Tuesday, November 9, 2010

136. Quick Tomato Sauce for Pizza

Date Cooked: June 13, 2010
Page: 669
Rating: B+

I cooked this almost 5 months ago and I am going to admit my memory is pretty awful about my experience cooking this… but fortunately this wasn’t an awful recipe. As I had said in previous posts I really wanted to bake some homemade pizzas. I figured that if I was going to make dough from scratch I should also make the pizza sauce from scratch. So while the dough was relaxing I set about making the sauce.

Are you ready for a long post delving into the adventure that is quick tomato sauce for pizza? Well too bad… this was simple. I sauteed a little bit of garlic, added a can of crushed tomatoes and seasoned with salt and pepper. I simmered it until it thickened. That really could not have been easier. It barely qualifies as a recipe.

Rating: B+ The end result though was a simple sauce for the pizza which tasted good. The kids ate it on their pizza without complaint.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

135. Pizza Dough

Date Cooked: June 12, 2010
Page: 662
Rating: A-

So I had bought the new Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor and I wanted to really try it out. I figured I had been putting off Pizza Dough for awhile because I didn’t want to make it by hand and my old food processor would have seized and died painfully at the thought of trying to mix pizza dough. So this was a perfect opportunity.

I’m not going to lie. I am still intimidated by a lot of tasks in the kitchen, mostly those that I have never attempted before and pizza dough is one of them. I started by soaking some yeast in warm water while I got the rest of the ingredients in order. Flour and salt were sifted together and then oil and water were added to the yeast mixture.

I pulsed the wet and dry ingredients together in the food processor until it came together into a ball. Even though this processor is rather heavy duty it was bouncing all over the counter as it tried to spin the ball around. I could only imagine what would have happened if my old food processor tried to handle this… bouncing around the counter… motor screaming in agony… smoke pouring forth… and then a final squeal of despair before silence.

I removed the ball of dough and kneaded it quickly before forming it into a nice round ball. The dough was left to rise in a lightly oiled bowl, covered. When the dough had doubled in size I removed it from the bowl and divided it into three pieces. This is where the story of pizza dough ends… I then turned two of these pieces into pizzas and put the other in the freezer… which is still there to this day.

Rating: A- Rating pizza dough by itself is tough. The dough came together very easy and wasn’t that much work. I obviously didn’t taste the dough uncooked but I will say it was a decent tasting dough from the pizzas that were made. How many variations of plain pizza dough are there… water, salt, flour, oil and yeast.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

134. Crispy Fried Chicken

Date Cooked: April 18, 2010
Page: 330
Rating: B

I was watching the Next Food Network Star last night, a show my wife and I love, and some of the contestants had to make fried chicken. It made me think back to the fried chicken I cooked back in April… yes April, I am that negligent with my blog these days. Too many things on the go I guess. Well the chicken I made didn’t turn out as nice as that the Next Food Network Stars made but it was still a great learning experience in the kitchen.

The first thing that I needed to do was brine the chicken in buttermilk, seven cups of it. I think the only reason I even decided to cook this recipe was that fact that I had a carton of buttermilk that was approaching it’s expiration date. I had defrosted a whole chicken and then cut it up into 8 parts… it was supposed to be ten parts… I’ll get to that in a moment when it becomes somewhat humorous. The buttermilk brine contained salt, sugar, paprika, garlic and bay leaves all smashed together before being mixed with the buttermilk. The chicken pieces were then submerged and the bowl set in the fridge.

The chicken breast pieces were really large compared to the rest of the chicken and I was wondering why so I re-read the book. The breasts were supposed to be cut in half which would have provided two similar sized pieces to the rest of the batch. Now what should I do, since the chicken was brining in the fridge. I thought about it carefully and then realized the larger breasts probably wouldn’t deep fry well so I took out the bowl, reached into the brine and pulled out the dripping chicken pieces and sliced through them. Buttermilk brine was dripping everywhere, even though I tried my best to contain the mess. In my mind I was imagining little Salmonella bacterium colonizing every corner of my kitchen, ready to declare war on my family. So I put the four chicken breast pieces back in the brine and then scrubbed my kitchen counters.

Once the chicken had soaked in buttermilk long enough I removed it and prepared for the next phase of the operation. A dish of flour was prepared along with a mixture of baking powder, baking soda, egg and buttermilk for battering. I used my deep fryer instead of oil in a pan because it was cleaner and less risk to me. The chicken was deep fried until golden brown and then left drain on a paper towel lined plate before drying on a wire rack.

Rating: B. The skin was nice and crispy but the chicken as a whole was just a little too greasy. That said the kids loved it but they do tend to eat anything deep-fried. I don’t know if I would go through this whole mess again but I might adapt this to home-made chicken strips. I still have to try oven-fried chicken which might be better… I hope.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

133. Mustard Sauce with Vermouth and Thyme

Date Cooked: April 4, 2010
Page: 479
Rating: B+

Wow, I made this sauce with the ham back at the beginning of April. Time is flying by and I am not giving this blog the attention I once used to. Lives change and the logistics of having a third child do make time more precious. But before I can embark on newer recipes I guess I should finish up the posts on these older ones.

When I had made the decision to have Ham for Easter I needed an accompanying sauce to go with it. We had a traditional brown sugar and maple glaze (that came with it) but I wanted something less processed. I personally like mustard based sauces so I was all over this one.

Shallots were softened in butter before vermouth and sugar were added. This was reduced slightly to allow the alcohol to cook off before a mixture of cornstarch and chicken stock were added. The sauce was simmered in order to thicken it, and once done, some Dijon and grainy mustard and thyme were introduced.

I served this alongside the ham.

Rating: B+. I liked this sauce a lot more that the sugar syrup that came with the ham. The flavor helped offset the saltiness of the ham and added real dimension to the meat. My oldest son liked it as well which was a nice surprise.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 31, 2010

132. Spiral-Sliced Ham

Date Cooked: April 4, 2010
Page: 478
Rating: B-

I cooked this recipe almost 2 months ago. Time is flying by with another little one in the house. Definitely takes another chunk of time out of my already precious little time. In addition a few other changes have altered our dietary eating habits so the truth is trying to cook through this book has gotten a little more difficult. But I forge on anyway.

Nothing screams Easter like a 10lb. ham for two. Well actually it wasn’t really two, I have two little eaters as well so I guess it was more like two and a half. This year was a quiet Easter for us but we still wanted a nice family dinner and there is one thing we don’t eat a lot of in our house. Ham. We don’t dislike it but never really seem to want to cook one. Easter is a good excuse to cook one. The book is full of little articles on the best kitchen equipment or brands of product that taster’s recommend. Often this is useless to me because many brands aren’t sold in Canada or they are but are sold under different names. In this case the book recommended Cook’s Spiral-Sliced Smoked Ham. Just so happens that my preferred supermarket had them on sale. 10lbs. of ham is relatively inexpensive ($17) … compared to the 4 lbs of lamb shoulder chops I am looking for ($80).

Easter Sunday was time to get this big guy in the oven. I made some drastic miscalculations with regards to the timing of my meal. Between cooking time and resting time I underestimated by almost 2 hours. This probably would have been okay if it wasn’t for the fact that I was planning on dinner being at 6pm. By time 8pm rolled around we were famished.

Cooking a spiral sliced ham is not exactly rocket science, although I still struggled. In essence you are merely reheating a previously cooked product. The real learning for me was carving the ham. If done right you get a lot of meat with very few cuts. The book nicely outlined how to do this. I will say that I have become rather good at carving turkey, chicken and ham.

Rating: B-. I still can’t say I get overly excited about ham. It is a fine product but I would rather eat a good pork roast over a ham. This was served with a sauce which was rather tasty. Both of my eating children enjoyed the ham which always makes it a winner.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

131. Key Lime Pie

Date Cooked: March 25, 2010
Page: 909
Rating: B+

There is one Whole Foods Market in Toronto and it happens to be close to my sister-in-law’s place. During a quick delivery trip to drop some stuff off for her we decided to peek our heads in and see what the fuss was all about. It was quite an interesting place. I wasn’t entirely blown away by most of the store, but I was enthralled by the produce section. It wasn’t just the variety that was there but the quality of the produce was amazing! As we wandered around I picked up some spices that I couldn’t find in the regular chain and I also grabbed a small bag of Key Limes, I had a plan for these.

A few weeks back I baked a key lime pie (from a box mix) and the kids liked it. But I wanted to know what real key lime pie was like. That is the new curse I live with. I am always trying to figure out a way to make everything from scratch… I have even started looking into the possibility of cheese making! But that will be another time. This time I was simply tackling a pie and since I found key limes I figured this was perfect.

