Sunday, March 29, 2009

Beer beef stew and double corn cornbread

What with buying the house and all, I have been completely swamped and unable to blog but I have still had the time to play in the kitchen. So this update will be in two installments, one each for last weekend's and this weekend's cooking adventures.

Last Sunday, I made a beef stew based off of Michael Smith's Beer Stew recipe. I say based on his recipe because I actually made the stew from notes I made while watching the show. See, I like to keep a notebook and pen by the TV so I can write down ideas and suggestions while watching cooking shows. This way, I don't have to watch the show twice and, if I need to, I know exactly where to find the full recipe should I want to see exact measurements and timings.

Getting back to the Beef Stew, however, it turned out fine. Except that I was using a tougher stewing meat which probably would have benefitted more from cooking for 4 plus hours (i.e. the beef was a bit tough). I also used red wine instead of beer because that's what we had around the house. If you look at the recipe, there's no veggies in it. I would add some carrots, I think. But I did like the idea of serving the stew over some fresh baby spinach. The heat would be just enough to cook the leaves. As it was, we didn't have spinach so Gabriel served his over some frozen peas and declared it good.

We served the stew with some yummy cornbread. Gabriel managed to sneak a little extra hot sauce in but forgot the salt entirely. :) Here's the recipe we used. We used fine cornmeal, and we will continue to do so until the bag is done, but I would suggest a coarser grain cornmeal for a more rustic texture.

Double-Corn Cornbread

Shopping List:
• cornmeal
• all-purpose flour
• sugar
• baking powder
• baking soda
• salt
• frozen corn
• sour cream
• eggs (2)
• hot sauce
• vegetable oil
• unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 450°F.

In a large bowl, whisk to combine:
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt

In the food processor, combine:
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
½ tsp hot sauce

Pulse until finely ground.

Pour 2 tsp vegetable oil into an 8 inch cast-iron skillet and heat on stove top.

Fold liquid ingredients into dry.

Melt 4 tbsp unsalted butter and add to mixture.

Once oil is hot (just as whisps of smoke are seen), remove skillet from heat and immediately add the batter. Push the batter out to edges and immediately place in oven.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Check at 18 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes.

Original source: Double-Corn Cornbread - America's Test Kitchen

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pi Day Pie Party wrap-up

After suffering through a sugar coma, I am now recouperated enough to post on what I learned yesterday. But first, a word about the party:

First, thanks to everyone who came and brought pie. Koodoos to Leo for being the only other person besides myself to actually bake a pie. There were games of RoboRally and Star Wars Trival Pursuit (a game involving pie pieces!). I think we all sufficiently demonstrated our geekiness.

Now onto the pie! The pie crust was flaky but hard. This means that it had large amounts of air pockets but it was still very stiff and hard to cut (yet surprisingly easy to chew). Anyway, I accredit this to the large amounts of additional water I had to add to allow the flour to bind and the extra bit of kneading required which produced gluten (desired stuff in breads and pizza dough). I will continue to search for a better/easier pie crust recipe. In the mean time, my advice would be to stick to frozen, pre-made pie shells.

As for the filling, my mom's fluff pie came out great. Since it is made mostly for a packaged lemon Jell-O mix, I won't post its recipe here. But I WILL post the pecan pie recipe which, aside from the crust, turned out yummy as ever.

Oh, and a quick note about pizza: We used our pizza stone for the first time yesterday. It prevented the pizza from coming out soggy on the underside but its tricky business. You can't build your pizza on the stone since it needs to heat up with the oven. Instead, you need to build your pizza on a peel. This is what we learned: USE LOTS OF CORN MEAL. Really. It prevents the pizza from sticking to the peel because it doesn't easily soak up water the way flour does. So, once you've stretched the dough to your satisfaction, switch to the corn meal and be generous!

Pecan Pie

Shopping List:
• pie crust
• eggs (5)
• brown sugar
• corn syrup
• unsalted butter
• vanilla extract
• salt
• pecans (2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Glaze the crust of 1 unbaked pie shell with 1 egg yolk. Dock (perforate) the bottom of the pie shell with a fork and blind-bake for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F.

Whisk in a large bowl:
4 eggs
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup corn syrup
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla
½ tsp table salt

Stir in 2 cups pecans.

Pour the filling into the baked pie shell and bake until the edges of the filling are firm and the center is still slightly wobbly, approximately 35-45 minutes.

Let the pie cool for at least 1 ½ hours before serving. The pie can be stored for up to 2 days in a refrigerator but should be brought back up to room temperature or warmed in a 275°F oven for 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Not as easy as pie . . . crust

It's now 11:30 PM. I started making pies around 7:00 PM (probably earlier). I am exhausted but, I suspect, it was worth it.

Tomorrow is our Pi Day Pie Party (3.14 . . . get it?) and I decided to make two new pies: my mom's yummy Lemon Fluff Pie and a Pecan Pie. I also decided that I would take the extra effort and make my own pie crusts. Ha.

