Chicken Flautas

June 19, 2015

I love recipes with lots of leftovers so that I have food to bring to work for lunch the next day. This recipe is perfect; making between 20 and 24 flautas; enough for almost an entire week’s worth of lunches. Generally Chris Kimball does not make very good Mexican food; this is a recipe that I’ve personally been developing for about 9 months; trying to make my lunchtime chicken taste more like pork or beef. The results are very good; I use tomato paste, dark beans and a few anchovies to add meaty flavor (no, of course it doesn’t taste fishy). I used chicken thighs because they won’t dry out if I cook them until they become shreadable. I guarantee; you will not believe that you are eating chicken. 4-stars; great depth of flavor, but there are textural issues with the tortillas when reheating in the microwave. Optimally, reheat them in conventional oven.

So good you'll forget it's chicken

So good you’ll forget it’s chicken

With beef prices roughly double from what they were a few years ago, I have been eating a lot of alternatives. I posted these pork taquitos earlier this year. While pork is more flavorful with a richer, more succulent texture, chicken is a healthier option.

Comment:

  1. The topping you add can elevate these flautas from 4 to 4-1/2 stars. Some of my favorites toppings include: guacamole or diced avocado, sour cream, lime juice, and of course, salsa. Also, after the tortillas have become crispy (or if reheating in a conventional oven) I love to sprinkle grated cheese over the top and run them under the broiler until the cheese browns a bit.
  2. Sometimes, instead adding vegetable oil to the pot, I use the skin from a few pieces of chicken and render out the fat; using that chicken fat in lieu of vegetable oil. It adds about 4 to 5 minutes; bit does two things: (1) adds flavor, and (2) also helps build up the fond on the bottom of the pan which translates into deeper flavor in the final flautas.
  3. If reheating prepared pre-made flautas, bake in oven at 300-degrees until heated all the way through; about 20 minutes, flipping half way through reheating. If you have to reheat them in a micowave, bake them in Step 14 until the tortillas become very hard, and flip them half way through re-heating.
  4. When I first was developing this recipe I did not add the cheese to the mixture, rather I topped the  chicken prior to rolling (in Step 13) with grated cheese. This had two drawbacks; first the flautas I prepared first had more cheese than the last flautas in the second batch. But beyond that, as the cheese melts during baking it oozes out the open ends and burns.
  5. 4-lbs of chicken thighs yields 1-1/2 pounds of shredded chicken meat. I think I prefer to use closer to 5-lbs.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $11 for 20 to 24 flautas. (plus toppings)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:30 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s doesn’t have a recipe for flautas. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

1/2 bag dried, dark kidney beans, or 29-oz can of beans.
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (see Comment #1)
4-to-5-lbs bone-in chicken thighs
1 onion
1 jalapeno
1 red bell pepper, small
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 Tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 clove garlic
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
juice from 2 limes
1/3-cup chopped cilantro
8-oz mild cheddar cheese
20 to 24 small fajita-size flour tortillas
Server with diced avocado, diced tomato, salsa

