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.

New England Fish Chowder

January 6, 2012

Unfortunately, I only ate seafood once during my recent trip to Seattle; wild-caught salmon chowder at Ivar’s while waiting for the ferry to Bainbridge Island. As you might expect, salmon chowder in the Pacific Northwest completely out-classes Chris Kimball’s chowder; with bolder and richer flavors. Still, Chris Kimball’s supermarket-cod-based Fish Chowder is worth making. It has nice, simple, balanced flavors. It is easy to make and doesn’t make much of a mess. The biggest problem is that my kids wouldn’t eat it, though it wasn’t overly fishy. 4 stars.

Delicious Fish Chowder

Incidentally, today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas; Three Kings Day. I am making my tamales again this year, and will let you know how it goes.

Comments:

  1. One of those supermarket scanning errors meant I got my two pounds of cod for free; their scanner was supposed to take off $1/lb but instead took off a fixed $1/order. I’ve listed the recipe’s price as $14, which is what it would have cost had I paid the $6/lb sale price. Sometimes things just work out fantastically; a huge pot that fed me for 3 days cost just $2 to make.
  2. I’m definitely going to try this recipe with Salmon, though I won’t be able to buy fish of the same quality in my northeastern supermarket. I really enjoyed the extra flavor of the chowder I ate from Ivar’s.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $14.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 11:00 AM. Finish time 12:30 PM.

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

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
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 water
2 pounds skin-less cod fillets
1-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch

  1. Cut onions into a large 1/2″ dice. Mince fresh thyme. Remove the rind from salt pork, cut into two pieces and rinse under cold water to remove the excess surface salt.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large Dutch oven set over medium burner. Add minced onions, salt pork, minced thyme, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 bay leaf. Saute for 4 minutes until the onions become softened, but have not browned.
  3. Add 5 cups of cold water and bring to simmer.  Meanwhile peel and cut your potatoes into 1/2″ dice. Also slice your fish crosswise into 6 equal sized pieces.
  4. 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 opaque. Use a metal spatula to carefully remove from pot and place in a medium bowl.
  5. Return Dutch oven to medium-high burner, adding diced potatoes. Bring back up to a simmer, and cook uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender and begin to break apart.
  6. While the potatoes are cooking, whisk together 2 cups milk, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in small bowl. When potatoes are tender stir in the milk mixture and bring back up to a simmer.
  7. Finally, add back the mostly-cooked-fish and accumulated juices into pot. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to stand for 5 more minutes.
  8. Remove the salt pork and bay leaf; discard. Stir chowder gently to break fish up into large pieces. Season with salt and pepper according to your taste. Serve immediately, garnishing with minced chives, crumbled bacon bits, or oyster crackers (Krispy is the preferred brand).

Ivar's on Seattle's Waterfront; next to the ferries


Red-Wine Braised Pork Chops

January 3, 2012

I wanted my two sons to whole-heartedly enjoy my first recipe of the New Year, so I played it safe with Pork Chops. Usually I’ve only braised entire roasts or other large pieces of meat; never individual cuts. The technique proved very successful; and perfect for a lazy winter’s day (i.e. little actual effort, great smells for hours and hours, warm kitchen). Don’t be put off by the 4 hour cooking time from start to finish; these wine-braised pork chops actually require very little effort. They are brined and slow braising to kept them very moist. Also an exceptionally long rest of 35 to 40 minute helped ensure the pork didn’t lose their juiciness. My only complain is that without  searing the chops; the meat looked grey and unappetizing. In fact, the meat was tender and flavorful, and it is only it’s appearance that is unappetizing. 4-stars.

First recipe of 2012

Comments:

  1. As I said, the recipe does not sear the pork chops. Instead, it relies on trimming away a portion of the chops that will not be eaten and searing only those trimmings. Next time, I will sear the pork on one side for both presentation and flavor. To prevent cupping, I will make small release cuts, something Chris Kimball didn’t try.
  2. In step 10, reducing the liquid to 1 cup doesn’t quite do far enough. I suggest extending the reducing time 8 or 9 minutes; reducing to 3/4-cup.
  3. When shopping, Chris Kimball suggests looking for chops with a small eye and lots of marbling; perfect for braising. Avoid excessively lean pork chops, which will dry out even when braised.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $14.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 3:00 PM. Finish time 7:00 PM.

