Updated Dutch Oven Buying Guide

November 30, 2013

The week before I started this blog, I bought a $40 Tramontina Dutch Oven as a Christmas Gift to myself. Over the years, the stained and blackened pot has become my “go to” pot for everything from deep-frying to slow-cooked stews. So after 4 years of use, I wanted to find a replacement. But unfortunately, the original Tramonita Dutch Oven was discontinued a few years ago.

New model us taller, but narrower.

New model us taller, but narrower.

In the wake of the Tramontina retirement, Cook’s Illustrated is now recommending the $50 Lodge Quart Dutch Oven. I held off buying it because of the slightly smaller size; 6-quarts compared to the Tramontina’s 6.5-quarts. Because I love making stews, I didn’t want to end up needing more batches to brown the meat without crowding the pan.  So I was excited when Cook’s Illustrated updated their Website in April 2013 to reflect that Tramonita was planning to release an updated version. A few weeks ago I found the new version was finally available, but with a $60 price tag (which has since been reduced to $40). Both the $50 Lodge and new Tramontina are available from Walmart.com; with free shipping. I bought the new Tramontina because of its slightly higher capacity, but unfortunately, the extra 1/2-quart capacity of the new Tramontina didn’t offer any extra surface area.  Both it and the Lodge have the same 10-3/4″ diameter.

The complete comparison on the Cook’s Illustrated website is here. The overall winner is the $300, 7-1/4 quart Le Crueset.

OLD Tramontina 6.5-Qt. Cast Iron Dutch Oven
Capacity: 6.5 qt.
Diameter: 11.06 inches
Price $40

NEW Tramontina 6.5-Qt. Cast Iron Dutch Oven
Capacity: 6.5 qt.
Diameter: 10-3/4 inches
Price $40

Lodge Color Enamel 6-Quart Dutch Oven
Capacity:  6 qt.
Diameter: 10-3/4 inches
Price $50

7-1/4 quart Le Crueset Dutch Oven
Capacity:  7-1/4 qt.
Diameter: 9-3/4 inches (Amazon says 11-3/5 inches).
Price $300

I believe that the weights listed on the Cook’s Illustrated website are incorrect, that they are a mixture of shipping weights and actual weights. It says that the Tramontina weights 19-lbs (which represents the shipping weight rather than the actual weight), whereas I believe that the 13.7-lbs of the 7-1/4 quart Le Crueset represents the actual weight of the pot.

After buying the new Tramontina, I noticed a week later that Walmart reduced the price from $60 to $40. Because I have a Walmart so close to where I live, I ordered the $40 pot, and returned the $60 pot in-store.

In the end, I plan to use the old stained pot to deep fry; chicken, french fries, donuts, etc.; and use the new pot to make stews and other more delicate dishes. Certainly worth another $40 if I can get another 4 years of happiness out of the pot.


Thanksgiving Cooking Guide

November 25, 2013

I’m re-posting my Thanksgiving Cooking Guide from last year. I still am afraid to risk my Thanksgiving turkey using Chris Kimball’s November 2012 recipe for Grilled Turkey. I still hope to give that recipe a try later, but won’t risk my huge Thanksgiving turkey on the idea. So, my options are:

  1. Herb Roasted Turkey, which I’ve rated 5-stars in the past. It is brined in salt water for 4 to 6 hours, then air-dried, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours to get crisp skin. The herb paste adds great flavor, but the recipe calls for a relatively hot oven (400-degrees) so I doubt this will work on my big turkey.
  2. Old Fashioned Roast Turkey.  This is one of my favorite turkeys. It is drapped with salt pork, which constantly bastes the turkey during baking. Also, it salts the turkey instead of brines it.
  3. Brined Roasted Turkey. For many years I brined my turkey to help keep the turkey from drying out. Chris Kimball’s formula is 1 cup salt per gallon cold water for 4-to 6-hour brine or 1/2 cup salt per gallon cold water for 12-to 14-hour brine. The hardest part is finding a stockpot or clean bucket large enough for the turkey.
  4. Roasting Pre-cut Turkey Parts. For 2013 Cook’s Illustrated is urging me to cut up my turkey prior to cooking. Even though using Julia Child’s name does give me some assurance that everything would be okay, I simply cannot bring myself to depart from a traditional whole turkey roasting all day in the oven. It’s as much as the warm, aroma-filled house as it is about the seeing the massive turkey resting before the meal. In other words, giving thanks for turkey parts seems insincere.