  1. For best results, soak 1/2-pound of dried beans for 8 hours or overnight. Use 1-1/2 tablespoons salt for 2 quarts of water. Otherwise if you don’t have dried beans or the time to soak them overnight, you can use 29-ounce can of dark kidney beans.
  2. Remove the skin from the chicken thighs. Pre-heat 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil a large dutch oven set over medium-high burner; when the oil begins to shimmer. Place half the chicken skin-side down in skillet; cook for a total of 7 minutes, turning once, until both sides are golden brown. Wipe out pot using paper towels, add another 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil and repeat this step for the second batch of chicken.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your ingredients. Dice your onion and jalapeno, removing the seeds (as desired to control the heat of the final flautas). Peel the 2 cloves of garlic. Also in a small bowl, add 1 Tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons oregano, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons coriander, 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
  4. After you are done cooking the second batch of chicken, reduce burner to medium. Add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, your onion, jalapeno, bell pepper and  and 2 teaspoons salt; allow to soften over medium burner for 5 minutes. Use the liquid exuded from the vegetables to deglaze the bottom of your pan.
  5. Add tomato paste and pressed/minced garlic; continue to cook for 1 minute. Add the contents of the spice bowl from Step 4; allowing the flavors to bloom for 1 minute.
  6. Add chicken stock and beans, bring up to a simmer over high burner. Cover pan, turn down burner to medium-low and maintain a simmer until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thighs registers about 185-degrees, 30 to 40 minutes longer.
  7. Remove chicken to cutting board and allow to rest until cool enough to handle.
  8. Meanwhile, turn up burner to medium and allow cooking liquid to gently boil; about 20 minutes. The beans should become thickened with very little liquid remaining. Meanwhile, begin to pre-heat your oven to 375-degrees.
  9. Use your fingers (or two forks) to shred the chicken, discarding bones and anything that feels like excess fat or cartilage. Add shredded chicken directly to the pot once your beans have finished reducing.
  10. Zest 2 limes and squeeze their juices; adding to the pot; mixing until everything is evenly combined.
  11. Grate cheese on the large holes of a box grater and add shredded cheese to pot. Mix until evenly combined.
  12. Prepare a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, lightly sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray.
  13. Prepare the flautas in batches of 10 to 12. Form 1/4-cup (2-1/2 ounces) of chicken mixture into a line in running along the center of tortilla. Tightly roll up flauta and lay on baking sheet so that the weight of the flauta holds the tortilla closed.
  14. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes, then flip for 5 minutes. If you plan to re-heat them in the microwave then bake until the tortillas become very hard.
  15. Repeat from Step 12 with the second batch.
  16. Serve immediate with toppings of your choice (see comment #1).

 


Pan Seared Scallops

May 16, 2015

For year’s I have been watching Gordon Ramsey yelling in Hell’s Kitchen about rubbery or raw scallops. While watching with amusement, I also clearly remember my only personal failure to make scallops four years ago. So when I saw that the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated (May/June 2015) included a recipe for Pan Seared Scallops, I was excited to try this “new recipe”. After already purchasing everything for this recipe, I realized they just republished the same recipe from 2009.

Great sear and delicious; but overcooked

Great sear and delicious; but overcooked

Getting a great sear using a residential, gas range requires pre-heating the skillet on your most powerful burner for upwards of 4 minutes. I was a little uneasy pre-heating my non-stick skillet to such a high temperature (health concerns here).  If you have a cast iron skillet you should use that. Otherwise, the recipe is very straight-forward. Cook the scallops for 1-1/2 minutes per side in a screaming-hot pan. After flipping, baste with melted butter while the second side cooks. Unfortunately, the basting technique tilts the skillet removing from direct contact with the flame. The cooled pan takes longer for the second side to sear. The bottom line if this: You have a choice between searing the second-side or cooking to only 115-degrees. Mine cooked to 130-degrees.

The results were delicious; to me they seemed perfectly cooked, even at 130-degrees. The browned butter was delicious and helped attain great caramelization. I only cooked half my scallops today; and want to try one of these sauces when I cook the second half; Lemon Brown Butter or this Orange Lime Vinaigrette,

Comments:

  1. The recipe calls for dry sea scallop, which means that they are not treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP). I was disappointed to find out that the scallops packaging (from behind the fish counter in my supermarket) didn’t list the ingredients. I bought then frozen and they gave up so much liquid as they defrosted that I assume they were wet. Therefore, I brined the scallops as directed in Step 1.
  2. The recipe says to remove the tendons. I’m not 100% sure what those are, but I didn’t see anything on my scallops that could be removed.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $25.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Low.
Start: 5:30 PM. End time: 6:15 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

1-1/2 pounds dry sea scallop, 10 to 20 per pound
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Lemon wedges

