Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin Medallions

September 29, 2010

While lean and tender, pork tenderloin also tend to be rather tasteless. ATK’s solution: wrap them in bacon. Sure enough, that coupled with a nice apple sauce made for a great 4-star meal. Actually, ATK has 3 sauces to choose from, maybe next time I’ll try the Hoisin-Sesame Sauce.

Delicious pork meal ready in about an hour

The recipe for Tenderloin medallions is here. I made it with an Apple Cider Sauce, though there were some other options. Here and Here.  First microwave the bacon on paper towels for 3 minutes to remove excess fat, then put the barely cooked bacon on fresh paper towels to cool. Cut the tenderloins into 1-1/2 inch medallions, and wrap each with bacon and secure with two toothpicks. Sear the medallions over medium-high heat for 5 minutes per side. Then turn onto their side to brown bacon for about 12 minutes; removing when internal temperature reaches 150 degrees. Tent with aluminum foil while making the sauce.

For the sauce, combine 1-1/2 cups apple cider, 1 cup chicken broth, 2 tsp cider vinegar, and 1 cinnamon stick in a clean sauce pan (pork’s skillet used later). Reduce over medium-high heat until 1-cup; about 12 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and set sauce pan aside.  Add 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet used to cook the pork. Over medium heat, add 2 minced shallot and 1 diced granny smith apple and cook for just 2 minutes. Add 1/4-cup of brandy and cook for another 1 minute. Add reduced cider mixture, any juices from resting meat, and thyme. Reduced sauce over medium-high heat to 1-1/4 cups; 4 minutes. Off heat, whisk in 3 tablespoons butter, and adjust salt and pepper. Pour sauce over pork and serve immediately.

Results: 4-stars. Tender pork, and the bacon added great flavor. I generally prefer my bacon a little crispier, but the medallions were done so I had to stop cooking. The sauce had a nice balance of sweetness and tartness. The boys ate the pork medallions without sauce, though I’m not sure what ingredient they could possibly object, as they washed down the meal with Apple Cider.

Issues:

  1. The ingredient list called for kosher salt, but it wasn’t used anywhere in the directions. In the end I decided not to add any, because bacon has plenty of sodium.
  2. I mistakenly used the pork’s skillet for step 1 of the sauce recipe (I was supposed to use a fresh pan and reserve the pork’s skillet for step 2). It did make a difference in the texture. Because CI has this as 2 recipes, it wasn’t clear that they meant a clean sauce pan.
  3. I substituted my regular brandy for the special apple-flavored brandy.
  4. I ran out of Thyme so could only use 1/2 teaspoon.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $10. (Tenderloin was on sale for $3/lb)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Started: 6:00 PM.  Ready:  7:00 PM.

All wrapped up just waiting for their sauce


Garlic Mashed Potatoes

September 27, 2010

I’ve tried all Chris Kimball’s techniques; boiling with jackets on, jackets off, steaming, slicing, dicing, rinsing. But still, I hate to make mashed potatoes, which is why it’s been nearly 6 months since I’ve made them. However, I think today’s technique is one of the easiest. The potatoes are not boiled in water, but rather boiled in the same half-and-half normally added at the end of the process. It result in a flavorful mashed potato; even if the texture was still a little lumpy.

3 cloves of garlic per pound of potatoes; a nice balance.

I saw this on America’s Test Kitchen yesterday, and decided to make it because it called for Russet potatoes (my favorites based upon flavor). When searching the Cooks Illustrated website I found a wide variation in the amount of garlic. One recipe called for a garlic-to-potato (lb) ratio of 11-to-1, another recipes called for just 1.5-to-1. I settled for the modest 3-to-1 ratio that I saw on ATK earlier today. The Recipe is here.

Dice the potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes; rinse in colander until water runs clear. Saute 12 cloves of garlic and 1 teaspoon of sugar in 4 tablespoons of butter for 3 minutes. Add potatoes, 1-1/4 cup half-and-half, 1/2 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes. Add another stick of butter and mash right in the dutch oven. Add up to 1/4 cup more half-and-half to obtain the desired texture.

The results: 3-1/2 stars. Nice flavor, very easy, but lumpy. Next time I’ll try to run it through my ricer for a more velvety texture.

