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Maryland Crab Cakes with Chipotle Mayo

January 13th, 2011 8:55 pm

We made the America’s Test Kitchen Maryland Crab Cakes for dinner last night. I thought they were really good. I followed the crab cake directions almost precisely – I just added a little extra Old Bay to the flour for dredging at the end. Since we live far from the coast and didn’t want to pay a fortune, we went for pasteurized crab. Costco had it in a 1lb tub near the deli meats and herring. I used panko for the crumbs (because I had it on hand). I only used 2Tb. The cakes barely held together. They were difficult to handle and flip, but we managed. I set the cakes on wax paper after dredging, and I lifted the cakes using the wax paper beneath them and sort of tipped them into my palm and put them in the oil quickly to fry. I could not pick them up with my fingers and keep them intact.

I was too lazy to mince garlic or chilis, and we didn’t have fresh cilantro or lime juice, so I mixed up some of the adobo from the can of chipotles with some mayo and sour cream and added lemon pepper, garlic salt, dried cilantro, and lemon juice. The result was probably not as spicy as it would have been with chopped chilis, but it was a very tasty sauce. We had leftover sauce, and I plan to use it on turkey and bacon roll ups. It would also be awesome on cheesesteak sandwiches if we happened to have those on hand.

I was more than pleased with the results. We will definitely do this again, although probably not often since it was a little labor intensive and more expensive than our usual dinners.

Smashed Potatoes

December 26th, 2010 3:02 pm

I’m finding that the Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2011 (hereafter CATK Cookbook) has every recipe I want, even though I don’t know it yet. I searched for a smashed potato recipe online and wound up finding it in the CATK Cookbook.

I wasn’t 100% thrilled with the results, but I can’t judge too accurately because, as usual, I didn’t follow the recipe to the letter. I more than doubled it to feed the crew I had coming for Christmas and the grocery store was out of chives, so I subbed some green onions. I definitely think chives would be better. I found that the potatoes cooked in under 20min after boil. In fact, less, because mine were overdone. I chose large red potatoes (because they came in a 5lb bag), and they pretty much mashed themselves with the little bit of squishing and folding that I did. Since I doubled the recipe, I forgot to reserve as much cooking liquid as I was supposed to, but I was also hesitant to add it all because I didn’t want glue.

Next time I will look for the smaller red potatoes (new potatoes) and I will watch them carefully for doneness. Depending on the results, I may increase the butter and cream cheese quantity. I couldn’t really taste the butter or cream cheese. And I will find chives. Dried ones may have been a better choice than the green onions. I found the green onions a little overwhelming.

Spinach Pie

December 26th, 2010 2:57 pm

I tried the Weeknight Spinach Pie recipe from January 2011 Cook’s Illustrated for Christmas. They called for 20oz of spinach and 12oz feta. Spinach came in 16oz packages and feta came in 8oz packages, so I ended up using a pound of each. I do think my version suffered for that, but it was still really good. I like the result, and baking it on a sheet pan didn’t require figuring out what to do with the corners of the phyllo.

I do think I will leave the mint out next time. I’ve had spanakopita with mint before, and I don’t particularly like it. Maybe it’s authentic, but it tastes kind of bitter to me. The recipe made a LOT. If you cut it into 24 pieces as suggested, I think each person would only take 4 max. for a main dish and 2 as an appetizer.

It’s a little soggy for leftovers, but I feel like I have gourmet leftovers for lunch this week.

New Best Recipe – muffins

December 12th, 2010 10:58 pm

I made cranberry muffins by substituting cranberries for blueberries in the recipe from the New Best Recipe cookbook. I should have added some extra sugar, because the muffins were rather sour and “plain” as Brian called them. The batter was super thick – more like wet dough. They are nice and moist, though, which has been a challenge with other muffin recipes.

America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook – Chicken Tikka Masala

December 12th, 2010 10:56 pm

We made Chicken Tikka Masala last week. It was good. I screwed up the rice, big time. I tried to cut the cooking time and ended up with mush. The curry was very mild, and I think next time I would add some more spice, but the overall flavor was ok. It is not like what we get at our favorite restaurant, but it was reasonable. Cooking the yogurt covered chicken under the broiler gave a really moist result. Next time we will use Penzey’s Maharaja curry powder instead of their Garam Masala. The garam masala was a little sweet or something – not my favorite for this dish.


November 26th, 2010 7:23 pm

I made 2 batches (4 medium-small loaves) of rosemary bread for turkey day.  I did a trial run a week in advance, and wasn’t overly impressed.  I vowed to try again with real bread flour, letting the bread and water sit for 15 min before kneading (autolyse), more rosemary, higher temp, and as much steam as I could create in the oven.  The second attempt went a lot better.

I also made this recipe for sweet potatoes with maple syrup, brown sugar, and pecans. It was excellent, but next time I think I will reduce the maple syrup first. There was a lot of water in the bottom that leaked out during transport.

Teaching myself new tricks

October 29th, 2010 8:48 pm

I’ve been knitting for at least five years now.  I’ve recently done a couple of projects that involve large fields of stockinette stitch (all knit stitches on one side, all purl stitches on the other) knit flat, and I’ve had to confront my uneven tension in knitting and purling.  I am a loose knitter, and apparently an extremely loose purler when I do the typical continental purl, even if I wrap the yarn over more fingers or pull to try to increase tension.  I finally tried combined purling, and I think I’ve solved my problem.  Now my purls are too tight if I try to tighten them and I’m forced to stay relaxed, which is really better for my hands.  It seems like a really elegant solution, too, since the motion is almost the mirror image of knitting.  It just means that I need to be slightly careful following standard knitting directions for increases and decreases, or I need to reorient my stitches before M1, K2Tog, SSK, SK2P, etc.

