on pasta with pan-seared shrimp. I feel sorry for the delicious shrimp that had to be paired with this.

Rating: D- This recipe blew. I was trying to rationalize it to my wife but she told me never to make it again, and not to bother trying to fix it. She had two bites and gave up. I finished half a plate before I abandoned it. I didn’t fail it because I feel I contributed greatly to the disaster but it definitely will not be attempted again, I don’t need to know the exact causes of failure.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

44. Rustic Potato-Leek Soup

Date Cooked: November 28, 2008
Page: 52
Rating: B+

I’m going to start by saying I am not a huge fan of soups. I don’t dislike them. I just don’t really find myself craving them or feeling satisfied after eating them. I may really love the soup but rarely will I take a second helping. So this recipe was a bit odd for me. I really wanted to try it. It mostly had to do with leeks. I have never had leeks before (this could be a lie because it is possible they were in some dish I had eaten before that I didn’t know leeks were in) and I really wanted to try them. I figured this soup was a good choice for trying leeks and I am very behind in the soup chapter of the book.

The recipe was extremely easy. Pretty much simmer leeks and potatoes in chicken stock until ready. I have made much more difficult soups before (including gumbo and corn chowder from the book) so this was really simple, even for me. To begin though I had to wash and chop leeks. Since this was my first time handling leeks I wasn’t sure exactly the best method to do this. I chopped the leeks up to the recommended size and then threw the whole batch into a large bowl… and then moved them to a larger bowl once I realized that when they begin to separate they take up even more space. I rinsed them well and then carefully removed the leeks from the top leaving the sediment on the bottom of the bowl. I performed this twice to be sure they were clean.

The leeks then get sautéed to make them nice and tender and the recipe specifically states not to brown them. As much as I am learning I still struggle at times with simple timing and gauging of food cooking times. These leeks began to brown. I threw in some flour to coat the leeks before slowly stirring in the chicken stock. The potatoes and a bay leaf were added last and the whole pot was brought to a boil before being simmered for a few minutes. Once done it was left covered to stand before being served.

It’s hard to write about such a simple dish.

Rating: B+. As far as soups go it was very good. This was simple comfort food for a cold day. The leeks were nice and I can definitely say that I will use this vegetable again in future meals.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

43. Stir-Fried Asparagus with Soy Sauce, Maple Syrup, and Scallions

Date Cooked: November 26, 2008
Page: 132
Rating: A-

I was looking for a quick dinner to serve and also to use up some items in the fridge that were fast approaching an expiration date. I figured this would be a quick and simple use for asparagus and the less than firm scallions wilting away in the produce drawer.

The recipe is pretty straightforward. Cut up the asparagus into small pieces and then stir-fry in oil. Add the remaining ingredients towards the end and serve hot. This recipe didn’t involve much work but I must say it was definitely a winner!

Before I started this project I only ever ate asparagus steamed and served with minimal garnish. I have certainly begun to appreciate the many different ways to simply prepare vegetables and asparagus will become a more frequent addition to the dinner table.

Rating: A-. This deserved a higher rating but I didn’t have any pure maple syrup so I ended up using… (checking over my shoulder to see who is looking)… table syrup. Please don’t tell anyone, but I think it might have been a bit better with real maple syrup, or even other flavored syrups like blueberry or raspberry.

Monday, December 1, 2008

42. Blondie

Date Cooked: November 23, 2008
Page: 813
Rating: B-

I was craving sweets and figured I haven’t really made enough desserts from the book. I’m not sure why I chose blondies but I might have thought the recipe was easy, key word ‘thought’. So the recipe started out innocently enough.

I started by toasting chopped pecans in the oven for about 10 minutes. I am beginning to find that for many recipes my oven runs on the shorter end of recommended cooking times. Once the nuts were done I set them aside to cool. Then I started to get the rest of the ingredients measured and set aside.

I am embarrassed to say that the constant consumption of store-bought cookies and treats has left me blissfully unaware of the grotesque quantities of sugar and fat that actually go into them. The recipe makes 36 two inch squares which contained 1 ½ cups of sugar and 12 tablespoons of butter. That doesn’t count all the chocolate chips. I think if people made their own desserts more we would probably all be a little healthier since we would truly see what it is that we eat. But I digress and I am certainly not the person to be talking about healthy eating habits… seriously. On a side note I went to the One-of-a-Kind Craft Show this weekend and tried some ‘Better than Biscotti’ cookies that contain no butter. Ummm lack of butter doesn’t make anything better. If you like tasteless powdery treats then these are for you. For me, I’ll stick with the butter.

If you are like me then that last paragraph probably confuses you on my stance to healthy eating. But the best advice I was ever given about eating is this. Moderation, common sense and exercise.

Back to the blondies. Once the ingredients were folded together I spread the batter into a 9x9 baking pan and baked for 22 minutes. Then I baked for 5 minutes more… then a few minutes longer. Finally I took them out thinking they would be done since I had already baked several minutes longer than recommended. Does anyone remember my chocolate chip cookie experience? This felt eerily similar. The blondies turned out extremely soft and gooey. It took along time to cool them sufficiently to remove them from the pan and I ended up having to firm them up in the fridge for awhile so I could actually cut them. I reviewed the ingredient list and I didn’t make any mistakes there so I am baffled as to why these turned out so runny.

Rating: B-. These were good but they were extremely sweet. Sweet to the point of making my teeth ache. In addition the overall fluid nature of the finished product was a bit of a disappointment. But I will make these again, maybe scaling back the butter and sugar content and upping the flour.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

41. Cheese Omelet

Date Cooked: November 20, 2008
Page: 636
Rating: B

I have always been a anytime breakfast believer. I can eat bacon and eggs at anytime of day and it is not an uncommon occurrence at my house for dinner to be a quick meal of eggs, pancakes, sausage and/or bacon. This evening was one of those times when I was too tired to really cook but still wanted something decent. So I figured let’s try an omelet.

Now an omelet is one of those technique dishes where it is not about what goes in the omelet as much as it is about the timing while cooking the omelet. I made three cheese omelets and unfortunately the picture is that of the runner-up. I thought the third time would be the charm and that by then I would have known a bit more about the timing. It wasn’t to be. So my wife got to consume the real Miss Congeniality omelet, while the picture above is of the runner-up. My kids ate the omelet that, in the equine world, wasn’t fit for the glue factory. But since my youngest still likes to play with his food as much as he eats it, he didn’t mind.

So what did I learn? Scrambled eggs are omelets that failed. Failure is easier and just as tasty.

Rating: B. The omelets weren’t bad but unless they are going to contain fancy ingredients then they are just less scrambled, scrambled eggs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

40. Stir-Fried Beef and Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

Date Cooked: November 16, 2008
Page: 436
Rating: A

I must really start writing these recipes closer to when I actually cook them. Or at least begin taking notes. I have to burn 100 of calories just trying to get my brain to remember what happened during the cooking process. Since I am getting more confident in the kitchen there are fewer “memorable” moments to really jog my memory. Thankfully my subscription to Cook’s Illustrated online helps since most of the recipes are there.

The recipe begins with slicing the flank steak and marinating it. I was always under the impression that flank steak was a cheap cut of meat that wasn’t good for many dishes. I really under-appreciated this cut. It also wasn’t that cheap. I sliced the flank steak into short strips and then marinated it in soy sauce for about an hour. The book suggests 10 minutes to an hour but I used the time to prepare the rest of the ingredients and a few other things around the kitchen so it got a full hour. I believe that the longer it soaks that more delicious flavor it traps.

While the beef was bathing I mixed the sherry, chicken broth, oyster sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil ( I confess I didn’t have any sesame oil so I added a splash of peanut oil), and cornstarch. In a separate bowl I mixed garlic, ginger and oil. One of the tips I read while drifting around the food blogosphere was to freeze the ginger and then grate the frozen ginger as needed. What an awesome tip and it works so well!

With everything in place it was time to start cooking. As with most stir-fry type dishes, prep is all the work and bringing it together is fast. The flank steak was drained of the marinating liquid and then seared for a few minutes until browned around the edges. This was set aside to rest while the broccoli was cook covered in the pan until it steamed for a few minutes. The broccoli was set aside and the red pepper was cooked until just starting to brown. In went the garlic and ginger until fragrant before everything was re-added to the pan along with the sauce. The sauce was given a short time to thicken before it was plated to serve.

