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Roast chicken on the grill June 6, 2013

Posted by Peeps in Cook's Illustrated, Cooking, Home, random stuff.
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A few weeks ago, my wife and I were watching America’s Test Kitchen. It’s a relaxing way to spend half an hour before I have to walk the dog. And we might find something we want to try.

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They did a show on how to roast a turkey on a charcoal grill, so that you can save oven space at the holidays. And even though it’s nowhere near the holidays yet, and we didn’t have a turkey handy,we decided that we wanted to try it.

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We still have several whole chickens in the freezer and we thought that it might be worth trying. Roasted chicken in the Summer time without heating up the house? Let’s go!

You start by cutting four slits into the back of the chicken to let rendered fat drain out. The skin then needs to get loosened. Yes, it’s not a fun step, but you need to do it. Then you need to season the bird. In this case, salt inside the cavity to start. The turkey version called for something like two tablespoons, but we scaled it back a bit. It was a large chicken, but not quite that large.

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Some salt needs to get under the skin of the bird. Get as far as you can reach without tearing the skin You’ll be happy you did.

Then the outside of the bird gets covered in a mixture of salt, pepper and baking powder. It apparently helps with browning and makes the skin crispy. And who doesn’t want that?

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The bird gets covered with plastic wrap and goes into the fridge at least overnight. Two days will work, if you don’t mind having the bird take up all that room in your fridge.

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When you’re ready to cook, you need to get the grill ready. Unlit coals on either side of a disposable aluminum pan filled with water need to go into your grill.

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Once your coals are hot, you pour the hot coals on both sides of the aluminum pan and close the grill to let it heat up.

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The way of arranging the coals and the pan allows you to cook the bird on indirect heat. The water in the pan helps even the heat out and creates a slightly more damp cooking environment.

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Once the grill is hot and the grates are clean, place your bird right over the pan of water and close the lid. Now walk away for a while. Check the bird after about two hours, you want the breast meat to read 160 degrees and the thigh to be 175. Once the bird is cooked, let it rest for about fifteen minutes or so. And don’t look at the stuff that ended up in the aluminum pan, it’s not terribly pretty.

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This was great. It wasn’t quite as brown as we would have liked, but it also wasn’t on the grill all that long. The skin was crisp, the meat was well seasoned and juicy and there was very little to clean after dinner. I think this might happen more than once over the course of the Summer.

If you care, you can see how to do this with a turkey right here.

Pork under pressure March 14, 2013

Posted by Peeps in Cook's Illustrated, Cooking, Food, random stuff.
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Everyone who reads our blog knows all too well how much we use and love our pressure cooker. It’s a very rare week that goes by when we don’t use it for something.

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Not too long ago, we found out that the good people at Cook’s Illustrated were coming out with yet another cookbook. But not one we could ignore, not this time. It’s their new book of pressure cooker recipes.

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Needless to say, we were pretty excited about the idea. They always have solid, reliable recipes that taste really good. The sad part was that it wasn’t going to be coming out until the middle of March. And we didn’t want to wait that long to try it out.

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Fortunately, my wife reads a great many food blogs. Apparently one of them, Macheesmo, was contacted by Cook’s Illustrated not long ago and given a free copy of the new book. Along with a brand new pressure cooker. He apparently has a lot more readers than we do.

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After we got finished seething with jealousy, we realized that this was our chance to try the recipe that Macheesmo blogged about, Pork Vindaloo. We love Indian food. Particularly when it doesn’t involve going somewhere or taking a long time.

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We followed the recipe exactly. While Toys cut the meat into bite sized cubes, I measured and cut up everything else.

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The browning of the pork took a while. And a few more batches than two. More like five. But hey, I’m not a professional. Once everything was ready to go, the lid when on and the pressure was on. Thirty minutes under pressure and a natural release, about another fifteen minutes.

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We served it over brown basmati rice and with a nice India Pale Ale. It was fantastic! Since it make so much, we had it for lunches for a couple days afterwards, and I think we even had enough left over for one more dinner.

