Homemade Butter

October 30, 2010

I’ve heard that Homemade butter is vastly superior to its store-bought equivalent. It turns out to be quite effortless to make. I made it using my standing mixer in about 5 minutes using heavy cream. Plus you get some bonus buttermilk. To sample my butter, I also made Rustic Italian bread, which has emerged as my favorite unflavored bread. (The Rosemary Focaccia is better still). While the butter only takes 5 or 10 minutes, I started the bread at noon and it was ready for our 6:30PM dinner.

Homemade Butter from leftover Heavy Cream

Butter Recipe:

16 ounces of heavy cream, chilled
1/2 teaspoon salt

  • Whisk the cream using a standing-mixer until it starts to look like scrambled eggs, and separates into butter and buttermilk.
  • If you intend to store it for more than a week, then you must rinse your butter in cold water until the water runs clear. This will remove the remaining buttermilk and will greatly extend the shelf life of the butter.
  • After that happens, remove the butter from the remainders and squeeze it into a “ball-o-butter”.
  • Wrap in wax paper.

I’d give it 4-stars. The flavor and texture (whipped texture) was great. However overall, I’d have to say it’s not worth the cost or the effort. 16 ounces of heavy cream yielded only 7 ounces of butter; but cost $2.50. The same price as an entire pound of Land-o-Lakes on sale.

Batter-Fried Chicken

October 28, 2010

When Chris Kimball speaks, I listen. So when he announced on a new Cook’s Country episode that this batter-fried chicken was better than last years fried chicken, I immediately ran to the store to buy the supplies. Actually, Last Year’s Fried Chicken was my first recipe that I posted on this blog, January 1, 2010. However, Chris Kimball was only partially right: this year’s fried chicken does have perfect crust. The half-corn starch / half-flour ratio provides the crust with the ideal thickness and texture. But the zest of the Creole seasoning gave much better flavor. Obviously, the technique of seasoning only the dredging mixture can never equal the intensity of seasoning applied directly to the chicken.

Another fabulous fried chicken from Cook's Country

Rating 4-stars.  Still, the ultimate fried chicken according to every member of my family is the two-year-old Extra-Crunch Fried Chicken. However, because this recipe contains absolutely no milk the crust will not burn while the chicken cooks through.


  1. The runny batter has a tendency to stick to the bottom of my dutch oven. After 4 minutes, I used the tongs to scrape each piece free. I didn’t do that for the first batch, and the crust was broken where it had stuck to the bottom.
  2. Because each batch can be at most 2-pounds of chicken and I had 5-pounds of chicken breasts, I made 3 batches.
  3. I made extra chicken for tomorrow. To preserve the crispiness of the crust, let chicken cool for an hour on the counter top, then cover loosely with paper towel and refrigerate until complete chilled. Finally, cover paper towel with plastic wrap. This ensures that no condensation forms inside the plastic wrap, and also that the chicken will not dry out.
  4. I love it when chicken breasts go on sale for just 99-cents per pound.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $7 for 5 pounds.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Medium/High. Frying always makes a mess.
Started: 5:00 pm  Ready:  7:15 pm.

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

1 quart cold water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
5 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups cold water
3 quarts vegetable oil

  1. Cut chicken breasts in half crosswise, which will cook more evenly. Also cut apart any leg quarters to separate the thighs from the drumsticks.
  2. Make the brine by whisking together 1 quart cold water, 1/4 cup table salt and 1/4 cup granulated sugar in large bowl. After the sugar and salt have dissolved, add chicken pieces and refrigerate for one hour.
  3. Meanwhile, in large bowl add together the flour, cornstarch, pepper, paprika, cayenne, baking powder, salt, and water. Whisk until the batter is smooth and refrigerate until ready to use.
  4. After 1 hour, place a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 3 quarts of vegetable oil and begin pre-heating.
  5. Discard brine and pat chicken dry using paper towels.
  6. Re-whisk the batter to ensure an even consistency. Add half your chicken pieces to the bowl with the batter. If you are mixing white with dark meat, try to cook your batches either all white meat or all dark meat.
  7. When the oil reaches 350 degrees, remove chicken from batter one piece at a time and let the excess batter drip back into the bowl to avoid a doughy crust; add chicken piece to hot oil.
  8. If you want to serve the both batches together, pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees to keep the first batch warm while the second batch cooks.
  9. Fry up-to-2-pounds of chicken for 14 to 15 minutes until the skin becomes deeply golden brown and the white meat registers 160 degrees (any legs of thighs should be cooked to 175 degrees). After 4 minutes stir the chicken to ensure that it has not stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  10. Place the chicken on wire rack set over a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Allow it to drain then pat with paper towels. Place in 200-degree oven while you prepare the second batch.
  11. Bring oil back up to 350 degrees and repeat from step 5 with remaining chicken pieces.

