Slow-Cooker Ropa Vieja

August 30, 2010

A classic Latin American dish made of shredded beef with bell peppers and onions in a tomato-based sauce. This version is made in a slow-cooker and is from his book, The Best Slow and Easy Recipes. But Chris Kimball also has a version using traditional, non-slow-cooker cooking methods, which cooks in just 2-1/2 hours (versus 10 for slow-cooker).

Classic Latin American dish; shredded beef in peppers and onions.

Recipe is here. Saute two onions, tomato paste, garlic in non-stick skillet for 8 minutes, then deglaze the pan using water. Cut the flank steak into 3-inch squares. Add the sauteed onions, meat, 1/4 cup soy sauce and 2 bay leaves to slow cooker, cook on low for 9 to 11 hours. Afterward, remove meat, let cool and shred using two forks.

Sautee 4 bell peppers, 1 sliced onion, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large Dutch for 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and cumin and cook about 1 minute. Stir in 1/2-cup white wine, a can of tomatoes, 1/2-cup minced olives, and 2 cups cooking liquid reserved from the meat, and cook until the peppers are soft and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Finally add meat back to reheat and combine flavors, add parsley and vinegar.

Rating: 4-star. Overall the recipe has great flavor, but lacked heat (spiciness). Also the texture was a little too watery.

Issues:

  1. I cooked for 11 hours in slow cooker, but the meat came apart too completely. I would recommend closer to 9 to 10 hours.
  2. Bell peppers are more sweet than spicy, so the recipe definitely lacked some heat.  Next time I will try adding 4 minced jalapenos.
  3. The texture was too watery. I let the liquid cook down for 15 minutes. Next time I’ll let it cook down even further or add some plain gelatin.
  4. I substituted cilantro for regular parsley, because I already had cilantro in my refrigerator (and because I think it is more authentic).
  5. While I started the recipe at 6 AM, (about 20 minutes of work in the morning), I didn’t have to do anything more until 5 PM.
  6. I took the picture before pouring the sauce over the rice, but don’t forget when eating.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $16.50 (fed 5 adults and 4 kids)
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 6:00 AM.  Ready:  6:00 PM


Grilled Boneless Turkey Breast with Mango and Pepper Salsa

August 28, 2010

I’ve been watching this ATK episode over-and-over for months. Finally, Turkey Breast went on sale for just 88-cents a pound.  De-boned, I used kitchen twine to tie the two breast halves together to form a roll, then grilled it over a charcoal fire. The well-balanced Mango and Pepper Salsa makes up for the lack of traditional gravy.  Absolutely delicious: 4-1/2 stars.

So, I was very surprised that this 4-1/2 star dinner would end up being a complete failure. Why? I planned for a 7:15 dinnertime based upon the recipe’s cooking time, but at 7:15 the turkey’s internal temperature was just 95-degrees. At 8 PM, the boys could wait no longer and they ate leftovers and some bread. (Turkey’s temperature was improving to 125-degrees). Finally, I abandoned the recipe, pulled it off the grill and stuck it a 325-degree oven. At 9 PM, I had a delicious (but lonely) meal of perfectly cooked turkey breast.

My best "midnight snack" of all time.

Recipe for Grilled Boneless Turkey Breast is here. The recipe for Mango and Pepper Salsa is here.  First, remove the skin in one piece, which will be use it to wrap the breast. Remove the breasts from the bone and sprinkle with kosher salt. Lay one breast on top of the other (tapered end on-top of thick end) to form an even roll. Tie lengthwise with kitchen twine, then tie crosswise at 1-inch intervals. Cover and let sit in refrigerator for 1 hour. Soak some wood chips and start a full chimney starter of charcoal, when ready put all one on side of grill. Rub roast with oil and salt, then put on cool side of the grill. Cook until roast reaches 150-degrees (supposedly 45-to-60 minutes), at which point you switch to hot side and toast until reaches 165-degrees.  I had to finish my roast in a 325-degree oven, because the turkey’s exterior was fully toasted and the internal temperature was still only 140-degrees. Turkey breast must be cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 165-degrees.