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

Salt and pepper
4 bone-in pork blade chops, 1″ thick (2-1/2 to 3 pounds)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 onions
5 sprigs fresh thyme plus 1/4 teaspoon minced
2 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1/2″ long piece ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup ruby port
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon fresh parsley

  1. Cut your onions in half, then slice them thin. Peel your 2 garlic cloves and smash them. Peel and cut off 1/2″ piece of fresh ginger; then crushed to release more flavor.
  2. Add 1-1/2 quarts cold water (6 cups) to Dutch oven and whisk in 3 tablespoons salt until dissolved. Add pork to brining liquid, cover, and place in refrigerator for 1 hour.
  3. Remove pork from brining liquid and dry the chops using paper towels. Trim away and reserve the meat, fat and any cartilage that is on the opposite side of the rib bones. Cut the trimmings into 1″ long pieces. Discard brine, rinse and dry your Dutch oven.
  4. Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in Dutch oven over medium-high burner until it begins to shimmer. Brown pork trimmings on all sides for 7 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, set an oven rack to the lower-middle position of your oven and pre-heat to 275-degrees.
  5. Reduce burner to medium. Add sliced onions, thyme sprigs, garlic cloves, bay leaves, smashed ginger, and ground allspice. Cook for 7 minutes until the onions become golden brown; stir occasionally.
  6. Add wine, port, and 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar to Dutch oven. Reduce for 7 minutes until it becomes slightly syrupy. Add 1 cup of chicken broth, and work the onions/pork scraps to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Bring up to a simmer; 2 minutes. Lay the pork chops on top of onions/pork scraps.
  7. Cover the Dutch oven, and place on lower-middle oven rack. Bake in 275-degrees oven for 1-1/2 hours until meat is tender.
  8. Remove pot from oven and let chops rest for 30 minutes; still in covered pot. Place pork chops on serving platter and loosely tent using aluminum foil.
  9. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl. Strain the braising liquid, and fish out pork scraps and add to serving platter to rest with the pork. Use a rubber spatula to press out all the liquid, and discard the remaining solids. Pour braising liquid into a fat separator and allow to stand for 5 minutes.
  10. Wipe out Dutch oven using paper towels. Pour braising liquid from fat separator directly into Dutch oven. Reduce liquid over medium-high burner for 7 minutes; until it measures just under 1 cup. Meanwhile mince your parsley and remaining thyme.
  11. Remove pot from heat, and whisk in butter, minced thyme, and a final 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper according to taste.
  12. Place pork on four individual serving plates. Pour sauce over chops, sprinkle with minced parsley.

Happy New Year 2012

January 1, 2012

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and thank you all for your past support and suggestions. 2011 was a fine year, filled with great food and lots of travel. I hope 2012 will be even better. My goal for 2012 will be substantially different that my first two years. Hopefully, the changes will usher in more breadth and introduce my family to new foods that they would otherwise never try.

Welcoming in the New Year at midnight

In 2012, my goal is to make every new recipe that Cook’s Illustrated publishes this year, working through each issue of the magazine in its entirety. No exceptions; no matter how sure I am that nobody in my family will like the recipe. Of course, I will continue to cook additional recipes that Chris Kimball has published in past years; from Cook’s County and America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). Probably some recipes from other sources too.

I have a “bonus” goal this year. I want to prepare a series of articles that fully explain the process of baking bread, in language my 10-year-old son can fully understand and appreciate. Nico asked Santa for a book on baking bread. Though Santa did bring the best book could find, much of the terminology and language is beyond his comprehension. I hope that these articles will continue to foster his love of good food and promote his junior baking skills. One of the greatest lessons a baker must learn is patience; a lesson that will serve him well in life.


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