Sifting and measuring flour

Sifting and measuring flour

If you look at nearly any baking recipe, you will see something like “sift together the dry ingredients,” usually flour, baking powder and maybe sure and salt. Why do they do that? Well, because someone clear back to Fanny Merritt Farmer, in her Boston Cooking School Cookbook (you can read a digital copy here) said to. Flour in 1896 was probably much lumpier than today, and she said to sift all ingredients before measuring them.

Nowadays, flour isn’t usually very lumpy and we usually use it right out of the bag.

But we thought we’d try sifting some paprika into flour to see how well it mixes. This is about 1.5 Tb of paprika in 2 cups of flour.

 

 
 

As can see, it doesn’t really mix all that well. In fact, you could do better just using a wire whisk. But, if you are making a batter for baking, the mixing of the dry ingredients with the liquid will distribute them just as well.

Now about that cup

A measuring cup measures 8 fluid ounces: it is really for measuring liquids like milk or water. Flour, not being a liquid can be a little variable about how much fits in a cup. Fanny Farmer said you should scoop out the flour and level off the cup with a knife, and that works for 1 cup of flour. But for 2 ½ cups of flour, it gets messier and it soon becomes easier to weigh out the flour. We have an inexpensive kitchen scale, Ozeri kitchen scale (it cost $15.95), we keep right with our bowls and dishes, and can easily weigh anything we want.  If you don’t have one, ask someone to give it to you for Christmas.

So how do you weigh out flour? We found that 1 cup of King Arthur All Purpose Flour weighs 142 g (see above). We use grams because then there aren’t any pesky decimal pl aces to confuse you.

weighing



But what about sifted flour? The only thing sifting commercial flours does is to aerate them a bit so a cup of sifted flour weighs less. Sifted King Arthur flour weighs 126 grams, or about 8% less.

Cake Flour

Cake flour is made from a mixture of lower protein wheats that will give a light and tender crumb in cakes. According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, all purpose flour has about 11-12% protein (mostly gluten) and cake flour about 7-8% protein. And U.S. cake flour is bleached as well, which causes “the starch granules to absorb water and swell more readily in high sugar batters.” Need less to say, cake flours weigh less per cup:

 All purposeCake flour
Scooped142 g120 g
Sifted126 g112 g

These weights are useful when you need some off amount of flour. For example, my waffle recipe requires 2 ¼ cups of sifted cake flour. It’s easiest to just quickly weigh about (2.25 x 112g) or 252g in a dish and mix it into the waffle batter. I keep this table posted inside my cupboard door, and write the weights into any recipes I use frequently.

So, get your scale out and you can do your baking quickly without getting a lot of measuring cups dirty. Happy holiday baking!

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Tuscan Chicken Pasta: Instant Pot or Not

Tuscan Chicken Pasta: Instant Pot or Not

This simple and delicious chicken pasta dish is a breeze in an Instant Pot, but since the cooking time is so short, you could just as easily make it in a 3 or 4 qt saucepan with a lid. We got the idea from this online recipe, but a quick search will bring up dozens of variations. Our recipe varies from that link mainly in we use fresh garlic instead of garlic powder, and we avoid the mysterious “Italian seasoning.”

  • 1 lb boneless chicken breasts (2 lobes of a single chicken breast)
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 2 tsp half-sharp paprika (Ours came from Penzeys)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 2 12-oz cans chicken stock
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • 12 oz penne pasta (we used tricolored)
  • 6 oz cream cheese
  • 1 ½ cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 3-6 oz sun-dried tomatoes, cut up
  • 4 oz baby spinach leaves

  1. Set the Instant Pot to Sauté, press adjust to set it to High.
  2. Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika.
  3. Sauté the chicken breasts for 2 minutes on each side and remove to a plate.
  4. Sauté the onions for 1-2 minutes, until softened, adding more olive oil if needed.
  5. Mash the garlic with the side of a knife, remove the skin and chop them up.
  6. Add the garlic to the sauté and cook until fragrant.
  7. Turn off the sauté heat.
  8. Add the chicken broth, basil, oregano, salt ant pepper, milk, pasta and chicken breasts to the pot.
  9. Close the pot and set to Manual and 5 minutes.
  10. When the 5 minutes is over, do a Quick Release and remove the lid.
  11. Remove the chicken to the plate and cover with foil to keep warm. It will continue to cook on the plate, so be sure to cover it.
  12. Cut up the cream cheese and stir into the pasta liquid, until it has melted and the sauce is smooth.
  13. Cut the sun-dried tomatoes into quarters or smaller and add to the pot.
  14. Add the parmesan cheese and spinach.
  15. Cut the chicken in to cubes and return it to the pot.

