Philly Cheesesteaks

April 29, 2010

Growing up along the California coast, I didn’t even know what a Cheese Steak was until I was 30-years-old. An East Coast Friend took me to the mediocre Buster’s Cheese Steaks in San Francisco. It wasn’t until years later (after blowing my expense account the night before on Filet Mignon), that I tried another Cheese Steak. But this time on the East Coast (Philadelphia Cheesesteak Factory in Georgetown); it was the real thing. Delicious.

Almost a good as a trip to Philly.

This version uses provolone, and sirloin tips pounded almost paper thin.  The recipe will only work if you have a very good meat pounder, such as this Norpro. Without such a good meat pounder I would never have had the patience to get the meat so thin.  The result: 3-1/2 stars. Not as good as a trip to Philadelphia (or even DC), but close enough to enjoy.

Problems:

  1. 8 thin slices of provolone was a little light. Next time I’d use at least 10 slices. (about 1/4-lb)
  2. The first sandwich came out perfect, but I didn’t realize that the pan cooled so much so that the second needed more time to reheat the pan. Result, the meat didn’t brown. Next time I’ll let the pan heat up from at least 2 to 3 minutes before making the second.
  3. I ended up spending $10 instead of $8, because my regular supermarket ran out of Sirloin Tips, and I bought everything at A&P (more $$$). But the extra money I spent on rolls was worth it.

Rating: 3-1/2 star.
Cost: $10 for 4 hefty sandwiches.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 6:00 pm. Dessert Time:  7:00.


Broiled Steaks

April 26, 2010

With barbecue season still not quite here, I wanted to try the broiling techniques I saw on Cook’s Country. The two main problems they solved, (1) how to avoid a smoke-filled kitchen, (2) how to get a nice crust while evenly cooking the interior.

Shell Steaks are delicious. They are the larger side of a T-bone and it's nice not to worry about the bones.

The smoke was easily solved. Ditch the traditional broiler pan, and use a disposable aluminum pan filled with two cups of salt. The salt absorbs the drippings and completely stopped the smoke.

The second problem was a little harder to solve. To get evenly cooked steaks, I baked the steaks for 10-minutes, then let them rest for another 10-minutes while preheating the broiler. I used a wire rack (much more porous than a broiler pan) so the steaks don’t stew in their own juices. Also, I patted the steaks dry a few times with paper towels, because wet steaks will not brown.  Finally, Cook’s Country’s technique of using a 3″-high pan didn’t work in my instance, because every broiler is different. I was only able to get the steaks within 2-inches of the broiler element, not the desired 1-1/2″. That extra 1/2-inch makes it impossible to get a medium-rare steak.

The final result: 4-1/2 stars. While a little more work than I anticipated, the techniques definitely resulted in an evenly cooked steak with a delicious crust.

Problems.

  1. Because every broiler has difference rack heights, their single solution of a 3-inch high aluminum pan won’t work in everyone’s broiler. My broiler meant caused the crust to form too slowly, resulting in a medium to medium-well steak. Either that or eat without a crust.
  2. To find your ideal height pan, first you need to measure the distance from your highest rack to the broiler element.  You need at least 4-1/2 inches, so I had to use my second to highest rack. Take that distance and subtract your steak’s thickness (mine were 1-inch) and the 1-1/2″.  For example, 5″ – 1″ – 1-1/2″ means that I should have had a 2-1/2″ high pan.

Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $17
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 6:00 pm. Dessert Time:  7:00.

Extra juices fall into the salt.


Peanut Butter Cups

April 24, 2010

OK, not exactly a Chris Kimball recipe, but Reese’s are my 11-year-old son’s favorite candy. So making a better Peanut Butter Cup at home was how I spent my Friday night.

 

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups are easy and fun to make. Plus they taste much better than the store-bought variety.

 

I mixed half dark chocolate and half milk chocolate to get a nicely balanced chocolate flavor. After your first bite you’ll realize that these use a much higher quality chocolate. As every Reese’s-lover knows, the filling is more than just peanut butter; so I added confectioners sugar for sweetness and powdered milk for texture.

I patted the peanut butter mixture into bottle-cap shaped discs, and froze them for 30 minutes. I melted the chocolate; put a spoonful of chocolate at the bottom of a mini-cup cake liner (1-5/8″ liners). Added a frozen disc of peanut butter. Topped off with another spoonful of melted chocolate.  Finally, I froze for 30 minutes to set them quickly.