Michael Smith, from Chef at Home, had a recipe for "easy" pie crust. It involves shredding frozen, unsalted butter directly into the flour. You see, pastry gets it's puff when the water inside the butter turns into steam. So, the more evenly you can distribute smaller pieces of butter, the more puff you get and the more tender the pastry. (Side bar: pastry is also more tender the less you handle it, i.e. keep gluten production to a minimum.) This method avoids using a pastry blender so you'd think it would be easier, but YOU try shredding two sticks of FROZEN butter and see how easy it is . . . or rather, isn't.

After shredding the butter and gently tossing it in the flour, I tried to bind it with water. I, of course, used ice water (in keeping with the theme of keeping the bits of butter distinct and cold) but the recipe called for 1/2 cup and I swear I added more than 1 cup before it finally came together.

Anyway, long story short, I blind baked the shells and they, at least, smell great. Here's what I learned:
  • You really do need pie weights when blind-baking a pie shell to keep the bottom from puffing.
  • As a consequence of the above, the crust pulled away from the edge of the pan during baking, but I might take out extra insurance next time by letting the dough poke out over the edge a little more.
  • There are a gazillion different ways to deal with the edges of the crust. For my time, I like just trimming it and crimping the edge with fork tines. (On the second pie, I folded the lip under and crimped it with my fingers. Looks nice but took too long.)
We (the nerds) will feast on the pies tomorrow and I will report on how they taste. Unless the crust is heaven in a pie tin, I plan on continuing my search for an easier/better recipe. For now, I think I should get to sleep . . . our party begins at 1:59 PM, don't you know?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Not so speedy lasagna

Gabriel's parents came for lunch today. And it's not that I don't want to make my best stuff for them, but, considering that their our parents, they're the perfect test subjects because they'll love us even when we serve under-cooked chicken (don't worry, no one got Salmonella).

That being said, I decided to try lasagna for the first time ever. I chose Michael Smith's "Speedy Lasagna". If there was ever a misnamed dish, this was it. Don't get me wrong, it tasted AMAZING (hence the need to blog it), but it took an hour and a half to prepare and another hour to cook. So there's your warning: Good eats are ahead but they take a bit of time to get.


Shopping List:
  • olive oil
  • onions (2 medium)
  • garlic (1 head)
  • ground beef (500 g)
  • Italian sausages (4)
  • tomatoes (796 mL can)
  • tomato paste (156 mL can)
  • condensed beef stock (284 mL can)
  • dried oregano
  • dried basil
  • bay leaves
  • salt & pepper
  • eggs (2)
  • 35% cream (½ cup)
  • ricotta cheese (475 g)
  • Parmesan cheese (2 cups, divided)
  • mozzarella cheese (6 cups, divided)
  • oven-ready lasagna noodles
Shred enough mozzarella cheese to measure 6 cups. If Parmesan cheese is not yet grated, do so now.

Whisk together 2 eggs and ½ cup cream.

Stir in:
475 g ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
to taste salt & pepper

Store the cheese mixture in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Prep work:
  • Peel and chop separately 2 medium onions and 10 cloves garlic.
  • Purée canned tomatoes.
  • Remove 4 Italian sausages from their casings and break up meat.
  • Add enough water to the beef stock to total 2 cups

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in an extra large saucepot and add the onions. Sauté the onions until they soften and turn golden brown (approximately 5 minutes). Add the garlic and sauté for a few more minutes.

1 can puréed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
3 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried basil
3 bay leaves
to taste salt & pepper

Stir well and heat until entire mixture is simmering and heated through. Add more salt & pepper as needed and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Layer ingredients in a 9” x 13” x 3” baking pan as follows:
  1. 1½ cups meat sauce
  2. noodles
  3. half of cheese sauce + 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  4. noodles
  5. 1½ cups meat sauce
  6. noodles
  7. remaining half of cheese sauce + 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  8. noodles
  9. remaining meat sauce
  10. 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove foil and top with additional 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded and bake for another 15 minutes.

Let lasagna sit for 15 minutes before serving.

(Original Source: Chef at Home - Speedy Lasagna)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

. . . When it's bad, it's still pretty good. (Pizza - Part 3 of 3)

Step 3 of 3: The pizza

The dough is ready, the sauce is prepared, it's time to assemble the pizza!

But wait! There are a few things you must first consider:

  1. What are you going to cook your pizza on? You can use pizza pans (reusable or disposable) but the bottom is usually undercooked and moist. Your best bet is a pizza stone. Proper ones are cheap (PC sells one for $10) or you can just used an unglazed pottery stone from a garden centre. Either way, it goes in the bottom of your oven during the preheating stage.
  2. Did you preheat your oven? Set it as high as it will go (my oven only goes to 500 F). If you turn on your oven when you start stretching out the dough, the oven and the stone should be sufficiently hot by time your pizzas are prepared. If using a pizza stone, place it in the cold oven before preheating!

Assembling the Pizza

Shopping List:
  • olive oil
  • tomato sauce (see step 2 of 3)
  • shredded mozarella cheese
  • additional toppings

Work the dough on a floured surface, keeping it in a roughly spherical shape, until the dough springs back when pulled like an elastic band. Then begin stretching the dough, working from the center, out, to produce an even thickness. Use extra flour to keep the dough from sticking.

