Wednesday, December 9, 2009

120. Braised Cauliflower with Garlic and Tomatoes

Date Cooked: November 30, 2009
Page: 154
Rating: B+

I was hesitant about this recipe. For starters it contains tomatoes. And secondly it didn’t involve a cheese sauce which is almost always how we eat cauliflower… I guess that is a bit shameful. Well that is why I selected this recipe to try. A little outside the regular range of cooking without being too over the top (the other version involves anchovies, I’m not there yet in my culinary adventures).

I started by butchering a head of cauliflower into many smaller pieces. These got sauteed in oil until lightly browned and then I added some red pepper flakes, garlic and a bit more oil. When these ingredients hit the sauce pan my eyes started to water something fierce. I think the red pepper flakes were vaporizing into the air as they made contact with the hot pan. When I added the diced tomatoes the results were not much better as bits of red sauce splattered everywhere. I very quickly stirred the cauliflower and then covered it. The cauliflower cooked for another 5 minutes before I removed it from the heat and stirred in some fresh basil.

That was all it took to prepare this dish.

Rating: B+. This was a really easy way to prepare cauliflower. I actually enjoyed this dish and my wife didn’t complain at all which means I think she liked it, but won’t admit that she is getting used to tomatoes… The kids on the other hand didn’t touch it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

119. Broiled Chicken Breasts

Date Cooked: November 30, 2009
Page: 327
Rating: B+

I had already done broiled chicken thighs and those turned out nice. This wasn’t much different except I decided to use a rub. As mentioned in the previous post, a rub was added between the skin and meat and then a mixture of oil and lemon juice was added just before finishing.

For those that care. The chicken was broiled on the bottom oven rack for about 7 minutes a side, starting skin side down, then a minute on the top rack to crisp the skin. My top rack left very little clearance between the chicken and the element and I had to watch it like a hawk lest my chicken go up in flames.

Rating: B+. The chicken turned out nicely done, maybe a little overcooked but brining allows for a little more leniency with cooking time. The chicken maintained its flavor and juiciness. The rub was a little too heavy on the rosemary and detracted a bit from the garlic and lemon flavors which were much more subtle.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

118. Garlic, Lemon, and Rosemary Rub

Date Cooked: November 30, 2009
Page: 327
Rating: B-

This was a component for some simple broiled chicken that we decided to have. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture prior to using this rub on the chicken so the picture is of the chicken. As with most rubs this one was rather simple to put together. I started with some cloves of garlic mauled by a garlic press. Into this I added some lemon zest and some freshly minced rosemary from my rosemary plant which is still growing strong on my front porch, even though we don’t water it and the temperatures have started dropping below freezing at night. I might need to bring it in next to my basil plant soon. Lastly some ground black pepper was added. This rub was spread under the skin of the chicken breasts before cooking. When the chicken was almost done cooking a mixture of oil and lemon juice was added.

Rating: B-. It’s hard to rate something like this since it is not meant to be eaten on its own. But I was not a fan of the taste it imparted to the chicken. The rosemary was definitely dominant. I would imagine this could be better with less rosemary and more garlic.

Friday, November 27, 2009

117. Melon and Prosciutto

Date Cooked: November 10, 2009
Page: 18
Rating: B-

This barely qualifies as a recipe so don’t expect a long drawn out explanation. I had picked up a honeydew melon at the grocery store specifically because I had it in my mind to make this appetizer. I had some prosciutto in the fridge so I figured let’s chop up the melon into slices and wrap some prosciutto around it.

Rating: B-. You know what… as simple as it sounds the flavors work so well together. The salty prosciutto paired against the light sweetness of the melon was refreshing and satisfying. I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

116. Classic Deviled Eggs

Date Cooked: November 1, 2009
Page: 22
Rating: A+

This is one of those recipes that I feel I am supposed to hate because they come straight out of the 70’s and 80’s. But I don’t hate them. In fact I am the one that will eat a platter of them, sneaking them when no one is looking until they are all gone. So I was looking forward to this.

I was supposed to use the recipe for foolproof Hard-boiled Eggs but I won’t ever try that again. At least not while I continue to get fresh eggs delivered. So I boiled seven eggs, peeled them, sliced them carefully in half and popped out the yolks.

In a mixing bowl I mashed the yolks with mayonnaise, whole grain mustard, cider vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce. I transferred the mixture to a ziploc bag and piped the mixture back into the egg white halves. Let’s just say that piping is not really my strong point. A little cayenne was sprinkled on top.

Rating: A+. These were tasty! I will absolutely make these things again. That’s all I have to say about them. I think I should make more tonight.

Monday, November 23, 2009

115. Squash Soup with Cinnamon-Sugar Croutons

Date Cooked: October 29, 2009
Page: 51
Rating: B-

I know I have complained about this before but soups just aren’t that magical to me. I never crave soup. Ever. That does not mean that I don’t enjoy a fine bowl of hearty soup every now and then, but given a choice of soup or salad, it’s almost always salad… except at Swiss Chalet or if it is French Onion soup.

This fine weekday evening I had a butternut squash that didn’t get used at Thanksgiving and I wasn’t really sure what the longevity of squash was, so I figured after three weeks it probably needed to get used. I wanted to try something different with it and I figured a butternut squash soup would be interesting. I always enjoy it when served at weddings, and I believe those are the only occasions I have ever eaten it.

This particular recipe also includes some cinnamon-sugar croutons. So I will start with this process. Some plain ole whole wheat bread slices were cubed and then tossed with cinnamon, sugar and melted butter. I spread them out on a parchment lined baking sheet and baked in the oven for… a lot longer than the recipe suggests. In order for my croutons to become sufficiently dry and crispy I had them in the oven for three times longer than recommended, 8-10 minutes became 30 minutes. That’s fine though because in this soup making process that was the least of my concerns. Every step was an arduous task that pressed my limits of patience and sanity. Let’s start at the beginning.

The first step in this recipe is to cut the squash in half and then scoop out the seeds and pulp. I have never found cutting a butternut squash in half difficult. I have never needed a mallet or hammer. I have always used a large heavy knife though. So I split the squash and scooped out the innards and set everything aside. I was going to need the innards… innards, what a great word. I sautéed a minced shallot in butter and then added the seeds and pulp until it was fragrant. I then filled my pot with 6 cups of water, brought it to a boil and steamed the squash halves. That sounds fantastically easy. It wasn’t.

My little steamer insert was entirely too small to hold even one half of my medium sized squash. My steam cooker was not much larger. So I peeled and cubed the squash and then separated the squash into two batches. One went into the steam cooker, the other in the steamer basket over the boiling innards water. I reduced the steaming time since I figured the cubed squash would cook quicker. I was right. Now begins the fun part…

I strained the steaming liquid through a mesh strainer and then tossed the solids. I was then supposed to begin blending the squash in batches in a blender using the reserved liquid to make it nice and smooth. What a piece of crap my blender is. Mmmm let’s see. Put squash in blender, add some liquid, press on, watch blades spin uselessly while pureeing about a tablespoon of squash at the bottom of the blender. My blender would not circulate the squash. I spent several minutes scraping the side, adding more liquid, nothing would get it to move. Finally I dumped everything into a large pot and pulled out my immersion blender, stuck it in the squash, hit the on button, and watched squash sail across the kitchen. I wanted to laugh except I had to clean it up (except for the floor, that’s the dog’s job). I was pretty frustrated at this point. Needless to say it didn’t get much better but I did manage to get the pot of squash pureed.

I heated the pureed squash on the stove and stirred in some heavy cream and brown sugar. When the soup was hot I served it with some of the croutons on top.

Rating: B-. If I was to solely base this on the process of making this soup with the tools I have on hand I would fail it. But this is not about my personal animosity to making butternut squash soup. It’s about the flavor of the soup. It was good. The croutons add a nice textural contrast to the creamy soup, as long as you eat quickly. Once the croutons got soggy it wasn’t quite as appealing. In fact I had to concentrate in order to swallow each mouthful. It tasted great but my body was trying to rebel against the creamy savory soup with soggy wet sweet lumps in it. After the first bowl I ended up adding more of the steaming liquid to make it even smoother. This improved things… for other people. I only ate one bowl of it. The funny thing about this recipe is that I didn’t hate it… it just wasn’t really that enjoyable for me. Everyone else really liked it though.