Gravy:

  1. Best Turkey Gravy. A classic recipe for turkey gravy.
  2. Make-Ahead Dripping-less Turkey Gravy. This recipe was developed by Cook Illustrated because it’s associated turkey recipe was cooked too hot to yield usable drippings. So if you don’t have drippings, here is the solution.

Cranberry Sauce:

  1. Cranberry-Orange Sauce. Don’t make a standard cranberry sauce, when a little bit of triple sec and orange zest make it so much more interesting.
  2. Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce. I made this recipe for years, which is 100 times better than canned cranberry sauce.

Potatoes:

  1. Fluffy Mashed potatoes. Cut potatoes into 1″ chunks. Rinse, Steam for 10 minutes, Rinse again, Steam for 20 more minutes until done. It requires my Dutch Oven, but I’ve had dinner guest that raved more about these potatoes than the 5-star main course.
  2. Holiday Scalloped Potatoes. A nice 4-star alternative to standard mashed potatoes.
  3. Master Recipe for Mashed Potatoes. Requires boiling potatoes with their skins on, then peeling hot potatoes. For 15 years Chris Kimball has told us to make mashed potatoes this way.
  4. Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Peeled before cooking, then boiled in half-and-half normally added at the end of the recipe.

Pumpkin Pie:

  1. Matt’s Pumpkin Pie. Make the filling the night before for the best flavor. This recipe is based upon King Arthur Flour recipe. My son Matt took over the pumpkin pie baking responsibilities in 2011. For him, it’s a labor of love.
  2. Libby’s Pumpkin Pie. For a long time this was my “go to” pumpkin pie recipe, until I discovered the King Arthur recipe.
  3. Chris Kimball’s Pumpkin Pie. I could never bring myself to put yams into a pumpkin pie, so have never made it.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

November 22, 2013

I was planning to make vanilla ice cream to go alongside a birthday cake, but after the planned cake failed to materialize I decided to form my vanilla ice cream into a cake. After removing from the ice cream machine, I spread it out onto a pre-frozen sheet pan. I covered with plastic wrap and allowed to harden for 2 hours (in step 9), then cut into three equal sized rectangles. I added caramel between the layers, but the caramel oozed out after just a few hours. While I wanted something to compliment that chocolate topping, I now see that anything between the layers must harden into a solid. If it were summer I might try some fruit, but at this time of year it looks like it must be chocolate.

Ice cream as a 3 layer cake

Ice cream as a 3 layer cake

Fortunately, a kid’s palate is fairly forgiving. Taste-wise, The cake was a very successful 4-1/2 stars; despite its visual shortcomings of the oozing caramel.

Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball calls for a slightly different technique that takes 8 hours from start to finish, as opposed to 4-1/2 hours as I’ve described. The difference: He divides the custard in step 7 into 2 bowls; a small bowl containing 1 cup is placed in the freezer and allowed to freeze solid, and the remaining custard is chilled in the refrigerator. He says this will take between 4 and 24 hours. Instead, the ice bath technique as I described in step 6/7 allows the mixture to get nearly as cold in just one hour.
  2. Chris Kimball says to process in ice cream machine until it reaches 21-degrees,  about 15 to 25 minutes. Personally, I wait until the thickness of the ice cream looks good, which usually takes between 30 to 35 minutes.
  3. I made a small, three-layer ice cream cake out of the ice cream. Instead of pre-chilling an 8″-to-9″-square metal baking pan, I put a regular sheet pan lined with plastic wrap in freezer (in step 1). That allowed me to more easily work the ice cream, which I formed into a rustic cake. If you want a more regular shaped cake then use a knife to cut sides after the cake is assembled.
  4. For a delicious variation, roughly chop 12 Oreo cookies; my son’s favorite.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $2.50 per quart.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 2pm. Ready: 6:30pm.