Issues:

  1. Spanish has a special word dedicated to lumpy mashed potatoes; “Grumo”; a word that I have not heard since I bought my ricer. But today’s recipe calls for mashing the potatoes directly in the dutch oven. I had to dust the cob webs off my old potatoes masher. As you guessed; resulting in “Grumo”.
  2. At the end, my potatoes couldn’t tolerate any more liquid, so I omitted the final 1/4-cup of half-and-half.
  3. Instead of buying a separate quart of half-and-half,  I made my own using the ratio of 2 parts milk-to-1 part heavy cream. This saved a trip to the supermarket since I already had heavy cream in my ‘fridge.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $2.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 6:00 PM.  Ready:  6:45 PM.


Grill-Roasted Beer Can Chicken

September 25, 2010

I’ve heard of beer can chicken all the way back to my college days, but never imagined actually using the technique myself. That is until I saw it on ATK; it looked so easy, and the result certainly looked delicious. The theory behind this is that the beer steams the interior cavity keeping the chicken moist. Because it is vertically roasted, there is no flipping required. It’s all just unattended grilling time. With busy fall schedules in full swing, that’s exactly what I want for this midweek meal.

Very moist and flavorful; but the seasoning portion of the recipe is problematic.

Recipe is here. Soak the wood chunks for an hour, then start a full chimney starter about 30 minutes later. Mix spice rub (cut the recipe down by three-quarters, i.e. use 2 tablespoons of paprika instead of 1/2 cup). Work skin free from chicken and apply spice rub below skin and inside cavity. Apply any remaining spice rub on-top of skin. Drink 1/4-cup from 12-ounce beer can, and open two more holes in top. Sit the chicken vertically onto beer can. Put disposable aluminum pan in center of BBQ and pour coals evenly on both sides. Sit chicken in middle of the grill over the pan, which will catch any drippings. Cover and roast until the thigh meat reaches 175-degrees; between 1 and 2 hours depending upon the size of the chicken. Let rest on beer can for 15 minutes, before carving and serving.

Issues:

  1. Unfortunately, the recipe yields 1 cup of spice rub, about 5 times the 3 tablespoons required for making one chicken. I cut the recipe in half (and used a 7 pound chicken), but there was still much to much spice rub.
  2. The recipe calls for a 3-1/2 pound chicken, but I used a 7-pound chicken. Unfortunately, I used 6 tablespoons of spice rub, which was a mistake. The chicken was way too spicy; inedible from my kid’s perspective. Hot, hot, hot like jerk chicken.

I find it extremely wasteful for the recipe to yield 5 times more spice rub than required for one chicken. I would much rather measure out what I need today, than store this specialized mix in my undersized pantry. I can go no higher than 2-1/2 stars, but this is at least partially based upon my error, not entirely the fault of the recipe. As cooked, there was no depth of flavor; only extreme heat.  I’d estimate this recipe could be 4-stars once the spice rub issues are resolved. It’s ease makes me want to try again; I’ll post again next time I try.

Rating: 2-1/2 stars.
Cost: $6.50.
How much work? Very Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 4:45 PM.  Ready:  7:00 PM.

Chicken still resting on it's beer can throne.


Soft Pretzels

September 23, 2010

With my oldest son away at camp for 3 days (with the town’s entire 6th grade class), I wanted to make something special with my 9 year-old son. To my surprise, Chris Kimball has a recipe for Soft Pretzels.  We had a great time making the dough, but the hardest part was controlling our excitement while waiting 2 hours for the dough to rise. In the end, we were both thrilled with the results. The softest pretzels I’ve ever eaten.

Homemade Soft Pretzels. Fun, Fun, Fun!!

Recipe for the Soft Pretzels. Start by making the dough as any other. In lieu of sugar, the recipe uses 1/4 cup of honey. This recipe kneads the dough in a food processor, but it could just as easily be a standing mixer (CI’s recipe for standing mixer is broken). Let the dough rise for an hour, punch it down, then let it rise for another 45 minutes. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Flour your board or counter, and roll each into a 20-inch long, 1/2-inch wide roll. I wasn’t able to roll more than 10 inches, so I dangled and stretched them vertically. Shape each into pretzel form. Join each seem by wetting the dough where it comes together. In batches of 4, boil for 30 seconds per side in a 12-inch skillet filled with 6 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Drain briefly on a wire rack, sprinkle with coarse sea salt (Kosher Salt would be a second choice). Bake at 450-degrees for about 14 minutes. Let cool for 8 minutes (no longer).

There is no doubt that these are 5-stars. I pulled 6 out of the oven after just 5 minutes, and put them in the freezer for when my oldest son came home from camp. I reheated those and finished toasting them. The biggest casualty of the freezing/re-toasting process was the texture of the salt; it was no longer the big grains of salt you want on your pretzels. But the taste was still delicious, perhaps 4-1/2 stars after being reheated.