Issues/Comments:

  1. After finishing half the cups, the peanut butter discs started to get too soft and sticky. Next time I’ll purposefully work in 2 batches.
  2. The chocolate wasn’t runny, so I had to smooth each top off with a spoon.
  3. Because my supermarket only sells powdered milk in huge packages ($8 for 10-qts), I substituted non-dairy creamer ($2 for 11-oz). Next time I will look for “real” powdered milk ahead-of-time, rather than try to pick it up at the last-minute.
  4. These definitely have a richer chocolate flavor. Partially, that’s because of the dark chocolate, but also because my discs were hand-made (not perfect fitting), so I ended up using more chocolate (never a bad thing; just a note).
  5. Because I bought all the ingredients on sale, I was surprised that this recipe cost exactly what it costs to buy ready-made Reese’s.  Reason: Chocolate cost $4/lb and peanut butter only $1.50/lb, so my higher chocolate-to-peanut butter ratio was the main culprit.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $6. (makes 30-ounces, about 42 truffles)
How much work? Not a lot.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 6:50 pm. Dessert Time:  8:11.

Recipe:

1-1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup nonfat dry (powdered) milk
1/3 cup powdered sugar
12-ounces milk chocolate
6-ounces dark chocolate
mini-cup cake liners (1-5/8 inch)

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the peanut butter, dry milk, and sugar until combined; you should have a stiff mixture.
  2. Line 2 trays or baking sheets with wax paper.
  3. Divide mixture in half, then in half again, so that you have 4 equal globs of mixture. With each glob make 10 bottle cap shaped discs of peanut butter. Lay flat on wax paper lined tray.
  4. Freeze, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Work each disc free of wax paper, flip and continue freezing for 15 additional minutes.
  5. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water.
  6. Working in batches of 10 or 20 at a time (keep the rest frozen until ready to coat), put small spoonful of melted chocolate into bottom of mini-cup cake liner. Insert a disc of peanut butter, push down gently to remove any air pockets. Put another small spoonful of melted chocolate on top to cover, working the top smooth to cover evenly.
  7. Let cool completely or won’t release from cup cake liners. (or freeze for 15-to-30 minutes).

Macaroni & Cheese

April 20, 2010

Homemade Mac & Cheese only takes an extra 5 minutes of work. So why would anyone ever make it from a box? My recipe (below) is similar to Chris Kimball’s, except he uses more milk. While I love the extra flavor that comes with toasting in the broiler with homemade breadcrumbs, my 11-year-old son Matthew complains about the crust.

100 times better, only 5 minutes more work.

Because my boys love this so much, I stock up on cheese when it’s under $1 per 8-oz bar (this week it’s $.88 at ShopRite). Also to save time, I shred enough cheese using my food processor for 2 or 3 batches, then store the extra cheese in zip lock bags in the freezer.

So, not only do the kids consider this a 5-star meal (I only give it 4-stars), I can make 5-1/2 lb of Mac & Cheese for just $3. Enough for 2 dinners, and the boys even love it the next day when reheated in the microwave. But most importantly, it tastes great and doesn’t have any chemicals like Kraft.

My Recipe:

1 teaspoon salt (plus 1 teaspoon for water)
16-oz elbow macaroni
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
3 3/4 cups milk
8-oz (2 cups) Monterey Jack, grated
8-oz (2 cups) Sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons homemade bread crumbs (if baking)

  • Bring 2 quarts water to a rolling boil (10 mins). Add 1 teaspoon of the salt, macaroni; and stir.
  • Grate cheese. Adjust oven rack to the upper-middle position and pre-heat the broiler (low).
  • Cook until tender (see box and use longest time), stirring every few minutes. Drain, and set aside.
  • Heat the butter over medium-high heat until foaming.
  • Mix in the flour, salt and mustard into butter. Stir in milk.
  • Cook over high heat for 5 minute until reaches a strong boil, whisking occasionally, but stirring  constantly for last 2 minutes,
  • Off the heat, mix in the cheeses until fully melted. Add back macaroni and mix.
  • For a light crust, transfer the mixture to a Pyrex dish. Sprinkle homemade bread crumbs by hand. (or Parmesano with a little olive oil for better browning).
  • Broil on high for 3 minutes until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes, then serve.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $3. (makes 5-1/2 lbs)
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 6:30 pm. Dinner Time:  6:55.


General Tso’s Chicken

April 18, 2010

Having been wanting General Tso’s Chicken for a long time, I decided that I couldn’t wait any longer for Chris Kimball to tackle the recipe.  Listed below is my first attempt.

Overall it was a success. 4-stars judged on it’s own taste, but only 3-1/2 if you were expecting the exact flavors of General Tso’s Chicken. The techniques in the recipe below work well. The way the sauce becomes translucent is magical to watch. The sweet and hot flavors blended nicely together, but the flavors were a little too muted.  A nice first step in my path to independence from the MSG of my local Chinese restaurant.

Not a perfect copy, but very delicious.