  1. Remove tendons.  If you can only find “wet” scallops, Add 1 quart cold water, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons table salt to a medium bowl. Soak scallops for 30 minutes.
  2. Put scallops on a baking sheet that is lined with a clean dish towel, then put a second clean towel on top of scallops and softly press down to blot away any liquid. Allow then to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes so that the towels will dry out the scallops as much as possible.
  3. Season both side of the scallops with salt and pepper. Set a 12″ non-stick skillet over high burner, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil a pre-heat for 4 minutes until the oil just begins to smoke. Add half the scallops to the pre-heated pan with the flat side down; laying down in a clockwise pattern (so that you can flip them in the same order you set them down). Cook for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes per side, without moving them, until they become well browned.
  4. Just before flipping, add 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet.
  5. Use tongs to flip the scallops and cook the second side, and tilt skillet so that butter runs to one side. Use a large spoon to baste the scallops with the melted butter as they cook. They only need to cook for between 30-seconds to 1-1/2 minutes. The sides of the scallops should be firm and the centers should still be opaque; and measure 115-degrees.
  6. Tent loosely with aluminum foil while you make the second batch. Use paper towels to wipe out the skillet and repeat the cooking process with the remaining scallops.
  7. Serve as soon as the second batch is ready with lemon wedges or an accompanying sauce.

Valentine’s Day Snickers

February 15, 2015

Last year, I made some amazing Valentine’s Day truffles. I pulled out all the stops and created something that I considered unique and amazing. This year, without an official Girl Friend, I almost didn’t make truffles. But I decided at the last-minute to make them, and I made them jointly together with my nearly-16-year-old son, who plans to give some to a friend of his. In a twist this year, I included a recipe that I have been experimenting with for the past 7 or 8 months; homemade Snickers. I know that I am not alone in my love of Snickers.

Delicious Valentine's Day Truffles

Delicious Valentine’s Day Truffles

Snickers are a combination of three different layers; each made separately and layered on-top of each other. First, I made the caramel. Then layered the nouget on top. I froze everything solid so that I could cut them into pieces without squishing the more delicate nougat. Finally topped with chocolate, which importantly makes the sticky middle layers much easier to eat.

Comments:

  1. While I generally love dark chocolate, I didn’t like using exclusively dark chocolate with the taste of Snickers. I achieved a great, rich flavor using 50% dark chocolate and 50% milk chocolate. I used Belgian chocolate from Trader Joe’s ($4.50/lb).
  2. 500 grams of chocolate will cover about 30 truffles.
  3. While I tried a couple of times to make my own marshmallow, it was too delicate a process and I ultimately have changed the recipe to simply buy Marshmallow Fluff. I imagine that I could also use regular marshmallows, melted down, but Marshmallow Fluff works perfectly.
  4. I also considered using homemade dulce de leche instead of caramel; because it is so easy to make. While the texture is perfect, the flavor is slightly different. Ultimately I opted for caramel.
  5. If you are making snickers bars instead of truffle-sized treats, then melt 8 ounces of chocolate and pour over nouget (after the 20 minutes in the refrigerator). This will give a nice even base layer of chocolate. Cut into 2-3/4″-by-1″; yielding 24 bars.
  6. A few of the websites I used when working through this recipe include here and here.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $12.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time: 10:00 AM. Finish time: 6:00 PM.

For the caramel:
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk
8 oz roasted salted peanuts
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Spray a 8″-by-8″ baking pan with cooking spray, then line with a 14″ long piece of parchment paper folded over to match the exact width of the bottom of the pan. Leave a few inches of overhang on each side. Then spray the parchment paper again (never use wax paper). Set aside.
  2. Fit a heavy-bottomed small-sized saucepan with a candy thermometer so that it is near, but not touching the bottom of the pan. Remove thermometer for the time being; only using it for the last few minutes (otherwise your thermometer will overheat).
  3. Add sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, butter and kosher salt and set over medium-high burner. Stir mixture for 2 minutes until sugar completely dissolves. Use a wet pastry brush to wash down the inside of the pan to eliminate crystallization. Continue to boil , occasionally swirling the pan (but not stirring), and brushing to prevent crystallization, mixture for about 16 minutes until it reaches 260-degrees.
  4. Meanwhile roughly chop peanuts; roughly in half.
  5. Immediately remove the saucepan from heat, add peanuts, evaporated milk, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Mix until the peanuts are evenly distributed. Pour caramel mixture into prepared pan using an oiled rubber spatula, spread evenly in the pan. Let cool for 30 minutes until caramel is no longer warm to the touch. Place in freezer until caramel is solid; about 3 hours.
  6. To fully clean the caramel from your pans it may be necessary to re-soften using boiling water.

