250 Cookbooks: Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide

Cookbook #249: Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide, a Best Recipe Classic, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, Brookline, MA, 2005.

The Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and BarbecueMy second-to-last cookbook in this 250 Cookbooks blog! Hard to believe this 5-year project is coming to an end.

Cook’s Illustrated guide cookbooks are always among my favorites. Besides Grilling and Barbecue, I also have Cover and Bake and Best International Recipe. I’ve discussed the style of Cook’s Illustrated recipes in my previous posts on those two books. Briefly, you don’t just get a recipe, you get pages of discussion about how that recipe was developed – what they tried that did and did not work. Further information about ingredients and techniques is presented in boxes or side notes. I find that a Cook’s Illustrated recipe might take a bit more concentration to follow than common recipes, but the recipes always work for me. These guide books are all big, heavy, hardback, white-covered tomes.

I have eight “grilling” cookbooks, but this is one of my two “go-to” books for barbecue – the other is Weber’s Real Grilling. Weber’s Real Grilling is specific to gas grills, while Cook’s Illustrated Grilling and Barbecue gives for each recipe methods for both charcoal grilling and gas grilling. We have a gas grill, and I have no desire to cook with charcoal. The gas grill is just too easy! I’ll just say “I’m sorry” to those purists who think charcoal is the only way to grill!

Grilling and Barbecue begins with introductory sections on “Outdoor Cooking 101″ and Equipment and Tools for Outdoor Cooking”. They are quite useful and complete.

The first chapter is “Beef”. Strip and rib steaks, porterhouse and T-bone steaks, filets mignons, steak tips, flank steaks, London broil, hamburgers, prime rib, beef tenderloin, veal chops, beef ribs, and beef brisket are each discussed in detail, describing how to get the most out of each cut of beef. Specific recipes, sauces, salsas, marinades, and rubs are suggested, some of which appear in later chapters in the book.

The section on in the Beef chapter on “Does Branding Matter?” catches my eye. It begins: “To guarantee quality, more and more people are looking beyond the confines of their local supermarket butcher case and buying their steaks through mail order sources. These outlets promise all-star beef with a price tag to match”. I read on with interest, since I have tried mail order steaks in the past. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated did a thorough study of both local supermarket and mail order steaks. The steak that won first place in their taste tests is a mail order brand that cost $68/pound (Lobel’s Wagyu, or Kobe-style steak from Oakleigh Ranch in Australia). “We found that money can buy you happiness, if happiness for you is the best steak you ever ate”. But the “good news” is that you don’t have to spend a small fortune “or pay for shipping” to get a great steak. Coleman Natural steak, available at some supermarkets, is only $14 a pound and came in second in their taste tests. (Note the publication date of this book: 2005. We know prices have changed since then.)

Pork, lamb, chicken, turkey and other birds, fish, shellfish, vegetables, and pizza and bruschetta chapters follow in the same detail and style as the beef chapter. Sides and salads, rubs and sauces round out the book.

I think a study “kebabs” would be a good illustration of “Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide“. Sure, I’ve made pork, beef, and chicken kebabs so often I rarely use a recipe, but the meat often comes out dry and chewy, or under-cooked, or unflavorful, and the onions and peppers and other vegetables burned or falling apart. I usually make kebabs the same way, no matter what type of meat I use. Just load up the skewers, brush with a sauce, and put them on the grill – that’s my method. But I decide to use this blog as an opportunity to study how to make really good kebabs. So I turn to the pages and lengthy kebab discussions in this tome – about 4 big pages on average for each type of kebab. Below is what I learn.

First, pork. The problem with pork kebabs is that the pork tastes bland and often dries out on the grill. Cook’s Illustrated tried different cuts of pork, and chose pork loin because it has a full flavor, is tender, and an “appealing resistance when you bite into it”. On their early tries, the pork loin dried out on the grill. To overcome this, they tried both brining and marinating, and chose the marinade method because it not only kept the meat “moist and juicy”, but it added “richness of flavor that was lacking in the lean pork loin”. Also, the oil in the marinade improved the pork’s texture and added other flavors to the meat. Not only that, but cutting the pork loin into 1 1/4 inch cubes and “butterflying” them improved the flavor of this rather neutral meat. To butterfly, each cube is cut almost through at the center before marinating, and then folded back together to skewer as a whole cube. On the gas grill, these cubes cooked best over a “more moderate level of heat” than beef, the grill is covered, and the kebabs are turned a quarter-turn every 2 1/2 minutes for about 9-10 minutes total. Cooking the pork to 145˚ was found to be ideal. A study of fruits and vegetables to accompany the pork on the skewers led them to recommend fresh pineapple in 1-inch chunks, bell poppers in 1-inch pieces, and red onion in 3/4-inch pieces.

Beef kebabs went through a similar study. Results: use top blade (flatiron) steaks or sirloin.  Butterfly 1 1/4-inch beef cubes and marinate in a non-acidic olive oil based herb mixture, use the same vegetable and fruits as in pork cubes, grill over direct high heat, cover down, turning one-quarter turn every 1 3/4 minutes, until meat is browned, about 7-8 minutes total.

Finally, chicken kebabs. Use chicken thighs cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks and marinate in a olive oil and salt, non-acidic marinade. Cook’s Illustrated found “early on” that it was clear that cooking chicken and vegetables together on kebabs “enhances the flavor of both”. After a lengthy study, they chose zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, bell peppers, small shallots, apples, peaches, pears, and fresh pineapple as appropriate for chicken kebabs. (Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t deem potatoes good for kebabs because they require pre-cooking.) They have a handy table that designates the size to cut each recommended fruit and vegetable and whether or not that fruit or vegetable should be marinated. For grilling, they recommend two skewers per kebab, to facilitate turning them without the chicken and vegetables spinning. Grilling should be done on medium high, uncovered, turning one-quarter turn every 2 minutes, until lightly browned, about 9 minutes total.

I am inspired! I’ll carefully follow their instructions and make all these different types of kebabs this summer. Then I can expand to their recipes for fish and shrimp kebabs.

Am I going to make kabobs for this blog? No! Instead, I want to cook a pork tenderloin for the two of us. This is a cut of pork that I use a lot – it’s tender, lean, often on sale, and a perfect portion for two people (with a little left over for the next day’s lunch). I usually simply sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook over direct medium high heat, turning about four times. Grilling and Barbecue says to brine the pork tenderloin, use a wet rub, and cook over high heat 3 minutes per side.

For copyright protection, I am not scanning in this recipe. Below is my adaptation of the original in Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Orange, Sage, and Garlic
serves 2

Pork tenderloin and brine

  • 1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • water

Wet spice rub

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • salt to taste

Remove the “silver skin” from the pork tenderloin: simply slide a sharp knife under this thin piece of tendon on the outside of the tenderloin.

Dissolve the sugar and salt in several cups of water in a shallow bowl. Add the tenderloin and refrigerate about 1 hour. While the pork brines, prepare the wet spice rub – simply mix all the ingredients in a bowl.

Remove the tenderloin from the brining solution, rinse, and dry with paper towels. Rub the wet spice rub into the tenderloin.

Heat a gas grill by turning all the burners to high and with the grill covered. Then, open the gas grill and scrape the cooking grate clean with a grill brush. With the burners still on high, lay the wet-rub-coated pork tenderloin carefully on the grill. Close the cover. Turn about every three minutes so that all four “sides” of the tenderloin are browned. Using a quick-read thermometer, check that the meat is at 145˚. If not, cook until it is.

Serve!

Grilled Pork TenderloinYum! This was perfect! Moist and flavorful with great grill marks. I served it with a green salad and corn on the cob for a light, healthy, tasty meal.

Thank you, Cook’s Illustrated, for another great recipe.

250 Cookbooks: Curried Favors

Cookbook #247: Curried Favors, Family Recipes from South India, Maya Kaimal, Abbreville Press Publishers, NY, London, 1996. (Paperback edition.)