Serve warm, garnished with more parmesan if you like.

in bowl

In a saucepan

The recipe is pretty much the same, except that you should cook the penne pasta and chicken in the stock, covered, for 10 minutes. You may have to add more water if the stock boils down too much. It is also easier to reheat it, when everything is combined, but as it cools the sauce does become thicker.

The Barn Door: a great family restaurant in Branchville

The Barn Door: a great family restaurant in Branchville

signThe Barn Door has been at 37 Ethan Allen Highway in Ridgefield (Branchville) for about two years now, and it looks like they have found a winning formula. The service is fast and gracious, and the food way better than you’d expect at a “family restaurant.” Everything we had was extremely good, and most of it excellent.

They started us with some delicious bread, served with a tomato coulis, in a beautiful presentation.

bread

Our appetizers were their crab cakes with corn relish and chipotle aioli, which seems to be a recurring special that one staff member told me was one of their most popular dishes. It’s easy to see why: it is full of crab and sufficiently spicy (mostly with mustard) to compare favorably with benchmark Baltimore carb cakes. And the two cakes give you quite a lot of crab. If you were planning of having a substantial main course, two people could split these crab cakes!

crab cakes

For one entree we had an excellent Lemon Chicken. It consisted of chicken breasts with pasta and Meyer lemon, sweet cherry peppers and a sweet, lemony sauce, decorated with parsley. This was an absolutely outstanding dish we recommend highly whenever it’s on the menu.

lemon chicken

Out other entrée was classic Fish and Chips, served batter fried with hot, fresh French fries, coleslaw and tartar sauce. Like all of their other entrees, the portion was substantial and some of the best fish and chips we’ve had anywhere recently. This one is on the standard menu and you can order it anytime. We will certainly have it again.

fish and chips

The Barn Door is a wonderful discovery for us: the prices are reasonable, and the food is outstanding. We are probably going to start going there whenever we want a moderate night out, because the service, atmosphere and cuisine are excellent.

Parking sometimes is crowded at the Barn Door, but if their lot parking is full, there are usually spaces in a lot across the street. The Barn Door is located on Route 7 just south of the intersection with Rte. 102 and pretty much across from the Branchville train station.

See you there!

bar

 

 

Where to have breakfast in Wilton

Where to have breakfast in Wilton

While our kitchen was being remodeled, we had ample opportunity to try various breakfast spots on the area, and all of them have things to recommend them.

Orem’s

Of course, Orem’s would be on our list since it is a well-regarded diner, recommended in Jane (and Michael) Stern’s Road Food. We have been going there for years, and have had quite a number of their breakfast items, from eggs, to pancakes, to French toast to omelets, and just about everything has been well prepared and served amazingly quickly. The wait staff is unfailingly friendly and soon recognizes you when you return. These photos show eggs and sausage, and blueberry pancakes.

Village Luncheonette

We had forgotten what a gem the Village Luncheonette is. It’s right there on Old Ridgefield Rd in Wilton Center, just across the driveway from Village Market. The staff is friendly and the food excellent. Our eggs were perfectly prepared, although they accidentally made us 3 instead of two and of course we had to eat all 3 because they were delicious. We liked the fact that they split the link sausages in half so they heated through. We’ll certainly go back more frequently. But beware: they don’t take credit cards.

Connecticut Coffee

bagel ct coffee

Connecticut Coffee and Grill does a brisk takeout business for their bagels and breakfast sandwiches, and they both conventional coffee and about 8 specialty coffees on tap all the time. Jimmy and his staff work quickly to hand you your order, and if it is the same every time, they may already have it for you in a bag when you walk in the door. We think their bagels are top-notch, and when we went there for a sit-down breakfast, we ordered them, buttered with cream cheese, and they were amazing. The French Toast the people at the next table had also looked fantastic. Their menu is extensive.  You can order breakfast sandwiches, eggs and pancakes and an huge array of lunchtime sandwiches. The place always seems busy, and has been for all of the 15 years they’ve been in Old Post Office Square, 16 Center St.

Uncle Leo’s

Uncle Leo’s Coffee and Donuts opened in Wilton (17 Danbury Rd) just a few weeks ago, and already has a substantial following. “Uncle Leo” is Leo Spinelli and the nephew is making excellent donuts and bagels using his recipes. The bagels are comparable to the ones at Connecticut Coffee but the donuts are far superior to anything else in the area. They have around a dozen tables where you can eat your breakfast, and their menu is the same as in the Georgetown shop, with breakfast sandwiches, Danish, muffins, turnovers, giant breakfast plates, omelets, eggs, toast and home fries. They also have a substantial lunch hot and cold sandwich menu.  Beware of their Boston Crème donut which is so full of custard you’ll need a spoon to manage it. But it is delicious!

