Recipe quick take: Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Easy pan-fried fish

I stumbled across this great post on SeriousEats by culinary director Kenji Lopez-Alt. There’s nothing especially new here, but it’s nice to have this step-by-step tutorial for doing this. I didn’t worry about the exact ingredients; the procedure is what’s important. I did it with cod (readily available here in New England, although I wonder if the stocks have really recovered enough for it to be as plentiful as it appears). I added a couple teaspoons of minced fresh tarragon to the egg mixture — this allowed me to add some herbal flavor while keeping the quick-to-burn ingredients still relatively protected. It all came out exactly as Kenji suggested: perfectly cooked fish, golden-brown coating, and no mess or lingering odor to clean up. I used a ten-inch non-non-stick stainless-steel skillet, but for my pound of cod a slightly larger size would have been a bit better. No matter: it still came out great.

Proportions I used:

  • 1 lb cod fillet
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper (not measured)
  • 2 medium eggs (how did I end up with these?)
  • about 2 tsp minced fresh tarragon
  • 1½ tbl canola oil
  • 1 cup panko

There was plenty of all of the breading stages left over to do at least another half-pound of fish, if not a whole pound.

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Pumpkin Pie Fest part III: the results

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This was the scene as a hundred or more hungry graduate students descended on our group’s lunch area to take part in CSAIL Pumpkin Pie Fest: We gave out more than 200 portions of pumpkin pie, and according to some … Continue reading

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Pumpkin Pie Fest part II: the pies

Eight recipes, seven cookbooks, six piesOn Sunday, I baked five of the six pies. I ran into two issues that prevented me from baking pie #6 on Sunday: I ran out of both pumpkin and eggs. (This was perhaps because my shopping list was based on making four rather than six pies.) So today — Monday — I delivered the first five pies to the refrigerator at work (throwing away some clearly spoiled vegetables in the process of making room), then went grocery shopping so I could finish pie #6, Pecan Pumpkin Pie, about which more below.

As I mentioned in part I, the pies varied quite a bit in their construction. Some called for blind-baking the pie crust, either fully (as with Joanne Chang’s recipe) or partially (the Elsens’ and Richard Sax’s recipes). The butter content of these pie doughs made the whole process a bit of a challenge, and those crusts that were not blind-baked definitely did not perform as well as those that were (see in particular the Moosewood recipe below). Four of the recipes I initially identified as having potential got left out: Alice Waters’ recipe was very plain, so I figured that someone else would probably be bringing something very similar; Richard Sax’s pumpkin chiffon didn’t interest me very much, but I gave a photocopy to Dorothy Curtis; Alton Brown’s recipe was one that I had done before, and with three cheesecakes contributed by others, I did not think there was a need for another crumb crust; and I didn’t like the idea of using yams, called for in the Cook’s Illustrated recipe from 2008. (Jason Miller made that recipe, however, so tasters will get a chance to try it anyway.)

Starting out, I tried to overlap some of the cooking steps, so that one pie could be in the oven alongside the crust being blind-baked for the next pie, but after the first two pies I found that this was too much to juggle, particularly as the recipes called for different oven temperatures (and in some cases, changing oven temperatures). The first pie to be completed was Honey Pumpkin Pie by David Page and Barbara Shinn, from their cookbook Recipes from Home:
David Page and Barbara Shinn's Honey Pumpkin Pie
Although this pie is called “Honey Pumpkin Pie”, only a third of the sweetener is honey; I used McLure’s orange blossom honey. (The “Golden Pumpkin Pie”, below, from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking is sweetened entirely with honey.) As I mentioned in part I, I did not use their pie crust, but instead used half of a double-crust recipe from Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts which Sax attributes to Nick Malgieri.

The second pie to be finished was Joanne Chang’s Super-Pumpkiny Pumpkin Pie, from her cookbook Flour:
Joanne Chang's Super-Pumpkiny Pumpkin Pie
Chang’s recipe is the only one I made that calls for the traditional combination of evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk (I used Carnation for the former and Eagle Brand for the latter) in addition to heavy cream. Additional sweetness comes from brown sugar, which is cooked with the pumpkin for a fairly long time to concentrate its flavor. Chang’s crust is enriched with egg, and unlike all the others is fully blind-baked. You can see the difference in this photo, which shows the first two pies side by side:

Two pies side-by-side

Honey Pumpkin Pie (l) and Super-Pumpkiny Pumpkin Pie (r)

The third pie to be completed was Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie, from Emily and Melissa Elsen’s Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book:
Emily & Melissa Elsen's Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie
As you can see from the crack in the center (which grew even more in cooling), I somewhat overcooked the custard. The brown butter in the title forms part of a butterscotch, which is the only sweetener for this pie, which has the most unusual ingredients list of the six pies, including both lemon and carrot juice.

