Saturday, November 29, 2014

Carrot Layer Cake

Prep Time: 18 minutes
Bake Time: 18 minutes
Cool Time: 30 minutes
Frost Time: 20 minute

Grade: A

Make Again: Yes

Recipe Sources: 
America's Test Kitchen TV (Season 13)
Cook's Illustrated (May 2012)

I've been wanting to try this cake for the past year and finally decided to make it for Thanksgiving. It was quite good and the only difficult part was frosting it. But overall it was fairly simple.

It is not easy to make a layer cake out of carrot cake, because the cake is so soft and moist. They solve this problem by baking the cake in a half sheet pan, so it is very big but thin, and then cutting the cake into 4 quarters making each a layer. I have a 1/4 sheet pan, so made a half recipe, which worked out very nicely.

Instead of 4 layers, I cut the cake into thirds for 3 layers. I cut the frosting recipe in half but that was a problem, because I really didn't have enough. I really had to stretch it in some spots. I knew it would be tight, because I think there is more surface area on the outside when you cut a recipe in half. (I didn't do the math, but I am pretty sure about this.) I did make it work though and honestly the frosting is very rich, so I wouldn't really want it any thicker than it ended up.

You are supposed to cover sides with chopped pecans but I am not a pecan fan, so I skipped those. It would have been nice to cover up my mistakes though!

I should point out that you need buttermilk powder for the recipe. That is to add tang without moisture. It worked really well. I do think however, my frosting could have been a tiny bit moister without problems. It probably would have made spreading it easier.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Slow-Cooker Turkey Breast with Gravy

Prep Time: 50 minutes
Cook Time: 5-6 hours
Rest Time: 20 min

Grade: A

Make Again: Yes

Recipe Source: Cook's Country (December 2012)

As much as I love to cook, I have never made a Turkey before. I tried to help my mom one Thanksgiving when I was a young adult and it grossed me out so much, I became a vegetarian soon after. That lasted 7 years. I eat meat all the time now, but I still don't like dealing with things on the bone, let alone an entire bird.

I usually bring side dishes to family meals for Thanksgiving. When it is just the two of us I have done a boneless skinless turkey breast. But those never taste anything like Thanksgiving turkey to me. So this year when I saw this recipe on the America's Test Kitchen Feed, (recipe is behind the paywall now) I decided to at least try a real breast on the bone.

I wasn't sure what to expect – thinking the turkey would be steamed and I knew it wouldn't be as pretty as roasted turkey.

It was not pretty, that is true, but once carved, you only noticed that it didn't have skin. It was the most moist turkey I've ever had, and the gravy was delicious. I will definitely use this recipe again.

Part of what makes this recipe work is that you take off the skin and cook it in skillet first to render the fat and then you saute the vegetables in that fat to start your gravy. You sort of make the gravy in the beginning and cook the turkey on top of the gravy and vegetables and cooked skin. After you remove the turkey breast you strain the gravy and after some seasoning it tasted delicious.

If I had one complaint it is the gravy was a bit thin. It was pretty thick until I strained it and the thick stuff got stuck with the vegetables. I waited until the end to do that, so I didn't have time to thicken on the stove, but I will do that next time.

One breast ended up a little more cooked than the other side. I'm not sure why. It may have been leaning and touching the side of the slow cooker. It was still moist enough though and tasted good and will be used for some leftover recipes this weekend.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wedding Soup

Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Grade: A

Make Again: Yes

Recipe Sources:
Cook's Illustrated (March 2012)
America's Test Kitchen TV (Season 14)

I prepped the soup in the morning and then cooked it at night with the pasta. This worked out great. I don't mind an hour of prep if I can do it earlier in the day.

The soup tasted really good. The broth was unique and flavorful. It should be since it had a lot of ingredients (fennel, ground dried mushrooms, pork, beef, and more).

The only negative to the soup is that I didn't think it was very appealing looking with the meatballs appearing a little gray to me. But that isn't something that will keep me from making this soup.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

6 Ingredient Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry

Total Time: 30 minutes

Grade: A

Make Again: Yes

Recipe Source: Six-Ingredient Solution (ATK Book)

I wasn't sure if I would try this because I like the Beef and Broccoli with Oyster Sauce recipe from Cook's Illustrated and it is not too difficult to make that. But it looked good and I had the 6 ingredients (flank steak, a pepper, broccoli, oyster sauce, sesame oil and sweet chili sauce) on hand and I thought I would give it a whirl.

It turned out really good. I might even like it better than the real recipe because the sauce had a bit of sweetness to it which I really liked. The sweet chili sauce helps keep the number of ingredients down since it has sweetness, garlic and spice all in one.

It was very easy to pull together and could probably even be done quicker once I know the recipe. I had the kitchen cleaned up while making it which is a change from many stir-fry recipes where I end up feeling like I used a million dishes.

I will definitely make this again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mexican Lasagna

Prep Time: 30 minutes 
Cool Time: 30 minutes 
Assemble Time: 15 min 
Hold: up to 24 hours 
Cook Time: 45 min
Cool Time: 15 min 

Grade: A

Make Again: Yes 

Recipe Source: Make Ahead Cook (book) 

This is the first really new recipe that I've tried from this cookbook that I don't recognize from the magazines or tv shows. It might be featured in one of their other million cookbooks, of course. 

I don't mind that they are using old favorites, because I like what I've learned about making things ahead of time from working through this book. But, it is nice to try something completely new to me. 

This recipe was from the "Oven Ready Casseroles" chapter, which is casseroles to make the night before. I decided to do an experiment with this and make two smaller casseroles instead of one large one. I put the second one in the freezer (without the cheese on the very top). 

It was about 45 minutes total of work, and it was fairly easy work. Not much to chop and prep other than the scallions, garlic and cheese. 

It tasted very good. The inside corn tortillas did become quite mushy even though I did spray them with oil and microwave as directed. But it all tasted fine and the texture was not a problem. The ones on top got nice and crunchy. 

The frozen version was almost just as good. The top was not as pretty or crunchy, but overall it was still great and so nice to pull out of the freezer. It did take a while to cook from frozen. I cooked it like the lasagna and put in cold over, turned on to 400 and it took 70 minutes to heat through. Then I finished as directed without the foil and adding the cheese. 

This is almost a good gluten-free recipe, but it does use 3T of flour to thicken the filling. You could probably use corn starch or something else instead. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Make Ahead Baked Penne with Chicken and Broccoli

Prep Time: 50 min
Cool Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 40 min

Grade: B

Make Again: Probably not

Recipe Source: Make Ahead Cook book

I have made all sorts of versions of this recipe from America's Test Kitchen books in the past. I always have the same thoughts. It tastes good, but it is not amazing. And it always takes longer than I think I should.

It is not a complicated recipe, but there are lots of ingredients, so it just ends up taking some time to get it altogether. Getting the chicken, broccoli and pasta to all cook correctly is based on the timing. It all worked out well and things were cooked just like I would want. 

The leftovers don't last too long. The next day they were fine, but after that the pasta gets too mushy. I think when I want chicken and broccoli with a carb in one dish, I will stick with stir-fries which last longer as leftovers and are a little less work.