Issues:

  1. I am unsure why the cooking time was so far off.  The recipe wasn’t clear exactly how close to the coals the roast was intended to be placed. I started it off perhaps 8 inches away, but move it closer after I saw the internal temperature of 95-degrees. Still, placing it closer would have roasted the exterior faster, not the interior. My grill vents were about half-way open; pretty standard.
  2. The string that ran lengthwise didn’t really help. The slippery turkey just kept sliding around.
  3. The bottom of the recipe shows how to tie a butcher’s knot, which I didn’t notice at the time. Next time I’ll give it a try, as it would have helped me use fewer strings to get a perfectly round roast.
  4. My “turkey breast” came with wings, neck, back, giblets. I cooked the wings together with the roast (which also came out fantastic) and ended up discarding about 2-1/2 pounds. What a dirty trick by the farm; if I wanted the whole turkey I wouldn’t have bough something labeled “Turkey Breast”.
  5. The recipe for this Salsa was difficult to find. Usually it would have been listed under the “related recipe” section for the turkey, but this one was not. Also the exact measurements weren’t given on the ATK episode. I finally found it by searching on a list of all the ingredients. Again, the recipe for Mango and Pepper Salsa is here.
  6. I couldn’t find pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds which are toasted) in my newly re-decorated supermarket. I ended up substituting pine nuts, which were much too mild. I didn’t even notice that they were there.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $12.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 5:15 PM.  Ready:  9 PM. :(

Mango and pepper salsa added great flavor.


Classic Deviled Eggs

August 26, 2010

This was the first summer my kids have gone to summer camp, and my contribution to the end-of-the-summer-camp feast was Classic Deviled Eggs (published by CI in 2000).  I haven’t made any hard-boiled egg dish since Easter, and today’s recipe is different than my Easter Deviled Eggs (published by CI in 2006).  Unsure why Chris Kimball has two Deviled Egg Recipes, I wanted to try them both. Which one is better? The 2000 Recipe gets higher reviews for taste, but the 2006 recipe is easier and has better texture because of some new techniques; notably this one.

With the "Egg Scare" I wanted to be sure to cook these all the way through.

First, I hard-boiled the eggs using Chris Kimball’s favorite technique. I put the eggs in cold water and brought them to a boil. I let them boil for 5 minutes, then removed them from heat, covered and let them sit for 10 minutes. This method ensures that the yolks are cooked all the way through, but the yolks aren’t green (Sam I am).

Recipe is here. I peeled the eggs, sliced carefully and put yolks in a bowl. I mashed the yolks using a fork (see issues below) and added the 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise,  3/4 teaspoon of grainy mustard, 1-1/2 teaspoons of cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce. I used my pastry decorator to fill the egg halves (see more issues described below).

I give this recipe 4-stars, which tasted better than the other one from April (which only got 3-stars). I like the complexity added by the Worcestershire sauce (more than the sour cream from the other recipe).   But next time I will use my ricer to process the yolks; which will save time and provide for a fluffier filling.

Issues:

  1. I followed the recipe and mashed the yolks with a fork (in lieu of using my ricer). The yolk filling’s texture was denser, not light and fluffy as it had been in April.  I though clean-up would be quicker, but the fork ended up costing me an extra 10 minutes of aggravation.
  2. The major problem caused by the fork was that my pastry tip constantly jammed. Though I tried to mash the yolks well, there were still chunks that wouldn’t fit through my pastry tip. I couldn’t get through more than 3 or 4 eggs at a time without removing and cleaning the tip.
  3. The jammed pastry tip caused ascetic flaws in the filling too, no nice even swirl.  Bottom line: use your ricer (or a sieve) it’ll save time and aggravation, plus give you a fluffier and better looking filling.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $1.00 for 18 halves.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 7:00.  Ready:  7:30 AM.


Shrimp Escabeche

August 24, 2010

Escabeche is poached fish that is marinated in an acidic mixture and usually served cold. It is popular in Spain and Central America. It is similar to its well-known cousin, ceviche, except that in this case the shrimp is thermally cooked. Ceviche only “cooks” the fish in citric acid.  This particular variation adds cucumber, mango and red onion, and is marinated in lime juice. It was perfect for last night when I wanted a light meal.

