April 9, 2015
I have a mental list of places that I want to take my two sons. Despite that it is one of the lesser known National Parks, Bryce Canyon has always always been high on that list. I remember going when I was 13 years old with my parents; one of my best childhood vacations. For me, hiking amongst the Hoodoos turned out to be an unforgettable experience. I was happy to see that my own sons also enjoyed themselves.
From the rim of Bryce Canyon
We hiked down the steep switchbacks into the canyon and walked between the towering walls of red rock. We took the longest trail of 5-1/2 miles, and ended up vertically climbing half mile. It was an exhausting hike, but I am glad to have shared it with my sons.
From down in the canyon
A giant hoodoo
Hiking between the giant walls of red rock
The expansiveness of Bryce is hard to show without losing the uniqueness of its geological formations. This is truly like no other place on earth.
Bryce Canyon is only a 4-1/2 hour drive from Las Vegas. The challenge was combining it with visiting the Grand Canyon. But as often happens, that challenge meant we got to see one of the most picturesque points along the Colorado River (you have to check back in a few days to see, lol)
December 19, 2014
Pie dough is one of those things that seem so easy; throw a few ingredients together and your done. But getting it into a workable consistency often requires too much water (which will make the dough tough). This recipe uses vodka to solve that problem, as the alcohol will not form gluten and will evaporate during cooking. Of course it is also important to keep everything well chilled and to not overwork the dough. For me the most important this is to have a bench scraper; a chef’s knife just won’t do the job properly (in step 7). If you need two pie crusts see this recipe here. Overall, a very successful pie dough. 4-stars.
Final dough was looked and tasted beautiful
- My pie plate was extra large, so I didn’t get those classic fluted edges.
- Again, I would strongly recommend a bench scraper. My pie doughs were consistent failures until I bought a bench scraper.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time: 9:30 AM. End time: 12 PM.
The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:
6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter (3/4 stick)
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
2 Tablespoons vodka
2 Tablespoons cold water
1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6-1/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
- Cut butter into 1/4″-slices, put butter and 1/4-cup solid vegetable shortening in freezer. Combine 2 tablespoons vodka and 2 tablespoons cold water; allow to chill for 20 minutes.
- Add 3/4 cups flour (3-3/4 ounces), 1/2 teaspoon salt, and sugar into food processor; give it 2 one-second pulses until combined.
- Cut vegetable shortening into 2 pieces. Add shortening and chilled butter to food processor. Process for 10 seconds; dough will resemble cottage cheese curds, and a few very small pieces of butter will remain. Just make sure that all the flour is coated.
- Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides/bottom of the food processor (leaving dough evenly distributed in food processor). Add final 1/2-cup flour and quickly pulse 4 to 6 times.
- Empty into a medium bowl, and evenly sprinkle with chilled vodka/water from step 1. Using a rubber spatula, mix with a folding motion, pressing down on dough until it sticks together (and is slightly tacky). Flatten into a 4″-disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerator for a minimum of 45-minutes (or up to 2 days).
- Set a rack to the lowest position in your oven, and set a rimmed baking sheet on the rack. Pre-heat oven to 425-degrees.
- Generously flour a work surface with up to 1/4-cup of flour. Roll out dough into a 12″ circle (should be an even 1/8″-thick. As you roll out the dough, use a bench scraper to ensure that it isn’t sticking to the board, tossing some loose flour underneath as you roll out the dough.
- Lift up the dough by very loosely rolling it around your rolling pin, and unroll it into position into the pie plate; leaving a 1″-overhang all around. Ease the dough down into place by gently lifting the edge of the dough and setting/pressing into the bottom of the pie plate. Leave the overhanging dough in plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes until the dough becomes firm.
- Trim away any dough that is more than 1/2″ beyond the lip of the plate. Fold overhanging dough under itself (doubling the thickness of the top crust) so that it is flush with the edge of the pie plate. You can either flute the dough (which is prettier) or use the tines of a fork to flatten onto the rim of the pie plate. Refrigerate for another 15 minutes.
- Line the crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights (or pennies). Bake at 425-degrees on lowest shelf for 15 minutes.