Pie #4 was King Arthur’s Golden Pumpkin Pie. As noted above, the custard is sweetened entirely with honey (nine ounces of non-varietal honey from a local apiary); the crust is made with ground rolled oats and traditional (red) whole wheat flour, and it’s sweetened with brown sugar (I used India Tree dark muscovado):
King Arthur Flour's Golden Pumpkin Pie
Beyond the honey, the other unusual ingredients in this custard are dark rum and a tablespoon of melted butter. The recipe called for half-and-half, but since I had plenty of milk and cream, I made my own rather than buying an additional dairy product I wouldn’t be able to use for anything else.

Sunday’s fifth and final pie was “Best-Ever” Pumpkin Pie, from Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts. He had an unusual blind-baking procedure which I don’t think worked very well — it didn’t involve using weights, so even after docking, steam from the butter lifted the bottom crust off the surface of the pie plate, and the edges of the crust slumped down in the extra-deep 9½” pie plate specified for this recipe:
Richard Sax's Best-Ever Pumpkin Pie
While making this recipe, I ran out of my homemade pumpkin purée and had to substitute some canned pumpkin (actually Dickinson squash) to make up the difference. This recipe calls for rum as a fairly significant flavoring — three tablespoons — but only two eggs (all the other custards used three or four eggs), and brown sugar is the primary sweetener.

Finally, the straggler completed on Monday was Pecan Pumpkin Pie from the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. This pie is an interesting concept: a full-blown pecan pie on the bottom, with a pumpkin custard on the top (“so your holiday guests don’t have to choose”, say the authors). Unfortunately, it is marred by a number of execution difficulties — it calls for a ten-inch pie plate, which is not a normal size, and does not call for blind-baking the crust, leading to slumping, as seen here:

Moosewood's Pecan Pumpkin Pie (pecan layer)

Before the pecan layer went into the oven, the crust was sitting on the rim of the dish. Now it’s barely above the surface of the pecan filling.

The fluted-edge ceramic plate was the only one I could find that actually claimed to be ten inches, but I have a suspicion that it actually isn’t, and that this recipe was written for a wider, shallower pie plate. That seems to be borne out by the instructions, which claim that the pecan filling should be set after only 20 minutes of baking — I found that it took 30 minutes. But the pumpkin custard was done (indeed overdone) well before the 40 minutes called for:
Moosewood's Pecan Pumpkin Pie
This will clearly be a challenge to portion and serve, with the crust buried well below the top of the filling. If I decide I want to make this pie again (keeping in mind that I haven’t tasted this or any of the others yet), some changes will clearly be required — reducing the quantities to fit in a normal pie plate, blind-baking the crust to keep it from slumping, or making smaller (individual- or two-serving) pies using the same procedure. (Perhaps it would work better in an extra-tall-sided tart pan?)

Sorry folks, I’m not compiling nutrition information for all of these pie recipes! Any that I make primarily for myself, I’ll post again with more pictures, and give the nutrition results then.

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Pumpkin Pie Fest part I: the pastry

When you’re baking a whole bunch of something, it pays to arrange things assembly-line style, so that you’re not constantly moving ingredients from cabinet to work area and back, and so that the tools, measures, and bowls that are needed will be close at hand. Since I’m making six different pumpkin pies this weekend, that means preparing the pumpkin purée all at once (did that on Thursday), cubing and freezing the butter (Friday), then making all of the pastry (what this post is about), and finally making the custard fillings and baking each pie (Sunday). Once all the pies have fully cooled, I can pre-slice them, wrap them up tightly, and on Monday I’ll drive in to the office and put them all in the refrigerator.

Most of the pastry recipes are fairly similar, as you might expect. Except in the two recipes that specify otherwise, I used an equal combination by weight of pastry flour and all-purpose flour, as suggested by one of the King Arthur baking books; for recipes that did not give the mass of flour I assumed five ounces per cup. All of the cutting-in of butter was done in the food processor, regardless of the procedure specified in the recipe, except for Joanne Chang’s recipe which calls for a stand mixer; the liquid ingredients were mixed in by hand, except for Moosewood’s and Joanne Chang’s recipes, which were done in the food processor and the stand mixer, respectively. Some of the recipes did not call for resting the dough, but on general principle (and also to make the assembly-line principle work for a single baker) I decided that all of them would be rested for about twenty-four hours.