Rating: A. This is a solid stir-fry dish and I have always been a fan of beef and broccoli. The idea of oyster sauce (and fish sauce for that matter), always concerned me but I am truly beginning to appreciate their flavor contribution to sauces. I also like adding sugar to the sauces as it helps bring out the often subtle flavors from other ingredients. As I had said earlier flank steak is under-appreciated but prepared properly it is a delicious cut of meat that is quick and simple to cook. I will probably be adding this recipe to a more frequent meal rotation.

Friday, November 21, 2008

39. Apple Crisp

Date Cooked: November 9, 2008
Page: 931
Rating: B

I love apple crisp. It was one of my favorite desserts growing up. That being said this was the first time I attempted to make it myself. Not sure why since I was not afraid of it and I didn’t think it would be overly complex. It wasn’t but that didn’t stop me from “learning” something in the process.

I’ll start by saying that peeling apples is low on the list of things I enjoy doing. It is right up there with milking corn (I hate that term), peeling hot potatoes and husking chick peas… and deveining shrimp. It is time consuming and I always feel that I am wasting good apple flesh. I also discovered that my excellent Henkel’s paring knife is not the best knife for the job. The 99 cent flimsy knife which I purposely bent the blade on worked far superior… although it was not as sharp, it was infinitely more flexible. Once the apples were peeled and cored (the cheap, flexible knife also made coring easier), I chopped them into chunks and set them aside in a bowl with a “little” lemon juice, zest and sugar. I covered the apples and placed them in the fridge while I prepped the rest.

The topping was really simple. Sugar, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Walnuts and Flour were mixed and then butter was chopped in via the food processor. This topping was then set in the fridge to rest until the oven was freed up.

When I was ready to bake the crisp I placed the apples in a 9x9 pan, covered with the topping and baked. I forgot how much I love the smell of baking apples. I could hardly wait to try some.

Rating: B. It was good but I definitely know where I need to improve, quantity. I needed more apples and topping or a slightly smaller pan. In addition the first bite was delightfully tart but after half a bowl the lemon juice was really beginning to overpower. I will make sure I watch carefully how much lemon juice gets added. It was a great flavor but definitely reminds me of the saying “everything in moderation”.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

38. Garlic-Rosemary Roast Chicken with Potatoes

Date Cooked: November 9, 2008
Page: 310
Rating: A-

My wife was returning from a weekend away and I figured what would be nicer for a Sunday dinner than to come home to a comforting roast chicken. I probably should have tried to source a whole chicken for roasting prior to making this decision. Let me tell you my story.

The book continually discusses the merits of cutting up your own chicken and so has therefore brainwashed me into thinking whole chickens are a common supermarket staple. Seems that convenience has very nearly taken over our supermarkets. It took me 4 stops at our leading grocery store chains to finally find a decent chicken for roasting. I was a little shocked. When I asked the “kid” at the first store if they had any whole chickens he was confused because they had all the parts pre-packaged on the shelf. I had to tell him I was roasting it and then he ever so helpfully suggested a turkey. Interesting, we as a society have moved to a point where a roast chicken is a novelty lower on the chain than turkey. Well I finally found a nice sized, over-priced, vacuum sealed chicken all prepped for roasting with a little plastic pop-up thermometer already embedded in the breast.

The first step in this recipe was of course to brine the chicken. I am a HUGE proponent of brining fowl. This brine required the addition of rosemary and garlic. The salt, rosemary and garlic were placed in a bag and then bludgeoned with a meat tenderizer. I didn’t have a meat tenderizer so out came the mallet. I stopped myself before I started because my youngest was having his afternoon nap… but he’s a heavy sleeper so I took the ingredients to task. Pounding the *expletive* out of the ingredients certainly was fun but I did stop myself before I turned it into a paste. It really just needed a light bruising. The mixture was dissolved in water and the chicken was rinsed and added, before being covered and placed in the fridge for an hour.

While the chicken was brining I prepped the rest of the ingredients. The chicken needed a rosemary garlic paste that would be added under the skin prior to roasting. In addition this recipe roasts potatoes in the pan while the chicken cooks. The paste was very straight forward except it used oil instead of butter so it was not really a paste. Spreading oil under the skin was really messy and most of the oil drips out and into the pan. I suppose this was good for the potatoes but definitely not good for my lungs (you’ll hear why in a second). Whole garlic cloves were also thrown in with the potatoes.

The chicken was removed from its bath. Rinsed and patted dry and then the oil paste spread under the skin. This didn’t really work all that well as most of the oil just spilled down the sides of the chicken and into the pan. The chicken was set breast side down and then placed in the oven. Within 5 minutes my house was starting to smoke. The oven was completely filled with greasy blue smoke as the oil from the paste was burning in the roasting pan. At fifteen minutes I had to remove the chicken to add the potatoes to the roasting pan and when the door opened all that smoke burst into the kitchen. I was prepared though. I had all the windows in the kitchen open by this point. Once the potatoes were in the pan the smoking subsided substantially and I was able to breathe a little easier… literally. 15 minutes later the chicken was flipped and then cooked for the remaining 20-30 minutes. I removed the chicken when I felt it was done and checked the temperature with a meat thermometer. Perfect temperature… but the pop-up temperature indicator hadn’t sprouted yet. I wasn’t placing any faith in it though since I figure they error on the side of overdone. After several minutes of resting though the indicator finally popped. The potatoes were plated along with the carved chicken (hacked into six pieces).

Rating: A- The chicken was great and full of flavor. As I will keep saying I really believe brining a chicken is worth the extra step and time. The potatoes were nicely roasted and tasted amazing. The roasted garlic though was a little overdone leaving little to spread on bread. It was a little hard but still full of garlic flavor. I will definitely roast chicken more often.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

37. Braised Winter Squash (Butternut)

Date Cooked: November 9, 2008
Page: 204

Rating: B-

My wife was away for the weekend and I wanted to cook a nice dinner for her when she returned home. One thing this cooking adventure has begun doing for me is appreciating the time to sit down and eat. So I wanted the dinner to be a little more than the regular sauté pan fare. I roasted a chicken but that is for the next post. I served butternut squash with it though and this is what I will discuss today.

Up front I will say I have never cooked a butternut squash before so when the book was mentioning splitting it with a cleaver and mallet I kind of chuckled. Damn those things are tough! It probably didn’t help that I grabbed the largest squash in the supermarket bin either. My chef’s knife worked well but I can see how accidents happen in the kitchen. It takes a lot of force to cut them in half. Once that was done, and the seeds scooped, it was minimal effort to cube the squash.

I chose to braise the squash instead of roasting because the oven was being used for the chicken. I melted some butter in the dutch oven, sautéed some shallots, and then dumped in the squash with chicken broth, thyme, salt, and pepper. After a quick stir I left it to braise undisturbed for 20 minutes. Once again I ran into a common problem I have with timing. Checked it after 20 minutes and felt it was still too hard. Stirred it, covered it again and let cook for five more minutes. When I checked back it was a little over cooked and had begun to lose its structural integrity. I quickly removed it from the heat and let it rest uncovered until the chicken was served.

Rating: B-. I liked the squash but it was too cooked and I found that it was one step away from being mashed, which I probably should have just done. It had a strong buttery flavor and a little sweetness and/or acidity would have been a nice addition. I wonder if braising it in apple cider would have been a good choice.

Monday, November 17, 2008

36. Pan-Seared Shrimp with Garlic-Lemon Butter

Date Cooked: November 8, 2008
Page: 520
Rating: A

I was looking for a quick dinner to throw together and still had some shrimp left from all the Pad Thai I have been cooking. I must say that the Pad Thai I cooked awhile back has been made and consumed several times now. I really love fresh Pad Thai… but you didn’t come here for a rehash of the Pad Thai post. Today I am talking about a dish that will probably put me in the hospital.

