French Onion Soup Triumph

January 31, 2012

Some may remember my $18 Onion soup disaster from a few months ago; summarized as “burnt onions and soggy bread”.  Today, I am pleased to report a happy ending to my 9-month quest to rival the onion soup that you can get at just every any Parisian Bistro. In the end, it took only two tiny changes to transform tragedy into triumph. Lesson #1. Reduce the oven temperature to 375-degrees (without convection). Lesson #2. Before placing toasted baguette slice on top of soup, sprinkle and melt a little cheese to insulate the bread and control its sogginess.

Best onion soup I've had outside of Paris

While Chris Kimball has four recipes, I made his Best French Onion Soup; which has high complements from other bloggers (here and here).  The key is not over bake the onions in the oven, which will ensure that you can triple deglaze them on the stove-top. Because of the long cooking time, don’t use any sweeter types of onion; just plain yellow onions.  Chris Kimball also has a quicker version of this recipe that will be ready two hours earlier; replacing the 2-1/2 hours in the oven with 25 minutes in the microwave. This could be an excellent alternative in case I need my oven for the main course.

Issues/Comments:

  1. Four hours at 400-degrees is too much cooking time; especially if using a convection oven. Reduce the temperature to 375-degrees (with convection fan turned off). The convection fan makes the oven seem about 25-degrees hotter. The temperature difference may seem small, but will allow you to triple caramelize/deglaze on the stove-top. This is main difference between 2-1/2 and 5-stars.
  2. Chris Kimball instructs us to stir the onions in step 7 and 8, but I found that if I didn’t stir them in they formed a much better fond. Just make sure the temperature isn’t too high.
  3. To prevent the bread from becoming too soggy, I sprinkled a little grated cheese on the soup before topping the soup with toasted bread slice. I then sprinkled more cheese on the bread and toasted. This trick reduced the speed and amount  of soup absorbed by the bread; especially beneficial because the bread didn’t really start to absorb the soup until the guests begin to eat.
  4. I was unhappy with the final texture of the soup when I sliced the onions 1/4″-thick, per Chris Kimball’s recipe. So this time I sliced them closer to 1/8″-thick, which kept all the onion flavor but allowed some of the slices to disintegrate. It had a side benefit of thickening the soup.
  5. Last November I cut the baguette into 1/2″ slices, which were hard to break apart (even though it was soggy). This time I cut into 3/8″ thick slices and had no problems whatsoever. Another trick I discovered was that you can match the diameter of the bread slice to the bowl by changing the angle at which you are cutting the bread. For example, a straight 90-degree cut will give you the smallest slice. Try cutting at 45-degree (or 30-degree) and see how they fit in your soup bowls.
  6. 10 minutes in the oven wasn’t enough to fully dry out the baguette slices. I kept them in the oven until they were deeply browned; about 15 minutes.
  7. My local supermarket sells Gruyere for $24/lb, so I usually drive 10 miles to get superior French Gruyere Comte. Officially the proper cheese is Swiss Gruyere, but I really like the French Comte. Today I mixed 70% Jarlsberg with 30% fresh Parmesan; a substitution recommended by Julia Child and cutting $10 from the total price tag.
  8. I’ll repeat this hint from another blogger, who suggested that those without broiler-safe crocs simply broil the cheese and bread slices on a baking sheet, then slip onto the soup just before serving.
  9. Julia Child also recommends adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of Cognac.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $10 for eight bowls.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Started: 1:00 pm  Ready:  6:00 pm.

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

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4-lbs yellow onions
1 1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 cups water (plus up t0 1 cup more for deglazing)
1/2 cup dry sherry
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together using kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
Ground black pepper

Cheese Croutons:
1/2 small baguette , cut into 3/8″ slices
8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese

  1. Cut your onions in half from pole to pole, and slice off the root end of onion. Peel and discard the the skin. Placing each onion half with the flat side down on cutting board, slice each onion half from pole to pole into 1/8″-thick slices.
  2. Set an oven rack to the lower middle position in your oven. Preheat to 375-degrees (with convection fan turned off).
  3. Spray the inside of a large Dutch oven with non-stick cooking spray. Place 3 tablespoons of butter, and onion slices into your dutch oven. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt.
  4. Place the lid on to fully cover your dutch oven for the first hour of cooking. Then remove from oven and stir and scrape the bottom and sides. Return to oven, but with the lid slightly ajar, and cook for another 1-1/2 hours; stir and scrape the onions after 45 minutes. The onions should be very soft and lightly golden brown.
  5. Remove the onions from the oven and put on stove-top over medium to medium-high burner. It is easy to forget that the handles are 400-degrees; be very careful to use oven mitts.
  6. Cook the onions for 15 to 20 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the onions have browned; stir and scrape the bottom and sides frequently. Adjust the heat if your onions are browning too quickly.
  7. Continue to cook without stirring for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with a dark crust. You may need to adjusting the burner to avoid burning the fond.
  8. To loosen the fond, stir in 1/4-cup water and scrape the bottom and sides. Continue to cook without stirring for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with a dark crust. Repeat this process of deglazing until the onions become very dark brown; 2 or 3 more times.
  9. Stir in 1/2-cup dry sherry to deglaze the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until the sherry has evaporated; stirring frequently.
  10. Now add both chicken and beef broth, 2-cups of water, thyme bundle, bay leaf, and 1/2-teaspoon table salt. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then cover and reduce to low heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  11. Meanwhile, slice baguette on the diagonal into 3/8″-thick slices. and place on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake slices for between 12 to 18 minutes in a 400-degree oven until the bread becomes crispy and golden brown.
  12. Remove and discard herbs, then season with pepper (and adjust salt if necessary).
  13. Adjust an oven rack so that it is 6″ from the broiler element. Preheat broiler on high for 5 to 10 minutes.
  14. Fill each broiler-safe crocks with soup and place on your foil-lined baking sheet.  Place 1 or 2 baguette slices with the crispy side down, being careful not to overlap your slices. Sprinkle with shredded Gruyère and broil for 3 to 5 minutes about 6″ from the broiler element until the cheese has melted and is bubbling around edges. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Happy Birthday Ice Cream Cake