Friday, November 20, 2009

114. Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

Date Cooked: October 28, 2009
Page: 315
Rating: A-

Whenever I imagined this recipe I always thought it was a whole roasted chicken. If I had known it was a chicken broken down into parts I may have actually cooked this one sooner. There was a time that the mere name of this dish would have turned my stomach. Garlic was not something I loved, but I honestly cannot remember when that changed. Today I put garlic in a lot of my cooking and I am liberal with it. In fact most of the recipes that call for a clove of garlic get two or three.

This recipe starts with the roasting of 3 heads of garlic, broken out into their cloves, and some chopped shallots. Actually the recipe starts with brining chicken but that is becoming routine so we’ll move onto the more exciting aspects of this dish. The garlic and shallots were tossed with oil, salt and pepper and then roasted for almost 40 minutes. At the end of the 40 minutes the garlic was starting to smell nice.

The chicken pieces were removed from the brine, rinsed, dried and then seasoned with pepper. In an ovenproof skillet they were browned in oil until both sides had crisped nicely. The chicken was set aside and the pan was deglazed with chicken broth and dry vermouth before some rosemary, thyme and a bay leaf were added. I was supposed to tie the sprigs of rosemary, thyme and the bay leaf together but I don’t have any kitchen twine. So I prepared myself for the inevitable fishing expedition required to get them out later. I added the garlic and shallots before reintroducing the chicken. The skillet went into the oven to roast for about 15 minutes.

Once done in the oven, the chicken was plated and most of the garlic and shallots were plated with it. The herbs were fished out and discarded, then some of the garlic was squeezed through a sieve and whisked into the pan sauce with some butter. The sauce was served over the chicken.

Rating: A-. This turned out really nice. The chicken was full of flavor and felt very comforting and satisfying. I think I ate 75% of the chicken myself. I will be making this again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

113. Grilled Flank Steak Rubbed with Latin Spices

Date Cooked: October 25, 2009
Page: 574
Rating: A-

Flank steak is an easy meal. We decided to have some fajitas at home and this time I figured I would use one of the variations for the flank steak since I had already prepared Classic Fajitas before. This was a very simple recipe to throw together. A mixture of cumin, chili powder, ground coriander, salt, black pepper, cinnamon and red pepper flakes was rubbed on the flank steak before grilling.

The flank steak was grilled for about 5 minutes a side. The steak was then tented with foil and allowed to rest for 10 minutes.

Rating: A-. The spice rub really added some nice flavor to the meat. And this meal was on the table in under 30 minutes! I wish I had more to say about this but it was so easy. I just need to make sure I always have these spices on hand.

Friday, November 13, 2009

112. Classic Roast Turkey

Date Cooked: October 12, 2009
Page: 360
Rating: A-

For those that have been following long enough you may recall my turkey from last year. The photo was a disaster. I had already begun disassembling it when I realized it was time for a photo. This year I did not make the same mistake. The turkey looked great but I still don’t think I have a photo that does it justice. Anyway this was my second year being responsible for the turkey portion of our Thanksgiving dinner.

I must start reading recipes better prior to starting them. It was 9 o’clock the night before Thanksgiving dinner and I had just finished putting the turkey into a container to brine overnight. I read through the recipe to see what I would need to do the next morning when I came across this fantastic bit of information. Brine for 4 hours, air dry in the fridge for at least eight hours. Ummm…. I’m not supposed to brine this over night? I check the clock and consider my options… I could throw caution to the wind and let the bird sit in its salty bath all night, risking an overly salty turkey. Or I could stay up late and remove the turkey from the brine before going to bed.

At 1 o’clock in the morning I’m in my kitchen rinsing a turkey in the sink and patting the turkey dry when my son comes downstairs. I can tell he is confused and then he informs me that he would like some toast for breakfast. I finish up with the turkey, place it in the fridge and guide my son back to bed. I think he may have fallen asleep en route to bed. I wasn’t awake much longer.

The next day about three hours before dinner I got the turkey ready for the oven. I put coarsely chopped onions, carrots, celery and thyme in the pan and mixed a third of it with some melted butter and put it inside the turkey. I rub melted butter over the whole turkey and then placed it in the oven to roast. The turkey was roast breast side down for about 30 minutes before it was turned onto one side for 15 minutes and then the other side for an additional 15 minutes before finishing out its roasting breast side up. During each turn the turkey was basted. During the first turn I was lucky enough to suffer a burn to my hand. I grabbed the handle of my pan and when I shifted to get a better grip when lifting, an exposed part of my hand came into contact with the rather hot handle. The only saving grace was I was able to suffer through the burn and not drop the turkey. I was much more careful after that.

When the turkey was complete I removed it from the oven and let it rest on my cutting board for almost 30 minutes before carving it. I don’t want to brag but I am definitely getting better at carving.

Rating: A- The turkey turned out well. I am usually a dark meat eater but I am finding that I avoided white meat simply because it was always so dry. Not so with this turkey! Although I still drowned most of the meal in gravy.

Friday, November 6, 2009

111. Giblet Pan Gravy

Date Cooked: October 12, 2009
Page: 364
Rating: B-

When I was but a wee lad growing up I detested gravy. You couldn’t put it anywhere near my plate. Then I of course grew up and after realizing how many dry mashed potatoes and dried white turkey could have been saved with gravy I accepted it. And then I turned acceptance into a full out love of gravy. It would not be uncommon for me to add more gravy than food it was to cover. A Thanksgiving dinner would be turned into a quasi stew as I ladled on the gravy.

Speaking of gravy I remember the first time I had gravy at my in-laws. They commonly use vinegar gravy, something I had up until that point never had before. I, in my usual excess gravy fashion ladled this all over my dinner. Had my first bite and it immediately became clear to everyone that something was amiss. I tried to hide my surprise at the unexpected flavor but they noticed and they laughed. Every time I eat dinner there I am always sure to check the gravy before pouring it over my food.

I’ve never made gravy before. That’s right, for all of my love of gravy I have never made it myself, so I had high hopes for this gravy, simply because it was gravy. Making gravy requires three stages. At least this recipe did but I imagine most authenticate gravies are made in a similar fashion.

Stage one starts out with the giblets and turkey neck being sauteed. After a few minutes I threw in some onions and once nicely browned I covered everything and let it cook on low for about 20 minutes. After that I added some stock, water and herbs (thyme and parsley) and brought it to a boil before simmering uncovered for 30 minutes. It is a good thing that I did this stage in the morning. Once cooked, I strained everything through a fine mesh strainer and set the gravy stock aside. The giblets and turkey neck were to be reserved for later use but I did not like the idea of re-adding the meat to the gravy (and neither did my wife), so in a rare moment of deviation, I omitted it. That being said my dog feasted on the gizzards (minus the heart which I ate… not very good after being cooked for 50 minutes) and shredded turkey meat.

Stage two thickens the gravy and gets completed close to the end of the turkey’s roasting time. In this stage a roux of butter and flour is made and then most of the gravy stock is whisked into it and then simmered until it thickens.

Stage three is the final stage and uses the drippings from the turkey pan to complete. The roasting pan is set over two burners and then using white wine and some reserved gravy stock the whole thing is simmered until the liquid is reduced by half. The liquid is strained and then defatted. Once done it gets whisked into the thickened gravy from stage two. Gravy complete.

Rating: B-. It was good gravy. I loved it as much as I like all gravy. But it did not blow me away. I expected something almost magical but it tasted almost the same as packaged gravy, but most likely much better for me. I guess I am trying to say the work was not really worth the result. I spent a lot of time making the gravy which could have been used doing something else. If it was something that could be made in less than 30 minutes with minimal effort I would absolutely make this more often. But until then it will be a special occasion recipe.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

110. Bread Stuffing with Bacon, Apples, Sage, and Caramelized Onions

Date Cooked: October 12, 2009
Page: 369
Rating: B+

I had pretty high hopes for this dish. I learned last year that I don’t like stuffing a turkey and I dislike the cooked stuffing that comes out afterwards. So this year I opted to cook all of the stuffing in a baking dish, which they recommend for any stuffing that doesn’t fit in the turkey, so I’ll pretend none fit in the turkey.

This recipe actually started two days before Thanksgiving when I had to start drying out the bread. I cut an entire loaf of French bread into slices and left them out overnight to dry. The next day I cut the slices into cubes and left them to dry overnight again. Thanksgiving morning the bread rocks were sufficiently dry. The whole point of drying out the bread is so that the dried bread can rehydrate with even more flavorful liquid when the stuffing cooks.

