Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Chicken paprikash

I've been lax in cooking my way through The Science of Good Cooking, but I assure you I am continuing (at a very slow pace). 

Concept 8: Tough Cuts Like a Covered Pot
Recipe: Chicken Paprikash

This concept teaches us that braising meat in liquid keeps the temperature low and steady, which is great to tenderize tough cuts. Furthermore, cooking with the pot covered creates steam and ensures the retention of more liquid in the stew, creating a nice, thick sauce.

There were two pot roast recipes in this chapter, but the weather was getting warm when I made this and I wasn't in the mood for pot roast. I had made chicken paprikash from the Better Homes & Gardens binder cookbook a few years ago (wow, did I really serve it with spaghetti noodles?!), and I thought I'd make it again for this concept.

Sorry, I didn't take any pictures, but I can tell you that the chicken thighs broke down beautifully, there was indeed a thick sauce, and we served this delicious recipe with rice. I cooked this recipe a while ago, so I'm a little fuzzy on the details.

Next time I'll get into more detail and take pictures, I promise. The next concept cooks meat in a covered pot WITHOUT liquid, so we'll see how that goes!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Long-cooked beef brisket

Cooking my way through The Science of Good Cooking continues, with:

Concept 7: Cook Tough Cuts Beyond Well-Done
Recipe: Onion-Braised Beef Brisket

The idea behind this chapter is that tough meats are full of collagen - a meat binder material. If you cook it for a long time, you get gelatin, which melts and makes meat fall apart.

This chapter was full of recipes for barbecued pork, but I didn't want to mess with wood chips. Instead, I made a tasty beef brisket recipe I've been wanting to make for a while.

You cut up tons of onions and cook them down in the pan. You put the onions and beef together in an aluminum foil packet in the oven on low for hours and hours.

At the end, you separate the meat and cut it up:

And then you cook the sauce down a bit. While the sauce was simmering, I made spätzle to serve with the meat and onion sauce. I know my meat photos are never really the best, but here goes:

It was pretty tasty, but honestly, this one was too much work for me to do on a regular basis. Cutting up those onions, cooking it, cutting up the massive brisket... Ehh. But I'm glad I made it anyway, even if it won't make it into the regular rotation.

Next time is braising meat in a covered pot, where I will be making a chicken paprikash!

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.


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!