- Remove foil and pie weights, rotate plate 180-degrees and bake for 5 to 10 minutes more until the crust is golden brown.
Chris Kimball says to use pennies when lacking pie weights.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Best Turkey Gravy. A classic recipe for turkey gravy.
- 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-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.
- Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce. I made this recipe for years, which is 100 times better than canned cranberry sauce.
- 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.
- Holiday Scalloped Potatoes. A nice 4-star alternative to standard mashed potatoes.
- 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.
- Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Peeled before cooking, then boiled in half-and-half normally added at the end of the recipe.
- 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.
- Libby’s Pumpkin Pie. For a long time this was my “go to” pumpkin pie recipe, until I discovered the King Arthur recipe.
- Chris Kimball’s Pumpkin Pie. I could never bring myself to put yams into a pumpkin pie, so have never made it.
August 30, 2013
Our trip through the Mexican colonial highlands brings me and my two sons to Guanajuato, Mexico. The city is built using all three dimensions; underground streets, mysterious tunnels through mountains, houses built upon other houses, built over streets or sidewalks, or simply suspended in mid-air. With few drivable streets, Guanajuato is mostly a collection of small, interconnected alleyways built at impossible angles.
Alleyway off the main street
Real Estate is scarce, so any extensions require creativity
Main cathedral on Plaza de la Paz
At its core, Guanajuato is an old silver mining city dating back to the 1500’s. At one point, Guanajuato’s mines were responsible for 80% of the world’s silver production.
But life in colonial Mexico centers around the town’s tree-lined plazas, and because most tourists to Guanajuato are Mexican, those plazas are tremendously lively places. One of my favorite memories was my son eating a bowl of Sopa Azteca (a version of tortilla soup) surrounded by ten mariachis singing (off-key) and strumming at full-volume.
Main theater on Jardin de la Union
Oddly, the world’s best sandwiches are in Guanajuato. A sandwich al pastor (sheppard-style pork), with fresh, Mexican cheese and guacamole sauce cost just $1.65.
Delicious sandwich al pastor.
Trompo; the secret to great sheppard-style tacos.
Sopa Azteca; my favorite soup
After 6 days in the colonial highlands, we took a break at the beach in Puerto Vallarta. While I typically avoid resorts, I know my sons wanted a nice pool, and the hotel included a kitchen. I was able to buy whole, fresh fish for only $1 each.
January 12, 2013
Crispy Orange Beef is a typical Szechuan. Officially it’s supposed to be made using dried-tangerine peels, but Chris Kimball recommends using a vegetable peeler to remove peel and some pith from navel oranges. The beef is deep fried in 3 cups of oil, but it cut into thin strips so that it cooks quickly. The beef is rich and delicious, but was a little too heavy. Not because of the oil, but the flavors were not quite balance. A little brightness would have made for a better meal. Still, it was a delicious and interesting, and not too much work. 4-stars.
Rich and delicious Szechuan Beef
- Chris Kimball says to use flap meat, which I wasn’t able to find in my regular 3 supermarkets, so I used skirt steak which had a similar open grain.
Rating: 4 stars.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.
Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:
1 cups long grain white rice
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter or vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1-1/2 pounds beef flap meat
1+2 tablespoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons cornstarch
10 x 3″ strips orange peel
1/4 cup juice (2 oranges)
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
3 cups vegetable oil
1 jalapeño chile
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Slice beef with the grain into approximately 2-1/2″ to 3″ wide strips, then slice against the grain into 1/2″ wide slices. If the slices are much more than 1/2″ thick, then slice them in half so that they aren’t quite so thick and will cook more quickly.
- In a medium bowl, add beef and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Toss together with 6 tablespoons of cornstarch until they are evenly coated. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet and arrange beef strips into a single layer. Freeze for 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, Line a second rimmed baking sheet with 3 layers of paper towels. Use a vegetable peeler to remove oranges peel into 3″ strips, ensuring you peel deep enough to include some pith. Set aside for now. In a small bowl, juice the oranges and remove any seeds, then combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, molasses, sherry, vinegar, and sesame oil.