Issues:

  1. I couldn’t roll them to 20-inches, so I dangled and stretched them until they became long and thin.
  2. I believe that mine were too short and thick, so I couldn’t do the center twist. But nobody even noticed.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $1.90 for 12 Pretzels.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 5:00 PM.  Ready:  8:00 PM.


Herb-Poached Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce

September 21, 2010

I am a shrimp lover. For the past 6 or 7 years I have made shrimp cocktail the same way. Peel the shrimp and start cooking in cold water until just done, then chill in cold water or an ice batch. The sauce is just ketchup (I prefer Hunts over Heinz in this application), prepared horseradish (in red jar) and lemon juice. Simple, delicious, relatively inexpensive and done in just 15 minutes.  Could Chris Kimball improve on my simple happiness? No. The added complexity, time and cost doesn’t significantly enhance the flavor. Worse, the cocktail sauce was a downgrade from the simple basic sauce that I’ve been making for years. The chili powder and cayenne seem out of place; I prefer the heat to come from adding more horseradish.

A fancy name for shrimp cocktail.

The recipe is here. This recipe added 25 minutes to prepare the shrimp broth, and the extra steps dirty a strainer and one more bowl. Also adding $3.50 in wine, plus a few dollars in herbs (1 spring of tarragon leaves and 5 coriander seeds) only leaves the slightest hint of flavor. Save your $5 for something more meaningful (like a second pound of shrimp!).

Overall: I give the shrimp 4 stars, and the cocktail sauce just 2 stars. (Average of 3-stars). Increasing the cost from $6 to $11 is completely unjustified, though. I will stick to my old recipe-less method.

Issues:

  1. The cocktail sauce recipe yields way too much sauce; enough for at least 3 pounds of shrimp.
  2. I couldn’t find coriander seeds, so I skipped them. Now I’m glad I save the money.
  3. It seems wasteful to dilute 1 cup of white wine into 3 cups of water. Such a weak mixture doesn’t noticeably enhance the flavor, and I’d rather drink the wine.

Rating: 3-stars.
Cost: $11 for 1 pound of shrimp.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Started: 5:00 PM.  Ready:  6:00 PM.


Barbecued Pulled Chicken

September 19, 2010

With the barbecuing days beginning to come to their seasonal end, I wanted a quicker, but still flavorful, barbecue. Chicken fits the bill perfectly. But obviously, the chicken will cook much to fast to make a 3-hour BBQ sauce. To accommodate the quicker pace, the onions are pureed in the food processor rather than slowly cooking them down. Also leg quarters are used because they are so much more moist and flavorful compared to breasts. Leaving the skin on during cooking also helped prevent them from drying out.

Not as flavorful as beef or pork, but ready in just 2-1/2 hours.

With Chicken Leg Quarters on sale for 59-cents per pound, I bought 8-1/2 pounds of chicken for less than $5. Unfortunately, 3-1/2 pounds were backbones and packaging, and another 2-1/2 pounds were the discard leg/thigh bones. By the time the recipe was completed, I was left with only 2-1/2 pounds of shredded chicken.

The complete recipe is here. Soak wood chunks in water, then start an almost-full chimney starter of charcoal. Meanwhile remove the backbone and season with salt and pepper. Put a disposable aluminum pan underneath the middle section of the grill, and divide the coals evenly on both sides of pan. Put chicken legs skin side up over the center roasting pan. Close bottom vent half way, and top vent 3/4 closed, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Rotate each leg (without flipping) and cook for another 40 minutes until internal temperature of the chicken reaches 185-degrees. Let cool for 20 minutes. Remove skin and shred, using two forks.

For the sauce, put 1 quartered onion with 1/4 cup of water in food processor for 30 seconds. Pass mixture through a strainer into a large bowl. Add 1-1/2 cups ketchup, 1-1/2 cups apple cider, 3 tablespoons Worcestershire, 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 1/4 cup of molasses, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 3 tablespoons cider vinegar.  Saute 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1-1/2 tablespoons chili powder and 1/2 teaspoons cayenne for 30 seconds. Add onion/ketchup mixture and cook for 20 minutes. Remove 1 cup of sauce for topping, add chicken and heat. Serve on hamburger buns and top with more sauce,

Issues:

  1. After shredding the chicken, I didn’t like the texture obtained by using the food processor on half the chicken. It left it too pasty. Next time I’m doing it all by hand.
  2. The recipe says to mix the chicken with about 3 cups of sauce, but it was still very dry. Next time I will mix with 3 cups of sauce, and reserve only 1 cup for topping.
  3. The chicken near the edge didn’t cook evenly, requiring an extra 8 extra minutes.
  4. I thought that I would have tons of chicken, but only ended up with 2-1/2 pounds.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $7. (including BBQ sauce)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Started: 5:00 PM.  Ready:  7:30 PM.


