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.
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