If you own a pressure cooker, at the very least try this recipe. If you regularly use a pressure cooker, you may want to consider getting the book. They have never once let us down.

And thank you to Macheesmo for letting us try something out of a book that we’ll be getting soon.

On Applying What We’ve Learned February 21, 2013

Posted by Toy Lady in Cook's Illustrated, Cooking, Homemade, random stuff.
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Just in case you’re worried that I’m all hung up on that whole veggie thing – I’m not.  Believe me, I am now, and always will be, a big fan of pork!

Remember a loooong time ago, when I made the Chinese BBQ’ed pork chops?  You may also remember that the marinade I used there was originally designed by Cook’s Illustrated to be used, not for pork chops, but for boneless ribs.

Yes, I know, ribs ARE bones.  I hate that they make them boneless.  Kind of like boneless chicken wings, huh?

But I digress.

See, here’s the thing.

I feel most confident in the kitchen when I’m following a recipe.  Not just any recipe, mind you, but a good recipe.

Something I’ve done before, or something that’s from a trusted source.

And after years of taking direction from trusted sources, you know what happens?

Technique.  That’s what happens.  You learn things – you learn what works, and sometimes you even learn why.

So.  Back to the Chinese pork.

The original recipe for this Chinese pork called for marinating boneless ribs (actually, pork shoulder) and then baking them low and slow. first covered, then uncovered.

Huh.

So then I thought about how Peeps likes to do the Mexican carnitas in the pressure cooker – using that same hunk of pork shoulder.

Huh again.

And then I thought about the pork vindaloo  that is in Cook’s Illustrated’s upcoming pressure cooker cookbook (which is IN my Amazon cart even as we speak!).  We did get hold of that recipe, Peeps made it the same day I made this, and he’ll be sharing that soon.

And once more, I said “huh.”

You can see where this is going, right?

I wondered if there was any reason I couldn’t take this hunk of pork, marinate it overnight, dump the works into the pressure cooker, and end up with Chinese barbecued pork in half an hour or so.

I think it sounds perfectly reasonable, don’t you?

So that’s what I did – I dumped the pork, along with the marinating liquid, into the pressure cooker, cooked it for about 40 minutes, and then pulled the meat out of the cooking liquid.

Of course, being pork shoulder, no matter how well I’d trimmed it ahead of time, there was plenty of fat, so I strained and de-greased the liquid, using the gravy separator.

It’s sort of going to be gravy, right?

And then – honestly, this probably took as long as anything else – I reduced the DAYLIGHTS out of the strained, de-fatted cooking liquid.  I mean, I boiled that stuff down until it was about half of what it had been.

Then we added some ketchup and honey, and we reduced it some more!

Technically, what we wanted was more a “glaze” than a “gravy” or even a “sauce.”

See, here’s what we did.

I lined a sheet pan with foil – this is VERY important! – then laid all the hunks of meat out on the pan, then brushed them generously with half the glaze.

Under the broiler for, oh, 10-15 minutes, until they were starting to get kind of crispy and, well, grill-ish looking.  Then we flipped them over and did the same on the other side.

You see now why we lined the pan with foil, don’t you?

And that was it – barbecue in the pressure cooker.  Leftovers are going into some Asian noodle soup, and further leftovers will be perfect  in fried rice.

Don’t tell anyone though, but I served the barbecued pork with rice in our new pasta bowls.

I’m a rebel like that.

I wrote out the recipe right here for you.

Hey, This Veggie Gig Ain’t Half Bad! February 14, 2013

Posted by Toy Lady in Cook's Illustrated, Cooking, random stuff.
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First, let’s get this out of the way.  In keeping with the season, let’s say this is a HEART-healthy post, how’s that?

It’s Valentine’s Day, so happy Valentine’s Day.

There.

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Has anyone noticed that, when I post our weekly menu plan, more often than not, there’s at least one meatless (or mostly meatless, anyway) meal?

