Christmas Dinner: Prime Rib == Yum.

Okay, need to archive this for future Christmas dinners, because it turned out pretty nicely. I’m stuff chock-a-block full of prime rib, which was done pretty well, but I am going to add a suggestion or two for next year that I can refer to in the future, and possibly make it even better.

I purchased a 7.5 pound prime rib from Costco, kind of at the last minute. What I should have done is buy it several days in advance, unwrap it, rub it with a dry rub of salt, pepper and rosemary and let it sit uncovered in the fridge for at least a day. I didn’t have time for that, so instead, I remembered to pull it out several hours in advance of cooking it. It is important that the meat come up to roughly room temperature before you cook it, otherwise the inside will remain raw even the outside is overdone. I rinsed it, dried it with paper towels, and then made a simple rub of salt and pepper, and rubbed it in.

Previously, I had cooked prime rib by searing it in a hot pan or oven, and then putting it in a low oven until it came up to 120 degrees or so. But I am always willing to try new methods.
The Food Lab’s definitive guide to prime rib is well worth reading, and formed the basis of what I tried tonight.

Skipping a lot of what they prescribed, the basic idea is to start the cooking in a very low oven: I set mine for a mere two hundred degrees Fahrenheit. This low temperature allows the meat to cook evenly, until the center comes up to 120 degrees. If you are going to spend money on a prime rib, get a digital thermometer and use it. It took about three hours for this roast to reach 118, which I deemed okay. Next time, I’ll probably let it go another five degrees. While the meat was not “blue” (raw), it was a little more rare than Carmen likes it, and I could have tolerated a little warmer inside without affecting the taste or texture. You then pull the roast out, and tent it with foil, while you let the oven heat up to as hot as it can go (500 degrees plus), which should take 20-30 minutes. Then, a simple eight or nine minutes in the oven will crisp up the outside, making a nice salty crust that is one of the great parts of a prime rib.

The good news about this is that no part of the prime rib turns out overcooked and gray. Check out this picture (not mine):


This roast was cooked in a hot oven, so by the time the meat next to the bone got cooked, the top was overdone and dry.

My roast tonight? Delicious. Beautifully even in color from center to edge, and full of juiciness. Next time, I might let it go a few more minutes to get the center just a tiny bit warmer (I was impatient), and I might also let the “crustifying” phase run a bit more, but the texture and doneness were very good. Letting the roast dry age with a dry rub in the fridge for a couple of days would likely intensify the meat flavor and make it better too.

Sides? A simple lettuce and cherry tomato salad with lemon vinaigrette, and some mashed russet potatoes with butter. Yum.

And the best part, this meal will keep on giving. Tomorrow, it will get sliced and made into French Dip sandwiches on toasted rolls, and the bones will get roasted again and turned into beef stock for some future stroganoff.

Merry Christmas to all. You are in my thoughts.

The opposite of Pinterest Fail: The Alinea Project

One of the more interesting online communities that has sprung up in recent years is Pinterest. It serves as a kind of Internet inspiration board: people clip pictures of projects that interest or inspire them, and post them as a sort of pin board that can be shared. I recently found several boards on ships in a bottle which are serving to inspire me to my first such project. One of the most popular topics is food: people pin recipes and pictures to serve as ideas for their creative cooking endeavors.

As might be imagined, not everyone who is inspired succeeds in duplicating the source of their inspirations. Some people lack the experience or expertise to turn out the creations they imagine. These are somewhat comically chronicled on a number of blogs, such as the Pinterest Fail blog, and the Epic Pinterest Fail blog. For instance, this isn’t one of mine, but it easily could be: I’m a miserable baker.

Cupcake Fail

But today, I received a Kickstarter prize in my mail which is illustration of the diametric opposite of the Pinterest Fail: Allen Hembergers Alinea Project. I’d describe the project, but Allen is much better at describing the project himself:

I work with a lot of talented people, but Allen is off the chain amazing. I only became aware of his project a couple of years ago, and didn’t really even know who he was at work (our circles/projects don’t overlap) but I became amazed at his passion, his writing and his glorious photography. The problem with food is that at its best, it is a very transitory art form. But through his photography and writing, Allen could allow you to experience at least a part of what cooking at this level was like, not only as a consumer, but as a creator. I found that incredibly appealing. His photography immortalizes dishes, and are done with such amazing technique, such amazing lighting…

One of Allen's many amazing photographs

It was with great pleasure that I backed Allen’s Kickstarter Project to turn all of his photographs and writings into a book. Along with 510 other backers, I ponied up my $75 to get a copy, and it arrived in my mailbox today.

It… is… amazing.

It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful books on food that I have ever seen. I’ve only had a few minutes to briefly skim it, but I’m sure that over the Christmas holiday, I’ll be reading it from start to finish. The quality of the binding and the color reproduction is incredible, a level of quality nobody has any right to expect, but which is entirely keeping with Allen’s obsessive compulsion to do everything at the highest level.

I’m in awe.

It almost seems unfair that one individual could be as good at as many things as Allen is. And yet, he’s obviously also very humble, very self-critical and is struggling every step of the way. Even if you do not aspire to become a great chef, I think there are lessons to be had and inspiration to be taken from his creative march.

If you weren’t in on the KickStarter, I don’t know how you’d get a copy, but you are missing out if you don’t have one. Incredible.

Addendum: It looks like you can order a copy of his book from his website.

More on “no knead” bread…

Readers of my blog and twitter feed know that I’m a fan of Jim Lahey’s “no-knead” bread. If you haven’t heard of it, just do some googling, or go ahead and buy Lahey’s book “My Bread”. The basic idea is to make a very wet dough with just a tiny amount of yeast, but rather than kneading it to develop gluten and structure, you basically just let the dough rest for 12-24 hours, and then bake it inside a covered heavy iron dutch oven at 500 degrees, covered for 30 minutes, and uncovered for 15.

Here’s a loaf I baked tonight (which uses sourdough instead of yeast, but same basic idea):


I’ve taken to baking a loaf of this a week. I start the dough on Wednesday night, bake it on Thursday night, and I bring it to work for a little group perk for my coworkers. I like it sliced up, and then toasted, with either some peanut butter or maybe some home made jam that my manager likes to bring in. It’s just so… civilized.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem like everyone agrees with me. My friend Lou has apparently not figured out how to do it: I think I’ll have to either visit him, or maybe make a good youtube video showing how I do it, and see where he’s going wrong. Of the dozens of loaves I’ve made, I’ve only had two real failures: both by “over rising”, once because I let the dough get too warm and it just kind of exploded, the other where I let it go too long, and the second rise just… didn’t. Not sure what he’s doing wrong. Anyone have a difficult time making no-knead? I’m at a loss.

But some people seem to just hate the idea of no knead bread. Witness this article from Slate
telling you that no knead bread is just wrong. To do so, the author likens it to “no-kissing sex”, and that this approach lacks “interaction” with the bread dough, and besides, kneading bread is faster.

Look, you can make bread however you like. I’m under no delusions that my bread is superior to bakery bread, and I don’t have the skill to make many varieties. I even will say that my bread is likely inferior to the Anderson’s bread. But it definitely is better than the processed, sliced stuff you get at the megamart, and just the fact that it’s relatively simple does not mean that it’s not worth doing. And I think it’s comical to claim that it takes more time to make than kneaded bread. My bread takes five minutes of work on Wednesday, and a similar amount on Thursday. Yes, you have to plan ahead for this bread. But I work for a living. When you get home at six or seven in the evening, making a loaf of conventional kneaded bread is just not in the cards. But starting some dough before going to bed, and baking it the next day when you get home is easy.

I could criticize Anderson for not making bread the way they do in the (excellent) Tartine bread book. It’s certainly more involved, and judging by the loaves made by my manager with that method, clearly superior to my own bread. But it takes a lot of care, and a lot of time, and even a fair amount of skill. Until my own skills develop, I’ll be happy to eat my simple bread. It’s good.