- Put rice into a strainer and rinse under running water until the water runs clear; this will remove the excess starch from the rice. Pre-heat the oil/butter in a saucepan over a medium burner. Increase burner to high. Add the rinsed rice and salt and bring to a boil. Stir (or swirl pan) to combine, then reduce the burner to low, cover and allow to simmer for 18 to 20 minutes. Remove rice from heat, remove lid and place a clean kitchen towel. Allow to stand for 10 to 15 minutes, then use a fork to fluff just before serving.
- Set a Dutch oven over a medium burner and heat 3 cups vegetable oil to 375-degrees. In 3 batches, add 1/3 of beef and fry for about 3 minutes until golden brown; stirring occasionally. Remove beef and place on paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Make sure oil returns to 375-degrees before frying the remaining batches.
- While the beef cooks remove stem and seeds of jalapeno, then slice lengthwise into thin strips. Also slice the orange peels lengthwise into strips, which should yield about 1/4-cup. Slice your scallions on a bias. Peel your garlic and grate your ginger.
- Place a 12″ skillet over medium-high burner and use 2 tablespoons of the frying oil. Pre-heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Add orange peel and jalapeño strips and saute for 2 minutes. Press garlic directly into skillet, add grated ginger, and pepper flakes. Saute briefly, only 45 seconds, before using the soy sauce mixture to de-glaze the pan. After 45 seconds, add the beef and scallions and toss. Place on a serving platter and serve immediately.
Cut beef into 3″ strips
Partially freeze beef before frying
Remove peel and pith with a vegetable peeler
Prep your ingredients while the beef is cooking
January 1, 2013
I am hoping for a great 2013! 2012 was a challenging and transitional year, both at work and home. My busy kitchen continues to be the major bright spot in my daily life, having become my greatest source of relaxation over the past few years. Unfortunately, I missed my blogging goal of making every recipe published by Cook’s Illustrated in 2012. Until August I had missed only one recipe (Chilled Tomato Soup). But life’s changes and the beginning of the school year wrought havoc on my ability to blog, reducing my free-time to allow me to only post an average of one recipe per week. Since September, I have missed more recipes than I have made. However, I am beginning the New Year full of hope that the turbulence of 2012 is now behind me and that 2013 will be the great year.
Welcoming in the New Year at midnight
Here are my top 5 recipes from 2012.
- Spanish-Style Toasted Pasta with Shrimp. When I made this paella in June, I already knew that this would top this year’s list of best recipe. It was that spectacular.
- Coq au Vin. For 20 years this dish has been my nemesis. The promise of its rich, luxurious sauce has never been able to overcome the inherent limitations of bland, supermarket chicken. While not perfect, this Coq au Vin is my best attempt yet.
- Jamaican Jerk Chicken. I’ve tried a few different recipe for Jerk Chicken, but Chris Kimball has a few secrets to make this the best Jerk Chicken outside of Boston Bay, Jamaica.
- Pulled Pork Sandwiches. The best pulled pork sandwiches I’ve made. This recipe was from 1997, but was better than his more recent recipes.
- End-of-School-Year Party Pretzels. Adjusted the recipe so that these 3-hour pretzels would be ready by 7am.
Honorable mention, and why they didn’t make the grade:
- Carrot Layer Cake. The cake’s picture-perfect appearance made this cake a contender, but the inherent fact that it’s just a carrot cake kept it out of the top five.
- Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Dried Cherries and Rosemary Port Pan Sauce. This recipe was a surprisingly easy week-night meal, but the not-quite-perfected sauce kept it out of the top 5.
- Broiled Steaks. Based upon taste alone, this was absolutely my third best dinner in 2012. Of course, the technique was solid and allowed the meal to shine. But the dinner was spectacular based upon the beautifully marbled steaks; lesser steaks would have not made this a memorable meal.