Ingredients:
1-1/4 cups of 2% milk.
1-3/4 cup heavy cream.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.
1/3 cup light corn syrup.
1/4 teaspoon salt.
6 egg yolks.
1 vanilla bean.
2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing milk from stove-top. Place an 8″-to-9″-square metal baking pan in freezer.
  2. Add milk, heavy cream, about half the sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons), 1/3 cup corn syrup and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a medium saucepan. Use a paring knife to cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then use the back of the knife to scrape out vanilla seeds (caviar). Add both the caviar and the empty stalks to the saucepan.
  3. Warm over medium burner 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.
  4. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar.  Never let your yolks/sugar sit for more than a few minutes. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the 160° milk/cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  5. Add the milk/yolk mixture back in with the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches 180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  6. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch.
  7. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture through a fine-meshed strainer into the medium bowl (discarding empty vanilla pods). The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool in about 30 minutes; stirring occasionally will help. Then place the bowl in freezer for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour to further reduce the temperature. The mixture will begin to freeze along the sides of the bowl, which you should scrape down to further reduce the temperature.
  8. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 35 minutes, or per manufacturer’s instruction. While ice cream churns; pre-freeze the ice creams final container/bowl.
  9. Put finished ice cream in airtight container, or press plastic wrap against the ice cream’s surface. Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving. Makes 1 quart.
The layers were virtually indistinguishable.

The layers were virtually indistinguishable.


French Pork Stew

November 16, 2013

Today, I am posting my 400th recipe. At times, my life as I live it today bears almost no resemblance to my life when I posted my first recipe; this Creole Fried Chicken on New Year’s day 2010. That was a lifetime ago; so much has happened, so many recipes cooked, and so many lessons learned. Just as Chris Kimball has forever transformed my daily cuisine, this blog has taught me patience at a time when patience is what I most needed.

Well-Balanced, good, but a bit mild disappointment.

Well-Balanced, good, but a bit mild disappointment.

When this recipe was first published a few months ago, I was very excited to make it during peak “stew season”; that time of year when chilly outdoor temperatures make my warm, aroma-filled kitchen feel like the most inviting place on earth. In that sense, this recipe was a complete success. But while the hours of wonderful smells evoked the expected Pavlovian response, the actual stew was a bit of a disappointment. The stew was very well balance, but I had expected it to be more flavorful. After going to the trouble (and expense) of finding 3 kinds of pork I was not excepting it to be so mild. The hints of smokiness were barely discernible (using ham hocks). Overall, the stew makes a nice meal, but I cannot help but feel a bit disappointed in the outcome. Beef stew is still your best bet. 3-1/2 stars.

Comments:

  1. While the recipe calls for either 1-1/4 lbs of meaty smoked ham shank or 2 to 3 smoked ham hocks, I would recommend against the ham hocks. I used 3 ham hocks, but it yielded so little edible meat that I question if it’s worth the effort. I wish I could have found a smoked ham shank (whatever that is).
  2. Chris Kimball says that this recipe can be made up to 3 days in advance. In fact, the recipe gets better the second day.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $15
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 2:00 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

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

Herb Bundle:
10″ square of triple-thickness cheesecloth
6 parsley sprigs fresh parsley
3 large sprigs fresh thyme
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 whole cloves

Stew Ingredients:
4-lbs boneless pork butt roast
2 onions
5 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
1 meaty smoked ham shank (1-1/4 lbs) or 3 smoked ham hocks (2-lbs)
4 carrots
1-lb Yukon Gold potatoes
12 ounces kielbasa sausage, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 head savoy cabbage, shredded (8 cups)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