How to Make a Good Cup of Coffee

September 17, 2010

There are two logistical problems in making a good cup of coffee. First, roasted coffee beans are best for only 1 week after it’s roasted. 14 days after roasting, over 80% of the aromatic volatile compounds have evaporated. That expensive $15-to-20/lb coffee has already lost its complex flavor, and no amount of fancy packaging can change that.

The second logistical problem; ground coffee loses it’s precious oils within seconds for being ground.  Obviously, you should grind only what you intend to brew within the next 1 minute.

Fortunately when you buy green coffee beans, it stay fresh for at least a year. I have tried a number of websites, but keep coming back to Sweet Maria’s. They cost a little more than other sites I’ve used, but they give you excellent information about the coffee you are buying, and their ratings are helpful.  For example, see the following Ethiopian Coffee (be sure to click “View Cupping Scores” to each coffee’s pluses and minuses).

Buy your beans green, and roast them at home. It's the only sure way.

I roast my green coffee beans in a hot air popcorn popper. I roast between 1/2-cup and 2/3-cup at a time; roast time is about 6 minutes. When almost done; dump into a colander where they will continue to darken as they cool. Stir occasionally when cooling. Beans are best if they are allowed to rest for 1 or 2 days; but many times I use them as soon as they are cool.

The Ethiopian and Guatemalan were exceptional (and only a few dollars more).

Just how much does it cost.  Generally a pound of green coffee costs about $5; about $5.50 including shipping.My last purchase averaged $5.75/lb because I bought a few super-premium coffees.  But about 20% of the weight is lost in evaporation during the roasting process; therefore a pound of home-roasted coffee costs $6.60. per pound.

To brew, I use a French Press when at work. But at home I make cappuccino. I measure out the exact amount of whole beans (usually by volume, not by weight). I grind the coffee to the appropriate fineness. In my case, setting 3 on my Gaggia MDF.

A double cappuccino takes just over 3/8 ounce (.45 oz) of roasted beans.

Once the coffee beans are ground they must be used within a few seconds, as their precious oils evaporate quickly. Once in the portafilter, tamp down to between 30 and 50 pounds of downward pressure. It’s best to use a tamp so that the pressure is the same every time.

Use your ground coffee within seconds of grinding.

And finally, I drink.

Finally, a really good cup of coffee that doesn't cost you an arm and a leg.

A pound of beans makes about 36 double espressos, so the coffee cost is 18-cents. Adding 5-oz of milk for double cappuccino increases the total cost to about 25-cents. Now, remember that 5-oz of milk is steamed to has a much greater volume, requiring perhaps a 12-oz cup.  So really, there is little justification for the $4 price tag at Starbucks.


Ice Cream Sandwiches

September 15, 2010

To an adult, they are over-the-top. But to a kid, the fact that they maybe over-the-top is exactly what makes them special.  Home-made, over-sized, cappuccino, chocolate-chip ice cream sandwiches, rolled in rainbow sprinkles. What kid wouldn’t smile at that! Each sandwich weighted 8-ounces and was a full 2-inches thick. They barely fit in my sons’ mouths.

 

The best thing since sliced bread.

 

Chris Kimball’s recipe, which is here, call for store-bought ice cream, but I wanted to make a special treat for the boys, as they get back into the swing of school. I made my most flavorful home-made ice cream; cappuccino; made with full heavy cream (no milk). I usually swirl in some dulce de leche, but this time mixed in some roughly chopped chocolate chips.

The cookie is made by mixing 1-cup flour, 1/2-cup cocoa, 1/8-teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4-teaspoon salt. Separately, mix 2 eggs, 3/4-cup sugar, 1/4-cup chocolate syrup and 1 stick of melted butter. Combine and spread thin over parchment paper in large baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes.

The result is off-the-chart 5-stars. My son said that he would have to invent a new scale to properly rate it.