Unlike the chaotic mess of last thanksgiving, I planned ahead this year to reduce the last minute panic of trying to get all the dishes finished. So first thing in the morning I got started on the stuffing, so all it needed was some time in the oven closer to dinner. I began this recipe by cooking the bacon in my dutch oven. Any recipe starting with bacon is great. The smell is awesome and I always cook a little extra because I am guaranteed to sample a few cooked pieces, this was no exception. Once the bacon had finished cooking I put it aside and using a small amount of the bacon fat (draining the rest), I began to caramelize the chopped onions. This is a technique I still need to work on. Maybe it is my patience that I need to work on as it always seems to take forever to get a nice golden brown color without burning them. Once the onions were almost done I threw in the chopped apples for a few minutes before removing everything from the heat.

In a large bowl I mixed the onions, apples, bacon, stale bread, sage and some stock. This was thoroughly mixed and then transferred to a 9x13 baking dish that had been buttered. On top of the mixture I placed several pats of butter and then pour some more stock. Covered in foil it sat until ready to cook before dinner. About an hour before dinner was to be served, the stuffing was baked for 25 minutes before the foil was removed and then baked for an additional 30 minutes.

Rating: B+. I enjoyed this stuffing. The flavors were great and the bread was definitely not dried out. My biggest complaint though, which is more to do with my execution of the dish than the recipe itself, is that the bread needed to be cut into smaller pieces. The bread pieces were a little too large in comparison with the rest of the ingredients. Sometimes it felt like eating a soggy (but flavorful) piece of bread, and not a mouthful of stuffing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

109. Basic Cranberry Sauce

Date Cooked: October 12, 2009
Page: 373
Rating: C+

What Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without some cranberry sauce? Mine. I am not a fan of cranberry sauce, mostly because I am not a fan of cranberry jelly still perfectly molded from the can. I decided I would try some fresh from scratch cranberry sauce to see if that made a difference.

Starting with a bag of cranberries I went to work. In a saucepan I brought to a boil sugar, water and salt. Cranberry sauce contains a lot of sugar. I guess when there is more sugar than water I am in for something sweet… or at least that is what you would think. Once the solution was boiling I dumped in the cranberries and brought them back to a boil before letting them simmer. In a reasonably short period of time I could hear them bursting and it was almost done. It was fascinating to hear them pop and explode.

Once done I transferred them to a bowl and let them cool before serving.

Rating: C+. I personally found the sauce to be quite tart, even with the amount of sugar used. I didn’t mind the flavor but something just did sit well with me. A mouthful was cloyingly sweet until you bite into a cranberry and then everything becomes tart. I understand that a good cranberry sauce strikes a good balance between sweet and tart but it didn’t feel balanced. It felt like two distinct tastes, first sweet then tart, not a melding of the two. But taste aside the texture really put me off. The cranberries were either totally destroyed by the cooking process and nothing more than skin and mush or they were little tart pellets. Please bear in mind I am no connoisseur of cranberry sauce so maybe I just don’t like it… whether it’s good or not. I’m not going to miss it at dinner.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

108. Glazed Cinnamon Rolls

Date Cooked: October 3rd, 2009
Page: 759
Rating: B+

Where is the time going these days. I actually have several recipes from Thanksgiving to post and I am falling behind. Not that I am known for my rapid posting schedule but usually it’s because I am too busy to cook… not because I am too busy to post.

There are two recipes in the Book for cinnamon buns (or rolls in this case). One is a quick bread style cinnamon bun and the other was this yeasted version. I had the ingredients for both but decided to try the slightly more difficult version… and to try my luck with yeast.

Since this was going to involve rising dough I figured it made sense to start on it so I would not waste precious time that would most likely be consumed by disorganized kitchen panic. The first step was to melt some butter in the microwave. I then whisked in some milk and set it aside to cool. Warm water, yeast, sugar, eggs and yolks were mixed in my KitchenAid until well blended. Then I added some flour, salt and the milk-butter mixture and let this mix. At this point I switched from the paddle attachment on my mixer to the dough hook, fired it back up and added the remaining flour. The book gives a time of about 10 minutes for kneading (until the dough freely clears the sides of the bowl), but that only took about five minutes. I was uncertain at this time whether I should continue kneading or not. From everything I have learned so far, if I over knead the dough it could be too dense from gluten formation, but if I don’t knead enough, the dough will be crumbly from lack of gluten. Or something like that, I am still trying to figure it all out. I figured the bread I had made previously always seemed dense, so I was going to stop kneading at let the dough rise. I formed the dough into a ball and placed it in an oiled bowl to rise in a warm spot.

Okay, so once that was complete I figured I should prepare the filling and the icing. The filling is straightforward and hard to screw up (I’m sure I could but I didn’t). Light brown sugar, salt and cinnamon in a bowl. Easy. The icing glaze was simple also, except I had to clean my KitchenAid mixing bowl. I hate doing dishes while cooking. Softened cream cheese, corn syrup, heavy cream, icing sugar and vanilla extract where mixed until smooth and lump free. I love the taste of cream cheese frosting. I mean I love it! And this was no exception. This was transfer to a bowl and refrigerated. Now I just had to wait for the dough to finish rising.

When the dough had sufficiently doubled in volume I began to roll it out into a rectangle approximately 16x12. The filling was sprinkled over the entire surface and then I tightly rolled it up. Then I was instructed to cut it. This was a definite learning experience. There is a suggestion to use dental floss to cut the dough. I thought this was a great idea but I am not always thinking correctly and my interpretation of the method was not really working out well. I was attempting to slice the floss straight down through the dough. This was not cutting much at all but it was squishing and deforming the dough. So I just used a really sharp knife. If I had thought about it though I should have wrapped the floss around the dough and pulled it tight, cutting through and keeping the dough in a cylindrical shape. Once the dough was cut into 12 rounds It was placed in a greased baking dish and allowed to rise a second time. I will admit once this had risen the second time they were starting to look good. Once risen, I baked them for 30 minutes.

These looked great and smelled amazing. I let them cool for a short while before coating them in the glaze/frosting/icing… not really sure what it should be called. I always think of glazes as thin but this ‘glaze’ is actually rather thick. After covering them I realized that they would really look like cinnamon rolls in a picture… probably should have been a little lighter on the glaze.

Rating: B+. Fresh cinnamon buns are a great thing. These turned out well. They were a bit dry around the outer edge of the pan but other than that they were delicious. Now as good as they were the first day they were exceptional the next day after a quick spin in the microwave. I love Cinnabon cinnamon rolls reheated and these were almost identical… probably better for me though.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

107. Cream Biscuits with Cheddar Cheese

Date Cooked: September 30, 2009
Page: 712
Rating: B+

I’m not sure why I have been fixated on biscuits but it probably has something to do with the fact that they are not terribly hard to make, just terribly hard for me to make well. I figured after the biscuit topping for the Peach Cobbler and Chicken Pot Pie I was starting to understand how these things were supposed to be made.

This time around I was a little more prepared and had a good understanding of the steps involved. That is one thing that this project has helped me with. While many of the recipes I am tackling are not really that complex or unique they are introducing me to basic skills I didn’t have. As I learn these skills, things are getting easier and I am beginning to realize how common the process is amongst recipes.

So I started by whisking together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt) and the cheese cubes. Then I slowly added heavy cream while folding the ingredients together. When the dough had roughly formed I turned it out onto my counter and then added a little more cream to the mixing bowl to get the remainder of the little dough pieces. I kneaded the dough until it formed a reasonably cohesive mass before rolling it out into a ¾ inch thick round.

I don’t have pastry cutters so I opted to cut these into wedges. This actually turned out really well as the sharp knife cut through the dough cleanly and I didn’t have and left over scraps to reform into a ball to cut further. I baked them for about 18 minutes and as soon as they were out of the oven I cut into one, loaded it with butter and devoured it.
Rating: B+. These turned out really good and I was very happy with the texture and form of the biscuit. That being said the flavor left me wanting… not sure whether sweeter or saltier though. They tasted like they didn’t want to be sweet or salty and therefore decided that the bland and boring middle would be fine. I will make these again but I will try to experiment with the flavor a little to give them something more. So I can now strike biscuits off my list of simple things I should be able to make without horrendously screwing up. It’s a long list.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

106. Pasta with Quick Tomato Sauce

Date Cooked: September 27, 2009
Page: 245
Rating: B

I have really begun to think more about the processed food that we buy and while I am not against pre-packaged food for convenience I do find myself frequently asking whether or not I could make it at home. The answer is usually a resounding YES followed by lots of cursing and frustration and questioning of why I didn’t just buy that damn package of frozen food.

While my attempt at hummus is what started me on this journey and actually got me thinking more about the food I buy, it was an attempt to make homemade chicken strips (which I hope to post sometime soon) that made me look at the food in stores differently.