 

Thursday night Prix Fixe at the Schoolhouse

Thursday night Prix Fixe at the Schoolhouse

The Schoolhouse at Cannondale always serves delicious, creative food, but Thursdays are a real bargain when you can get a 4-course meal for $49. If you want a different wine to accompany each course, it costs $85, but if you just order some wine by the glass the whole evening is an astonishing bargain.

Last night’s menu gave you two choices for each of the four courses, which explains why the menu is so inexpensive: there are only eight dishes to prepare.

For the first course, one choice was a Kale and Cabbage salad with almonds, pickled shallot, golden raisins and Umami vinaigrette. While it looked pretty salad like, it was a bit more like a fruit salad, with the raisins cutting the bitterness of the brassica, and quite tasty.

The other first course was a Curry Carrot Soup (above) with a coconut-peanut granola and Black Sheep Yoghurt. This was a spectacular success, and I can’t wait to try to duplicate it as it was utterly delicious, with the smooth carrot soup and curry contrasting with the nutty granola and swirled with the yoghurt.

For the second course, you could choose Torches French Raclette Cheese, with Currant-Apricot Mustardo and Wave Hill Toast, or Pork Rillette, Pickled Fennel, Raisin Verjus, toast and watercress. Eating the warm Raclette by spreading it on the toast with a little of currant-apricot mixture was an unexpected experience, and the Pork Rillette was a smooth spread that also nicely set off with the Raisin Verjus and Fennel.

pork loin

For the third course you could order either Bronzini with toasted farro and Juilienne vegetable en Blanc, Fennel-Tomato broth and Kalamata Olive tapenade, or Roast Pork Loin with Horseradish Spätzle, Brussels Sprouts and Caraway-Beet Coulis. We both ordered the pork loin, so you get only one picture. We particularly were pleased with how tender and juicy the pork was, as many other restaurants tend to overcook it. This was just right, and the Spätzle were a really great idea and went well with the Brussels Sprouts.

bread pudding

Finally, we could order either Bread pudding with salted caramel sauce, peanuts and cinnamon whipped cream, or Maple Panna Cotta with cranberry chutney. We both ordered the bread pudding which was apparently made from Wave Hill bread, too, was a lovely finish to the meal.

We couldn’t have been happier, and now that we know their “secret,” we’ll come back on Thursdays in the future!

 

Salted caramel chocolate tart

Salted caramel chocolate tart

Here is a great holiday pie recipe that takes only minutes to make, although it does take several hours to chill. Warm it back to room temperature when you serve it, to make cutting caramel easier, and use a warm knife.

Depending on whether you make this in a tart pan or a pie pan, this is a tart or quiche, but is simple and delicious. And, for holidays, it is easily transportable. Save the Maldon salt until just before serving so it doesn’t dissolve in the ganache.

Crust

  • 3 cups crushed chocolate cookies
  • 4 Tb unsalted butter

crust

  1. Crush the cookies in a food processor. Lacking simple chocolate cookies, we tried chocolate biscotti, chocolate chocolate chips cookies and thin Oreos with the filling scraped off. All worked well.
  2. Melt the unsalted butter in a microwave for 1 minute at 50% power and mix in with the cookies.
  3. Press the crumbs into the bottom of a pie pan or tart pan.
  4. Bake 10-15 minutes at 350˚ F, until fragrant.
  5. Cool or chill until ready to fill the pie.

Caramel filling

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 6 Tb chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt

  1. Mix the sugar and cream of tartar and add the water.
  2. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil, with stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and let the sugar solution cook slowly (8-10 minutes) with swirling until it is deep amber, and wisps of smoke start to come from the pan.
  4. Remove from heat and add the butter, carefully, a piece at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon, to avoid foaming up.
  5. Add the cream slowly with stirring.
  6. Add the salt.
  7. Pour into a glass pitcher to allow it to cool
  8. Pour into the piecrust, cover with foil and refrigerate, an hour or overnight.

caramel in pie

Ganache

  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tb honey
  • ¼ tsp coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Flakey sea salt

  1. Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, honey and salt.
  3. Bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate.
  4. Let stand 5 minutes, to melt the chocolate.
  5. Whisk until smooth
  6. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until stiff, usually a couple of hours, (depending on how many cocktails you drink in the meantime.)
  7. Spread the ganache on the chilled filling.
  8. At the last minute, sprinkle with Maldon or other sea salt.

