Friday, October 27, 2017

MOG - Smoky, Spicy Jamaican Chicken, pg. 248


It seemed like a good time to grab my Master of theGrill cookbook and look for a good way to handle these chicken thighs I had, and do it in time for dinner. It was a little late to be brainstorming, a little over an hour before I wanted to serve dinner, but I was optimistic. My spice cupboard was full, and boneless-skinless almost always turn out well.

At first I had planned on a Thai green curry. But that was before I realized I had not bought that extra can of coconut milk like I had mis-remembered. As I was muttering about what to do with my chicken pieces, my husband said, “Try something Cajun.” I thought he said “Jamaican,” which made me think of Jerk Seasoning, which I hadn’t really done before. So I dug around in my cookbooks and pulled an interesting one out of my “America’s Test Kitchen– Master of the Grill” book. The list of spice ingredients was exhaustive and looked interesting, so I figured I would try it out, and in the process add another entry to this series!

I laid out my plan. The subjects were: spice paste, side dishes, grill readiness. First the spice paste, so the pieces could marinate a bit.

I have made a great peace with substitutions. Although I didn’t need many, I made a few, but all in the spirit of the original recipe.

Grind up in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle: ( I have a Krups blade coffee grinder specifically for spices, and I just wipe it clean with a damp paper towel after use)
1 ½ Tablespoons coriander seeds
1 Tablespoon allspice berries (I used 1 teaspoon ground allspice)
1 Tablespoon black peppercorns

Put these in a blender container and add the rest of the paste ingredients:
1-3 habanero chiles, stemmed, seeded and quartered (seriously!? No, I don’t have those fellows just hanging around. I used 1 teaspoon chipotle powder and 2 small fresh sweet peppers. Orange, to honor the habaneros)
8 scallions, chopped ( I guess scallions are green onions. Didn’t have any, but I did have some young shallot sprouts in my poor neglected garden, so I made do)
6 garlic cloves, peeled (no fresh stuff at hand, so I used the equivalent freeze-dried chopped garlic, Penzy’s brand)
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I used grapeseed oil, my new choice for higher heat oil instead of canola)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons grated lime zest- 3 limes (I had been wondering what I was going to do with that lonely shriveled lime left in my crisper drawer! I got a respectable amount of zest from it, and then added the juice to try to make up for the missing zest.)\
2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
1 Tablespoon dried Thyme
1 Tablespoon dried ginger
1 Tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 ¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried rosemary (didn’t have dried, but I do have a bush with the fresh stuff on it!)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (ever since I discovered grinding myown little nutmegs, I have never bought the pre-ground stuff again)

Run all this in the blender until smooth, about a minute or two.  Get your chicken up close and personal with the paste, and shove it in a gallon ziplock, or do as I did and just mash it into a baking dish.

Now, the recipe called for 3 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces, but I used what I had, 2 ½ pounds of boneless-skinless thighs.

I got the grill ready, with briquettes over the starter flame and hickory chips in the water bucket.

While the coals were heating, I got my sides ready. Basmati rice went into the microwave. I knew from experience that it would cook in less than 20 minutes, but stay hot for another hour in there. I cut up some pre-cooked butternut squash pieces into a dish and set near the microwave. (One big honkin’ squash, baked whole for about 2 hours the other day in the oven) Then I was ready to grill.

I got the coals set for indirect heat, piled on the soaked chips, and laid a couple sprigs of rosemary on top. The chicken cooked off to the side with periodic turning, and then I finished them directly over the hot coals. The platter went to the table with the bowl of hot rice. I nuked the squash for 2 minutes, and then set it out with butter and Penzy’s Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle. A formidable companion to the meal was a bottle of Paso Robles “Roustabout” Meritage 2014 red wine.

This meal will definitely be repeated. It was totally excellent. Everything went wonderfully together, and the spiced chicken was complex and delicious!


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Should I Get a Sous Vide Machine?

