Friday, January 15, 2010

Hearty Minestrone & Perfect Beef Stew

-Cookin' with Cook's Illustrated

The end of Gourmet Magazine was something I saw coming. When I first started to get really interested in food and cooking (circa 1998) it was something I read monthly. My parents always got the cooking mags and Gourmet was one of the first publications I was trying recipes out from back in High School. However I hadn't read thru or even browsed a Gourmet magazine in the last 4-5 years and I got them since my uncle always got me cooking mag subscriptions. Maybe its because I grew out if it but somewhere along the lines I just stopped looking at it.

As of as early back as last year I looked at Gourmet as way too commercial, it seemed like the articles were ad's. If it was July, I knew I could expect a burger recipe issue and usually with some very un-American burger toppings like arugula and Comté cheese. You know when your on the road looking for good local loved establishments, you never go to the place that looks like its brand new and just like the rest and nothing stands about it whatsoever? the places with pictures of food (not theirs) in the menu? well that's what I felt about Gourmet. It was more about the photos and bright colors then it was actually good tasting international and regional recipes with some history about it thrown in. I suppose the internet also played a huge role in its fall since there's so much better stuff out there on the WWW. I've mentioned before I'm a fan of Saveur and along with Cook's Illustrated (also a TV show) they are the only food/recipe mag's I read.

Jan & Feb 2010 issue

I like Cook's Illustrated because they put alot of testing into creating the best recipes for many food favorites. Although my man Chris Kimball (host/creator of Cooks Illustrated) sometimes seems like he's the brother of Small Wonder to me, I like his passion for bringing out the best of each and every recipe out there. I do have the TV show on Tivo but I like to read the mag as they share useful tricks of the trade, test different products and sauces and give recipes worth trying. I even considered making an apple pie from an issue this summer and the first and only time I ever tried baking it was a complete disaster. Well anyways, sorry to bore you, I tried both the minestrone soup and beef stew recipes from the latest issue and really liked both of them. Unfortunately Cook's Illustrated doesn't share its recipes online and it is understandable since that's why you buy an issue and not for the colorful pictures of ceviche with yet another ceviche recipe. I would highly recommend a subscription to CI's to all at home cooks.

Better Minestrone

"Italians rely on garden ripe vegetables, but we had to make do with supermarket pickings. Could we still create a soup with fresh, bright flavors?"

Pot of Minestrone

I've been eating Minestrone soup since I can remember. Its a favorite of mine and something I usually have when my dad makes and rarely when eating out. I've made a batch or two in my lifetime but hadn't in a while until I saw a thing on it in Cook's Illustrated. It explained how sometimes the easiest recipes are the most difficult and used the classic peasant dish of Minestrone soup as an example. Unless you have access to an amazing sun drenched garden it can be hard to get the amazing flavor that comes with them.

Bowl of Minestrone using CI's recipe

So the people inside the test kitchens at CI went on a Minestrone marathon and came up with a recipe that can made by anyone with access to their local supermarket. I already knew that the pancetta plays a big part in flavor so any vegetarian recipe isn't going to be nearly as good, not a problem for me. The tests showed that to get a thicker more flavorful flavor profile that you should brine the beans (cannellini) overnight and then the next day you saute the veggies, cook the beans in chicken stock and water and then add the sauteed veggies back in with some V8 and basil leaves. Yep they found that V8 worked better than all the other tomato products tested. "It added just the right amount of bright tomato taste with an even bigger wallop of vegetable flavor" Another tried recipe from Cook's Illustrated that came out tasting delicious.

The guts of the soup

The Best Beef Stew

"Despite hours of simmering , most beef stews fall flat. How could we pack in more flavor?"

Simmering on Day 1

I really enjoyed their experiment and findings on making a better beef stew. The first thing they determined was the cut of beef you choose plays a big role in the end result. They decided that chuck-eye roast worked best. They called it one of the "cheapest, beefiest cuts in the supermarket" I always said the cheaper the cut of beef the better for stews and stocks. So that was pretty much already known to me but what came next I never heard of or thought of doing. Its suggested that you use both salt pork and anchovy fillets as ingredients. Never would of thought of those but they pack much more falvor into the end result and its something Ill remember and put to use the rest of my life.

Guts of the beef stew

Cook's Illustrated

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