Goodbye 2011

December 31, 2011

While the sluggish economy continues to hurt economically, for me, 2011 was a great year nonetheless. It’s as if, having navigated the rough and dangerous white waters over the past few years, the changes have finally settled into becoming the new routine. Things are just as tense and uncertain, but I have become more comfortable navigating these chaotic times. More often than not, I could sleep the whole night through. I hope everyone’s 2011 was also an improvement over the past few years.

Parisian Fromagerie on Rue Cler (April 2011)

Unfortunately, I missed my 2011 goal of making and publishing 100 recipes; I only completed 80. Of this year’s recipes; my top ten recipes that I made this year are the following.

  1. Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon
  2. Barbecued Chicken Kebabs
  3. American Sandwich Bread
  4. Shu Mai
  5. Grilled Chicken Teriyaki
  6. Korean Fried Chicken
  7. Beef Stroganoff
  8. Chicken Breasts Ballotine
  9. Indoor Pulled Pork
  10. Valentine’s Day Pretzels

For this blog, 2011 brought subtle change from my first year. In 2010, I stressed new recipes, expanding my culinary horizons and those of my family. In 2011, I tried and refined recipes (both new and old), trying to understand; and ultimately perfect; the required techniques. I made some recipes 3 or 4 days in a row. My greatest progress this year was in the baking of bread. The many variables (like room temperature, humidity, age and type of the yeast) no longer de-rail my loaves; every loaf this year has been at least 4-stars.

I hope we all have learned from the ebbs and flows that have accompanied 2011, and that the perspective gained will ultimately lead to more fulfilling lives; a sure recipe from an even happier 2012.


Holiday Scalloped Potatoes

December 30, 2011

My youngest son loves mashed potatoes, so I have never rocked the holiday boat by making scalloped potatoes for him. But for Christmas dinner this year I made these holiday scalloped potatoes. At first Nico refused to eat them. But eventually after a bit of cajoling he tried them. After declaring that he loved them, he reminded me that I have made them before. His culinary memory is amazing, almost 2 years ago I made this similar mashed potato casserole. Overall, I’d give these scalloped potatoes 4-stars, a nice alternative to mashed potatoes (especially when there’s no gravy). The heavy creams gives them a richness perfect for a Christmas dinner.

Scalloped potatoes made rich with heavy cream

The original recipe, which is double what I’ve listed below, says it will feed 8 to 10 people. I cut the recipe in half, because I wasn’t feeding a crowd.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $4.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:45 PM. Finish time 6:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 small onion
1 clove garlic
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 pounds russet potatoes
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

  1. Peel 2 pounds of potatoes. For faster and more consistent slices, cut them into 1/8″ thick slices using a food processor. Mince your 1/2 onion.
  2. Adjust and oven rack to Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Melt butter in large Dutch oven for 1 minute over a medium-high burner, until the foaming begins to subside. Saute the minced onion for 4 minutes, until they soften and begin to brown. Press garlic clove directly into Dutch oven and saute for only 30 seconds. Add cream, milk, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, table salt, ground pepper, and sliced potatoes. Bring up to a simmer. Cover the Dutch oven and cook for between 20 and 30 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. You may need to adjust the burner in order to keep the potatoes cooking at a light simmer.  You can test doneness by inserting a paring knife into the center of potato; it should meet just a little resistance.
  4. Find and remove sprigs of thyme and bay leaves. Put the potato mixture into a 3-qt gratin or Pyrex baking dish. Sprinkle with grated cheddar with cheese, and bake for 20 minutes. The cream will have thickened and the cheese will be bubbling and slightly browned. Allow to cool for 5 minutes prior to serving.

Apple Cider-Baked Christmas Ham

December 27, 2011

This wonderful Christmas dinner was a great exclamation point to a happy and relaxing and day with family. The ham came out good, but not great. Of course the real treasure was spending such a wonderful day with family, napping, and watching Christmas movies with the boys.

Delicious apple flavor; but don't use spiral sliced ham.

