Potato Casserole with Bacon and Caramelized Onion

March 15, 2012

I love potatoes and the whole time while I was preparing the meal I was sure that I was going to love this dish too. But the potatoes were just okay; 3-1/2 stars. I should have anticipated a little better based upon the list of ingredients. While the bacon and caramelized onions helped, the main flavor of the dish was potatoes soaked in chicken broth. The texture of the “crispy” potatoes was rubbery; not crisp. It was only the potatoes underneath the crust that were tender. Don’t get me wrong, they were edible, and my youngest son really enjoyed them. But it made a huge mess in my kitchen. There is no way I will ever make this dish again.

3-1/2 star payoff not worth the huge mess in the kitchen

Comments:

  1. My biggest complaint is it made the mess of a 5-star main course, but with the payoff of just a 3-1/2 star side dish. Everything else I say in this post is secondary. This is the reason that I will never make this recipe again.
  2. Chris Kimball recommends using a mandolin to slice your potatoes, but I used the slicing attachment for my food processor. While the slices using a food processor were not completely uniform, it made quick work of the slicing. I couldn’t imagine trying to do it by hand.
  3. There is a lot of liquid, and at one point I was sure that there was too much. But in the end it cooked down within the allotted 55 minutes.
  4. I would recommend (but didn’t do it myself) lining your baking dish with aluminum foil. Not so important for the bottom of the baking dish, but the sides get a heavy burned on crust that will take 12 hours soaking in soapy water to get ride of.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4.50.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  High.
Start time 5:00 PM. Finish time 7:00 PM.

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

4 slices thick-cut bacon (6 ounces)
1 large onion
1-1/4teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1-1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1-1/4 cups beef broth
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

  1. Use butter to grease a 13”x9” baking dish, especially along the sides. Cut bacon slices into 1/2″ squares.
  2. Set a medium saucepan over medium-low burner and cook bacon for 12 minutes until crispy.  Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon and place on a plate lined with paper towels. While the bacon cooks, cut your onion in half and then slice thin.
  3. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from saucepan. Increase burner to medium, cook sliced onion together with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir frequently for 25 minutes until the onion becomes golden brown. Add 1 tablespoon of water at a time whenever the pot begins to dry out, and adjust the burner if it turns too dark.
  4. While the onion cooks, set rack to lower-middle position in your oven and preheat to 425-degrees, and peel and slice your potatoes into 1/8” thick slices. Do not wash or rinse the potatoes, as the starch that would be washed away is very important in this dish.
  5. After the onions have browned, add them to a large bowl together with the bacon, thyme, 1 additional teaspoon salt and season with ground pepper.
  6. Use chicken and beef broth to deglaze the saucepan. Increase burner to medium-high and bring up to simmer.
  7. Put potatoes in bowl with onion and toss to combine, being careful not to break the potatoes. Once combined empty bowl into the prepared baking dish. Press down to compress the potatoes into an even layer. Pour the hot broth over the potatoes, and place butter evenly around the top of the potatoes.
  8. Leaving potatoes uncovered, bake for 50 to 55 minutes at 425-degrees. The potatoes will become golden brown along the edges and most of liquid will have been absorbed.
  9. Place on wire rack and allow to stand for a full 20 minutes. This is critical to the texture of the dish, as it allows the broth to become fully absorbed.
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Coffee Fudge Swirl Ice Cream

March 10, 2012

I have always made my Cappuccino Ice Cream by mixing real espresso with heavy cream. It tastes delicious. But adding 8 ounces of espresso, which is mostly water, allows some ice crystals to form taking a slight toll on the texture of the final ice cream. So today I used Chris Kimball’s technique of heating ground coffee grounds directly in the milk/cream mixture. Not only does using a custard base result in unparalleled silkiness, but the heating allows me to  simultaneously “brew” the coffee. The texture is amazing, and the flavor is nearly as good as using real espresso. The only draw back is that it you must strain the custard base three times to remove 95% of the coffee grounds. 5-stars.