December 29, 2012
I’ve never made prime rib before. Partially because standing rib roasts are so expensive (usually cost at least $80), but also because Prime Rib always seemed bland; tender but bland. So I made this herb-roaster prime rib for Christmas dinner, because it seemed to offer more interesting flavor. In addition, I used Chris Kimball’s home, dry-aging technique. After 5 days in the back of my refrigerator wrapped in cheesecloth, the roast resembled something costing twice as much. In the end, I was happy with the dry-aging technique, which improves the beef’s texture and concentrates it’s flavor. But I very disappointed with the recipe, because the herb-flavor did not penetrate the beef. Worse yet, Most of the herbs were trimmed away with the fat cap. 3-stars. Next time I will stick to a more traditional jus, so that the added flavor of the the jus can be enjoyed in every bite.
It looks delicious, but only 3-star
- This recipe does not seem to be as thoroughly tested as most of Chris Kimball’s recipes. In fact, it is not from Cook’s Illustrated, but rather from The Best One-Dish Suppers. An example of the issue, while Chris Kimball mentions adding oil in step 5, he fails to add it to the ingredient list or say how much oil to add or what type to use. I used two tablespoons of olive oil, which seemed okay
- Chris Kimball over-rests the roast for 30 minutes. True, the internal temperature of the beef doesn’t fall much in those 30 minutes, but the outside portions of the beef were noticeably cool. I’d recommend that you start to carve no later than after 20 minutes, and keep the cut beef tented with aluminum for until dinner.
- I was worried because Chris Kimball usually under-estimates cooking time for potatoes, so I par-cooked the potatoes for 8 minutes in microwave. I tossed them with 1 tablespoon olive oil and covered with plastic wrap, and shook them half way through microwaving.
- I bought a 3-rib roast weighing about 7-1/2 pounds. But I cut my roast into two smaller roasts (one roast had 2 ribs and the other had 1 rib). My kids prefer the end-cuts, and are happier if the beef isn’t too red.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Low.
Started: 1:00 pm. Dinner Time: 6:00.
Chris Kimball’s original version of this recipe is here. His dry aging technique is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it this week are given below:
7-lb beef standing rib roast (3 or 4 ribs)
Salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
3 pounds small red potatoes
- About a week before dinner, remove the roast from packaging, rinse well, and pat completely dry with paper towels. Wrap the meat with three layers of cheesecloth, Place on wire rack with the fat side up; set over a sheet pan and place in the back of refrigerator (the coldest part). After 24 hours, remove, unwrap, discard cheesecloth and wrap with a fresh piece. Place back in refrigerator for up to 6 days undisturbed.
- Plan on removing the roast from the refrigerator about 5 1/2 hours before serving. Remove cheesecloth, cut away the fat and trim the ends and any discolored parts of roast. Allow roast to sit a room temperature for 2 hours for more even cooking.
- Meanwhile, set an oven rack to the bottom position in your oven and pre-heat to 450-degrees for 20 minutes. Prepare your V-rack (set inside a roasting pan) by coating it with vegetable oil spray.
- Pat the roast dry using paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Put roast on your V-rack, and roast at 450-degrees for 1 hour until becomes well browned.
- Meanwhile, add the minced thyme and rosemary, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1 teaspoon sugar to a small bowl, and stir to combine.
- Remove the roast from the oven and reduce to 250-degrees. Take the herb-mixture and evenly spread over the roast. Bake for between 1 to 1-1/2 hours until the internal temperature of the beef registers 130-degrees for medium-rare; 140-degrees for medium and 155-degrees for medium-well.
- While the roast cooks scrub your potatoes and cut them in half.
- Put roast of a cutting board and allow to rest for 20 minutes, and turn up your oven to 450-degrees. Remove the v-rack from the pan and discard all but 3 tablespoon of the rendered fat from the bottom of the pan. Add cut potatoes to pan, season with salt and pepper and toss until evenly coated. Arrange them so that the cut side faces down in the pan. Roast until the potatoes are golden brown, about 20 minutes.
- Just before the potatoes are ready, carve the roast. Hold the roast steady with a carving knife, and cut along the bone to remove. Set the roast cit-side down and slice across the grain into 1/2″-thick slabs. Keep the cut beef tented with aluminum foil until ready to eat.
Uncut roast resting
Dry-aging the beef in cheeses-cloth