January 29, 2012

Because my ice cream machine takes about 2 days to recharge between batches, I’ve been working on this Ice Cream cake for my son’s 11th birthday for most of the week. For the first layer; vanilla bean made with my homemade vanilla extract and hand-scraped Madagascar beans. Middle layer, mocha cappuccino made from home-roasted coffee beans and mixed with shavings of dark chocolate. Top layer, is chocolate, made with melted chocolate; not cocoa powder. The efforts really paid off; the cake was spectacular, with 3 layers each building in intensity over the previous. The combination of flavors worked perfectly together. This was by far the best ice cream cake I’ve ever eaten. 5-stars.

Stratification of the three layers of ice cream cake

My first attempt at making an ice cream cake was two years ago for my older son’s 11th birthday. While my son gave it 5-stars, it had some ice particle issues on the icing that were easily overcome with a little plastic wrap.

Lessons learned about making ice cream cakes:

  1. The secret to making spectacular ice cream is two-fold: (1) reduce the amount of water as much as possible; e.g. only egg yolks, never egg whites, and (2) increase the fat content. That’s the “secret” of Haagan-Dazs. Really, it’s no secret. Just look at the nutritional information on the side of the package; 18 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving, compared to an industry standard closer to 7 to 8 grams.
  2. Leave your cake uncovered in the freezer for no more that 2 minutes. Any longer and you run the risk of ice particles marring your week-long project. The plastic wrap should be right up against the cake with as little air as possible between the cake and plastic wrap. By the way, the more you open your freezer door the more moisture will enter your freezer and the more protection your cake will need.
  3. Complete the illusion of a real cake by making a slight dome of the final layer.
  4. Use a spring form pan to shape the cake. Layering each batch of ice cream by lightly pressing into an even layer. Run a paring knife along the sides to make it easier to remove.
  5. If you plan to move the cake from the spring-form-pan-disk, then put a disc of parchment at the bottom of the pan before the first layer of ice cream. I put the disk in this time. but ended up keeping in on the spring-form-pan-disk.
  6. While the cake cost me just $10, that’s because quarts of heavy cream went on sale for 1/2 price. I was able to buy 1/2 gallon of heavy cream for just $4.80 of which I used 1-1/2 quarts for this cake.
  7. I topped the cake with Magic Shell to simulate the icing. Next time I want to work out an improved version that will provide a nicer finish. Plus the magic shell is rather expensive ($5.50 for two bottles) and the finished coating is too thin.
  8. If using Magic Shell be sure to warm and shake exceptionally well.  The trick to applying icing to the sides is to hold your rubber spatula against the side of the cake, squeeze a little Magic Shell between the cake and the spatula and work it upwards to form an even coating. It takes a little practice.
  9. As written, Chris Kimball’s instructions require 1 large and 3 medium mixing bowls. I’ve reworked the logistics of making the chocolate ice cream because I only have 1 large and 1 medium mixing bowl; the small bowl in step 4 can be any small bowl.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $10 for the cake. Non-sale price would be $15.
How much work? Medium
How big of a mess?  Large but spread over many days.
Started: Monday. Ready: Saturday.

Chris Kimball has his own technique for making an ice cream cake, which I didn’t use because I wanted pure ice cream without a cookie base. Chris also has a wonder Chocolate Ice Cream recipe is here, which is the basis of what I made last Friday for this cake.  I will post the recipes for the other two layers over the next few days.

Chocolate Ice Cream:

8-oz dark chocolate
1-1/4 cups whole milk
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing from stove-top in step 8.
  2. Put a medium heat-proof bowl over a pan of nearly-simmering water. Break your chocolate into large chunks and melt completely while occasionally stirring. Allow to partially cool.
  3. Add milk, heavy cream, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar to medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches 160°; stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Remove pan from heat until Step 6 to prevent the milk from boiling.
  4. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar. Add the eggs to the melted chocolate and mix until well combined.
  5. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the warmed milk/cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  6. Add the milk/yolk/chocolate mixture back in with the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  7. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch, and get your strainer handy.
  8. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture into the medium bowl. The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool to room temperature quickly; stirring occasionally will help it cool. Add vanilla extract, cover, refrigerate for 3 hours. Alternatively freeze for 1 hour just be sure it’s below 40°.
  9. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 35 minutes, or per manufacturer’s instruction.
  10. Put finished ice cream in airtight container, or press plastic wrap against the ice cream’s surface. Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.

Nut-Crusted Chicken Breast with Lemon and Thyme

January 27, 2012

With a bunch of blanched almonds left over from my Spanish stew, I made this mid-week nut-crusted chicken. The recipe recently spent a few weeks as the featured recipe on the Cook’s Illustrated website. The nuts made the crust very rich, but the Japanese bread crumbs still allowed the crust to become crispy. The lemon brightened the inherent richness of the nuts perfectly. The biggest drawback is the huge mess; 3 pie plates, 2 wire racks, skillet, baking sheet, cutting board and food processor. The meal itself is perfect for a weeknight, taking about an hour, but my kitchen was too messy for me to enjoy the rest of the evening. 4-stars.