Pictured here with my son’s 13-th birthday cake.

Usually I swirl in Dulce de Leche to my coffee ice cream, but today my son requested using Chocolate Fudge. As an adult, I prefer the Dulce de Leche, but this combination using chocolate fudge was a home run with my guests (whose average age was 12-years-old). It was decadent. Just be sure that the fudge sauce has cooled completely before swirling into your ice cream.

Comments:

  1. The main problem with Chris Kimball’s recipe is removing the spend coffee grounds from the custard base. He instructed me to strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer, but my strainer let quite a bit of grounds through. In fact, I had to strain the custard three times in order to remove enough of the grounds.
  2. Also, Chris Kimball instructed me to strain the chilled custard, but I strained it as part of the cooling process. I don’t think that this contributed to the straining problem, but I do think that my technique allowed for the custard to remain colder, which is critical to prevent ice crystals from forming.
  3. I also tried to strain through a paper coffee filter, but the custard was too thick and never permeated through the filter. I only have a French Press at work, but think that that would have worked well.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $5.20.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 12 Noon. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original Ice Cream recipe is here, and his Chocolate Fudge Sauce recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

Hot Fudge Sauce:
4-oz semisweet chocolate
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
2-1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
Pinch table salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces.

  1. Break chocolate into pieces and melt in small heat-proof bowl placed over a pot of nearly simmering water. Don’t allow the water to boil. Stir the chocolate occasionally, which will take about 10 minutes to melt. Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa until it has dissolved.
  2. Place a heavy-bottom pan over low heat, and warm sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream, salt, and 1/4 cup water for 5 minutes without stirring.
  3. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the burner to medium/high and simmer for 4 minutes; stirring often.
  4. Remove from heat and add butter pieces and vanilla extract. Once combined, whisk in the melted chocolate/cocoa.
  5. Allow to cool completely before spreading on ice cream, or serve warm to make Hot Fudge Sundae.

Coffee Fudge Swirl Ice Cream:
2 Cup heavy cream (1 pint)
1-1/2 whole milk
1/2 cup ground coffee or espresso beans.
1-1/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoon vanilla.

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing cream from stove-top.
  2. Add heavy cream, milk, coffee grounds and 1 cup 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. Temporarily remove pan from heat to prevent the milk from boiling.
  3. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar. Be sure not to let the egg yolks and sugar sit for any length of time; after 5 minutes the combination will get hard. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the 160° cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  4. Add the yolk mixture back in with the cream/coffee in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  5. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch, and get your strainer handy.
  6. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture into the medium bowl. Wash the strainer and then strain the mixture two more times to remove as much of the grounds as possible.
  7. 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°.
  8. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 30 minutes or how ever long your ice cream machine recommends. While ice cream churns; pre-freeze a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and the ice cream’s final container/bowl.
  9. When ice cream finishes spread in thin, even layer of pre-chilled baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure to leave as little air as possible, and freeze for 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
  10. Use a spatula to spread your fudge evenly over entire surface of ice cream, then roll up ice cream into a long cylinder.
  11. Put finished ice cream in airtight container, or press plastic wrap against the ice cream’s surface. Freeze for at least 1 more hour before serving.

Matt celebrating his 13-th Birthday with his friends


Buffalo Chicken Nuggets

March 8, 2012

OK, so this isn’t a new recipe, but a combination of two older ones; Buffalo Wings and these Chicken Nuggets. The combination turned out fantastic; just as good as regular Buffalo Wings, but so easy to eat using a knife and fork. There was no mess and my fingers weren’t tingling from all the spices. The sauce recipe below is a slight variation on Chris Kimball’s. First, I reduced the total amount of sauce made, because I found that there was always too much. The second secret is to add some Worcester sauce, adding some great depth.

Just as tasty as wings, but easier to eat.