This recipe is extremely easy, and if you like shrimp, truly delicious. I peeled the frozen raw shrimp I had left and then seared them in a sauté pan with a little oil. I no longer bother deveining shrimp that are size large or smaller since the textural difference is not noticeable (by me or my wife) and therefore not worth the effort. I haven’t cooked any really large shrimp so I’ll see about deveining them when that day comes. The shrimp get seared for a few minutes before they get drowned (3 tablespoons) in butter, garlic, lemon juice and parsley. They cook off heat for a few more minutes and then they are ready to serve.

Here is where I could have put myself in the hospital. I served this with spaghetti squash. Now I obviously was not thinking as I prepared the squash because I mixed it with 3 tablespoons of butter, parmesan cheese and some salt and pepper. I served the shrimp over the squash and poured all of the garlic butter on top. You can see the heart attack inducing butter in the photo. So for those counting at home this dish had 6 tablespoons of butter. I was dining alone and consumed all of it, but I didn’t regret one bite. Had I been thinking correctly though, I would not have added any butter to the squash.

Rating: A. I love garlic shrimp. Not much else to say.

Friday, November 7, 2008

35. American Sandwich Bread

Date Cooked: November 1st, 2008
Page: 727
Rating: B

I’m not really sure what possessed me to make a loaf of bread in the evening. For some reason I kept thinking it wouldn’t take too long, probably because when I read the recipe I missed the part telling me to let the dough rise a second time for an hour. I missed it when planning but fortunately not when making the bread. I would like to point out at this time that bread-making is a first for me. But based on this experiment and the fact I am a carbaholic, I will definitely be trying this more frequently. It is rather simple to make.

First the dry ingredients of salt and flour got mixed together. Then I mixed the milk, warm water, melted butter and honey together with yeast. The book recommends using warm milk and water and unfortunately my milk wasn’t really warm when I started. It didn’t help that the milk I had just purchased was expired and I had to run out to return it. At least I didn’t open it and use it. So with the wet ingredients mixed, I fired up the KitchenAid Stand Mixer and slowly added the wet ingredients, turning up the speed I let the dough mix for a short bit. Once the dough no longer stuck to the sides but still stuck to the bottom I transferred it to a floured work area. I’ll be extremely honest here. This dough may no longer have stuck to the sides of the bowl but it stuck to EVERYTHING else. I really don’t get why that is the stopping point. In the future I will add some more flour until it is a little less sticky. This dough was like when you get a little sticky bit of glue on your finger and you can’t flick it off because it keeps sticking to your other finger. Damn annoying.

So I worked the dough into a ball and put it in a lightly oiled bowl… or I put it in a bowl that was supposed to be lightly oiled. So I removed the dough and then oiled the bowl and put the dough back in. The dough was still not getting any less sticky. Covered it and placed it in a warm oven (the oven was heated and then turned off). At this point I started to watch a movie.

The timer goes off and I pull the dough out. It had risen to double it’s size, which is a good thing I guess. I then flattened it, rolled it into a log and placed it in a loaf pan and let it rest for 50 minutes… well actually it rested for about 30 minutes when I realized I hadn’t greased the loaf pan. I was torn. Do I disturb the dough in order to grease the pan or do I suffer trying to remove the loaf from the pan after it has baked… I disturbed the dough. I tried to be very gentle but I am sure I knocked a bunch of the air out of it. I greased the pan and then carefully placed the partially risen loaf back in. I let it rise for a bit longer before putting it in the oven to bake.

Regardless of the airiness of the loaf it smelled great while baking. When the timer went off again I checked the internal temperature and it was perfect. I removed the bread from the pan and let it cool on a wire rack. I really do love the smell of fresh baked bread. When it had cooled enough, or more accurately when I could no longer resist cutting into it, I sliced it up and ate probably half the warm loaf with just butter or peanut butter.

Rating: B. Excellent first attempt at bread but I am certain it was not as fluffy as it could have been because of my over handling of the dough. I will definitely be making more bread in the future though.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

34. Home Fries

Date Cooked: November 1st, 2008
Page: 659
Rating: A

I’ll start out by saying I loved these! First time through this recipe was a little time consuming but the end result was definitely worth it. So let me tell you how this excellent dish came together. The recipe has a little science lesson on potatoes and water and explains how to get crisp exteriors and moist fluffy interiors to the home fries. So once the potatoes are scrubbed and diced they are plunked into water and brought to a boil. The key here is that the water starts out at room temperature and then gets brought to a boil with the potatoes in it. As soon as the water begins to boil the potatoes are drained and set aside for the next step. The potatoes are not to be boiled.

In a skillet onions are sautéed in butter until browned and then set aside. The potatoes get dumped into the skillet and in a single layer are cooked for about 6 minutes then turned, cooked and turned some more. Once cooked through the onions, salt and pepper and some paprika are added. The ingredients are tossed to coat and then served. Simple and delicious. The potatoes came out perfectly! I admit they might have been a tad overcooked but since I like them a little crispier they were perfect.

I did slightly deviate from the book though in a very subtle way but I think it may have helped. When I was cooking the bacon from a previous post I had one slice left in the package that wouldn’t fit on the baking sheet so I quickly fried it up in the skillet before the potatoes were added. The bacon fat added a little flavor to the potatoes that was nice.

Rating: A. These were great and I look forward to cooking the next couple variations of this recipe. I will definitely be making these more often on weekends.

I’ve been reading through my older posts and I am noticing that I have fewer mishaps in the kitchen while cooking. I feel my posts are actually a little duller because of it. I’m going to have to tackle some harder dishes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

33. Fluffy Scrambled Eggs

Date Cooked: November 1st, 2008
Page: 629
Rating: B-

What Saturday morning breakfast would be complete without eggs, and since my kids are picky eaters they would have to be scrambled eggs. The book pretty much lays out cooking scrambled eggs the way I would normally do it (except it calls for more milk than I would traditionally use).

Whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper and they cook them until just before you think they are done. That is the part that took me a long time to learn… or at least put into practice. I really don’t like undercooked eggs, I’ll come short of hating them since I like runny yolks but undercooked egg whites or undercooked scrambled eggs really turn me off. So I always cook them a little longer and then they get all dried out. So I managed to stop short this time and was pleased with the results… or almost. I know why I use less milk.

Rating: B- They turned out nice but the milk resulted in a moister egg that left a lot of liquid behind in the serving bowl. They weren’t undercooked but just ‘wet’.

While this is a short post the next breakfast item was a good one. And I even tried my hand at some more baking!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

32. Oven-Fried Bacon

Date Cooked: November 1st, 2008
Page: 658
Rating: A-

Yes this is an actual recipe in the book. I’m actually surprised it took me this long to make it since it was so simple and I have had a lot of bacon since starting this project. Maybe I was intimidated because it was so simple I felt there was a trick. Or maybe I felt it was such a ridiculously simple recipe that it didn’t really deserve a post. I suspect the latter. Saturday morning I decided to cook up a good breakfast for the family because 1) I don’t normally eat breakfast and 2) It was the first weekend in awhile with nothing planned. So I flipped through the breakfast chapter of the book and picked out a few quick recipes to use. This was one of them.

I’m going to do something I don’t normally do. Post the recipe.

Oven-Fried Bacon
12 slices of bacon
1. Preheat oven to 400°F
2. Place bacon on baking sheet.
3. Bake for 12 minutes turning once.

I admit I summarized a little. I think the book devotes two pages to the intricacies of bacon and this is the preparation it all boils down to.

Rating: A- I loved it and so did my wife. The kids love bacon regardless of how it is cooked. Oven-Fried the bacon came out nice and flat and mostly intact. I was about to type how it tasted just like every other slice of bacon I’ve eaten but that would be a lie. I just realize now that it didn’t leave that off-flavor taste of grease in the mouth… I will prepare bacon in this manner in the future as long as the oven is not required for something else. I really want a double wall oven.

Monday, November 3, 2008

31. Parmesan Risotto

Date Cooked: October 28, 2008
Page: 218
Rating: B-

Risotto. Another one of those dishes that intimidated me based on all the horror stories and dire warnings of not being careful when preparing it. I was imagining a dish that would go from palatable to a charred cement fused to my pan if I even looked away. Well I am happy to say nothing could be further from the truth.