Grilled Whole Fish with Orange, Lime, and Cilantro Vinaigrette

October 26, 2010

When the time changes in less than 2 weeks the barbecuing season will come to a definitive end. I was glad to be able to squeeze in this recipe. I’ve wanted to make Grilled Red Snapper for years. Red Snapper freshly pulled from the ocean is my favorite meal whenever I visit the Caribbean. Unfortunately, my supermarket rarely carries it, and the changing seasons would allow me to wait no longer; I had to substitute whole Tilapia (another Caribbean white fish).

Not like a trip to the Caribbean, but a nice change of pace.

The complete instructions are here. The recipe for the vinaigrette is here. Start 2/3 of a chimney starter of charcoals until covered by a fine gray ash. Make shallow diagonal slashes every two inches on both sides of the fish, which will allow the meat to cook evenly. Rub inside and out with 1-1/2 tablespoons of oil, season with salt and pepper. Pour coals evenly around the grill, clean and preheat the grill grate. Season the grate with oil-soaked paper towels to prevent the fish from sticking. Grill for 9 minutes per side, then use two spatulas to flip and move the fish.

For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl Whisk 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, juice from 1 orange and 1 lime, 1 minced garlic clove, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, some ground black pepper. Finish with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves.

I’d rate it between 3-1/2 stars and 4-stars. It was very easy to prepare. But the tilapia is too mild of a fish. The vinaigrette complemented the mild flavor, but wasn’t powerful enough to fully compensate. Still, it was an enjoyable meal, and a nice change from the regular routine.


  1. Because my kids generally won’t eat fish, I only made one. So I cut the ingredient amounts in half.
  2. Perhaps because tilapia is even more mild than red snapper, the flavors in the vinaigrette seems too muted. Next time I will cut the oil from 6 tablespoons to 4 tablespoons so that the flavors aren’t so watered down.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $6.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Low.
Started: 5:00 pm  Ready:  6:00 pm.

Beef Enchiladas

October 24, 2010

These beef enchiladas have good flavor, but they suffer from what I consider the greatest problem with Mexican food made in this country; texture. After 45 minutes of soaking in a very liquidy sauce, the corn tortillas were fall-apart soggy.

Better than in a restaurant; but still not perfect.

The complete recipe is here. Start by mixing 3 garlic, 3 tablespoons chili powder, 2 teaspoons coriander, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Trim the line of gristle which runs down the center of your blade steak (called Top Cut Chuck in my supermarket). Pat the meat dry, season with salt, and brown the meat in a dutch oven for 5-minutes per batch. Set meat aside. Saute 2 onions for 5 minutes, then add garlic/spice mixture and cook for 1 minute. Add 16-oz tomato sauce and 1/2 cup water. Add back meat and any accumulated juices; then simmer for 1-1/2 hours. Strain the meat to separate the sauce (add cilantro and grated Monterrey Jack cheese). Assemble in Pyrex casserole dish, cover with foil and bake at 350-degrees for 25 minutes.  Uncover to brown; bake for another 10 minutes.

Overall, 3-1/2 stars. The flavor is good, but the sauce was a little plain. Surprisingly, even my oldest son (who can be finicky) ate them and gave them 4-stars. The texture was my only real complaint.


  1. When I complained about my soggy tortillas to a Mexican friend, she suggested that I fry the unfilled tortillas briefly in oil. But, not until they are hard. She assured me that I will still be able to roll them without breaking, and that it will be enough to ensure a better texture.
  2. The recipe calls for browning all 1-1/4 pounds of meat in one batch. However, the dutch oven is way too crowded; it’ll just steam. At most, 3/4-pound can be effectively browned at a time. I bought 1.8-lbs which trimmed down to 1-1/2 pounds, so made two batches anyhow.
  3. 6-inch Tortillas were not available. The tortillas in the store are only 5-1/4 inches. Not much difference.
  4. Also I needed 11 tortillas, while the recipe only called for 6. Not a big deal, but I had to microwave them then in 3 batches because I constantly underestimated how many I needed.
  5. The enchiladas didn’t tightly fit into my 14-by-10-inch Pyrex pan.  Next time I may use my smaller 12-by-7-inch Pyrex pan. The main problem was that the sauce burned in the empty space.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $14.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Big mess.
Started: 3:00 pm  Ready:  6:15 pm.

