Denouement Beef Stew

December 20, 2010

That impossibly distant day is today. In July, the outcome seemed so uncertain. Today is my 100th new recipe. The denouement. It has been a fun and rewarding journey, and I’ve eaten so much great food in 2010 (too much really, as I’ve gained 10 pounds). Of course, a special thanks to Christopher Kimball himself, who has spend 20-years creating and perfecting recipes, and without whom this year would not have been special. For all those who have supported my efforts throughout the year, I am grateful. To my friends who tried my chocolate donuts (hockey pucks) and feigned compliments for my tasteless carnitas; I apologize. My greatest joy in 2010 was to see my two sons try everything; all 100 recipes; to see them grow and appreciate my efforts. Over the weekend I invited friends to help mark my milestone of my 100th new recipe; this 5-star Beef Stew with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Pearl Onions.

My 100th new recipe in 2010.

This beef stew is very similar to the 11-hour slow-cooker Boeuf Bourguignon that I made in January, but this is ready in just 3 hours. The main difference is the lack of carrots and tomato paste, but also it uses flour as a thickener. The Boeuf Bourguignon uses minute tapioca (which is a CI favorite in their modern stews), so I substituted it here as a thickener. I served it over Fluffy Mashed Potatoes, which were steamed rather than boiled. After about 10 minutes of steaming, the potatoes are rinsed under cold water to remove any surface starch.  Finally, I served it with Rosemary Focaccia and a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Overall, everyone gave everything 5-stars. The beef was very tender and the stew was just as rich as my other stews. It lacked a little complexity when compared to the Boeuf Bourguignon. The Fluffy Mashed Potatoes were a hit as well. In fact, one guest could talk about nothing else other than the potatoes.

Issues:

  1. The biggest issue was that I needed the dutch oven for both recipes. I made the stew, then put it in another pot while I made the potatoes. Because I was also making Pepperoni Pan Pizza for the kids (who ate before the adults) there was only a minor delay.
  2. Ouch. During the transfer from stew to potatoes I momentarily forgot that the lid to the dutch oven was 300-degrees. I grabbed it, and gave myself a second-degree burn.
  3. I used Eastern White potatoes rather than the Yukon Gold that CI recommends; the Yukon Gold have a slightly sweet taste that I don’t like. But I love their technique to yield such fluffy potatoes.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $27.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:00 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

Here is the original Cook’s Illustrated link to the Beef Stew with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Pearl Onions recipe. The recipe was designed for 3 pounds of beef, so I altered the recipe and made it as follows:

6-oz bacon
4 pounds chuck roast
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 medium onions
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons minute tapioca
2 cups red wine
2 cups chicken broth
3 bay leaves
1-1/3 teaspoon dried thyme
1-1/3 pound white mushrooms
10-oz frozen pearl onions (sauce discarded)
1/3 cup parsley

  1. Dice bacon into small pieces, then cook in dutch oven over medium heat until browned and crisp; about 7 minutes. Remove bacon with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel lined plate, reserving bacon fat separately.
  2. Cut roast into 1-1/2-inch cubes and remove any hard pieces of fat, but don’t over trim the meat. The soft fat will break down and add flavor. Pat beef cubes dry and place in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Heat 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat over medium-high heat in dutch oven; my four pounds of beef required browning beef in three separate batches. Brown meat on all sides, about 7 minutes per batch, adding a tablespoon of bacon fat as necessary. Remove meat and set aside on a plate.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees. Coarsely chopped onions, which should yield about 2 cups, then saute them in dutch oven over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic; continue to saute about 30 more seconds. The original recipe from 1996 told me to stir in 2 tablespoons of flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Instead, I used an equal amount of minute tapioca which works great as a thickener (see Texas Chili). Add wine and deglaze the bottom of the dutch oven. Add chicken broth, bay leaves, thyme, and bacon bits; then bring to a simmer. Add meat and return to simmer, then cover and place in 300-degree oven for a total of about 2 hours.
  4. If using frozen pearl onions prepare them according to package instructions. Unfortunately, I could only find Birds-eye which come in a cream sauce, so I separated and discarded the sauce. Brush the mushrooms clean and cut them into quarters. Heat 2 tablespoons of bacon fat in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. Saute mushrooms until browned; 6 minutes. Remove mushrooms from skillet, then add frozen pearl onions. Saute until lightly browned; about 3 minutes. Set mushrooms and onions aside.
  5. After 1-1/2 hours in the oven the meat will be almost tender, add the mushrooms and pearl onions to the stew. Cover the stew and return it to oven. Cook until meat and pearl onions are tender; another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, chop parsley.
  6. Remove from oven and stir in parsley. Add more salt and pepper according to taste.
  7. Serve over buttered egg noodles, boiled potatoes or mashed potatoes.