Comments:

  1. I love spicy food. But if you don’t, then you can leave out the cayenne pepper to soften the heat. If it’s still too hot then you can reduce the Tabasco. By itself, Frank’s wing sauce is not all that hot.

Rating: 4-1/2-stars.
Cost: $5.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original Chicken Nugget recipe is here, and his Buffalo wing recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the chicken nuggets is here, and the descriptions of how I prepared the Buffalo Sauce are given below:

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Frank’s Louisiana Hot Sauce
1 tablespoon Tabasco
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoon Worcester sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. With 5 minutes remaining until chicken is ready to serve, begin to make the sauce. Melt the butter in 12” regular (i.e. not non-stick) skillet over a medium low burner, whisk in the Frank’s sauce, Tabasco, brown sugar, Worcester, cayenne and cider vinegar. Mix well and allow to cook for 2 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of sauce to serve separately at table, and to ensure that your nuggets aren’t too spicy.
  2. Put chicken nuggets into skillet and use a rubber spatula to toss until evenly coated.

Philadelphia Cheese Steak

March 5, 2012

I had my first real cheese steak when I was 38 years old, and always had the impression that it was something better left to the professionals (For example, here I am in a Philadelphia pub enjoying a cheese steak).  About 2 years ago, I tried to make Philly Cheese Steaks according Chris Kimball’s 2006 recipe. He told me to cut the meat into cubes and then pound them thin with a meat pounder. The result was OK; 3-1/2 stars; but the meat seized up and ended up being too thick. Plus it didn’t always brown properly; varying from sandwich to sandwich. Today, I am happy to convey great success in home-made cheese steak technique.

Finally homemade cheese steak rivaling s trip to Philly

Today, I used Chris Kimball’s new technique which worked perfectly. His secret to making cheese steaks without a deli-slicer is to partially freeze the meat. Because the meat is firmer, you will have much more success in slicing paper-thin shavings with a sharp chef’s knife. (well I now see others have given this same advice too).

While delicious, I thought there was a slight lack of cheese flavor. Because provolone is often mentioned in “gourmet” versions, I made a second batch of Cheese Steaks a few days later using provolone cheese. In the end, Chris Kimball was correct. White American cheese is best, both in terms of texture and taste. Provolone was too subtle in flavor and became stringy when melted.

Comments:

  1. I toasted the bread at 400-degrees until it just began to turn golden. My family unanimously thought that it was toasted too far; it had became too hard. I then tried making a sandwich on an un-toasted roll; but the toasted roll was deemed to be unanimously better. After testing a few batches, I’d recommend toasting only for 6 to 7 minutes, and removing from oven before it becomes even lightly browned.
  2. The recommended amount of American Cheese (even though augmented by Parmesan) was a little too weak. I wanted more cheese flavor. I made a second batch of sandwiches using provolone, but they had even less cheese flavor.  So, I would recommend sticking to White American Cheese, but boosting the amount. I added two extra slices and boosted the Parmesan to 1/2 cup. BTW, the traditional cheese used in these sandwiches is Cheez Whiz.
  3. Chris Kimball says to the freeze meat on a plate or baking sheet. The first time I made these I used a plate, but because plates are not completely flat it was wobbly during the cutting process. The second time I made these I froze the 3″-wide strips directly on a wooden cutting board, and felt that it was much safer.
  4. Make sure that your chef’s knife is sharp before slicing. A sharp knife will make it much easier (and safer).
  5. My last bit of advice is to pile each slice into an unorganized mound as you cut the beef. Once I left the slices in even stacks, but they were extremely difficult to separate them after chopping.

Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $18 for 5 to 6 sandwiches.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 4:00 pm. Dinner Time:  6:00.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below, but the ingredient list has already increased the amount of cheese according to my recommendations above :

2-lb skirt steak
5 to 6 Italian sub rolls (about 8″)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (3/4 oz)
10 slices white American cheese (10 ounces)

  1. Slice your steak with grain into 3″ wide strips. Lay steak strips flat on a wooden cutting board and freeze for 1 hour, which will allow you to more effectively cut your meat into very thin slices.
  2. Adjust an oven rack to middle position and pre-heat for 20 minutes to 400-degrees.
  3. Use a sharp knife to slice/shave the steak against the grain, making your slices as thin as possible. As you cut the beef, put the shavings in an unorganized mound. Once I stacked the slices neatly, but they did not separate easily.  After slicing all your meat, put in a mound and chop about 20 times until coarsely chopped.
  4. Slice rolls and bake in a 400-degree oven for 6 to 7 minutes. Remove before they begin brown.
  5. Place a 12″ non-stick skillet over a high burner. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and pre-heat for 3 minutes until smoking.
  6. Cook the meat in two batches. Sprinkle half the meat evenly in pan. Allow to brown for 5 minutes without stirring. Stir and allow to finish cooking for an additional 2 minutes. Put cooked meat in a colander. Use paper towels to wipe the skillet clean and repeat this step using a second tablespoon of vegetable oil.
  7. After draining the moisture from the meat, return meat to skillet over burner set to medium heat. Season according to taste with (about 3/4 teaspoon) salt and pepper, and heat for 2 minutes until the meat is completely warmed.
  8. Turn down heat to low, and top meat evenly with the grated Parmesan. Evenly lay out slices of American cheese, realizing that there may be some overlap. Continue heating for 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese has melted, then fold the melted cheese into the meat to combine. Diving the meat evenly and place on toasted rolls, then serve immediately.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

March 3, 2012

I have made Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread a few times before. My previous attempts were loosely based upon Martha Stewart’s recipe, after some tweaking, the loaves ultimately came out very nicely; 4-stars. That version of the bread still hold the title bestowed by my elder son as “the best bread [I’ve] ever made”. Chris Kimball is a latecomer to Cinnamon Swirl Bread, but claims to have solved some problems that I have not. Most importantly, that the cinnamon swirl prevents the dough from fully binding to itself, leaving air pockets in the shape of the swirl and a slice of bread with a tendency to fall apart.

Delicious bread, but lacked cinnamon flavor

But deciding which loaf is better is not so simple. Chris Kimball loaf’s appearance is like a work of art, and the interior texture is amazing. He was using a Japanese Sandwich Bread (shokupan) as his base, which is heavenly. But his loaf definitely lacks both cinnamon and vanilla flavor, because he includes it only in the filling (and not in the bread itself).

Issues / Comments:

  1. In step 10, I inadvertently rolled dough the wrong way. I ended up with an 18″ cylinder, when I should have ended up with a 7″ cylinder.  This is one thing I hate about Chris Kimball’s instructions. For example his exact instructions were, “With short side facing you, roll dough away from you into firm cylinder.” “Facing me”…nothing is facing me. I think he thinks he is being clear but I read these instructions 10 times over, and still rolled it the wrong way. He frequently describes rolling things up in this manner, and I end up rolling it the wrong way at least 50% of the time. I wish he would add a phrase at the end saying “roll dough away from you into a firm, 7-inch cylinder”.
  2. I like Chris Kimball’s technique of using a dry filling because it allows the baked bread to remain cohesive.
  3. Without any cinnamon in the bread dough, I was left wanting more flavor. The huge amount of cinnamon (3 tablespoons) in the filling could not compensate, because it was hit and miss from one bite to the next.
  4. The one teaspoon of vanilla extract is barely discernible. It needs to be doubled, at least.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $3 for 2 loaves.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 11:00AM. Ready: 4:00PM. (ready for slicing at 6PM)

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

Dough:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3-3/4 cups (20-2/3 ounces) bread flour, plus extra for dusting
3/4 cup (2-3/4 ounces) nonfat dry milk powder
1/3 cup (2-1/3 ounces) sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1-1/2 cups (12 ounces) water
1 large egg
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups (7-1/2 ounces) raisins