I’m gonna be honest – sometimes it’s not easy for us to come up something appealing to fill that slot – I, at least, was raised in a very meat-and-potatoes sort of household.  If there wasn’t a hunk of meat on the plate, it just wasn’t dinner.

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(Of course, my discovery of the Bean Guy has helped in that regard – if you haven’t had fresh, current season dried beans, truly, you don’t know what you’re missing!)

So anyhow, last fall, we received our November/December issue of Cooks’s Illustrated, and there was a recipe for “Best Vegetarian Chili” – now mind you, they qualified it  – this is the best  vegetarian chili, because, let’s face it, they’re already figured out the best BEST chili!

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Basically, there are a few things to remember when making a traditionally meat-full dish into a meat-LESS dish.

First off, there’s no meat, and there’s supposed to be.  So, unless we want to resort to fake meat (TVP? Soy crumbles? No thank you.), we need to make it so we don’t miss the meat – and use real, less-processed ingredients.

I’m a big fan of real ingredients – I prefer to do my own processing, thank you very much!

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We’ve learned over the years that there are a few flavor-boosters, or, I guess, even meat pretenders, right in our own kitchen!  One of them is mushrooms  specifically, dried mushrooms.

For some reason, when you add mushrooms to a dish, the meat just tastes, I don’t know, meatier.  And even when there’s no meat, it tastes meatier anyway.  I guess that’s why people eat portobello burgers, huh?

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Another meat-helper (NOT hamburger helper, though!), is soy sauce.  I don’t know why that is – maybe it has something to with the soy, I don’t know, but when I’m trying to meat something up, I frequently use soy sauce as a source of salt.  It just brings a little something more to the party.

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In this case, we also want to get some good sauteeing action – nothing says complex flavors like a little fond in the bottom of the pot, huh?  A little tomato paste added into the mix later on just helps that along.

Oh, and nuts!  This one was actually a new one on me – who knew that adding a few nuts – rich, meaty toasted walnuts – would add such great balance?  Don’t worry, though – they’re chopped pretty fine before they go in, so you’d never actually know they were there.

And finally, I used three – count ‘em, THREE – kinds of beans – a cup each of black beans, great northern beans, and pintos.  Next time, I’m going to add a cup of red beans, too, just to, you know, keep things colorful.  I’m wild like that.

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Once we’ve got all the stuff assembled – and don’t get me wrong, it’s a LOT of stuff to assemble – then we can get to work.

Just remember, when it comes to chili, especially a chili that doesn’t have the benefit of meat, you get out of it what you put into it.

Kind of like a lot of things, I’d say.

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So we made a basic chili sauce first – slightly brown the onions, add your dried spices (chili powder and cumin, along with some oregano), the beans and some water, and into the oven it goes – after it’s come to a boil, of course.

A note on the water – something I’ve learned the hard way.  Depending on the age of your beans, they will soak up more or less water when you pre-soak them.  Fresher beans soak up more than old ones.  And what this means is that the fresher, more hydrated beans will actually need less cooking water – a LOT less!  The original recipe called for 7 cups of water.  I used 5.

Use your judgement.

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At this point, the chili only cooks for about 45 minutes.  It’s nowhere near done, though.  What we’re going to do is this.

We’re going to add our tomatoes (and juice) walnuts, and 2/3 cup of bulger, and shove it back in the oven for a couple more hours.  Yes, bulger!  I think this was a stroke of genius – what happens is that the bulger sort of mimics the texture of ground beef in the chili!

One last thing – when the chili comes out of the oven, it needs a good stir.  More a vigorous stir.  Then just let it sit for 20 minutes before you dig in.  There are reasons, but they’re all weird and science-y.  Something about stabilization and emulsification and, well, like that.

Just do it.

Because chili is, by nature, kind of chunky  and mushy and just full of flavor, you don’t actually “taste” the bulger – or any of the other stuff.  You taste. . . chili.  Pretty darned good chili at that.  And the texture – well, it’s just right.  It works.

Here is an adapted, printable version – give it a try and let me know what you think.

GET THE RECIPE

Lucy’s got some ‘splainin to do February 6, 2013

Posted by Toy Lady in Cook's Illustrated, Homemade.
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Yeah, sorry, but it was either an I Love Lucy reference or some joke about a cigar.  And honestly, I have yet to hear a joke about a cigar that’s not in poor taste, Freud notwithstanding.

Clearly I know nothing about Cuban culture, other than Ricky Ricardo and Cuban cigars.  Oh, wait, there’s Castro, but, well, he’s no fun.

Babalu!

Where was I?

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Beans and rice. Rice and beans.  The ultimate in poverty meals, and, honestly, often kind of boring, huh?

I mean, what?, you cook some rice, open a can of beans, and maybe throw some cumin in there, and there you go.

Yawn.

Clearly I have no idea how beans and rice are made – I’ve never actually done it.  I had to check with Peeps to see how he does it.

So.  I was walking the dog other day, listening to the America’s Test Kitchen podcast, and they were talking about their Cuban beans and rice.

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Now I don’t know about you, but if there’s anyone on this earth more, I don’t know, “white-bread” than I am, it’s got to be Christopher Kimball.

I mean. . . well, you know what I mean.  There’s not an awful lot of Latin fire going on there, is there?  Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy to pieces, but I just see him more as a roast beef and mashed potato sort than, well black beans and rice, you know?

But you know what?  He RAVED about it!  And yes, I know that that’s kind of what he’s supposed to do, well, I tend to believe him.

Especially at 5:30 in the morning, when I haven’t had breakfast yet, and it’s about 12 degrees and windy, with a couple of inches of snow.  I think my exact thought at that moment was “I am SO making that!”

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And make it I did.

I’m not going to go into excruciating detail (if it’s not already too late!) – the recipe is available through the ATK Radio program’s site  right here – though you will need to create an “account” – it’s free, and all you have to give up is your email address.

I really pretty much followed the recipe as written, with a couple of exceptions.

I didn’t use sweet green peppers – I had some poblanos in the freezer, so I used those.

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Instead of the salt pork called for, I used bacon.

Again, I have tons of the stuff in the freezer, and a little smoke is definitely good thing – in pork, anyway.

I do want to take a second, though, and mention the rinsing the rice step.  I’ve done that for a couple of different recipes, and, while it’s most definitely a pain in the neck, WOW what a difference it makes!

Just your basic, long-grain white rice, rinsed (and rinsed, and rinsed some more!), and you end up with nicely separate, well-defined grains, rather than sticky, clumpy rice blobs.

I’m going to be honest here – I don’ necessarily hate the clumpy rice blobs, either.

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Oh, and the recipe called for fresh oregano.  I’m assuming that, if they’d thought about it, they would have specified Mexican (or even Cuban) oregano.  (Yes, I’ve seen Cuban oregano plants – who knew?)

However, all I have in the garden is Greek oregano, and that was a little,well, a bit frosty.

It still worked, though.  I’d imagine that about 1/3 of the amount of dried oregano would work too, in a pinch.

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What I love about this dish, well, actually there were a few things.

I love using dried beans – dried beans just taste better and have a better texture than canned, and that’s all there is to it.

I loved that it’s made with stuff that’s just lying around anyway – who doesn’t have some rice, a couple of onions, some stray bacon (or not  – there’s a vegetarian variation, too!) and, if you’re wise, a bag of beans?

We’re talking MAYBE having to pick up a green pepper (unless you, too, cram whatever you can in the freezer for “later”).

Plus it makes a LOT!

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The verdict?

I am SO making this again!

We had it for dinner one night.

We each ate some for lunch a couple more times.

I shared some (along with the recipe) with a friend.

 I’m already thinking of swapping out the black beans for red beans, just to see how that’ll work out.

And seriously?

I’m considering investing in a Cuban oregano plant for the herb garden. . .

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