Friday, January 30, 2009

56. Roasted Baby Carrots with Rosemary, Thyme, and Shallots

Date Cooked: January 21, 2009
Page: 151

Rating: C

I needed a side dish for some chicken cacciatore that I was preparing and carrots seemed like a nice earthy vegetable to accompany it. Roasted baby carrots seemed very easy to prepare since I would be preoccupied with the chicken dish.

Rosemary, thyme, shallots, oil and salt were tossed with the carrots and then put in a roasting pan and into the oven. Baby carrots are tough. The carrots were supposed to be roasted for 20 minutes but it took nearly 35 minutes until they were ‘done’. Even then they weren’t really tender.

Rating: C. The shallots and herbs were well done before the carrots were tender enough to eat. Not sure if the quality of the vegetables is to blame but I’m not sure how this could have been improved without partly cooking the carrots first and then reducing the roasting time. It had potential and I have three more variations to try it out on

Thursday, January 29, 2009

55. Sour Cream Coffeecake

Date Cooked: January 16, 2009
Page: 838
Rating: A-

I’m woefully behind on posting what I have been cooking so I had better start catching up with some blog posts. The decision for the Sour Cream Coffeecake was simple. I pretty much had all the ingredients and had yet to cook from the Cakes chapter of the Book. So this looked really simple… and I love coffeecake. I originally had intentions of making this a chocolate chip sour cream coffeecake but due to some confusion during the layering of the cake I had completely forgotten that I intended to do that. More on that ridiculous moment shortly.

Since I am not a strong baker I started by getting all of my ingredients out and measured. Then I began to put together the streusel. A base streusel gets made of sugar, flour and cinnamon and then to some of that gets added butter and chopped nuts. The streusel on the cake used the butter and nuts. Once this was done and set aside I began on the batter.

The batter was a straight-forward affair with the usual assortment of cake ingredients with the exception of using the sour cream. Mixing this went smoothly and once done it was time to layer in my greased tube pan.

First in is 2 cups of batter (this works out to about a third but I didn’t notice at first), then a layer of the base streusel, then this is where everything went down the crapper. Had I remember to use the measured out chocolate chips they should have gone just before the streusel, but I was struggling to understand the directions. For some reason I completely missed the portion that told me to put a second layer of batter topped with more streusel before using the rest of the batter. I just skipped to using the rest of the batter. You can see in the picture that there is only one sweet line of sugary goodness and it is close to the bottom. Sure would have been nice to have seen a second line of tasty sweet sugar in there. This of course left me confused as to why I had so much streusel left over until I noticed the error. I probably should not have sampled so much of the streusel while working on this cake. I was probably suffering through a sugar high.

Nevertheless I sent it to bask in the heat of the oven. It took a little longer to bake than the book suggested but my pan is dark and a little on the thick side so it probably slowed the baking process. Once removed and cooled came the most harrowing moment of the ordeal. Flipping it out of the pan. I envisioned the cake sticking while the streusel topping broke and scattered everywhere. Didn’t happen that way. The first flip out of the pan went perfect. The second flip right-side up left bits of streusel topping all over my kitchen, but the majority of the topping remained intact.

Rating: A-. Putting the layering issue aside and the topping being a bit crumblier than I would have liked the flavor and texture of the cake was amazing! It was moist and not overly sweet until you hit the streusel layer. The extra layer of streusel would have been nice but wasn’t really missed. I will be making this again… next time hopefully with chocolate chips.

Monday, January 26, 2009

54. Hearty Meat Lasagna

Date Cooked: January 12, 2009
Page: 282
Rating: A-

My favorite lasagna ever is a President’s Choice Vegetable Lasagna (a national grocery store chain’s brand). I love it dearly even though it contains no meat. There meat lasagna on the other hand is pretty bland and is typical of most of the lasagna I’ve eaten. I was hoping this recipe would strive to be better and if it could topple my current favorite then all the better… because this one contains meat!

Before anything could be eaten though, I had to get this thing put together. As with the past few dinners this was a coordinated effort between my wife and I. I started things off by making the sauce for the lasagna. In a dutch oven some onion and garlic was softened before a mixture of ground meats was added (veal, pork and beef). Once the meat was cooked through, cream was added and reduced to pretty much just the fat. Then I dumped in the tomatoes. This part scared me because as mentioned before, neither my wife nor I are huge tomato fans. Well I am proud to say I am beginning to tolerate them. The sauce was simmered while I got the cheese mixture put together.

