Monday, January 19, 2009

Meat Loaf

This is another recipe from I'm Just Here for the Food. I followed the recipe fairly closely, but put it back in the oven for an extra few minutes, as my new meat thermometer didn't register done yet. My oven seems to be running about 25 degrees hot, at this point.

I'd have to call this one qualified success. The flavor was good, but I may add a little oregano the next time. But the texture... The recipe calls for two sliced of sandwich bread, cubed. I was not very happy with the results of that. The cubes of bread seemed to absorb the fat, and left other parts of the loaf not so much dry, as crumbly. The loaf, as a result, has some serious integrity problems (insert joke about a politician here).

So, next time: use breadcrumbs, instead of bread, and add some oregano to the spice mix.

Yes, I drink wine with meatloaf!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Baked Ziti

I started with this recipe.  I substituted spicy turkey sausage for the ground beef, and added about half a bulb of fresh chopped garlic, on the theory that garlic is never bad.  I started mixing everything into the pan, and realized that there was just no way I could mix in a full pound of shredded cheddar cheese, plus top with a mixture of cheddar and Parmesan.  So, I mixed in about 3/4 of a pound of cheddar, and topped with straight Parmesan.  The result was plenty tasty, but the top layer of cheese never really melted propely, probably because Parmesan is such a dry cheese.  Maybe mozzarella would be a better choice?

A couple of equipment notes:
  1. I am in the process of calibrating my oven.  I bought an oven thermometer, and set my oven to 320 to start tonight (the recipe called for 350).  The temp shot all the way up to 400, so I opened the door for a few minutes, and turned the temp down to 300, figurin it to be about 50 degrees off.  Periodically during the baking process. I looked at the thermometer, and adjusted the temp as needed.  I figured this would be reasonably safe with this partiucular dish, since the turkey suasage was already thoroughly browned before adding it, and nothing else carried a particularly high risk of contamination.  I had no trouble with the ziti not being hot enough (I checked it with a meat thermometer as soon as I pulled it out), but the readings I got during the process kept tracking exactly with the set temperature.  So, has anyone ever heard of an oven that heats up to higher than the set temp at first?  This would make sense to me, as it would help account for the initial opening of the door, but it seems a little sophistacated for most ovens.
  2. When grating a lot of cheese, a food processor is a must-have.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!  It took us a long time to get to using it, but I am officially declaring it indispensable.
So, anyone have any good recipes for grated cheddar?  I'm thinking nachos...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Flash Chicken Saute with Cider and Garlic-Cauliflower "Mashed Potatoes"

Both of these recipes are from "How to Eat Supper," one of my Christmas presents.

The chicken recipe is a two-part process. First, sear the chicken (browning each side first, then reducing the heat and cooking for about 4 minutes on each side), then deglaze with cider vinegar and build a pan sauce. This was my first pan sauce (thanks to Ann for letting me watch one "in action" last night - very inspiring!), and it came out well. I did make one mistake, in that I leaned over the pan at one point to separate a couple pieces of garlic, and got a snoot full of reducing vinegar. I'll have to remember that trick the next time I'm all stuffed up!

The chicken turned out to be the hard part. I bought the chicken breasts this afternoon from Publix, and didn't realize until I pulled them out of the fridge to cook them that they were still frozen! I thawed them out as best I could using running water, but it still threw off my cooking time, and they came out juicy, but a little tough. The flavors were quite good, though, so I think if I am a little more careful next time with the state of my chicken, this could be a really great dish.

The side dish involves cutting up a whole head of cauliflower (core, leaves, and all!), and steaming it until it's very soft. Then dump it in a food processor with some spices, and puree. It comes out the basic texture of mashed potatoes. It was good, but needed... something. Maybe a little more pepper, or fresh nutmeg instead of dried. In any case, definitely something worth experimenting with in the future.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Flank Steak

Christmas was good this year (see picture).

The Alton Brown cookbook ("I'm Just Here for the Food") is just what I need -- a technique book. I read it through while still at my parents' house, and I think I'm going to have to cook my way through it. Brown has a great way of explaining things; not just techniques, but why they work the way they do. He's also very funny. Mom was a little puzzled that I was laughing at a cookbook, but it really was the only reasonable response.

Anyway, tonight's exercise was seared flank steak. The book is divided by cooking technique, with an explanation of how each one works, and why it works the way it does. So, I followed his recipe pretty closely. This also gave me a chance to use the Dutch oven in the picture, as well. Brown insists that a cast iron skillet is superior, and it may be, but I got a pretty good result with my Dutch oven. The steak is seasoned with nothing but kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, an it came out great! The secret seems to be the waiting. You wait for the steak to come a little closer to room temperature, then you season it, and wait a little while for the salt to draw somoe of the steak's juices to the surface. Sear it for 3 minutes per side, then put it on a rack, cover it loosely with some foil, and wait a little bit more before slicing. Patience is not one of my virtues, particularly when I'm hungry, so this represents a significant challenge.

My wife was a big help tonight, making her roasted asparagus for our side. Don't know what I'd do without her. I certainly wouldn't be learning to cook!

By the way, the other book in the picture is "How to Eat Supper," by the women behind our favorite cooking radio show, The Splendid Table (if you have trouble viewing it, disable your adblocking software). Great program, and a wonderful book, as well.