Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Herbed Roast Beef with peppers

This is a recipe I've done twice now and it's come out pretty good both times.  It requires some forethought because the beef should be left to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.  The recipe comes from a show on PBS, Cook's Country America's Test Kitchen.  The show is exactly the same as this blog, except it has virtually limitless resources and it's a professionally produced television program.  They also have a subscription service and magazine, so there are plenty of ways to spend money on their website.  They offer free recipes, but only from the current season of the TV show.  I made sure to download PDFs of all the recipes that I liked from this season.  You can watch their presentation of this recipe there as well, as long as we're still in the current season.  You should at least read through the recipe before beginning, as always:

I thought we had some frozen thyme (my mother in law grows fruits and vegetables and gives us the surplus) so I didn't buy any in preparation for this my first time.  I got the parsley, shallot, dijon mustard, olive oil, butter, salt and pepper all from Trader Joe's.  They have fancy things like pink Himalayan sea salt (product of Pakistan, packed in South Africa).  The food from this meal may have touched every continent.  Dijon mustard and olive oil from France and Italy, the pink salt covers Asia and Africa, herbs and beef from North America, and I ended up roasting peppers with the beef, products of South America.  So we didn't get Australia or Antarctica in there, maybe next time.

The beef I used also came from Trader Joe's, their Tri-Tip Roast.  It's a cut of meat that I'm unfamiliar with, and had never heard of before Trader Joe's.  I'd heard that it's a California cut of steak, that it was little known around the country until recently.  I've learned a few more things about it but you can read the wikipedia just as well as I can.

Before searing I hid the beef from my cat in the Dutch oven
The recipe and video say to butterfly the beef, but the first time I tried it I used two pieces of meat and just tied them together.  The sizes available at Trader Joe's are at the mercy of someone in another facility somewhere that packages all the tri-tips for distribution.  They don't have a butcher in the store, so you have to make do with what's there.  I used two pieces that were around 2 lbs each, and I followed the video for their preparation as if it was one piece I had butterflied.  This was a messy process, coating the beef with the herbs and tying it up, so have your Dutch oven and the sink ready for the beef and the mess.  We have two cats, and one will steal any food or food-smelling items you're not paying attention to.  I have to be ready to cover anything that I'm not using at that moment.  And the beef should stay in the fridge overnight, so it might as well be in the cookware you'll be using.

Jack caught looking in the sink

I had to get the string to tie the roast from Whole Foods, and I don't remember how much it was.  I've made this recipe twice and haven't used half of the string, but it's a hidden expense for someone making this dish for the first time.  It's a good thing to have, and it seems to be much cheaper online than in the store.  Here are a couple I saw:


We don't have this whole set of all-clad cookware, but we have the big 12-inch skillet.  It was perfect for searing the outside of the meat, which was a little more difficult because of how I fudged the butterflying.  The meat did start to come apart a little, and I had to tuck the ends back into the strings a little.  The try-tip is not the same shape of the beef in the video either, it's sort of triangular.  You may have to touch the beef as you're searing it to fix it if the strings come off, and be ready to touch buying hot meat.  My wife says I have no feeling left in my fingers, but I think it's more the technique that I use for touching hot things.  You have to touch quickly and be ready to let go the moment you need to.  Use tongs when you can and remember that burns heal.
Searing the beef in the big skillet
You can see where it started to come apart in the middle

I used our Le Creuset Dutch oven when it came time to roast the beef, but didn't have any roasting rack to put it on.  So I just put it on the bottom of the dutch oven and hoped for the best.  I cut up a tricolor pepper pack from Trader Joe's, one each of a yellow orange and red pepper.  I cut a pepper like I'm cutting a pumpkin.  Cut around the top, then scoop out the seeds and stuff from the inside.  Then I cut along the seams to get three or four pieces, and cut them into strips from there.  If you cut the peppers too small they will shrivel into nothing, so keep them at least an inch square I think.  I like to cut them into strips one inch wide and the height of the original pepper.