Notes on the individual crusts:

  • The Moosewood Collective, “Best All-Purpose Pie Crust”, Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts: I used the full amount of (optional) sugar specified in the recipe. For the pie recipe, the crust is not blind-baked, but it is double-baked — first with the pecan filling and then again with the pumpkin custard.
  • Richard Sax, “Nick Malgieri’s Flaky Butter Pie Dough”, Classic Home Desserts: This unusual pie dough calls for cake flour and baking powder in addition to the usual flour, butter, salt, and water. I probably didn’t use quite enough water, but the long rest should help the flour to fully hydrate anyway. This recipe makes a double crust, so I’ll use half for the Richard Sax pie (“Best-Ever Pumpkin Pie”) and half for the David Page and Barbara Shinn Pie (“Honey Pumpkin Pie”, Recipes from Home). Sax’s pie recipe includes blind baking, but the Page/Shinn recipe uses an uncooked crust.
  • Emily and Melissa Elsen, “All-Butter Crust”, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: I’ve made this one before; the distinctive ingredient is cider vinegar, which helps to prevent gluten development. I made a double recipe, and will freeze half to use with another one of their recipes later in the fall. Their pie recipe calls for “partial” blind baking, for which they have a standard procedure shared by all similar pies.
  • “Golden Pumpkin Pie”, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: as you might expect, the pastry for this pie is rather different from all of the preceding. It contains two whole grains — ground oats and red whole wheat — and is sweetened with brown sugar rather than granulated or not at all. In addition, the crust includes a large amount of cinnamon (¾ tsp) and uses milk for the liquid rather than ice water as all the previous recipes do.
  • Joanne Chang, “Pâte Brisée II”, Flour: Chang’s recipe is the most unusual, as it is enriched with egg and milk, and as mentioned above, is made in a stand mixer. Her pie recipe calls for fully blind-baking the shell, unlike the other recipes which are only partially blind-baked.

More to follow tomorrow!

UPDATE (2014-10-12): I ran out of eggs for pie #6, so the post with all of the finished pies will have to wait until Monday evening after I’ve had a chance to go to the store. (I also ran out of homemade pumpkin puree, so I had to supplement pie #5 with canned pumpkin — actually canned Dickinson squash — and pie #6 will be entirely made with canned.)

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Other people’s recipes: Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ Salted Caramel Apple Pie

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[Apologies for the lateness of this post -- my Internet connection went down on Monday while I was at work and didn't come back until Tuesday morning.] The second of the seasonal pies I decided to do from Emily and … Continue reading

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It’s apple-picking season

This weekend’s baking adventure is the “Salted Caramel Apple Pie” from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. Rather than just going to my local Whole Foods and using whatever apples they had, I figured it was an opportune time to visit some local orchards and see what they had in their farm stores. (Sorry, PYO is not for me; I’m happy to pay other people to do the picking!) The recipe calls for a balance of tart and soft baking apples, so my first challenge was to figure out which orchards had the right kinds of apples — which turns out to be difficult if you don’t actually care about specific varieties. @adapples pointed me at the Orange Pippin directory of orchards, but unfortunately they don’t provide a “location x availability x ultimate use” search.

Since I had nothing else planned for Saturday, I figured I’d drive around to several orchards and see what they had on offer. I started out at Bolton Spring Farm (159 Main St. [Route 117], Bolton), which turned out to be a big win. Not only did they have hot apple dumplings, but they actually signed the apple varieties in their farm stand with indications of what they were good for. Unfortunately, I’m not sure which apples I actually bought: I know I got some Gravenstein, but I don’t remember the others (maybe Macoun?). Bolton Spring Farm also had some late-season peaches for sale, so I bought a small container of those as well.

My second stop was Carlson Orchards (115 Oak Hill Rd., Harvard), which is one of the biggest wholesale operations in these parts, in addition to having pick-your-own and a farm stand. I bought some honey (although not apple-blossom honey, which would have been wonderful) and a rather insipid cider donut. (I always make this mistake this time of year. I’ve never had a “cider” donut that tasted like anything, but FRESH DONUTS always seems to override my experience.)

After Carlson I headed back down I-495 to Northborough, where both Davidian Bros. and Tougas Family Farm are located. Tougas was my first stop (234 Ball St.), and on my way there I passed the Davidian Bros. farm stand (on Church St., I think). At Tougas I bought some eating apples (three different kinds — I think one was a Mutsu and one was a Honeycrisp; not sure about the third). At Davidian Brothers I bought a pumpkin donut — much better than the cider donut I had had earlier — some macaroni salad (terrible), and some exceedingly large baked goods. (When I got home, I cut the giant brownies into quarters before freezing them. I had to add some wine vinegar to the macaroni salad to cut through the heavy, greasy mayonnaise, but even then it still wasn’t very good.)

Finally, I drove home, and then a little farther, to see what was on offer at Dowse Orchards (98 N. Main St. [Route 27], Sherborn), which is actually my “local” as it were. Their farm stand is much smaller than many of the others, but what they had that I hadn’t seen anywhere else was proper unpasteurized cider. Their cider is UV-treated to kill pathogens without cooking, and as someone who grew up on unpasteurized cider I’m looking forward to trying it.

