French Toast

July 31, 2010

It’s been a few weeks since we had a family breakfast, so I planned French Toast as this morning’s breakfast. (Note: The planning only consisted of buying a special kind of bread.) As expected, the whole family was instantly transformed into a great mood. But unexpectedly, the boys immediately ran outside after breakfast and started working in the garden. Wow, the best $1.50 I’ve spent in a long time.

A sure way to start out the weekend right.

French Toast Recipe is here. Start by toasting the bread in oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile melt butter and whisk together all ingredients in bowl, and pour into a medium Pyrex casserole dish. Working two slices at a time, soak each side for 30 seconds. Cook in non-stick skillet for 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Results: 4-1/2 stars. The flavor was great. Definitely not too eggy, which was the problem when I was growing up.  Still, the texture was a little tough; no worse than any other French Toast.

Suggestions:

  1. I cut the recipe by 1/3, because there is so much extra. The full recipe is certainly enough for 12 slices.
  2. I increased to 1-1/2 teaspoons the cinnamon. The first time I made this they seemed a little bland.
  3. Between the second and third batches, I found it better to wipe the skillet with a paper towel, so that the bits of burnt butter don’t accumulate too much.
  4. Tongs are useless here. Use your fingers for dredging and a spatula for flipping.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $1.50 for 8 slices.
How much work? Small.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 9:10 AM. Breakfast time 10:00 AM


Italian-Style Charcoal-Grilled Chicken

July 29, 2010

I’ve heard of using bricks to flatten chicken on the grill, so was interested to give it a try. The official terminology is “Spatchcocking” (a.k.a. butterflying the chicken), which presents the main challenge. I had to cut out the backbone using a sharp chef’s knife, since I don’t have kitchen sheers.

Use bricks placed on the breasts to keep the chicken flat on the grill.

The recipe for Italian-Style Charcoal-Grilled Chicken is here. Mix salt, pepper and herbs together to create the rub. Butterfly the chicken by removing the backbone, then use your palm to break the breast bone so that the chicken lays flat. Working your hands under the skin, free the skin from the breasts and thighs. Spread the herb rub evenly under the skin, and put in refrigerator 2 hours (I only had time for 1 hour).

Light 5 quarts of charcoal and put all on one side of grill; forming a hot and cool zone. Preheat the bricks for 5 minutes. Cook the chicken on the cool side for 30 minutes, skin side down with the legs pointing towards the hot side; placing the bricks on the breasts so that the chicken lays flat. Flip the chicken and place on hot side for 20 minutes. The legs should still point to the hot side, and replace bricks.  Finally, give the breast side another 5-to-10 minutes to crisp the skin. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Results: 4-stars. The meat was very evenly cooked. After an hour on the grill the chicken was still very moist, and had nice flavor. The sauce was super-easy to make; really a by-product of making the herb rub; but added a nice bright flavor.

Issues:

  1. I should have started at 3pm or 4pm. Because I started at 5pm, I could only let spice mixture sit for 1 hour, not 2 hours. And we didn’t eat until 8pm.
  2. While the recipe calls for a 3 3/4- to 4 1/4-pound chicken, I used 5-1/4 pound bird. I wanted leftovers for lunch tomorrow. However after removing the backbone and discarding neck/organs, I only had 4 1/4-pounds of bone-in chicken; hardly any leftovers.
  3. Because I used a 5-1/4 pound chicken, the cooking times were too low; needed an extra 5 to 10 minutes per side to get crisp.
  4. I didn’t have kitchen sheers, so had to remove the backbone with a sharp chefs knife.
  5. I forgot to use the remaining salt/pepper mixture on the reverse side of the chicken. So I used it at the table instead.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $7.00
How much work? Small.
How big of a mess?  Medium. Too many dishes considering your cooking on the grill.
Start time 5:00 PM. Dinner time 8:00 PM

After an hour on the grill, it is evenly cooked and still moist.


Spanish Tortilla

July 27, 2010

I just noticed that I passed the half way mark in my quest to make 100 new recipes in 2010. Given that the year is more than half over, I’m a little behind the pace. But I’m feeling good about it: the weather is warm and I’m in the mood to cook.

A Spanish Tortilla is similar to an omelet or frittata; it has no relation whatsoever to a Mexican flour or corn tortilla. The recipes are here and the garlic mayonnaise is here.

Spanish Tortilla with Potatoes, Onions, Peas and Roasted Red Peppers.