Rich flavor you'd never guess came from nuts

Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball says that an equal amount of peanuts, pecans, pistachios or hazelnuts. I used my blanched almonds, though the recipe calls for un-blanched almonds. I believe the extra nuttiness of the un-blanched almonds would be the preferred choice.
  2. Supposedly the chicken will only take between 20 and 25 minutes in the oven to reach an internal temperature of 160-degrees. I upped the temperature to 365-degrees and it still tool 35 minutes to reach the desired temperature.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $9.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Big.
Start time 5:00 PM. Finish time 6:15 PM.

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

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup almonds. roughly chopped
1/2 stick unsalted butter (4 tablespoons)
1 medium shallot
1 cup Panko
1 lemon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup flour

  1. Set a rack to the lower-middle of your oven and pre-heat to 350-degrees. Use the tines of a fork to puncture the thickest part of the chicken 5 times each piece. Evenly sprinkle each piece with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and place on a wire rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet. Place uncovered in refrigerator until ready to apply coating.
  2. Cut your butter into 4 pieces place in 12″ skillet. Over a medium burner, melt butter and saute butter for 4 to 5 minutes until it becomes golden brown. Making sure to cook butter until it smells nutty is an important element in the success of this recipe.
  3. Meanwhile, minced your shallot. When butter has browned, add shallot and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and continue sauteing for 2 more minutes.
  4. While the shallot cooks, add almonds to food processor and give it about 20 one second pulses.
  5. Reduce burner down to medium-low. Add Panko and processed almonds to skillet and saute for 10 to 12 minutes until they become golden brown. Remove from skillet and put in a pie plate. Grate the zest from one lemon directly over the nuts.  Mince thyme and add to nuts. Sprinkle in cayenne pepper being careful that it doesn’t form clumps. Mix to combine and evenly distribute everything.
  6. In a second pie plate, mix together eggs, Dijon mustard and ground black pepper.
  7. On a third plate, add 1/2 cup of flour.
  8. Remove chicken from refrigerator and pat dry using paper towels. One piece at a time, dredge chicken in flour and shake off any excess flour. Next dredge in egg mixture and allow any extra to drip back into the pie plate. Finally, place chicken in nut mixture and press so that crumbs adhere.  Place the chicken to clean wire rack set placed over the same foil-lined baking sheet. Repeat the dredging and coating with the remaining pieces; but you may need to add a little flour to the nuts if it becomes too moist.
  9. Place in oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165-degrees. Allow to rest, uncovered, for 5 minute. Cut the lemon from which you removed the zest into 4 wedges for serving alongside the chicken.

Asian Barbecue Glazed Salmon

January 25, 2012

After using half of my whole salmon to make Salmon Chowder, I used the second half to make this delicious glazed salmon with an Asian barbecue glaze. Chris Kimball replaces the super-heated broiler for a very low 300-degree oven, which is gentler on the fish and provides a much wider window to avoid overcooking. To still give a delicious crust, sear the salmon in a non-stick skillet. Also instead of multiple bastings that dripped off, this recipe applies a dry coating to the salmon that helps the sauce adhere; plus it aids in quicker caramelization. And the Pièce de résistance; the whole meal can be ready in under 30 minutes. A delicious mid-week change of pace; 4-stars.

Delicious Asian flavors complement the richness of the salmon

In addition to the Asian BBQ, there are also recipes for Orange-Miso Glaze, Pomegranate-Balsamic Glaze, and a Soy-Mustard Glaze. I particularly want to try to Pomegranate-Balsamic glaze.

Issues:

  1. Chris Kimball says to sear the salmon for 1 minute; but it took 2 minutes for mine to form a proper crust. Perhaps I didn’t let the pan properly pre-heat; I am always worried about the toxicity of pre-heating a non-stick pan too long.
  2. I accidentally messed up the directions slightly. The glaze was supposed to go on the fish before it went in the oven. I noticed afterwards, so spooned it on and put the salmon back in the oven for another few minutes. The fish still turned out delicious, but I think that it would have been better if I properly followed the recipe. In my case it was okay, because my family will only eat the fish if it’s slightly overcooked.
  3. While Chris Kimball says to spoon the glaze onto the salmon, I’d recommend brushing it on. That would have allowed me to get the sides, rather than only the top. However, he is also clear that you should only glaze the parts of the fish that are coated with sugar/salt/corn starch mixture.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $16.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 5:20 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

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

Glaze:
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons Asian chili-garlic sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Salmon:
1-1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 center-cut salmon fillets (about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds total)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

  1. Combine all ingredients in small saucepan; whisk until combined. Over medium-high heat, bring the sauce up to boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer for 3 minutes. Remove pan from burner and cover to keep the sauce warm until you are ready to put the salmon in the oven.
  2. Preheat your oven to 300-degrees, and set an oven rack in middle position. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, kosher salt and cornstarch. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut your salmon filet into 4 equally sized pieces. Use paper towels to dry the salmon’s surface. Grind some fresh black pepper on the meat-side, then evenly sprinkle the sugar/salt mixture. Rub into fish so that it evenly covers the meat.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil to 12″, oven-safe, non-stick skillet. Place over a medium-high burner and pre-heat until it just begins to smoke. Sear salmon, skin-side up, for 2 minutes until forms a browned crust. Use tongs to skip the fish steaks and cook with the skin-side down for 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Remove skillet from burner and evenly coat the glaze over the exposed meat. Put skillet in pre-heated oven and bake from 10 minutes. When done, the thickest part of the fish should read 150-degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
  5. Place cooked salmon on individual serving plates and pass any remaining glaze separately.

Salmon Chowder

January 23, 2012

A few weeks ago I made Chris Kimball’s Supermarket Cod Chowder. It was well-balanced, but lack the bold flavor that I bought from a restaurant during my recent trip to Seattle. So today I made the recipe again, but replace the cod with Salmon. I took some additional steps to boost the flavor too; replacing the plain water with home-made fish stock that I made from the head, trimmings and bones of the fish. Also, instead of butter I sauted the onions of bacon fat, and sprinkled the crumbled bacon on top of the finished soup. The result was fabulous; 4-1/2 stars.

