Cooking Sous Vide – immersion water bath cooking

Sous vide, French for under vacuum, is cooking in a water bath or steam environment.

Until recently water bath cooking appliances were only available for commercial use. But new appliances have made sous vide affordable for the serious home chef.

My first introduction to sous vide cooking was while watching the Food Network’s Chopped.  The chef infused watermelon with lavender and pomegranate flavors.  The color of the watermelon became vibrant and served with cucumber and feta salad it seemed to light up the plate.  The judges raved about the concentrated flavors.

One of my favorite weekend snacks in summer now is a watermelon with tarragon and vodka from the sous vide.

Adding sous vide to your kitchen arsenal will definitely impress your friends.  But don’t expect every meal to become boil-in-a-bag fantastic.  I find I am adding the sous vide to a dinner dish to add more flavors or to free my time to make a complicated dessert or side dish.  It doesn’t replace other cooking tools or skills.

My preferred sous vide appliance is the Slaiya Sous Vide Accurate Digital Pro Edition.  This unit has a higher wattage and built-in timer.  It is top customer-rated and offers a 2-year warranty.  It comes with vacuum bags and the pump for sealing foods.  The higher wattage helps keep higher temperatures consistent and it heats up the water bath in about 5 minutes.

Sous vide cooking is now all the buzz in 2018, but don’t think this appliance will give you endless hours out of the kitchen because not everything is done in the sous vide and nothing happens in 15-minutes — fast cooking this isn’t.

  • Cooking in the vacuum-sealed plastic pouch sous vide assures even cooking without overcooking.
  • Sous vide immersion circulators hold the temperature at a constant level and foods cook slowly, sometimes up to 2 days, to perfection.
  • Sous vide also creates a positive environment for infusing more flavor into foods.

You can sous vide eggs, fish, meat, vegetables and even fruits.

Sous Vide can be a budget blessing for many cooks.

Tenderize the toughest cuts of meat.

You will gain time-flexibility with cheaper and often tougher cuts of meat which automatically require longer cooking times and are more forgiving to long, slow processing. The sous vide appliance keeps the water bath circulating at a precise temperature all day slowly tenderizing that tough cut and gently allowing spices to penetrate the fibers. A steak can be held almost indefinitely at medium-rare until you are ready to finish and serve.

A sous vide immersion heater used to cost thousands of dollars.  The Sous Vide Supreme “kit” can be picked up for under $400.   A good sous vide heater can be purchased online now for under $100 making it an affordable purchase for home cooks in line with the cost of a good pan.

Perfect edge-to-edge results

Food doesn’t dry out at the edges and cuts are perfectly cooked all the way through.

The water bath sous vide exposes the entire piece of meat to the same exact temperature.  Unlike oven and stovetops, that cook with direct heat to the bottom or direct heat from top and bottom, sous vide envelopes the food at a lower temperature and brings the outside and inside temperature to the same point.  Juices aren’t seared away at the edge of the meat and flavor doesn’t escape.

 

Essential Tools:

  • An Immersion Circulator with the vacuum sealing bags.  If you already have a vacuum sealing system, it will work fine with sous vide.  Even just zip-top bags can be used here although the results are better if more air is removed.
  • A plastic water bath container. (This is also a great brine container later.)
  • A Cast Iron Skillet.  It’s all about the sauce the finishing.

Other items:

  • Vacuum Sealing System.  I use the FoodSaver, but honestly any vacuum bag system will work here.
  • Binder Clips.  The same large clips you use in your office will secure that bag to the water bath container.
  • Pot top organizer (a nice feature for separating several pouches — prepping steaks for six).  Separating each pouch in a pot organizer keeps each package separate for even cooking.

Four Steps of sous vide

  • Preparation – Cleaning, portioning and drying food before vacuum sealing.  (I would also say season and spice in this step as the vacuum sealing pulls the flavor through your food.)
  • Packaging – Vacuum sealing or bagging foods for immersion.  You can use a vacuum sealer (I use the Food Saver V-4440 2-in-1 sealer) but you can get spectacular results with a hand pump sealer or even zip lock bags when you carefully remove all the air.
  • Cooking – Choosing the right temperature and the proper time for processing.
  • Finishing – Searing, saucing and presentation.  It still needs to be finished.

 

 

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Tarragon and Vodka infused Watermelon

This recipe requires gently cooking watermelon sous vide for best flavor.