Start by slicing potatoes and onions thin and and cook for 30 minutes in a 10-inch skillet. Beat together 8 eggs, 1/2-cup peas and 1/2-cup diced roasted red pepper, then add the cooked potatoes and onions to bowl. Add everything back to hot skillet, cooking the first side for 4 minutes. Flip using the plate-to-plate method, and then add back to skillet to finish the other side for 4 minutes.  Let rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes before slicing.

Rating: 4-stars. The tortilla was good; balanced flavors, firm texture. The potatoes were slightly (perhaps 5 minutes) undercooked. But the tortilla itself has very mild flavors; so the Garlic Mayonnaise was important. This was the major problem; The Garlic Mayonnaise was an utter failure. The amount of ingredients was so small that the food processor was ineffective; ending with a sauce like consistency.

Problems

  1. The first flip was a disaster. The tortilla broke and didn’t quite make it all the way onto the plate.  To recover, put everything back into pan and ended up giving it an extra plate-to-plate flip. In the end, nobody could tell.
  2. Overall cooking times seem to low; the tortilla took 4 minutes rather than 2 minutes for the egg to get spotty brown. Also, I think 35 minutes would have been better for the potatoes.
  3. Garlic Mayonnaise, which is a traditional accompaniment, did not turn into mayonnaise.  It stayed liquefied and I used as a sauce. It was so unappealing that I almost didn’t bring it to the table, but the taste was good nonetheless. I just told people it was a sauce rather than mayonnaise.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $5.75
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Dinner time 6:15pm


Pepperoni Pizza Stromboli

July 25, 2010

Calzones and Stromboli are both stuffed turnovers made from pizza dough; the big difference is that while a calzone is folded, a Stromboli is rolled. Before this week I had never even heard of Stromboli (though all my friends have).

Like a rolled up pizza

The Stromboli uses two new recipes, both from their book, The Best Make-Ahead Recipe. First the Make-Ahead Pizza Dough, I hydrated my teaspoon of Dry Active Yeast in 1 cup of 110-degree water for 10 minutes. Then combine 2-cups bread flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt in food processor fitted with dough blade.  Add water and 2 tablespoons olive oil with food processor running; mixing for 40 seconds. Pour onto floured counter and knead for 5 minutes. Let rise for 1 hour in warm place. Gently punch down dough, reform into a ball, let rest for 20 minutes.

Then follow the recipe for the Pepperoni Pizza Stromboli. On floured counter, roll dough into 12″ by 10″ rectangle. Add 6-oz shredded mozarella, 4-oz pepperoni and top with 1-oz parmesan cheese. Wet edges and roll into a tight log; brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cover with foil and bake at 400-degrees for 25 minutes, then uncovered for 20 minutes.

Overall, 4-star. The pizza dough was more work (requiring manual kneading) and made a bigger mess than my regular pizza dough, which is made using a dough hook in a standing mixer. However, the dough was lighter, owing to the bread flour.  The Stromboli was easy to make, also it was delicious and different.

Issues

  1. I’m not sure why they call it “Make-Ahead Pizza Dough”, because there was no instructions on how to store the dough alone; only after the entire Stromboli is rolled into a log.
  2. The bottom crust was too toasted. Next time I will use parchment paper underneath instead of oiling the baking sheet. This should help even out the bottom crust, and also make clean up easier.
  3. Next time I’ll reduce the exposed time to between 15 and 20 minutes, substituting more time tented with foil.
  4. The aluminum foil that I used to cover for the first 25 minutes stuck to top of the Stromboli. Next time I’ll tent it rather than just lay on top.
  5. As always, I substituted active dry yeast for the instant or rapid-rise yeast. I also warmed by oven to 125 degrees (but turned off) for rising.
  6. I didn’t have sesame seeds, and ran out of time so couldn’t run to the store.  Tasted fine without, but since this is my first Stromboli I didn’t have anything to compare it to.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $3.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner time 6:45pm


Grilled Chicken Wings with Hoisin Sesame Dipping Sauce

July 23, 2010

I was going to make Buffalo Wings, but because of the hot weather I decided to barbecue instead. In the past, I have tried barbecued chicken and Buffalo sauce, but now know the smokey flavor does not combine well with the spicy sauce. So, I decided to make Cook’s Illustrated Hoisin Sesame Dipping Sauce.

Great wings don't always come from Buffalo.

Start by brining the chicken wings in salt, sugar and water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, build a two-level fire and grill the chicken; first on the low-heat for 10 minutes, flipping half way through. Then grill on hot side until spotty brown. The sauce only takes a few minutes, and is best served warm.  The Charcoal-Grilled Chicken Wings recipe is here, and the Hoisin Sesame Dipping Sauce recipe is here.