 

Well, I think the answer is yes. Because according to my research, it will mash wort at a perfect temperature. And also cook things.

I had heard about Starbucks Sous Vide Egg Bites, that they were fantastic. And expensive, like all Starbucks food. Since I already had a sous vide machine on my mind, from a running thread on my Brew-in-a-Bag Facebook group, I decided to see whether they could be as good as all that. I decided to set up a sous vide situation on my stovetop with a large stockpot, lid, instant-read thermometer, and 4 little half-cup canning jars.

I hunted down a copy cat recipe online (http://www.copykat.com/2017/02/20/starbucks-sous-vide-egg-bites-bacon-gruyere/). This one seemed to have the most positive comments on the finished product. The ingredients are pretty basic to a quiche-like dish. It called for a tablespoon of cottage cheese for each egg. I used four. The cottage cheese is to help lighten the egg and keep it from being too dense when it's cooked. It called for a quarter cup each of shredded Gruyere and Monterey Jack cheeses. But since I decided to use what I had, that ended up being an Italian blend of cheeses like mozzarella, Parmesan, Asiago, etc. You are supposed to press a piece of thin crispy bacon at the bottom of each jar, but since I only had thick-sliced, after I fried it, I snipped it into little pieces with kitchen shears. Just a little salt, and then it was time to blend. The blender is an important part of making the finished egg bites smooth and creamy. So I blended the heck out of my egg mixture.

A squirt of pan spray went into each jar, and a big pinch of the bacon snippings. Each jar got just enough mixture to go to the fill line, and then the lids went on, only lightly tightened. In the meantime I had heated my stockpot full of water to just a little over 167 degrees, which was my target. A couple crocheted pot holders went into the bottom, and I set the jars on them. The water covered my jars by an inch or so. Now came the hard part, keeping the water temperature as stable as possible for 35 minutes.

It wasn't easy. My temperature started out low because of the heat loss by sticking the jars in. I was confused that the temperature wasn't rising in spite of me bumping up the heat on the electric burner. Until I realized I was turning the wrong knob. I didn't want to put too much heat at the bottom of the jars, so I tried to raise it very gently. Every five minutes or so I would give the water a little swirl and then slap the lid back down to save the heat. I gave them another ten minutes to make up for the low temp at the beginning. Finally I called them done.

I slid my egg bites out of their jars. Perfect! Not tough and rubbery, not runny, but tender and smooth. I packaged three of them into the fridge, but decided I needed to eat one for my research. I wished I hadn't had that second piece of pizza, but this second supper was for a good cause. I sprinkled some cheese on top, and then used my little torch to melt it and give it some pretty brown touches. It was really, really good!

The picture I used here is actually one I reheated up this morning and had for brunch. I wanted to be sure not to overcook it, so I decided to warm it by slipping it into a ziplock sandwich baggie and dropping it into some almost simmering water for a few minutes. It was enough to bring it to a just-right temperature. After torching the cheese sprinkled on top, I dressed the plate with fresh tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and sweet fig balsamic vinegar. Superb!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Cheesecake, er... Cheese Blintzes for Breakfast


Ever since I had a delicious French Toast Cheese Blintz casserole at my friend's house, I wanted to see what actual Cheese Blintzes were like. I've never had them and never made them. And I knew I wouldn't be able to get them out of my mind until I tried my hand at it.

One of my go-to recipe sites for those categories of food, i.e. Mediterranean, Jewish, Mid-Eastern, is Tori Avey's. I've never been disappointed. She had a few versions, all similar, but this one looked good, since I do like citrus and orange flavors. These were Citrus Vanilla Blintzes.

In preparation for making them, I bought a package of cream cheese and a carton of Ricotta cheese. I'm not crazy about Ricotta, and had thought about substituting drained cottage cheese, but the regular blintz recipe I had in mind (on her site) suggested that it might not come out the same. The next day, when I searched for the recipe again, I saw a new entry, Citrus Vanilla Blintzes! Now THAT sounded really good! Turns out, she now has Clover Dairy as one of her sponsors, and created the recipe with Clover cottage cheese instead of ricotta. So I got to use the cottage cheese in my fridge (Crystal brand) and leave the ricotta sealed up for future lasagne.