Tarragon and Vodka infused Watermelon
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Ingredients
  • 1 watermelon (individual slices about 4 x 1 inches (or 12 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 tsp fresh tarragon
  • dusting of powdered sugar
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat the water bath to 140 degrees F
  2. Remove the rind and skin from watermelon and dice into 1-inch cubes or slices 4×1 inches
  3. Dust the watermelon with powdered sugar (lightly)
  4. Place the watermelon in a vacuum bag and seal out the air (You can use a standard resealable bag. Be sure to press out as much air as possible.)
  5. Submerge the pouch into the water bath for 2 hours.
  6. Remove the bag and place in ice water until cool.
  7. Serve immediately in a salad or alone, or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

New to sous vide cooking?  Check out our in-depth review of the best sous vide appliance for hope chefs in 2018.

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Salsa: Canning or Fresh

Mama's SalsaThe farmers market deal on tomatoes this week was my excuse to make salsa and get back to preserving.

This recipe is good fresh (uncooked) or canned. If you preserve your salsa — or any vegetables — they can sit in the pantry for up to a year! That is good taste and good financial sense. Cost per jar of salsa — about 90 cents.

Spring and summer crops are already starting to arrive at the market so it’s time to get your Mason Jars and canning equipment out!  I buy canning jars in packs of 12 for value.

Mama’s Not Too Spicy Salsa
Cuisine: Latin
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-5 pints
Good fresh (just prepped and tossed) or canned (cooked)
Ingredients
  • 6 pounds of tomatoes (about 15 regular sized tomatoes)
  • 4 green bell peppers (chopped)
  • 1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, Persian, Strawberry Field)
  • 2 jalapeno peppers (remove the seeds based on your heat tolerance)
  • 4 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar per pint jar
Instructions
  1. Blanche the tomatoes for 30-40 seconds in hot water. Remove them from the boiling pot and plunge into a sink filled with ice water to stop the cooking. Remove their skins and chop into smaller pieces. (about 1 inch).
  2. Chop onion and peppers into 1/2 inch pieces
  3. Addl all ingredients except the sugar in a large pan and stir gently to combine. (If you want to serve your salsa “fresh” stop processing here and put this version into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro and store in a Mason jar for up to a week.)
  4. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce until thickened and about 1/2 the quantity in the pan.
  5. Before filling your canning jars make sure the lids and jars are sterilized. Run them through your dishwasher or sterilize them in hot water and allow them to cool to the touch.
  6. Put a teaspoon of sugar into the bottom of every pint-sized jar.
  7. Pour the hot salsa into the jars leaving 1/2″ space at the top (you’ll need this for the canning seal)
  8. Put the lids on the jars and seal to finger tight then turn back 3/4″
  9. Place the jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and let them cool on the counter. You will hear the seals set as the salsa cools. Test every seal to make sure it has completely sealed by pressing gently on the top lid.
  10. Store in the pantry for up to a year.
  11. When you go to serve these beauties add a tablespoon or fresh cilantro and/or a squeeze of lime or lemon to add a freshly made taste.

 

 

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2018 Top 5 Best Panini Sandwich Makers

Read our review of the top 5 panini sandwich maker appliances. My Grandmother, who was a professional cook, knew in the 1940s that you didn’t need expensive kitchen tools to make great food.  The secret to a grilled sandwich is good ingredients and a heavy grill press that can evenly toast the bread and melt the cheese.

The Best Panini Sandwich Maker of 2018

See the best Panini Sandwich Maker of 2018.

The 2018 list Top 5 Panini Sandwich Makers and Grills.

  • Cuisinart GR-1 Griddler Panini and Sandwich Press
  • Cuisinart GR-4N 5-in-1 Griddler
  • Breville BSG520XL Panini Duo 1500-Watt Nonstick Panini Press
  • Oster CKSTPM21WC-ECO DuraCeramic 2-in-1 Panini Maker
  • Hamilton Beach 25460A Panini Press Gourmet Sandwich Maker

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#5 – Hamilton Beach 25460A Panini Press and Gourmet Sandwich Maker

Hamilton Beach Panini Press

Hamilton Beach Gourmet Sandwich Maker

The least expensive Panini Maker in our list, the Hamilton Beach Gourmet Sandwich maker still gets high marks among reviewers.  The Hamilton Beach 25460A features a cafe-style floating lid that presses sandwiches of all sizes evenly.  This sandwich maker is easy to use!  Power and preheat lights let you know when it is ready and the large 10×8 cooking surface is plenty of space for cooking two or three sandwiches simultaneously.  The Hamilton Beach 25460A stows away in the upright position making it a friendly choice for small kitchens.

#4 – Oster CKSTPM21WC Panini Sandwich Maker and Grill

Oster CKSTPM21 Panini Sandwich Maker

Oster-CKSTPM21 DuraCeramic Grill

The Oster CKSTPM21WC Panini Makes features a new DuraCeramic non-stick cooking surface that is 4x stronger than traditional non-stick and will not flake or peel after years of use.  The safe and natural coating is PFOA and PTFE free, so you can grill at high temperatures without worry.  The DuraCeramic finish is uniquely white and cooks up to 20% faster than traditional grill plates.  Like some of our other favorites, the Oster Grill opens flat on the counter to function as a standard grill for meats and vegetables but also has an adjustable hinged top to accommodate thicker sandwiches.  The Oster CKSTPM21WC has adjustable feet at the front so the grill can be angled down like a competitor to drain off excess fat.  The grill plates are not removable, but they can be easily wiped clean.