Serve pie at room temperature.

 

Want to drink Margaritas with a bunch of soused seniors?

Want to drink Margaritas with a bunch of soused seniors?

 

Margaritaville is a 1977 Jimmy Buffett song that despite its simplicity became a huge hit for Buffett. It’s essentially a mournful break-up song set to what Buffett himself calls “drunken Caribbean music.”

Cashing in on what turned out to be his biggest hit, Buffet franchised a series of Margaritaville restaurants, serving middling but undistinguished American food and less than distinguished service. There are now about 30 of them, mostly in the South, but there is one at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT.

Not to stop there, his company has franchised Margaritaville Resorts, mostly in the South and Caribbean, but there is one coming to New York City as well. These are hotels with pools and the Margaritaville restaurant featured, along with some sort of entertainment.

But now, we learn that his franchising organization has formed a new business for “55 and over”: senior living. The first of these is in operation in Daytona, call Latitude Margarita. Another has also opened in Hilton Head. We learned about these from an article in this Sunday’s Times Magazine. This is a development for the 55 and over crowd of homes ranging from $200K to $300K in a senior living community for “active residents,” which is or will include a Town Center with shops, concerts presumably other activities.

One Yelp reviewer said it was like being on a permanent Carnival Cruise with noisy neighbors! And a real estate expert said “I see the appeal, but it has a good chance of wearing out quickly.”

The problem I have with all of this is that even though we fit their age demographic (and then some), the idea of an age-restricted community with no young adults or children sounds stultifying. You keep young by interacting with younger people, not getting snockered on salted Tequila drinks every night.

And just how much activity is there really? Are there singing groups you can join? Are there wood working and other crafts available? What about community theater, where seniors really tend to thrive?  And to tell you the truth, we prefer gin and tonics!

Oh, and that beach they show in all their brochure. It isn’t on the property. It’s a shuttle ride away.

Pork chops and applesauce in an Instant Pot

Pork chops and applesauce in an Instant Pot

The Instant Pot is the ideal way to make pork chops without drying them out. This is a problem since most commercial pork is very lean. Even when you use a premium product like Chairman’s Reserve, you have to take care not to overcook the pork. Your pork will be juiciest if you remember that it need only be cooked to 137˚ F and not to the ridiculously high temperatures of yore.

We bought two large double chops to illustrate the technique.

  • 2 large pork chops
  • 1 Tb olive oil
  • 6 oz apple juice (one small drink box is enough)
  • 3 apples, cored and sliced (you don’t have to peel them)
  • Salt, pepper

  1. Set the Instant Pot to Saute (high) and add the olive oil.
  2. Dry the chops, season them and saute them until slightly browned.
  3. Turn off the pot and pour out the oil and any rendered fat.
  4. Add the apple juice and the sliced apples.

with apples

5. Close the pot and set to Manual for 10 minutes
6. Let the pressure reduce slowly (NPR) and open the pot.
7. Remove the chops and keep them warm
8. Pour out the apple juice and any other juices.
9. Puree the apples using an immersion blender. This also chops up the peels into the applesauce.

Serve the chops with a side of applesauce.

It is important that you let the pressure reduce slowly so that the meat juices don’t boil off. In this case, the pot was back to normal pressure in about 10 minutes.

The resulting chops were very tender and juicy. We measured the temperature of the two chops: it was nearly 165˚ F, so we suggest that for these large chops, 8 minutes would have been enough, and for smaller, single chops, 5 minutes is probably plenty.

The applesauce is very good with the pork chops, but is probably a bit porky to eat later by itself, so don’t overdo it.

Ham and bean soup in an Instant Pot

Ham and bean soup in an Instant Pot

 

What’s in that bowl?
It’s bean soup!
I know, but what is it now?

That old Benny Hill gag always comes to mind when we make or eat bean soup. A nice bowl of beans, veggies and stock with a little meat added can make a really delicious and nutritious meal. You can use one type of beans or a mixture. And the whole cooking process takes only about an hour, completely unattended.

BobsWe started with Bob’s Red Mill Black Bean Soup Mix. This has about 5 kinds of beans, but no seasonings or veggies: those are on you. It has for many years been customary to soak beans overnight before cooking them. This is supposed to make them more digestible and reduce flatulence. But this is controversial, and you probably don’t need to do it.

