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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pasta Bolognese

I think my first try with this recipe must have been before I started this blog. I hauled it back out again recently, and it was a big hit with the kids. I've made it both with and without the mushroom soaking liquid, and preferred it without, but your mileage (and mushroominess tolerance) may vary. Cook's claims this serves 4-6, but that would be a WHOLE lot of sauce per person. My family easily gets two dinners out of one batch, with next-day lunch leftovers each time to boot.
Weeknight Bolognese
adapted from Cook's Illustrated May/June 2003

1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/4 C sweet white wine (Gewürztraminer, Riesling, or white Zinfandel)
1/2 small carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1/4 C)
1 rib celery, diced fine
1/2 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1/3 C)
3 oz pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes with juice (I use the 26-oz box of Pomi tomatoes, which don't have added firming agents)
1 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 t sugar
1 1/4 lb meatloaf mix, or some mixture of ground beef, ground veal, and ground pork
1 1/2 C 2% or whole milk
2 T tomato paste (Amore in the tube is best)
1/8 t freshly ground black pepper

1. Cover porcini mushrooms with 1/2 C water in small microwave-safe bowl; cover with a small plate and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Let stand about 5 minutes for mushrooms to soften. Strain mushrooms from liquid and set both aside.

2. Bring wine to simmer in large nonstick skillet over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced to 2 T, about 20 minutes. Scrape into a small bowl and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, pulse carrot in food processor until broken down into 1/4-inch pieces. Add onion and celery and pulse until veggies are in 1/8-inch pieces. Transfer to a small bowl. Process softened mushrooms until well-ground, scraping down sides of processor bowl as needed. Transfer mushrooms to bowl with other veggies. Process pancetta until pieces are no larger than 1/4 inch, then transfer to a small bowl. Pulse tomatoes and juice until chopped fine.

4. Heat butter in large skillet over medium-high heat; when foaming subsides, add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned. Add veggies; cook, stirring frequently, until veggies are softened but not browned. Add garlic and sugar and sauté another 30 seconds. Add meat, breaking into one-inch pieces with wooden spoon. Add milk and stir to break meat into 1/2-inch pieces; bring to simmer, reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer until most liquid is evaporated and meat is sizzling, 18-20 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook one minute. Add tomatoes, reserved porcini liquid, 1/4 t salt, and pepper; bring to simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium and simmer until liquid is reduced and sauce is thickened but still moist, 12-15 minutes. Stir in reduced wine and simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes.

Serve over cooked pasta with grated parmesan!

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Other recent recipe tests

Two from Cook's Illustrated Jan/Feb 2010 issue:
Hearty Minestrone

Table salt
1/2 lb dried cannellini beans
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 oz pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 medium celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 C)
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 C)
2 small onions, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 C)
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 C)
2 medium garlic cloves, pressed (about 2 t)
1/2 small head green cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 C) (I substituted lacinato kale here)
pinch red pepper flakes
8 C water
2 C low-sodium chicken broth (I used homemade)
1 piece rind of Parmigiano Reggiano, about 2x5 inches (this is too much! Half this much would have been better)
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 C V8 juice (I used Knudsen's Very Veggie)
1/2 C chopped fresh basil (forgot to put this in!)
freshly-ground black pepper
grated Parmesan for serving

1. Dissolve 1 1/2 T salt in 2 qts cold water in large bowl or pot. Add beans and soak at room temperature for 8-24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

Now, I had issues with my beans. After all this soaking time (probably at least 12 hours), some beans had plumped up, but others were almost exactly the same size they had started out. I don't know if this was because the beans were too old (they were newly purchased, but may have been sitting in the bulk bin for a while, who knows?), but it made the cooking time for the beans enough longer than I had planned that the soup had to be served the following night for dinner instead (I think we filled in with Taco Bell). Annoying. Next time I'll monitor the soaking beans more closely, stirring and checking during the soaking time.
2. Heat oil and pancetta in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is lightly browned and fat has rendered, 3-5 minutes. Add celery, carrot, onion, and zucchini; cook, stirring frequently, until veggies are softened and starting to brown, 5-9 minutes. Stir in garlic, cabbage (/kale), 1/2 t salt, and red pepper flakes; cook until cabbage (/kale) starts to wilt, 1-2 minutes more. Transfer veggies to plate and set aside.

3. Add soaked beans, water, broth, cheese rind, and bay leaf to same pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and vigorously simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are fully tender and liquid is starting to thicken, 45-60 minutes.