For the cheese layers of the lasagna I mixed ricotta and parmesan cheese with fresh basil, salt and pepper. This would be used with the ton of shredded cheese to create a truly cheesy lasagna. The recipe calls for no-boil pasta noodles but we opted to use fresh whole wheat lasagna noodle sheets. Well the ingredients were ready it was time to assemble. My wife did this part… I think I had to run to the store because we didn’t buy enough pasta noodles.

Sauce starts us off before the first noodles get laid down. Next went some ricotta, then meat, then shredded cheese, then noodles, then repeat, repeat, repeat until everything is used up. The whole thing was topped with lots more shredded cheese (with a little parmesan thrown in for bite.)

Covered in foil it had a chance to rest in the oven for about 40 minutes. I ended up leaving it for an additional 10 minutes because it wasn’t looking done. I’m glad I did. Once removed from the oven it sat for a few minutes to cool slightly so I could remove it from the pan. I cut a slice and held my breath as I tried to wrestle it out of the pan without turning it into a mangled pile of noodles, cheese and meat. I was surprised with the result.

Rating: A-. It was damn fine lasagna. It wasn’t full of liquid which I find common with a lot of lasagna and is a real bonus to this one. I don’t like soggy lasagna. It tasted nice and cheesy and the meat was nicely dispersed that I didn’t feel like I was eating a hamburger wrapped in saucy noodles. It didn’t topple the vegetable lasagna but I will never buy another meat lasagna again. I can make a much better one now.

Friday, January 23, 2009

53. Classic Macaroni and Cheese

Date Cooked: January 11, 2009
Page: 288
Rating: B+

Nothing beats a good bowl of Macaroni and Cheese… or for those of us north of the US border, Kraft Dinner. I love boxed Macaroni and Cheese. I could eat it every day and the few times it gets made for my kids I often help myself to a few spoonfuls from their plates. I know it is probably not the best thing for people but I just love it. So when my wife decided that we should make homemade macaroni and cheese I was a just a little concerned. Was this going to upend my love of KD? Would my picky kids identify it out for the imposter it is and refuse to eat it?

The recipe starts out simple enough. Make bread crumbs. Some slices of bread and a few chunks of cold butter get a spin in my food processor (which I am truly beginning to hate more and more each time I pull it out). The final, crumbly mess gets set aside for future use. Onto the pasta!

With great skill born from months of honing my culinary abilities some water was boiled and pasta dropped in. Then came the fun part. Time to make a roux. I melted some butter in a dutch oven and once the foaming subsided I added some flour along with mustard and cayenne pepper. I’m definitely getting better at roux making and I must thank the Gumbo I made a few months ago for that. The biggest problem here was the mustard. The recipe calls for dry mustard powder and the only container I had of that I threw out when I found it a few weeks ago. I truly believe that I either inherited it from my great-grandmother or it was retrieved from deep beneath the bowels of my cupboards from the previous owner of the house. Either way it was never to be used. So as for the dilemma I figured I would add some French’s prepared mustard. I mean isn’t it just mustard powder already prepared?

Once the roux was cooked but not browned I slowly whisked in some milk. The mixture was brought to a boil and then simmered until it thickened up. Once suitably thick an enormous quantity of cheese was added (thankfully we decided that it would be wise to buy shredded cheese since I don’t have the best cheese grating equipment). Once the cheese had melted then the cooked pasta was tossed in and coated. Macaroni and cheese calls for elbow pasta but we didn’t have enough of it, so I threw in whatever other pasta we had available. This concerned some people later on.

The whole mixture was placed in a 9x13 baking dish and topped with the breadcrumbs before being put in the oven. Now this dish was almost overflowing and only half of the breadcrumbs fit on the macaroni. I figured we probably added too much pasta and that I probably shouldn’t have thrown in the last slice of bread in the package in the food processor, but it turns out that the 9x13 baking dish I have is actually 8x12. It actually explains a lot of previous difficulty with using this dish in recipes. Now that being said this recipe still makes way too many breadcrumbs.

Once removed from the oven it was left to cool for a few minutes before being served up. What did everyone think?

