Shrimp Scampi

February 24, 2010

(Q) What’s the most delicious meal you can make in under 25 minutes? (A) And there is only one answer: Shrimp Scampi.

Chris Kimball’s recipe is here. Cook the shrimp on the stovetop for 2 minutes (no more), set aside, reduce the wine for 5 minutes, let the shrimp finish cooking in the sauce and you’re done. It all happens so fast that you had better have pre-chopped the parsley!

Problems:

  1. I always forget two things when making Shrimp Scampi. (a) Start heating the water for the pasta as soon as you start thawing the shrimp.  Really, it’s not too soon. (b) Even though fresh pasta is ready in less than 2 minutes, it still needs to the stirred.  I usually forget and the clumpy mess makes me wish that I had just used dried pasta. But when I remember (on nights such as tonight) it makes for a wonderful 5-star meal.
  2. Don’t overcook the Shrimp. It’s so easy to do. The first step only requires cooking the shrimp 3/4.  The final 1/4 will happen when you finalize the sauce.
  3. To concentrate the flavor, I double the wine (to 1/2 cup) and let it reduce in the pan for 5 minutes. (Something Chris Kimball doesn’t tell you about, and my only variation from the CI recipe.)

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $7 for 3 to 4 servings. (1-lb shrimp)
How much work? Tiny.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 6:00 PM. Dinner time 6:25 PM.

Best possible meal in 25 minutes.


Chili con Carne

February 22, 2010

Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to cook. And so, at 8AM I had to choose between (a) cooking the dinner I wanted, and (b) snowboarding. I chose snowboarding, thus the title of this post is “Chili con Carne”, and not “Texas Chili” (which takes more than 12 hours).

The bean-less recipe calls for chuck roast cut into 1” cubes, browned and then cooked for 2 hours on the stovetop in 7 cups of water. Also noteworthy is a total of 6 tablespoons of chili powder, and half-pound of bacon. (plus the usual cumin, onion, garlic, jalapenos).

The result was good, but lacked depth. The beef was tender, and the masa harina added at the last minute made for a beautiful texture. But 6 tablespoons of chili powder masked the few additional flavors.  I truly missed the beans. I  served it with guacamole, cheddar cheese and sour cream.  Bottom-line: Next time I’ll spend the 12 hours and make the Texas Chili, but not until snowboarding season is over.

Problems.

  1. None. But after 2 hours on the stovetop I was depressed because 7 cups of water didn’t reduce and texture was like water.  But adding the masa harina at the last minute transformed the chili into the perfect texture.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $9 for 6 servings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium
Start time 3:30 PM. Dinner time 7:00 PM.

This "Chili con Carne" lacks the beans and other flavors to give more depth. Almost more of a stew (with chili powder) than a true Chili.


Caeser Salad Shootout

February 19, 2010

Chris Kimball has two recipes for Caesar salad on his website, plus I have always loved my own recipe. It’s time to figure out which is the best Caesar Salad.

  1. Mark’s Version. Distinctive for it’s use of Balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, a diced shallot. It uses double the amount of olive oil.
  2. Chris Kimball’s Version. Uses Worcester sauce and skips the mustard. Also, uses the entire egg rather than just the egg yolk.
  3. Light Version. Uses “light” mayonnaise instead of eggs, buttermilk, and just 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Uses Worcester sauce and also includes the mustard.

Testing Methodology: Each salad used 1/4 cup of dressing (Except the light version used only 3 tablespoons of dressing; had much stronger flavor) and equal amounts of grated Parmesan and croutons.

Made 3 different versions of Caesar salad for a side-by-side comparison. All were good, but a clear winner did emerge.

AND THE WINNER IS: Chris Kimball’s version had the best overall flavor. I was skeptical that Worcester sauce would work; but, it offered all the boldness, and none of the harshness of the Balsamic.  Including the entire egg, barely cooked for 45 seconds, didn’t make a noticeable difference, since part of the eggs whites hardened and stayed with the shell.

HONORABLE MENTION: Mark’s version had good flavor, but uses too much oil, which muted the bold Caesar flavors. Overall, second place.

BRONZE MEDAL: I was very skeptical of substituting mayonnaise and buttermilk, but the Light Version was surprisingly good. It didn’t have a classic Caesar flavor, but the flavor was strongest of the 3 contenders. Having 330 calories per serving in a good (but not classic Caesar) salad is the main reason to make this recipe.

Matthew and Nico tasting the two classic variations. Nico slightly preferred Mark's version, while Matthew preferred Chris Kimball's version. They both stayed away from the light version.

While actually I made two new recipes, I am only counting it as one because it was part of a single dinner. The recipes are included as a comment.

Rating: 5-star for winner.
Cost: $3. For 3 servings, but plenty of leftover dressing.
How much work? Medium. Because I made 3 versions.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 5:35 PM. Dinner time 7:00 PM.


French Chicken in a Pot

February 13, 2010

Deliciously moist chicken that takes only about 20 minutes of prep work, and requires almost no additional attention.

This recipe uses a whole chicken, first browned on the stovetop, then slowly finishes in an extremely low oven (250 degrees). It is cooked in a “dry environment” so that as the juices come out during cooking, they go right back into the chicken undiluted by other flavors.

