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!
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