It’s not typically a problem when I’m knitting in the round, but I recently made a Christmas stocking that was knit flat and I’m currently working on a short row sleeve cap on a sweater.


October 23rd, 2010 11:13 pm

Brian wanted to wire up a jack-o-lantern with an Arduino and some LEDs, and I decided that rather than muck up his electronics with pumpkin guts, a foam carveable pumpkin might be the way to go.  We bought one Funkin and one real pumpkin (can’t miss out on roasting the seeds!).

At first I thought carving the Funkin was harder, but it’s actually a bit easier because the shell is thinner.  The knives that came in a set with some templates were terrible and flimsy and heated up very quickly from sawing through the foam.  I like the idea that we can keep designs we like indefinitely.

Brian is gluing and wiring as I type.  I’ll have to post some pictures/video when he’s done.

Navigating Shutterfly

October 1st, 2010 8:18 pm

My family recently had a reunion, and wanted to make an album from all of the pictures from various cameras.  We decided to use one of these online album generators that prints your album in book form.  We settled on Shutterfly because I had read good reviews and because we used them once before to print thank you cards with a wedding photo.

Tip #1 THE MOST IMPORTANT:  Do not crop your photos before uploading.  Shutterfly forces your photos to fit predefined templates in some irregular sizes.  It is best if you do your cropping in Shutterfly.  As far as I know, there is no way to plunk down photos on a page, freeform – you must choose one of their templates.  If you crop out unwanted stuff first, you may find that the template forces you to a size that crops out something important.

Tip #2:  Do your color/light balancing beforehand.  Brian owns Lightroom, which we found very handy for lightening pictures and doing minor white balancing and things.

Tip #3:  Use the storyboard.  The storyboard is there to let you group your photos.  We had photos from numerous days showing numerous activities that we wanted grouped together:  4 with a rocking horse, 3 carving a watermelon basket, 2 riding a train in a park, etc.  Shutterfly has options to take your storyboard and automatically make an album for you, but you can also go back and tinker with the pages individually and choose other layouts.

Tip #4:  For the most photos for one price, choose a photo cover option which lets you put photos on the front and back covers.  You can also choose to add extra pages.  We found that about 60 photos fit well in the 20 page book.

What I didn’t like:

We wanted 2-4 photos per page mostly, with very little text.  Maybe a few minor captions and mostly just lists of who is who in the photos.  Most of the options for 3+ photos use about 2/3 of the page, with a lot of extra room in the borders.  In my opinion, for this album, all that does is waste space.  You want your photos as big as you can get them on the page, especially for group shots.  It would be nice (although probably complicated) if it would allow you to resize things on the page and drag/create text boxes that can be moved.  This could save a lot of space.  I did not like being forced to use their templates, but in the end it all looks pretty good.

I found it hard to get an idea of the details of the book from the preview and editing screens.  We chose a drop shadow for the photos, but on the screen it’s impossible to see it.  The font sizes are also sort of arbitrarily limited by the size of the text box on the template, and it does not give you any guidelines for size, it’s just trial and error to see when you’ll go over the edge and choose a font that is too big.  There is a lot of empty space that could be filled by text on the spine as well as the pages, but there does not seem to be any way to do that using their templates.

If you are into the more “scrap-booky” look, they have a lot of backgrounds, text styles, and colors to choose from.  We kept it pretty simple, with a front and back cover that have the same bright, floral background, the rest of the book is neutral, and the title page tries to tie it all together.

Overall, my family seems very pleased with the album.  I have not seen it in person yet, but they were the ones I was worried about pleasing.

Skillet Chicken, Broccoli, and Ziti

September 30th, 2010 9:02 pm

I got a new America’s Test Kitchen cookbook for my birthday that supposedly has all of the recipes from the show.  I was excited to try the Skillet Chicken, Broccoli, and Ziti recipe because I’m trying to find more dinners that include vegetables that are fairly simple for weeknight dinners.  This was perfect!

I left out the sun dried tomatoes because I am not particularly fond of them.  I would recommend adding more red pepper flakes and definitely tasting for salt.  I ended up adding more of both on my plate at the table, but Brian left his mostly alone.  We also used Parmesan because I prefer it to Asiago.  I used frozen broccoli florets because I’m lazy.  We found that cooking them for 5 minutes with the lid on (the longer side of what the recipe specifies) was enough to get them close to tender, and the final cooking time with the chicken and cream was enough to make them completely tender.  The only drawback to the frozen broccoli was less of the buds and more of the stem of the broccoli.  We also found that cooking the ziti as directed on the box is good.  The recipe specifies 12-15 minutes at a boil, but the box said 9 for al dente.  We followed the box and I’m glad we did.  I think the extra few minutes may have driven the pasta over the line to mushy.

Use a large, deep skillet with a lid.  We used a shallow skillet last night and just barely contained it all.  I believe the recipe says it is 4 servings.  I would consider it a very generous 2 servings or a standard 3 servings.  If you rounded it out with bread and salad it might be 4, but that might defeat my goal of keeping it all simple for 2 people.

My only minor reservation about this was that the sauce didn’t seem very rich, but it is supposed to be a weeknight thing, so I suppose it’s good to keep it moderately healthy and not dump in a bunch more cream and butter.

I will definitely do this one again!