Light meal made with little effort, but marinades for a few hours.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars. The lime juice has much better and less harsh flavor than vinegar.  The mango was too sweet for my youngest son, but he was able to eat around the mango. I am definitely going to add this to my cookbook.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $10.
How much work? Small.
How big of a mess?  Small.
Start at: 5:00 PM. Ready at: 8:00 PM.

Recipe:

1 lb large raw shrimp (about 30)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from 8 limes)
1/2 cucumber, halved lengthwise & cut crosswise 1/4 inch thick
2/3 cup chopped mango
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1 jalapeño, stem and seeds removed; finely chopped
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt (or course sea salt)
Ground pepper

  1. Prepare an ice-water bath. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; poach all the shrimp until just cooked through, 1 1/2 – 2 minutes
  2. Carefully transfer the shrimp to the ice-water bath; let cool. Drain shrimp, and peel. Slice each shrimp in half.
  3. Toss shrimp with 1/2 cup of lime juice in glass bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, covered, stirring halfway though.
  4. Drain away lime juice from shrimp into a separate bowl, reserving for step 5.
  5. In a large serving bowl, toss together shrimp, cucumber, mango, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, 3 tablespoons of lime juice, 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt, and a pinch of pepper. Refrigerate for 30 more minutes.
  6. Toss again before serving.

More English Muffins

August 23, 2010

I spent the weekend with old friend in Saratoga in upstate New York. Having loved the book Last of the Mohicans, the nearby towns are straight from the book: Lake George, Fort William-Henry, Fort Edwards, Glenn Falls. But having read the book in early adulthood, I imagined the savagery of the frontier wilderness of the 1750’s. Today, it is mostly corn and dairy farms. We played tennis, just 10 miles from where Hawkeye jumped into the falls to escape the pursuing Magua.

I baked two kinds of English Muffins for my friends; buttermilk English muffins, and also wheat-honey-raisin muffins. I modified the Buttermilk recipe to use a starter (same starter as the Focaccia), which was a winning idea.  The starter gave much more tang and interesting flavors. (first time I made English Muffins last week)

A choice of English muffins in the morning.

The wheat-honey-raisin English muffins did not use a starter (as they were sweeter). I used a combination of wheat-and-all-purpose flour, a technique Chris Kimball recommends to avoid “hockey puck syndrome”. Also the wheat version uses water instead of buttermilk. I added the raisins just before kneading. Otherwise I made them side-by-side in two separate bowls, each following the same general steps.

Personally, I though the Buttermilk with butter was the winner. But my kids were also insistent that the honey-raisin with homemade grape jelly was the winner. I stored the left over muffins in a zip-lock bag which we ate on Sunday morning, and their was no loss of freshness.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $1.50, for 19 muffins.
How much work? Small/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Small/Medium.
Start at: 6:00 AM. Ready at: 9:00 AM.

Starter:
1/4 cup (1 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/6 cup (1 1/3 ounces) 105-degree water
1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast

 

Buttermilk:
2 1/4 cups flour (12 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1 package or 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
Cornmeal for sprinkling

Wheat and Raisin:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup warm water (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 tablespoon butter
2 tbsp honey (or granulated sugar)
1 package or 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 cup raisins
Cornmeal for sprinkling

  • Mix together ingredients for starter. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours.
  • The next day, measure flour(s) and salt into large bowl with the starter.
  • Turn on oven, and then turn it off immediately once it reaches 200-degrees.
  • If substituting clabbered milk for buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to 1 cup of regular milk and let stand for 10 minutes.
  • In a Pyrex measuring cup, heat buttermilk and butter in microwave for 55 seconds until reaches between 100 and 110 degrees. Whisk in sugar (or honey), and dry yeast. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes.
  • Slowly add milk/yeast mixture to flour, mix with a wooden spoon until no dry flour remains.
  • Flour counter and knead by hand for 1 minute. Wash bowl and spray with vegetable spray.
  • Put dough into prepared bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm (turned off) oven for 1 hour.
  • Gently scrape out onto a floured surface, without punching down. Shape or roll to about 1/2-to-3/4 -inch thick.
  • Using a 3-1/2-inch biscuit cutter to form rounds. (I used large overturned plastic cup, also tin can)
  • Spread cornmeal over wax or parchment paper. Place the circles of dough onto the cornmeal.
  • Dust tops liberally with cornmeal. Top with plastic wrap, and let rise for another hour.
  • Preheat a dry griddle or large skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes.
  • Carefully use a spatula to place a few rounds onto the skillet. Brown each side for 5 to 6 minutes.
  • Let cool for 20 minutes on wire rack. Split using a fork (never a knife).
  • Toast before serving.
  • Preparation time is 3 hours.