Salmon more flavorful; I wish I had more bacon

Comments:

  1. If you are only interested in using the filet; the $4/lb whole salmon yields the identical cost of $7/lb for filet. The remaining $3/lb is the head, tail, bones and other non-extractable meat. In this case, it didn’t go to waste as I used it to make my own fish stock.
  2. To make my homemade fish stock I used 8 cups of water, but very little boiled away. Next time I will use no more than 5 or 6 cups to concentrate the flavor even more.
  3. After some research and wondering if Ivar’s used red food coloring to make the chowder pink, I realized they must add paprika. Next time I will add a teaspoon of paprika.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $16.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 6:30 PM.

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

6 slices Bacon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or bacon fat
2 onions (about 1-1/4 lbs)
4-oz salt pork
1-1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
5 cups fish or chicken stock
2 pounds salmon fillets
1-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch

  1. Cook 6 slices of bacon in a 12″ skillet until crisp, reserving 2 tablespoons of bacon fat for sauteing the onions, and patting the bacon slices with paper towels so that they retain their crispness. Because I snacked on the bacon slices I only ended up with 3 slices. I should have cooked more.
  2. To remove the skin, lay the salmon fillet flat on cutting board, skin-side-down and use a boning or chef’s knife to peel the skin away from the fillet.
  3. If you can buy a whole salmon, use the head, bones and other trimmings to make fish stock. Mix in 6 cups of water and allow to simmer with potatoes, onions, smashed garlic for 1 hour.
  4. To make the chowder, cut the onions into a large 1/2″ dice. Mince your fresh thyme. Remove the rind from salt pork, cut the remaining pork into two pieces and rinse under cold water to remove the excess surface salt.
  5. Melt 2 tablespoons of bacon fat or butter in a large Dutch oven set over medium burner. Add minced onions, salt pork, minced thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 bay leaf. Saute for 4 minutes until the onions become softened, but have not browned.
  6. Add 5 cups of fish stock (supplementing with cold water, if necessary) and bring up to a simmer.  Meanwhile peel and cut your potatoes into 1/2″ dice. Also slice your fish fillet into 6 equal sized pieces.
  7. After reaching a simmer, remove from heat and put your fish fillets into water. Cover and allow to stand for 5 minutes. The fish will be nearly cooked and just barely opaque. Use a metal spatula to carefully remove from pot and place in a medium bowl.
  8. Return Dutch oven to medium-high burner, adding diced potatoes. Bring back up to a simmer, and cook uncovered for about 30 to 40 minutes until the potatoes are tender and begin to break apart.
  9. While the potatoes are cooking, whisk together 2 cups milk, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 teaspoon pepper and 1 teaspoon paprika in small bowl. When potatoes are tender stir in the milk mixture and bring back up to a simmer.
  10. Finally, add back the mostly-cooked-fish and accumulated juices into pot. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to stand for 5 more minutes.
  11. Remove the salt pork and bay leaf; discard. Stir chowder gently to break fish up into large pieces. Season with additional salt and pepper according to your taste. Serve immediately, garnishing with minced chives, crumbled bacon bits, or oyster crackers (Krispy is the preferred brand).

About 2 feet long, weighing almost 6 pounds


Catalan Beef Stew with Mushrooms

January 19, 2012

I once ate Estofat de Bou while visiting Catalonia; the northeastern corner of Spain. This stew uses cinnamon and chopped nuts to create a distinctively different stew. Usually, this stew would also include some chocolate, but Chris Kimball omits it here. Using boneless ribs was a tasty upgrade from the usual chuck roast; having a deeper beefy flavor. The fine marbling of the ribs also makes the meat even more tender. The only drawback is the cost; the recipe calls for some ingredients that I don’t normally keep in my kitchen; like $6 for blanched almonds and $15 for a pound of oyster mushrooms.  I served it with mashed potatoes, but also rice would be good. 4-1/2 stars. The beef is spectacular, and the hints of cinnamon add kid-friendly character, though without the depth of French stews (e.g. here and here).

Spanish-Style Beef Stew

This recipe is somewhat less liquid than most stews; the bread crumbs mop up the free-standing liquid. Fortunately, the moisture is still there, but you will need to add extra water when re-heating any leftovers.

Issues:

  1. Principally, cost is the biggest issue with this recipe. The oyster mushrooms had a great woodsy flavor, but they cost $15/lb. By the time I trimmed away them stems I lost more than 50% of the weight. To get anywhere near 1/2-lb of mushrooms I would need an entire pound. While Chris Kimball says that you can substitute 1/2-lb of quartered button mushrooms, I think that white button mushrooms have too little flavor. I’d recommend a darker mushroom.
  2. I had a hard time finding a small amount of blanched almonds; and had to buy 2/3-lb for $6.50. Next time I’ll but a small $2 package and blanch them myself. It might be easy, see link.
  3. I didn’t have sherry vinegar, so used red wine vinegar instead. I already have a collection of 7 vinegars, so didn’t want to add another.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $33.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 1:30 PM. Finish time: 6:30 PM.