Filling:
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Egg Wash:
1 large egg
A pinch of salt

  1. Cut a stick of butter into 32 small pieces and mix with 1 tablespoon of flour to evenly coat. Lightly beat 1 egg using a fork. Measure 12 ounces of water and heat in microwave for 1m20s until it reaches 110-degrees.
  2. Add bread flour, powdered milk, sugar and yeast to bowl of standing mixer.  Using the dough hook, turn only lowest speed while slowly adding water and egg. Increase to medium-low and mix for 2 more minutes; scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes before adding salt.
  3. Set an oven rack to the middle of your oven, and put a loaf pan on the bottom of a turned-off oven. Begin to heat 3 cups of water until boiling,which will be used in step 6.
  4. After 20 minutes has passed, add salt and mix for 10 minutes on medium-low. Allow the mixer to continue to run while slowly adding the small cubes of butter; mixing for 5 more minutes until the butter becomes incorporated into the dough.  Add the raisins and mix for 1 more minute. Spray a large bowl with non-stick cooking spray, and empty the dough into bowl.
  5. With a rubber spatula, lift one edge of the dough and fold it over onto itself (towards the middle of the bowl). Rotate bowl 90-degrees and fold again. Continue rotating and folding a total of 8 times.
  6. Cover dough with plastic wrap and place on middle rack of your turned-off oven. Pour 3 cups of boiling water into the pan placed on the bottom of your oven. Allow to rise with the oven door closed for 45 minutes.
  7. Remove dough from oven, and gently deflate the dough by pushing down in the center. Repeat the fold/rotate as described in step 5. Again, cover dough with plastic wrap and place on middle rack of your turned-off oven. Allow to rise with the oven door closed for 45 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, whisk together the filling ingredients, and set aside.  Grease to loaf pans.
  9. Lightly flour a work surface, and empty dough onto it. Use a bench scraper to evenly divide into 2 parts. One piece of dough at a time, work dough into a 6″x11″ rectangle. Fold dough up like a letter, to form a 3″x11″ rectangle. Roll dough up into a ball, dust with flour, then use a rolling-pin to form a 7″x18″ rectangle; it should be 1/4″ thick.
  10. Use a spray bottle to lightly spray the dough with water. Evenly cover the dough with half the filling, but leave 1/4″ border on the 18″ sides and 3/4″ on the 7″ top/bottom.  Again, lightly spray with water. Roll the dough into tightly into an 7″ cylinder, pinch the seam closed, and pinch the ends closed too. Lightly dust entire surface with flour and allow to rest of 10 minutes.
  11. Repeat with second loaf.
  12. Again working with one loaf at a time, cut the dough in half lengthwise. With the cut-side upward, stretch both halves until they are 14″ long. Place the two halves next to each other; pinch an end together and tightly braid the two strips together, maintaining the cut-side upward. Pinch the final end together, and place in loaf pan with cut-side up. The raisins that are exposed need to be pushed into the seams of the braid.  Repeat with second loaf.
  13. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in turned-off oven for 45 more minutes. Remove loaves and pan of water from the oven, and pre-heat to 350-degrees. Allow the loaves to continue to rise for another 45-minutes until the tops rise 1″ above the pan’s lip.
  14. Lightly beat an egg with a pinch of salt. Brush the top of the loaves with egg wash and bake at 350-degrees for 25 minutes. Tent each loaf with aluminum foil and reduce oven to 325-degrees. Bake for about 20 minutes more until the internal temperature of the loaf reaches 200-degrees.
  15. Allow pans to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing from loaves. Allow loaves to cool another 2 hours before slicing. You can also wrap tightly in plastic wrap and save in the freezer until you’re ready for your second loaf.

Beautiful loaf, crust is delicious and not over done.


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