#3 – Breville BSG520XL Panini Duo

Breville Panini Maker

Breville BSG520XL 1500 watt sandwich makerThe Breville BSG520XL has a unique design with a flat bottom plate that helps with clean-up, and a ridged top plate to create perfect grill marks on sandwiches.  Breville is an Australian manufacturer founded in 1932 that is now making in-roads in the US market.   This model doesn’t have fancy temperature settings and it is a basic sandwich maker, but it does this service well.  A floating hinge on the lid will easily accommodate different sandwich thicknesses and the on/ready indicator lights on the lid make operation virtually mistake-proof.  The Breville BSG520XL can easily be used for grilling chicken, hamburgers, pork chops and other meats.  The grill top also makes it a good choice for grilling vegetables.

#2 – Cuisinart GR-4N Griddle

Cuisinart GR4N opens to a flat grill or griddle

 

 

 

 

Cuisinart GR-4N might be the most versatile of all the panini sandwich makers featured on our list.  Designed for the cook who wants an indoor grill and sandwich maker, the Cuisinart GR-4N opens flat so that the top and bottom can be used as a griddle or countertop grill.   The Cuisinart GR-4N has reversible grill plates — a flat side that is best for eggs and pancakes and a ridged side for grilling meats and/or sandwiches.  Unlike some less expensive models, the Cuisinart GR-4N has a temperature dial so cooks can select grill and griddle functions and desired temperatures.  There is an indicator light to alert cooks when the unit has reached the correct temperature.  The GR-4N grill plates are removable for easy cleaning and they are dishwasher safe.

#1 – Cuisinart GR-1 Griddler Panini and Sandwich Press

Cuisinart Expert Grilled Panini Sandwich PressThe best panini press and sandwich grill today.  Although this is an older model, it is the best from a quality, operations and cost perspective.  The Cuisinart GR-1 does a great job making a pressed sandwich and produces restaurant-quality grilled panini sandwiches that will surprise users.  The Cuisinart GR-1 is versatile to be used to grill vegetables, burgers, pork chops.  Available in a shiny stainless steel finish, the Cuisinart GR-1 resembles professional panini makers in appearance.  This counter-top grill accommodates sandwiches and meats of different thicknesses and features a floating hinge that automatically adjusts to sandwich bread or crusty sandwich buns. The Cuisinart GR-1 Panini and Sandwich Press is easy to use.  The grill has an indicator light to alert the cook when the appliance is hot enough for food to be placed on it and an indicator light to show when foods are fully cooked.

 

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An Air Fryer is the must have appliance of 2018

The air fryer is the hottest appliance today.  In theory, they let you enjoy all those fried foods without adding all the fat calories from oils.  

But an Air Fryer actually doesn’t “fry” your food like a deep fryer.  It is a countertop convection oven that produces crispy foods that mimic the original fried versions with a faster baking/roasting time than your conventional oven.  If you think about the air fryer as a counter-top convection oven you’ll find dozens of uses that will make your new air fryer indispensable in the kitchen!

Consumer reports just produced its countertop appliance review.  While they, and we, admit that the air fryer doesn’t exactly replicate deep frying methods, the air fryer does create nicely cooked food fast.  My favorite fryer — the Power AirFryer XL — makes the Consumer Report List of the Top Air Fryers.

From French Fries to Chicken Wings.

Air Fryer CapacityAny brand air fryer will cook frozen french fries or chicken strips.  When you start searching for the perfect air fryer determine what size you need.  This item is counter top friendly, but if kitchen space is at a premium, and whose isn’t these days, you want to buy enough capacity to accommodate your family.  Consider how many people you need to feed or if you’ll want to cook an entire roasting chicken in this unit.

Air Fryers range in size from a small 2-quart capacity all the way up to a large 6-quart size.   The average size for 2-4 people is 3.5-quarts, but if you’re feeding a larger family definitely go up in size so that your brood can all eat dinner together.

You won’t just use this unit for french fries, onion rings and chicken.  The countertop air fryer is a great mini oven for everything from meatloaf to cakes and pies.

Check out my Breakfast Burrito recipe for the air fryer.   Don’t stop there — this is good for roasting chicken, making crispy and healthy chicken strips, roasting steaks and burgers, baking pizza with a crispy crust and even making cakes and pies.

Baskets and Baking. 