Cook’s Illustrated Almost No Knead Bread

My early success with making tasty no knead bread has sent me off on the Internet looking for additional recipes. As a complete breadmaking newbie, I have a lot to learn, but luckily, there is lots of good websites to help me understand and extend my tiny skills in this vast topic. The best of these that I have found so far is Breadtopia, which has all sorts of great recipes and many cool videos that will take the mystery out of breadmaking. I of course focused on the no knead recipes, which seem the most accessible to me, but apparently Cooks Illustrated extended this recipe in a couple if interesting ways, notably by adding a small amount of vinegar and beer to the dough. They also have an interesting recipe for a sandwich loaf, which has a tighter crumb and thinner crust. I’ll be trying some of this out over the holiday weekend. If you’ve never made bread before (or even if you have), consider trying this stuff!

Cook’s Illustrated Almost No Knead.

More on no-knead bread…

Tonight I baked up my second loaf of no knead bread. The first batch was promising, but was a bit dense. I used ordinary all purpose flour, and for whatever reason, I didn’t seem to get as high of a rise as I thought I should. This time, I decided to try some King Arthur unbleached bread flour, and made sure that I got the yeast well mixed into the dough. I also chose the top of my fridge as the best location to give it arise (the weather has been cold, and the top of the fridge is a bit warmer). That seemed to be a good move: the dough seemed quite a bit livelier.

I turned it out onto a floured towel for its two hour rest/rise. I then started to work on my Christmas hat project, and got absorbed in what I was doing. Two and a half hours later, I remembered that I had bread sitting out, and set the oven (and my Dutch oven) preheating for thirty minutes. When I flopped the dough in, it stuck to the towel (next time more flour on the towel, and perhaps less time sitting on the counter). That mucked up the top a tiny bit, but I flopped it into the Dutch oven. Into the oven. Thirty minutes covered, and twenty uncovered.

Smell: good. Looks, well, check it out for yourself:

As it was cooling on the rack, I could hear the outer crust crackling. Tapping it, the bread sounded nice and hallow, and the crust was very dry and crackly. Slicing into it, the inners were much less dense than my previous entrant, with many larger holes. The flavor was even better than the first loaf: light, yeasty and delicious. I think going the extra five minutes uncovered was actually a mistake: it made the outer crust just a little too dry. Also, the bottom of the loaf is a bit tougher and thicker than I would like, but the flavor is still good.

I proclaim this a complete success. Yum.

The creator of the no-knead bread, Jim Lahey, has a book entitled My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method which looks good. Perhaps it will show up in my Christmas stocking. 🙂

No-Knead Bread from the New York Times

Frequent readers of this blog might be shocked to learn that I’m not entirely consumed by the usual geeky topics that I post about. Among other things, I also like to cook, and as the holidays approach, I like to try to find a few new recipes and techniques. This week’s experiment was one of the most basic: breadmaking.

While I’m not exactly inexperienced in the kitchen, I don’t do a lot of baking, and have never really done any serious incursions into breadmaking. We have a breadmaker, but frankly, the bread it makes was just not very exciting. It’s been unused for a few years. If I want bread, I go to a bakery and buy it. I just figured that bread was too hard and complex for a guy of average skill and equipment to master.

But then I read a recipe which seemed simplicity itself: Jim Lahey’s recipe for No Knead Bread. Flour. Yeast. Salt. Water. And time. Simplicity itself. It is cooked inside a cast iron Dutch oven. It doesn’t require kneading or working. How good could it possibly be?

Recipe: No-Knead Bread – New York Times

Well, here’s the loaf as it comes from the oven:

After it was cooled a bit, I sliced in with a good bread knife:

My first attempt wasn’t perfect, but was very promising. The crust is awesome: crusty, but not too thick. Carmelized, pretty, and beautiful. The inside was just a trifle too moist to be called perfect, but still is much better than any bread you’d get off the shelf at the megamart. I think I could have done a bit better job integrating the yeast during the first mix, and it probably should have left the bread in the oven for 30 minutes covered and 30 uncovered (I only did 15 uncovered). I was concerned about the bread sticking to my cast iron Dutch oven, but it just flips out. I won’t worry next time.

I’ll be trying this bread again shortly. I got some unbleached bread flour for next time instead of the ordinary all purpose flour I used. If you haven’t given it a try before, check it out! For the price of three cups of flour and a pinch of yeast (only one quarter teaspoon) it’s even economical.

If you try this, let me know how it works out.