Reading through the recipe, I realized that it was mostly identical to her other blintz recipe, only with a splash of orange juice and a bit of vanilla. I didn't need to make up the crepe batter, since I already had a cup of leftover batter in the fridge from making dinner crepes. I just dropped in a little orange zest to help the flavor along.

I halved the recipe, since this was really just a test run for one- me.  Of course the cottage cheese didn't want to get smooth with a whisk, and I didn't want to dirty up the processor for just a bit of batter, so I pulled out the immersion blender and made short work of the lumps. I had just enough crepe batter for two crepes, so I cooked them up and set them aside while I put a piece of butter in the hot pan. They were surprisingly easy to assemble. Crepes are so flexible, yet sturdy. The filling was thick enough to stay put, and the blintzes did not unwrap themselves when I fried them. Towards the end, the filling wanted to ooze out of some small cracks, but that was about when they were supposed to be done anyway.

They were indeed very tasty. Lightly sweet with a light orange flavor, and rich with the vanilla. The crepes lose any crunchiness very quickly, so if you want that, you need to start munching right away. But I did find myself wondering, after a couple bites, why in the world would this be considered breakfast food? I guess the same reason people eat muffins (aka cupcakes) sweet rolls, bread drenched in butter and syrup, and Lucky Charms for breakfast. I actually find that an egg and a glass of milk are a better breakfast meal for me. But I digress.

So what do I think? Will I make them again? Were they worth the trouble? Considering how very like cheesecake they were, and that I like cheesecake better, I would probably pick that option first. The fact that they don't likely hold over well is a strike against them. One would make them up as their hungry customers held plates out near the skillet. Which would be sort of ok, since they are kind of fun to make once you have the components all prepared.

I'm thinking the next thing I'll try is that breakfast casserole my friend made. It was more complex in the flavors, and it had a lot more egg in it, which makes it more nutritious.

I'm not going to write out the recipe, but you can click on the links and go to her site, which has very nice photos and interesting comment on the food.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My New Kitchen Toy and Creme Brûlée

Was the torch the excuse for the creme brûlée, or the creme brûlée the excuse for the torch? I'm not sure, but I'm enjoying both!

I have made flan a lot, with the melted sugar at the bottoms of the custard cups that drizzles over the tops when you upend them on plates. But when I had creme brûlée at a restaurant once, I was taken by the similarity, yet elegant differences. I liked the rich silky texture, but the crunchy sugar top was so cool!

Tristan and I decided we wanted to do creme brûlée enough to buy a torch for, and so he got this one at Harbor Freight, and with coupons and sales, it worked out to about 12 bucks. We already had a little can of butane for filling the fuel tank, the same stuff you fill lighters with.

Creme brûlée is basically heavy cream and egg yolks, with some sugar and vanilla. I decided that I wanted to feel a little better about my ingredients, so I used half cream and half half-and-half. It was still excellent, and I would do it that way next time, unless I was trying to royally impress someone with all that whipping cream. My recipe called for a vanilla bean. Not going to happen. I used high quality real vanilla extract.

The tedious thing about making baked custard/flan and creme brûlée is the need to bake it in a water bath, to keep the outer edges from over-cooking before the center is set. I couldn't find one baking dish the right size to fit all four of my ramekins in, so I had to use 1-9x13, 1-9x9, and one round pie plate. A dishcloth went in the bottom of each, then the ramekins, then fill them with the custard, then put them on the oven rack, and then fill up around them halfway with boiling water. The hard part is sliding the rack in to the pre-heated oven without spilling anything! My racks scrape and rock when I push them in.