So as I started to flip through the recipe in the book, I’m reading the blurb about the limes and it turns out the book actually recommends regular limes, both because they are easier to find and juice easier, and there is little difference between the flavor of key limes and regular. I was a little disappointed, because I could have done this pie sooner and I could have spent less for the limes. But I soldiered on anyway.

First I need three tablespoons of zest from the key limes. Well, score one for the book. Zesting tiny key limes sucks. Thank god I purchased a microplane zester awhile back, it made a tedious job slightly quicker, although that sharp zester can wreck havoc on your fingers if you slip. Once I had acquired the requisite amount of zest I then needed to juice this little orb. It took nine key limes to extract enough juice. I will say these particular limes really gave up a good amount of juice each. So with the lime processing complete it was time to get busy.

The zest was beaten in with some eggs yolks and then condensed milk and lime juice was added and the mixture was set aside to thicken. I’m not sure what size condensed milk cans are supposed to come in but the size they use in the book (14oz) was not the size they sell at the grocery store (10oz). I was lucky I purchased 2 cans because I didn’t realize this until I was at home. So I ended up using almost a can and a half. Any suggestions on what I can use 5ozs of sweetened condensed milk for? With the filling thickening I moved onto the graham cracker crust.

Graham crackers were processed with some sugar and melted butter and then spread out onto a pie plate. This was baked for about ten minutes and then allowed to cool. Once cooled the filling was added and the pie was baked for an additional 15 minutes. This entire pie then needed to cool for 3 hours… Since it was already 10pm I figured we would have this for dessert the next night.

When it was finally time to enjoy this pie I whipped up some cream and confectioner’s sugar with the KitchenAid. I probably should have sifted the confectioner’s sugar. When tasting the whipped cream for “quality” I found a small lump of sugar. I won’t lie…. I actually liked that. The pie was garnished with some thinly sliced limes (I need a good quality mandoline) and sliced to be served.

Rating: B+. I liked the pie and it definitely tasted more real than the pie mix I had used previously. It was definitely tart but not overpowering. I only had one real complaint. The three tablespoons of zest needed to be very finely chopped to ensure it better blended into the pie. I also wouldn’t even bother with the lime garnish… not unless I get more creative with them. My oldest son liked the pie (which is no surprise since he likes anything sweet), his brother wasn’t as big a fan.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

130. Gas-Grilled Bone-In Chicken Breasts

Date Cooked: March 16, 2010
Page: 609
Rating: B

Ever since we won our grill last summer I have been a lot more enthused about grilling, and now that winter was beginning to close I figured I should fire it up and make sure it was ready for a new season. Grilled chicken sounded like a reasonably simple meal and I figured a rub or paste would spice things up.

Preparation for this meal was not exactly tough. I didn’t brine the chicken due to time constraints and the paste was pretty quick to throw together, so this recipe was all about the grill. I will confess. I am not a griller. While I have made big strides in the kitchen I still struggle on the grill, constantly double guessing myself and prone to burn food. I wouldn’t call what I do grilling… I’d probably call it arson. Isn’t grilling supposed to be buried deep in the male DNA? Or is it buried so deep in mine it got lost? Anyway let’s see how this first foray into grilling for the season turned out.

I spread the Asian spice paste on the skin side of the chicken breasts before placing them on the hot grill skin side down. While the skin side seared I spread the paste on the chicken’s other side. Once the skin side had sufficiently burned, I flipped it to burn the other side. I suppose referring to it as burning isn’t to promising is it. After searing both sides I moved the chicken to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking. After several minutes I returned to a hot smoking grill to remove the charred poultry remains.

Rating: B-. I didn’t hate this recipe but I need to figure out how to better understand my grill temperature. The chicken wasn’t overcooked except for the outside of it which was well beyond overcooked. I wish I could really comment on the taste of the Asian spice paste but I have no idea what it really tasted like since it was pretty much burned off. I really must not skip brining, but it is so hard to find that hour to brine when I get home from work.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

129. Asian Spice Paste for Chicken

Date Cooked: March 16, 2010
Page: 610
Rating: B

First off I didn’t snap a picture of this paste. It was a component and I didn’t even think about getting out the camera until the dinner was ready. I’ll try to describe it for you. Imagine pesto. Okay done. Making this paste was simple. Let’s see, I had extra virgin olive oil, cilantro, soy sauce, minced jalapeƱo, minced ginger, minced garlic and probably some other stuff. I threw everything together and then used my immersion blender to help the ingredients form a harmonious society. The cilantro was definitely the king of this society, both in color and smell.