Here is the original Cook’s Illustrated link to the Fluffy Mashed Potatoes Recipe. I doubled the recipe. Here is the version as I made it:

4 lbs Eastern White potatoes (CI recommends Yukon Golds)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1 inch chunks. Rinse in colander to remove any surface starch.
  2. Add just enough water to Dutch oven so that water will reach the bottom of colander, but don’t add the colander just yet.
  3. Turn heat to high and bring water to boil. Then place metal colander (and potatoes) and reduce heat to medium-high.
  4. Cover and cook potatoes for 10 minutes. Transfer colander to sink and rinse potatoes under cold water until no longer hot; about 2 minutes. This will remove starch and prevent the potatoes from becoming gluey.
  5. Return colander and potatoes to pot, cover, and continue to cook until potatoes are soft; about 45 minutes longer (The original recipe says that will take only 10 to 15 minutes for a paring knife to meet little resistance; I’m not sure why there’s such a big discrepancy).
  6. Pour off water from Dutch oven, and add butter, which will melt with the residual heat. Run potatoes in batches through ricer set over Dutch oven.
  7. Add salt and stir in milk using rubber spatula.
  8. Season with salt and pepper according to your taste.
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Velvet Devils Food Layer Cake

December 13, 2010

In July 1994 I was browsing the news stand at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach when I noticed a rich looking recipe for “Velvet Devils Food Layer Cake.” I bought my first ever issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. That was 16-1/2 years ago, and although I bought the magazine for one reason; the cake; as I read further I began to appreciate Chris Kimball’s tireless approach to cooking. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Moist and chocolaty. Chris Kimball hasn’t surpassed his 16-1/2 year old cake.

I have also tried many of Chris Kimball’s newer chocolate cakes. Still all these years later, I believe that Chris Kimball has not surpassed this moist, chocolaty masterpiece. I have made this cake 100 times since 1994, and it has never let me down. I have converted it into metric and made it in Argentina and Europe. In my household it has become as my “Very Chocolate Cake”.

The Cook’s Illustrated link to the original cake recipe is here. But my modified version is below:

1/3 cup (80 ml) non-alkalized cocoa, such as Hershey’s measured by spoon and sweep
2 cups all-purpose flour, by dip and sweep
1-7/8 cup sugar
18 tablespoons (300 grams) unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon instant espresso or instant coffee
1-1/2 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
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.
  5. If the butter is not fully softened, microwave for 35 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 too 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 semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup light corn syrup
12 tablespoons unsalted butter

  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 so many times I know all the potential issues. Here they 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.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: $4
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:00pm. Ready at 5:00 PM.


Cucumber Raita & Tandoori Chicken

December 9, 2010

My friend Elena was not going to celebrate here Birthday, so I cooked her a nice birthday dinner. The meal had a Northern Indian theme, but I had to keep the spices mild because there were 4 kids eating as well. The main course was Tandoori Chicken with Cilantro-Mint Chutney (which I had made before in May) with a side dish of Cucumber Raita. The Raita is a new recipe that Chris Kimball uses to season his chicken, but more traditionally it is served as a side dish to cool down the palate when eating spicy Indian dishes.

Cucumber Raita. Opps, I was supposed to grate the cucumber.

The Raita  recipe is here. Simply combine 1 cup plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons minced cilantro, 1 pressed garlic clove, 1/4 teaspoon table salt and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper in small bowl, stir to combine and chill. This recipe is perfect for 2 cucumbers, however I sliced my cucumber. The next day an Indian co-worker told me that I should have grated the cucumber. In any case, it was simple and refreshing. 4-stars for the Raita.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $1.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 4:00pm. Dinner time 4:15 PM.

I have made the Tandoori Chicken before, and it came out just as good today. When I first made the recipe in May I bloomed my spices in regular pan, but lost at least 25% of the spices due to sticking. Today I used a non-stick pan, which worked better.

Wonderful flavors, but patience is required.