We were hunting for ideas to serve with a small roast we were going to be having and I wasn’t in the mood for the original suggestion of boiled potatoes. Even though boiled potatoes are in the book I felt like something a little heartier. Skimming through the rice and grains chapter I spied risotto and after my success with the roux for the gumbo I felt I could do this. Plus I had all the ingredients on hand. So I set my mise en place and began.

First a diluted mixture of chicken stock gets heated to use as the liquid which will be slowly added to the risotto as it cooks. I still haven’t gotten around to making chicken stock so I used store bought. I’m not sure why I shy away from making chicken stock since I have two chicken carcasses in my freezer waiting to be cooked up. But until I do it will be store bought reduced sodium chicken stock. I don’t really like the brand I used this time since I found it rather dark which affected the look (but not flavor) of the dish.

So with the base stock warmed I began the rewarding experience of softening soft onions in butter. The onions cooked slowly until they reached a point and decided to immediately caramelize. This wasn’t the goal and I was concerned my dream of creating a creamy parmesan risotto would already be ruined by little flecks of brown burnt onion. But I forged on anyway since this is all a learning experience.

With the onions destroyed I added the Arborio rice and cooked it for a few minutes before adding the dry white wine. The wine selection for this dish was a nice local dry wine with a full body and nice undertones of oak wood and nutty fruits… actually since I am not a wine connoisseur, or sommelier if you will, I made all that crap up. I had an open bottle in the fridge which miraculously had exactly one cup of wine left in it. When I poured the wine in sizzled and spattered and I kept thinking this could burst into flames, but it settled down fast and I relaxed. Now the entire kitchen smelled of wine.

Once the wine had been absorbed the laborious process of slowly adding stock began. The book gives instructions on when to add stock and stir and how long to cook but I found it was pretty much useless after the first three minutes. I kept adding the warm stock as I went and stirred frequently to avoid having the risotto burn to the bottom of the pan. The book estimated about 20 minutes of cooking but somewhere between 12 minutes and 14 minutes the risotto went from undercooked to overcooked. Not badly overcooked just not al dente anymore. Off heat I added the parmesan cheese.

Rating: B- This was really not a bad dish. I’ve got several discussion points to make about it but overall the risotto cooking process was not difficult, just attention demanding. But these are my gripes. Let’s start with the color. The stock gave it a brownish color which I didn’t care for. I wanted a nice light creamy color. The onions which I caramelized blended back into the mix though and I could barely even identify them which was nice. My second point of contention was the wine used. It left a strong presence in the risotto which when combined with the sharp flavor of the parmesan didn’t leave me with a creamy flavor to match the texture of the dish. I didn’t dislike it but I felt it really stood out… a lot.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

30. Creole-Style Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo with Okra

Date Cooked: October 26th, 2008
Page: 525
Rating: B-

This dish has been haunting me for awhile. I’ve wanted to try my hand at it for months. In fact it was one of the first dishes I wanted to try. The problem is it scared me, well only the first part did… making a roux. I figured this was a technique I needed to learn. I’ve decided to take the ‘mise en place’ part of cooking more seriously and this time I didn’t start anything until everything was checked and double checked. See I am already beginning to improve as a cook. Once everything was measured and chopped I started in. The first step was to make the stock for the gumbo. This was done by taking the discarded shells from the shrimp and boiling them for 20 minutes. Once done the stock was mixed with clam juice and ice water to provide a warm stock for the gumbo base. This was placed aside so I could begin with the roux.

I was excited and hesitant about this part. The excitement came from getting to use my new La Creuset dutch oven which I picked up at Homesense for practically a steal! It isn’t the one I truly would have liked in a perfect world but the price was right and it is all I needed. Now for the hesitant part, I had to try a controlled burn of flour. The oil was heated in the dutch oven and once the temperature was reached I began slowly adding the flour and constantly stirring. Stirring, stirring, stirring. The book recommends 20 minutes to reach an optimal color? Flavor? Not sure what I am trying to reach. The recipe said it needed to look like a dirty penny or milk chocolate. What do you think?
I was constantly fearful that while making the roux I was going to grab the handles of the dutch oven and burn myself. I caught myself a few times seconds before burning my hand. I’ll need to get used to handling cast iron on the stove top. And I am sure I will probably burn myself before I am conditioned.

Once the roux reached the correct color I threw in some onions, peppers, celery and okra along with some seasonings. Let’s talk about Okra. It is a rather disgusting little vegetable. Well that might be harsh. It has a subtle flavor on its own but is rather slimy as it breaks down. I could only find whole frozen okra so I cut it myself. As it was thawing it gets slimy and when you start to cook, it gets very gummy and stringy. What should I expect from something used as a thickening agent.

After sauteéing the stock was added to the dutch oven and the gumbo was simmered for 30 minutes. Then I added the sausage for another 30 minutes before finally adding the shrimp. A few minutes later the gumbo was removed from the heat and parsley and scallions were added. Served over rice it was ready to eat. I always thought gumbo was thicker and more like a stew than a soup. So to be honest I don’t know if it turned out correctly or not.

Rating: B-. My wife and I both agree about the Gumbo. It was not spicy or seasoned enough. This is more to do with the books quantities and personal taste than anything else. Once seasoned liberally with salt and pepper it was a very nice dish but it really could have used some bite. It calls for cayenne pepper but in such a small amount that I didn’t even notice it at first.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

29. Roast Stuffed Turkey

Date Cooked: October 10th, 2008
Page: 367
Rating: A-

** This is a horrible photo of the turkey and makes it look like a big burnt ball. It looked much better than this photo portrays and I didn’t remember it being blackened like that which makes me think the camera is darkening the photo. Just feel I need to justify this.

As I had stated in the last post I didn’t spend the entire time cooking this turkey but I did prep it, load it in the oven and carve it. My sister-in-law monitored it and made sure it was nicely buttered.
The 16lbs. turkey started its journey to the table in a 4 hour salt water bath. Actually it started with a rinse and removal of the giblets, neck and a little trim of excess skin, then it hit the salt water. What I discovered is that I do not have a pot or bucket large enough to brine a turkey of this size. I thought I did but the turkey was too wide and although I considered jamming it in I thought better and started looking for an alternative. That alternative was a Rubbermaid tote that was much too large. The brine calls for a cup of salt in four gallons of water but I needed a lot more than 4 gallons of water to cover my turkey. I think I used two whole boxes of salt to brine it. It’s a good thing table salt is cheap. It took two people to safely lift the tote once it was filled with the water and turkey. The next problem was finding a place cool enough to store it while it brined because I’m pretty sure fridges large enough to hold a 20 gallon tote aren’t common. It’s a good thing fall is here because my garage was still pretty cool from the nighttime temperature drop. So the turkey was finally brining and I could hit the basement.

Four hours after it was placed in the brine I removed the turkey and rinsed it before patting it dry. I loaded it onto the oven rack and pre-heated the oven. I threw some onions, carrots and celery in the pan and then I left the kitchen. My sister-in-law, once she was finished preparing the stuffing, jammed it to capacity (and I mean this turkey was STUFFED). She buttered it and put it in the oven.

At some point around the 2-3 hour mark I was done with the basement and able to finally help in the kitchen. It was also perfect timing for turning the turkey. Have you ever turned a greased up 16 lbs turkey with silicon oven mitts? I won’t ever again. Now I know why they sell big turkey forks. After struggling and burning myself and coating my shirt sleeves in turkey juice it was ready to go back in the oven. And I was ready to start a few other dishes (not from the book). The house at this point was smelling awesome!

Once the turkey was done I set it on my cutting board to rest for a bit. The pictures do not do it justice. Once it had rested for a bit I scooped out the stuffing and then set to carving it. I was really looking forward to this part of the dish. I think overall I did a really good job as a first timer carver. I unfortunately didn’t get any photos of the final product. But take my word it was a delicious turkey if I do say so myself.

Rating: A- I am a huge fan of brining and I don’t think this is a step I will skip anymore in poultry preparation. The turkey was cooked wonderfully and had lots of moisture and flavor! I’m sure it could have been better but I was definitely pleased with the team effort in putting this together.