Rating: B. As with most marinades, rubs, and pastes that are intended to be used before cooking they are hard to rate by themselves. The best I can do is say that it was not offensive in smell and was easy to prepare. How it benefited the chicken I will describe in my next post.

Friday, March 19, 2010

128. Roasted Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary

Date Cooked: March 16, 2010
Page: 186
Rating: A

I don’t like potatoes. Well that used to be the case. Let me try and narrow down my distaste a bit. I detest potatoes boiled until the only thing holding the dried out, flavorless vegetable matter together is the flavorless starch that is a potato. I grew up with bad potatoes for too many meals and I feel that I have unjustly stereotyped all potatoes in the same manner, and as I have mentioned before, French fries aren’t potatoes. But these roasted potatoes came out PERFECT. Notice how I typed that all in capital letters. They were that perfect. The last time I cooked roasted potatoes was for Christmas dinner back in 2008. The difference between these ones and then (aside from the garlic and rosemary), was this time I didn’t have to cook for a dozen people and the potatoes had ample room on the baking sheet. Something that absolutely improved their crispiness.

I started by halving a bunch of small potatoes and tossing with extra virgin olive oil. The potatoes then spent 20 minutes roasting on a baking sheet cover with foil before being removed for their first turning. With fewer potatoes to flip I was able to give them individual attention and ensure each potato was comfortable on the baking sheet. After another 15 minutes in the oven they received their second flip before 5 more minutes in the oven.

While the potatoes were roasting I chopped some fresh rosemary and made a garlic paste of minced garlic and salt. These I placed in a bowl and when the potatoes were done in the oven I tossed everything together.

Rating: A. I liked these and they could not have been easier to prepare. My oldest ate these without issue and actually asked for a few from my plate. The crispiness of the exterior was perfect and the flesh was soft and creamy. The rosemary didn’t do much for me and there was not enough garlic but those were minor points. I will make these much more often as a dinner side. I will also find ways to spice these up.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

127. Steamed Broccoli with Balsamic-Basil Vinaigrette

Date Cooked: March 16, 2010
Page: 140
Rating: B-

t’s been awhile since I cooked something new from the book. I actually use many of the recipes in the book frequently, but as my repertoire increases my use of new recipes slows down. Also having a newborn baby means I am not spending so much time planning and preparing meals, in fact I am spending more time refereeing the wrestling matches between my 6 and 3 year old. Three boys is going to get interesting. But let’s get back to the purpose of this blog. Cooking… or attempting to cook.

I chose this recipe simply because we had broccoli in the fridge. It is one of the few vegetables that we frequently have fresh, asparagus is the other. Also looking through the ingredient list I had everything else (which is not as rare an occurrence as it used to be). Preparation for this was really simple. I combined extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a bowl to which I added minced shallots, garlic and basil. Having a basil plant in my kitchen window is definitely a great thing. I hope this summer to plant a nice little herb garden, once I find an area of my yard to grow them in.

I cut up some broccoli and steamed it. The steamed broccoli was tossed in the bowl with the vinaigrette and then plated with the rest of the meal. I would like to write a fantastic tale of culinary magic but the reality is that I steamed some broccoli and then tossed it with a handful of other ingredients. Not hard.

Rating: B-. I’m not rating it very high for two reasons. It really wasn’t very magical. Definitely not bad and is a perfectly fine manner in which to dress up broccoli. But still I wasn’t impressed. Now I will concede that the quality of ingredients is very important since they aren’t hidden. This leads to the second reason I scored it low, the shallots I used overpowered it. Overall it is a preparation I will tweak for the future.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

126. Blueberry Pancakes

Date Cooked: February 21, 2010
Page: 649
Rating: A

For those of you that follow my blog you may notice that I don’t often talk about my life beyond the meals that I cook. But today as I post this recipe I would also like to say that while I know how infrequent my posting has been it has been for good reason. On February 15th, my third child was born. I am no longer a father of two boys, now I am a father of three boys! I had better start learning to cook faster because in a few years I’ll be feeding a hungry little army.