The recipe calls for a “bone-in, uncut, cured ham”. However, Cook’s Country also says that you can substitute a spiral-sliced ham, and the only required adjustment is to skip the trimming and cross-hatch in step 2. While the bark was still delicious, I would have to categorize this substitution as a mistake. The ham dried out and was tough. You will be much better served by following a recipe specifically tailored to a spiral sliced ham, such as this one.  It uses a warm-water-bath while still wrapped in plastic to warm the ham before baking, and also calls for a shorter bake at just 250-degrees, which is better suited to a delicate spiral-sliced ham.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $18.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 2:00 PM. Finish time 6:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
13 cups apple cider
8 cups ice cubes
1 ham (between 7 and 10-lbs)
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Use a knife to cut cinnamon stick into rough pieces.  Add cinnamon and cloves to a saucepan and toast for 3 minutes over medium burner. Add 4 cups of apple cider to the pan and bring to a boil. Pour spiced cider into a stockpot or clean bucket wide enough to accommodate the ham, flat-side down. Add 4 more cups of apple cider and 8 cups of ice cubes. Stir until ice has melted.
  2. Remove the skin from the ham and trim away fat leaving the fat cap 1/4″ thick. Cut a cross-hatch into fat at 1″ interval.  Put ham, flat-side down, into large container with chilled cider mixture. The brine will not quite cover the ham, but the exposed portion has very little meat. Place in refrigerator for to 12 hours.
  3. About 4 to 4-1/2 hours before dinner, throw away the brine and put ham in a large oven bag; flat-side down. Add 1 cup apple cider in bag, and tie securely using the supplied plastic closures (or kitchen twine). Use a paring knife to make 4 slits in top of bag to allow the steam to escape. Place in large roasting pan and allow to stand on the counter-top for 1-1/2 hours. This will allow the ham to come up to temperature without overcooking.
  4. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and pre-heat to 300-degrees. Bake for between 1-1/2 and 2-1/2 hours until an instant-read thermometer reads 100-degrees. Meanwhile, add 4 cups of apple cider and 2 teaspoons dijon mustard to a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce burner to medium-low and allow to reduce and simmer for about 1-1/2 hours until it reduced to 1/3 cup. Stir often to prevent scorching.
  5. Remove ham from oven and increase oven to 400-degrees.  Allow ham to rest for 5 minutes, then roll bag back to expose the ham. Use a pastry brush to evenly paint ham with the reduced cider mixture.
  6. Combine brown sugar and pepper in small bowl.  Carefully use your hands to press sugar mixture onto the ham. Bake for 20 minutes ; the exterior will become dark brown.
  7. Remove from oven and loosely tent ham with aluminum foil and allow to rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes.
  8. Carve and serve.

Merry Christmas 2011

December 26, 2011

On Christmas eve our family visited some Peruvian Friends for Dinner, as has become our tradition for the past 5 or 6 years. In Latin American culture, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve at midnight. This year our friend made everything herself; all of which turned out fantastic. My favorite of which was her turkey-breast stuffed with ham and Swiss cheese, though everything turned out great. I brought two loaves of freshly-baked ciabatta and a nice bottle of Argentine Malbec. Despite the crust on the ciabatta being about 2-minutes overdone, the crumb was still perfectly soft. I was worried, but the loaves quickly disappeared.

Crowded; this was as close as I could get.

Christmas dinner was quiet with just the four members of our family. I prepared a Cider-Baked Christmas Ham, which I saw on a new episode of Cook’s Country. It was filled with apple flavor, but the texture was somewhat dry because I used a spiral sliced ham. The ham was accompanied with these holiday scalloped potatoes and some green beans, which were a blend of the following two recipes; green beans with bacon and special green beans. I will post the details of these dishes over the next few days.

My photo above the the famed Rockefeller Christmas Tree. A few weeks ago we had a four-course Italian dinner, and saw the Christmas window displays of the department stores on 5th Avenue. As always, New York is always so full of energy.