For the peanut nougat:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons evaporated milk
1 cup marshmallow fluff
3 tablespoons cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in sugar and milk, stirring until dissolved and bring to a boil; about 1 minute.
  2. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat and fold peanut butter until melted.
  3. Fold in fluff, and vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Pour over bottom layer of caramel and allow to cool completely in refrigerator for 20 minutes. Freeze until solid for 3 hours.
  4. Use a paring knife to run along the sides without parchment. Use parchment sling to remove pan.
  5. Place on a cutting board with the caramel-side down, cut into appropriately sized pieces. Put back in freezer while you prepare the chocolate coating in the next section.

For the chocolate coating:
1-lb milk chocolate
1-lb dark chocolate

  1. Bring a saucepan filled with 2 inches of water to a simmer over high heat; once simmering, turn off heat. Place ALL BUT 6-OZ of chocolate in a dry heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over the saucepan and stir until chocolate is completely melted and reaches 118°F.; about 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile break the remaining chocolate into smallish pieces.
  3. When chocolate reaches 118°F, remove the bowl from the saucepan. Add remaining 6 ounces of chocolate and stir until all chocolate is melted and cools to 100°F. Do not remove the thermometer from the bowl.
  4. Keep the saucepan over low burner. As necessary, return the bowl to the saucepan to maintain the temperature between 95°F and 105°F.
  5. Fill each cup of a mini-cup-cake pan with mini-cup-cake-liners; which will help maintain the form while the chocolate cools.
  6. Spoon chocolate into each empty cup, add one square pushing down so that the chocolate squishes halfway up the sides. Top with another spoonful of chocolate to cover.
  7. Freeze for 5 minutes. Use the tines for a fork to help remove from mini-cup-cake pan. Repeat until your run out of chocolate.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

November 21, 2014

I’m in the middle of my Thanksgiving preparations and don’t really have time to figure out how to make homemade chocolate syrup. But I have a few good reasons why I made time. First, my squeeze bottle of Hershey’s “Genuine Chocolate Flavored” syrup has been empty for a couple of weeks, and I feel bad because my son has been eating ice cream that clearly needed chocolate syrup. Second and more important, I had examined the ingredient list (in an effort to answer the question: what does “Genuine Chocolate Flavor” really mean?), and was very disappointed with Hershey’s choice of ingredients. It’s as if they had purposefully tried to use the worst possible ingredients. The first two ingredients are: (1) high fructose corn syrup, and (2) corn syrup. Really, using just regular corn syrup was too difficult. This homemade recipe uses regular sugar, and I omitted the other chemicals and artificial flavors. Finally, instead of using real vanilla Hersey’s uses “Vanillin”, so they are obviously using imitation vanilla made from a wood pulp waste product.

Delicious Ice Cream definitely needs chocolate syrup

Delicious Ice Cream definitely needs chocolate syrup

Comments:

  1. Hershey’s isn’t tricking us by calling it “Genuine Chocolate Flavor”, as I had assumed. Chocolate includes both Cocoa powder and Cocoa butter, whereas chocolate syrup includes only cocoa powder. It is a non-fact product (a good thing) and thus by excluding the Cocoa butter, Hershey’s cannot call it Chocolate. Hence the phrase “Genuine Chocolate Flavor”.
  2. Many people suggest using Dutch-processed cocoa, but I just used whatever I had in my kitchen, which was Hersey’s. Hershey’s is natural cocoa powder; not Dutch processed.
  3. This recipe yields 18-ounces of chocolate syrup. I re-used the same Hershey’s syrup squeeze bottle, but eventually I imagine that I will just use a regular squeeze bottle. Also you can use regular mason jars.
  4. The recipe continues to be non-fat, which means that there is no cocoa butter in any of the ingredients. That could change depending up what type of cocoa powder you use.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $1.15 for 18-ounces of syrup.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 5 PM. Dinner time 5:10 PM.

While Chris Kimball does have a recipe to make chocolate syrup, I wanted a replacement for Hershey’s that has a stable shelf life. Chris Kimball uses dairy (heavy cream and butter) which means that it must be used within a short period of time. Today’s recipe is based upon Alton Brown’s cocoa syrup recipe.