Blueberry Pancakes is actually a variation of the Light and Fluffy Pancakes recipe in the book. Considering that the only difference between the two recipes is the addition of blueberries I figured this would be a great opportunity to cross both off the list.

The recipe is a rather basic pancake recipe. It calls for combining an egg with melted butter and milk thickened with lemon juice. Since I had buttermilk in the fridge and the recipe mentioned I could use it if it was available I went ahead and used buttermilk instead of the thickened milk. The dry ingredients were flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt. I folded the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until mixed and still lumpy (the key to fluffy pancakes).

I heated a pan until hot and then added my first quarter cup of batter. Let’s just say the batter was thick. The batter did not flow out of the measuring cup and looked more like muffin batter in the pan. I was smart though and only cooked one pancake. Once that had ‘cooked’ I devoured it to ensure quality and then thinned the batter out with another quarter cup of buttermilk. This was a lot more fluid and I began to produce pancakes like I was a factory worker. As the batter is poured into the pan blueberries are then sprinkled into the batter as it cooks. The finished products were stored in the oven, set at a low temperature, to keep warm.

Rating: A. These were tasty pancakes and they were definitely light and fluffy. This will be my go to recipe for pancakes, especially since both boys loved them. The only thing I need to do is find the right pan to cook them in. Since cooking these the first time I have already made them again. The second time I used my griddle and I am not exactly happy with it’s results. The griddle heats unevenly and the pancakes were spotty brown.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

125. Beef Chili with Kidney Beans

Date Cooked: February 7, 2010
Page: 443
Rating: B+

I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer. I am not a sports fan, a fact which has earned me a fair share of jokes from my family. That being said I don’t dislike sports, I just don’t have any real interest in watching them on TV. The Super Bowl and Stanley Cup finals are the exception of course. I can’t think of a single Super Bowl I have not watched since I was a child. So this year would be no different. I would sit down and watch the game whether anyone else cared to join me or not. And to enjoy the game I needed some good food. I figured chili was a good traditional Super Bowl choice.

If I had known how easy it would be to make this chili I would have done it much sooner. I made a quick trip to the overcrowded grocery store to pick up the fresh produce and meat needed. Apparently food and the Super Bowl go well together. The canned beans were completely gone (I’m guessing chili is a really common Super Bowl dish) so it was fortunate I didn’t need those. The chili powder was sold out, once again I already had that, and the ground meat was left to slim pickings. I was lucky there. With the ingredients I needed (plus some extra snacks), I headed home.

I figured it would probably be a wise idea to gather all the ingredients first and then prep them before cooking. I don’t do this often enough but I am glad I did because it really does speed up the cooking process. So with a pile of chopped onions and red pepper, a bowl of various spices (chili powder, cayenne, cumin, salt, oregano, coriander) and some garlic ready for the press I heated some oil in my dutch oven. With the oil nice and hot I threw in the vegetables, garlic and spices. I love the smell of cumin! I realize that it is the scent in southwest cuisine that make my mouth water! Anyway the mixture was nice and fragrant. Once the onions and peppers had softened I added the ground beef and cooked until the pink was gone (a tough task because the spices immediately make everything look brown).

When the beef was no longer pink I added the beans, diced tomatoes and crushed tomatoes. This simmered covered for an hour and then a further hour uncovered. That was it. Ready to serve with a little shredded cheese.

Rating: B+. It was easy and both my children ate some of it which was a real bonus. I found that the flavor profile was good but it did need more salt to round it out. It wasn’t overly spicy either which was great for the kids. My youngest mentioned that his mouth was sore but he kept eating anyway. Getting him used to spicy! My brother-in-law and his girlfriend came by to watch the game and they both enjoyed it. The recipe made quite a lot but by the end of the night there wasn’t even any left for me to take for lunch the next day. Guess I need to make more soon!

Friday, January 15, 2010

124. Boiled Potatoes with Butter and Chives

Date Cooked: January 10, 2010
Page: 190
Rating: B

While I enjoy roasted potatoes or a fully loaded baked potato, I don’t share the same enthusiasm for boiled potatoes. In fact I will blame plain boiled potatoes for my rice preference. As a child, potatoes were not on my list of approved foods, and to be honest this was a short list. I felt they were plain and boring and unless they were scalloped I dreaded eating them. In case you were wondering about French fries, as a child they don’t count as potatoes, just ask my son. Anyway I have never cooked boiled potatoes before. Never. Well except every time I make mashed potatoes I guess.