  1. Cut a square 10″ piece of cheesecloth (triple-thickness, as customarily packaged). Add parsley springs, thyme sprigs, unpeeled garlic cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns and whole cloves. Fold or break parsley and thyme so that it fits, then tie the herb bundle using kitchen twine.
  2. Prepare pork butt by pulling apart at its seems. Trim away and discard any hard or excess fat, and cut into 1″-to-1-1/2″ chunks.  Cut the onions in half, and cut away the non-root end, but leave the root-end attached.
  3. Meanwhile pre-heat oven to 325-degrees and set an oven rack to the middle of the oven, making sure there is enough room for the covered Dutch oven.
  4. In a large Dutch oven, add 5 cups water, 4 cups chicken broth, ham chunks and whole smoked ham (or ham hocks). Place over medium-high burner until it comes up to a simmer. Use a spoon to skim off any of the scum that rises to the top.
  5. Bake for 1-1/2 hours at 325-degrees, until the pork is tender.
  6. Meanwhile, peel carrots and cut off the narrow end, and cut the thick end in half lengthwise. This will leave you with three equally thick pieces per carrot, which you can then cut into 1/2″ pieces. Scrub your potatoes and cut into 3/4″ pieces.
  7. Use a slotted spoon to fish out and discard the onion and herb bundle. Remove the ham (or ham hocks) to a plate. Add carrots and potatoes to pot, cover and continue to bake for 20 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, once cooled, use two forks to shred the ham into bite-size pieces. Throw away the bones, skin and any large chunks of fat (esp from ham hocks). Cut the kielbasa in half lengthwise (it will probably break into two or three pieces), and cut into 1/2″-thick slices. Shred the cabbage which should yield about 8 cups (even though that seems like a lot), and chop 1/4-cup of fresh parsley.
  9. After vegetables have cooked for 20 minutes, add shredded ham, kielbasa and shredded cabbage to pot. Stir briefly, cover pot, and return to oven for a final 20-minutes.
  10. Season with salt and pepper, and add chopped parsley. Serve.

Guinness Beef Stew

November 9, 2013

Cook’s Country is currently airing an episode featuring Guinness Beef Stew. Unlike most stews, this recipe skips the searing of the meat on the stove-top, because it takes too long and causes a lot of splattered grease everywhere. Instead, this stew is cooked uncovered in the oven; the open pot allows the meat on top to brown, and the evaporating liquid helps concentrate the flavors. Chris Kimball says that the stew will be ready after just 2-1/2 hours in the oven. I ate mine after 3 hours (due to scheduling conflict), but 3-1/2 hours would have been much better. As eaten, it was only 3-1/2 stars. The flavors were nicely balanced, but were a little too subdued. More browning in the oven would have added more flavor. If I had a little more time (or started a little earlier), I’m sure it would have been 4-to-4-1/2 stars.

French Stews still Reign Supreme

French Stews still Reign Supreme

Comments:

  1. The recipe calls for Guinness Draught, but I could only find the ubiquitous Guinness Extra Stout. While Chris Kimball says that Extra Stout is too bitter, he said it could be used in a pinch. So in lieu of “We prefer the flavor of Guinness Draught in this stew (with Guinness Extra Stout a close second), but you can substitute another brand of stout or a dark ale, such as Rogue Chocolate Stout or Newcastle Brown Ale.”
  2. Cooking times were understated. I adjusted the cooking times upward from 2-1/2 hours to 3 hours below, but consider cooking for 3-1/2 hours.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $15
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 2:00 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

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

4-lb boneless beef chuck roast
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
1-1/4 cups Guinness Draught
1-1/2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1 pound carrots
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

  1. Set a rack to lower-middle of your oven and pre-heat to 325-degrees. Pull roast apart at seams, trim away any excess or hard fat, and cut into 1-1/2″ pieces. Sprinkle beef cubes with salt and pepper.
  2. finely chop onions. Add 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in Dutch oven placed over medium-high burner. Saute onions for 10 minutes until well-browned.
  3. Add tomato paste and use a garlic press to press the garlic directly into pan. Cook for 2 minutes until the mixture turns rust-colored. Add 1/4 cup flour and continue to cook for 1 minute.
  4. Use a whisk to incorporate chicken broth, 3/4-cup (1/2 bottle or 6 ounces) Guinness, brown sugar, and minced thyme, then use the liquid to de-glaze the fond. Bring the mixture up to a simmer, then simmer for 3 minutes. Add beef cubes and bring back up to a simmer.
  5. Leaving simmering Dutch oven uncovered, put into the pre-heated oven and cook for 2 hours at 325-degrees, stirring after 45 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile wash and peel carrots, and cut into 1″ segments. Wash the potatoes, but leave the potatoes unpeeled; cut them into 1″ pieces.
  7. After the 2 hours has elapsed, mix in potatoes and carrots. Continue to cook for 1 more hour, until the beef and vegetables become tender; stirring after 30 minutes.
  8. Add remaining 1/2-cup Guinness and minced parsley. Adjust salt and pepper according to your taste, and serve.
I was only able to find "extra stout"