We had some fresh pasta that needed to be used and I figured I would make a quick pasta sauce to go with it. I have learned from both the Chicken Parmesan and the Spaghetti and Meatballs that a simple pasta sauce is easy to make and as good as any store bought pasta sauce. The sauce takes about as long to cook as the pasta does. While this is a quick plain tomato sauce you can easily add to this mix to make it really delicious.

I deviated from the recipe almost immediately but I was certain that the change would not really alter the results in any significant way… I’m quite certain based on some of my exploits that I should refrain from allowing these kinds of ideas from taking hold. Since we were also going to be having some sausage I cooked them first and then used the grease from the sausage to sautee the garlic instead of starting with fresh oil. No need to dirty another pan right? I’m sure all you dish cleaning haters out there can agree. Once the garlic was fragrant, then I added a canned of diced tomatoes to begin reducing them.

In previous ‘quick’ sauce recipes I would use crushed tomatoes so when I dumped in the can of diced tomatoes I was thinking this was going to be a little chunkier than I would like… or actually my wife indicated how displeased she would be if this was chunkier than she liked. I’m married so we like the same things  As the tomatoes reduced and broke down though they became a nice paste and I figured if they didn’t it was nothing the immersion blender couldn’t solve.

As the sauce approached its final minutes of cooking I added some fresh basil, a little sugar and some salt. I drained the pasta which had been cooking during this time, being careful to reserve some pasta water. A tip I picked up somewhere suggested putting the measuring cup in the colander so you don’t forget to take some water before dumping. It has stopped me from forgetting a few times already.

I put the drained pasta back into its warm pot and introduced it to the sauce along with the reserved water and some oil. The mixture was heated through for a few minutes and then plated to serve. Actually it was then plated to take a picture and then I mixed the cooked sausage into the pasta and served that.

Rating: B. It was simple and delicious. Nothing spectacular mind you but it definitely was no more difficult than using store bought pasta sauce, well actually it was a little more difficult but I think instead of keeping pasta sauces on hand I will start keep cans of diced and crushed tomatoes on hand. I also learned that my children love cheese… except for the cheese that we grated to garnish this. My oldest decided that it smelt like vomit. I believe it was either Swiss or Asiago. Don’t know because we just grated the small amount we had left in the fridge. That should instill confidence for those that visit to eat. I’m not always sure what I am feeding you.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

105. Chicken Pot Pie with Corn and Bacon

Date Cooked: September 26, 2009
Page: 352
Rating: A-

So we all know how the Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuit Topping turned out but what about the rest of the dish. Well creating this pot pie was very similar to my previous attempt with only mild modifications and deviations from that event.

It really is a simple process to create a delicious chicken pot pie (which I have to admit is a dish I am really beginning to enjoy). Same as before, chicken breasts were poached in stock and both the chicken and stock were set aside. This time though both of my chicken breasts were of similar size so they both cooked nice and juicy around the same time. Next in this version, the bacon was cooked until crispy and then the rendered fat was used to sauté the vegetables (carrots, onions and celery). While the vegetables cooked I shredded the chicken (while my youngest kept trying to steal pieces of it). Once the carrots, onions and celery was done I added it to the bowl of chicken along with the bacon.

In the now empty dutch oven, I whisked together some butter and flour before adding the reserved poaching stock, milk and thyme. I simmered this until it thickened, and this time I let it really thicken, before seasoning it with salt and pepper and some sherry. This was mixed with the chicken, vegetables and bacon along with a can of corn… I really, truly thought I had frozen corn but I didn’t so I had to use canned corn. I don’t know about the rest of you but canned vegetables are low on my list of preferred food items. This mixture was transferred to a baking dish and topped with the Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuit Topping. Into the oven it went for longer than the book suggested. The book suggested 30 minutes but I needed almost 40 minutes for it to be hot and bubbly.

Rating: A-. I love a good chicken pot pie and this was no exception. This time around I felt a lot more confident putting it together, and other than the biscuit topping, it turned out great. Of course this time around my oldest didn’t like it very much, but his preference in food these days is more about mood than taste. I think I may have ended up eating half of this myself. I will absolutely cook more pot pies not simply because there are two more variations left in the book but because I want to try individual sized ones next!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

104. Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuit Topping

Date Cooked: September 26, 2009
Page: 352
Rating: C

I’ll preface this post by saying that this was a component to another recipe which I will post next. So while this was my second attempt at a biscuit recipe, the first was the peach cobbler, I have yet to make biscuits. For those that follow my blog and feel that I am not making enough mistakes to be humorous anymore, well then you will be very pleased with this post, much to my misfortune.

Let’s start with the briefest history of biscuits. The word itself means twice cooked in French (‘bis’ = twice, ‘cuit’ = cook), and shares commonality with biscotti (Italian for twice cooked). The original biscuits were dense and hard and well suited to storage and travel. In fact, they were a staple food for sailors as they would keep for long durations. The lighter, fluffier biscuit we are familiar with in North America originated in the south. That’s it for your history lesson, don’t worry, no quiz will be given.

Now for the failure because it starts early. I was excited to cook this fine Saturday afternoon. We had made a meal plan for the week and were pretty good about sticking to it, but due to last minute changes in plans (we finally went and saw Julie & Julia) I didn’t cook this on Thursday as planned. Since I had everything already purchased and ample time to cook I figured I would dive in. Before diving, always ensure there is water in the pool.

With all the ingredients in place I got to work. The dry ingredients were added to the food processor. This consisted of all-purpose flour, pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Didn’t take me long to mess this up. I added twice as much salt as I should have and only half the required amount of sugar because of my undiagnosed illiteracy. I got the sugar and salt quantities mixed up. The sugar was an easy fix of course but the salt not so much. With thoughts of my blog in my mind I began to carefully scoop the salt from the flour (I hadn’t mixed everything yet so this seemed almost like something that could be done), I gave up and decided to accept the failure and continue, I mean it wasn’t that much more salt. If only the salt was the worst of my problems.

I pulsed the dry ingredients together before cutting in the cold butter. I took some advice and covered the bowl with plastic wrap and this worked great. It kept the mess in the bowl, instead of all over the counter. I moved the contents of the food processor to a mixing bowl to which I added the buttermilk. I began carefully mixing with a fork but the dough would not come together! It remained soupy and I was getting a little frustrated. I started adding flour a tablespoon at a time and kept mixing. At this point I figured the dough, if it ever formed something cohesive enough to roll out would be tough. The gluten formation must be approaching the durability of wood. Around the addition of the third tablespoon of flour it dawned on me my failure. I might have a short-term memory issue. When measuring out the flour, of which I needed 1 cup of each type, I used a ½ cup dry measuring cup because it fit my containers better. I used it knowing I needed 2 scoops of each flour type. My debilitating brain disorder caused me to immediately forget this and I used only one scoop. Wow, that definitely explains my moist dough. I added the required amount of flour (minus the 3 tablespoons I had already mixed in) and proceed to knead it into a ball of dough. I knew this was set for failure.

Well the next step was to roll out the dough. I decided to try a trick I read somewhere recently. I don’t remember where and I am racking my brains trying to think of it. Oh, I remember, Derrick at BGB Challenge, a new addition to the CTB world. Placing the dough between two sheets of wax paper I rolled it out. This was truly an easy way to do it. Once rolled out enough, I removed the top sheet of wax paper (a little bit stuck but nothing major) and flipped it onto a lightly floured baking sheet. I removed the remaining sheet of wax paper and put the dough in the fridge covered with plastic wrap.

When it was time to use the dough I removed it from the fridge and cut it into pieces with a sharp knife, since I did not have and sharp pastry cutters. The book warns against using the lip of a cup since it pinches the dough and does not allow the edges to rise nicely. A nice sharp cut is recommended. I figured at this point my overly handled dough was going to need every trick possible to turn into something decent. I laid them over the chicken pot pie and everything went into the oven.

Rating: C. This rating reflects my execution of the recipe. While the dough barely rose when cooked it did taste great. I figure I still need some work on making dough. This event reminded me of my biscotti attempt.