Buffalo Wings and Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

August 21, 2010

This summer I have not been to TGI Friday’s for happy hour even once, which has left we with a serious craving for Buffalo Wings. I’ve been making wings for a couple of years (here is my January posting), but have never made homemade blue cheese dressing; until now. Wow, using real blue cheese gives such an intense flavor. While it can be expensive, I fortunately found the Danish Blue Cheese on sale for only $4 for 4-ounces. 

First time eating with homemade blue cheese dressing. Wow, it's like night and day.

 

Chris Kimball has two very similar blue cheese dressing variations. (Recipe #1 and Recipe #2). I made the first; “Rich and Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing”; which adds 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder. The dressing only took a few minutes, just mix all the ingredients together. I made the wings exactly as the last time. The Buffalo Wings recipe is here

Ratings: Only 3-1/2 stars for the wings recipe this time, because of a lack of sauce. But the lack of sauce made the wings mild enough for my kids. The Blue Cheese dressing was 4-1/2 stars; very intense. After a good whiff, my kids wouldn’t touch it. 

Issues: 

  1. My $5 tray of wings ended up making 32 wings, so I ran a little short on the buffalo sauce. Still good, but not intense enough like the last time. The buffalo sauce is good for only 20 wings. Next time I will count the wings and make the necessary adjustments.
  2. On the other hand, I had twice the necessary Blue Cheese dressing. The kids didn’t eat any, but next time I will halve the recipe; only 1-1/4 ounces of blue cheese.
  3. While the dressing is a new recipe, I am not going to count it towards my goal of 100 new recipes. I think counting a sauce would be cheating.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars for wings, 4-1/2 stars for dressing.
Cost: $6 for 32 wings, plus $2.50 for Blue Cheese dressing.
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


Easier Fried Chicken

August 19, 2010

Way back in early February I made the best fried chicken ever, and I gave it 5-stars. It was the crispiest chicken I’ve ever had; not the least bit greasy or soggy. The only problem was dealing with the 5 cups of oil. The current issue of Cook’s Illustrated (September/October 2010) promises Easier Fried Chicken, with only 1-3/4 cups of oil. When I looked at the recipe, it uses many of the same techniques. Could I have my cake and eat it too? Answer: Almost.

Deal with less oil, but bottom skin is slightly soggy.

The recipe is here. Start out by brining the chicken in buttermilk solution for at least an hour. I brined for 2 hours while I played tennis. Preheat oven to 400-degrees and oil to 375-degrees. Mix flour, baking powder, pepper, salt, cayenne, garlic powder and paprika, then combine 1/4 cup of buttermilk (mixing with your fingers). Dredge chicken and place in hot oil for 4 to 5 minutes on the first side, 3 to 4 minutes on the second side.  Finish cooking on wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes, checking the temperature to test for doneness; 160 for the breasts and 175 for legs and thighs.

Overall, I’d give it 4-1/2 stars. The 1/2-star reduction over the Extra-Crunchy Chicken I made in February was because the bottom of the chicken was a little soggy. This is due to the juices continuing to cook out in the oven. As they drip down they make the bottom skin a little soggier. On the plus side, this recipe makes sure that the exterior isn’t overcooked while the interior finishes cooking. Also the smaller amount of oil heats up quickly.

Issues:

  1. I had to make 2 batches, which is not mentioned in the recipe. While I only had a 10″ skillet and the recipe called for an 11″ skillet, still there is no way my 3-1/2 pounds of chicken would have fit. It didn’t delay dinner, because we started eating after the first batch was ready, then the second batch was ready 10 minutes later.
  2. I started out mixing the 1/4 cup of buttermilk with a whisk, which didn’t work. Using your fingers works much, much better.
  3. While well seasoned, next time I will kick up the spices a little. I like it spicy.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $7 for 3-1/2 pounds.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner time 7:30 PM. (but played tennis for 2 hours)


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