Overall, these were great, especially during summer when I don’t want my oven to heat up the kitchen. I give them 4-1/2 stars, the Chinese flavors of the dipping sauce complemented the smokey flavor of the grilled wings. The lowest rating in the family came from Matthew,4-stars, who ate them without sauce, just ketchup.

Issues:

  1. My bag of Kingsford charcoal is bad; it does not fully burn down into ashes.   This caused the cooking time to triple, from 15 minutes to about 45 minutes. Ultimately, I had to finish a few under the broiler.
  2. The Cook’s Illustrated recipe called for “12 whole wings (about 2 1/2 pounds)”. But mine weighted double that; 5-pounds. Sure, by the time you discard the wing tips and packaging it only weighed 4 pounds, but I’m not sure why their weights are so far off.
  3. There was not enough room on the hot/cool sides of the grill to follow the grilling instructions of the recipe. In the end, I just had to move the pieces around as best I could.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $9 for 4-pounds of wings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 6:00 PM. Dinner time 7:30pm


Buttermilk Drop Biscuits

July 21, 2010

Last night, I had imagined that I was going to make a very nice loaf of Italian bread to bring to my son’s cub scout picnic. But I was tired from work and didn’t prepare the dough before sleeping. So finally at 11 AM (with only 1 hour before the picnic), my options were pretty limited. Looks like the scouts are only going to get Buttermilk Drop Biscuits.

Not as good as yeasted bread, but ready in just 30 minutes.

Since I didn’t plan this, I obviously don’t have buttermilk. So I substituted clabbered milk; 1 cup milk plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and let it it sit for 10 minutes. I melted a stick of butter in the microwave and let it cool for 5 minutes. Whisked together the ingredients; used a 1/4 cup measuring cup to portion and shape the biscuits, and baked them at 475 degrees of 12 minutes.

Rating: 3 stars.
Cost: $0.80 for 10 biscuits.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 11:15 AM. Dinner time 11:50 AM.


Chimichangas

July 19, 2010

Growing up in California, I though that plentiful, delicious and inexpensive Mexican food was the norm. However, here on the east coast the Mexican restaurants must cater to finicky eastern palates. For example, Chris Kimball (who admits his Yankee palate) has no burrito recipes on any of his websites. Fortunately, I’ve figured out how to cook my own.

Not authentic Mexican; but this is what I grew up eating.

Soak beans overnight in lightly salted water, discard liquid, cook in separate pot for 2-hours. Cook 4-ounces of bacon, reserve the fat for browning the beef. Brown 4-pounds of chuck roast on all sides; about 4-minutes per side.  Saute 1/2 of diced onion in bacon fat for 5 minutes, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add beef broth and let cook, covered, for 2-hours. Remove meat, cut into 2-inch cubes. When cool enough to work with; shred. Add meat back into pan, add back 1-1/2 cups of reserved liquid, as well as all remaining ingredients (don’t forget remaining half of onion). Cook uncovered about 15 minutes (or until enough liquid has evaporated).

At this point, you can either makes burritos or chimichangas (deep fried burrito). Top with cheese, guacamole, sour cream, tomato, scallions and salsa.

Issues:

  1. Deep frying always raises my blood pressure a little, as the burritos tend to want to open up. Sometimes I use toothpicks, but last night I didn’t.
  2. I divide the shredded beef into two pots; one for the kids without spices.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $16. Enough for 3 evening’s dinners.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 3:30 PM. Done cooling at 7:00 PM.

Recipe:

4-pound boneless shoulder chuck roast
2 tablespoon bacon drippings
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cup beef stock
1 tomato, diced
1 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos, diced
1 bell pepper
1 bag black or kidney beans, soaked overnight
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper.
2 teaspoon chili powder.
1 teaspoon cumin.
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

  • Soak beans overnight; with 2 teaspoons of salt per quart of water. Drain and discard water. Cook in separate pot with fresh water for 2 hours.
  • Rub the roast with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook bacon reserving bacon fat.
  • Use 1 tablespoon of bacon fat over medium-high heat to brown the roast on all sides, about 4 minutes per side.
  • Saute half of the onion for 5 minutes, scraping up brown bits from bottom of the pan.
  • Reduce the heat to low, add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and beef stock.
  • Cover and simmer for 2 hours (roughly 210 degrees). Turn roast over after 1 hour.
  • Meanwhile, prepare any toppings.
  • Remove beef and cut into manageable sized pieces. Let cool for 10-15 minutes. Reserve the cooking liquid.
  • Shred the meat into bite-size pieces using two forks.
  • Sauté the remaining onion for 5 minutes and garlic for 30 seconds in 1 Tablespoon bacon drippings or oil.
  • Add the meat and brown for 10 minutes. Scrape the meat up from the bottom every few minutes, getting it crusty in some spots.
  • Pour 1 1/2 cups of reserved cooking liquid. To speed cooking, add back less liquid. (Save the extra liquid for re-heating)
  • Add spices, black beans, tomatoes and chilies. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. The meat should remain moist but not juicy.
  • The filling can be made ahead and refrigerated for several days.
  • Makes 10 large chimichangas. Filling takes about 3 hours.

