Nico’s 9th Birthday Party

January 31, 2010

On one of the coldest days in the dead of winter, the choice of Beef Stew (for the adults) seemed natural for Nico’s birthday party. Plus, I just received a new recipe in the mail from Chris Kimball for the “Best Beef Stew“. The result: compliments from everybody at the table. The flavor was perfectly balanced . The texture was exactly what I was hoping for (I was a little afraid of a runny mess). Success.

Also, the stew gave me plenty of time to work on the rest of dinner while it sat unattended in the oven. I made Shrimp Salad as a special request, even though it doesn’t go with Beef Stew. Also, I essentially had to cook two dinners (4 Pizzas for the kids). Overall:  Seldom has dinner for 20 people come together so smoothly.

Problems.

  • I wasn’t sure exactly how many adults were coming (somewhere between 8 and 11). And since the recipe is supposed to  serve between 6 and 8 that meant I had to double the potatoes from 1 to 2 pounds. (While the recipe calls for 4 pounds of chuck roast, I had bought 6 pounds. Unfortunately after carving up the roast I ended up with only the requisite 4 pounds)
  • My apologies to Greg and Elena because you ended up with the “vegetarian” version (sin carne). Next time you’ll have to come earlier!
  • The potatoes weren’t cooked after 45 minutes in the 300 degree oven. And since the Kid’s Pizzas had to go into the oven, so I continued to simmer the stew on the stovetop. The stew required more attention on the stovetop, and the extra stirring broke down some of the meat from their nice cube shape. But nobody seemed to notice (except me).

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $27. Served 9. ($15 in beef and $5 for added wine)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 2:15 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM.  (But could have been quicker)

3 Hours in the oven means very little effort for a nice dinner for 9 adults.

Contemplating the birthday wish with friends


“Perfect” Chocolate Chip Cookies

January 25, 2010

A definite improvement over the original tollhouse recipe. This recipe yields cookies that are softer, thicker and chewier, by reducing the egg whites to 1, and using more brown sugar than regular granulated sugar. While the ingredient lists are very similar, the techniques of browning the butter and letting the melted butter dissolve the sugar really pays dividends, and only requires an extra 15 minutes. (plus the butter is already melted, so it’s effortless to mix). The final technique improvement makes larger cookies, favorably changing the surface area-to-volume ratio.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $3.50 for 16 large cookies.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Small/Medium.
Start time 4:20 PM. Snack time 5:20 PM.

Almost the same ingredients, but the different techniques make these cookies softer and chewier.


Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)

January 23, 2010

Having grown up in California, I love Mexican food (and anything that takes 4 1/2 hours to cook had better be exceptional). And so, it was with these raised expectations that I ended my evening in disappointment. Sure the texture was great, but the carnitas lacked flavor. They were only lightly flavored with 1 tsp Oregano, 1 tsp Cumin, 2 Bay Leaves, and a little bit of citrus (1 orange and 1 lime). The toppings were not enough to rescue the night. Sure, they were still 3-stars, not bad, but certainly not worth the cooking time or the huge mess it left in my kitchen. Recipe is here.

On the plus side, the “Pork Shoulder Butt Roast” is extremely economical; only $1/lb. The few required spices were already in my kitchen. So for $5 I was able to feed my family for 2 days; when I make beef burritos (or chimichangas) it costs at least triple the price. Maybe next time I’ll try Chris’  “Spicy Mexican Shredded Pork Tostadas (Tingas)” from the upcoming issue of Cooks Illustrated (already on his website).

Problems:

  1. I accidentally bought a bone-in roast, instead of the boneless called for in the recipe. Not a big deal, I just had to increase the cooking time.
  2. Also I misread his instructions. He wanted me to cut them into 2-inch chunks before cooking, but I did it after cooking. Again, I think this just increased cooking time.

Rating: 3-star. Way below my high expectations.
Cost: $5 for 20 taco. (4 pounds of filling).
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  A Big Mess.
Start time 2:15 PM. Dinner time 6:45pm

Recipe calls for serving as soft taco in corn tortilla.

The meat was still bland, but the extra flavor from the fried tortilla made the recipe better.


Buffalo Wings

January 21, 2010

I eat buffalo wings every week. I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur, just a huge consumer. Mostly as the $4.50 Happy Hour special at TGI Fridays, but I also regularly make them at home when Chicken Wings go on sale.  My own recipe bakes the wings rather than deep fries them. Certainly, I bake to make them healthier not to improve the taste.  Chris deep fries them, and (this week) so did I. Recipe is here.

The results were amazing; simply the best buffalo wings I’ve ever had. The dusting of corn starch fried up with a perfect texture. The sauce was spicy and rich. No need to “fake the richness” by adding Worcestershire sauce as I need to do with my own recipe. Absolute perfection.

Rating: 4-star. The best wings I’ve ever had.
Cost: $5 for 20 wings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  A Big Mess, with oil splattering everywhere.
Start time 6:00 PM. Dinner time 7:00pm

The best buffalo wings I've ever had.