Monday, September 28, 2009

103. Spaghetti and Meatballs

Date Cooked: September 23, 2009
Page: 253
Rating: B+

Spaghetti and Meatballs! A quintessential Italian pasta dish that I truly cannot remember the last time I had eaten it. I’ve had spaghetti and sauce before, but big delicious meatballs were never on top of the spaghetti, all covered in cheese. And I never lost my poor meatballs, when somebody sneezed. I’ll probably be humming that children’s song for the rest of the day… I wonder if I can even remember the whole thing…

Anyway, let’s talk about some massive meaty balls. That probably sounds rather bad but I mean I seriously made some meaty balls. The first step in creating what the book calls the ‘Best’ meatballs is to make a paste out of buttermilk and bread. This is called a panade for those that didn’t know, which included myself until just a few minutes ago when I looked it up. Apparently this is the secret to keeping them moist. I’ll be honest, bread soaked and mashed into buttermilk looks really gross, something like what a newborn would spit up. But I put those thoughts aside and started getting the rest of this meal together.

I started with a pound of ground meat, in this case ¾ pound of ground beef and ¼ pound of ground pork. Mixed into this I added parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic, an egg yolk and salt and pepper to season. I added the baby vomit… I mean the panade, and mixed everything until just combined to prevent the meatballs from getting too dense from over working. From this mixture I rolled out 12 large meatballs. The recipe says I should get about 14 and I don’t doubt if I had been a little more conservative I would have had that many.

I’d like to look back to when I started this blog and look at the recipe for Corn Fritters. I was terrified of cooking in oil a year ago. Since then I have gotten quite used to it and I know this sounds ridiculous but I am proud of my basic cooking techniques. I also realize I wasn’t unique and I wonder how many people today in their early thirties haven’t learned the basics for cooking.

Anyway I carefully placed the meatballs into my pan of oil. I made sure not to crowd them and as such I did them in two batches. I turned them frequently to brown them on all sides and this took some delicate work for the first few turns as my meatballs definitely were not dense. Once browned, they were set aside and the oil was removed, and then some more oil was added, this time olive oil. Some garlic was sautéed before a can of crushed tomatoes was added. This was left to simmer until it thickened up before I finally added some chopped fresh basil (from my basil plant which is still growing nicely), along with some salt and pepper to taste. I added the meatballs to the sauce to keep everything warm while the pasta finished cooking.

Simple things the book has taught me are that ample water and salt are required for cooking pasta. I’m sure lots of people have their own beliefs but I am now firmly entrenched with the books ideology. Now I must confess one teeny, tiny deviation from the book here. The recipe is for spaghetti and meatballs but I found out that I didn’t have spaghetti after coming home from shopping and I didn’t feel like running back out when I had an abundance of linguini and I figure it was close enough. Once the pasta was drained I returned it to the pot and added in several spoonfuls of the sauce, sans meatballs, and tossed to coat.

Each plate was set with pasta, topped with some meatballs and then topped with more sauce and some parmesan. Well actually my wife and sons were plated. I ended up having to cook more pasta for myself because I had once again misjudged how much pasta I needed to feed my family.

Rating: B+. This was a good and satisfying meal. The meatballs were delicious and the sauce was easy to make. Everyone enjoyed the meal including my traditionally picky eaters. In fact we had to fight over the last meatballs.

In case you were wondering what nursery rhyme was stuck in my head, it was On Top of Spaghetti.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

102. Spicy Fries

Date Cooked: September 21, 2009
Page: 195
Rating: B+

This week we decided to try something we keep meaning to do but always fail horribly at, a meal plan. This week we have decided to start simple and figure out just dinners. So on Monday night we decided to have homemade chicken strips and some French fries. This was the second attempt to cook French fries in our deep fryer. In case you didn’t know, I highly recommend the self cleaning deep-fryer from T-Fal, makes deep-frying easy, and clean-up manageable.

The first step is to cut the potatoes into fries and then soak them in cold water to help release some of the starch and ensure the potato cells are hydrated. The process this time around was much easier because I knew what I was doing. The fries went into the deep fryer for 9 minutes for their first round and then I let them drain on paper towel while the rest of the meal was prepared. When it was time to eat, the fries got another 5 minutes in the deep-fryer at a higher temperature to crisp them up.

Now my kids wouldn’t like the spicy seasoning so they ate their fries with some gourmet vinegar. The spicy seasoning was a simple mix of cumin, paprika, chili powder and cayenne pepper. For my fries I tossed them with the seasoning and then sprinkled a little more on top for good coverage.

Rating: B+. While the fries turned out much better this time the seasoning was nothing special. Probably because the seasoning didn’t contain salt and I didn’t salt the fries too much.

Friday, September 18, 2009

101. Fresh Peach Cobbler

Date Cooked: September 13, 2009
Page: 946
Rating: B+

When I was at the store buying a basil plant I saw some delicious looking peaches on sale. I figured I could make something good out of those and so grabbed them. When I got home I figured it was going to be either a peach crisp or a peach cobbler. I went with the cobbler since I had already done an apple crisp and wanted to do something different. Now this is a bit of a deviation from the way I normally cook. My wife can attest that I need to know the plan before I commit to something. I go to the grocery store because I know what I want to cook, not to find something to cook. So buying something spur of the moment to use later is not the norm.

The first step in creating this peach cobbler was to prep the peaches. My wife very helpfully peeled all of the peaches for me while I was attending other things (probably walking our dog). I arrived back and was all happy she did the hard part… until I realized removing the peach stone was actually the hard part. Most of the peaches came out of this process resembling something like peach slices. Alas some didn’t. I would just have to make sure they got buried under the dough. With the peaches mangled I left them in a bowl covered with sugar for thirty minutes. During this time I began preheating the oven and assembling the biscuit dough for the top.

I hate my food processor. I mixed flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar together. My food processor cannot handle dry ingredients. Every pulse of the button sends clouds of flour and other ingredients jetting out every seam in the lid (which is far too many). I will buy a Cuisinart Food Processor soon… well some day, they aren’t exactly cheap. Once the dust settled I added some cold butter and pulsed a few more times. Once done, I turned the mixture out into a bowl and added some plain yogurt and with a rubber spatula began to fold. When I started folding the yogurt into the ingredients I had my doubts that this could possibly form a dough, but slowly it took shape. I discarded the rubber spatula for the last few moments and brought the dough to completion with my hands and then separated it into 6 balls. I set it aside so I could tend to the peaches.

After resting, I drained the peaches and reserved ¼ cup of juice. The recipe says to discard any additional liquid but the truth is that I barely had ¼ cup. I whisked in lemon juice and cornstarch and then added this liquid along with the peaches to an 8-inch square glass baking dish. No wait. I didn’t. I don’t have one. So I used a square cake pan. Not sure what effect other than aesthetics it had on the peaches. The peaches were baked for 10 minutes before being removed from the oven so the topping could be added.

Once the topping was placed nicely on the peaches it went back into the oven for another 16 minutes. Oh I also sprinkled the biscuit topping with some sugar. When it was done it sure smelled nice!

Rating: B+. I really enjoyed this dessert. I only have two complaints with it. The topping to peach ratio seems wrong. I used seven medium sized peaches as the book recommends but when everything was cooked it felt more like the biscuit dough was the star. I guess that may be the point but I really would have liked more peaches. Second, I need to work on my biscuit making ability. I thought they turned out well but I am sure I can do better. I will need to carefully watch the way I handle the butter and make certain I don’t over handle the dough.

Calories/serving: 283

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

100. Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Basil

Date Cooked: September 12, 2009
Page: 243
Rating: B+

100! I made it to a hundred posts! I had really hoped to achieve this type of milestone about six months earlier but my pacing is a little slower than initially intended. Regardless though I feel pretty happy about this! So to celebrate I am posting about a simple pasta dish… I actually thought about timing the 100th post to be a post about a cake or something but that didn’t happen. This post however marks a significant step, the slow acceptance of foods that our house has traditionally stayed away from.

Our neighbor is a very kind elderly gentleman who has discovered that he grows more vegetables than him and his wife can eat. So we have been the occasional recipient of some lovely fresh produce. This time around we were greeted when coming home to a bag of tomatoes on our doorstep. Tomatoes… not exactly the produce of choice for us and I was immediately trying to determine what I should do with them. They sat in the fridge for a few days while I tried to figure it out when I realized the book had a few recipes in the pasta section that utilized fresh tomatoes. I have been a little negligent in the pasta section so I figured this would be a great use!

My wife and I have the same general complaint about tomatoes, the slimy, seedy interior. I am a little more forgiving of tomatoes included in things but this is something hard for my wife to accept. But this recipe calls for the tomatoes to be peeled and seeded. Works for both of us. Now peeling and seeding tomatoes is a process all its own and not exactly the quickest of things. I started by plunging the tomatoes into boiling water for about 20 seconds and then transferring them to an ice bath. From there I peeled the skins from the tomatoes. I was really surprised at this stage. I tend to find that every time a book says that something will be easy I run into difficulty. But not this time. Once peeled the tomatoes were cut in half, seeded and then chopped. I let them rest in a bowl until I was ready to assemble the sauce.