How to Save Your Pumpkins

October 22, 2010

While growing up in California I used to think that squirrels were cute. But now that I am living in the Northeast they have become my greatest enemy (and I know that I am not alone). They dig hundreds of holes in my lawn, they destroy my tulips in the spring (for no apparent reason), they have even chewed a hole in my home’s rooftop. This time of year, they have their beady little eyes firmly fixated on the pumpkins sitting by my front door.

Save your pumpkins before its too late.

To prevent the squirrels from laying waste to my $35 worth of pumpkins, I applied a layer of dish soap over the entire surface of the pumpkin. Just use your regular dish sponge and try to leave a relatively thick layer. I will re-apply once a week or after a rain. It’s the same principle as washing your mouth out with soap. That, and I will also cross my fingers.

Pan-Fried Pork Chops

October 20, 2010

This is the second recipe I’ve made from the new season of Cook’s Country (the first was Sunday’s highly recommended potato wedges). Despite being quick to cook and inexpensive, I rarely make pork chops because they are pretty bland. In fact, these are my first pork chops for 2010. Despite my prejudice against pork chops, I was excited by what I saw on my television screen and was eager to give this new recipe a try.  Overall, these are very good fried pork chops. But they are a little tame and I will confine these to mid-week meals. My 9-year-old son asked, “Where’s the sauce?”  Good question, Nico.

Easy weekday recipe; ready in 45 minutes.

The Blade and Sirloin chops were more abundant and less expensive, but don’t be tempted. Hunt down the leaner Center-Cut or Rib chops (about 3/4-to-1-inch thick).  The complete recipe is here. Mix 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Pour 1 cup flour into a shallow plate. Pat chops dry and sprinkle both sides with spice mixture. Dredge in flour and let sit for 10 minutes on a plate. Meanwhile cook 3 slices of diced bacon in 12-inch non-stick pan. The bacon grease is all that is needed (It wasn’t hard to find a volunteer in my house to snack on the bacon bits.) Add 1/2-cup vegetable oil, and wait until you see the first wisps of smoke. Then dredge the chops for a second time in flour and pan-fry for 4 to 5 minutes per side.

4-stars. Nice flavor, but a little tame. Perfect for a hectic weekday meal, when you want a hearty meal without a lot of fuss.


  1. Recipe doesn’t call for trimming fat, but it cooks for so short a time that I will definitely trim it next time.
  2. I will apply 50% more seasoning next time.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $4.75 for 4 chops.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Started: 6:00 pm  Ready:  6:45 pm.

Crunchy Potato Wedges

October 18, 2010

Not your classic french fries; better. Without a doubt, these are the most delicious french fries I’ve ever eaten. Crunchy. Spicy. Easy to make. All french fries need to be cooked twice, so that their interiors are creamy by the time the exteriors are crispy. This recipe par-cooks the potatoes in the microwave (which is also super easy) to greatly reduce the amount of absorbed oil. For intensity, the spices are applied directly to the potatoes rather than relying on the plateful of flour used for dredging. 5-stars.

My pound of wedges disappeared in minutes.

The full recipe is here. Mix spices in small bowl. Slice potatoes into 1/4-inch wedges. In a large bowl, stir potatoes with 4 teaspoons of spice mixture and 1/4-cup oil. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 9 minutes. (Lesson learned: open so that steam escapes away from you.) Drain and let cool on rimmed baking sheet for 10 minutes. Combine 1-1/2 cups flour and 1/2 cup cornstarch in shallow pie plate. In another shallow bowl, whisk 1 cup buttermilk and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Working in 2 batches, dredge in the flour-mixture, then the buttermilk, then back in the flour. Deep fry for 5 minutes in dutch oven when oil reaches 340-degrees. While frying, dredge the second batch. After frying put in bowl and mix in 1 teaspoon of spice mixture, then drain on paper towels.

This recipe calls for Russet potatoes, which have better flavor than the Yukon Golds that Chris Kimball usually uses.


  1. I only made 1 pound of potatoes, not the full 1-3/4 pounds called for in the recipe. I adjusted everything down by 40%, but still made them in 2 batches. Alternatively, the recipe includes instructions on how to freeze half of the potatoes for up to 2 months (I’ll give that a try next time).
  2. I had to add a little extra flour/cornstarch for the last quarter pound of potatoes.
  3. I substituted clabbored milk for buttermilk. Adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to regular milk and letting it sit for 15 minutes.
  4. I measured the 1/4-inch wedges and was surprised at how narrow the slices need to be.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $1.30. (for 1 pound)
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Started: 1:30 PM.  Lunch:  2:00 PM.