The Le Creuset Dutch oven is not an inexpensive thing, but I think it's pretty well worth it.  This is something that you use for the rest of your life, and it's pretty versatile.

About halfway done

I took these two pictures when I was checking on the peppers.  It's not good practice to open the oven when you're roasting or baking something, unless you absolutely have to.  Sometimes things need to be basted, sometimes you need to add something to the top of your dish, and sometimes you have to make sure your food isn't burning or becoming inedible somehow.  These are okay reasons to open the oven early.  I wasn't sure what was going to happen with the peppers so I had to check on them, and stuck my hand in the oven to snap these two pics while it was roasting.

When the roast comes out you tent it with foil, as seen below.  You can also see the whipped potatoes I made (from the same episode of Cook's Country and to follow in a later post) and my first attempt at gravy.  After removing the roast and peppers from the Dutch oven I thought I should use what was left to make gravy.  I put the peppers in a casserole dish then into the turned-off oven to keep warm.  I found a recipe for gravy quickly online that said use some kind of broth or stock and corn starch to thicken it up.  This is when the Le Creuset was great, because I could just add everything to it and keep it warm on the stovetop.  Making the gravy wasn't difficult, but you have to stir continuously and play with the broth and corn starch a little bit to get the right consistency.  Everyone thought it was tasty.

Making gravy while the herb butter penetrates the roast

After tenting, before carving

I carved it using a Windmere brand electric carving knife.  Using one of those things reminds me of being a kid again, my family always used them around holiday time.  I cut the strings as I got to them to prevent the meat from unfolding before I can slice it.  You can see the cutting board has a little channel running around it; the herbed butter mixture at the end melts and the beef gives off a lot of juices on its own so carving can get messy.

This recipe came out great, I made it once more with only one piece of beef instead of two.  I think both times I could have cooked it 10 or 15 minutes less, but it was still tender and flavorful.  That's the nice thing about cooking at a low temperature, your margin of error is wider.  Four of us ate this and there was enough for two more days of leftovers.  I get sick of eating the same thing for three days so I'll only do a 2-3 pound roast next time, depending on how many people I'm serving.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Introduction and Focaccia recipe

Thanks for reading.  I enjoy cooking but often tell myself I don't have the time or energy to cook after work.  We would order take-out food several days a week and spend as much time waiting to get it as it would take to make any number of things ourselves.  My wife and I had a child about three months ago, and we're making as much of our own food as we can both to save money and to better understand where what we eat comes from.

This blog is meant to catalog some of the recipes I have tried and will try; some of these are old favorites that I've been making for years and some will be brand new.  I'll talk a little about some of the equipment we have as well, as we have a lot of marginally useful kitchen tools.  I'll talk about where I get what I use; we live outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and get our food from Trader Joe's, Costco, Stop and Shop, Shaw's, Super 88/Hong Kong Market, and sometimes Whole Foods.  I'll look at nutrition for some of the dishes, but in a very informal way.  I'll try to give some tips and shortcuts when I'm more familiar with the food I'm making, and think about how to improve or streamline dishes I'm making for the first time.  

Since the title of this blog is "Cooking Experimentation" I should start with something that was an experiment.  I found this recipe for focaccia and gave it a shot.  The website where I found it is, and I saved it to my computer as a PDF file.  It's easy to do on a Mac, when you select "print" there is a PDF option in the bottom left of the print window.  I like to do this because in the past I have found recipes on the internet that I've loved, but then haven't been able to find again.  Any recipes that pass muster are now saved as PDF files so I don't have to look for them.  Take a look at the recipe before you go any further; the first step when you cook anything should be to read the recipe beginning to end.