1 cups water
1-1/3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cups cocoa powder (2-5/8 ounces)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Mix sugar, water, corn syrup, and kosher salt in medium-sized pot and bring up to a boil. Whisk in cocoa powder and continue mixing until it is dissolved. Boil for 1 minute, and remove from burner.
  2. Stir in vanilla extract. Allow to cool to room temperature. You can either strain into squeeze bottles: in case you have a lot of solids that could plug up your bottle.
  3. Store in refrigerator. While the recipe will appear to be too runny, it will thicken when it cools to refrigerator temperature.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

October 17, 2014

One unshakable truisms in the kitchen is “that fresh is always better than canned”. While those ubiquitous Libby’s can say “100% pumpkin” and are seductively easy to use, its slight off flavor has always made me want to roast my own pumpkin. In past years, I’ve read that I need to find “sugar pumpkins” (whatever those are), which are 8-to-10″ in diameter and have a darker orange exterior compared to jack-o’-lantern pumpkins. Hmm. Is that really all I’ve got to go on? And the difference is important: Sugar pumpkin have more flavorful and denser flesh. They are drier, and thus take less time to cook.

IMPORTANT HALLOWEEN TIP. How to prevent squirrels from eating your pumpkins.

After paying extra attention this year, I did finally notice that a few markets are properly labeling them as “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins”. In my case, I found a 5-3/4 pound sugar pumpkin, which yielded 2 pounds of pumpkin puree. That’s enough to make two pies, and only required about 15 minutes of work (over the course of nearly 3 hours).

BTW, I am planning to use the same Pumpkin Pie recipe that I’ve used for the past 3 years. Based upon a simple tasting of the pumpkin puree, the flavors are much deeper and more flavorful. I’m sure that this will make for a 5-star pumpkin pie!

Comments:

  1. The pumpkin puree should be used within 4 days or frozen in an air-tight container (with parchment paper pressed onto the surface of the pumpkin) for up to 2 months.
  2. I did try to roast the pumpkin seeds, but didn’t pay close enough attention as they baked in the same hot oven as the pumpkin. They overcooked, but fortunately didn’t burn, which could have ruined the pumpkin puree.

Cost: $2.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 2:00 PM. Done at: 4:45 PM.

The Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

1 small sugar pumpkin

  1. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and preheat to 375-degrees.
  2. Cut pumpkin in half from top to bottom. Remove the seeds and pulp. Line a rimmed-backing sheet with parchment paper, and set pumpkin halves with the cut-side downwards.
  3. Roast for 45 to 60 minutes until the flesh can be easily pierced with a skewer. Flip the pumpkin over and roast for 30 minutes more.
  4. Scoop flesh from skin into a food processor, process until smooth. Unless you have a full-sized food processor, you will need to process one half at a time (i.e. in two batches).
  5. Drain the puree in a fine-mesh strainer, set over a bowl for 1 hour. Mine lost about 6 ounces of water.
  6. To test consistency, pack some of your puree into a small drinking glass and unmold it onto a plate. It should slump gently toward base but otherwise hold its shape. Loosen as necessary with drained liquid, or return puree to strainer and continue to drain it if it is too loose.
  7. Measure out puree into two 16-oz containers before freezing. A typical Libby’s can weighs 15-ounces.
  8. When you use cook with it, you should use it exactly as your would canned pumpkin.

Vanilla Extract

October 14, 2014

I’ve waited patiently for 10 months as my Vanilla Extract slowly steeped. I waited and waited for it to transform in the richly-dark, extravagantly-decedent vanilla that as I’ve wanted, but it just hasn’t happened. Don’t get me wrong the flavor is good (and the aroma is heavenly), but it’s slightly less potent than store-bought McCormick’s. After waiting so long I am somewhat disappointed that the Higher Intensity (Recipe #3 and #4) didn’t completely outshine McCormick’s. I guess there is a reason why McCormick’s is so expensive (and is Cook’s Illustrated vanilla extract of choice). So, I am now moving on to the same step that saved by last batch of vanilla extract from 2010; using a fresh set of beans to increase the potency.

Extract needs to be double extracted

Extract needs to be double extracted

After 4 years of experimenting with different recipes and techniques, the lessons of my project are……….