Nonetheless, for our first Instant Pot bean project, we soaked them over night. Next time we’ll omit that step and just cook them a little longer. We took two cups of the bean mix and rinsed them off under running water, and then soaked them for 12 hours over night, and then rinsed them. You would need to do this rinsing anyway to remove agricultural debris. The beans will have at least doubled in bulk while soaking.

Then we used them as described below.

  • 2 cups beans, soaked overnight
  • 3 ½ cups chicken stock
  • 2-3 Tb olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peels and chopped coarsely
  • 1 green, sweet pepper
  • 1 cup cubed ham (or more)
  • 1 small bunch parsley, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • Salt, pepper

  1. Put the olive oil in the Instant Pot pan and set the pot to Simmer (highest setting)
  2. Add the carrots and saute for 2-3 minutes
  3. Add the onions, celery, and pepper and saute until soft
  4. Add the garlic and saute briefly until you smell the fragrance
  5. Add the beans and chicken stock and mix
  6. Add the ham, parsley and spices and mix.
  7. Close the Instant Pot and set to 25 minutes on Manual. If you didn’t soak the beans, you may need to add 10 minutes, but 25 is probably enough either way.
  8. Allow the mixture to rest 15 minutes before releasing the steam.

Serve in bowls, with crusty bread on the side. Makes around 4 servings.

Restaurant Prime in Stamford: Outstanding

Restaurant Prime in Stamford: Outstanding

Prime: An American Kitchen and Bar in Stamford is simply an outstanding restaurant. While primarily a steakhouse, their menu also includes duck, chicken, salmon, branzino and Beef Wellington, along with a substantial sushi menu.

We found the service some of the best anywhere we have dined, and the food top notch.  The restaurant is in one of several buildings in a large lot at 78 Southfield Ave, which you may have thought was still part of Greenwich Ave heading towards the Sound. Just look for the large “P” for “Prime” on the sign with the 78 on it at the entry to the parking area. You will see a big lighted Prime sign ahead as well.

sculptureThe beautiful restaurant overlooks a little branch to the Sound and features a lovely view as well as a stunning sculpture along the walkway.

The interior is white tablecloth elegant with plenty of staff attending to your needs from the moment you arrive. In fact, not only did our waitress check on us several times, the restaurant manager came by twice to make sure everything was fine.

rollOur meal started with a fresh hot “tree” of rolls all baked together, rather like big Bear Claw. This arrived even before our cocktails did. The bread was warm and flavorful, and they brought butter without being asked. No olive oil in sight, thank goodness.

One of our appetizers was Shrimp/Lobster Wontons ($17): large pieces of shrimp and lobster pan seared in wonton dough, served with hoisin sauce, miso mustard and watercress. Just as excellent as it looked.

Lobster shrimp wontons

caesar3Our other appetizer was a Caesar salad ($14), made properly with romaine, parmesan, crunchy croutons and a classic garlicky Caesar dressing. Caesar salads are where many restaurants fall down, but not here. This was one of the best Caesar salads we’ve ever been served, with nice thin slices of parmesan cheese to top it off.

 

All right, this IS a steakhouse, and the prices for steaks are pretty high, and the sides are all ala carte. They do this because the meat they buy is so expensive and they don’t stint here. You can order one of 6 “enhancements” for $6 and a butter poached lobster enhancement fore $32. However, if you forget to order bearnaise or whatever, they provide you with a free sweetish sort of gravy that goes very well with your steaks. And the steaks are so good, you really don’t need any of them.

We ordered the 8 oz Petite Filet Mignon ($44) and the USDA Prime 16 oz New York Strip ($56) Both were perfectly done:  juicy, tender and very flavorful. And cooked perfectly medium rare.

We ordered a side of Prime Fries ($13) that came in a basket for the two of us that provided more fries than we could ever eat. But, just as we were starting, we noticed the waitress bringing someone a basket of onion rings. We enquired as they weren’t on the menu and learned they had just added them ($12). We ordered those, too and munched on some from each of the two baskets with our spectacular steaks.

smores sundae

While we didn’t strictly need it, we had to see what their desserts were like. They have six, and of them, we ordered the Smores Sundae for 2: graham cracker, marshmallow, warm brownie, chocolate sauce and vanilla bean gelato. It was every bit as good as it sounds.

Our bill with 2 cocktails, 2 glasses of wine, coffee and tea was $267 before tip, but was one of the best meals we’ve had this year. We will definitely go back once in a while.

And in a very nice touch, our waitress gave us her business card so we could request her next time. Ask for Kelsey Tate. And the manager asked us again on the way out how things were and urged us to come back. We will.

diners