Rating: B+. It was good and the kids loved it. Even my picky 5 year old actually complimented it. My biggest issue with it was the breadcrumb topping. My wife didn’t mind it and the kids had no issue but I found it tasted too much like toast on my pasta. I had to mix the whole thing on my plate so I could minimize the textural taste of it. The use of multicolored pasta in it caused my son a little concern because he thought we were trying to sneak vegetables into it. He believed our excuse of using green pasta. Next time I’ll tell him it is pasta but actually use some vegetables. Did it surpass my love for KD though? No. It’s too different to replace the lovely processed cheese flavor of box macaroni and cheese. I love them both and they can each have a place on my plate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

52. Classic Fajitas

Date Cooked: January 10, 2009
Page: 575
Rating: B

For those of you that like my blog more when I fail than when I succeed, you will be pleased with this one. My wife loves fajitas and this dinner was for her. There was a slight ulterior motive to preparing this dish though. I’ll explain my motive before moving on. Several recipes in the book reference other recipes as components. These fajitas for example reference a recipe for Charcoal-Grilled Flank Steak. So by cooking fajitas I am actually completing two recipes. But it doesn’t stop there. Several recipes are technique specific and I decided awhile ago that I would count all technique recipes completed when I finished one. In this particular case, as with almost all recipes in the grilling section, there is a charcoal-grilled version and a gas-grilled version. I have a gas-grill so I use that version, but I count both as complete. So for those who are counting, cooking fajitas alone completes three recipes from the book. Enough about the technical details of how I am completing this project and onto the disaster... I mean Fajitas!

Flank steak is expensive. I was always led to believe that it was an inexpensive cut but it isn’t. It tastes great, it’s easy to cook, so it costs more. They say the rise in popularity of fajitas has helped drive prices up and I can believe that. Anyway I made the trip to the grocery store in the evening hoping that they had reduced some of the meat from the meat counter display. No luck. I don’t want to sound cheap but I believe I should be able to cook a recipe for cheaper than I can go to a restaurant to eat it. Anyway I am rambling something fierce today, can’t seem to get my thoughts in order.

Once home I fired up the grill. Well actually I dug it out of the snow and moved it a little closer to the door. Not sure about the rest of you but I’m sick of snow. So I got the grill fired up and left to get everything else prepped. Basically chop some onions, and some red and green peppers into large pieces. I took the liberally seasoned flank steak out to the grill and dropped it on to hear a beautiful sizzle and then a pouff. Pouff?? Is that a really word or an attempt to spell a sound? The flame went out. I immediately panicked because I knew what it meant. I was out of propane! I belted out a few expletives into the cold snowy night and then checked the gas dials and the propane valve to make sure everything was in fact open. It was and I was out of luck. This is what really kills me. I already dropped the steak on the grill or else I would have packed it all up and cooked it the next night.

So I did what no one else should. I set a skillet on the stove and blasted it to high. I let the skillet cook itself for a few minutes before dropping the steak into it. The steak and skillet angrilly hissed at each other for a few minutes before I flipped it over to caramelize the other side. Once completed I removed it from the skillet and tented it with foil while I cooked up the vegetables (which should have been done on the grill as well). When all was done I heated some tortillas and served the meat and vegetables with the chunky guacamole and classic red tomato salsa.

Rating: B. Obviously this didn’t go as expected and much of the rating is influenced by the event. But in reality the fajitas were just ok. I will attempt this again with a full tank of propane (one day I will get a natural gas BBQ, or even a charcoal grill). Part of me likes getting a searing hot skillet spitting angry liquids set in front of me at a restaurant anyway. It adds to the excitement as only the risk of horrible burns can. I love when they tell me to “watch out for the skillet, its hot”, I mean the charred wood platter its resting in and the blast furnace mitts you are handing it to me in didn’t give that away. I would also appreciate it if maybe you didn’t set it in reach of my toddler. Just a suggestion the lawyers for the restaurant might appreciate. Sorry, my train of thought derailed somewhere back there.

Monday, January 19, 2009

51. Chunky Guacamole

Dated Cooked: January 9, 2009
Page: 26
Rating: B

Guacamole, my wife loves avocados and while I don’t dislike them they have never held the same place in my heart as they do in hers. We both enjoy guacamole but my wife is a real connoisseur. So I prepared this recipe knowing I was trying to impress her taste buds. Did I succeed? Let’s find out.

The recipe is a rather straightforward concoction. Three medium ripe avocados are used. The first one gets mashed up into a paste and mixed with the rest of the ingredients which includes such delightful items such as onions, garlic, jalapeno peppers and cilantro. I have come to the conclusion that I LOVE cilantro. A few years back my wife made some appetizers that prominently feature cilantro. I was overwhelmed by the taste and immediately confused the overwhelmed feeling with a dislike of them. Now a few years later I look forward to any recipe that uses cilantro. I can’t really imagine how I ever made it that far in life without having tried cilantro.