The new potatoes were put in a big pot with salt and enough cold water to cover by an inch. The water was brought to a boil and then covered and simmered for about 15 minutes. During this time I had to move the pot from one burner to another to make room on my congested stovetop and this interrupted the simmering but I don’t really think it mattered too much. Once done I drained them and then cut each HOT potato in half. It really was amazing how fast I could slice each potato in half without suffering any cuts and only minimal heat damage to my fingertips. I definitely don’t have cook hands. These potatoes were then tossed with butter and chives.

Rating: B. Not bad for basic boiled potatoes. The chives were a required addition. I won’t say I am a convert to boiled potatoes, but they are a dinner option again. The kids ate them with the same enthusiasm I used to have though. Which is to say there were more left on their plate than in their belly.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

123. Glazed Carrots

Date Cooked: January 10, 2010
Page: 149
Rating: B-

I don’t think I have ever really been a fan of carrots. I don’t hate them, but they would not be a first choice for a vegetable side dish. I also detest raw carrots. I find them so fibrous that I tend to chew them forever. So let’s just say I wasn’t selecting this recipe because I craved carrots. But I figured the glazed part might entice my children to at least try them.

I started by slicing some carrots on the bias. These carrots were younger carrots and a little smaller than I would have liked so the pieces were pretty small. If I was a wise cook I would have thought to use this information further in the process, but I’ve never claimed to be wise. The carrots were cooked in a skillet with some chicken broth, salt and sugar. Once the carrots were slightly tender, the liquid was reduced and then butter and some more sugar were added. Once fully cooked, the carrots were tossed with some lemon juice and served.

Rating: B-. I made three mistakes with this recipe. The first was trying three stovetop recipes from the book at the same time. The second was using small carrots. The last mistake was not reducing the broth enough. All of these produced flavorful, but mushy carrots. The smaller pieces cooked too quick and the extra liquid didn’t help achieve a nice glaze. I found the lemon juice did help curb the sweetness but the mushy texture detracted from the dish. On the plus side though, my kids did try them with little fuss.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

122. Classic Red Wine Pan Sauce

Date Cooked: January 10, 2010
Page: 390
Rating: C

After making so bold a statement that I was going to cook more, over a week had elapsed before I got myself back into the kitchen with the book. As is usual in our house the question of what’s for dinner is always being asked. Since it was Sunday though, I had ample time to figure out what we should have and then make sure I had the ingredients. As is pretty typical around my house, we had very little fresh produce but lots of frozen meat.

We decided that some steaks with a pan sauce would be nice. This Classic Red Wine Pan Sauce fit the bill. I had already cooked the Pan-Seared Strip Steaks from the book and mangled my attempt at the Shallot-Butter Pan Sauce then, so I figured I would try my luck at a different pan sauce. The first step in this pan sauce is actually a red wine reduction. In a skillet I simmered red wine with minced shallots, carrots and mushrooms along with some parsley and a bay leaf. After 15 minutes the liquid was strained and then greatly reduced. While the sauce was reducing I cooked the steaks.

Once the steaks were done the fun began. I would like to qualify the following story with the fact I was also trying to balance the completion of two other recipes from the book. All fighting for a spot on the stovetop and cooking relatively quickly. I added some shallots to the pan and quickly realized that the pan was still very hot. I scrambled to deglaze the pan with equal parts chicken broth and beef broth before the shallots burnt to a crisp. In my mind I was envisioning the Shallot-Butter Pan Sauce all over again. Of course the pan was so hot the broth immediately sizzled and evaporated in a cloud of steam. Within minutes though all seemed to calm down. I allowed this to simmer for a bit before adding in the red wine reduction, the juices from the resting steaks and some fresh chopped thyme. This sauce was very dark and only a portion of this coloring was due to the reduced red wine. This was then served over the steaks.

Rating: C. I definitely need to work on pan temperature and I definitely need a larger stainless steel or cast iron skillet, instead of the non-stick one I am using. The steaks cooked too quickly and the pan was so hot that the fond was not composed of flavorful browned bits but blackened charcoal. This gave the sauce a burnt flavor. You could taste the fact that the sauce wanted to be good but it was still “burnt”. The subtle flavor of the wine and thyme were fighting for recognition while any other flavor was buried under the charcoal. I have one pan sauce left in the book so we will see what I can do but I am feeling that pan-seared food and sauces are beating me.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

121. Classic Apple Pie

Date Cooked: January 1, 2010
Page: 887
Rating: A+

My last recipe from the book that advanced my project was cooked at the end of November which means I didn’t work toward my project at all in December! I won’t lie, I was a bit disappointed with myself but December is a very busy month for my family so I didn’t beat myself up over it. But come January 1st I was itching to get back into it and I have been obsessing over baking a pie. It is a chapter that I have not tried anything from since I started this project and this was my first attempt at baking a pie from scratch… ever. You can look at the photo to see how it turned out.

