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.
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