28. Bread Stuffing with Ham, Pine Nuts, Mushrooms, and Fennel

Date Cooked: October 10th, 2008
Page: 369
Rating: B-

Okay so thanksgiving in Canada has come and gone and I had high aspirations for creating several dishes from the book for this wonderful event. Well that didn’t go quite as planned. You see I also decided that this was a good time to begin the heavy lifting part of my basement renovations so I was trying very unsuccessfully to accomplish both tasks. We had enough cooks in the kitchen so I spent most of my time in the basement. But I did get two recipes from the book done… well I helped complete two recipes from the book. And by help I only actually got my hands dirty on the Roast Turkey. So faced with my first dilemma of this project I’m going to post both items but I must give credit to the actual chef.

I don’t actually have a picture of this due to the chaos in the house, but half of the stuffing is in the turkey in the picture in the next post and the other half was baked separately. My sister-in-law prepared the stuffing for this dish and she did a fantastic job considering she didn’t know she would be doing it. I’d like to describe the process but you know… I wasn’t really there.

Rating: B-. I liked the flavor of the stuffing a lot but I found it too moist. I like a much drier stuffing. I would make this again but would not cook it in the turkey and I would find ways to reduce the moisture content.

Monday, October 20, 2008

27. Smothered Pork Chops

Date Cooked: October 7th, 2008
Page: 462
Rating: B+

Ahhh… another pork dish. This dish went smoothly and I would say was definitely the beginning of a shift in my cooking. I settled on this recipe since I had all the ingredients and wanted to use the pork chops I had in the freezer, plus it had bacon and that is just a sure sign of a great recipe.

Let us begin with this wonderful tale of smothered pork chops. I’ll start at smothered. That is a word which invokes one thing in my mind. A pillow pressed against the face of a sleeping individual. I don’t want you to think I am some creepy individual but I can’t say I have heard the word smothered used in many other contexts. Pretty much just the crime version. So I have only begun the recipe and I am already comparing it to a crime. The only crime here is me in the kitchen.

The dish starts out with cooking the bacon to render it down and crisp it up. This of course gets the whole kitchen smelling nicely of bacon. I’m thinking all recipes should start this way, even if they don’t use bacon. A little cooked bacon to snack on while cooking would be perfect right? I wonder if they sell bacon potpourri.

Once the bacon was done and set aside the pork chops where quickly sautéed until both sides were seared a nice golden brown. They were then set aside to rest while the remainder of the ingredients came together. The remainder of the ingredients where a lot of onions! I was thinking this recipe seemed really out of proportion until I realized it was written for four servings and I was cooking only two. So these two pork chops were absolutely going to be smothered… I’m trying to figure out a word which would raise smothered to a whole new horrific level but I just can’t, maybe it’s time to invest in a thesaurus, or therapy.

Once the onions were caramelized all the ingredients get put in the pan (except the bacon) and then you bury the pork chops under the onions and cover and cook. 30 minutes pass and the house is smelling good. The pork chops got plated on some rice and then covered in the sauce with a little bacon sprinkled on top. The picture shows what I think a little bacon is.

Rating: B+. These pork chops were really good and serving them on rice was a great choice since the sauce is quite delicious. My only complaint would be that the pork was a little overcooked and probably could have spent a little less time buried under the onions. Pork on pork will always be a winner.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

26. Sautéed Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Cream, Apples and Sage

Date Cooked: October 3rd, 2008
Page: 469
Rating: B

Where do I start with this dish… well it was definitely a hectic one to complete as I was cooking another dish at the same time that was composed of several of the same ingredients. I highly recommend when creating a meal that after you get you ‘mise en place’ set up that you double check the ingredients and quantities for each. I had a lot of confusion as I tried to pull this together. No disasters, sorry to disappoint, but a few moments of panic.

I first started by getting the pork tenderloin sliced into medallions. I had come to realize that I love pork like this. The only problem is that I am still trying to figure out how to get the silver skin off easily. As I have mentioned before when cutting up the chicken I have a tendency to get a bit obsessive. I can (and have) spent several minutes meticulously trimming what I feel is silver skin from the tenderloin. I was proud of the finished product but feel that it was a bit excessive… okay it was a lot excessive. I need to see how it is done properly so I can save time in the future.

Once the tenderloin medallions, apples, sage, cider, and several other bit players in the recipe were ready I set to work. The medallions were sautéed and then set aside for a rest, not like they did much work. I’m the one that needed the rest after trying to remove them of their skin. Once done some onions and apples were caramelized and then simmered in apple cider. This is where I messed up… a little. The other recipe I had cooked (Braised Cabbage) also called for apple cider and I had two quantities sitting on the counter. I grabbed the wrong one (that had twice as much cider) and added it to the pan. I very quickly realized the possible error and scrambled to check the Book. Sure enough I screwed up but since I had to reduce the liquid anyway it would just take longer. Of course longer means everything gets to simmer in hot liquid for a lengthened period of time. This had two outcomes I will explain shortly. Once the sauce was reduced some cream was added along with the tenderloin medallions and a few more ingredients. All this got warmed through and then plated.

How was it you ask? Well let’s start off by saying it was pork so it begins with good marks. My error in apple cider measurement though created a much more intense apple flavor to the dish which wasn’t bad. The only negative was the increased cooking time turned the apples to applesauce. It was actually not a very nice textural accompaniment. You would take a wonderful mouthful only to hit an extremely overcooked apple piece and have it turn into soggy mush after the slightest bit of pressure. Not to mention a momentary burst of apple flavor that overpowered the entire mouthful. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the dish but it would have been nice if the apple flavor was a little more subdued and the apple pieces a little more… structurally sound.

Rating: B. If I had planned ahead to screw up I could have saved myself some work by using apple sauce instead of apples and cider. But then who actually plans to fail? Oh wait, I do by failing to plan.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

25. Oven-Baked Brown Rice

Date Cooked: October 3rd, 2008
Page: 215
Rating: C

It has been a very busy Thanksgiving weekend and I anticipate that the next few months will be equally busy as I dive into a home renovation project. But we still need to eat and I still love to cook so this blog will continue! But enough excuses, lets start from where we last left off.

Ah, the comfort of cooking basics. I love rice and it is my favorite starch but I’ve never cooked brown rice before. I was always under the impression that it was tougher to cook and since there was no plain instant version of brown rice, well there are the prepackaged flavor versions that my Uncle Ben makes but I always find those a little bit oily and the rice always tastes undercooked, no matter how long they get cooked. If cooking non-instant rice was a challenge for me I could only imagine how this was going to turn out.

In order to build up a good base for making excuses I did tackle this when I was preparing two other dishes which required a lot more of my attention. So with that said let’s begin. Are you ready for the read of your life? Are you sitting down? Are you sure you can handle the thrill that is oven-baked brown rice?

I put the rice in a ceramic baking dish. I added boiling oil, water and salt. I baked for 1 hour. I fluffed the rice and let it sit covered with a kitchen towel. I let it sit uncovered. I served and ate. That was pretty intense wasn’t it? Wait… did I just type boiling oil? What is this, the dark ages and I am defending my kitchen from invading hordes of barbarians. I may be a bad cook but believe me I boiled water, not oil. Although if I had boiled oil I can assure you this post would have been EXCITING!

Cooking brown rice was actually pretty boring and the result was… equally boring. It was also a little overcooked but that is most likely because I am still trying to figure out the cooking time/temperature adjustments I need to make when using my convection oven. I actually prefer the white rice preparation that I have been cooking from the book. It has much more flavor and is quicker to make. Plus, it uses the stove top so I am not tying up my oven for a rather blasé rice dish. All that said I look forward to trying the other brown rice recipe variations in the book as I am sure an infusion of flavor can only improve upon this.

Rating: C. Nothing inspiring here and I am actually unlikely to make this dish as is again. There is just no real need to spend an hour baking a boring, low flavor dish.

Monday, October 6, 2008

24. Cabbage and Apples Braised in Cider

Date Cooked: October 3rd, 2008
Page: 148
Rating: C+

Sorry it has been a busy week and it will probably only get busier so my time for posting is limited (I usually write these posts during breaks at work but I’m not getting too many of those at the moment). But enough excuses and on with the food adventures!

I had made a vegetable soup early in the week and had a fair amount of cabbage left so I was trying to find a good cabbage recipe from the book. There are not many… recipes in total for cabbage not just good recipes for cabbage. I saw a recipe for braised cabbage and figured that could be interesting. I traditionally only eat cabbage in coleslaw, cabbage rolls and soup. That is the extent of my culinary travels with cabbage so cooking it as a focal point in a dish would be new for me.