Sauce Recipe:

1/3 cup cornstarch
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger root
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (or white vinegar)
1/4 cup sherry wine or white wine
10 ounces chicken broth

Cornstarch slurry recipe:

3 tablespoons soy sauce, low sodium preferred
1 teaspoon pepper
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup cornstarch, in bag

Other Ingredients:

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, (cut into 1” chunks)
1 1/4 cups green onions, sliced
8 small dried chilies, or 2 tsp pepper flakes

  1. Preheat 4 cups vegetable oil in a dutch oven over high heat to 365-degrees. Prepare wire rack over rimmed backing sheet and preheat oven to 200-degrees.
  2. Wisk together all sauce ingredients. Refrigerate until needed.
  3. Beat egg in separate large bowl. Mix in chicken, 3 tablespoons cup soy sauce and pepper.
  4. In batches of 7 to 8 chicken pieces, put in zip-lock bag with corn starch, shake until well coated.
  5. Fry each batch until crispy, about 6 minutes.
  6. Drain on paper towels. Keep warm in 200-degree oven until all batches are finished. Repeating from step 4 until all chicken is fried, adding corn starch as needed.
  7. In a separate skillet add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and heat until very hot. Add green onions and hot peppers and stir fry about 30 seconds.
  8. Re-stir sauce mixture, and then add to pan with onions and peppers, cook until thick.
  9. Add chicken to sauce in wok, and cook until all is hot and bubbly. The quicker this is done the crispier the chicken stays. Serve immediately over rice.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $8. (I made with 3-pounds of chicken)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Started: 5:30 pm. Dinner Time:  7:15.


Homemade Boursin Cheese

April 16, 2010

I ate Boursin Cheese for the first time this week; it is truly delicious. If it didn’t cost $24/lb I would not hesitate to buy it every day. After some research on the internet, I found that my high esteem for the cheese (and sadness at the high price tag) was a common theme. Unfortunately, I think I will rarely have the extra money to spend on mere cheese.

So, just as any cook worth his salt, I set out to create something just as delicious. The best news is that it cost just $2/lb to make. So long France, hello Philly.

Takes just minutes to prepare, but saves you $22/lb.

Recipe for Homemade Boursin-Style Cheese:

8 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoons whipping cream (or half-and-half)
2-3 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh chives, minced
1 sprig thyme, minced
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper (not salt added)
A pinch salt (skip if your going to put them on salted crackers)

  • Let cream cheese soften on counter for 60 minutes, or microwave it for 20 seconds.
  • Beat all ingredients except in small mixer bowl on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.
  • Pat into round, flat shape, or line round can or container with plastic wrap, press and cover.
  • Age at least 4 hours, but the flavor is better if you make it a few days ahead.
  • Refrigerate covered up to 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature.

I am in the process of growing parsley, chives and basil, but it was still too young to use today. I had most of the herbs already in my fridge.

Issues:

  1. The texture of the Faux Boursin is not as crumbly as the real thing. Still, as it will likely be spread upon something, the more spreadable texture is not a problem.
  2. At first I thought about making a close-or-exact replica. But after my first batch with the above recipe, I realized that this is equally delicious but not an exact copy.
  3. The $1.20 cost is because I already had the herbs in my fridge. Had I had to buy the parsley, basil and Chives it would more.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $1.20 for 1/2 pound.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 4:00 pm Ready:  4:10.


Rustic Dinner Rolls: Take 2

April 15, 2010

Today I tried to re-make the Rustic Dinner Rolls from last week, trying to correct my failure to adjust for using active dry yeast.  Also, I was better organized and was able to cut the preparation time down to 3-1/2 hours.

I'm still making mistakes, but they are still 5-star.

Differences:

  1. This time I dissolved the yeast in 115 degree water and honey, and waited 10 minutes to see the bubbling action (carbon dioxide being released from yeast multiplication).
  2. I let the rising occur in a warm (but turned off) oven.
  3. The dough was able to double in size, where the last time I made them they only increased by perhaps 50%.
  4. The dough was much wetter this time, I added a few extra tablespoons of bread flour to compensate. Unfortunately, I added the extra flour too early in the kneading. I should have waited to the end, but was afraid that I’d end up over-kneading.
  5. The final rolls were about the same size (i.e. same rise). This time the rising was much more consistent throughout the 3 hours rising time, whereas the last time most of the rising occurred in the final 30 minutes (sitting on-top of the hot oven).

Issues:

  1. When spraying the rolls with water just prior to putting them into the 500-degree oven, I sprayed too heavily. The results: an even, but bland, crust  rather than bubbly crust I was hoping for.
  2. Also, I forgot to lower the oven from 500-degrees to 400-degrees, so they were a little overcooked. Still delicious; affecting more the texture than the taste.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $1 for 16 rolls.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 2:30 pm Ready:  6:00.


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