Place the dough on the peel or pizza pan. (Optional: use corn meal to keep the dough from sticking.) Brush the crust area with a thin film of olive oil. Next, ladle a small amount of tomato sauce into the center of the pizza and use the back of a spoon to spread it out to the crust. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and other toppings (optional).

Slide the pizza from the peel onto the pizza stone in the oven. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until the cheese melts and the crust begins to brown.

Some notes from experience:
  • When it comes to toppings, remember KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Repeating after Alton Brown, "Toppings do NOT great pizza make." The best pizza is made with only tomato sauce and cheese. If you must, pepperoni and mushrooms. But quit while you're ahead . . . and while the structural integrity of the crust remains intact.
  • Be gentle but firm while stretching the dough. If you're meek with the dough, you won't actually stretch it. If you're too hard on it, you will tear it and you cannot mend a tear in the dough (just fold it over and hope no one notices).
  • Don't try to be a proper pizzeria owner by tossing the pizza up in the air. Sure, it looks cool and the physics actually works, but you're either going to end up with a torn pizza or one that's fallen on the floor . . . NOT good eats.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

. . . When it's good, it's really good . . . (Pizza - Part 2 of 3)

Continuing with our pizza saga, here is the sauce recipe that Gabriel used. We still have one container in the freezer which can be easily defrosted and used at short notice.

Freezer organization tip: Label all containers with contents and date. I do this by placing a piece of masking tape on the lip and writing on it with a Sharpie. This makes it easy to find without opening lids and it allows you to see, at a glance, what's been sitting in your freezer way too long. This can be done with freezer bags as well -- though you can see through those, the packaging date is always helpful.

Step 2 of 3: The sauce

You've made the dough, now you need to cover it with the red stuff. Yes, you could always used canned or bottled sauces but why not expend a tiny bit of extra energy and enjoy some delicious sauce that makes enough for six whole pizzas and freezes easily?

Pizza Sauce

Shopping List:
  • olive oil
  • onion
  • garlic
  • tomato paste (1 small can)
  • whole tomatoes (798 mL can)
  • oregano
Finely dice 1 small onion and prepare 3 cloves garlic, crushed.

Preheat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add 3 tbsp olive oil and the onion. Sauté the onion until it softens and begins to brown and then add the garlic and 1 can tomato paste. Sauté for a few more minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.

Add 1 can of whole tomatoes. Purée the sauce with an immersion blender. Stir in 2 tbsp oregano.

Bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered, until slightly thicken.

Divide sauce into three portions. Each portion can top two 9 inch pizzas. Unused portions can be frozen.

(Original source: Chef at Home - Easy Pizza Party - Pizza Parlour Sauce)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pizza is a lot like sex . . .(Pizza - Part 1 of 3)

For my first real entry, I would like to document my on-going struggle with the homemade pizza which began with the desire to save money, and avoid the bland, doughy disks that some places label as, "pizza." Why doesn't everyone make pizza at home? Because its too complicated and way too time consuming. If time is money, and you have no taste buds, it's better to buy a pizza then to make it. So here's how to save time AND money and avoid any strenuous dough kneading and hard tack:

Step 1 of 3: The dough

You have two choices: Waste an entire day OR plan ahead. I, obviously, chose the latter. By starting the dough the day before, you can let time do the kneading for you and can ignore the dough entirely until you're ready to make the pizza.

No Knead Pizza Dough

Shopping List:
  • bread flour
  • active dry yeast
  • table salt

Whisk together:
3 cups bread flour
¼ tsp yeast
1½ tsp table salt

Stir in 1½ cups room temperature water with the opposite end of a wooden spoon. Add small amounts of additional water until the dough just comes together.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and let sit for 18-24 hours in a warm place.

Work the dough on a floured surface, folding it over on itself several times, then let it sit, covered for 15 minutes.

Divide the dough in half and shape into balls with a tight top that look like jelly fish without the tentacles. Cover the dough balls with a lightly floured tea towel and let rest for 2 hours.

Next Step: The sauce (will be posted on another day)

(Original source: Jim Lahey reveals his recipe for no-knead pizza dough)

A little introduction to the blog

As stated in the 'About Me' section on the side bar, one of my hobbies is cooking and baking. It's a source of pride for me to host a dinner or show up at a gathering with incredible food that makes people gush over its yumminess. As such, part of my time is spent reading books, surfing the web and watching TV shows. When I find something that works, I transcribe it using my own personal cookbook template. Since none of these recipes were developed by me personally, I don't consider them to be a secret, and so, would like to share my findings with others. I've already put in the leg work to find out what works and what doesn't, so why not save other people the hassle?

I expect postings to go up, atleast, on a weekly basis, if not more frequently. Sometimes I'll post recipes (With the original source! I am a scientist, after all!), sometimes I'll post little tidbits of information I learned from a failed attempt in the kitchen.

Please feel free to take what you can from this blog. Share it with friends. I wouldn't mind a small amount of fame -- I'm still waiting for my 15 minutes.