Mexican Grilled Street Corn

July 17, 2010

Having just eaten street corn in Guatemala; grilled corn on the cob with lemon and salt. I wanted to see how America’s Test Kitchen version of would compare, though obviously they are very different recipes.

Having eaten street corn in Guatemala, this Mexican version takes the cake.

Here is Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Mexican Grilled Corn.  While the ingredient list is long, most are already in your kitchen. The only extra ingredient I had to buy was a 69-cent bunch of cilantro, and a 25-cent lime.

First I grilled the corn over high heat (without husk) using 6 quarts of charcoal for 10-minutes, then slathered them with the spicy/cheesy sauce. The verdict: Chris Kimball wins again. 4-1/2 stars for Chris Kimball compared to 4-starts for Guatemala version.

Issues:

  1. The recipe calls for using two large bowls; but the curves of the bowl make them useless no matter their size. You are better off using flat plates (or Pyrex pans) in which you can roll the ears.
  2. I didn’t buy the Romano cheese and just substituted plain old Kraft Parmesan cheese.  It probably lost something, but still tasted perfectly blended.
  3. Lighting 6-quarts of charcoal just for corn seemed wasteful, so I also barbecued burgers to round out our dinner. Not a problem because this is intended as a side dish. The only drawback was that the corn was ready 20 minutes before the burgers.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $2.75 for three ears.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 6:00 PM. Done cooling at 7:00 PM.

Elote: the Guatemala street corn with only salt and lemon.


Brownies

July 15, 2010

Of any subject I have written, this is my hardest post.

I have come to understand an important truth about life. That no matter how deeply I am in love, the unfortunate and sad truth is that there are times when my love is not enough. For example, when I listen only to my heart when my head tells me that it is foolish; this has always left me with a broken heart. Or when love is lopsided; then the pain is sure to be unbearable.

And so too is my love of brownies. In 1995 and 1996, I ate the worlds best brownies in Antigua Guatemala.  And as the years have passed, I have never made brownies since; not once.  Not because I don’t love them, or love chocolate, but because trying to enjoy something when your heart is elsewhere is unfulfilling.

The best brownies I've eaten in 15 years, but I still want more.

Truth be told, a primary factor in my returning to Guatemala after 14 years was the lure of more brownies.  When I arrived, the cafe was no longer there. I tried many brownies all over Antigua during the two weeks I was in Guatemala, but none could hold a candle to my memory of the World’s Best Brownies.  Finally, two days before coming home a man in the main plaza listened to my story, and gave me the cafe’s new address. They had only moved to a new location.

The storefront had changed. Temporarily dashing my dream of eating the world's best brownies.

But time has not been kind to my brownies. These were frosted (a brownie should never be frosted, as there should be nothing to cover up). The texture was good, fudgy, but the flavors were too refined. The brownies had lost their grittiness. Sort of like giving American milk chocolate to someone accustomed to European Chocolate. So I sadly ate them during my remaining two days in Guatemala, but I came to understand that love exists only at any given moment. Going back to try to recover it is impossible. I was reminded of this poem by Ernest Hemingway.

A fudgy texture, but this brownies has lost its raw beauty.

So it was with all this baggage, that I made what Chris Kimball calls Chewy, Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies. Obviously, these were just as unfilling as all the other brownies I’ve had over the past month. They had a dense crumb, rather than fudgy texture.  Still, the best brownies I’ve eaten since 1996, but the title of “World’s Best Brownie” remains unclaimed.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $3.50 for 16 two-inch squares.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 5:30 PM. Done cooling at 8:00 PM.

"The Cinderella Cafe" two blocks above Plaza Mayor in Antigua Guatemala.


Pacaya Volcano

July 13, 2010

A visit to the volcano that make all the news in Guatemala about a month ago. This was the closest my boys have ever been to hot lava.

Recent lava flow still steaming hot.

Roasting marshmallows over hot lava. Despite the smile on my face, I could barely keep my hand that close to the lava for more than a few seconds.

While the flow was a few weeks old, it was still red hot just under the surface.

The entire lava flow. Oh yeah, it was rainy season.

Red hot!!


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