Homemade Granola with Almonds and Raisins

February 29, 2012

I’ve never really given much though to granola, and certainly never thought about making it at home. But thanks to Chris Kimball I see that it’s mostly just oats; plain old Quaker. Most ready-made granola binds the oats together using honey, this recipe uses maple syrup. While more expensive, maple syrup has bolder and more interesting flavor; a definite upgrade. Also most ready-made granola skimps on the nuts and raisins, because they cost 10-times more than the oats. This recipe uses lots of nuts and raisins, and achieves a much tastier balance. 4-stars

Best granola ever; I guarantee it.

This will undoubtedly be the best granola you will have ever tasted in your life; I guarantee it. The flavor of the almonds intensify and the oats cook. While my main complaint about granola still stands; that it is too dry; it is still delicious.  I’d recommend eating with something moist; adding milk and eating as a cereal or as an American-style parfait (yogurt, fresh fruit and granola).

Comments:

  1. When walking down the oatmeal section in your supermarket, you will see two type of oats. Quick oat are ready in 1 minutes, but this recipe calls for regular old-fashioned rolled oats. They are always labelled as ready in 5 minutes.
  2. While maple syrup is very expensive it imparts great flavor. If it is too expensive for you, then substitute honey. It goes without saying that pancake syrup should never be substituted.
  3. Be sure to buy raw almonds, because you will be roasting them yourself. I found slivered raw almonds at Trader Joe’s. Avoid blanched and pre-roasted almonds.

Rating: 4-stars
Cost: $6.50 (2-lbs 10-oz granola)
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 1:00 PM.  Ready:  2:45 PM

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

1/3 cup maple syrup
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-1/3 ounces light brown sugar (1/3 cup packed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
17-1/2 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats (5-3/4 cups)
10 ounces raw almonds (2 cups)
2 cups raisins (12-1/2 oz)

  1. Set an oven rack in upper-middle of oven, and pre-heat to 325-degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine maple syrup, vanilla, brown sugar and salt, then use whisk to combine vegetable oil.
  3. Use spatula to fold oats and chopped almonds until evenly coated with syrup mixture.
  4. Line a rimmed-baking sheet with parchment paper. Evenly spread oats onto baking sheet. Use a stiff metal spatula to tightly compress the oats.
  5. Bake at 325-degrees for between 40 and 45 minutes, or until slightly brown. Rotate the baking sheet half way through baking to ensure that it cooks evenly.
  6. Place baking sheet on wire rack and allow to cool for 1 hour. Break granola into whatever sized pieces you like. Chop raisins and stir into granola peices.
  7. You can store the granola in an air-tight container for 2 weeks.

Comparing pale lifeless store-bought to homemade.


Fan Correction

February 28, 2012

Yesterday while introducing Peruvian Roast Chicken with Garlic and Lime (Latin Celebration, Season 12), I heard Chris Kimball make a blunder. He claimed that Macchu Pichu was the highest city in the world. Certainly, the infamous vantage point of Machu Picchu is impressive, but the lost city sits at only 7,970 feet above sea level. To reach Machu Picchu visitors travel downward towards the Amazon basin by train (or by foot on the Inca Trail) from Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire (altitude 11,100 feet). In fact, the entire Altiplano averages 12,300 feet. To make his statement less-informed, the Andes mountain range isn’t even the highest mountain range. Most of the highest cities in the world are in the Himalayas.

Chris Kimball claiming Machu Picchu to be highest city in the world

The complete context of Chris Kimball’s statement was that “everybody knows three things about Peru.” First, that potatoes come from Peru. This turns out to be true, but I don’t think it’s common knowledge. Second, that Quinoa is from Peru, which has also been cultivated in Bolivia for 5,000 years.

But all nitpicking aside, I made this chicken last year and happily gave it 4-stars. It is delicious, don’t let his lack of South American knowledge deter you from giving it a try.


Home Fries

February 26, 2012

I know that potatoes are scorned and avoided, and it’s always the same half-word offered as justification: “Carbs”. Personally, I love potatoes. They are my favorite side dish and Russets are my favorite variety, so right away I knew I was going to love this recipe. Pre-heating the baking sheet to 500-degrees did a great job at browning the potatoes’ crust, but without over cooking the interior. The interiors were creamy, but without being too mushy. Perfect mini-spuds; 4-stars.

Perfectly cooked; crisp and browned on the outside. Tender on the inside.