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

Stew:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and pepper
2 plum tomatoes ,
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
1-1/2 cups water
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2-1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs

Picada:
1/4 cup whole blanched almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 slice hearty white sandwich bread
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
8-oz oyster mushrooms
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

  1. Chop your two onions to a fine dice. Slice your tomatoes in half lengthwise and grate the pulp using the large holes of a cheese grater; throw away the skins. Cut your boneless ribs into 2″ cubes (though they will probably be less than 1″ thick).
  2. Place a Dutch oven on a medium-low burner and begin heating 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When oil begins to shimmer, add minced onions, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Saute for 40 minutes until the onions become deeply caramelized.
  3. Add tomatoes, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, and bay leaf to the pot. Saute for 8 minutes until it becomes darkened.
  4. Meanwhile begin to pre-heat your oven to 300-degrees, with an oven rack in the middle position.
  5. Add wine, water, thyme sprig, and cinnamon to the Dutch Oven, and use the liquid to deglaze the pan. Season the meat with 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper.
  6. Add beef to Dutch oven and turn up burner to high heat until simmering. Move uncovered pot to oven and bake for 1 hour.  Stir stew so that meat will cook evenly, and cook, still uncovered, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours more. The mean will be very tender.
  7. You have the option of stopping here; refrigerating, and finishing the next day. I did this because I made it mid-week and it was the only way it would be ready for dinner. When you re-heat over a medium burner and add 1 cup water.
  8. To prepare the picada remove the crust for the bread and tear into 1″ pieces. While the stew is still in the oven, place a 10″ skillet over a medium burner and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Saute the almonds for 5 minutes until they become golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to move the almonds to the bowl of a food processor.
  9. Add the bread to the skillet (using the leftover oil from the almonds) and toast for about 4 minutes until it becomes nicely browned; stirring to ensure even browning.
  10. Add bread to food processor. Peel your two garlic cloves and add to food processor.
  11. Process for 20 seconds until it becomes finely ground. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Sprinkle in parsley and set aside.
  12. Remove the pot from the oven, and find and remove the bay leaf. Mix in the mixture from the food processor into the pot.
  13. Return your 10″ skillet over medium burner; add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Heat until it begins to shimmer, then add mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Saute for 7 minutes or until the mushroom become tender. Stir into stew in Dutch oven.
  14. Add vinegar and sprinkle in salt and pepper according to taste.

Pan-Roasted Flank Steak with Garlic-Ginger-Sesame Marinade

January 17, 2012

Normally I barbecue flank steak, but with winter’s cold having finally set in I needed a new way to prepare it in my oven. Cook’s Illustrated’s claimed to have developed an acid-less marinade that would “really boost flavor without overtenderizing the meat”. As I prepared the marinade, my kitchen filled with delicious Asian aromas. My hopes were high, right up until I took my first bit. What a huge disappointment. There were very subtle hinds of ginger, but without any sauce the flavors were extremely muted. It was little more than the plain steak my mother used to cook when I was growing up. No flavor. Just plain old beef. This recipe is 2-1/2 stars; steak is rarely terrible; but there is little point in making a marinade when it imparts such a minimal amount of flavor.

Rather tasteless flank steak; big disappointment.

Next time I have flank steak, I’ll try to adapt this Latin Flank Steak recipe for my oven/broiler.

Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball says that the marination time could be anywhere from 1 to 24 hours. I marinated for 6 hours, but the only way that this recipe should be attempted is with a full 24-hours. Still, I doubt I’ll make it again no matter how much lead time I have.
  2. At least the Flank Steak was on sale for just $4/lb, so the beef only cost $8.
  3. The recipe also requires 1/3 bottle of toasted sesame oil, but again barely imparts any flavor. After dinner as I was cleaning up the kitchen, I saw my nearly empty bottle and wished that I could have my sesame oil back.

Rating: 2-1/2 stars.
Cost: $10.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: Noon. Finish time: 6:30 PM.

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

Marinade:
4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (1-1/2oz)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (3/4oz)
3 medium cloves garlic
2 medium scallions
3 tablespoons minced, fresh ginger (about a 3” piece)

Steak:
1 flank steak (about 2 pounds)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

  1. To prepare the marinade, mince your scallions, and peel and mince your ginger. Put in a blender, and pressed your garlic cloves directly into blender. Add sesame and vegetable oils to blender, and pulse into a smooth paste. You will need to scrape down the sides of the blender jars several times.
  2. Use paper towels to pat the steaks dry, then poke each side about 20 times with the tines of a fork. Place in large Pyrex baking dish. Evenly rub 1 teaspoon of kosher salt on each sides of steak.  Then evenly rub paste over entire steak. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for between 6 and 24 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 450-degrees and set an oven rack to the middle of your oven. Wipe all the paste off flank steak with paper towels. Sprinkle ground pepper over both sides of steak.
  4. Place a 12” oven-proof skillet over medium-high burner. Add oil to skillet and preheat until the oil just begins to smoke. When skillet if very hot, lay steak in skillet and brown for 4 to 5 minutes. Flip steak and brown the second side for another 4 to 5 minutes.
  5. Remove skillet from stovetop and place in pre-heated oven. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes depending upon how well cooked you like your steak. Remove skillet from oven when it is slightly less done than desired (don’t forget to use potholders, as that handle is 450-degrees). Tent steak with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes on a cutting board, which will give the internal juices an opportunity to redistribute throughout the steak. Cut steak against the grain with a chef’s knife into 1/4″ slices, and serve immediately.

Croissants

January 14, 2012

The truth is that I have always been afraid of puff pastry. It seems to be a mysterious world filled with unwritten rules and frequent failures. But there the croissants sat on page 19 of this month’s issue of Cook’s Illustrated. I could no longer avoid it; break out the butter, and block off the next 18 hours.

Delicious, but hardly foolproof.

Who doesn’t love croissants? Rich and buttery, yet somehow inexplicably airy. But the thought of making croissants was truly intimidating; a fear fed by my inexperience. The extent of my prior knowledge of puff pastry rules was: (1) keep your butter cold, and (2) fold, fold and then fold some more. While both these rules turn out to be true, there is much more to know in order to make first-class croissants. While my results were delicious, Chris Kimball’s claim that “our recipe guarantees success” is overly optimistic. In addition to the fact that I generally think croissants take practice, there are also some real issues issues (see below) with his recipe. For Chris Kimball to “guaranteed success” is an impossible promise that doesn’t pan out. My worst batch was cooked exactly according to the instructions, and attained just 3 stars (overly brown with hard bottoms).  The best batch, with modified rising and cooking time and temperature, were 4-1/2 stars (perfectly cooked with light flaky interior).

