Monday, November 19, 2007

Mass Recipe Load

My friend Johanna commented today that she wanted the recipe for the Poulet Saute Chasseur (Saute'ed Chicken with Shallots, Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Tarragon). As well she should. Because it's amazing.

Now, I've been holding off on that and some other recipes. I want to include them all, so that you, the valued reader, knows what I'm talking about. My approach has been that if it's available on-line, then link to it. If not, then scan it in with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and include it in the appropriate post. Unfortunately, cleaning up OCR files is very time consuming. So, many have been deferred for the mythical day I can sit down and do that. Not that I have a book chapter to revise and a thesis to write or anything.

So, I told Johanna, "I'll just scan it as an Acrobat .PDF and just send you that." Then I thought, "Hey, I have web space. I can just put them up there so that everyone can see them."

And, thus, a plan was born. Starting tonight, I'm going to scan and post all of the backlog, dropping links into the appropriate post. Yes, in all of their copyright-infringing glory. Those of you using an RSS reader/aggregator will be able to spot these easily. They'll be somewhat decent DPI (150) so you can print them for reference in the kitchen, but at a reasonable file size for download.


P.S. I finally remembered that I can actually type entries on my fancy-pants Treo while on my commute. That should speed things up.

Menu: Thanksgiving Dinner

I love cooking for Thanksgiving because it gives me the opportunity to eat a ton of my favorite foods, all at once. This is ambitious looking, but for the most part, I've done this before. So there won't be any surprises.

The Menu:
Treebeards' Mushroom Soup

Roast Turkey
Cornbread Stuffing with Fennel & Sausage
Green Onion Buttermilk Biscuits
Garlic Cheese Grits
Roasted Garlic & Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes
Lime Cilantro Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Spinach Cheddar Bake
Ginger Lemon Cheesecake
Chocolate White Chocolate Mouse Raspberry Tart

Our friend Ebru is bringing Orange Glazed Green Beans and Chris is bringing a fruit pie.

This menu has been pretty fixed over the years. I've been going through a ton of Gourmet back issues and seen some great ideas, but each item here hits a particular flavor point for me.
For instance, there was a great cheddar mashed potatoes I found, but I already got cheddar in the spinach.

There are a few additions, though. Ebru's beans with the orange will compliment well as there seems to be a shortage of green veggies. Chris's pie will balance the "creamy" deserts. I'd generally avoided sweet potatoes before as we already have too much starch, but I think this cilantro lime variation is unique enough that it will work well. The results and recipes to follow.

Barbequed Chicken Pot Pie

In unpacking my cookbooks, I realized that I had never used my Cooking Light cookbook. My recent weight gain has made that a bit more of an imperative.

We often have our friends, BJ and Chris, over on Mondays so we can watch Heroes. So, needing to feed folks gave me the nudge to grab the book and look through it on the train. One surprise: a huge proportion of the recipes are for beef and starch. There are very few recipes for anything centered around green vegetables. That strikes me as very strange. Despite that, this recipe jumped out as kinda retro, but tasty. There's nothing "pie-like" about it, though. No crust, just bread across the top. Anyway.

It's all about the learning these days, but I really didn't expect to get anything out of this effort in that regard. But I was still preparing when they came over and started talking through the recipe with Chris (a great cook in his own right). I mention I'm a little apprehensive about the 12 oz of chili sauce. That's two full bottles of hot sauce, which seems dangerous. I was figuring I'd do it to taste, but still…

Whoops. Thank God he was there. Chili sauce is NOT pepper (or "hot") sauce. Chili sauce is actually a ketchup-like condiment that was, he says, a staple of crappy 50's recipes. I had no clue at all. I worked in a grocery store stocking shelves for 3 years in high school and I can't remember ever hearing of this. He ran over to the Jewel for me and all was good. BTW - it tastes a little like cocktail sauce, like for shrimp cocktail.

The result was pretty damned good. I used the bread stick option, since Jewel didn't have the cornbread. I think it would taste and cut better. I also upped the cumin a bit (several shakes over the pan) because I just love the stuff. and added about 1/4 tsp of salt. Channing was very apprehensive when he saw the onions sautéing and was prepared to go for the frozen soy patties if need be. But he loved it, surprising himself.