For the sugar topping, my recipe called for turbinado sugar, which I just happened to have, from making up a pork rub last fall. It is like raw sugar, coarse granules and traces of the cane syrup on it.

And then the fun!

Tristan was the best at it because he had that "welding technique" perfected. Finally, when it was melted enough for me, I cracked into it.

They said to stick it back in the fridge to chill, because the torch heats up a section of the top layer, but I like it like this. The contrast of the warm stripe of custard with the cold part at the bottom, the silky smoothness with the crunchy top. It was delicious!

(Small batch)

1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup half-and-half, 1/3 cup white sugar, 1 tsp. Real Vanilla

Mix together, ensuring the sugar is dissolved.

6 egg yolks, beaten up.

Pour the cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking as you do. Strain mixture through sieve. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Line a baking dish with a kitchen towel and set ramekins on the towel. Fill ramekins or baking cups (I filled four dishes halfway full) with custard, and then set baking dish on middle rack. Pour boiling water in dish, being careful not to get water into custard cups. The water should come to around halfway up the ramekin. Slide rack into oven and bake for about 25-35 minutes. Center will be lightly set. Best of all, use an instant read thermometer and test the centers for 170-175 degrees.

Remove from water bath, let cool somewhat on counter. Cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate. When you are ready to torch them, peel off plastic and blot any condensation with a paper towel.

Strew a couple teaspoons of turbinado sugar on top, shake around, and then pour off excess. Torch it. Eat it. That's it!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Rueben

And now, back to the sandwiches!

I like hot sandwiches better than cold ones, usually. (exceptions: peanut butter and jam, tuna fish) And the Rueben is one of my very favorites. It has all the good stuff in it. And I even make an exception to my usual non-interest in rye bread for this goodie.

I was reading through the book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, (Jennifer Reese) when I decided to follow her directions for making some for dinner. I've only had them while eating out, but this time I'd make them myself. What was interesting was her recipe for Russian Dressing, which apparently is supposed to be used, not Thousand Island. But NOT the commercial stuff, a recipe that turned out to taste a lot like Thousand Island, but way better.

Unfortunately, We scarfed them up before I remembered to take a picture.


All gone. But to make up for it, I'll tell you what to do and give you the recipe for the Russian Dressing!

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Catsup
1 1/2 teaspoons horseradish
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon sweet pickle relish
Fresh ground black pepper
Salt
Stir everything together and taste for salt.

You can use corned beef or pastrami.
Warm a pile of thin slices in a skillet. Butter one side of a slice of rye bread and put it butter side down on a hot skillet or panini pan. Pile some drained sauerkraut on the bread. (And if you want a great rueben instead of just a good one, use homemade kraut!) Spread a generous dollop of dressing on the kraut, pile the meat on that, and then top with a slice of swiss (I used provolone) cheese. Lay another slice of rye, buttered side out, on it all, and when it's brown or crispy on the bottom bread, flip it. You can lay something sort of heavy on the sandwich to press it down on itself.

You'll like it, believe me!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Best Ever Lettuce Keeper

There are many ways to try to keep lettuce nice for several days in the 'fridge. When I buy "floppy greens," I like to get them in the plastic clamshells if I'm going to be dipping out of it over the week. Many years ago, I had a Tupperware brand Iceberg lettuce bowl. It was rounded, with a domed lid that snapped on over the top. It was ok, but it was sort of tall, and didn't seem to fit well in some of the shelves, plus you couldn't stick anything on top of it. And since the lettuce went down in the bowl, you always felt you had to wash it after use, even if it seemed clean. It was expensive.

Sometimes I use plastic twist-tie "bread sacks" for my cleaned lettuce. But a head of iceberg is just a bit too big, and sliding romain in and out isn't as nice as all that. There is always some moisture, and you don't want the leaves lying in that.

And then I had the serendipity of finishing the last piece of a grocery store bakery cake at the same time I was looking for something to put my head of lettuce in.

