Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Roast beast

OK, back to the Science of Good Cooking.

Concept 6: Slow Heating Makes Meat Tender
Recipe: Slow-Roasted Beef

The concept here is that by slow heating a cut of meat, you use the enzymes to break down the long muscle fibers of the meat. This method results in a tender cut of meat.

We decided to try slow-roasted beef, roasting a boneless eye-round roast on a rack for hours at a low temperature. First, you salt the beef and keep in the fridge for a day. You sear the beef for flavor, then roast at 225 degrees for almost 2 hours. You also let it sit for a while, since we learned from concept 4 that hot food keeps cooking. 



The roast turned out a beautiful medium and was so tasty that I can't believe I don't do this more often. Dave was pleased, too.

I served with some wilted greens and braised carrots, both veggies from my CSA



The next concept is also meat-heavy - cooking the hell out of tough cuts of meat to break down the collagen into gelatin. There are some tasty pork recipes in this chapter that are probably going to make me want to cook pork more often, too.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Italian rainbow cookies

I'm taking a break from the Science of Good Cooking challenge (although I do have a roast sitting in my kitchen right now ready for the oven) to post some adorable cookies I made for a Christmas cookie exchange at work today.

I was looking for something new, and a challenge, when I stumbled upon Valerie Bertinelli's Neapolitan Cookies on the Food Network site. Then my friend pointed out that my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, also has a version called "seven-layer cookies." And other people call them rainbow cookies. 

Whatever you call them, they are cute, complicated, and oddly tasty. 

In the first step, you make an almond pasty cake batter, divide into three, and color before you bake - green, plain, and pink. 



This part sounds easy, but honestly I was really annoyed with how difficult it was to mix the almond paste and sugar. It flew all over my kitchen. I had to include the butter early just so it would actually make a mass of dough. I was cussing a lot, I'll tell you.

After the cakes are cool, you spread strained apricot jam between the layers and chill for a few hours, pressing the cake layers between two pans so that they really stick together. After many hours, you spread chocolate on both sides of the cake and then freeze for easy cutting.



I was terrified at this point in the process - what if it didn't cut cleanly? But mostly they did, even though my layers weren't all the same size. All you do is cut off the edges and voila, beautiful little cakey-cookie squares!



They are delightfully almondy and dense, but the chocolate and apricot provides a light sweetness. But they are definitely impressive looking, and I hope they will be a hit at the party today.

Happy baking this holiday season!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Twice cooked steak

I'm still working my way through that cookbook, The Science of Good Cooking, albeit very slowly.

This post is about:

Concept 5: Some Proteins are Best Cooked Twice
Recipe: Pan-Seared Thick-Cut Strip Steaks

The idea behind this concept is that by roasting AND searing meat, you can get a perfectly cooked steak while still getting that satisfying crunch on the outside. It's tough to completely cook meat on the stovetop without either underdoing it or overdoing it.

This was actually pretty simple - simply bake the steak on a rack at 275 degrees for about 25 minutes, and you will have medium steak that you then quickly sear in the saucepan. You use the pan drippings to make one of the pan sauces - we chose the red wine & mushroom pan sauce - while the meat rests.


I served this with some broccoli slaw, butternut squash risotto, and Brussels sprouts. You can see the nice chunky mushroom sauce there, as well as a few sliced pieces of steak. Turned out well!

Next up is about slow-cooking meat to make it tender. Sounds like a perfect winter project.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Oven frittata

OK, so maybe it's been almost a year since I continued my challenge to myself to cook my way through The Science of Good Cooking. Whoops... Time does get away from you.

Part of the reason is I've been going through some wacky stuff in my personal life. But probably a bigger part of the reason is that the next item in the list was a tough one to make for a person who currently lives alone most of the time - the choices were some 12-egg frittatas, or a rack of lamb, or a tenderloin. So I chose:

Concept 4: Hot food keeps cooking
Recipe: Asparagus, Ham, and Gruyère Frittata

The idea here is that you should take something off of the heat early, because it'll keep cooking as it sits. (Hence the two large meat cuts suggested by the recipes in this chapter.)

This was actually astonishingly simple.

  1. Cut up asparagus; cook in pan.
  2. Cut up ham and onion / shallot; cook in pan.
  3. Whip up eggs, half and half, pepper, salt, and chunks of gruyère; cook in pan until eggs are slightly wobbly.
  4. Put in oven and cook under broiler until puffed and brown, but still slightly wobbly and wet.

Results:



It was really tasty, nutritious, and not too unhealthy. I probably overcooked it a bit, but it was still good. No matter what the America's Test Kitchen folks say, there is a fair window between "totally runny and inedible" and "well cooked" and "ehh a little overcooked, but still delicious."

Funny story, too - I used farmers market eggs in this, and those eggs are always very robust indeed. Even after whisking for several minutes, several of the yolks were unbroken and I had to whack them multiple times against the side of my bowl to pop them. Love those free-roaming chickens.

I was a little worried about not using a nonstick pan, like the recipe suggests, but my aluminum pan was fine. I was able to cut a slice out without a problem.

Next time: "Some proteins are best cooked twice." Probably some meat will be involved.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Let it rest: maple pork loin

The quest for food knowledge continues with a delicious hunk of meat!

Concept 3: Resting meat maximizes juiciness
Recipe: Maple-glazed pork roast

This concept is something we've all been told in cooking shows, but the Cooks Illustrated people figured out optimized resting times for the meat. They also show scientifically why meat should rest, which is that muscle fibers contract during cooking (driving out moisture) and need to relax (reabsorbing the moisture).