This is the last recipe from the January / February 2012 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. I left this for last not because I wasn’t excited to make them, but rather because I am not usually home for breakfast on the weekends. I naturally wake up by 6AM, and go to a cafe to blog and drink coffee while my family sleeps in until 9 or 10AM.

Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball’s original recipe made a huge amount of home fries. After all, the article was entitles “home fries for a crowd”.  I cut the recipe down by one-third, and still ended up with leftovers. The recipe as I have described it below will easily serve 4 to 6 people as a side dish, but if you need to feed 6 to 8 people, then you can follow his original recipe.
  2. Chris Kimball almost never lines his baking sheet with aluminum foil, but I always do. Use heavy-duty foil for this recipe because of the scraping necessary in step 8 and 10.
  3. No matter how heavy-duty of a baking sheet you have, 500-degrees will make it warp with 100% certitude. Mine returned to its normal state within an hours after removing from the oven. I wouldn’t recommend this recipe if you only have a thin baking sheet.
  4. My supermarket was out of chives, so I substituted an equal amount of finely minced scallion greens. With this warm weather my own chives should be sprouting soon.

Rating: 4-stars
Cost: $2.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 8:00 AM.  Ready:  9:00 AM

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

2-1/3 pounds russet potatoes
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-1/2 yellow onions
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives

  1. Peel your potatoes and dice into 3/4″ pieces, and cut your 2 tablespoons of butter into 8 equal-sized pieces.
  2. Set an oven rack to the lowest position, and place a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack. Pre-heat the oven and baking sheet to 500-degrees.
  3. Set a dutch oven over a high burner and boil 8 cups of water. Add diced potatoes and 1/3 teaspoon baking soda. Return water to a boil and cook for just 1 minute.
  4. Drain potatoes in a colander and immediately return potatoes to the dry Dutch oven; reduce burner to low heat. Cook for 2 minutes until all moisture has dried from the surface of the potatoes, shake the pot occasionally to ensure complete drying. Remove Dutch oven from burner, and add the pieces of butter, 1 teaspoons salt, and pinch of cayenne.
  5. Use a rubber spatula to mix for 30 seconds; the potatoes will become coated with a thick paste.
  6. Drizzle foil-lines rimmed baking sheet with 1-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, then evenly spread potatoes onto baking sheet.
  7. Bake at 500-degrees for 15 minutes. Meanwhile dice your onions into 1/2″ pieces and place in bowl. Add 3/4 tablespoon vegetable oil, and 1/3 teaspoon kosher salt. Toss to combine.
  8. Remove potatoes from oven after 15 minutes, then use a thin metal spatula to scrape and turn potatoes.
  9. Clear a 8″x5″ area in center of the baking sheet in which you should place your onion mixture. Bake for another 15 minutes at 500-degrees.
  10. Using the metal spatula to scrape and turn potatoes again, but this time mixing the onions and potatoes together.
  11. Bake for another 5 or 10 minutes until the potatoes become browned and the onions become soft and are beginning to brown.
  12. Mix in minced chives and adjust with salt and pepper according to taste. Serve immediately.

Beer-Battered Onion Rings

February 24, 2012

In the past, I have made these oven-fried onion ring. They use crushed saltines and potato chip to substitute for deep frying. While tasty, they just aren’t the same as genuine onion rings. So when I saw these onion rings on a new episode of Cook’s Country, I was excited to give them a try. The recipe solves some of my biggest complaints, when I take a small bite the entire onion comes out leaving just the hollowed ring of batter. Chris Kimball solves this by soaked the raw onions in a mixture of beer, malt vinegar, and salt. Not only are the rings are softened, but this technique also enhances their flavor.

Delicious battered onion rings; but a big mess

But these onion rings are not without their own set of problems. Without breading they stick too each other too easily, stripping away the batter in places. In the end, the results were mixed; some rings were 4-1/2 stars while others were barely 3-stars.

Issues:

  1. The batter is extremely runny, and without breading they stick very easily to one another while frying.
  2. While Chris Kimball says to fry them in small batches, his recommended size is still too big. The onion rings still stuck together. I think it is better to add the rings one at a time, and do not treat them as “batches” at all. Rather treat each ring individually, though it will take more vigilance. There will always be a ring going in or out.
  3. I made this recipe with 2 large onions and ended up with way more onions rings than we could possible eat. I’ve scaled back the recipe below to use only one large onion. If you are making for a crowd, the you can follow his original ingredient list.