I simmered vigourously, and even the beans that hadn't plumped up during soaking did eventually become tender, but it took more like two hours, and the liquid never got appreciably thicker. Grr.
4. Add reserved veggies and V8 juice to pot; simmer until veggies are soft, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf and cheese rind, stir in chopped basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of EVOO and grated Parmesan.

The final product was pretty tasty, though overly cheesy because I used as much Parmesan rind as they called for, and probably because I simmered that huge chunk of cheese rind for twice as long as contemplated in the original recipe. Mavis and I liked it just fine, but none of the kids would really eat it.

The other trial was a much more unqualified success:
Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

[I made this without any lemon at all--I didn't want anything to detract from the almond-cheesy goodness.]

Lemon Sugar-Almond Topping
1/4 C sugar
1 1/2 t finely grated lemon zest
1/2 C sliced almonds

Mash sugar and lemon zest together in a small bowl until the sugar is somewhat moistened. Stir in almonds. (Next time--since I'll almost surely never make it with the lemon--I'll figure out some way of adding moisture to the sugar, maybe a teaspoon of softened butter. Without any moisture the sugar just sits on top of the cake and falls off when you invert the pan to get the cake out.)

1 1/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/8 t baking powder
1 1/8 t baking soda
1 t table salt
10 T unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 C plus 7 T sugar
1 T finely grated zest plus 4 t juice from 1-2 lemons
4 large eggs
5 t vanilla extract (or 4, plus 1 t almond extract if you're leaving the lemon out)
1 1/4 C sour cream
8 oz cream cheese, softened

1. Spray 10-inch tube pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl and set aside. In stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter, 1 C plus 2 T sugar, and lemon zest at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping sides of bowl as necessary. Add 4 t vanilla (or 3 plus 1 t almond extract) and mix to combine. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients in three additions and sour cream in two, alternating dry and wet ingredients, mixing after each addition until incorporated. Remove bowl from stand and mix in any unincorporated flour with a few strokes of the spatula.

2. Scoop out 1 1/4 C batter and set aside. Spoon remaining batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Return empty bowl to mixer stand and beat cream cheese, remaining 5 T sugar, lemon juice, and remaining t vanilla on medium speed until smooth and lightened, about 1 minute. Add 1/4 C reserved batter and mix until incorporated. Spoon evenly over batter in baking pan, staying one inch away from sides of pan. Smooth top. Spread remaining reserved batter over the top and smooth. Gently swirl batter in a figure-8 motion using a butter knife, being careful not to push filling to edges of pan. Bang pan on counter 2-3 times to dislodge bubbles. Sprinkle sugar-almond topping evenly over top and press gently to adhere.

3. Bake until top is golden and just firm, and skewer inserted into cake part comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. Remove pan from oven and bang on counter again to release air around filling. Cool cake in pan on wire rack 1 hour. Carefully double-invert cake, using a rimmed dish or plate, ending up with it back on the wire rack to cool completely for about 1 1/2 hours. Cut into slices and serve.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Catching Up, at least a little

I've actually been cooking quite a bit lately, just not posting about it. I made caramels and mailed them to people who responded to my something-homemade challenge on Facebook:

This afternoon, I made this tart to give to one of my preschool auction dessert-a-month winners. I adapted the crust (since neither I nor my intended recipients have gluten issues), using 1 1/4 C all-purpose flour and 1/4 C white rice flour.

By using a 9-inch tart pan instead of an 11-inch one, and rolling the crust on the thin side, I was also able to make 3 four-inch tarts for my family to eat. It was pretty good. If I were ever to make it again, I might do some things differently. Maybe my bananas were too large and too ripe, but the banana overpowered both the peanut butter and chocolate flavors in the filling. Also, the recipe called for cooling the caramel to room temperature before adding the peanut butter and banana. At room temperature, the caramel I made was quite gooey, and I was only able to mix the three components together by using my immersion blender. The crust was also just okay. I need to find a good chocolate sablé crust recipe.

Cindy Lou ate every last bite of her serving, with relish. The Wizard rejected his. Newton ate all his, but said he would have preferred it to be less banana-y. I like banana-chocolate desserts, but much prefer the ones I've made in the past: the Banana Layer Cake and Banana-Chocolate Bread Pudding.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pet Peeve Alert

I promise a more substantive post soon. A friend on Facebook posted a link to a Macaroni and Cheese recipe, and the author cited this page to support her statement that "There are volume differences between both dry and wet measuring cups."

The problem is, that's just not true. I was so bothered by this that I didn't even bother to get dressed before making this video: