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!
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