The Tandoori Chicken recipe is here. I heated 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a small non-stick pan. Then sauteed the 6 cloves of minced garlic and 3/4-ounce of grated ginger for 30 seconds, then bloomed the spices in the same pan. I divided the mixture into two parts. First part was for a salt rub, in which the chicken sat for 30 minutes. Second part was mixed with yogurt and lime juice, which was used for the coating applied just before baking.  The chicken was supposed to be baked for 30 minutes at 325-degrees, then broiled for 15 minutes. Mine took longer to reach the correct internal temperatures.

The Cilantro-Mint Chutney was prepared in the food processor. The recipe uses an entire bunch of Cilantro, 1 cup of fresh mint, 1/4-cup minced onion, 1/3-cup plain yogurt, some cumin, salt, sugar and lime juice. Let run in food processor for 30 seconds. I made this two hours ahead of time.

Issues:

  1. For some reason my chicken was cooking slowly. It took 45 minutes
  2. When checking out at my Supermarket, the 18-year-old kid mistook my $3 bunch of mint for 79-cent cilantro.  That kept the cost of my double batch down to $8.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: $8 for 6-pounds of chicken. $2.85 for chutney.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:00pm. Dinner time 6:15 PM.


Homemade Pretzel

December 8, 2010

I came home one afternoon and wanted Pretzels; the only problem was that they took 3 hours to make. Because cravings seldom last so long, they turned out to be dessert. An important lesson I learned; when rolling out the dough into 20-inch long strings, mine only rolled out to about 12-inches. If that happens, let them rest while you roll out the other 11 pieces of dough. Finally, double back and re-roll your strands. You should get closer to 20-inches, though I have probably never surpassed 18-inches.

Afternoon snack took a long time to make.

Chris Kimball’s recipe for the Soft Pretzels. Start by making the dough as any other, using 1/4 cup of honey. This recipe kneads the dough in a food processor. Let the dough rise for an hour, punch it down, then let it rise for another 45 minutes. On a floured counter divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Roll each into a 20-inch long, 1/2-inch wide roll. After rolling to about  10 inches, let them rest while you roll the others. The resting time will let them loosen so you can finish rolling to the full length. Shape each into pretzel form. Join each seem by wetting the dough where it comes together. In batches of 4, boil for 30 seconds per side in a 12-inch skillet filled with 6 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Drain briefly on a wire rack, sprinkle with coarse sea salt (Kosher Salt would be a second choice). Bake at 450-degrees for about 14 minutes. Let cool for 8 minutes (no longer).

Comments:

  1. I only had enough honey for about half the honey, so I substituted some brown sugar.
  2. Because my kitchen is only about 60-degrees at this time of year, I let the dough rise in the oven. Unfortunately, I forgot and went to preheat the oven for baking and nearly ruined the dough. Fortunately I remembered before the batch was ruined.
  3. If you can’t t roll them to 20-inches, try dangling and stretching them vertically until they became long and thin.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $1.90 for 12 Pretzels.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 2:00 PM.  Ready:  5:00 PM.


Cheese Bread Shootout – Final Round

December 3, 2010

A few weeks ago I held a shootout between two cheese bread recipes, but because both recipe had some major problems the results were inconclusive.  Today’s final round remedies those problems. First, “My Cheese Bread Recipe” had less butter (an unfair comparison, as more butter always wins). So today I used the same amount of butter for both recipes. Today I also sliced the bread differently to increase the cheesy surface area. Second, while “Chris Kimball’s Cheese Bread Recipe” had much more complex flavors, the crust was charred by the 500-degree oven and gave it an overpoweringly burnt flavor. Today I wrapped his crust in aluminum foil leaving only the buttered top exposed (see photo at bottom of post).

My Cheese Bread (R) just beat out Chris Kimball's' recipe (L)

Again, the recipes are as follows:

  1. My Cheese Bread Recipe: Mix softened butter, Kraft grated Parmesan cheese in a bowl with a fork, then spread on bread. While the skillet is preheating, place the bread buttered side up so that it begins to melt. When pre-heated, cooked face down in a non-stick skillet.
  2. Chris Kimball’s Cheese Bread Recipe: Roast unpeeled garlic in skillet for 8 to 10 minutes. Mix softened butter, roasted garlic, Dijon, salt, freshly-grated Asiago and freshly-grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 500-degrees for 8 minutes.