Now executing this recipe was not easy and since I had never baked a pie before I was treading on some uncertain territory. Until the beginning of December I didn’t even own pie plates. So I now had the basic equipment required and the ingredients assembled… well not quite. The primary ingredient was a bit of a scavenger hunt. Trying to find apples New Year’s Day is not exactly simple. You see I had bought a bunch of apples for this recipe a few days earlier and my kids like apples. So when it was time to bake I realized that I was short 3 of 8 apples. I was determined to start the new year with this apple pie! So out into the snowy streets I go trying to find a convenience store that sells produce. It is interesting that produce is so hard to find in our society of simple and convenient. I ended up at a gas station across town with three apples in my hands, expensive ones I might add. I know people buy weird things all the time but who buys three apples from a gas station on New Year’s Day. Anyway back home I drove with my prize.

Now let me step back in time for a moment and talk about making the Basic Pie Dough. I made this in the morning in anticipation of baking the pie. I mixed flour, salt and sugar in my food processor and then cut in chilled shortening. I then cut in chilled butter and mixed everything with ice water until a nice dough was formed. I separated into two balls, wrapped and refrigerated. This was surprisingly easy but I was uncertain about the dough consistency. I added water until the dough came together but it took a little additional water to get to that point and even then I was not certain I had achieved my goals. I was concerned that the dough was going to break apart when I tried to roll it later. Anyway since I didn’t really know what I was doing I followed the recipe and moved on.

Let’s jump forward again to the point after my apple hunting excursion. I rolled out the first ball of dough with a little difficulty (I need a proper rolling pin). At this point I noticed that the shortening and butter had not been sufficiently cut into the dry ingredients because I had large pieces of fat scattered throughout my nicely rolled pie dough. I transferred this to the pie plate and placed it in the fridge to chill. Now I started the tedious task of peeling and coring apples. The apple pieces were then tossed with lemon zest and juice, a generous amount of sugar, some flour and cinnamon. This was transferred to the pie plate and then I rolled out the second piece to cover.

My wife and I were laughing at the volume of apples in the pie. I didn’t even think the pie dough would cover the apples but it did. After pinching the two pieces of dough together around the edge and sealing it with a fork I brushed the pie with an egg white and sprinkled with sugar. I was impressed with the way it looked and I hadn’t even added it to the oven. The cooking temperature interested me as the oven starts out at 500 and once the pie goes in gets turned down to 425. Halfway through baking it gets turned down again to 375. The house smelled great while it was cooking and the finished result looked beautiful! But I had to wait overnight for the pie to cool to room temperature! Actually only four hours but I didn’t want to stay up to eat pie, my son played hockey at 6:30am the next morning.

Rating: A+. Wow! I like to think I am a modest person but I absolutely delivered on this one. The pie looked amazing with it’s huge pie dome and nicely browned crust. I carefully cut into it to find that the apples were soft but not mushy. The smell was amazing and the taste was everything I love about a good apple pie. It tasted like apples and cinnamon, not apple flavored sugar syrup. My only complaints were that there was a little too much liquid in the pie and the large pieces of shortening and butter in the crust left small holes in a few places once the fat melted. All in all a great success to start off 2010!

Monday, January 4, 2010

The holidays are finally over!

December is finally over and while the holidays can be a great time of year, they tend to be so busy that getting regular things done gets difficult. While I did a fair bit of cooking, no progress was made in the book. I did cook several recipes from the book though, those that have become favorites.

To make up for the fact that I let an entire month of opportunity to cook from the book go by I spent New Year's day preparing a recipe from one of the three chapters that I had not cooked anything from. I'll post soon but I was very pleased with the results.

Anyway, I hope for these next few months to be packed full of cooking goodness because something tells me I will be very busy starting at the end of February.

Happy New Year!
LinkWithin Related Stories Widget for Blogs