Anyway… The recipe says chunky guacamole but I encountered a problem the second I cut into the avocado. Ripeness. These avocados were not really rock solid but I’m sure if one of these was thrown at someone’s head they would be nursing a rather large bruise after they awoke from their avocado induced slumber. Mashing was becoming an issue so I gave up and took out the food processor. I was also lazy so instead of cutting the remaining two avocados into small cubes I just tossed them in the food processor for a few pulses.

Rating: B. With the help of the food processor the final result was tasty and not to chunky. That being said the ripeness of the avocados affected the taste. The flavor just wasn’t full-bodied? Vibrant? I’m struggling to describe it… something was missing. If the flavors were painting my tongue they just kept missing a spot and no matter how much I ate that spot was not being reached. It was still good though and my wife liked it, so I will make it again, but next time I will ensure that the avocados have time to ripen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

50. Classic Red Tomato Salsa

Date Cooked: January 9, 2009
Page: 24
Rating: A

This was prepared as a side dish to the main meal we were going to be eating. Since it was recommended I figured why not knock this recipe out as well. I will admit I was pretty dubious about liking this recipe since it contained tomatoes and my wife dislikes tomatoes and I am less than enthusiastic about eating them… let’s just say things didn’t turn out as expected.

The recipe is very simple. Basically a bunch of chopping and then letting the whole batch rest for the flavors to get acquainted. It’s hard to write much about the process since it didn’t really involve any difficult techniques. I halved the recipe since it was just my wife and I. But forget the preparation and let’s talk taste.

It was extremely fresh tasting salsa (as should be expected) and really surprised me how much I liked it. I was thoroughly impressed and although it didn’t beat my favorite standby salsa (Garden Fresh that we buy at Costco) it definitely beat out any other I’ve ever purchased.

I did do one thing though not mentioned in the recipe. I seeded the tomatoes… it’s the part that both my wife and I really dislike. The gross slimy interior of tomatoes really doesn’t turn me on to them. I’ve never really had a problem with the taste of the tomato but the texture of the interior is definitely not a selling point.

Rating: A. This is a really good rating due to the main component being tomatoes.

I just realized this is blog post 50 for recipes from the book! I finally feel like I am making some progress... of course I still have chapters in the book I haven't even touched! Might be time to bake a cake or cook some lamb.

Friday, January 9, 2009

49. French Onion Soup

Date Cooked: January 5, 2009
Page: 44
Rating: A

I have stated before that I am not the biggest fan of soups. I don’t hate soup but it is just not something I ever really seem to crave. French onion soup is probably the only soup to come close to that though. My wife on the other hand loves French onion soup and will eat it at restaurant often. So when trying to figure out what I wanted to cook I mentioned this soup in passing and my wife emphatically agreed. So I swung by the grocery store and picked up a few items and set to work.

Not a very difficult recipe to say the least, painful, yes, but not difficult. I gathered my ingredients and began the longest and most tedious process, cutting five onions. Okay, I may have exaggerated before about the effects shallots had on me, but this time was very different. I set about cutting the red onions and after the first half onion my eyes started to water. I forgot about this lovely effect because normally I am quickly dicing an onion and am finished before the effects really get started. This time though I was carefully slicing the onions very thin and was releasing their terrible toxic chemicals into the air in vast quantities. After finishing the first onions I was practically blinded by tears. Not just tears of pain but also tears of realization, I had four more to go. The whole process was compounded by the fact that these onions needed to be thin which meant even more slicing through these little torture vegetables. Somewhere midway through the fourth onion my sight began to return and the pain subsided. I can only assume that my tears were flowing like a burst dam and the chemicals no longer had a chance to settle on my eyeballs. Goggles will be a new kitchen addition.

With the agony of onion prep complete I began the dish in earnest. Butter was melted in my dutch oven to which I added the onions. I was supposed to stir the onions frequently but it was impossible at first due to the sheer volume of onions. I did try though and ended up with little onion pieces flying all over the stovetop. I covered the dutch oven and waited. After several minutes the onions had begun to break down and I was able to stir. When I initially read the recipe I thought that the soup had to simmer for 30-35 minutes, turns out that is how long you cook the onions for. Once they were severely reduced in volume and had lost their structural integrity I added the red wine and almost 8 cups of broth (chicken and beef). In went some fresh herbs (parsley, thyme and a bay leaf) and the whole batch was left to simmer for 20 minutes.