Curried Flavors cook book

Curried Favors is a beautiful cookbook. I picked it up at a Peppercorn display sometime in, well, probably the 2000s. It intrigued me, so I bought it. The 2000s was a period of time when I was learning about foreign cuisines from home-cook classes at the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder. And I remember a visit to India’s Grocery in Boulder, where the owner told me how to make a curry: put a mixture of fresh spices and oil in a hot pan until they pop, then add vegetables and maybe meat, cook quickly, add a liquid, simmer a few minutes, and serve. That simple! I was entranced – at the time I had a totally different idea about Indian curries. (My old idea was any dish with store-bought ground curry powder.)

Today, I open Curried Favors and the first thing I note on the inside jacket is “Winner 1997 Julia Child First Book Award”. Julia again! The New York Times calls it “An artful and intimate cookbook.” It’s also an IACP cookbook awards winner. Well. I am happy to spend some more time with this book – it’s been a couple years since I adventured into its pages.

And it is an adventure. Maya Kaimal’s words and photos take the reader on a journey to southern India and the flavorful curries and other dishes found in this area.

The introduction to Curried Favors begins:

“If my South Indian father hadn’t found himself in a Kansas wheat field thirty years ago, this book would never have been written. Because he was doing atmospheric research on the American prairie, miles from any restaurants, he tried his hand at cooking. Being a scientist gave my father an advantage in cooking – he liked to experiment, and he wrote everything down so he could duplicate his results.”

In Maya Kaimal’s home, dinners alternated between her American mother’s “forays” into Julia Child and her father’s “latest experiments” with Indian cooking. At one point, her father was approached by “the owner of a cookware store in Boulder, Colorado, to see if he’d teach a course on Indian cooking”. (My guess is that that store was the Peppercorn.) He accepted, and taught the “popular class” for four years.

“Kerala [a state Southern India] is an interesting and unique culinary pocket, its cuisine shaped by climate, geography, and religion.” Coconuts, fish, shellfish, curry leaves, mustard seeds, and rice are abundant. Its location on the old trade routes brought new spices and foods to the ports and to the cuisine. Kerala is predominantly HIndu, but also has large Christian and Muslim populations. Christians eat all types of meat, some Hindus are vegetarian and some eat chicken, fish and lamb, but not beef; Muslims don’t eat pork. Each cultural group brings unique culinary contributions to the cuisine of this area.

My hubby hates curries. So when I cook from this book, I have to say “we are having a stir fry tonight”, and keep the “C” word out of it. He also cringes at anything colored turmeric or saffron yellow. He simply has an aversion to Indian foods. And yellow main dishes. But I consider the recipes I have tried from this book explosive in flavor, hot and spicy and bright.

Kaimal tells us that “curry powder” is not a simple spice, and “curry” does not define a particular dish. Instead, a curry is a dish of meat, fish, eggs, and/or vegetables cooked with a mixture of aromatic spices. Packaged “curry powder” is not called for in any of the recipes in this book.

As usual, I searched “Maya Kaimal” on the internet. She wrote one book after “Curried Flavors”. In 2003, she and her husband started a business, Maya Kaimal, selling Indian sauces, spices, and chips. Check out the website, because a lot of her recipes on posted on it.

The best way to show the gist, spiciness, and simplicity of the recipes in this book is to cook an example. I choose one that I have tried before, Chicken with Coconut Milk.

I plan to cut the recipe in half and leave out the turmeric, and use less cayenne. I have everything for this recipe in my pantry and or my freezer except the coconut milk and a fresh hot chili (a quick trip to a store solved those issues). I will use bay leaves instead of curry (or kari) leaves. (I know where to find curry leaves in downtown Boulder, but don’t have any in my pantry right now.} I also increased the amount of coconut milk. Below is my adaptation of the above recipe.

Chicken Coconut Curry
serves 2

Meat:

  • 12 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut in 1/2-inch chunks

Spice mixture (or rub):

  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • pinch cinnamon (1/16 teaspoon)
  • pinch cloves (1/16 teaspoon)

Combine the spices and rub into the chicken. Let stand 1 hour.

The rest of the curry:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 large bay leaf, broken in half
  • 1 cup onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small green chili, cut in half lengthwise, or use half of a serrano chili
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, freshly ground
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (unsweetened, but not “lite”)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • dash fresh lemon juice

Here are (most) of the ingredients I will use in the rub and spice mixture:

Chicken Coconut Curry ingredientsWhen the chicken has rested in its rub (refrigerated) for at least an hour, set a frying pan on medium high heat and add the oil, mustard seeds, and bay leaf. Cover. Heat until the mustard seeds pop. Uncover and add the onion and cook and stir until the onion is browning nicely. Add the garlic, ginger, green chili, and ground fennel seeds and cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Add the prepared chicken and cook and stir for about 5 minutes. Add the salt and half the coconut milk and the water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for about 20-30 minutes. Add the rest of the coconut milk and the lemon juice and bring back to a boil, then serve. (I took the hot chili and the bay leaves out before serving.)

I served our curry over brown rice.

Chicken Coconut CurryI love this curry. I like the whole cooking process, too. The aromas as it cooks! The flavors as I eat it! But hubby? Well, he ate it all. But when asked, he said something like “yeah, it was dinner”. Guess I didn’t slip this curry by him. Maybe it isn’t just the yellow color that he does not like about curries. His loss.

ChappathiI also made chappathi from another recipe in this book. These are small flatbreads cooked on a stove-top, similar to tortillas, but made from durum wheat flour (“atta” flour) and water (and a little salt) – that’s all. I had some durum wheat flour in my pantry because of forays into pasta cooking. To make the chappathi, you mix and knead together flour and water, cut into equal-sized pieces, roll each to a circle, and cook briefly on a hot griddle. It’s kind of like making tortillas or crepes or pita breads. Mine came out pretty good. Here’s the rolled out dough:

Chappathi Dough

And the final chappathi:

ChappathiTaste? Not a lot, but I thought they were interesting. They sure are cute.

250 Cookbooks: Crock Pot Stoneware Slow Cooker

Cookbook #241: Crock-Pot® Stoneware Slow Cooker, Owner’s Guide, Rival, JCS/THG (The Holmes Group), 2006.

Crock-Pot Stoneware Slow Cooker cookbookThis is my current crock pot. It replaced a nearly-broken one in about 2006. This one has a removable stoneware crock that makes it easy to clean, a high-low setting, and a timer. This is my first crock pot with a timer, and I’d always get one like this from now on.

This is the last of my 11 crock pot cookbooks. Below is a list of those cookbooks and their publication dates, in the order that I covered them for this 250 Cookbooks blog. Crock pots are also called slow cookers, crockery cookers, or stoneware slow cookers. (I am reminded by Crock-Pot® Stoneware Slow Cooker that “Crock-Pot®” is a registered trademark.)

Crock-Pot® Stoneware Slow Cooker is a small booklet, 5×7-inches, 15 pages. Instructions and warranty take up 6 1/2 pages, and recipes 8 1/2 pages. I count 23 recipes. (Actually, there is another 15 pages, but those are upside down and in French.)

I am going to keep this cookbook, largely because it has “official” instructions and also warranty information. And also, the handful of recipes really look like they will “work”. If you read any of my other crock pot posts, you will know that I think crock pots turn good food into indiscernible mush with a bad recipe.

I find this in the question and answer section of the instructions:

QCan I cook a roast without adding water?
A Yes – if cooked on LOW. We recommend a small amount because the gravies are especially tasty. The more fat or “marbling” the meat has, the less liquid you need. The liquid is needed to properly soften and cook vegetables.

This hits home to me, because lately I have been slow-roasting beef roasts in the oven. I might try my crock pot next time.

The first recipe in Crock-Pot® Stoneware Slow Cooker is for Pot Roast of Beef. Someday I’d like to try this recipe and compare/contrast with the method I now use from Cook’s Illustrated (Cover and Bake).

The second recipe is for Beef Bourguignon, and that is what I’ll make for this blog. Another recipe I have my eye on is Chicken With 40 Cloves of Garlic, something I’ve always wanted to make. I might also consult the recipes for meat loaf, pork chops and roast, whole chicken, Swiss steak, French onion soup, jambalaya, and game hens (roasted with no added water).

Here is the recipe for Beef Bourguignon:

My version is below. I added more stock and more wine, and found that these changes gave just the right amount and thickness of gravy at the end. I used double the amount of tomato paste. I did not add the 3 tablespoons butter plus 3 tablespoons flour at the very end to thicken the broth, but I suggest you do that if you want a really thick gravy.