Here’s what I’ve found out:

  1. Chris Kimball says that it is important to use European Butter. The brand he recommends, Pulgara, was a modest $5/lb. Other imported brands were twice that price.
  2. Also the recipe stresses the importance of high-protein all-purpose flour. Of course, I have no idea how much protein any particular bag of flour has. So instead of buying the recommended King-Arthur’s All-Purposed flour, I mixed a one-third part bread flour in with my regular Heckler’s All-Purpose flour. I already have 7 types of flour in my kitchen, and didn’t want to buy another bag just for this recipe.
  3. Chris Kimball warns not to make these croissants in a kitchen warmer than 78-degrees. But because the recipe was published in the dead of winter, Issue #2 seems much more important (and came without any warning whatsoever).
  4. If your overnight kitchen is below 60-degrees, the frozen croissants (from step 12) will need more than just overnight to rise (Chris Kimball says just 4 hours). For my first frozen batch, I removed from freezer at 11:30PM and they still hadn’t risen at all by 6:30AM. For my second frozen batch, I removed at 8PM and they were better, but still only slightly puffy by 6:30AM.  It appears that 58-degrees is too cold for the croissants to effectively rise, so I had to allow them to rise before my furnace turned itself down to 58-degrees for the night. The best results were to remove the frozen, shaped croissants at 6PM to be baked at 6:30AM.
  5. From what I know about butter and yeast, 68-degrees appears to be the perfect rising temperature. Much colder and the yeast won’t rise. Much warmer and the butter will melt and you’ll lose the layering that you’ve worked so hard to attain, especially since the fermentation of the yeast also adds a few degrees.
  6. The results of my first batch (refrigerated rather than frozen croissants) didn’t achieve the fluffy heights that I had imagined. Being left overnight they had over-risen, which also affected the layering as I pulled apart the croissant. The second, third and fourth batches all rose higher.
  7. Chris Kimball’s cooking time of between 20 and 24 minutes at 400-degrees is too much; after two batches I can say unequivocally that they will be too dark. I played with adjusting the temperature, time and convection fan. After four batches, my best results were obtained at 350-degrees (with convection fan on) for 18 to 20 minutes. The lower temperature meant that the outside cooked more evenly and didn’t become too dark; also it helped mitigate issues #6.
  8. Chris Kimball also comments that other recipes allow “the butter [to leak] out onto the baking sheet”; causing “thick-crusted specimens” as the croissants have “essentially fried in their own fat.” However, the same seems true about his recipe. All four batches had bubbling butter around the bottom of the croissants after 7 or 8 minutes in the oven. I read and re-read the article, yet he offers no advice on how to correct this problem. I did find that the lower oven temperature of 350-degrees reduced the frying effect, leaving more tender bottoms, but not perfect.
  9. A 1/2″ to 1″ cut in the shortest side of the dough triangle meant that the ends stretched further and resulted in a better crescent shape. It’s a little hard to understand without a picture (also here).
  10. Before bending the rolled dough into it’s crescent shape, make sure the pointy tip is tucked underneath, otherwise it may separate and slightly burn during baking.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4.40.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Cook’s Illustrated Issue: January / February 2012
Start time: Noon – Day 1. Finish time: 8:00 AM – Day 2.

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

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted European-style-butter, very cold
1-3/4 cups whole milk
4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast
4-1/4 cups (21-1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1-3/4 ounces) sugar
Table salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon cold water