Rating: 3-stars
Cost: $2.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Started: 1:00 PM.  Ready:  2:45 PM

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

1 large sweet onions (but can use regular yellow onions)
1-1/2 cups beer
1 teaspoons malt vinegar (or cider vinegar is unavailable)
Salt and pepper
2 quarts peanut or vegetable oil
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cups cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  1. Peel your onion and slice 1/2″ thick. Place the onion slices (without separating into individual rounds) in a zip-lock bag with 1 cup beer, 1 teaspoons malt vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Place in refrigerator for 1 hour.
  2. Pour oil into a Dutch oven set over medium-high burner. While oil is heating to 350-degrees, prepare mixture in a large bowl by whisking together flour, cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Add 1/3 cup beer and continue whisking until there are just a few lumps remaining; adding a tablespoon of beer at a time until your obtain the proper consistency. You know you have the proper consistency when the batter that drips from the whisk leaves a bit of a trail as it falls back into the batter.
  3. Set an oven rack to the middle position, and pre-heat to 200-degrees.
  4. Drain onions and use paper towels to pat them dry. Separate onions into individual rounds, discarding any that are too small.
  5. Put 1/2 of rings in batter, and place them one-at-a-time into the hot oil. Do not treat them as “batches”, but rather you should try to fry each ring for 2-1/2 minutes per side.
  6. As you remove the rings, place them in a baking sheet lined with paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and keep them warm in the 200-dergee oven.  Repeat with second set of onion rings, but wait until the oil reaches 350-degrees before you begin to fry again.

Garlicky Shrimp with Bread Crumbs

February 21, 2012
I haven’t made this recipe in a few years, since before I started this blog, and wanted to see if it was as good as I remember. While the bread crumbs make the dish appear somewhat disheveled, they add a lot more flavor when compared to a simple shrimp scampi. The bread crumbs are so delicious that I always eat any unused crumbs by themselves with a spoon (I hope that confession isn’t too embarrassing). Quick and easy to make, perfect for a nice weekday meal; 4-stars.

Presentation is not so great; but shrimp and very tasty

Comments:
  1. I recommend buying a baguette to eat along side your meal, and using a portion to make your homemade bread crumbs. But today I was serving along side a bit of fresh pasta, so I used panko (Japanese bread crumbs).  The Panko is almost as good as homemade, but under no circumstances should you use regular store-bought, pre-made bread crumbs. I make this declaration not only in terms of this recipe, but in terms of all recipes ever created.
  2. Chris Kimball recommends serving this with rice and broccoli.
  3. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of clam juice. Instead of buying a jar of clam juice, I cook the shrimp shells in 1/2 cup water while I am preparing the rest of the recipe. I always use this substitution because not only does it save $2.50, but space in my 17-cubic-foot refrigerator is at a huge premium.

Rating: 4.stars
Cost: $9.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 5:30 PM.  Ready:  6:15 PM

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

1 pound large shrimp (31-40 per pound)
1-1/2″ piece baguette (or 3/4 cup Panko)
1/2 shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon sugar
3 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 medium cloves garlic
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup vermouth or white wine
1/3 cup clam juice
1 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 lemon, cut into wedges

  1. Defrost your shrimp by placing in cold tap water for an hour, replacing water every 15 minutes. Peel (and devein) your shrimp, placing the shrimp in a colander and shells in a pot.
  2. Dice your shallot and chop the parsley.  Cut baguette into 1″ cubes and pulse in a food processor about 10 pulses. You should have 1/2 cup coarsely ground bread crumbs.
  3. Place a 12″ non-stick skillet over medium burner, and melt 1 tablespoon butter. After the foaming has subsided, saute bread crumbs, minced shallot, plus 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper for 7 to 10 minutes; until the bread crumbs become golden brown. Mix in 1 tablespoon of minced parsley. Empty bread crumbs to a plate and clean your skillet using paper towels.
  4. Drain your defrosted shrimp in a colander and pat them dry using paper towels. Put in bowl with 1/8 sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Toss to combine.
  5. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons oil to your non-stick skillet. Increase burner to high and pre-heat oil until it begins to shimmer.
  6. Cook your shrimp in two batches, adding half the shrimp in a single layer. Partially cook for 3-1/2 minutes without moving or flipping. Empty partially-cooked shrimp to clean plate; wipe out skillet using paper towels; and repeat with another 1-1/2 teaspoons oil and remaining shrimp.
  7. Decrease burner to medium heat and melt 1 tablespoon butter. Press garlic cloves directly into skillet and add pepper flakes; cooking for only 30 seconds. Add flour and continue cook for 1 additional minute.
  8. Increase burner to medium-high and whisk in sherry and clam juice. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then whisk in 1-1/2 tablespoons butter. Once melted, stir in lemon juice and 1 tablespoon parsley.
  9. Reduce burner to medium-low. Empty place with shrimp and any accumulated juiced to skillet. Toss to cover shrimp with sauce, covered with lid, and  cook for 3 minutes.
  10. Put on serving dish and sprinkle with toasted bread crumbs. Slice a lemon into wedges and serve.