Beef Bourguignon
serves 6-8, and freezes well

  • 6 strips of bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
  • beef rump, chuck, or cross-rib roast, around 3 pounds, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup (about) red wine; divided
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, or a few sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf (I used a big fat one recently purchased at Savory Spice Shop in Boulder)
  • 1/2 pound tiny white onions (you could leave these out, but I like them; the ones I used were frozen)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Cook the bacon until crisp. Drain and set aside.

In a clean pan, use a little bit of the bacon grease to sauté the beef chunks. Do this in batches and at fairly high heat. (You can anso brown the beef in the pan used to cook the bacon.)

Place the browned beef chunks and the cooked bacon in the crock pot.

Add a bit of oil or bacon fat to the pan used to brown the beef, then add the carrot and onion and cook until brown. Add the 3 tablespoons flour and mix in as well as possible, then add the beef broth; mix well and add the vegetable-broth mixture to the crock pot.

Add about half the wine, the tomato paste, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and tiny white onions to the crock pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir to mix.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours (in my crock pot, the meat was tender at 8 hours). An hour before serving, sauté the mushrooms in the butter, and add them and some more red wine to the crock pot and continue slow-cooking. (Remove the bay leaf and any fresh thyme sprigs before serving.)

Serve!

Beef BourguignonThis was totally yummy. I loved the rich, dark broth-gravy. I am glad I didn’t add the flour/butter mixture at the end to thicken the gravy. It was rich and thick enough for me as it was – it was indeed “especially tasty”. I’m also glad I added more wine than called for in the recipe. I liked the sautéd mushrooms added for the last hour – their texture and flavor were not lost by 8 hours of cooking.

To serve, I cooked some potatoes, carrots, and peas and stirred them into our servings of bourguignon. I often like stew prepared with potatoes added later, because for the two of us, I usually cook a lot of stew-type meat at once and freeze some for another meal, and potatoes do not keep their texture after freezing. Also, this method opens up variations: you could serve the bourguignon over mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, gnocchi, polenta – you name it. Or keep it without added carbs for a nearly low-carb meal.

I get to enjoy this delicious bourguignon a few more times, and quickly, by thawing the portions I stowed away in my freezer. This recipe was a success!

250 Cookbooks: Sunset Cook Book for Entertaining

 Cookbook #234: Sunset Cook Book for Entertaining, the Editors fo Sunset Books and Sunset Magazine, Lane Books, Menlo Park, California, 1971.

Sunset Cook Book for EntertainingEntertaining, not my forté! I’m a bit too much of an introvert so I’ve never practiced it a lot. Sort of shy. And don’t get me wrong, I love cooking for people, but when it comes to presentation, I am lacking in ability and (desire). When company comes over (usually family), I want something delicious to serve and I don’t want diners getting full on appetizers. Save room for dessert!

I always thought that Sunset Cook Book for Entertaining was all about “appetizers” and I have only rarely looked through it. I am not sure even where this book came from, and it has no markings in it as clues. I pick it up and wonder how in the world I am going to be able to cook something from this cookbook, since we are on our January low-carb eating plan.

The first chapter is, indeed, appetizers. But hmmm, I see some good ideas, and only a few bad ideas. Like, no cream cheese-sour cream dips! (bad idea). The good ideas: Marinated Mushrooms, Ginger-Minted Carrots, wine-poached scallops (Coquilles St. Jacques), Quiche Lorraine Appetizers, and Hawaiian Beef Sticks. Sunset Cook Book for Entertaining also suggests having “sit-down” appetizers, where guests sit down to a first course of these goodies. I can see making that a meal, like tapas.

Maybe this is not a cookbook to be recycled.

Next is Soups and Salads – the traditional beginning of a meal. The soup and salad recipes are all easy with a few interesting flavor twists. I like the Greens with Dilled Shrimp, largely, probably, because of our low-carbed-ness moment.

dilled shrimp and greens recipeDistinctive Entrees begins: “The entree is the most important part of a meal, and the deciding factor in all the other things you serve before, with, or after.” Let’s see what they have. Most of the recipes sound good, like Beef Burgundy, Veal Veronique, and Giant Beef-Lobster Kebabs. But what I like about this chapter’s recipes is that almost each one requires very little last minute prep from the cook: “The foremost consideration in the selection of these entrees has been whether they are practical for entertaining. Nearly all of these dishes may be made partially or entirely ahead; many may be frozen.” A few of the recipes  look very involved but I might find them fun: Danish Chicken and Meatblls au Gratin, for instance, calls for veal meatballs, chicken breasts, and sweetbreads, all cooked and assembled in a rich sauce ahead of time and simply heated briefly just before serving. “Pheasant-in-a-Bag” is an example of one of the more unusual dishes in this chapter. I note a recipe for Turkey Tetrazzini, one I’ve come across several times in cookbooks of this era, and one that I have explored before (Encyclopedia of Cookery, Vol. 11, All-Time Favorite Recipes, and All-Time Favorite Casserole Recipes). An easy last-minute dish is “Steak, Mushrooms, and Asparagus”, a dish I plan to make for us soon.

I find throughout the chapters a series of “helpful hints”. For instance, soup garnish ideas, folded napkins, flavored butter seasonings, coffees from around the world, cooking with wine, the art of the small dinner party, and a guide to serving cheeses.

Accompaniments and Side Dishes has recipes for cooked vegetables (Green Beans, Mediterranean Style), potatoes (Skillet Potatoes Anna, Pecan-Topped Sweet Potatoes), rice (Risotto), bulgur (Wheat Pilaf with Peas and Lemon), pasta (Parsley Spaghetti), and breads (Buttery Pan Rolls, Pine Nut Sticks, Honey-Pecan Cornbread Sticks, Cheesy Spoonbread).

Distinguished Desserts is next. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that I find myself drooling over most of these recipes, but am holding back on cooking them because they are calorie-laden (and carb-laden!). These tempting recipes are for tortes and souffles, puddings and pies, sherberts and glacés (one with flaming strawberry sauce), and cakes and cookies. Most of the recipes in this chapter are a little different, a little fancier than my recipes for simple chocolate cakes and such. But none are for me today. I keep reading.

Hot and Cold Drinks recipes include hot drinks (Mexican chocolate, wassail bowl), cold drinks (citrus punch, yogurt coolers, fizzes) and alcoholic drinks (sangria, glögg, milk punch with brandy, Kahlua frost).

The final chapter is Special Meals for Special Occasions.This section combines new recipes and references to previous recipes for many dinner party menus. I’d say there are tons of ideas in this chapter for “hostesses” (including a good version of Beef Fondue). Different, unusual, and tasty ideas at that. I’d like to go to one of these dinner parties! But make them? Doubt I will.

I’ve scanned in several of the menus from this chapter. They show the breadth of menus and recipes included in this book.

page 66

page 71page 73page 76page 86

For this blog, I decide to make Steak, Mushrooms, and Asparagus from the Entrees chapter. This is a low-carb recipe, by the way! The suggested side dish carb, brown rice, is a good low-glycemic index grain choice, but I will use quinoa instead.

steak and asparagusI’ve adjusted the herbs and thickening agent (cornstarch) up a bit to our own tastes, and made twice the amount of sauce.

Steak, Mushrooms, and Asparagus
serves 2

  • 12 ounces flank steak (cut one flank steak into two pieces lengthwise, use one and reserve the other for another meal)
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup asparagus (about 1/2 pound) cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon tarragon
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)

Cut the flank steak on the diagonal into 1/4-inch strips.

Place the mushrooms and asparagus in a frying pan. Add 3/4 cup water, bring to a boil, and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until the asparagus is barely tender. Drain, reserving cooking liquid, and set aside.

Mix 1/2 cup water with the 1 tablespoon cornstarch, then add the wine, salt, thyme, tarragon, and garlic powder. Set aside.

Brown the meat quickly in very hot olive oil; reduce heat, return vegetables to pan, add the cornstarch mixture, and cook for about 1 minute longer, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened. Blend in some of the reserved vegetable liquid if you prefer a thinner sauce.