To start the sauce I heated some garlic in oil and then added the tomatoes. The tomatoes were reduced down until almost all of the liquid had evaporated. I added a small amount of salt and some fresh chopped basil. Let’s discuss the basil. I never have fresh basil on hand so as I typically do I went to the store to pick some up. This time however I came home not with fresh basil but an entire basil plant. For a dollar more I figured the plant was better than the packaged stuff. My kitchen gets plenty of sunlight during the day so I figured it will do fine there. We’ll see though since I am not known for my ability to grow things.

With the sauce done I waited for the pasta to finish boiling to complete the meal. I reserved ¼ cup of the pasta water and drained the rest. The sauce, reserved pasta water and some oil were mixed together and the whole thing was plated to serve.

Rating: B+. This dish was well received by the entire family. My oldest son who freaks out when vegetables are put on his plate ate two helpings of it. He didn’t even try to pick the basil out of it! My youngest ate a small amount but his lack of appetite may have to do with his constant pilfering of cheese, yogurt and any other food he can reach from the fridge. He has reached a stage where I may need to lock the fridge. There is no doubt that it was fresh tasting and simple. The only problem was I made the sauce based on 2 ½ pounds of whole tomatoes when I should have used 2 ½ pounds of peeled, chopped and seeded tomatoes. The sauce to pasta ratio was definitely off.

A quick question. The book constantly refers to a pound of pasta. How does a pound of fresh pasta translate into dried pasta?

 A hundred recipes done…

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

99. Pantry Spice Rub for Chicken

Date Cooked: September 12, 2009
Page: 610
Rating: B

I decided to do some chicken on the grill and figured I might as well try one of the rubs from the book to go with it. I’ll confess, I was a plain food eater for a long time and I was fine with it. Still am. I would eat plain pork chops, plain chicken, plain beef. The only seasoning would be salt and pepper and something at the table from a bottle. I am beginning to realize I have been missing out on an entire world of flavor!

This rub was as simple as mixing several different spices and seasonings together in a bowl. We have cumin, allspice, curry powder, cinnamon, black pepper, and chili powder. Not the most challenging recipe but only recently have I begun keeping fresh spices in the house. I used to have just the basics and some others that were probably several years old. The Bulk Barn has helped me keep smaller quantities on hand so they don’t sit around for years.

This rub was applied to brined and dried chicken before the chicken hit the grill. When I say applied, I mean I practically encrusted the chicken using all of the rub. Even though this post is about the Pantry Spice Rub, let’s discuss the grilling. Chicken drips a lot of fat and that fat likes to burn. I placed the seasoned chicken thighs on the grill and closed the lid. I was supposed to sear each side for 1-2 minutes before allowing it to cook through on the cooler side of the grill. Well when I opened the lid I had flames licking out from all over. It was a mini bonfire in my grill! I struggled to remove the chicken without burning my hands and was only marginally successful. So for the rest of the cooking time I need to constantly spray water to keep the flames down while the chicken cooked.

In the end the chicken looked like this:

Rating: B. Despite the look of the chicken the flavor of the spice rub was very dominant and did not taste really burnt. What I did notice was that the skin retained a lot of the salt from the brine. The rub was good and while I may not necessarily make this one again I will definitely look for others to use.

Monday, September 14, 2009

98. Gas-Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Date Cooked: August 22, 2009
Page: 586
Rating: A

Pork tenderloin is one of those cuts of meat I was always intimidated by. I felt it was a high quality cut and therefore difficult to prepare well. I am slowly realizing how much of an idiot I am. I am spending too much time letting perceptions of food interfere with cooking and enjoying it. One thing I have absolutely learned from this project is that my perceptions are faulty and I need to discard them. Pork tenderloin on a grill could not be easier.

I started by brining the pork tenderloins in salt and sugar for an hour. During this brine process I prepared the Asian Wet Rub and then fired the grill. Once the tenderloins had been rinsed and patted dry I coated them in the rub and set them on the grill. The sizzle as they hit the hot grill was a beautiful sound.

They were grilled for 2 minutes a side at high heat and then I let them cook over low heat for a few more minutes until the internal temperature reached 145. I then removed them and let them rest. I’ve done a fair bit of reading with regards to the internal temperature of pork and have come to the conclusion that when 145-150 is reached and then left to rest I get a much nicer meal. When the temperature reaches too high I might as well cook the plastic tray the pork came in.

Rating: A. I like pork so I am a little biased. I was surprised at how easy it was to prepare and cook this meal and the pork was moist and full of flavor and the rub was delicious on it. I will definitely be cooking much more pork tenderloin in the future.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

97. Asian Wet Rub

Date Cooked: August 22, 2009
Page: 587
Rating: B

I made this wet rub for some pork tenderloin I was going to grill. I have been working hard through the grilling section of the book this summer and I am loving it. The new grill helps. I figured if I was going to grill some pork tenderloin I might as well utilize one of the rub recipes in the book also. Two recipes in one is an efficient way to cook through the book I believe. I am always looking for shortcuts to accomplish a task. Some will call it efficiency, others call it laziness. But enough about my personal work ethic and on to the recipe!

So some garlic, scallions and ginger were minced and then mixed with light brown sugar, hoisin sauce, toasted sesame oil, salt and some red pepper flakes. The rub was left for an hour to let the flavors do some socializing and then it was ready for use.

Rating: B. It was a pretty tasty rub for the pork. Nothing that blew my mind but it definitely beat plain pork tenderloin (which can be fantastic anyway). The rub lent a nice sweet heat to the pork.

Monday, August 31, 2009

96. Mango Salsa

Date Cooked: August 22, 2009
Page: 584
Rating: B+

When I made the Peach Salsa a few weeks ago I truly loved it. I liked the fresh taste it brought to the meal and I viewed fruit at dinner time in a new way. I decided I wanted to try the other fruit salsas from the grilling chapter of the book and I figured the mango one was a simple choice.

I love mangos but I do notice I am very picky about the time to eat them. Under-ripe and they have a starchy taste to them. Overripe and they are sickeningly sweet. Unfortunately I think these might have been a little too under-ripe. The other problem I face with mangos is a good way to cut them. I normally just cut down the side of the pit and then skin the “halves” but I feel so much gets wasted. Anybody know a good way to cut mangos?

Anyway let’s stop whining about the difficulties with mangos and discuss this dish. So after processing two mangos, I finely chopped half of a red onion and half of a jalapeno. Well the recipe called for half but since I had already used these jalapenos in another dish I knew they weren’t too hot so I used the whole jalapeno. Some lime juice was added to the mix and then a little chopped cilantro. Everything was tossed together and then I put it in the fridge to rest for an hour.

I have these nested stainless steel mixing bowls (Wolfgang Puck) that I purchased awhile ago before I really started getting into cooking. They sat unused for quite awhile since the only use I had for bowls was heating things up in the microwave and I’m sure big metal bowls and microwaves aren’t supposed to play together. Anyway, these bowls have seen a lot of use since the lids they come with seal perfectly and are great for coating foods in oils or dressings. Just thought I would let you know… in case you cared or were in the market for mixing bowls.

Rating: B-. I didn’t like this one as much as the peach salsa I had made. The mangos were a little under-ripe as I had mentioned before and the overall flavors weren’t as complex as the peach salsa. It was delicious mind you, but given the choice I am going to make the peach salsa again first.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It’s My 1st Blogaversary!

Wow, I have actually stuck with something for a year! I am impressed with myself and I have a renewed vigor to make more recipes this next year than I did this past year. While 365 days may seem like a lot of cooking time it only translated for me into 95 recipes from the book. But they have been an interesting bunch for me. I started this blog with hummus, white rice and peas, to my more impressive dishes of Gumbo, Pan-Roasted Halibut Steaks and Pad Thai. I still won’t classify myself as more than mediocre but I have learned a lot in the process of writing this blog. So what have I learned?

1. Where Food Comes From: I am not some kind of food snob that only eats local or shies away from unsustainable food. But I do appreciate where my food comes from, the process involved in getting it to my table and the content of the food. I try to make better selections from my supermarket and I am really trying to learn the seasons for my vegetables.

2. Nutrition: I don’t believe all fat is bad or that sugar must be avoided. But understanding its effect on my family and its role in our health has become important to me. Sometimes full fat is better than the chemical alternatives… sometimes it’s not.

3. Food Likes/Dislikes: I am absolutely appreciating trying new foods. Things I thought I disliked I find I enjoy and even those I still dislike I am beginning to tolerate.