The perfect resting times for meat are at least five minutes and as many as 30 or 40 minutes, so it's really important to set some time aside for this.

The recipes from this chapter were mostly grilled meats, so I skipped those because I don't have a grill set up at the moment. Instead, I went for one in the oven and stove top - maple-glazed pork roast.

First, you tie up the roast and sear it on the stove top:


 The glaze is maple syrup (real maple syrup, not pancake syrup!) with a little cinnamon, clove, and cayenne pepper whisked in.

After searing it, you put it in the oven for roasting. I turned it a few times, swishing it around in the glaze. After it was done, I put it on a plate for resting for 20 minutes.


I sliced it and served it with a salad of CSA greens and tiny farmers market strawberries. Beer pairing was Bell's Porter.


I liked the glaze a lot, so the best parts of the meat for me were the outside parts of the meat that were roasted and coated in glaze. The pork itself was OK, and very juicy, but not super flavorful unless it had the glaze on it. But it has been a while since I had pork, and I think I probably overcooked it. (Hence the next chapter - "hot food keeps cooking.")

I've got a 5K tomorrow, so I needed some protein. Done and done!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Beef teriyaki

The next chapter in my little project is...

Concept 2: High heat develops flavor

Recipe: Teriyaki stir-fried beef with green beans and shiitakes

This chapter was all about the Maillard reaction, which is the caramelization of sugars on the surfaces of meats and vegetables exposed to high cooking temperatures. Many of the recipes in the book were stir-fries, so I picked one that sounded the best to me. (The other two have snap peas and snow peas, which aren't my favorite.)

I got a lovely steak from my farmers market butcher and sliced it thin, marinated it in soy sauce, and then fried in oil. You set that aside and then cook the mushrooms and green beans, then add some minced garlic and ginger. It was very fragrant at this point! I was worried I'd burn things, but I didn't.

After cooking the green beans at a high temperature to achieve the crispy Maillard reaction on the outside, I added some water to steam the beans for a few minutes just to get them cooked through. Then you add the beef back in, along with some chopped scallions and a sauce you make with chicken broth, soy sauce, sugar, mirin, cornstarch (for thickening), and red pepper flakes. Cook a few minutes, tossing to coat:


A stir fry is a beautiful thing! I wasn't sure how much I would like this recipe from the smell, given my aversion to teriyaki for being too sweet at times. But once I started eating it, I knew it was a great recipe. It was deeply savory and satisfying.

It is also worth noting that I tried a new way of making rice, which was suggested by another recipe in the book. The Cooks Illustrated folks recommend rinsing the rice, which I never bother with. Then you cook the rice in a bit of butter before you boil it. This is all detailed in a chapter entitled, "Rinsing (Not Soaking) Makes Rice Fluffy." That's concept 30 and it comes later, so I won't get into it now. However, the rice was pretty much perfect, so I guess the Cooks Illustrated people know what they're doing.

The next chapter is on resting meat to maximize the juiciness of the cut. My plan is to make the maple-glazed pork roast, but I won't make it for a few days because wow, do I have leftovers right now. But I look forward to the roast.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

BACK! ...with deviled eggs

Well, it has been almost two years since my last post. I had been feeling stale and that I wasn't really adding much to the food blog scene, but I thought of a new project and I'd like to see it out, even if I don't continue posting after it's done.

Basically the project is this: I received a birthday gift of a cookbook some years ago, the Science of Good Cooking by the folks at Cooks Illustrated. I loaned it out and have recently received it back, and man, there are some good recipes in here! The book is organized by fifty cooking concepts, and I'd like to cook at least one recipe from each chapter. Beginning with...

Concept 1: Gentle heat prevents overcooking
Recipe: Deviled eggs

The concept behind this chapter is that if you heat food gently, you give the food a chance to warm up more evenly. Roast a piece of meat too hot and the outside will be burned by the time you bring the center up to the correct temperature.

I picked the deviled egg recipe to illustrate this concept because the other two were both huge pieces of meat - a whole turkey, a spiral-sliced ham, or a prime rib. I'm living alone at the moment, so that's a lot of meat for just me. I'd like to try the glazed ham recipe at the holidays, though.

The egg recipe works like this: you don't boil the eggs for a long time, you bring them up to a boil and then turn off the heat and let them sit in the hot water for ten minutes. So it's not really "hard-boiled eggs," it's "hard-cooked eggs." You get the same egg with a more reliable process.

I used some beautiful farm-fresh eggs from my weekend market:


This style of hard-cooking eggs is something I'd done before, but I don't cook eggs too frequently, so I often forget exactly what I'm supposed to do. However, when you use this method, you can see that you minimize the gray ring around the yolk:


The recipe for the deviled egg filling was a bit less moist than I'm used to: just mayonnaise, sour cream (I substituted Greek yogurt), white vinegar, spicy mustard, salt, and pepper. (My own deviled egg recipe usually also includes yellow mustard, but I liked how the vinegar gave these some acidity.)

I ate these for dinner, serving with some wilted greens:


The greens are a spinach-like vegetable that I got from my CSA. The recipe is below and is my own!

Wilted garlic greens

  1. Coat a pan lightly with oil or melted butter. Slice four cloves of garlic thinly and add to the heated pan. Cook for about one minute, until golden brown.
  2. Add handful of spinach or other cooking green and toss briskly in the oil and garlic until coated and begins to wilt. Do not cook the heck out of them, just do this for a minute or two.
  3. Serve warm!
Next entry on the blog, probably in the next week or two, will be concept 2 from the book: high heat develops flavor, with the illustrating recipe of teriyaki stir-fried beef with green beans and shiitakes!