Green Olive, Almond, and Orange Pesto for Cheese Ravioli

February 19, 2012

Cook’s Illustrated’s January article about pesto excited me into trying some non-basil pesto. Of the four variations (the main recipe was red roasted peppers with pistachio), I made the Green Olive, Almond, and Orange Pesto for Cheese Ravioli because I though my kids would prefer the almonds and oranges. Unfortunately, I could barely taste anything other than strong sharpness of the parsley and olives. The subtleties of the orange and almonds were lost in a sea of bitter saltiness; a complete disappointment. The kids ate just one ravioli each, and, despite my earlier excitement, I can only give these ravioli 2-1/2 stars. They were edible is the best thing that I can say about them. A standard basil-based pesto, highlighting the basil’s natural sweetness, would have greatly outshone this bitter dud.

The parsley and olives made the ravioli too bitter

Comments:

  1. While my opening paragraph may seem too harsh for a 2-1/2 star recipe, I re-read it and cannot soften my disappointment. The 1-1/2 cups of parsley dominated the sauce, but it wasn’t until half way into making the recipe that I realized what a huge amount of parsley was being used. Of course, I have nothing against parsley per se; I love a good tabbouleh salad. But in the case of tabbouleh, the acid of the lemons and sweetness of the mint work well against the bitterness of the parsley. But today’s recipe seems ill-conceived. Really, the only other flavor you thought to add to bitter parsley was saltiness from olives?
  2. Sorry Chris, I normally love your recipes. I never would have guessed that my harshest review in 2 years would be for cheese ravioli. I think 2 of the 2-1/2 stars are because cheese ravioli are inherently delectable.
  3. I couldn’t find the Rosetto Cheese Ravioli that Chris Kimball recommends, so I ended up using his second choice Celentano Cheese Ravioli. Fortunately, Celentano products were on sale for 50% off this week, so the 1-1/2 pound bag only cost $3.75. My regular grocery store only sells the bottom of the barrel; Gina Italian Village and Mama Rosie’s Ravioli ; which were panned quite harshly in the CI taste test.
  4. Slivered almonds are generally blanched, but I was able to find some that were not. The recipe as published didn’t really make clear if I should use blanched or un-blanched, pre-toasted or if I was supposed to toast them myself. I bought un-blanched, but did not toast them myself. I think that they would have had more flavor has I toasted them.
  5. Chris Kimball says that my 1-1/2 ounces of grated Parmesan cheese would yield 3/4-cup. In fact, using his recommended microplane I got twice that; 1-1/2 cups.

Rating: 2-1/2 stars.
Cost: $9.75.
How much work? Very Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 5:30pm. Ready: 6:00pm.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  In case I have not scared everybody off with such a harsh review, the descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

2 garlic cloves, do not peel.
1-1/2 pounds cheese ravioli
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup pitted green olives
1-1/2cups fresh parsley
1-1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Add 4 quarts of cold water to a large pot. Bring to boil over high heat; about 15 minutes. Boil un-peeled garlic cloves for 1 minute. Remove using a slotted spoon and rinse under a cold tap to stop the cooking. Peel and roughly mince the garlic.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to boiling water. Add ravioli and cook for 5 to 7 minutes al dente according to the instructions on your ravioli package, stirring frequently. Set aside 1/2 cup the cooking water, then drain ravioli in a colander and return the pasta to the pot (off the burner).
  3. While the pasta cooks, add garlic, olives, parsley, Parmesan cheese, slivered almonds, orange zest, and orange juice to a food processor. Pulse 25 times until finely ground, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after every 10 pulses. Then slowly add the olive oil with the food processor running, and process until it becomes incorporated. Season with salt (I didn’t feel any was needed because of the olives) and pepper according to your taste.
  4. Combine 1 cup pesto and the cooked ravioli. Carefully toss toss to combine, and adjust the sauce’s consistency as desired by adding 1 tablespoon of the reserved cooking water at a time. Serve, passing the remaining 1/2 cup of pesto separately.