The recipe is fairly straight forward so I was able to navigate without too much difficulty. Only one hiccup with this recipe. It starts by sautéing apples in butter. This went well but since I was cooking two other dishes at the same time I may have left the apples sitting for too long before stirring them around. It turns out that the natural sugars in Granny Smith apples can caramelize fairly quickly. I added the apple cider, caraway seeds and some thyme and let it reduce. Then I packed the large saucepan (dutch oven) full of cabbage. Then I had to toss to combine. I loved this part. You see I had so much cabbage that I couldn’t actually maneuver anything in the pot. As I struggled to get the sauce (that was burning on the bottom) to cover the cabbage I was spilling cabbage everywhere. Nothing is as pleasant as lightly syrupy cabbage hitting a hot burner. I love burnt sugar as much as the next person (which is very little, just to make that clear), but cleaning burnt sugar from a burner is not fun. I finally got fed up and just put the cover on and let it cook down some. I returned a few minutes later and was pleasantly surprised to find that it cooked down nicely and I was finally able to get all the cabbage coated, made even easier due to the water released from the cabbage. The water even helped release some of the charcoal from the bottom of the pot.

It really didn’t take long to prepare but the verdict? Well I had two helpings but not really because I liked it but simply because no one else was likely to eat it. I would definitely eat cabbage braised again but I would probably change the additional ingredients. The apple flavor was pretty strong and could have been mellowed out a bit. The apples themselves weren’t really needed and I probably could have just used the cider. I’m also on the fence with regards to caraway seeds. Not sure if I like them, am indifferent to them or dislike them. Basically I have no idea about them. I don’t even know if I could identify their taste in a dish. Really I don’t think I am remotely qualified to talk about them. If they had legal rights I’m sure I would be slapped with a slander suit right now so I will back off the caraway seeds.

Rating: C+ I’m really torn about this one. I wanted to like it and don’t really have anything overwhelmingly bad to say about it but it just wasn’t… right. I won’t prepare this dish again as written, let’s put it that way.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Thank you Cecil of FoodCraze! You have been a reader from the beginning and your creations have inspired me to look beyond the food I know to the world of fine cuisine that all cultures have to offer. The food you prepare makes the stuff I attempt look easy (but for those following along not everything that looks easy has been easy for me). So thanks again for this award! I finally feel like I am earning some blog cred!

But of course this award leaves me with a bit of a dilemma. Who do I award it to? I am new to blogging but I haven’t been reading food blogs for a long time either. So my exposure to the incredibly immense volume of blogs is pretty limited. But I do have a few that I find inspirational. And if Cecil hadn’t given the award to me she would have been at the top of my recipient list for the award back!

Let’s start with…

Kevin at Closet Cooking. This was one of the first blogs that I came across in the summer that hooked me into the world of food blogging. His minimalist blog lets each recipe shine. I was as much inspired by the food as the photos and it was his recipe for hummus that started me down this journey. So thank you Kevin from myself and my family (that get to eat the food you inspired me to make). I’m sure you’ve received these awards before but here is another one!

Deborah at Taste and Tell. When I was surfing the blogs before I had one I came across her preparation of the Meat Loaf from the New Best Recipe, one of the first recipes I would blog about. I am drawn towards blogs that are more than just recipes and Deborah’s fits that nicely. I also appreciate that the food is approachable with the understanding that while we would all love fresh ingredients, and to make everything from scratch the real world doesn’t always give us time. Deborah knows that and provides us with tasty recipes that are practical for a busy life!

Mandy at Home with Mandy. Just recently started reading her blog but I find her blog very entertaining. I really enjoyed the peek inside her fridge. Of course no one will ever see the disaster that I call a fridge!

Laurie at That’s Not What The Recipe Says. Another recent addition to the blogs I follow but her adventures recently in the kitchen when attempting to make fresh ravioli sounded very much like an experience I would have!

Jessica at The Joy of the Joy of Cooking. A fellow cook-through blogger I started reading her blog near the end of her time in Japan. I find her honest approach to cooking (and the difficulties faced in high altitude cooking) refreshing and entertaining. Congratulations to Jessica and Josh on their engagement and I continue to look forward to reading their adventures through the Joy of Cooking.

Adam at Gourmet, All The Way. Another cook-through blogger he is tackling the Gourmet Cook Book. Since he has only recently started I find it very inspiring to follow along to see his process for selecting recipes. He also tends to have some funny anecdotes about the recipes along the way.

This is where I feel bad because I feel I should include every blog I read but for me these seven above strike a particular chord with me and why I am blogging in the first place. Thanks for all the great reads and I look forward to many more!

By the way, this award comes with rules, here they are:
Please find at least 10 more blogs of any kind which you deem to be excellent; but hey if you only come up with 3 or 5, I don’t mind. Post about the blogs you picked, linking back to me and to them. Once you’ve posted, return here to let me know your post is up, and of course let your 10 award winners know too.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

23. Corn Chowder

Date Cooked: September 28th, 2008
Page: 66
Rating: B

This was another of those recipes that was itching the back of my mind. As autumn sets in I always begin to crave hearty soups and stews and the idea of corn chowder seemed perfect to me. The only problem with corn chowder is that by the time I am craving soups, corn is nearing the end of its season. Many of my local grocery stores are already done with corn in the husk, which leaves me with hunting down a roadside corn stand or hitting up the local farmers markets. It just so happened that when picking up some ingredients to make Pad Thai a second time the grocery store had a big bin of corn, so I grabbed a dozen. Lots of people would say “You can use frozen corn or canned corn,” and to them I say “No”. The recipe calls for 10 ears of corn and specifies the lovely process of milking the corn. See my previous post about corn fritters to find out how I felt about that. You know the idea of milking anything but a cow sounds deviant to me. Picture for a moment if you will a cow being milked. Now replace the cow with a cob of corn. You see my problem. I think I will refer to the technique as shaving the corn, since that seems much more similar.

Okay, so after processing 10 cobs of corn I am left with 3 cups of kernels (cut from 4 cobs) and 3 cups of corn pulp (shaved from 6). I believe I may have figured out where I went wrong with the corn fritters from August. The book assumes after shaving the corn you will have 2 cups of pulp. Apparently I am really efficient at shaving corn since I was able to extract 50% more than required, which means my corn fritters had more liquid to start than required. I figured I would only use the assumed amount for the chowder this time and will make a note to reduce the amount of corn shaved for future attempts at this recipe. The kernels and pulp where set aside for later as I prepped the rest of the ingredients.

I did have to make one substitution in this recipe. I only had 1 small onion when the recipe calls for 1 large onion. So I also added two shallots and figured that quantity wise it would equal out and that the flavor while slightly different wouldn’t be overly affected by this change of plans. Since I brought up shallots lets discuss their emotional impact on me. Every time I cut into a shallot my eyes well up with tears. We are not talking moist eyes irritated from the mild sulfuric acid created by the highly volatile propanethiol S-oxide gas released from the onion reacting with the water in my eyes (how’s that for some chemistry!). I’m talking about the onslaught of pain that mimics having my eyes scoured with sandpaper and then washed with bleach and rinsed with a strong sulfuric acid. I can’t see through the tears as much as you can’t see through Niagara Falls. I usually have to stop chopping for fear of severing a digit or two. Oddly this occurs with shallots. Onions are only a slight discomfort.

With all the ingredients prepped and measured and my eyesight returning I began by sautéing some salt pork. The directions are simple. Sauté until crisp and the fat has rendered. For some reason they don’t discuss how much smoke will be produced. I was happily sautéing away and flipping the pieces when I look up and had my vision obscured by the low hanging cloud of grease smoke. The blue haze was quickly filling the kitchen and creeping into adjoining rooms. I frantically opened the kitchen windows to get the air flowing before the smoke alarms started blaring. Unfortunately my exhaust fan does not vent to the outside but merely filters the smoke created while cooking and re-circulates the air. Apparently it is not very good at that. With the air finally clearing I moved onto the next steps of the recipe. It is straightforward enough at this point that the rest of the ingredients get added one-by-one and then brought to a boil and left to simmer. A raft kept forming in the chowder and I was tempted to remove it but the book mentions nothing about this so I just kept stirring it back in. Stirring also kept the heavier potatoes and corn from adhering to the bottom of the pot.