Steak, Mushroooms, and AsparagusI liked this a lot, but all I got was a “pretty good” from my hubby. He is used to this type of meal with a lot of soy sauce; I, on the other hand, appreciated the subtle red wine sauce. I am not an asparagus fan, but the asparagus I found at the store was very small and young, and cut into the small pieces, I found it to be quite good.

I also made the Dilled Shrimp with greens another day last week. It was good, but the shrimp I bought were not good – they were tiny and tough. I’m sure it would be excellent with good shrimp.

Dilled Shrimp and GreensI have decided to keep this cookbook. Online, I find that it is still for sale (used) for several dollars a copy. And I found one favorable review – so I know I am not alone in appreciating this book. I have always liked the type of Southwestern cuisine that Sunset magazine promotes. Another “found” cookbook, right on my shelves!

 

250 Cookbooks: Pressure Cooker

Cookbook #230: Pressure Cooker, User’s Manual, Fagor America, Inc., Lyndhurst, NJ, 1999.

Pressure Cooker cookbookThis is the instruction manual that came with the pressure cooker I bought sometime in the early 2000s. I have already talked about that specific pressure cooker in my post Fagor Pressure Cookers, More than 50 Recipes.

The first few pages detail how to use a stove-top pressure cooker and how long to cook a variety of foods. I now use an electric pressure cooker, so only the cooking time lengths and pressure release times are useful to me. For instance, the length of time to cook chicken is discussed in this section:

page 11page 12

I’ve used this booklet – that note is in my handwriting. The cooking times for chicken correlate well with the times in my current electric cooker instruction booklet (Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker).

How about the recipes in this booklet? Good recipes might make me keep an instruction cookbook. But Pressure Cooker, User’s Manual, has only 8 pages of recipes, from soups to vegetables to rice and pastas to game and poultry to meat to fish to desserts. The recipes are basic preparations, none have a much flair. Instead, their purpose is to acquaint the new user with the range of foods that can be cooked in a pressure cooker. Here is a typical recipe:

Pot Roast Chicken recipe I don’t need this booklet anymore, since I no longer have a stove-top pressure cooker and since the recipes aren’t very exciting. I will recycle it.

For this blog I will cook chicken in my current electric pressure cooker. I go to Whole Foods to buy a whole chicken, but they are out! This is the day after Christmas and many shelves are bare. Not wanting to travel to another store, I buy bone-in chicken breasts and drumsticks, about 4 pounds worth. Do I need to cook chicken pieces for a shorter time than a whole chicken? According to to the section on Meats and Poultry in Pressure Cooker, User’s Manual (above), the answer is “yes” – 9-10 minutes for pieces, 12-15 for whole. (The chicken-piece cooking time length correlates well with my Savory Chicken recipe.) How much liquid should I add to the pot? Pressure Cooker, User’s Manual states “Always cook meat or poultry with at least a 1/2 cup of liquid. If the cooking time exceeds 15 minutes, use 2 cups of liquid.”

The pressure release method also affects how done the chicken will be in a certain amount of time. Are the pressure release method the same in both sets of instructions? No, they are not exactly alike, as I found when I compared the manual cooker instructions with those in my Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker book:

electric pressure cooker times

Comparison:

Manual cookbook instructions

  • slow release
  • 9-10 minutes for cut-up chicken
  • 12-15 for whole chicken (and I noted to cook whole chicken 15 minutes “especially if it’s slightly frozen)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups water in their recipe for cut-up chicken in Chicken Casserols

Electric pressure cooker instructions

  • quick release
  • 10 minutes for cut-up chicken
  • 24-28 minutes for whole chicken
  • 1 cup liquid in my recipe for cut-up chicken (Savory Chicken)

In summary, the manual cooker instructions state to cook a whole chicken a little bit longer than chicken pieces; the electric cooker instructions state to cook a whole chicken two and a half times as long. I can see that there are several other variables to control: cut of chicken, weight of chicken, amount of liquid, amount of liquid, length of cooking, and type of pressure release.

So how the heck shall I cook my odd mixture of thick chicken breasts and drumsticks? I decide to make an educated guess and do an experiment. I will cook my large-sized bone-in chicken breasts and 6 drumsticks in 1/2 cup water (and a little salt) for at least 10 minutes and use the quick release. But as an experiment, I decide to check the chicken after 8 minutes.

Results

At 8 minutes, the drumsticks were done, but the breasts were kind of “hard”. I took the drumsticks out of the cooker and cooked the chicken breasts 5 minutes longer. Here is my chicken at 13 minutes:

pressure cooked chicken

All the chicken pieces are done, but honestly, the breasts were kind of rubbery and dry. Hmmm. I poured the cooking liquid into a measuring cup – it totalled 1 cup. It seems a lot of the juices ran out of the chicken. In the future, I recommend trying more water in the pot at the start, up to 2 cups.

This chicken did make a great chicken salad. Cut up and dressed with mayonnaise, it was just fine, and didn’t taste rubbery. It was also good in chicken soup (made with that cup of chicken liquid). And I have enough chicken for yet another meal too.

This is an experiment in progress! For large chicken breasts, I suggest trying (first) 1-2 cups water, and 12-15 minutes (quick release) cooking time for a whole chicken. If I have a whole chicken, I’d try 16-20 minutes.

I had a fun time with this – I still like doing experiments.

250 Cookbooks: Five Hundred ways to prepare California Sea Foods

Cookbook #229: Five Hundred ways to prepare California Sea Foods, Compiled by State Fish Exchange, California State Printing Office, Harry Hammond, State Printer, Sacramento, CA, 1934.

California Sea Foods cookbookThe sheer abundance of fish covered in this book is amazing – about 60 species! The table below shows the types, poundage, and total amount of fish produced in 1933 in California.

fishing production 1933

How does this compare with California’s fishery products today? On the California Department of Fish and Wildlife site, I found this document: California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Table 7 – Origin and Poundage of Commercia Fish Landings Into California During 2016. Here is a summary of a comparison of totals in 1933 and 2016:

  • 1933: 669,775,413 pounds of commercial fish and crustaceans/mollusks
  • 2016: 165,184,101 pounds of commercial fish and mollusks

Over 4 times as much was produced in 1933 than in 2016 – that is impressive. And below is my rough summary comparing the most fished types of fish 1933 and of the most fished types of fish in2016, in poundage per year (“m” is “million”):

  • 1933: sardines (510 m), mackerel (69 m), yellowfin tuna (51 m), , skipjack (16.5 m), sole (8 m), rockfish, salmon, anchovies, abalone, shrimp, crab (these last all 2-5 m)
  • 2016: squid (82 m), crab (dungess, 26.5 m), anchovies (18 m), sea urchin (6 m), mackerel (4 m), sole (4 m), shrimp, rockfish, hagfish, sablefish (these last all 2-3 m)

Fish tales abound in this data! Sardines were a huge industry in California until the 1940s. Sardine canneries abounded in the San Fransisco area – Cannery Row in Monterey was made famous by the book of the same name by John Steinbeck. Overfishing forced the canneries to close. Yellowfin tuna populations have dropped since the thirties – overfishing has declined the tuna population. Mackerel was heavily fished and canned in California, depleting the populations, but they came back by the 1970s. The higher proportion of dungess crabs today surprised me, until I learned that until 1938, it was illegal to can crabs. Why is squid such a huge proportion of the California fisheries in 2016? Because it is the popular “calamari”. But that’s not the whole story. According to a 2016 NPR aritcle, “More than 80 percent of U.S. squid landings are exported — most of it to China. The rare percentage of that catch that stays domestically goes to Asian fresh fish markets or is used as bait. Ironically, the lion’s share of the squid consumed in the United States is imported.”