The first stumbling block I came upon in the recipe was the amount of yeast to use.  I purchased a 2lb package of yeast at Costco that comes in a large bag, not in envelopes as the recipe calls for.  I set out to find out how much yeast is in a packet of yeast and was confused by the terminology on the package I had.  There are many types of yeast, and I have Fleischmann's Instant Dry Yeast.  The equivalency websites have instant yeast, dry yeast, active dry yeast, instant rise yeast, and every permutation of "instant" "dry" and "yeast" without actually putting them together in that order.  The Fleischmann's website made it tricky to find the answer but I finally found it: 1 packet of yeast = 2 and 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast.

Of course, I didn't realize the recipe said teaspoons until after I had poured 2 tablespoons into the mixture already, and did my best to scoop most of it out.  I probably used twice as much yeast as the recipe calls for in the end.  A website told me that too much yeast can give the bread a - get this - yeasty taste, but using a little more in this recipe didn't hurt the flavor.

Most of the flavor of the bread comes from the spices added to the top, but I don't have Spice Islands brand Italian spice mix.  I used the spices hanging around the kitchen, and didn't really measure how much of each I used.  I sprinkled the bread with thyme, oregano, tarragon, granulated garlic with parsley, fresh ground pepper, Himalayan pink sea salt (from Trader Joe's), and a little bit of crushed red pepper.  I used Trader Joe's 100% Italian Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil to drizzle over the top, and I went over the 2 tablespoons called for in the recipe on purpose; I used around 3 tablespoons.  I used Trader Joe's unbleached white flour, and grated parmesan cheese instead of shredded.

I used a meat thermometer to get the water to between 120 and 130 degrees F, but I had to estimate a bit.  The thermometer's lowest temperature is 140 degrees F, but the intervals between 10 degree notches were uniform so I was able to approximate.  It's important for the water to be warm for the yeast to react, but not too warm because it may kill the yeast.  Yeast is a living organism and gives off carbon dioxide as it feeds on the sugar in the recipe, which is how the bread will get its airy texture.

Dough hook

We have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, the same model as this KitchenAid KSM150PSWH Artisan Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, and I used the dough hook (seen above).  It made it very easy to add all the ingredients and let the machine do the work.  I kept it on the lowest speed and added flour as necessary to keep the dough from being too wet.  Depending on the recipe dough should be dry or wet, but this was my first time with this recipe and I had to follow my instincts a bit.  Instinct told me more flour, so I added a few pinches until the dough stopped sticking to the bowl.  I also had to stop the mixer a couple of times to turn the dough and stir it around to ensure even mixing.  I love the mixer, it makes everything so easy.

I followed the rest of the recipe exactly as it states, allowing the bread to rise for 30 minutes before sprinkling the herbs and preheating the oven.

I sprinkled the pan with flour to keep the bread from sticking.  Here it is just before going in the oven:

The pan I used came from The Pampered Chef (, which is a concept akin to a tupperware party.  You order discounted kitchen equipment from someone who acts as a host for the party, and the host gets an even bigger discount on their purchase.  They have good stoneware at the Pampered Chef, and we decided to buy this rectangular pan rather than a round pizza stone.  You can still make pizza in a rectangular pan after all.  I've read conflicting things about preheating stoneware such as this, and for this recipe I did not warm the stone.  We've made pizzas a lot using this stone, and it often takes longer for the bottom of the pizza to cook while using it.  When I made this bread I moved the oven rack down to below the center of the oven, around 1/3 of the way up the oven. I baked the bread for 34 minutes (the recipe says 30-35) and I think it came out great.  

I didn't take a picture when it came out of the oven, so this picture of the frozen bread will have to suffice.  This is 1/6 of the original; I cut the bread into six pieces when it cooled and froze four of them.  Today I ate my first defrosted segment and the bread was just as good after a little time in the toaster oven.  The bread came out pretty good, but I think without the herbs and seasonings it would be a little bland.  Nevertheless, I'm keeping the recipe for future use.  

This blog and many others are listed on Globe of Blogs