I was only able to find “extra stout”


Sandwich Bread with 1-Minute of Kneading

November 4, 2013

I’ve been making homemade sandwich bread for a few years and perfected the recipe (available here). But lately, instead of 10 weekly sandwiches my two sons only need 6 weekly sandwiches. Since I used so few preservatives, the bread only stays fresh for about 5 days. So I’ve been tweaking this slightly different recipe to meet my new requirements; (1) only 6 sandwiches per week, (2) no standing mixer, (3) requiring only 1 day from start to finish. This downsized loaf uses a regular 9’x5″ loaf pan, making for fewer and larger bread slices. It only needs 1-minute of hand-kneading, but the recipe does require more patience: I mix the dough at 6:30AM, form the loaf at 4PM, bake at 6 to 7PM, and slice at 11PM (or the next morning). In total, it’s maybe 15 minutes of work.

Perfectly sized for 6 weekly sandwiches

Perfectly sized for 6 weekly sandwiches

I tried to use refrigeration to work around my schedule, but the refrigerated loaf never warmed up in time for me to make a weekday loaf.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: 60-cents
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 6:00 AM. Finish time 7:00 PM. (But don’t slice for another 3 hours)

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

Wet Ingredients:
1/2 cup water (4 ounces)
1-1/4 cup milk (10 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar or honey
1 tablespoon granulated lecithin
3 tablespoons olive oil

Dry Ingredients:
4 cups bread flour (1 lb 3oz ounces)
2 teaspoons table salt
1/4 to 3/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid; fruit fresh or other powdered Vitamin C. Alternatively mix 1 tablespoon white vinegar

  1. Add water and milk to a Pyrex measuring cup (at least 2 cup capacity); heat in microwave for 1m until mixture reaches 105-degrees. Mix in yeast, sugar, granulated lecithin and olive oil; allow to hydrate for 5 minutes.
  2. Add flour, salt, and ascorbic acid (but not vinegar, if using) in large bowl. Add liquid mixture from step 1 and use a rubber spatula to fold until shaggy ball forms, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl. Cover bowl and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours. If your schedule prevents you from baking the next day, you can refrigerate the dough (still in the bowl) the next morning until ready to use.
  3. Spray your loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  4. Gently turn the dough out onto a very lightly-floured work surface. Knead by hand for about 1 minute to form a smooth ball. Gently press the dough into a rectangle so that it corresponds to the length of your loaf pan. Move into pan and softly press so that it touches all four sides of the pan.
  5. Cover loosely with plastic wrap (realizing that the loaf will grow above the top of the pan). Place it in a warm spot in your kitchen for between 1 to 2 hours; until the dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when you poke it with your finger.
  6. About 20 minutes prior to baking, begin pre-heating your oven to 425-degrees. Adjust an oven rack to middle position; any lower and your bottom crust will be too hard.
  7. Carefully remove plastic wrap, spray the loaf three times with water from a spray bottle, and carefully place loaf pan in 425-degree oven. Set kitchen timer for 30 minutes corresponding to the total cooking time. After 7 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 375-degrees and turn loaf 180-degrees. Bake uncovered for 8 additional minutes. Tent with aluminum foil to keep the loaf top soft; baking for remaining 13 to 15 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf will reads 200-degrees when the loaf is done. Carefully remove bread from pan, and let cool on a wire rack for 2 to 3 hour before slicing.

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