California Sea Foods encourages Californians to eat more fish. “Make Tuesday Fish Day Too!” reads the front inside cover.

inner coverThis takes me back: when I was in elementary school, we always had fish on Friday – a tuna fish sandwich in my lunchbox. Fish on Friday was a Catholic practice, and although we were not Catholic, we nevertheless had those tuna sandwiches. Curious about this tradition, I found several interesting articles. In Lust, Lies And Empire: The Fishy Tale Behind Eating Fish On Friday, an npr.org article, I learn that this “no fish” policy was once thought to be because of a medieval pope who was trying to prop up the fishing industry. But instead, according to Christian teaching, abstinence was observed as a penance on Fridays is to commemorate the Friday death of Jesus, who redeemed a sinful world. “Abstinence” in this case refers to refraining from meat (Wikipedia). Why meat? Because it’s the flesh of warmblooded mammals, animals that have sacrificed their lives for us. Fish, the flesh of coldblooded animals, is “considered fair game”. (Many books have been written on this topic, including Fish on Friday by Leonard Feeney and Why Do Catholics Eat Fish On Friday by Michael Foley.)

Five Hundred ways to prepare California Sea Foods has a very useful table of contents/index, handily referring the reader to recipes for cooking and serving all of the fish in the above table. The fishes can be baked, boiled, cooked in a bouillabaise or cioppino, broiled, made into cakes or croquettes or fritada, fried, jellied (made into a mold), made in a pie, put in a salad or sandwich, put in a souffle or soup, or steamed (and I still haven’t listed all the methods!). After the fish recipes are lots of recipes for fish sauces.

As an example, I look up “sole”, a fish I cooked for a recent post:

soleThat’s not the only page of recipes for sole – they go on for four more pages!

Here’s another page from Five Hundred ways to prepare California Sea Foods:

tartar sauceThe book ends with “Reasons Why you should make Tuesday Fish Day too!” touts fish as “one of the most heathful and nourishing foods known to science”.

inner back cover

I will make Tartar Sauce for this blog. The original recipe is in one of the scans, above. My version is below. I didn’t have chervil

Tartar Sauce
enough for 2-3 people

  • one dill pickle, chopped (don’t use a huge pickle; you want about 1 tablespoon chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon (or use fresh, or use chervil as given in the original recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 green onion, chopped fine
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

Mix all of the above together and serve.

tartar sauceThis tartar sauce was amazingly good. Fresh and zingy. I served it with salmon along with wedges of lemon. I usually make “tartar sauce” by mixing together mayo or yogurt with a little pickle relish and tarragon. But this one is a big step up in flavor, and still very easy to make. I am sure I’ll use it a lot in the future!

I’ll end with the photo on the back of the book. Peace.

back cover

250 Cookbooks: Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Cookbook #227: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck, Borzoi Books, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1961. Thirtieth Printing, June, 1978.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook

“Julie & Julia”, the 2009 film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, portrays the true story of Julie Powell, a young New Yorker who took on the challenge of cooking all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She covered her experiences in a blog, and eventually a book: Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. When the movie came out, I ran upstairs to see if I had a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And yes, it was on my bookshelf!

Mastering the Art of French Cooking always intimidated me. My copy is barely wrinkled, no food stains mar the pages. In the past, no more did I want to read it that I would want to read a book on advanced physical chemistry.

I’ve grown up a bit though, and taken a class on classic French sauces. I’ve also learned how to make my own great stocks. I’ll say “I am wiser”, and am feeling this especially this week because I just turned a year older. Now as I turn the pages of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I can understand the language and appreciate the wisdom, and I smile warmly at Julia Child’s complete love of cooking.

On my birthday this week, I got up late and decided to make an omelet. And I don’t just mean “make an omelet”, I wanted to make an omelet according to Julia’s directions. I wanted nothing else for breakfast! Just an experiment. It was, afterall, my birthday.

I open Mastering the Art of French Cooking to page 127. Julia Child says it will only take 30 seconds to make the omelette. And, “An omelette cannot be made in a sticky pan. The eggs must be able to slide around freely. This is why it is a good idea to have one pan that is reserved for omelettes only.” And the type of pan Julia Child likes the best? The French type of plain iron pan with sloping sides. Aha, I own just such a pan! I got it about a year ago. But I banished it to the basement because it is so heavy and hard to clean.

Today I jog down to the basement and retrieve the pan. I scrub it with steel wool and soap, dry it carefully, and heat it to get all the water off. Then I rub it with oil and wipe all that off. I set it on the stove.

“The individual 2- to 3-egg omelette is usually the tenderest, and by far the best size to practice making.” Perfect. “Just before heating the butter in the pan, break the eggs into a mixiing bowl and add salt and pepper. With a large table fork, beat the eggs only enough to blend the whites and yolks thoroughly. From 30 to 40 vigorous strokes should be sufficient.”

My 3 eggs mixed with 30 vigorous strokes, it’s time to heat my pan. “Place the butter [1 tablespoon] in the pan and set over very high heat . . . as the butter melts, tilt the pan in all directions to film the sides. When you see that the foam has almost subsided in the pan and the butter is on the point of coloring, it is an indication that it is hot enough to pour in the eggs.”

Next comes the short but busy omelette-cooking step. I am to hold the (heavy) pan in my left hand, pour in the eggs, and immediately start sliding the pan back and forth rapidly over the heat. And at the same time, I am supposed to stir the eggs with the bottom flat side of a fork to spread them all over the bottom of the pan. In only 3 or 4 seconds, the eggs will become a light custard, and it will be time to tilt the pan at a 45 degree angle and gather the eggs at the far lip of the pan. And give “4 or 5 sharp blows on the handle of the pan with your right fist to loosen the omelette and make the far edge curl over onto itself.”

This all happened very fast. But somehow, I poured a creamy, soft roll of eggs onto a plate. No toast, no coffee cake, no sausage, just eggs. I immediately take the hot omelette and  two forks and sit down next to my husband. He gives me this look, as if, he is supposed to share this with me? “It’s my birthday, I can do what I want!”

I took the first bite and . . . heavenly tastes and textures burst in my mouth. Dang that was a great omelette. Thank you Julia Child!

I spend several days paging through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I took lots of notes! I really do like this classic cookbook. I suggest every serious cook buy or borrow a copy at some point in their life.

The only drawback to Julia Child’s recipes is the heavy use of butter, cream, and egg yolks. Yes, I have read The Big Fat Surprise, a book that disputes the generally accepted idea that the fats in these foods are bad for you, and instead encourages us to include them in our diet. But still, calories are calories, and stick on my body as weight when I eat too many. Just saying.

But this week, I will indulge in a Julia Child recipe: Filets de Poisson Gratinés, à la Parisienne, or “Fish Filets Poached in White Wine; Cream and Egg Yolk Sauce.” This recipe is a great example of Julia Child’s presentation style.

fishrecpage1fishrecpage2fishrecpage3fishrecpage4fishrecpage5

Below is my adaptation of this recipe. Note that you need a baking dish that you can heat on the stove top and also place in the oven. I used a LeCreuset.

Poached Sole in Velouté Sauce
serves 2

Poaching the fish:

  • 1 pound sole filets
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • butter: you need this throughout; I used unsalted butter, less than a cube in all
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup fish stock (or use water)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • a piece of parchment cut to fit the LeCreuset

Turn on the oven to 350˚.

Butter the bottom of a LeCreuset. Sprinkle in half the minced shallots. Season the sole filets with salt and pepper, then place in the prepared LeCreuset, slightly overlapping the filets. Dot with 3/4 tablespoon butter cut into small chunks. Combine the fish stock and the wine and pour over the fish. Add a little more stock if necessary to barely cover the fish. Mine looked like this:

fish ready to poach

On the stovetop, bring the fish almost to simmering. Butter both sides of the piece of parchment. Place the LeCreuset in the 350˚ oven. Bake for 8 minutes, check for doneness by piercing with a fork (you should find just a slight resistance), and bake a few more minutes only if necessary. During the baking, the cooking liquid should be at a light simmer.

Drain the cooking liquid into a small saucepan, leaving the poached fish in the LeCreuset, covered with the parchment.

Boil the cooking liquid until it is reduced to 1/2 cup. This will be use in the sauce.

Veloute Sauce:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup reduced cooking liquid (hot)
  • 3/8 cup milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • “drops” of lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon grated Swiss cheese

Melt the 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a small sauce pan, then add the flour and stir until it is all mixed in. Continue cooking until it thickens but do not cook it until it browns. Off heat, beat in the hot cooking liquid and the milk. A whisk works well for this step. Put the pan back on the stove and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil about a minute – the mixture will be thick.