Issues:

  1. Cookie was too thick, due to size and shape of my parchment paper. Also because I don’t have an offset metal spatula it wasn’t a completely consistent thickness.
  2. My 3-1/2 inch biscuit cutter is too big. Actually, I made it from a donut-cutter gone bad, so I can’t complain. I think 2-1/2 inches would be the ideal size.
  3. The recipe only yielded 5 sandwiches, but each one weighted a massive 8-oz. By comparison a normal Ice Cream Sandwich weights just 3-1/4 ounces.
  4. While I was assembling them, the ice cream began to melt. I had to put everything back in the freezer for a half hour before finishing.
  5. Normally I swirl my Cappuccino Ice Cream with Dulce de Leche, which is very, very sweet.  Because I didn’t, the result wasn’t quite sweet enough for a kid’s palate. The Ice cream could have used a little more sugar, but they were still a home-run.
  6. So that the boys could have eaten them the same day, I should have started these by 4 PM. But because I had to go to the store to buy eggs, they had to wait an extra day to eat them.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $4.50 for 5 sandwiches.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 5 PM.  Ready:  10:00 PM.

 

Matt enjoying an afternoon snack

 


Grilled Argentine Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce

September 13, 2010

The year I spent living in Buenos Aires was one of my happiest. I had adopted an Argentine family who lived about an hour’s bike ride from downtown, where I lived. Most every Sunday, I would ride out for a traditional Argentine Asado (barbecue). The family would set up long tables in their garage to accommodate the 20, 30, sometimes 40 people; friends and family that would gather each and every Sunday. An asado typically grills 5 or 6 types of meat, from the tenderloin to the pancreas, expertly grilled over a homemade barbecue. Of course there is an infinite supply of red wine, which only cost a few dollars a bottle.

Argentine Asado with Chimichurri sauce.

Part of any Argentine Asado includes the discussion about the selection of wood, just as important as the selection of meat, I am told.  I yell “San Lorenzo” (my hosts favorite Soccer Team) and the place erupts, both in-favor and against. A few minutes later everybody eats and drinks some more, and more. And just when you are so full you feel your stomach is going to burst (the belt came off long before), the host comes around with more meat. “Eat, Eat” he insists. Resistance is futile.

Chris Kimball’s recipe is here. The truth is, I never ate Chimichurri sauce while in Argentina. The meat was so good on its own. While the flavor of Chris Kimball’s version is good, it is just too mild. It is not authentic Chimichurri because it doesn’t have any kick. But it’s authenticity matters as little as whether you are for-or-against San Lorenzo. Take good meat (I used boneless short ribs, flanken, and Italian sausage) open a few bottles of red wine, and you are sure to have a 5-star meal.

Issues:

  1. I used my favorite cuts of meat, from the rib section, rather than the strip steaks.
  2. Chimichurri was too mild, but the flavor was great so I didn’t mind.

Rating: 5-star meal, but 3-stars as Chimichurri.
Cost: $15.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 6 PM.  Ready:  7:20 PM.


Remembering the Saddest Day

September 11, 2010

We all have our stories about where we were when we realized what was happening. I had just moved into my condo in Hoboken, New Jersey; we bought it for $360,000 two weeks before. My day started as any other. I walked the 7 blocks down First Street to the Hoboken Land Building. I am a Data Arcitect and was working on a project for a Newpower, a now defunct company that marketed energy (not all that different than Enron.) As I turned to go upstairs to my office, I noticed a crowd 100 feet away. On the waterfront (yes, the same waterfront as the Brando movie “On the Waterfront”). A stranger told we there was a fire, so I walked down to the river. I remember the pattern made by the smoke in the wind, it curled around onto itself like a DA haircut.

Then I began working. I sent a few e-mails to co-workers. I called home so that my wife would turn on the TV. Because we just moved in we didn’t yet have cable, and the over-the-air broadcasts had only static. I went back outside; back down to the river. The crowd had grown, but I saw a few co-workers but nobody knew anything. We all just watched.

Then, at 9:02 with my naked eyes I saw the second plane crash. It was across the river about 2 miles away, but still the flames were immense. I tried to call home, but the phones were jammed. I left work, and walked home. And less than an hour later from the rooftop of my condo, I saw the first tower collapse.

Hours later, I walked back down to the waterfront. There was a constant stream of buses coming in from the city dropping the city’s workforce at the train station so that they could get home. The police had closed the pier, and there was so much smoke rising from the WTC site. After dark, the pier was reopened and people had placed hundreds of candles.

My co-workers who were working at World Finance Center that day were thankfully late. I didn’t know anybody directly killed in the attacks. But like most people who lived so close to New York, everybody did know somebody who lost someone. Unimaginable pain, once removed.

Nine years later, I have never spoken to my kids about the events that unfolded that day. It still don’t know how to talk about such unspeakable tradgedy to my innocent children. But today, I asked my 11-year-old son if he knew what happened on September 11th. He said yes that he did know. When they are older I will tell them. I want them to see my tears to know that the pain is real, so that they understand that September 11th is not just another day in history.


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