I served it with broccoli steamed in champagne (really - long story), tossed with champagne and olive oil and a salad of mixed field greens with Brianna's Chipotle Chedder dressing.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding: Redux

We went to a pot-luck Thanksgiving dinner for Channing's swim team last night and he asked me to make desert for our contribution. When I asked for ideas, he asked me to make the Pumpkin Bread Pudding again.

The last time, it was a little tough in part, which I figured was a function of the bread being too stale. In re-reading the recipe yesterday, I also realized that part of the problem may have been that the cubes of bread were too large, so the custard of the pudding didn't have a chance to properly soak in.

So, I bought fresh french bread at Jewel and cut it into 1/2" or so crouton-sized cubes, instead of the 1 1/2" whoppers from before. While the loaf wasn't as crusty as I would have liked, it did okay.

Oh, and in the baking section, I found out that they now sell those aluminum, disposible pans with plastic covers. Finally. They've realized that no one buys those things except to take for pot-lucks and so covers are a good thing. And they were 3 for $2.20. Can't beat that.

This recipe is as fast as they promise. The single step that takes the most time is cubing the bread. On the other hand, I've decided it's kind of a "meh" recipe. It's fast, but it's a bit bland. I'm not sure it's worth the effort to literally and figuratively spice up.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Meat 101

Slow lately, I know. I have 6 entries queued up in the "Draft" stage that I need to push through. But in the meantime, I went to another class. This one was funded, in part, by a birthday present I received from my friend, John, so that made it kind of neat.

My Chopping Block course this month was Meat 101. This consisted of working with Beef, Pork and Lamb. The recipe items (and techniques) were:

Red Wine Beef Daube (Stew) [Braising]
Sausage and Mushroom Stuffed Pork Loin [Roasting]
Grilled Lamb Chops 'Scottaditti' [Grilling - obviously]

My God, this was good. Every one of these is on my list to make again. I need to scan and clean the recipes to post them.

Things I learned (which may be mind-numbingly obvious to anyone else):
  • When browning stew meat, particularly floured, don't overload the pan. Leave at least a little space between each chunk. Otherwise, you end up with stew-like stuff too soon and no carmelization in the pan.
  • Cheaper cuts work better for a braise than an expensive cut like a tenderloin. The less connective tissue, the faster the meat will break down into a mush.
  • Like chili, the braise is better the second day, after the flavors have had time to mingle. This is awesome for saving time the day of dinner.
  • We browned the beef in bacon fat. If you don't have enough of a given fat for a browning or saute, add some grape seed oil. It's flavor neutral.
  • Braising in an oven, instead of on a stove, gives you a more even heat (and less concern about an open flame, from my perspective).
  • The longer and slower the braise, the better. We used 350 for 2 hours (due to the class time constraint), but the chef recommended 275 for 5 hours, if possible.
  • Do NOT lift the lid during a braise, as it lets moisture escape.
  • When searing a stuffed roll, like the pork, start with the "seam" side.
  • Use a low or no sodium stock for a reduction (like a sauce). Like with salted butter, the concentration may get too high when the stock evaporates down.
  • Raw meat can be out for about 3 hours once it hits room temperature (70F) before the nasty bacteria start to form. The corollary is that buffet items should be taken off the serving line/table at about 2 hours, to be safe.

This was the first class I've ever had at the Mechandise Mart location. I have to say, I think I like the Lincoln Square one better for hand's on. The stoves and ovens are laid out much better for multiple groups. We had three groups crowded shoulder to shoulder when trying to use the burners. Our individual group worked together very well and the recipes lent themselves to swapping out or sharing the hands on parts. We split the prep work so that each person got to work with it. This was particularly useful when we ground out rosemary salt (for the lamb) in a morter and pestle, which it seemed no one had made before and it was easy to pass around the bowl.

My knife and prep skills are definitely getting better. I whipped through the prep very quickly and accurately. That was one of my personal frustrations, driven home by Top Chef when I'd see them finishing entire dishes in the time it would take me to chop.

I did execute the pan sauce (for the pork) well, a definite improvement over the chicken debacle before.

Also, I may need to get a bigger braiser some day, if this method sticks for me. I got one as an extra gift from my mom (they were on a super sale when purchased with a saute pan she was buying me), but it may be a little small for the size of this recipe. A covered casserole would work in the interim.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Spinach Balls

Granted, these days, anything with "balls" in the name is inherently funny. Get your chuckles in now.