I'm telling you, it couldn't be more perfect! The groves in the bottom piece collect moisture and keep it off the leaves. It's like a little terrarium, keeping the atmosphere damp enough to keep the leaves crisp. There seems to be a lot less browning of the cut ends too. The size is perfect, the lid snaps on securely enough, but pops right off when you work it. You can stash a small plate on top if you need to, and the dome never touches the lettuce inside. And it's free, if you buy a cake! A good reason to buy cake. If you need one.

 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Soups and Sandwiches - BLT!!!

I am going to postpone more "Masters of the Grill" blog entries until I have my winter grill set-up accomplished. Until then, I think I will turn my attention to Savory Soups and Succulent Sandwiches.

What is your favorite sandwich?

When I was a kid, we used to stop by the little grocery on the way home from church and buy stuff for lunch. Usually, that was a loaf of bread, a pound of bologna from the meat counter, a quart bottle of Pepsi, a bag of mini-tacos (bygone tortilla chips), a foil pack of French onion dip mix, a carton of sour cream, a package of cookies (either Hey Days, Nut Goodies, Lorna Doone, striped shortbread, or Mother's Iced Oatmeal), and the Sunday edition of the Fresno Bee, with the color comics. I used to make a sandwich with two slices of white bread, mustard, a slice of Bologna, and a layer of chips pressed next to the bologna.

Probably the best thing that ever happened to me and sandwiches is my discovery of Real Mayonnaise. I used to think Miracle Whip was mayo, and I didn't like it. I thought it tasted sickly. And then when I had my first mayo, it was like an angel choir sang! I dumped mustard and took to slathering mayonnaise on everything.

But, back to judging what the Best Sandwich Ever could be. And one contender, that is somewhat lowly, but is sublime, is the Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich.

I know that lots of people start adding extra stuff, like pickles and cheese, to this little masterpiece, but I say, Nay! It is perfect the way it is. And yes, that is iceberg lettuce. I went the floppy greens route, sneering at that "tasteless iceberg" for many years, until I realized I was just being a snob, and that I really did like iceberg lettuce, the mild flavor and the great big crunch.

I used center-cut, thick, peppered bacon, but it really doesn't matter all that much what type of bacon you use. Bacon is good. All bacon is good. Bacon is the King of Meat. Bacon makes everything else taste better. Unless it is rancid. When we bought a pound of bacon, when I was a kid, we COOKED that bacon! We fried that bacon up! Maybe if only one person was eating, a few pieces would be left in the package for a pot of beans the next day, but there was no such thing as leftover bacon from one shopping trip to the next. My grandmother, however, hoarded her bacon. When we stayed over, and we were to be blessed with bacon and eggs, or a BLT, the flat package would come out of the meat drawer, opened up, and one or two thin pieces would be carefully peeled off and laid to fry in the black cast iron skillet. It might be several weeks, a month, or more when the bacon came out again. I began to notice that Grandma's bacon had a different flavor than our bacon. More, well, oldish tasting. Mom suggested that it might be "rancid." Although the bacon didn't taste nice, the word did, and I relished adding it to my vocabulary.

It is a sad day when you have used up the last one of your homegrown tomatoes, because that is the last day that you can make a BLT. It is too much a waste to go to the effort when the tomatoes are less than homegrown-good. Summer's tomatoes, straight from the vine to the cutting board are required. I like to get about two thick slices out of an average size tomato, red, juicy, and exploding with acid-sweetness, lightly salted with kosher salt. Also needed, a big napkin for the juiciness and a fork for getting the pieces that fall out.

I think I lean towards sourdough bread for a BLT. Usually, I just have part of a sourdough french loaf from the day before, so I cut a couple of round pieces off the end, thicker or thinner, depending on my hunger level. And then I treat the bread specially for my tastes. I toast one side very lightly. That is the outside. I toast one side darkly. That is the inside. I like crunchy toast, but if it's one the outside, it scrapes the inside of my mouth.

So there you have it! What do you think? How do you make a BLT?