Rosemary Focaccia

December 23, 2011

For anyone who doesn’t have a standing mixer, this recipe is perfect. It is my all time-favorite breads; rich with olive oil and topped with freshly chopped rosemary. I usually serve it beside a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Given the ease with which it’s made, I can’t believe that I haven’t made this bread in more than 16-months. It has the wettest dough of any bread I’ve made. With an 80% hydration level your hands must be well-floured when initially shaping the dough (in step 7); but after coating with olive oil you’ll have no such worries. This is definitely 5-star bread, and very forgiving (as are most flatish breads).

Deliciously rich topped with fresh rosemary.

Comments:

  1. This is the best of about three of Chris Kimball’s bread recipes that doesn’t require a standing mixer (or lots of manual kneading). Instead it uses a process called “Autolyse” to develop gluten; replacing kneading with a long fermentation process.
  2. Another noteworthy element is to briefly delay adding the salt by 15 minutes, which will hastened the gluten development by a full hour. This is because salt inhibits flour’s ability to absorb water thus slowing down the activity of the enzymes that break down protein to form gluten. If you add the salt when first mixing the dough, then just be sure to give the dough some extra time.
  3. My blog site just informed me that this is my 250-th post. Wow..that’s a lot of food.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: 80-cents.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 2:00 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared this today are given below:

Biga:
1/2 cup (2-1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (2-2/3 ounces) water
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

Dough:
2-1/2 cups (12-1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour , plus extra for shaping
1-1/4 cups (10 ounces) water
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 + 1 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

  1. Make the biga the night before. Microwave water on high for 15 seconds to bring water to 110-degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour, warm water, and yeast. Using a wooden spoon stir for 1 minute until there is no more dry flour. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to stand at room temperature (about 70 degrees) overnight. If your overnight kitchen is closer to 60-degrees you can use a warmed (but turn-off) oven to help.
  2. The next day, microwave 10-oz water on high for 40 seconds to bring water to 110-degrees. Use a wooden spoon to stir flour, warm water, and yeast into biga for 1 minute until there is no more dry flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 15 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle 2 kosher teaspoons salt over dough, stirring into dough for 1 minute until completely incorporated. Withholding the salt for 15-minutes will hasten gluten development by a full hour.  Re-cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.
  4. Spray a rubber spatula with non-stick cooking spray. Fold the dough over onto itself; gently lift one edge of the dough and fold it over towards the center of the bowl. Rotate the bowl 90-degrees and repeat folding process for a total of 8 folds. Re-cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. This process will stretch the gluten and help it more fully develop.
  5. Repeat folding, turning, and rising 2 more times, for total of three 30-minute rises. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position, place a baking stone on rack, and pre-heat oven to 500-degrees at least 30 minutes before baking. If you don’t have a baking stone than you can use an overturned heavy-duty baking sheet.
  6. Coat two 9″ round cake pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil each. Sprinkle each pan with 1/2-teaspoon kosher salt.
  7. Carefully pour out dough onto a floured counter. Dust the top of dough with flour and divide in half using a bench scraper of chef’s knife. With floured hands, form each piece into a rough 5″ round by gently tucking the edges underneath.  Put each piece of dough in pan, smooth-side down. Slide it around pan to coat the bottom and sides. Flip dough over, then cover tightly with plastic wrap; repeat with second piece of dough. Allow dough to relax for 5 minutes, which will make it easier to stretch.
  8. Use your finger tips to stretch dough to the edges of pan. (If dough resists too much then allow it to rest for another 5 to 10 minutes). Poke surface with a dinner fork between 25 to 30 times; especially to pop any large bubbles. Evenly sprinkle chopped rosemary over the top of dough. Allow dough to rest another 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. Place cake pans on baking stone and reduce oven to 350-degrees. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown; rotating pans halfway through baking.
  10. Allow pans to cook on a wire rack for 5 minutes, before removing loaves from pan. Brush the loaf tops with any oil remaining in pan. Allow bread to cool on wire racks for 30 minutes before serving.