In a bowl, blend the egg yolk with the cream, using a whisk. Add small amounts of the hot sauce and continue beating until about 1/2 cup of the hot sauce is added, then add the rest of the hot sauce in a thin stream. Put the mixture back in the pan and boil and stir 1 minute. You can thin with a little cream if it is too thick for your tastes. Add a few drops of lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Preheat the broiler.

Spoon the sauce over the poached fish (take the parchment off first), then dot the top with the 1/2 tablespoon butter and the Swiss cheese. On the stove top, over low heat, heat until it is just simmering.

Put the dish under the broiler until the top of the sauce is brown.

What is nice about this dish is that you can assemble it with the poached fish covered with sauce, and then do the stove-top heating and broiling steps just before serving. It’s important to bring this dish to the table hot and bubbly.

Here is the plated dish.

poached, sauced fish I served with a little orzo and steamed julienned zucchini and carrots on the side. I also served a loaf of my own no-knead bread. And a couple pretty green salads. For dessert? Fresh blackberries over ice cream.salads

I took my first bite of the fish and then I had to set down my fork so I wouldn’t gobble up the rest too fast. This is absolutely delicious! “One of the best twenty-five meals ever in my life” was my comment.

Thank you Julia Child.

250 Cookbooks: The Chinese Cookbook

Cookbook #224: The Chinese Cookbook, Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and New York, 1972.

The Chinese CookbookThe Chinese Cookbook is one of my favorite cookbooks. I always keep it in my kitchen for ready reference!

I turn first to Craig Claiborne’s introduction. He writes “I was trained in depth in French cookery in a Swiss hotel school, and it appealed to me from the beginning as a form of cookery that could be, let us say, wholly embraced . . . it seems so logical.” But Chinese cookery? He writes:

page xivClaiborne goes on to talk about his fourteen year stint as the food news editor and restaurant critic for the New York Times, saying “I was tired. I neeeded rest and a respite from cooking. And then I met Virginia Lee.”

Virginia Lee was a renowned Chinese cook who came to the US in 1967. Claiborne interviewed her for an article, and ended up applying for her cooking class. She only taught ten students at a time! But she accepted Claiborne, and eventually they wrote this cookbook together.

I want to share another excerpt from the introduction, because it says so much about Chinese cooking.

page xviiI learned how to make most of my current repertoire of Chinese dishes from The Chinese Cookbook. The recipes are easy to follow, even though the ingredient lists might look daunting with exotic ingredients. For instance, Hot and Sour Soup:

Hot and Sour SoupHot and Sour SoupI’ve made this Hot and Sour Soup many times. Dried black mushrooms, tree ear mushrooms, and dried tiger lily stems! Ages ago, I had to go all the way to Denver to a Chinese market to find all of these ingredients. Nowadays I go to the Asian Seafood Market in Boulder. Sometimes I leave out these exotic ingredients, if I have none on hand, or I use fresh shitakes and skip the tree ear and black mushrooms tiger lilies. Not as much fun, but still a good soup.

Claiborne mentioned Fried Jao-Tze in the introduction (excerpt at the top of this page). Jao-tze (or pot stickers) are little round wonton-type skins, filled with pork and shrimp and vegetables, that are first fried to get the bottoms brown, and then doused with a bit of water and covered and steamed until done. They are served with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, sugar, and hot oil. Years ago, before I had ever heard of Jao-Tze from other than his cookbook, one adventurous day I decided to try these. And they were amazing! It was only later that I saw Jao-Tze pot stickers appearing at restaurants, at University event buffets, and even in the frozen food section of markets. I have made Claiborne and Lee’s recipe at home many, many times and they are much better than any I have had out.

Another dumpling I learned about in this cookbook are “Shiu May”. I use square wonton skins, fill with shrimp and pork and vegetables, then steam them. The Chinese Cookbook’s Kung Pao Chicken is extremely tasty and extremely easy. It calls for raw, shelled fresh unsalted peanuts, and I find them at the Asian Seafood Market. It also calls for bean sauce, hoi sin sauce, and chili paste – these ingredients are usually in supermarkets, and they have a long shelf life once opened, kind of like ketchup. If you put enough dried hot peppers in it, your Kung Pao Chicken will please a guest who really likes hot food.

I did a google search to see what others thought of The Chinese Cookbook. A couple bloggers (Undercover Caterer and Collectible Cooking) raved about “The Best Fried Rice”, so I looked it up in my copy of the book. “This fried rice is a bit of a masterpiece” state Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee. Whoa. I am going to have to try this masterpiece soon.

A couple other recipes I’d like to try are “Beef with Oyster Sauce” and “Beef with Peas and Peanuts”.

Note: I covered another Chinese cookbook that I like in this blog: The Cooking of China, by Emily Hahn and the Editors of Time-Life Books. I put lots of photos of ingredients and one photo of my bamboo steamer in that post.

For this blog, I’ll make the Sesame Seed Pork Chops.

Sesame Seed Pork Chops recipeSesame Seed Pork Chops recipeI made these pretty much as per the above recipe, except I left out the monosodium glutamate, and I halved the recipe for two people, but did not halve the amount of egg white/cornstarch mixture. I used bone-in pork sirloin chops, but actually, next time I’d prefer to use boneless pork sirloin.

Sesame Seed Pork Chops
serves 2 as a main entre

  • 2 pork chops, bone-in or boneless (about 12 ounces if boneless)
  • 1 green onion, chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sherry or shao hsing wine
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup sesame seeds (about)
  • vegetable oil for frying

Pound the pork chops lightly, then make cross hatches on both sides, using a sharp knife and cutting down to about 1/8 inch deep. Set aside.

Place the green onion, ginger, and water in a blender (I used a mini-processor). Blend well. Pour through a strainer into a bowl; discard the pulp. Add the sherry or shao hsing wine, sugar, soy sauce, and salt and pepper. Pour this mixture over the prepared pork chops in a flat dish or bowl. Marinate at least 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

Combine the egg white with the cornstarch and beat well to blend. Add a bit of sugar (about 1/4 teaspoon) and a little salt.

Put the sesame seeds into a flat dish. Pour oil into a skillet to cover the bottom by about 1/4 inch, then heat, but do not let it get “piping hot or the seeds will spatter and burn”.

Drain the marinade off the porkchops. Put them in the egg white mixture to coat both sides, then dip them in the sesame seeds to coat both sides generously. Put the coated chops in the heated skillet and cook 5-7 minutes (or until golden brown) on one side, then turn and cook 5-7 minutes on the other side. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the chops.

Serve immediately.

These turned out well. I especially liked taking the green onion-ginger mixture out of the blender – it was green and smelled wonderfully of ginger. The sesame seed layer on the pork chops tended to lift off when cutting them, but it was delicious. I think that boneless pork chops would work better, because they would cut easier into pieces, although the bone-in ones were particularly juicy.

Here are my cooked sesame seed pork chops:

Sesame Seed Pork ChopsTo serve, I sliced the cooked chops into large chunks. It was messy because I had to avoid the bone. But, the pork was very, very juicy and flavorful. I served with fried rice and snow peas and fresh shitakis.

Delicious!

Sesame Seed Pork Chops plated

250 Cookbooks: Weight Watchers Quick and Easy Menu Cookbook

Cookbook #223: Weight Watchers Quick and Easy Menu Cookbook, Weight Watchers International, Nal Penguin, Inc., NY, 198.

Weight Watchers Quick and Easy CookbookThis is the second Weight Watchers book that I have covered in this blog, the other was Weight Watchers 365-Day Menu Cookbook. In general, I like Weight Watchers. My best word is “sensible” for the eating plans. Weight Watchers’ plans of the 1980s espoused foods from the entire food pyramid, and taught dieters to watch their portions, learn the foods that have the most calories, and learn the foods that have the most nutrients. They help dieters learn how to eat and enjoy a balanced diet – a “normal” diet, not a “fad” diet – and this knowledge should help them beyond the initial strict dieting phase.

I found Weight Watchers 365-Day Menu Cookbook a bit “weird” – read my post to find out why.