Today’s winner; “My Cheese Bread” won the shootout again. It was more evenly toasted, which gave the melted cheese more flavor.  Also cutting the bread vertically (like sandwich bread) rather than horizontally gave the cheese bread more melted cheese per bite; a definite boost. But the results were closer this time. Chris Kimball’s charred flavor was entirely eliminated, leaving behind all the complexity of his ingredient list. But in the end, it was the crust development of the cheese prepared in the skillet that made the biggest difference.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars and 4-stars respectively.
Cost: $5 for both loaves.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 6:00 PM.  Ready:  6:25.

My recipe for Cheese Bread:

1 Loaf of Italian bread
2/3 stick of butter, softened
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated.

  • Only use non-stick pan for this recipe. Soften butter in microwave for 25 seconds.
  • Using a fork, mix Parmesan Cheese and butter in a small bowl. Spread mixture generously on bread.
  • Pre-heat pan, putting unbuttered side down until the pan is hot (or just start cooking, if already hot).
  • Move around so it doesn’t stick. If multiple batches, then must wash pan completely to avoid sticking.

Extra-Crunchy Fried Chicken

November 29, 2010

It’s been about 10 months since I made my favorite extra-crunchy fried chicken. However, because  I am also my son’s chauffeur and he had an evening activity, I had to find a way to shave 1-hour off of this 2-hour recipe. So brining was out the window, and in the end, it did lose some of it’s the well-balanced flavor. No big deal; I ate it with chicken in one hand and a salt shaker in the other.

The crispiest fried chicken you'll ever eat.

However, my big mistake was that my oil was too hot; the exterior was fully browned before the interior was cooked. From my year of cooking fried chicken I knew I had two remedies; either (1) remove the chicken from the oil half way through cooking, let it rest for 5 minutes while the center warms up, then fry for a second time, or (2) remove it from the oil when the skin was ready and finish cooking through in the oven. In the end, I used the first technique for my son (because it was quicker), and used the second method for my own dinner because it yields chicken that is less greasy.

The recipe is here. [Update January 31, 2011: I made a few changes. See my revised recipe here]. Mix 2 cups of buttermilk and 2 tablespoons of salt and brine chicken in refrigerator for 1 hour (I had to skip brining). Combine 3 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder in a large bowl. Then add 6 tablespoons buttermilk to flour mixture and mix with your hands until evenly incorporated (this is the secret step to make it extra crispy). When the oil reaches 375-degrees, thoroughly coat chicken with flour mixture gently pressing it onto the chicken. Fry in two batches for a total of about 18-minutes per batch until chicken has reached the proper internal temperature.

Rating for this batch was only 4-stars, but the recipe is a solid 5-stars. It is the crispiest fired chicken you’ll ever eat.

Comments:

  1. First, I wasn’t supposed to deep fry this chicken, rather I was supposed to shallow fry it in only 4 to 5 cups of oil. But because I had my dutch oven already filled with 3 quarts of oil, I decided to deep fry instead.
  2. Chris Kimball did warn me that the key to this recipe is having the oil at the proper temperature. And because I had my new deep frying thermometer I though I was in great shape. However, when I covered up the frying chicken (per the recipe) for the first few minutes, the cast iron lid touched the thermometer and artificially lowered the temperature to around 240-degrees (when it was really about 310-degrees), so I cranked up the heat to compensate. When I removed the lid, I saw that the real temperature as 340-degrees; much too high.
  3. I still want to try the Extra-Spicy, Extra-Crunchy Fried Chicken” on the “Cooks Country TV” website.

Rating: 5-star recipe, but 4-star implementation.
Cost: $3 for 8 pieces of chicken.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 3:30 PM. Dinner time 4:35 PM.


Homemade Boursin

November 20, 2010

This has been a great year. I have made many magnificent discoveries. One of the most bittersweet was Boursin cheese; it was the most delicious cheese, but how often cost I afford the price tag of $24 per pound.  Then, I discovered how to make my own at home, and today I happened to have all the extra herbs already in my kitchen.

Homemade Boursin and crackers; a delicious snack.

I used the same recipe as before. It is here. A few notes: when mixing using the hand-mixed the cream cheese will get stuck, eventually it will become soft and work it’s way free. The recipe yields 8-1/2 ounces.

Comments:

  1. I harvested the last of this season’s chives. So I will need to wait until spring before I will have more home-grown. I reject the tendency of supermarkets to prepackage “fresh” herbs into plastic containers. Until springtime, I will probably substitute shallot for the chives.
  2. Since I already had all the herbs, I only spent 99-cents for the 8-ounces of Philadelphia cream cheese.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: 99-cents for 8-1/2 ounces.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 9:00 am Ready to eat at:  1:10 pm.


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