Sweet Cherry Pie

December 21, 2011

Suddenly, out of the blue, the strangest thing happened. Northwest Bing Cherries went on sale for $3/lb. Having coincidentally been in Washington State, I can assure you that the idea of cherries being on any of Washington’s trees right now is crazy. Perhaps they were mislabeled and came from South America. In any case, I took the opportunity to buy some for my cherry-loving-son and baked him a Sweet Cherry Pie. Overall, my son loved the cherry pie, but otherwise it wouldn’t have been worth the $9.

December surprise (but this photo is from my prior attempt)

After several failed attempts at Chris Kimball’s “foolproof” pie dough, I finally succeeded and discovered the problem all along. It was the lack of a bench scrapper that prevented me to un-sticking the pie dough from the counter in one piece. Now I can sprinkle a little more flour underneath whenever necessary.  Here is more discussion on the keys to Foolproof Pie Dough, but I won’t discuss how foolish I feel that it took me so many attempts to get this foolproof recipe right. Suffice it to say that “bench scrapper” should be on his list.

Issues:

  1. I used too much lemon, from 1/2 lemon, and should have measured out 1 tablespoon more closely.
  2. Use foil-lined baking sheet to ease clean-up. Undoubtedly, some filling will leak out onto the baking sheet.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $9.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 11:00 AM.  Dessert at 6:00 PM

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared this today are given below:

Pie Dough:
2-1/2 cups (12-1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

  1. Cut your butter into 1/4″ cubes, and your vegetable shortening into 4 pieces.
  2. Add 1-1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor, process for two 1-second pulses until it’s just combined. Add butter cubes and shortening pieces, and process for 15-seconds until there is no un-coated flour and the dough begins to form uneven clumps ; kind of like cottage cheese curds.
  3. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down sides and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add the final 1 cup of flour and pulse 4 to 6 times until the mixture is evenly distributed and the dough mas is broken up. Transfer the mixture to medium bowl.
  4. Sprinkle the cold vodka and water over mixture. Use your rubber spatula to fold and mix the dough, pressing down until slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide into 2 balls of equal size and flatten into two 4″ disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate from 1 hour.
  5. Remove 1 disk at a time from refrigerator and roll it out on liberally floured work surface into a 12″ circle, measuring 1/8″ thick. Use your rolling pin to lift the dough by loosely draping it around the rolling pin, then un-roll it over pie plate; leave at least 1″ overhang. Gently form the dough to plate by carefully lifting edge of dough and using your other hand to pressing the dough to the bottom of the plate. Refrigerate for 40 minutes until the dough is firm.

Cherry Filling:
2 red plums
2 pounds (6 cups) sweet cherries
1/2 cup sugar (3-1/2 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)
2 tablespoons instant tapioca
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon water

  1. Cut your plum in half and remove the pit. Remove the seeds from your cherries, and cut them in half. Use a clean coffee grinder to grind instant tapioca into a fine powder. Cut your cold butter into 1/4″ cubes.
  2. Place a foil-lined baking sheet on oven rack set to the lowest position, and pre-heat your oven to 400-degrees.
  3. Add plums halves and 1 cup of cherries to food processor and process for 1 minute until smooth. You will need to scrape down the sides of bowl once or twice.  Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl, pour mixture into strainer and use a rubber spatula to press down and extract as much liquid as possible, discarding the solids.
  4. Stir the remaining 5 cups of cherries, sugar, salt, lemon juice, bourbon (if using), powdered tapioca, and cinnamon into bowl containing the puree, and allow to stand for 15 minutes.
  5. Pour cherry mixture and juices into to dough-lined pie plate. Scatter 1/4″ butter cubes evenly over filling.
  6. Roll the second dough disk out on liberally floured work surface into a 11″ circle, measuring 1/8″ thick. Use your rolling pin to lift the dough by loosely draping it around the rolling pin, then un-roll it over pie plate; leave at least 1/2″ overhang.  Use you thumb and forefinger to flute edges or you can use the tines of fork to seal the two pie crusts together.
  7. In a small bowl, lightly beat your egg and combine with 1 teaspoon water. Use a pastry brush to top with egg mixture. Use a sharp knife to make 8 evenly spaced 1″-long vents in top of pie; then freeze for 20 minutes.
  8. Transfer pie to pre-heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Then reduce temperature to 350-degrees and continue to bake for another 30 minutes until the juices are bubble around the edges and crust is deeply golden brown.
  9. Allow pie to cool on wire rack for 3 hours before serving, so that the juices can thicken. The filling will only become firm after it has been chilled.

    Sorry for the cell phone photo


Pork Wiener Schnitzel

December 19, 2011

Thanks to Oscar Mayer, when I told my kids I was making Wiener Schnitzel they thought they’d be eating hot dogs. I gave them a quick German lesson; Pronounce your German”W” as a “V”; take “Vienna” and drop the “a”, and add the “-er” suffix).  So, Wiener means either something or someone from Vienna; in this case it’s a Viennese Schnitzel. While traditionally made from veal, this recipe from Cook’s Country uses pork, which is a common substitution. While many pork cutlets can be tough if overcooked, using the tenderloin ensures just as tender a meal as if veal were used. The results were similar to a Milanese. It was kid-friendly and delicious; 4-stars.

Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein

Issues:

  1. Chris Kimball’s original recipe calls for cooking two whole pork tenderloins; but that is more than my family can possible eat. One tenderloin yields 4 good-size cutlets.
  2. The egg yolk can optionally be put through a sieve, but for simplicity’s sake I chose to serve it merely crumbled.
  3. It would have been perfect had I served it with a potato salad.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $7.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 5:15 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared this today are given below:

7 large high-quality sandwich bread
1/2-cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
2-cups plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pork tenderloin (about 1-1/4 pounds).
Salt and ground black pepper

Garnishes:
1 lemon
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons capers
1 large hard-cooked egg

  1. If you plan to garnish with hard-boiled egg. Place egg in pan of cold water, slowly bring to boil over medium-high heat, let boil for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and let sit in hot water for 20 more minutes. They will be perfectly cooked without the green ring around the yolk.
  2. Remove crust and slice bread into 3/4″ cubes. Place bread cubes on large microwave-safe pie plate. Microwave on high power for 4 minutes, stirring well halfway through cooking time.
  3. Reduce power on microwave to medium power. Cook for 5 additional minutes or until the bread is dry. Stir every minutes to ensure that the bread on the bottom will dry out and an equal pace. Some of the bread will begin to lightly brown.
  4. Process dry bread in food processor for 45 seconds. Return the very fine bread crumbs to pie plate in which you microwaved them. In another pie plate add flour. In a third pie plate, mix the eggs with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.
  5. Trim off any fat and remove the silver skin. Cut the tenderloin on a diagonal into 4 equal pieces. Cutting on a diagonal will ensure the pieces are oblong, instead of round. Place one piece at a time inside a gallon-sized Zip-lock bag  and pound to an even thickness of between 1/8″ and 1/4″. Remove from bag and season cutlets with salt and pepper. Repeat pounding process with remaining cutlets.
  6. Working with 1 cutlet at a time, dredge thoroughly in flour, shaking off excess, then coat with egg mixture, allowing any excess egg to drip back. You want to ensure a very thin and even coating. Finally coat evenly with bread crumbs, pressing so that the crumbs adhere. Place breaded cutlets on wire rack to allow the coating to dry for 5 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile prepare your garnished. Slice a lemon into wedges, chop your parsley, rinse you capers to remove the brine, and separate your egg white and yolk (either crumble or pass separately through a fine-mesh strainer).
  8. Heat 2 cups of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil reaches 375-degrees, put 2 breaded cutlets in pan and cook for 2 minutes per side, gently shaking pan continuously so that cutlets will be wrinkled.  Flip and cook the second side for between 1 and 2 minutes. Remove and place cutlets on paper towel-lined plate and flip cutlets several times to blot excess oil. Repeat cooking process with remaining cutlets.
  9. Serve immediately with garnishes.

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