This Weight Watchers cookbook looks more promising. I immediately find a couple recipes I could cook for this blog. It is nicely laid out, with each page being a meal plan for one day (breakfast, lunch dinner, snacks) tucked in a column to the left, and a full recipe for one of those meal plan items on the right. As I scan the recipes, I realize that ingredients are pretty much what I already have in my pantry, so no special trips to the market to find an odd ingredient are needed. Below is a recipe I tried. It illustrated how the book is laid out.

Pork Fajita Pitas recipe

I like the large variety of fresh vegetables in the recipes. The chapters are organized by month of the year, so that you are able to use the fresh foods most abundant at the moment in the market. There are several full page color photos scattered throughout the book. And I like the way each recipe lists calories and exchanges (bread, milk, vegetable, protein, fat), kind of like the diabetic diet book I covered, The Calculating Cook.

One of the recipes I like is the “Swiss Chard Gnocchi”. It is reminescent of the dumplings of my recent blog post, the Cooking of Germany, but the Weight Watchers version incorporates a fresh vegetable (swiss chard) for a less-calorie higher-nutrient version of a dumpling. “Greek Vegetarian Pitas” include cucumber, bell pepper, fresh parsley, garbanzo beans, tahini, yogurt, mint, and feta cheese. Several recipes include kale and fennel. Muffins have raisins and freshly grated carrot. “Capered Turkey Amandine” calls for almonds, capers, and parsley. I’d like to try the “Apple Crisp with Graham Crackers”, since I am always looking for low calorie desserts, and I have lots of graham crackers at the moment, and have never thought of putting graham crackers on an apple crisp.

I like this too: almost all the main dish recipes are written for two people. So convenient for this retired couple.

I do note that most recipes lower the calorie content not only by portion size, but by including less fat. For instance, when I compare my own muffin recipe with the muffin recipes in Weight Watchers Quick and Easy Menu Cookbook, I find mine have more fat and less sugar for the same total calorie amount. This is so very common in the low-fat diet trend of the late twentieth century. (The Big Fat Surprise kind of turned my own ideas about fats entirely around.)

I marked one recipe as tried, the “Pork Fajita Pitas”.

I like this cook book well enough to keep it. For this blog, I’ll make the “Chicken ‘n’ Noodles Amandine”.

Chicken Noodles Amandine recipe

As I look over the recipe ingredients, I recall this about Weight Watcher recipes: they can be a bit nutty about the amounts of each ingredient. Of course, they are listing nutrient values per recipe, so that will only work if the cook carefully measures everything. For example, the directions say to “divide a tablespoon of margarine”, using 1 teaspoon for toasting the almonds and two teaspoons for frying the chicken. “1/4 ounce” of almonds is about a tablespoon (I weighed them and then volume-measured them).”1/2 teaspoon flour” is not going to thicken the sauce, in my opinion, and 1/2 teaspoon of flour only has 5 calories. So I’ll splurge and use a tablespoon, for a huge 37 calories. “1/2 packet” of instant chicken broth and seasoning mix? I don’t have that, so I’ll just use salt and pepper. I am to use “1 cup of cooked noodles”. (Who likes to measure cooked noodles anyway?) That is not very helpful, what I need to know is how many dry noodles to cook. From references, I find that:

  • 1 cup of cooked noodles has 210 calories
  • 1 ounce of dry pasta has 100 calories

Thus, I would weigh out 2 ounces of dry noodles for about 200 calories. I know how much pasta we like: in general, I weigh out 3-4 ounces of dry pastas like spaghetti and penne for the two of us.

I used one big boneless chicken breast, about 12 ounces, and cut it in two horizontally, and pounded it a tiny bit to flatten it. Two people can be a guy and a girl, so sometimes portion sizes have to be nudged.

Below is my version of the recipe. It may have more calories than the printed version.

Chicken Noodles Amandine
serves 2

  • 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
  • boneless chicken breast, 8-12 ounces (use 2 chicken cutlets, or slice a whole boneless chicken breast into two pieces)
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup diagonally sliced green onions (I used green onions and some leek too)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 cup water or chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream (or more, if you want; I actually used half yogurt and half sour cream)
  • salt and pepper
  • cooked noodles (cook 3 ounces dry pasta)

Toast the almonds in a dry, non-stick pan until golden. Set aside.

Saute the chicken breasts in a skillet in a bit of hot olive oil. When both sides of the chicken are browned (about 3 minutes per side), remove them from the skillet and set aside.

In the same skillet, melt the tablespoon of butter. Saute the mushrooms and green onions until tender-crisp, then sprinkle the flour over them and stir. Gradually stir in the water (or stock). Stir in the sour cream and salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat to low, and add back the chicken. Simmer about 5-10 minutes, until all is hot. Serve over noodles and sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

Here are the chicken breasts in the pan, ready to be served:

cooking the chickenAnd our plated meal:

Chicken Noodles Amandine

These were tasty and very easy to make. The sauce was a bit thin for our tastes; next time I would add more than a tablespoon of flour. But all-in-all, a success!

250 Cookbooks: Cooking of Germany

Cookbook #222: Cooking of Germany, Nika Standen Hazelton and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Time-Life Books, NY, 1969. Foods of the World series; revised 1973, reprinted 1974.

Cooking of Germany cookbookThis is the fifth and last book that I own in the Foods of the World series. Once again, I look forward to discovering another interesting author as I open Cooking of Germany, just as I discovered M. F. K. Fisher in the Cooking of Provinvial France, Emily Hahn in the Cooking of China, Joseph Wechsberg in Cooking of Vienna’s Empire, and Rafael Steinberg in the Cooking of Japan.

Nika Standen Hazelton is the author, and who is she? Let’s see what I can find. She was born in 1908, in Rome; her father was a German diplomat. She studied at the London School of Economics and began a career as a European journalist at the young age of 22, in 1930. In 1940, she emigrated to the US with her husband.

In the States, she started writing cookbooks. Her obituary states she authored 30 cookbooks, and also “was a frequent contributer to the major food magazines and for several decades wrote a column about food, wine and travel for The National Review“.  Her writing style wove memoirs into her recipes, and several of her books remain cookbook standards. Her attitude towards cooking is described as “no-nonsense”. “Searching for Nika Hazelton, the no-nonsense cook” is a delightful 2011 blog entry by Sandra Lee. I chuckled several times at Sandra’s descriptions of this apparently full-of-attitude author.

So I am a bit abashed that I was ignorant of Nika Hazelton’s writing. She belongs among the other important woman authors of food articles and books in the twentieth century, alongside M. F. K. Fisher and Emily Hahn. (And why did I not read and appreciate these female authors of the Foods of the World series when I first received the books in the mail? I have no good answer.)

Nika Hazelton begins the introduction with “when I began to think about this book, I was puzzled . . . should the book be aboutt he cooking of present-day Germany? Should it be about the cooking I grew up with between World Wars I and II? . . . each approach could be illuminating, and each had its drawbacks.” Here is the paragraph that follows these thoughts – note her philosophical tone:

page 6

Her musings continue. “Why write about a bygone age? The Germany of those days is gone forever – and good riddance to it.”

This paragraph describes her decision for the book’s focus:page 6page 7

And:

“As in any cookbook, some readers will miss their own favorites, or question ingredients or techniques that went into making a typical dish. I can only remind them that no book is all-inclusive, and that most traditional dishes of any country come in almost as many versions as there are cooks. This is an asset rather than a fault, for it gives room for pleasant speculation on the whys and wherefores of a dish – pleasant speculation, because food and cooking are pleasant and comforting in themselves.”

“Food and cooking are pleasant and comforting in themselves.” A woman after my own heart.

The introduction is followed by the first chapter: “Surprises of the German Table”. Nika Hazelton writes that the tourist (of the late 1960s) might expect to find a Germany filled with the music of Bach and Beethoven, castles perched high above the Rhine, and Hansel-and-Gretel towns nestled in dark forests. Meals would be a long succession of sausages and sauerkraut followed by sauerbraten and dumplings served with great steins of beer “hoisted by hefty maidens”. But in reality, the tourist would fly in jets over the Rhine castles, and “The Gretels are miniskirted, the Hansels long-haired, and they sway to rock ‘n’ roll in the automobile-choked streets of their age-old towns.” Those automobiles would be Volkswagens. The tourist would find all the expected dishes, but they will be different in flavor and in an incredible variety of forms. And food is sold in “supermoden supermarkets”, offering foods “premixed, freeze-dried, precooked, and, of course, temptingly packaged for impulse buying, along with fresh foods from the world over.”