MORE BEANS EQUALS MORE FLAVOR. After experimenting with 8 difference recipes, it is clear that being stingy with your beans will yield worthless vanilla extract. But also, adding more beans only helps up to a point. There is a point of diminishing returns, beyond which you are throwing your beans away. In my opinion, that point appears to be recipe #3, between 150% and 165% of the minimum FDA-Formula. Extracting more flavor requires new techniques.

DOUBLE DUNK YOUR BEANS.  This is the secret step. Don’t throw away those used beans! Even after you have already used your beans to create an extract, they still have more flavor to give. Cut up your beans into 1″ segments and pre-soak them in enough vodka to make your next batch. Allow them to just sit for a year (or two) until you’re ready to make your next batch. The head-start will yield otherwise unachievable results. If this is your first batch, I still think that you need to swap out the beans for new beans after a few months. I was unable to match store-bought potency without using two sets of beans during the extract process.

AVOID EXTRACT-GRADE BEANS. While the consensus on the internet is that “Extract-Grade” or “Grade B” beans are most suited to make vanilla extract (mostly for cost reasons), I was so disappointed with their quality when I first it 4 years ago that I will probably never buy extract-grade beans again. And when I want them for other purposes, extract beans just won’t made the grade. Besides, the end result is cheap enough where I don’t really care if I pay 75-cents versus 45-cents per ounce.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE. Those internet recipes that tell you to wait just a week or two are wrong (including Chris Kimball). After 2 months, you can begin to use your steeping bottle in recipes. While waiting beyond 4 to 6 months won’t do any harm, such extended periods of time won’t help the extract to become any more intense. If it is not strong enough after 6 months, switch your beans and use the old beans to pre-steep your next batch.

And the winner is……….

RECIPE #3. For the winning recipe I used 6 beans weighing 1-3/8-ounces plus 7-1/3-oz vodka, equaling 166% of the minimum FDA-strength. The winning recipe cost just 75-cents per ounce to make. My supermarket charges $17 for a 4-oz bottle of McCormick’s, and $25 for a 8-oz bottle; roughly 4 to 5 times the cost of home-made vanilla extract.  However, if your not willing to invest the 4 to 6 months (and the $25) into the process, there are certainly less expensive places to buy Vanilla than your supermarket.

Other final thoughts……….

  • USE FRESH BEANS. While vanilla extract can last forever, the beans themselves seem to remain fresh for about a year. They tend to dry out (still there are additional steps you can take to re-hyrdate them). I think Vanilla extract could be made from dry-ish beans, but they are more difficult to slice open and remove the caviar; possibly dangerously difficult.  Personally, my experience with old and tough beans was terrible. While it ultimately boils down to the quality of the final extract that most concerns me, fresh beans are simply a joy to work with. I made the current year’s (2013) batch of vanilla from wonderfully fresh beans.
  • BEAN COUNT. Just as with shrimp, vanilla beans are sold based upon their size, with lower number per pound being more expensive. It takes, on average, 100 “Grade A” vanilla beans to equal one pound. The average number of extract-grade (“Grade B”) vanilla beans is 140 to 160 per pound. If your bean provider isn’t up front then I recommend contacting your seller before placing your order to ensure that you aren’t surprised.
  • THE PERFECT BOTTLES for gift are here. The amber helps protect the vanilla from light.
  • MINIMUM FDA-STRENGTH for vanilla extract . anything less is just vanilla flavored booze.

 

 


Lobster Rolls

September 20, 2014

When this recipe first came out over a year ago, I really wanted to make it, but the recipe is so disjointed on their website (you need to follow three separate recipes) that I eventually became distracted with easier-to-follow recipes. Until recently, I saw the ATK episode that made it look so easy; so I gave it a try. I must have been a lot of “trick photography”, because the recipe was a lot of work and made a huge mess in my kitchen. I did have a problem with the lobsters becoming water-logged (discussed below); but overall, as you would expect, the lobster rolls were delicious. Just prepare yourself for a fair amount of messy work. 4-stars.