We were going over to our friends', Drake and Mary's, for chili and, for my contribution, I thought I should bring something green that would compliment the chili. Think about that and all of the green veggie sides you know. It's kind of hard, isn't it? So I remembered these.

I've been making these for a while for parties and they're a personal favorite. I found the recipe in the Treebeard's Cookbook and picked them because I figure you can't go wrong with spinach and cheese. What I hadn't counted on was the kick the cayenne pepper gives them. Damn. It's really a great addition.

The spice and (minimal) cheese work pretty well, I think. They're more of an appetizer, but at least it's part of the meal somewhere. I think you could probably make them larger, like a crab cake or something, and serve them as sides.

I'd been chopping the onion and grating the cheese with a food processor the last few times. this is fast, but the long strings of each aren't as nice texture-wise as they could be. Counting clean-up, I'm just as fast now with a fine dice and hand grating, so I went all manual this time.

I was a bit shy on the cayenne. Don't be. The kick is good. Also, serve them warm and keep them on a warming plate if in a party situation. They lose some flavor when they get cold.

P.S. I was very impressed with Mary's chili, especially for a Yankee :-)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Chicken Night

Tonight, I went all out with the chicken.

In addition to tackling the Roast Chicken again, I tried the Poulet Saute' Chasseur (Sauteed Chicken with Shallots, Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Tarragon) from the Chicken 101 class. More specifically, I tried the chicken part. I didn't have mushrooms or tarragon in the house, but what I really wanted to practice was pounding the chicken properly.

Wow. The joke just writes itself, doesn't it? Ahem.

There was nothing exciting about the roast chicken except that I did it completely correctly this time. I went by time, rather than temperature only as I did last time. At 20 min/pound, I cooked it for 2 hours, 20 minutes. While the internal temp was insanely high (200-something), it came out really well. I think I over-compensated a bit (though the time was pretty accurate) and I may have been touching a bone when measuring. Again, something to practice.
Instead of my big turkey roaster, I opted for a smaller lasagna pan I had. My roasting rack from our Weber grill fit, so the area of the pan was cut in about half. This made it much, much easier to baste.

We didn't eat the bird that night, but I used the meat the next night tossed with some pasta and spinach. But I tasted pieces of breast and thigh the evening of the cooking and it was decently juicy and taste. And then, of course, the carcass went to stock.

So, for what we did eat. I'd never used the proper technique when pounding out chicken. As I think I mentioned in the Chicken 101 entry, you're supposed to flatten the chicken with strokes of the mallet (strike and pull to the side) instead of hammering it like a nail. This worked really well. For this, you then dredge the breast in a little olive oil and then saute' it (though, really, it seemed more like pan frying).

The "sauteeing" worked out well. As with all things I cooking in a saute or omelette pan, the first one was a wash - a little undercooked for the flour coating on one side (the chicken was fine, though).

I then followed The Joy of Cooking's recipe for gravy which worked out really, really well. From memory, you deglaze the pan with white wine, bring to a simmer and whisk in flour. The thickness of the gravy depends on the amount of flour and the thickening takes a few moments after it's whisked in. It came out a little thick, as I didn't wait long enough, but it was very, very close to perfect.

This is the third time I've ended up with undercooked rice in the last month. I think I just got a bad bag. Like it's too old and dried out or something. I usually don't have a problem with rice at all. Of course, on those (formerly rare) I screw up, I think of Keith on Survivor: Australia who proclaimed he was a fantastic chef and then couldn't make decent rice to save his life.

Friday, November 2, 2007


I'm a real stickler for staying on-topic in the on-line world, back from my Usenet rec.arts.comics days. So, this is really a reach of a post - watch how I do this.

But last night, Channing and I went to see the Comedians of Comedy live show at the Vic theater. This was really hilarious stuff and, if they come to your town, it's a must-see. It's a tight 2.5 hour performance by six comics with no filler. At only $29 (plus the stupid Ticketmaster fees), it's a great value for your entertainment dollar. Every performaner was great, but the standouts for us were John Mulaney and Eugene Mirman.

There was even an attention-seeking loser fanboy who was not only annoying in line, but by virute of having front-row seats (it was general admission), he literally put himself in position to be mocked by every single performer.

If you don't know already, the tour is organized by and stars Patton Oswalt, who was the voice of Remy in the Pixar film, Ratatouille.

Which, if you haven't seen it, is a hilarious movie about a rat who aspires to be a fine French chef.

And there you go. Topic.