Here she describes why she thinks Americans are so comfortable with German food:

Cooking of GermanyThis book has wonderful full-page photographs. The photographer was German-born Ralph Crane, who worked for the NY Times as well as Time-Life books. Here is an example of the full-page photos in this book:

Cooking of Germany

The second chapter is “How to Eat Five meals a Day”. I turn to a photo of a man in suit and tie, his wife in dark sweater and trousers. They sit at a table, under an elegant chandelier, complete with candles, flowers, and fancy dishware. She is feeding a bite of her food to the family dachshund. The photo caption tells us they are “dining informally at home”. Oh yes. Informal. (You should see my informal.)

The five-meals-a-day chapter exemplifies Nika Hazelton’s character as she describes not only the food, but the people and the traditions of German cooking. She takes us through a day in the life of a German in the mid-twentieth century, weaving the hours with people coming together and enjoying food, and compares the experiences of Germans today with those of yesteryears.

This paragraph exemplifies the chapter’s tone:

Cooking of Germany

She mentions the grape harvest:

“Incidentally, for those who think that grape harvesting is romantic, with maidens in dirndls wearing Bacchic wreaths in their hair, I have news. Grape pickers wear jeans, sweaters and high rubber boots. The pretty dresses and stupendous beehive hairdos come later, at the Winzerfeste, or local vintners’ fêtes, where the merriment is astonishing indeed.”

At the end of the second (and each) chapter are recipes. Katerfisch, or “Fish for a Hangover” with tomato sauce and pickles, and Röllmopse, or “Rollmops”, are herring rolls filled with onion and pickle, “prized as a pick-me-up on a morning after”. Ah, those Germans.

Chapter 3 is “The Pleasures of Eating Out”. Here is an example:

Cooking of Germany

Chapter 4 is “Old and New Ways of Party Giving”. Again, an example:

Cooking of GermanyCooking of Germany

Nika Hazelton ties her own past with her own present:

Cooking of GermanyThe flavor and of the Cooking of Germany continues to the end of the book. The next chapters are “A Cooking History 2,000 Years Old”, “The Northern Style: Cold-Climate Cuisine”, “The Central Style: Rich and Filling”, “The Southern Style: A lighter Touch”, “Baking Raised to a Fine Art”, and “Festive Revelry and Nostalgic Holidays”. Here are a few thoughts about these chapters.

  • There is a great photo of a potato on page 134. I learn that potatoes are a new world vegetable, and of all the Europeans, Germans were the last import them. Today, potatoes are called “The King” of German vegetables and are used for Schnaps (an alcoholic beverage), dessert dumplings, hot potato salad, potato pancakes, potato soup, and potato dumplings, among other dishes.
  • One of my favorite pages is the photo on page 154 of 26 different kinds of German wursts (sausages). “Everybody rejoices when November kills its pig” is the title of a photo caption.
  • I enjoy the “Baking Raised to a Fine Art” chapter. Wonderful photos of German yeast breads. Photos of desserts, fancy and rich, like the gingerbread house on the cover of the book.

Cooking of GermanyCooking of Germany

Need to mention

I find the recipe instructions in the hard cover and in the accompanying spiral bound booklet very well written. The “late Michael Field suprervised the adapting and writing of recipes for this book. One of America’s foremost food experts and culinary teachers, he wrote many articles for leading magazines.”

Another of the team that put together the Cooking of Germany is the consultant:

Cooking of Germany

As you can see, the consultant was Irma Rhode. Born in 1900, she earned PhD in chemistry. I can imagine that she was the only female in her classes. Heck, I was one of the few women taking chemistry in the 1960s!

Rouladen for dinner

Time to get cooking! I pick up the spiral-bound book of recipes that accompanies the hardcover. I decide to make Rouladen for this blog. These are beef rolls, and the recipe suggests to serve them with spatzle (see scan below)). I’ve made Rouladen before but wow, how long ago was that! We both remember this dish but can’t remember the last time I made it and I can’t figure out why I haven’t made it since.

Rouladen recipeAs suggested in the recipe, I’ll serve it with a little Red Cabbage with Apples.

red cabbage recipe

The rouladen recipe also suggests dumplings or spätzle, but I am going to cheat and use convenient potato dumplings, or gnocchi, sold these days in America as a shelf-stable pasta product. Below is the Cooking of Germany recipe for spätzle. You can see I used this recipe booklet, by the sticky pages at spätzle. I love spätzle! But they take a bit of time to make. (Someday I’ll make them again!)

dumplings pages

I modified the rouladen recipe a bit: I increased the onions, leeks, and parsnip in the cooking liquid, and I added some pepper. I made the sauce a bit differently, as described in my version of the recipe, below.

Braised Stuffed Beef Rolls (Rouladen)
serves 2

  • 1 pound thin sirloin (or top round) steak (my local market sells thin sirloin as “petite sirloin”)
  • 2 teaspoons mustard (I used a brown mustard with seeds, but any type would work)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 slices bacon, each about 8 inches long
  • 1 whole dill pickle, cut lengthwise into halves
  • 1 tablespoon lard (or use butter)
  • 1/3 cup chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced leeks, white part only
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsnip (optional; or substitute a carrot)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 big sprig of parsley
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour

Pound the steak until it is 1/4 inch thick. (I put it in a ziplock bag and pounded with a mallet.) If you are using a single piece of round steak or sirloin steak, cut it into two rectangular pieces about 4 inches wide and 8 inches long after pounding. I found that the petite sirloin steaks worked perfectly, as they were sold already the perfect size for this dish.

Spread each rectangle with a teaspoon of mustard, then sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of onions (save the remaining onions for later). Place a piece of bacon lengthwise down the center. Lay a dill pickle half across the narrow end of each piece and beginning at the pickle end, roll the meat around it, jelly-roll fashion, into a cylinder. Tie the rolls at each end with kitchen cord.

BeefRolls layoutBeefRolls rolledChoose a deep skillet with a heavy lid. I used my old cast-iron stewing pot; a LeCreuset or any heavy cooking pan or pot or skillet would work. Heat the skillet over moderate heat; add the lard (or butter) and heat until it begins to splutter. Add the beef rolls, and brown them on all sides, regulating the heat so they color quickly and evenly without burning. Transfer the rolls to a plate and set aside.

Add the celery, leeks, parsnip, remaining onion, and salt and pepper to the skillet and cook and stir a minute or two to soften the vegetables. Add the water and bring it to a boil, stirring and scraping in any brown particles clinging to the bottom and sides of the pan. Add the parsley. Turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Monitor the pot for awhile: you want a gentle simmer. Let it simmer for an hour or so, turning the rolls once or twice.

Remove the rolls from the pot and cover with foil to keep them from drying out while you make the sauce.

Let the sauce cool awhile in the pot, then scoop the vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon. Pour the liquid into a gravy separator. Alternatively, if your gravy separator has a strainer-type top, pour the entire contents of the pot through the strainer into the separator. You want these cooked vegetables! Save them!

When the fat has separated from the water layer, pour the water layer into a blender or food processor, or better yet, into the cylindric container that comes with an immersion blender. Add the saved cooked veggies to the liquid, and blend or process or use an immersion blender to homogenize the mixture.

Meanwhile, melt the tablespoon of butter in the skillet until it is foaming, then slowly add the 2 tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly. When all the flour is incorporated, stir a minute or two more, but do not let it burn. Then, slowly and with constant stirring, add the blended broth-vegetable mixture. When it is nicely thickened and bubbly, add the beef rolls, cover the pot, and heat 5-10 minutes to get the rolls to serving temperature.

BeefRolls platedThese were delicious! The gravy was amazing, thick and full of flavor. The pickle inside was fun. These remind us of one of our favorite meals, called “little piggies” by my husband’s family. It’s still about his favorite meal  – strips of bacon on strips of round steak, rolled and secured with a toothpick, cooked in a skillet and served over mashed potatoes with gravy. I like the rouladen as made above with tender sirloin steak, because there is less fuss in preparation, and the de-fatted gravy isn’t greasy.