Overall, the apple orchard industry seems to be thriving in the region between Boston and Worcester. I visited five out of perhaps two dozen orchards, and all were reasonably busy (Tougas Family Farm and Carlson Orchards having particularly large crowds doing the pick-your-own thing). One thing I did note was that all of the farm stands except Carlson’s carried a very similar selection of fruit products, which appeared to all have been made by the same private-label manufacturer. Checking the labels, I noted they all said “Made for (insert orchard name here)”, which leaves me wondering whether any of them actually were made with fruit from the orchard in question. (Some of them obviously were not, based on the composition.) Likewise the same brands of honey, frozen chicken pies, and other non-fruit products were seen everywhere. I suppose there are good business reasons for fluffing out your orchard’s selection with other locally-made products from a grocery distributor, just as other farm stands sell out-of-season vegetables from Chelsea Produce Market to supplement their own produce.

I’ll have a post on the pie Monday evening.

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Unbelievable cookbook idiocy

The Amazon fairy just deposited a copy of Ovenly (by Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin) in my mailbox. In the front matter, it says:

As we sent out our recipes fo testing, we heard from friends, colleagues and family that none of them used the weight measurements we had provided. So, we decided not to use them in our book unless we felt it was necessary for a recipe. […]

However, if you are a person who prefers weights, we’ve created this handy conversion chart for you:

What follows are not conversion charts they have created, but the standard US customary–metric–Imperial conversion charts that are copy-and-pasted into every cookbook ever published. They are utterly useless for “[people] who prefer[] weights” because they don’t tell you how much the authors think a “cup” of flour (or indeed any other ingredient) weighs. Without having looked at a single recipe, this made me want to slam the book against the nearest wall. Whoever the idiot was who edited this book should not have let that one slip through. If you can’t be bothered to include ingredient weights, that’s fine. (Well, actually, it’s not fine, and I’m not going to trust anything else you have to say about baking, but I might still enjoy your cookbook.) But if you actually had ingredient masses already figured, took them out, and left in their place a worthless US-to-metric conversion table, that’s a special grade of stupidity.

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Chocolate tasting results: championship week 2

After three months, hundreds of dollars, and numerous trips to various stores, it has come down to this. Quoting once again from our wiki:

I guess the members of our panel like generic supermarket chocolate, because the runaway winner was Whole Foods Dark Chocolate: Tanzania Schoolhouse Project (72%), with four first-place votes, followed by Kraft’s Green & Black’s 85% Cacao Bar with five second-place votes. Overall, 8 out of 10 panelists placed Green & Black’s 85% in their top three. Idilio Origins Finca Torres came in third, Venchi Extra Fondente 75% fourth, Vivani Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa fifth, Alter Eco Dark Blackout (85%) sixth, and Theo Pure 85% Dark Chocolate a surprisingly poor seventh. My personal favorite, Xocolata Aynouse L’Artesà Amarga, received favorable comments but garnered no votes at all — Jay even wrote “[Aynouse Amarga] is one I enjoyed, but wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wasn’t a weirdo like me”.

I’m not sure if I’ll organize another set of chocolate tastings; it’s been a lot of work for me, not to mention fairly expensive, and I’m not sure I learned much. But I did get to meet some colleagues I would not have otherwise had any reason to socialize with, and I think all of the participants had fun.

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Other people’s recipes: Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ Concord grape pie

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Continuing to explore the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book (Emily & Melissa Elsen, 2013), since it is now fall, it’s time to move on to that section of the cookbook, which is intended to reflect seasonally available ingredients. Among … Continue reading

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Recipe quick take: SeriousEats’ fresh corn chowder

Tonight I did J. Kenji López-Alt’s corn chowder from SeriousEats. I bought some fresh corn at a farm stand, and it made a quite tasty light dinner. (Dinner had to be light because the sandwiches and the cookies at the bakery on Natick Common across from the farmer’s market are far too large!) By my reckoning, it comes in at about 315 calories for a two-cup serving, which is great for a soup — particularly one as creamy as this one. No pictures; it looks just like the one in Kenji’s photo (except that I puréed mine a bit more than he did his, although that doesn’t really come across in the photo anyway). One issue: I noticed a bit of undercooked roux in the pot as I was transferring it to a plastic container for cooling and storage.

In other news, I have a schedule for the upcoming Other People’s Recipes posts. These are of course subject to change. Tomorrow or Monday will be Concord grape pie from the Emily and Melissa Elsen’s The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book; next weekend will be the Elsens’ salted caramel apple pie; Columbus Day weekend will be three or four pumpkin pies; the following weekend will be more pumpkin pies (and/or possibly other pumpkin dishes if I’m sick of pumpkin pie by then); October 25/26 will be the Elsens’ black-bottom oatmeal pie; and November 1/2 will be the Elsens’ black walnut pie. I’m still taking requests for December; see recipe pointers for a list of possibilities and leave a comment here.

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