Issues:

  1. After 2-hours in the oven, I was left with 2 cups of liquid (instead of 3/4 cup); partly because my onion and celery stalk were too big. Next time I’ll measure the chopped celery and onion in a measuring cup so that I end up with concentrated flavor. This time, I reduced it in a pan during the 20-minutes resting time to 1 cup.
  2. 2-hours in closed dutch oven made the skin seam too fatty.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $6. A 7-lb chicken serves 4.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner time 7:00 PM.

Whole chicken cooked in a "dry" dutch oven makes a flavorful, moist, easy meal.


Beef Strogonoff

February 12, 2010

Last Sunday’s Stuffed Beef Tenderloin only used the center cut of the $33 sale-priced tenderloin.  Today, I am left with the question of how to use remaining parts of the tenderloin.

Answer:  Cut it up into cubes and make Beef Strogonoff. I pound the beef to make even more tender, then brown the beef in a skillet, and deglaze the pan from the moisture as I saute the onions and mushrooms. After adding the broth and letting the meat finish cooking, I add the egg noodles directly in with the meat.  Off heat I mix in some sour cream and a lemon juice. The Result: A delicious easy to make dinner (though it does take 90-minutes to 2-hours). Not nearly as “special” as the Stuffed Tenderloin, but perfect for a weekday meal. The complete recipe is here.

Issues:

  1. First, saying that this meal costs $18 to make is a little misleading, because I already had the “scraps” from Sunday’s meal. I wouldn’t buy beef tenderloin just for this recipe. I’d spend the $15 of something else. (or substitute another cut)
  2. Even though I’m using tenderloin, it was a little tough after simmering in the broth for 30 minutes.  I find that using a meat pounder to tenderize the beef really helps the final texture.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $18. Serves 6.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:30 PM. Dinner time 6:15 PM.

BTW, this reeipe is a year or two old, so these don’t count towards my goal of 100 “new recipe”.

Egg noodles are cooked right in the covered skillet with the sauce.


Stuffed Beef Tenderloin

February 7, 2010

Superbowl Sunday has it’s culinary traditions. For me it’s Wings, Doritos, Pigs-in-a-blanket, all things eaten with your hands in the living room.  And I had fully intended to fall inline with societal expectations, until my trip to the supermarket. The wings were sold out, but when one door closes, another opens!

In my opinion, good food wins over tradition every time. Tonight would be one of the best meals of the year; the whole Beef Tenderloin was on sale for $4/lb. This recipe only uses the center-cut portion of the tenderloin (the Chateaubriand cut). It’s double butterflied and stuffed with onions, mushrooms and spinach. It’s browned on the stovetop and finished in the oven until fully cooked. Then topped with Garlic-Mustard butter.

Problems:

  • The butcher did a terrible job, opting to maximize the weight rather than properly trim the tenderloin. So instead of a nice  “trunk”-shaped tenderloin, it more closely resembled stairs.  How was I going to double-butterfly?  Solution: I had to cut the outside very thick and the inside very thin, then roll it up inside-out.  Outcome: it all worked out. Instead of the desired swirl of stuffing, it had star-shaped stuffing.
  • The recipe calls for Cremini Mushrooms, which we did use today. But I think I prefer portabello mushrooms. It has a richer flavor.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $23 for 4 to 5 people  (about 3-1/2 pounds).
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM.

BTW, this reeipe is a year or two old, so these don’t count towards my goal of 100 “new recipe”.

Instead of its swirl of stuffing, a terrible butcher make me switch to star-shaped stuffing instead. Not as evenly distributed, but just as tasty.


Extra-Crunchy Fried Chicken

February 3, 2010

I have only had a craving for Fried Chicken once over the past 10 years. My reaction: I immediately drove to KFC (coupon in hand) and spent $12 on a bucket of greasy, soggy-skinned chicken. If I could only have gotten the chicken when it was freshly cooked, and before they put it in their trademark bucket (aka chicken steamer). But life seldom works that way.  Also, my cravings were certainly not for the legs and thighs I ended up with. It was the breasts that I really wanted, but ultimately I could not bring myself to spend the $18.

Just as certainly as KFC spells disappointment, Chris Kimball saves the day. This recipe is by far the crunchiest fried chicken I’ve eaten in my life. “Maybe even too crunchy”, say the boys. Plus Chris Kimball assures me that fried chicken made at home has much less fat than from KFC.

Super crunchy on the outside, perfectly cooked and moist on the inside.

So for $6,  I get the 12-pieces (all-white-meat) of the crunchiest chicken in the world, plus less guilt (i.e. fat). Note that the two hours prep time includes an hour of unattended brining. Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. [But on January 31, 2011: I made a few changes and you can see my improved, revised recipe here]

Issues and recommendations:

  1. The batter got too wet after I dusted a few pieces (after 4 pieces the batter didn’t stick anymore). I added more flour and was able to regain the proper consistency.
  2. The batter was a little plain for my own taste (but perfect for my two sons). I like a little more kick, so next time I’ll spice it up a little (while still maintaining a “kid-friendly” flavor). Note that Chris Kimball does have an “Extra-Spicy, Extra-Crunchy Fried Chicken” on the “Cooks Country TV” website, but I know it’d be too spicy for my boys.
  3. Because the chicken is so crunchy, next time I’m going to go “skinless” to cut out some fat.

Rating: 5-star. The kids wouldn’t go any lower than 5-stars, even though it’s just fried chicken.
Cost: $6 for 12 pieces of fried chicken (about 5 pounds).
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 4:30 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM.


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