When the soup was ready it was served into individual ramekins and topped with baguette slices and Swiss and Asiago cheese. It spent 5 minutes under the broiler before coming out ready to serve. The book called for 10 minutes under the broiler but if I had left it that long it would have been a crispy black layer of cheese.
This soup was delicious… except I once again got so caught up I forgot an ingredient. Before serving it into the individual ramekins it was supposed to have balsamic vinegar added. I added it to the remaining soup for the next servings.

Rating: A. This soup was delicious if a bit under seasoned. I am beginning to expect that from this book. I only had two ramekins so I had to wash them before serving up a second helping. It was worth it though. I will definitely make this soup again!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

48. Roasted Potatoes

Date Cooked: December 25, 2008
Page: 185
Rating: B

I’ve been so busy that I actually I forgot I had cooked these from the Book and only realized I had these to post when I retrieved all my holiday pictures off my camera. So I get to post about this instead of the delicious soup that I was ready to post about. Mmmm… I’m not a big soup fan but I sure ate a lot of this particular soup… but more about that soon enough. Today we are going to discuss the Roasted Potatoes.

Growing up I was not a potato fan. We ate a lot of potatoes and unfortunately they weren’t always that special. So I always assumed potatoes to be a bland stomach filler. Every once and awhile though we had these awesome roasted potatoes, and I had hope to recapture that. Let’s see if I could surpass a memory.

This dish is pretty simple. Cut up potatoes. Toss potatoes in oil, salt and peeper. Peeper? I think I meant pepper. Then spread them out in a single layer on a shallow roasting pan (or in my case a stone baking sheet). Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake for 15 minutes. Then flip the potatoes and bake an additional 15 minutes. Then put them in a bowl to serve. Simple.

Of course because this was for Christmas dinner I had a ton of potatoes to cook and they were crammed in pretty tight on two baking sheets. Flipping them resulted in numerous potato casualties as they kept hitting the floor.

This particular recipe did highlight something I truly need to work on. Portion size. Christmas dinner was for 7 adults and two young children. I think I made enough potatoes for 20 people… If all they ate were potatoes. But of course who eats only potatoes for a meal besides the Irish (my wife’s family is Irish so I can get away with saying that.) We had 8lbs of prime rib roast along with vegetable dishes and some truly sickening deserts (and I mean sickening in a gloriously indulgent way.) I should not have doubled the recipe, I probably could have halved the original. None of this would have been an issue except that we left the next day for a weeks holiday. Anyway I am rambling I think.

Rating: B. These potatoes turned out nice. They were crispy on the outside and nice and tender on the inside. They probably would have been a bit crispier if they hadn’t been crowded on the baking sheet. Otherwise these are pretty standard fare and will probably be made again many times as a food staple. Oh yeah, did they remind me of the roasted potatoes from my childhood… no, I haven’t achieved that, then again everything is better in your memory than in reality.

Monday, January 5, 2009

47. Chicken Pot Pie

Date Cooked: December 16, 2008
Page: 351
Rating: A-

** I have been away for the holidays and I had meant to post this back in December before leaving but time didn’t allow for it. The holidays were great and I hope yours were too. But now back to some cooking (and baking too)!

This was the main dish that the Savory Pie Dough Topping was created for. To be honest the most difficult part of this dish was the dough topping. But I won’t let that stop me from discussing some of the little steps I learned while preparing this dish.

The first step was to poach chicken in chicken stock until just cooked through. While I had heard the message before about trying to keep items of similar size to allow for even cooking times, I didn’t pay attention and had a huge chicken breast poaching alongside one half its size. This led to the small one being a little overcooked by time the large one was done. As I reflect back now I figure I might suffer from mild brain damage. Why wouldn’t I have just removed the smaller piece when it was done? Anyway once the chicken was done it was removed and cut into small pieces.

While the chicken rested I began to prepare the base filling. The basic carrots, onions and celery were sautéed until tender and then set aside with the chicken. Then butter and flour get combined before adding in milk, chicken broth and some thyme. While it simmers some salt and pepper and sherry get added.

The filling gets mixed with the chicken and vegetables and then poured into a baking dish and topped with the dough. I was really worried about the dough breaking or not being rolled out enough to cover the dish but it actually turned out pretty good. The dough held together nicely while moving it onto the pie filling. I was proud of myself.

Rating: A-. It was delicious. The drop in rating was actually due to the pie dough being a little to “floury” (I don’t believe that is actually adjective). I will definitely make this dish again but I’ll need to work on the dough. It’s been almost a month since I made this dish and I am actually craving it.
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