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.
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