Vanilla Extract – Week 2

October 17, 2010

I now realize that there will be no surprises with my vanilla extract. More beans equals stronger flavor. Period. After 2 weeks, the results are based entirely upon the amount of beans used in the extract. Recipe #4 (the strongest) is still only 50% of McCormick’s and is now on par with the imitation vanilla. Neither of Chris Kimball’s recipes are doing well; Recipe #2 barely tastes of vanilla, and I declared Recipe #1 a failure last week.

Week 2 Results (the recipes are here):

  • Recipe #1: 0-star. Very weak. Recipe is a failure. Because I filtered it last week it will not improve beyond zero stars. I probably won’t mention it again.
  • Recipe #2: 1 star. Very weak. Barely a hint of vanilla flavor.
  • Recipe #3: Ready on December 1. Not sampled.
  • Recipe #4: 2 star. About 1/2 potency of McCormicks.
  • McCormicks: 4 stars. Classic vanilla flavor, but $4 per ounce. Corn syrup added.
  • Imitation Vanilla: 2 stars. Similar, but off flavor. Made from wood by-products and chemicals. Yuck.

It seems clear at this point that it takes months to make vanilla extract. Chris Kimball’s promise to accomplish it in weeks is pure fallacy.  There is such a discrepancy in these recipe, that I see no point in testing anything again for at least a month.

Rustic Country Bread

October 15, 2010

Despite Chris Kimball’s claim about this dough having a high level of hydration (it has 58% hydration), the dough seemed drier than most breads I’ve made this year; like the Rustic Italian Bread (68% hydration). The drier dough was easier to work with, but resulted in a finer crumb. I was surprised that the recipe didn’t add more yeast to the dough, but only relied on the yeast added the night before.  Of course this bread cannot be compared to the crème de la crème of breads; the Rosemary Focaccia.


The shape is the only thing rustic about this loaf.


The recipe is here. Similarly to most of Chris Kimball’s other bread, start the biga the night before. Then begin preparation in the early afternoon (1:30 pm) for 7pm dinner. For the main dough, add the ingredients to the bowl of a standing mixer, and mix with a dough hook on lowest setting for 15 minutes. Add the 2 teaspoons of salt in the final 3 minutes. Let triple in size; about 2 hours. On a floured surface, fold the dough in a specific way according to the directions and place in heavily floured, cheesecloth-lined colander. Let double in size; about 45 minutes. Spray dough 5 times with water bottle. Bake for 35 minutes in 450-degree oven until bread has an internal temperature of 210-degrees. Let cool for 1-1/2 hours.

The bread is good, respectable, but lacks some personality. The crumb was too fine. If I’m going to spend all day doing something, I want it to exceptional. Perhaps because this is a relatively old recipe, from 1995. In my opinion, this recipe is not worth the effort. It’s not much better than a $2 pre-baked loaf from the super market (though doesn’t have the extra additives).


  1. The recipe says that this is a wet dough, but it seemed dry. The directions say to “add water in 1-tablespoon increments every 30 seconds until smooth consistency is reached”. Because I’m not sure what consistency they wanted, it was impossible for me to judge.  I like Chris Kimball’s other recipes that use a very precise weight, and comes out perfect every time.
  2. The crust became a little too thick while waiting for the internal temperature to reach 210-degrees.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $1.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 1:30 PM.  Dinnertime:  7:00 PM.

Hash Brown Mania and other Craziness

October 13, 2010

There was a period over several months when I ate hash browns twice a day; for breakfast and dinner. No, I am not crazy (at least not for hash browns). I was biking across the altiplano of Bolivia. It was several day’s ride between towns, and the only food available was potatoes. But not just potatoes; the world’s most bountiful variety of tubers.  With hundreds of varieties of potatoes, every color in the rainbow, every shape imaginable; I don’t think I ate the same type twice. But enough was enough, after I road down the back side of the Andes into the Chaco desert of Paraguay, I swore I would never eat hash browns again. Now, more than 10 years later I am going to break my promise to myself and make Chris Kimball’s Classic Hash Browns.


Wringing before cooking makes for better taste and texture.


Classic recipe is here, but there are other variations here. So what makes this recipe different is the technique of drying the potatoes. Place in clean cloth towel and twist until they have released their water. Here I mixed with 2 tablespoons of grated onion and 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese.

3-1/2 stars. Overall, these rate better than my Bolivian Hash Browns; though how many people have eaten purple Hash Browns?

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $0.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 8:30 AM.  Ready:  9:00 AM.

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