4. Confidence: I don’t feel as inept in the kitchen as I used to. I figure I still have a long way to go before I can truly begin leaving the recipes behind and creating unique meals on the fly.

I also figured this would be a good time to recap my top five recipes of the past year. These are the recipes that I have created numerous times.

1. Pad Thai: I never liked Pad Thai from a restaurant and never thought much of the dish until my wife asked me to make this. I’m so glad she did because I do love this recipe, with a few modifications of course. In fact the best compliment I have received to date was from my wife when she told me she preferred this to what she used to order in the restaurant. A true moment of pride.

2. Hearty Meat Lasagna: Absolutely the best meat lasagna I have had to date. It is meaty and not greasy and has great structure. The recipe feeds an army so we only cook this when more than us will eat it or I feel like eating it for a week.

3. French Onion Soup: Like it in the restaurant, love it at home. The smell while it cooks, the ability to control the cheese factor and the fact that I can create about 10 bowls of this stuff for the price of a bowl in the restaurant.

4. Buffalo Chicken Wings: I am a huge fan of chicken wings and now that I know how to create them at home just the way I love them is truly astounding! I’ve made several pounds of wings, probably over 20 lbs since I first made this recipe. In fact I bought a deep-fryer just so I could make these even easier.

5. Roast Leg of Lamb: While I have not made it again I was extremely proud of myself for cooking it so well. I absolutely intend to make this again for a special occasion.

I really look forward to tackling more recipes and I hope that I can complete more than 95 during this next year. I would like to finish this project in less than 10 years.

For all those that have been following along, THANKS!

** I have created an index of my progress by chapter which can be viewed in this Index of Progress post.

Monday, August 17, 2009

95. Grilled Corn with Soy-Honey Glaze

Date Cooked: August 10, 2009
Page: 158
Rating: B-

This dish was an afterthought as I was cooking up some leftovers. This recipe is basically grilled corn that gets a glaze after the initial grilling and then spends a few more minutes on the grill to caramelize it. We had some grilled corn the night before with several cobs left over. I figured this would be a good use for the corn.

An extremely simple recipe to make, I basically reduced equal parts honey and soy sauce and then generously coated the cobs of corn before putting them on the grill for a few minutes.

Rating: B-. I don’t know if it the fact that they get grilled a second time or because I used corn that had been sitting in the fridge overnight but the corn was definitely cooked a little too much. The kernels didn’t have enough crispness to them. The flavor was good but the soy sauce was definitely dominant and not sweetened enough by the honey. If doing this again I would cook the corn a little less the first time on the grill and I would probably use more honey than soy sauce.

Friday, August 14, 2009

94. Grilled Asparagus with Orange-Sesame Vinaigrette

Date Cooked: August 7, 2009
Page: 135
Rating: B-

I almost didn’t realize it but this is my 100th post! While it’s not the 100th recipe posted from the book, that is still to come and a milestone I am looking forward to, it does mark a commitment to something I wasn’t really sure I was going to stick with, especially back in May and June. I’m glad I have stuck with it and I am really enjoying trying new things and learning new (and sometimes basic) techniques. Well on with the show!

You may have noticed that I cook an abundant amount of asparagus from the book. The actual number at this moment is 50 percent of the recipes in the vegetable chapter cooked so far are asparagus recipes. That’s a lot of asparagus! I used to actually hate this stuff. Well this was the last grilled asparagus option in the book so I figured why not give it a try. Sounded tasty!

The recipe is basically a grilled asparagus recipe with a vinaigrette added to it. I started by prepping the vinaigrette. And the very first step to that was to toast some sesame seeds. Toasting seeds… in fact toasting anything in this manner is something I had never done until I started this project. So as I toast each ingredient for the first time I am trying to figure out when something looks done and smells done. I think I may have done a good job with the sesame seeds. Of course I didn’t do anything else while they were toasting for fear they would quickly turn into something akin to tiny pieces of charcoal. Time really does crawl when watching something cook. I think paint drying is more exciting to watch.

Once the seeds were toasted I went to work on the rest of the vinaigrette. The recipe really should just be called, sesame vinaigrette. Along with the toasted sesame seeds, I added toasted sesame oil and tahini along with some olive oil. I also added some rice vinegar and of course some orange juice (freshly squeezed!). Once it was whisked together I took a little taste. I will withhold commenting until later. I let the vinaigrette rest while I finished grilling the asparagus.

Grilling asparagus on my new grill is much easier. They don’t seem to slip through the grate like they did on my old grill. The asparagus was tossed with some EVOO, salt and pepper before being placed on the grill. In about 7 minutes I have nice tender, tasty asparagus.

I then ruined it by pouring some vinaigrette on it.

Rating: B-. The only thing preventing this from being a C is that I like asparagus and it has a strong enough flavor to shine through the vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is strongly flavored of toasted sesame. It needs to be better balanced. I don’t know if it’s the ingredients I used but I ended up mixing in some more orange juice and that did seem to balance it out. I doubt I would make this again as written.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

93. Grilled Hamburgers with Garlic, Chipotles, and Scallions

Date Cooked: August 7, 2009
Page: 449
Rating: B+

I’m still on a grilling kick and I have been trying to use my grill a lot more this summer, especially since I won the new one. I figured I would try my hand at burgers again considering my previous failure with them. I am not as dense as those previous burgers were though and this time I picked up ground beef that had a higher fat content. I will spoil the ending by saying that it changed things greatly.

I might have deviated a little from this recipe. I’m supposed to start with 1 ½ pounds of ground beef but once I had measured it out I felt it looked a bit... weak? I figured I would just add the rest of the package since I wasn’t really going to freeze a ½ pound. So I am already courting failure but increasing the amount of prime ingredients. The next step was to mix in minced scallions, chipotle chile in adobo sauce and garlic… okay I need to back up a step.

Let’s talk about garlic. Ladies and Gentleman, this was my very first attempt at dry roasting garlic (not counting roasting it in the oven with other foods), and since I had never done it before I didn’t quite know what to expect. After toasting them on the stove I removed them and was marveled at how soft they become and how much more fragrant, as well as the fact that the bitterness mellows out completely. I loved it! So they were minced and thrown into the ground beef.

Some salt and pepper added to season and then I got my hands dirty. There is a relaxing aspect to working the ground beef with bare hands. The only problem is you have to be careful not to overwork it so the relaxation needs to end. Once everything was mixed I left my math and reading skills behind and began to form the patties. Somewhere in my mind I thought the book wanted six patties (from an initial 1 ½ pounds) meaning scrawny little 4oz patties. This was unacceptable so I made fewer of them but larger. I ended up with 5 of them from the two pounds I used, around 6.5 oz each. Turns out that as I review the recipe while typing this that I was illiterate. The original amounts were supposed to make 4 patties not the 6 I had assumed. If you are as confused about this paragraph as I am then don’t worry. I’ll summarize it as follows. It all worked out in the end.

Once the patties were formed with their little divot in the middle (to help them cook up a more uniform thickness), I prepped the grill which had been heating up nicely. The burgers only took a few minutes on each side to cook through nicely. They were removed and left to rest for a few minutes while I grilled up a side dish.

Rating: B+. Definitely getting better. The chile came through nicely but I felt that the garlic and scallions were lost in the burger. The burger definitely turned out moist although a little smaller than I would have liked. I can see myself practicing many burger variations in the coming weeks. I am having my doubts that these burger recipes are the “best” though.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

92. Lemon, Garlic, and Parsley Butter

Date Cooked: August 6, 2009
Page: 563
Rating: B

I felt like I need to have something with the steak. Ok, I really just wanted to knock off another recipe from the book and I didn’t have any fresh vegetables on hand to grill. I liked the idea of adding butter to steak and there were a couple compound butters in the book. It just so happens that I needed to use up some parsley and I had all the ingredients for this particular recipe.

I added lemon zest, garlic, minced parsley, salt and pepper to some softened butter. Whipped it with a fork until combined and then doled out a little on the steak. By the time I was sitting down to eat it had started to melt nicely.

Rating: B. It was a pretty good butter. I really don’t have much to say about it. The garlic dominated the flavor profile and while I like garlic I was hoping for something more. Didn’t ruin the steak which is good I guess!

Monday, August 10, 2009

91. Gas-Grilled Strip Steaks

Date Cooked: August 6, 2009
Page: 564
Rating: A

A few weeks ago my wife and I spent some time at our bank taking advantage of the excellent mortgage rates and doing a little adjusting of our finances. In the process we put our names in for a draw for a new grill. Well it turns out we won it! I was very happy especially since we were looking to buy a new grill at the end of the summer season and now I can put that money towards something else! So of course there is only one thing to do with a new grill and that is to try it out.