  1. Slowly melt 3 tablespoons of American-style butter in a small saucepan over low burner. Remove pan from burner and stir in milk. The temperature should be lower than 90 degrees, so whisk in the yeast, and dump into the  bowl of your stand mixer. Also add flour, sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt to the mixer’s bowl. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed for 3 minutes until a rough dough forms. Increase speed to medium-low and continue to mix for 1 more minute. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow dough to rest for 30 minutes. That’s all the kneading they require; only rolling from here on out.
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, and use your hands to shape the dough into a 10″x7″ rectangle. It should be about 1″ thick. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. Build a butter block: Rip off a 20″ long piece of parchment. Fold the sheet in half to create 10″ rectangle, with 1 side like the spine of a book and 3 open sides. Fold all 3 of the open sides to make an 8″ square. You will use these folds as guides to create your 8″x8″ sheet of butter. Crease the folds sharply so that you’ll be able to easily re-fold when filled with butter.
  4. Put your 24 tablespoons of cold, European butter directly on a clean counter. Use a rolling pin to pound it for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the butter becomes workable (but not warm). Use a bench scraper to fold the butter over onto itself, and pound again into a 6″ square. Completely unfold your parchment packet, and move your 6″ square of butter to the center of one of the 8″ parchment squares. Re-fold your parchment and re-crease back into an 8″ square that completely encloses the butter. Flip over so that the flaps are facing downward. Use your rolling pin to roll and work your butter to completely fill the 8″ parchment square. Rolling outward from the center towards the corners will fill your corners. Try to roll into an even thickness. When done, place packet in refrigerator for 45 minutes (or more).
  5. Move the dough to the freezer for 30 minutes before you are ready to laminate the butter to the dough. Place dough on a lightly floured counter. Roll into a 17″x8″ rectangle. Unwrap your butter packet and put butter in the middle of the dough. Fold the sides of the dough over butter, which should just meet in center. Use your fingertips to press the seam together.
  6. Use a rolling pin to create a 24″x8″ rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds; like a letter; which will for an 8″ square.
  7. Rotate the square 90-degrees. Again, use a rolling pin to create a 24″x8″ rectangle. Fold into thirds. If the dough becomes too warm, place it in the freezer for 15 minutes before continuing to roll it out. Place 8″ square dough on the same sheet pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and freeze for 30 minutes.
  8. Return dough to lightly floured counter. Again, use a rolling pin to create a 24″x8″ rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds; like a letter. Place dough on the same sheet pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours (or leave it for up to 24 hours, depending upon your schedule).
  9. When you are ready to shape your croissants, freeze the dough for 30 minutes. Put dough on a lightly floured counter. Roll dough out into a 18″x16″ rectangle. Loosely fold over to create a 18″x8″ rectangle.
  10. To form the triangle shapes of the individual croissants: On the hinged side of the rectangle, use a ruler and bench scraper to precisely mark dough at 3″ intervals  (Note: there should be 5 marks on the hinged side). Mark the opposite side of dough 1-1/2″ from left corner, then mark out 3″ intervals (Note: there should be 6 marks on the un-hinged side). You should be able to mentally connect the dots to imagine the dough triangles. Use a pizza wheel or sharp knife to cut the dough from mark to mark. Some will still be hinged (which you should cut) and some will already be disconnected (or nearly disconnected). In the end, you will have a total of 22 equal-sized triangles.
  11. Working one triangle at a time and keeping the remaining triangles covered with plastic wrap. Cut a 1/2″ slit in the center of short side of the triangle. Gently pull the 2 corners (on both side of the slit) apart  (outward) and stretch. Put the triangle on the counter. Take the sides that you just stretched and fold them onto themselves to form the widest point of your croissant (see picture here and here). Then roll halfway towards the point. Stretch out the point and resume rolling. Position so that the point is underneath, and gently bend the ends to form the distinctive crescent shape. Repeat the slitting, pulling, rolling and bending with the remaining croissants.
  12. Put at most 6 croissants per parchment-lined sheet pans, making sure that they are at least 2-1/2″ apart. While they look tiny now, they will grow into full-sized croissants. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature for between 2-1/2 and 3 hours, or until they have doubled in size. Depending upon your baking schedule, you can store the pre-shaped croissants for as long as 18 hours in the refrigerator. But if you refrigerator, add at least 30 minutes to rising time. After shaping you can freeze 10 or more croissants. They only need to be placed 1″ apart on parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to freeze for 2 hours. You can they store them frozen in a Zip-lock bag for up to 2 months. When it comes time to bake them, allow to rise for at least 4-1/2 to 5 hours. (see comment about cold kitchens)
  13. About 30 minutes before baking, set an oven rack to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Pre-heat oven to 425-degrees. Whisk 1 egg, 1 teaspoon cold water, and a pinch salt together in a coffee cup or small bowl. Use a pastry brush to give croissants a light wash. The wash can be stored covered in the refrigerator for a few days awaiting the second batch.
  14. Reduce oven temperature to 350-degrees and put both baking sheets in oven. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes; switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through baking. Remove when the crust reaches you desired degree of doneness. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. They can be served either warm or at room temperature.

The Great Chocolate Cake-Off

January 11, 2012

It started with a challenge of a co-worker that he could bake a better chocolate cake, and do it without eggs. Of course I made fun of him and compared any cake that he would make without eggs to a tasteless brick. Then, a few more co-workers joined in the challenge, and so on Wednesday we had a great Chocolate Cake Bake-Off.

In the end, the co-worker who started it all failed to even bring in an entry. He offered the excuse that his cake was too hard, which validated the entire premise of the bake-off. His own daughter threw the cake away, pronouncing it inedible. However, the contest did still have 3 entries; two layer cakes and a chocolate cheese cake.

Fanfare please: I submitted the winning cake, which was based upon the first Chris Kimball recipe that I ever made; in 1994. This has been my “go to” cake for the past 18 years. In the 100 times I’ve baked this recipe, it has never fallen below 5-stars.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: $5
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 10:00pm. Ready at 1:00 AM.

The Cook’s Illustrated link to the original cake recipe is here. But my modified version is below:

2/3 cup non-alkalized, Hershey’s cocoa
1 tablespoon instant espresso or instant coffee
1-1/2 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-7/8 cup sugar
18 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

  1. I usually substitute two double espressos (4 ounces, 1/2 cup) and reduce boiling water to 1 cup. Whatever you use, be sure that the total liquid equal 1-1/2 cups.
  2. Bring a pan with water to a boil. In a small bowl, mix together the powdered cocoa and instant coffee; pour in boiling water (and espresso) and mix until smooth. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before stirring in the vanilla.
  3. Pre-heat your oven to 350°  and set an oven rack to the middle position.
  4. Cut two wax paper inserts to fit inside your two 8”x1-1/2” round cake pans. Rub some butter on pan sides and wax paper; lightly flour and tap out an excess.
  5. If your 2-1/2 sticks of butter are not fully softened, microwave them for 30 seconds.
  6. Beat butter in standing mixer equipped with paddle attachment at medium-high speed for 30 seconds; until it becomes smooth and shiny. With the mixer running, gradually sprinkle in sugar and mix for 3 minutes until it becomes fluffy and almost white in color. On at a time, add eggs and mix for 1 full minute after each addition.
  7. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on lowest speed, add about 1/3 of dry ingredients to batter, and immediately add 1/3 of the liquid cocoa mixture. Mix just until the ingredients become nearly incorporated. Repeat flour/cocoa additions twice more.  Turn off mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula. Mix on low speed for 15 seconds more; the batter will become smooth like satin.
  8. Evenly pour the batter between the two pans. Use a rubber spatula to work the batter to the sides and to smooth the top. Bake cakes at 350° for 25 minutes; until a toothpick comes out with only one or two crumbs. Transfer pans to wire racks, cool for 10 minutes.
  9. Run plastic knife around perimeter of each pan to loosen. Invert cakes onto wire rack, and allow to cool completely before frosting. Remove the wax paper AFTER the cakes have cooled.
  10. Re-invert cake before frosting.