Once complete I sampled a bowl. I think I like it. It was pretty tasty but not quite as thick as I was hoping for. I was also a little concerned about the cream used. I don’t always get along with cream. Cream and I have a love hate relationship. I love it. It hates me.

Rating: B. It was really good chowder. In the future I will definitely need to find away to thicken it a bit more and switch out the heavy cream for a lighter alternative. I’ve also noticed recipes that use bacon in the final stages of cooking instead of rendering fat from salt pork in the beginning. I think I will go the extra mile and add some bacon next time (while continuing to render salt pork… you can never have enough pork!)

Monday, September 29, 2008

22. Pad Thai

Date Cooked: September 25th, 2008
Page: 296
Rating: A+

I had been thinking about making this dish for several weeks but I was struggling with gathering all of the ingredients. Although most of the items are easy to find I wouldn’t commit to the produce until I had the rest gathered. The real hang up though was tamarind paste. To be honest I didn’t even know what it looked like so I spent several visits to local grocery stores perusing the aisles looking for this stuff. I finally gave in and hit a local Asian grocer and asked someone. They literally reached to the counter in front of me and handed a small package of a dark brown fruit paste that said Tamarind on it. Well at least I now knew what I was looking for. Here is the interesting thing though, and I am sure many of you have experienced this. Once I bought it I started seeing it elsewhere, the oddest location being Wal-Mart, although I don’t know if I would buy it from Wal-Mart. It looked pretty dry and was more like packed sawdust than a thick dark fruit paste.

So I finally had the tough ingredient to find and now I could move onto picking up the produce and shrimp to get this meal started. The one thing about pad thai is how quick it all comes together which means that a lot of work is actually required to prep the dish. I started by soaking the noodles in hot water and the tamarind paste in boiling water. As these were soaking I peeled and deveined the shrimp and set those aside as I started chopping the scallions, peanuts and dried shrimp… let talk about the dried shrimp. As soon as I opened up the bag I was assaulted by the shrimp aroma. My wife looked at me and with a little look of distaste on her face asked if I was actually going to use that. I smiled as I poured them out onto the counter and began to chop.

I confess, my wife did help me a great deal in getting things prepped. I’m trying to make it sound like I was organized while getting this done but in fact I was all over the place. When I was soaking the tamarind I left it as large chunks and in the future I would chop it up a bit more. I would probably run the peanuts and dried shrimp through a food processor to speed up chopping them. Also I would remember to defrost, peel and devein the shrimp before starting everything else. I had everything soaking and chopped when I remembered the shrimp were still in the freezer. It’s a good thing shrimp are quick to defrost in water. I spoke about dried shrimp but let’s reflect on the completely hydrated version for a moment.

I have raw shrimp in their shell simply because I plan to make gumbo pretty soon (once I find a place to get good Andouille sausage), and the shells of the shrimp are used for a simple stock. Anyway that is for another time. Shelling them is easy but deveining them was tedious and I’m not sure of the value of the process. I did a bit of research on shrimp and most agree the vein neither detracts from the flavor nor adds to it. In larger shrimp it can become a textural issue though. So while digging out this thin soggy wormlike strand I had to wonder if this was really worth it. Unfortunately that decision will have to wait until I cook shrimp again to compare… which could be soon.

After the prep was done it was time to begin cooking. The shrimp get a quick sauté and then set aside. The shallots and garlic are next into the pan and when they are softened and fragrant the eggs get tossed in for a light scramble. The noodles get added, tossed before the rest of the spices and tamarind liquid get added. Cooked for a few minutes and then finally the sprouts, scallions, dried shrimp and peanuts get tossed in. The whole dish gets tossed together and then it was plated to serve. Garnished with some scallions, peanuts and fresh cilantro it was complete.

What was the verdict? Truly amazing! I almost never eat pad thai at a restaurant because I find it oily and the noodles are usually pretty slippery with sauce. This dish was all of the wonderful flavor, without the unpleasant texture. Each noodle was tender but still had some chew to it and it was coated in flavor without a slippery greasy feel. The shrimp were delicious and everything had a nice crunch to it from the sprouts and peanuts. My wife (who likes Thai food much more than I do) was requesting I make it again before we had even finished.

I do believe it is time I get an assortment of plain white dishes for plating though. I’ve used the same plate for just about every photo.

Rating: A+ I was very happy with how this turned out. I will definitely make a few changes when I prepare it again but overall I don’t know how this could be improved upon.

Update: Between cooking this recipe and posting I made it a second time. I figured out how I can improve upon it. Either omit the dried shrimp or ensure they are chopped extremely fine. There is something not quite comforting about biting into a chewy intensely shrimp flavored crumb. On the plus side my son has decided he likes cooked shrimp now. I can barely get him to eat beef or chicken but so far shrimp and calamari are good. Oh yeah, I deveined the shrimp because the thought of that blue little string is pretty unappealing, cooked or not.

Friday, September 26, 2008

21. Broiled Asparagus with Balsamic Glaze and Parmesan Shards

Date Cooked: September 22nd, 2008
Page: 134
Rating: B+

This dish was the side dish for the broiled chicken thighs from the last post and since the oven was all hot for the chicken I felt it only made sense to get a little more use out of it. This dish was pretty simple to prepare so of course in true Mediocre Cook fashion I screwed it up.

The hardest part of this dish, I shouldn’t even say hardest, maybe most time consuming, was making the balsamic glaze. The balsamic vinegar was reduced on the stovetop until it had thickened and was probably a third of its original volume. You could smell the acidity of the vinegar throughout the kitchen and it smelled really good. Once it was reduced enough I set it aside. I had reduced the recipe since it was only going to be my wife and I. I think in the future I will make a larger batch of the glaze since it tasted awesome! Even my 5 year old thought it was good, and he is not a very adventuresome eater.

The asparagus was trimmed and tossed with oil and some salt and pepper to taste before being broiled in the oven. Once done it was plated and drizzled with the balsamic glaze and some extra virgin olive oil. This is where I screwed up. Notice the name of the recipe ‘…and Parmesan Shards’. It’s not like I didn’t have a nice brick of parmesan in the fridge. In fact I chose this recipe because I had the parmesan. But in my truly chaotic cooking fashion I was so excited to eat I forgot a key ingredient. Did the dish suffer? Hardly, but it would have been nice to have remembered a key ingredient. In my defense though I did have more on the go than normal since I am trying hard to bring dishes together at the same time to form a meal.

Rating: B+ and I’m not counting the fact I forgot the parmesan. The glaze was good and went very well with the asparagus but it didn’t really cling to the spears. I found I had to wipe it off the plate to coat the asparagus for each bite.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

20. Broiled Chicken Thighs

Date Cooked: September 22nd, 2008
Page: 327
Rating: A-

Be prepared for a long post…

A week or so ago I decided to try my hand at cutting up a whole chicken. After seeing it in many places (including the ‘Best’ book), I did the math and yes, buying a whole chicken and cutting it up is cheaper. Of course there is the whole cutting it up thing that I had to get through. I have no qualms about taking a knife to poultry, but I had never done it before and I figured that the whole point of this blog was for me to improve as a cook. Plus it was fun. Also I needed chicken parts so I could tackle the chicken stock recipe.

I had two whole chickens so I set to work. A sharp knife is pretty essential but then again I can’t think of too many tasks where a dull knife is preferred. The book gives reasonably detailed instructions on the process. First step was to remove the thighs and wings. I was actually amazed at how easy it was to slice through the joints and to separate them from the carcass. The fun truly began though when it was time to separate the breasts. This is where the instructions and the actual process are not entirely synched up. Using poultry shears to remove the backbone was… disturbing. My mind kept telling me that you don’t use scissors to cut flesh and bone, you use them for paper. So every cut of the shears sent little giddy chills down my spine. I don’t want to sound too disturbed but there is a very primal feeling associated with butchering that I doubt a lot of people feel these days due to the over abundance of pre-packaged everything. It was an odd experience and is difficult to describe but it makes you understand the food you prepare a little better. Ok now I am starting to ramble and spew rhetoric about a bond I felt with a mass of chicken flesh. Let’s move on before another spiritual moment takes over.