Easier French Fries

January 19, 2010

OK, making french fries twice in one week means only one thing: I was too lazy to put the oil away last Thursday.

So what makes them “easier”? I start cooking the fries in room temperature oil (i.e. no preheating). This gives the potato interior an opportunity to soften and cook through before the exterior started to crisp. Sure, easier I thought, but I would never trade ease for oil-soaked fries. Chris assures me that this cold-start method produces fries that contain about 1/3 less oil than the conventional method. Recipe is here.

BTW, I first made these fries in December, so these don’t count towards my goal of 100 “new recipe”.  This time I used Russets (against ATK’s recommendation) because I really didn’t like the increased sweetness of the Yukon Golds.

Rating: 4-star. (using russets)
Cost: $1 for 2-1/2 pounds for fries.
How much work? Almost none.
How big of a mess?  Small. ( I used an inverted colander for splatter control)
Start time 4:00 PM. Snack time 4:30pm

The easiest French Fries you'll ever make. No more work than slicing potatoes.


Shrimp Salad

January 19, 2010

To avoid the problem of rubbery shrimp, start the shrimp in cold water and gently heat until the water reaches 165 degrees. Only a 1/4 cup mayonnaise was just right, but I used too much celery. My “one stalk celery” yielded  (1/2 cup) instead of the designated 1/3 cup. Chris was right.

Maybe I was hungry from snowboarding, or maybe there just is never enough shrimp. But Chris was very wrong when he said that it serves 6. It only serves 2!

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $11 for 1-1/4 pounds of Shrimp Salad.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:10 PM. Dinner time 6:10pm

I served it one bread, but eaten plain is just as good.


Orange-Honey Glazed Chicken Breast

January 16, 2010

Great bone-in chicken breast. Browned on the skillet and finished in the oven.  The orange and honey sauce was absolutely delicious, but the skin was too chewy (I had baked the breast side down for first 12 minutes). Next time I’ll only baste the chicken after 12-minutes, but bake skin side up the entire time.     

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $5.50 for 3-1/2 pounds of chicken. (Chicken breasts were on sale for $.88/lb)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low. One skillet and one bowl.
Start time 5:20 PM. Dinner time 6:50pm.   

Browned in the skillet and finished in the oven. Great, great sauce!


Steak Fries

January 14, 2010

Thursdays are my days to cook with Nico, who says he wants to be a Chef when he grows up. On Thursdays he picks the recipes, and he’s been talking about French Fries for a few weeks.

Cut russets into 3/4-inch wedges and soaked in ice bath for 45 minutes, the fries are par-cooked at 325 degrees for 10 minutes.  Then they are finished at 365 for 8 minutes.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $1 for two pounds of fries.
How much work? Almost none.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:15 AM. Dinner time 6:30pm. (along with left-over lasagna)


Boeuf Bourguignon

January 9, 2010

Julia Child called it “certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.”  It was the centerpiece in the movie “Julie & Julia” and Chris Kimball moaned in ecstasy as he ate it on the air in ATK.  Undaunted by the 11 cooking time, Bouef Borguignon is the recipe I most wanted to make in 2010.         

Problems.        

  1. At 6:30 this morning, I realized that I accidentally bought “Maple Flavored Bacon.”  Who on earth would eat maple-flavored bacon?  (I checked the ingredients and there’s no real maple syrup in there).  Oh well, I had to use it because my other bacon was frozen :(
  2. Chris Kimball goes to great lengths to describe how your beef chunks must be 1-1/2 inch cubes. Julia Child goes even further and says to use 2 inch cubes. So how am I going to follow ATK’s advice “to save time, use precut meat (labeled “chuck”)?  Those little 3/4 inch precut pieces were sure to disintegrate during the 9 hours of cooking.  Solution: I didn’t save time. I cut up my own chuck roast. The good news was it was on sale for $2/lb.
  3. Chris Kimball told me to use frozen pearl onions (and to add sugar) so that they’d be ready in 5 minutes. Sorry Chris. No way.  I bought fresh boiler onions and deeply carmelized them for 50 minutes (following Julia Child’s method). No sugar needed!

Recipe Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $25 for 6 to 8 servings. $9 for beef and $9 for wine.
How much work? lots.
How big of a mess?  Huge mess.
Start time 6:30 AM. Dinner time 5:30pm.   Yes, 11 hours in the making.        

Beef Burgundy

A hearty beef stew in red wine, with bacon, onion and mushroom.


15-Minute Fudge with Walnuts

January 7, 2010

Absolutely decadent. And it only took 15 minutes of work. The hardest part was waiting the 2 hours for the fudge to cool. This is the first batch of fudge I ever made that came out right. An easy, low risk fudge recipe, made without a thermometer.  It uses sweetened condensed milk in lieu of the old-fashioned method.   

Recipe Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $7.50 for 2 pounds of fudge.
How much work? Low
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 4:45pm. Ready at time 7:00pm, just in time for dessert.   

All the flavor without the thermometer of traditional, old-fashioned fudge.


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