“Foolproof” Chicken Cordon Bleu

February 13, 2012

The only other time I’ve made Chicken Cordon Bleu Chris Kimball didn’t yet have a published recipe. At the time, I made a pretty standard recipe; butterflied chicken, rolled ham and Swiss cheese, and coated with bread crumbs. Today’s recipe cuts 4″ pockets into boneless chicken breasts and stuffs rolls of ham/cheese, which is then rolled in a combination of crushed Ritz crackers and bread crumbs. The flavor was good, but the chicken was dry because I over-cooked the chicken waiting for the outer coating to brown, and there was no sauce to save the day. 3-1/2 stars, but toasting the crumbs longer could improve the flavor and keep the chicken moister.

Chicken Cordon Bleu made with Ritz crackers

This is not the first time I’ve messed up a supposedly “fool-proof” recipe; the fool-proof pie dough (for lack of a bench scraper) and the fool-proof croissants (which took 4 batches to get the cooking time/temperature right).

Issues:

  1. While Chris Kimball says to use thinly sliced ham, the truth is that the ham must be cut thick according to deli-standards. True, if he was talking about a ham steak then it would be considered thin, but my deli counter had to cut the ham at twice the regular thickness to get the desired 1 ounce per slice.
  2. The 4″pockets I cut into the chicken breasts were not big enough to hold two 6″ ham/cheese packets. I squeezed them as much as I could, but the pockets didn’t close and there were places where the bread crumbs were attached to ham instead of chicken. But the thick ham still managed to keep 99% of the cheese from leaking out.
  3. The bread crumbs were too pale, and pale bread crumbs have less flavor that well toasted ones. I toasted them for 6 minutes; well beyond the 3 to 5 called for in the recipe. But they toasted only very slowly when I baked the chicken, so the chicken was overcooked. Next time I’ll Next time I’ll toast the crumbs in step 1 for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they become almost as dark as I want the final crust.
  4. There was so much wasted flour, so next time I’ll cut it down to 1/2 cup.
  5. I will also cut the eggs down from 3 to 2, and reduced the Dijon to 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon in order to maintain the appropriate concentration.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars. (with potential to go higher)
Cost: $10
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Started: 4:00 PM.  Ready:  6:30 PM.

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

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds total)
25 Ritz crackers (about 3/4 sleeve)
4 slices hearty white sandwich bread
6 tablespoons butter
8 thin slices deli ham (about 8 ounces)
5 ounces shredded Swiss cheese (2 cups )
Salt and pepper
2 large eggs
1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

  1. Set an oven racks to both the lowest and middle positions. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Melt butter either in microwave or one stovetop. Tear bread slices into pieces and crumble crackers directly into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse about 10 times until coarsely ground. Sprinkle melted butter evenly over bread crumbs and pulse 3 times to incorporate. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and bake on the middle oven rack until golden brown; about 6 to 8 minutes; stirring occasionally so that the bread crumbs brown evenly. Set aside in a pie plate (or leave on baking sheet if the bread crumbs aren’t overdone in order to save cleaning another dish). Keep your oven on at 450-dergrees.
  2. Grate your Swiss cheese. Lay out a slice of deli ham and arrange 1/4-cup of cheese in a 4″ line (about the length of the pockets you cut into the chicken). Roll tightly and set aside.
  3. Dry your chicken breast using paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use a paring knife to cut a 3-to-4″ pocket into the thickest part of the chicken; being careful not to cut all the way through. Put two ham/cheese rolls inside each pocket. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  4. Use a fork to beat the eggs and mustard together in a pie plate. Measure 1/2-cup flour onto another plate. Working like an assembly line, coat chicken lightly with flour, dredge in egg wash and allow excess to fall back into pie plate, coat in bread crumbs and press lightly so that they adhere. Plate coated chicken on a clean baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
  5. Bake on lowest rack for 10 minutes, then move the chicken to the middle rack. Reduce oven to 400-degrees and continue baking for 20 to 25 minutes longer. The chicken will be done when the chicken registers 165-degrees. Ten with aluminum foil and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes on a clean cutting board.

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