I hand cut a loaf to simulate the New England Hot dog rolls

I hand cut a loaf to simulate the New England Hot dog rolls

While I followed the cooking instructions exactly, my lobsters became waterlogged. While there are a couple of theories about why my lobster became water-logged: (1) allowing lobster to cook too long, (2) boiling lobster (vs. steaming them). Chris Kimball is convinced that it is the molting cycle of the lobster that determines whether or not the meat will be firm and dense or soft and water-logged. He gives a lengthy explanation here. Chris Kimball’s bottom line is this: lobster in Spring until early Summer and best. Late Summer lobsters are still growing into their softer-shells, whereas Spring lobsters are packed tightly into their hard, pre-molted shells. You may need to increase the size of your Late Summer lobsters by 1/4-pound to compensate. In reality, the molting cycle is a little more complex than Chris Kimball describes.

Comments:

  1. Many on the internet claim that boiling lobsters has a tendency to water-log them. Chris Kimball had tried to steam the lobsters instead (way back int 1997), and preferred steaming for its simplicity and efficiency. Yet, 17 years later he published this recipe using boiling without comment.
  2. I have never been able to find New England-style hot dog buns (sold by Pepperidge Farms), so I bought a beautiful Tuscan loaf from my local bakery and carefully cut it to mimic New England-style hot dog buns. The bread was fantastic.
  3. While fish is cooked to between 130 and 140 degrees, lobster requires higher temperatures because the muscle fibers are longer and need more heat to shrink. Chris Kimball recommends taking the temperature by inserting an instant-read thermometer into tail. It should reach 175-degrees.
  4. Chris Kimball also mentions that you can refrigerate the lobster meat in an airtight container for up to 24 hours. But this is a lot of effort to have “almost” fresh lobster.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $28 for four lobster rolls ($7 each)
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here, here and here. The descriptions of how I cooked it today (including all three of Chris Kimball’s recipes) are given below:

4 (1-1/4-pound) live lobsters
1/3 cup table salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced celery
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh chives
Salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
6 New England-style hot dog buns
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 leaves Boston lettuce

  1. Put live lobsters in the freezer for 30 minutes, which will induces a coma-like state. Meanwhile, bring 2 gallons water to boil in large pot over high heat. Remove 2 tablespoons butter from refrigerator and allow to soften.
  2. Add the 1/3 cup table salt and the lobsters to pot. Use tongs to arrange them so that they are completely submerged. Cover, but leave the lid slightly ajar. You will need to adjust heat to maintain a gentle boil. Boil for 12 minutes, and check that the thickest part of tail registers 175 degrees (insert the thermometer into underside of tail to take temperature).
  3. Use tongs to put lobsters to a rimmed baking sheet and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the lobster meat according to the following methods.
    1. SEPARATE INTO TWO: Set lobster on a cutting board. Hold tail with one hand and the body with your other. Twist to separate.
    2. TAIL MEAT: Lay the tail on its side, then use both hands to press down on tail until shell cracks. Hold the tail with the flippers facing you (shell will be facing down). With your thumbs on opposite sides, pull back on both sides to crack open shell and remove meat. You can briefly rinse meat under running water to remove green tomalley, if desired, and pat meat dry with paper towels. Use a paring knife to de-vein.
    3. KNUCKLES: Twist the “arms” to remove claws/knuckles from the body. Then twist the knuckles to remove from claws. Use the back of a chef’s knife to break the knuckles into 2 pieces at joint. Use the handle of teaspoon or skewer to push meat out of shell.
    4. CLAWS: Wiggle small hinged portion of each claw to separate. Use the back of a chef’s knife to break open the claws, cracking the first side, flipping, and cracking the other side. Remove meat.
    5. LEGS: Twist legs and remove from body. One at a time, lay leg flat on counter. Using a rolling pin, starting from claw and rolling toward the open end, push out meat. Stop rolling before reaching end of legs so you don’t accidentally get any of the shell.
  5. Cut the tail meat in 1/2″ pieces. Cut the claw meat to 1″ pieces.
  6. Whisk mayonnaise, celery, lemon juice, chives, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and cayenne together in large bowl. Add lobster and gently toss to combine.
  7. Put 12″ nonstick skillet over medium-low burner. Butter both sides of hot dog buns and sprinkle lightly with salt. Put buns in skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until crispy brown. Flip and continue to cook the second side for another 2 to 3 minutes crispy brown. Move buns to large serving platter.
  8. Line each bun with lettuce leaf, and spoon lobster salad into buns. Serve immediately.

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