Once the backbone was removed the chicken was flipped over so I could cut through the breast bone. It separated easy enough but I ended up with uneven breasts (it’s ok to chuckle, I’m not above schoolyard humor). This is where I couldn’t find any good instruction on the best way to separate the breast from the rest of the carcass and how much bone should be left and how much rib should be attached, etc. This is where my sometimes obsessive behavior kicked in. The book says nothing about making them boneless but I just kept cutting and trimming and somehow I ended up with two boneless skinless chicken breasts. I figure in the future I will need to work on this part of the process.

The whole process took an amateur like me about 20 minutes from first cut to freezer bag for two chickens. Now I just needed a use for them. Oh yeah… the recipe I am blogging about. Broiled Chicken Thighs.

I decided to broil just the thigh pieces since the skin had been removed from the breast meat. The first step was to brine the chicken for an hour. I have never brined before because that involves a certain level of planning for a meal which didn’t always fit into the ‘I need a meal now’ situations I commonly found myself in. But since we had a few errands to run before dinner I figured now was a good time to start. Into a bowl with salt, sugar and water the chicken went and into the fridge covered to chill. When we returned home (more than an hour later), I set to work on the rest of dinner.

I removed the chicken from the brine, rinsed and dried it. I couldn’t help feeling I had just bathed the children. Don’t forget to dry between your legs, ha! Get it! Chicken thighs! Damn that was horrible. I’m tempted to delete that so no one will ever have to read that really bad attempt at humor. But apparently instead of deleting I have decided to continue typing and spew more useless thoughts into this post. Lets move on shall we?

The chicken was placed onto the broiler pan where it sat while I contemplated the design and engineering of my oven. I hate how my oven does not inform me when it is at temperature for broiling. If I preheat the oven it shows me the temperature as it climbs. With broiling it just shows me the max temperature. I have to guess at when the oven is ready. Maybe I don’t understand broiling or maybe I have a hard time justifying spending good money on an appliance and then still having to drop another couple dollars on a thermometer to tell me what my oven should be capable of. Sorry, back to the tale at hand.

When the chicken was cooked and the internal temperature reached its goal of 165, it spent 1 minute close to the broiler element for the skin to really crisp and then it was done. How did it taste? Absolutely amazing! The chicken was still moist and had a great simple flavor. Probably the best chicken I have cooked in a long time and has proven to me that brining is an essential step in chicken preparation. Typing this out makes me crave more chicken for tonight.

Rating: An overall simple preparation of chicken but its flavor was great. It gets an A- not because it is a fancy dish but because it highlighted to me that even I can make tasty chicken.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

19. Steamed Broccoli

Date Cooked: September 21, 2008
Page: 139
Rating: B

Sorry about the picture. Sometimes there is just nothing that can be done to make the food look better, except maybe forgetting to leave the lens cap on. That would probably help this broccoli.

The thing about the cook book I have chosen to cook-through is that it is a basic book that teaches techniques. Not every recipe is a gourmet treat or a laborious task in mastering the culinary arts. You’ve seen me cook rice and peas and now I figured I would give the basic treatment to broccoli… the only problem with posting about steaming broccoli is that there isn’t any problem. So what do I write about?

This broccoli was steamed and then tossed with some extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. It tasted fine, my youngest seems to really like broccoli since he ate lots of it. As simple as it was there is always the possibility that I will mess it up but no failure this time (just an ugly photo). Next post will contain more substance. I promise.

Rating: B seems decent for something that was neither a failure nor something to brag about.

Monday, September 22, 2008

18. Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Date Cooked: September 14th, 2008
Page: 777
Rating: A-

Baking is not something I do much of but I was really craving some cookies and I figured why not try some from the ‘Best’ book. I love warm chocolate chip cookies and the chewier the better so these were pretty much the top of the list. Making these was a learning experience as always and while fraught with challenges I would definitely say I am on the road to confidence when baking. So let’s begin shall we.

I had almost all of the ingredients for this in the house except for one particular minor ingredient for chocolate chip cookies, the chocolate chips. Without hesitation I zip over to the closest grocery store and grab a few bags (I figure you can never stock too much sweet baking supplies) of chocolate chips. With the goods in hand I make my way home… I’m sure you are wondering why I am bothering to tell you about my uneventful trip to the store? No reason. Just typing to pad this into a longer than needed post. At home with all the ingredients gathered I set to work.

I carefully measured out all the ingredients being sure to double check the quantities in the book. First the flour and other dry ingredients. Then I begin measuring out the ungodly amount of sugar. I love cookies but I never really realized how much sugar they actually contain. My past cookies would either come in a bag already baked or from a doughy little man called Pillsbury. Anyway as I was measuring out the sugar I realized I was not using a 1 cup dry measuring cup but a ½ cup. I just grabbed the largest assuming they were all there. These cookies may not have been sweet enough if I hadn’t caught that mistake.

I pulled out the KitchenAid and set about incorporating all the ingredients together. After adding the chocolate chips I gave the dough a few more folds manually and then got the baking sheet prepared, sheet as in the singular, I have one baking sheet so these cookies were cooking in batches. I did recently buy a Silpat though and I must say it is a very nice addition to the kitchen. At this point my son began to thoroughly clean the cookie dough from the mixer.

While potential problem number one was averted (incorrect measuring utensil), problem number 2 was lurking in the bowl. As I tried to form balls from the dough the stuff just wouldn’t stop clinging to my hands, it was impossible to work with! I reviewed the recipe but it says nothing about handling the dough. Just that I need to roll it into a ball, rip the ball in half and rejoin to give it a nice bumpy top. Hard to explain but the folks at Cook’s Illustrated do a decent job of explaining it on page 776. I added a bit more flour hoping that will help but that barely does anything. So I give up and just plop down little piles of the dough on the Silpat. The first batch goes into the oven. I figure I’ll chill the dough in the fridge while the first batch cooks.

I suppose if I had paid attention to the recipe better I would have realized the flaw in my baking process. The cookies need to cool on the baking sheet and as I was about to find out I couldn’t skip this step. Once the first batch came out I was a little puzzled. The recipe was called thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies. But these had spread out into thin and almost dinner plate sized cookies. I had six cookies taking up the entire baking sheet. I let them cool and then removed them to a wire cooling rack. Of the six cookies only four made it to the rack. My wife, oldest son and I had to do a little QA work on the cookies. They may not have been thick and chewy but they certainly were delicious and chewy.

I took the dough out of the fridge and after a short chill it was perfect for handling. I was able to roll it out into balls and perform the required ‘Best’ technique. Back in the fridge the remainder of the dough went and the baking sheet went back into the oven. 15 minutes later I had another batch of deflated cookies just as large as the last ones. I finished up the rest of the dough and set about figuring what I may have done wrong.

I’m no expert baker (pretty obvious isn’t it) but I did know that something was wrong with the ratio of fat and gluten (butter, eggs and flour). At first I figured I must have bad flour, it has been around for awhile and maybe it has absorbed too much moisture in its long storage. But then it hit me, and shame welled up inside me and I shook my head in embarrassment. I debated whether or not I should confess to what I did wrong but in the interest of full disclosure I thought I should fess up. Remember my glorious save when I realized I was measuring the sugar with the wrong measuring cup? Yeah… probably should have realized I used the same cup for the flour. Now in my defense my son was in the kitchen trying to steal chocolate chips and I was a little distracted. Aren’t I a great father, blaming my failures on my children?

Regardless of the amount of flour used though the cookies were absolutely delicious! Once cooled, they remained nice and chewy and are definitely better than anything bought at a store or premixed. But I guess anything that is predominantly butter and sugar would be good.

Rating: These deserve an A-. They were the right consistency even if they were not the requisite dimensions. Thin and chewy is a working combination for me so I can’t even classify this as a failure. Which is good for me because I was tired of failing, although I’m sure my failures are probably more entertaining?

The Next Day

They maintained the same wonderful, chewy consistency. Considering this was the day after my van got crushed by a tree these helped me through. Because nothing helps an imminent insurance headache like chewy chocolate chip cookies!
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