The chocolate butter icing recipe is here.

6 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup light corn syrup
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Don’t start making icing until 15 minutes after cakes are removed from the oven.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter in a medium bowl over pan of almost-simmering water.
  3. Stir in cup light corn syrup. (or substitute is 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water, cooked for 2 minutes at full boil)
  4. Set bowl of chocolate mixture over a large bowl of ice water (or refrigerate for 20 to 25 minutes).
  5. Stirring occasionally until the frosting is just thick enough to spread.

I have made this cake perhaps 100 times. I know all the potential issues, which are:

  1. When melting sugar to substitute for corn syrup, be sure to let come to a full boil for 2 minutes. With a partial boil the sugar will appear liquefied, but a granular texture will persist after the icing  cools.
  2. Remove the wax paper after cooling. When the cake is hot, it is more likely to come apart and stick to the wax paper.
  3. If you have leftovers, to prevent the cake from drying out refrigerate after 24 hours.  The texture will change completely in the refrigerator because of all the butter, but it will still be delicious.

Twelfth Day of Christmas Tamales

January 8, 2012

When I lived in California, my Mexican friends and neighbors would bring tamales around Christmas time. It had been more than 15 years since I ate tamales, so last year I rekindled the tradition among my Latin friends here in the Northeast.  This was my second year making and delivering Christmas tamales on the Twelfth Day of Christmas; January 6th; which was the day when the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus.  Last year’s initial recipe problems have been solved and my rolling technique has greatly improved. The tamales came out good, 3-1/2 star, but not great. I’ve described the problem and solution below, which will hopefully allow me to reach 4-stars next year.

Rekindling the Christmas tamales tradition for my Latin friends

Comments / Issues.

  1. Actually, the 3-1/2 stars rating is overly simplistic. I made tostadas with the left-over pork filling, which was 5-star out-of-the-ball-park grand slam. Just as good or better than Chris Kimball’s 5-star Tinga. The problem was entirely based upon the 2-star dough (see next issue).
  2. The dough of some (but not all) tamales was too dry. I asked my only local Mexican friend, but she doesn’t make tamales. I think the problem was two fold. (1) the raw dough needed a little more water. Because it was only a little on the dry side, the variation within the masa and amount of pork filling meant some tamales were good and others were dry. (2) The masa I put in was too thick in comparison to the amount of pork filling. Next time I will apply just a thin coating of dough to each corn husk, and increase the amount of filling in each.
  3. Last year, I had an issue with too much salt. I altered the recipe before publishing it last year, but reduced the salt again as I tasted during cooking.
  4. The spices for the filling are based upon a 4-lb boneless or 6-lb bone-in pork roast. Adjust the seasoning based upon your roast size.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $14 for 3 dozen.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 11:00 AM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

Tamales Filling:
4 pound boneless pork shoulder
2 onion, quartered
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon salt
6 springs of thyme
Half package of dried corn husks

Filling Paste:
1/2 cup corn oil
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper.

Tamales Dough (Masa):
9 cups masa harina (2 lbs 4-3/4 oz)
3 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons garlic powder
1-1/2 tablespoon cumin
2-1/4 cups of corn oil (or vegetable shortening)
7 cups quarts of the pork broth (from filling recipe)
2 cups chicken stock

  1. Six hours before dinner, take your dried corn husks out of the package and put them in a large Pyrex casserole dish filled with hot tap water. This will soften them so they are pliable enough to be easily folded. Put dinner plates of top to submerge the husks and soak for 3 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, cut pork roast into large fist-sized chunks (along the lines of fat, where possible). Fill a large pot with 9 cups of water, adding the other ingredients listed under the Tamale Filling. Boil for 2 to 2-1/2 hours until meat is tender. Remove the pork and allow to cool in medium/large mixing bowl for 10 minutes, reserving the pork broth for later. Use two forks to shred the pork, after about 10 more minutes the pork will become cool enough to finish shredding with your fingers. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to prevent the meat from drying out.
  3. Mix the paste ingredients together in a small bowl, and add to the shredded pork. Mix until incorporated, and allow to marinade until ready to assemble the tamales.
  4. In a separate large bowl, add 9 cups masa flour and all spices. Use a wooden spoon to mix.
  5. Add 2-1/4 cups of corn oil (or vegetable shortening) to masa and 9 cups pork/chicken broth (1 cup at a time), mixing well after every cup.  It should be the consistency of peanut butter.
  6. Shake the excess water off the corn husks. Separate and place them on a wire rack to allow them to slightly dry.
  7. Lay the husk flat and spread about 3-1/4 oz masa in a rectangle in the center of the husk to about 1/4″ thickness. Put as much shredded pork in the middle of the masa will fit; for better flavor. Work dough into a cylindrical shape, with the dough on the outside and the filling is on the inside. Fold and roll your tamale, and place in steamer basket so that gravity will hold the seam closed. Here are some more hints on rolling.
  8. Fill the pot with water; being careful that the water level is below the bottom of steamer basket. I used a colander fitted inside my Dutch oven, and also use crumbled foil as “feet” to elevate your collapsible steamer.
  9. Cover your steamer and bring the water up to a boil. Then turn down the heat down (but maintaining a boil) and steam for about 2 hours. Check the water level and add approximately 2 cups water every 30 minutes, so that the pot doesn’t boil dry. The tamales will be done when the masa is firm and easily pulls away from the husks, also try tasting a bit of the masa.
  10. Preparation time is 6 hours. Makes 36 tamales, and use the remaining filling to make tostadas.

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