To break in the grill I figured nothing was better than a good steak. So a quick trip to the store and I picked up a nice strip steak. As my wife is still away, I picked up just a small one for myself. I notice that I tend to eat a lot of strip steaks and need to start trying the different cuts to determine if I can tell and appreciate the difference.

I fired up the grill with ease. My old grilled had the electric starter break on it so I was constantly sticking matches in to light it. The problem was one side would light while the other burner would take a bit to get going. I frequently had mini explosions when lighting the grill. I would literally have to take a few steps back to avoid facial hair loss. This new one seems so much safer!

While the grill was heating up I seasoned the steak with just salt and pepper. Once the grill was hot enough I placed the steak on the grills and listened to it sizzle. 2 minutes per side and then I moved it over to the cooler side to finish cooking for another 6 minutes. I like my steaks more on the rare side.

I am pretty proud of the grill marks on the steak, something my old grill never seemed able to produce. On a side note I did singe the hairs on my arm without realizing it. The grill can throw off some serious heat!

Rating: A. The steak turned out great although it was a little more on the well-done side of medium than I would have liked. That is simply learning the new grill and I am excited to learn!

Friday, August 7, 2009

90. Peach Salsa

Date Cooked: July 31, 2009
Page: 584
Rating: A-

This was an accompaniment for the pork chops I had grilled from the previous post. I have watched on numerous cooking shows (especially those covering grilling) the use of fruit salsas with grilled meat. I have never actually made one until now.

It was a fairly simple recipe to make although I almost lost a finger in the process. While I could spin this story into a near tragedy I won’t, because I simply wasn’t paying attention and caught myself before a very sharp knife slid across my pinky. Two peaches were split and then chopped into large chunks. A red pepper and red onion were chopped fine and a jalapeno was minced. It was all tossed with some chopped parsley and garlic and some lime juice and pineapple juice.

This sat for about an hour while the pork chops marinated and cooked.

Rating: A. Absolutely delicious! The flavors went so well together and added a fresh layer of flavor to the pork chops! The peaches could have been riper but this was a great dish and I will prepare this in the future for serving with more grilled meats. The next day I had some more with the leftover pork chops and it was even better once the flavors mingled overnight.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

89. Gas-Grilled Pork Chops

Date Cooked: July 31, 2009
Page: 583
Rating: A

I am a fan of pork. It is a meat that I thoroughly enjoy the taste and texture of. When cooked properly. Nothing can be worse than a dry pork chop. So I was happy to see that this recipe starts with brining the pork chops in a mixture of salt and sugar. The brining is meant to help keep the pork chops juicy and boost their flavor. The book recommends rib or center-cut loin chops and while at the grocery store I picked up center-cut loin chops because they were thicker. Pork chops should be about 1 ½ inches thick and maintain a uniform thickness. My chops weren’t that thick unfortunately. I am still searching for a local butcher that can provide me with my meat needs without paying a hefty premium for the service. Until I do I will be reduced to the supermarket offerings.

The chops brined for a little over an hour while I prepped the rest of the meal. Once the brining was complete I patted them dry and seasoned them liberally with the spice rub from the previous post. When I say liberally I mean they were encrusted with the rub.

I am getting better at grilling. Or more importantly I am getting more confident on the grill. I had one side of the grill set to high and the other side to medium. The pork chops were grilled about 3 minutes per side over the hot section of the grill before being cooked for another 7 minutes over the cooler section. When they were done the chops looked and smelled great.

They were served with a peach salsa (covered in the next post but you can see from the picture above).

Rating: A. The only real improvement I could have made to these chops would have been to get thicker ones. These chops were delicious with the rub really accenting the juicy and flavorful pork. I am craving these again as I type this. I might need to make some pork chops tonight!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

88. Basic Spice Rub for Grilled Pork

Date Cooked: July 31, 2009
Page: 582
Rating: B+

From a recipe perspective there isn’t much to say about this. I mixed cumin, curry powder, chili powder, black pepper and sugar. Simple as this is though I almost failed. Once again I need to pay closer attention to the quantities. Everything except the black pepper was measured in tablespoons. The pepper was measured in teaspoons. If it wasn’t for the fact that I ran out of black pepper, I would have added too much. Anyway the potential disaster was averted and the rub was ready for application.

Rating: B+. It was a great rub and definitely enhanced the flavor of the pork.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

87. Grilled Eggplant with Cherry Tomato and Cilantro Vinaigrette

Date Cooked: July 31, 2009
Page: 162
Rating: B+

I’m living the week as a pseudo-bachelor. My wife is away with my eldest on a vacation in Florida and I am at home ‘relaxing’ with my youngest. This actually translates into attempting to accomplish as many home renovation projects as time and money allows. I also figured this was a good time to cook items from the book that my wife would probably not enjoy. Anything with tomatoes is very low on her list of enjoyable menu options. I’m not the biggest fan of tomatoes either, but I have been making a conscious effort to change that. This project has been a big help in that goal. I’m still not looking forward to the recipes containing anchovies. That is going to be a challenge.

Eggplant is not the first vegetable I would go to when looking for something to pair with… well anything. I have had this aversion to it for no good reason. Maybe as a child the name turned me off and since it was never a childhood staple I have had no reason to try it. Awhile back I made a stir fry with it and I enjoyed it. But I had yet to eat it as the star of a dish. I figured now was a good time to change that, especially since this recipe was made for the grill.

Prepping the eggplant was as simple as slicing it into thick rounds and brushing them with garlic, oregano and olive oil. The vinaigrette on the other hand required a little more work. The cherry tomatoes were quartered and then I diced a shallot and minced some garlic. I roughly chopped some cilantro and everything was tossed with some olive oil and lime juice. I let the vinaigrette rest while I prepared the rest of the dinner.

Now I am getting much better on the grill but I still have a lot to learn, especially timing. I placed the eggplant on the hot grill and closed the lid. I figured that they should take about 8 minutes and I should probably flip them at the 4 minute mark. I would like to point out that my grill has hot spots and I am not talking about areas that are warmer. I have spots on my grill that that approach molten metal temperatures. After 4 four minutes several pieces were glowing red, but of course other pieces were beautifully grilled. So I flipped them all over and moved the pieces away from the molten sections of my grill. I only let them go a few more minutes before removing and plating.

I poured the vinaigrette over the eggplant and served.

Rating: B+ I really enjoyed the flavors of this dish. I didn’t even mind the tomatoes in it. This could almost of had an A- rating except that the skin of the grilled eggplant was extremely tough and detracted from the smooth texture of the eggplant. The best I could describe it would be like eating a cupcake and then biting into a hidden piece of the cupcake paper cup. Next time I’ll skin the eggplant and I am surprised it didn’t mention it in the book… then again maybe it did. I think I will double check that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

86. Thai-Style Beef Salad

Date Cooked: July 17, 2009
Page: 117
Rating: B+

I had been eyeing this recipe for quite some time and finally got around to cooking it. Thanks in large part to my neighbor for delivering a rather large bunch of fresh lettuce from his garden. Salads are one of those things I keep telling myself to eat more of but I always consider them a lot of work. This one showed me that I have nothing to be afraid of, but that I need to invest in a good salad spinner.

I started off washing the lettuce. The one thing about fresh from the garden produce are little crawly things. I thoroughly, bordering on obsessively, washed the lettuce in my sink. After freeing a few mini slugs, ants and some other unidentifiable critters, the lettuce was fit for consumption. Drying the lettuce would have been easier with a salad spinner. I had several feet of my counter cover with kitchen towels and lettuce.

With the lettuce done it was time to cook the flank steak. I pan-seared it in a small amount of oil and while that was happening I prepped the cucumber and onions and the marinade/dressing. The marinade was equal parts fish sauce and lime juice with some red pepper flakes and sugar. Half of this was reserved as the dressing while the remainder was used to marinate the sliced flank steak.

When the flank steak was finished cooking it was sliced and marinated for 10 minutes. Once done marinating the steak, cucumber and onions were tossed in the dressing and then served on a bed of lettuce and finally topped with peanuts.

Rating: B+. I liked this salad but I had one complaint. Between seasoning the flank steak prior to searing in, and then marinating it in a dressing based on fish sauce, it was a bit salty. The dressing alone was fantastic but the flank steak probably could have skipped the short marinating session. Overall I was happy with this dish and I look forward to making more salads.

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