Best Air Fryers of 2018The fryers we looked at all include the basic base — a closed-in container with a fry basket that either sits in the bottom or snaps into the unit with a handle.   The slotted fry basket is the key to crispy foods because it allows the air to circulate freely around the potatoes, onions, bread or chicken.  Fats from foods like chicken or hamburgers drip away through the openings in the basket.

Some units now come with a baking pan that will sit inside the basket.  You can buy accessories specifically for the air fryer — cake pans, muffin tins or roasting racks.  These specially-designed pans increase the flexibility of the appliance, so if you can find a unit that includes one or two of these you are already prepared to experience the air fryer as a baking companion.

 

Feature Rich.

Air Fryer Preset Temperatures and TimesOnce you’ve decided on the capacity of an air fryer, start thinking about the features you want.  The range is limitless.  Some appliances come with presets for everything from fish to eggs (yes you can hard-cook eggs in your fryer).   The presets automatically set to the right temperature and time for many foods, but you pay a little more for that feature.  If you’re fine setting up your own time and temperature you will save $10-$20.

The convenience of an Air Fryer with built-in presets make life easier.  On most units, you’ll find a preset for fries and chips, meat, shrimp, cake, chicken, steak, and fish.

If you want to convert your family recipes from conventional ovens to work in the air fryer start by reducing the temperature by 25 degrees and set your times for 75% of the original time.  For example, if Grandma’s pound cake baked at 350 degrees for an hour, set the air fryer for 325 degrees and check it at 45 minutes.

Colors. 

Normally I don’t even consider color when buying an appliance.  But many people use their air fryer every single day.  If you are going to leave this out on the counter all the time it is nice if you also like its appearance. Most fryers come in basic black. But you can get your air fryer in black, silver, red or white.

Which air fryer do I recommend?

My favorite appliance is the GoWISE 5.8-Quart Programmable 8-in1 air fryer.

  • For its size, it is priced well at about $100.00.
  • It is big enough to handle a 6-pound chicken or a whole bag of frozen french fries or onion rings.
  • You can cook two steaks or a meatloaf that feeds a family.
  • Any of the accessories fit into this unit easily.
  • It comes in 4 basic colors — black, red, white and plum.  (This is the one for you purple lovers!)

 

 

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Air Fryer Breakfast Burritos

Air Fryer Breakfast BurritosIf breakfast is your challenge when you’re trying to eat healthily, Air Fryer Breakfast Burritos are a flavor-packed alternative.  I fall into the trap of eating cakes and cookies instead of building a good breakfast. Air Fryer Breakfast Burritos are my “go to” recipe when I want something tasty with a big presentation factor.

 

Air Fryer Breakfast Burritos
Recipe Type: Breakfast
Cuisine: Spicy
Packed with nutrition and a lot of flavors, Breakfast Burritos are quick and most of the recipe can be prepared well in advance.
Ingredients
  • Black Bean Mash:
  • 2 15-ounce cans of black beans (rinsed)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle chile in adobo
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup Monterey Jack Cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro (optional)
  • Spicy Filling
  • 1/2 pound spicy chorizo
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 yellow, red or orange bell pepper chopped
  • Eggs – 1 per person
  • salt and pepper
  • Salad Topping
  • 1/2 head Romain lettuce finely shredded
  • 10-12 grape tomatoes halved
  • 2 scallions thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 diced avocado
  • Sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded.
Instructions
  1. Make the beans in advance. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook about a minute until fragrant. Add the beans, 1/2 cup of water or chicken stock and the chipotle pepper. Cook until the liquid is reduced and the beans are heated through and soft (about 30 minutes). Mash with a potato masher leaving some texture. Stir in the cilantro. Set aside to cool.
  2. Put the tomatoes, avocado, green onions and salt in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper and fold together. Squeeze in the lime juice and oil cilantro and watercress. Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet until it begins to shimmer. Add the chorizo after removing it from the casing and brown, stirring frequently, until crumbly. Remove the sausage and set aside. Add the onions and pepper to the drippings and cook to soft. Add this to the chorizo and set aside. Beat eggs in a bowl and add to skillet and scramble to soft curds. Remove from heat and add back the chorizo, peppers, and onions.
  4. Place a flour tortilla on a board and spread with beans on the lower half. leaving a 1-inch border at the bottom. Top with some chorizo and egg filling. Sprinkle grated Monterey Jack over this mixture. Fold in the sides of the tortilla and then roll from the bottom into a cylinder. Place seam-side down in the basket of an air fryer. Repeat until all the tortillas are assembled (1 or 2 per person). Brush the top of the tortillas with canola oil and “fry” at 350 degrees for 8 minutes.
  5. Transfer burritos to a platter or individual plates. Top with salad mixture, salsa remaining Monterey Jack and a dollop of sour cream.
  6. I like to serve this with citrus slices.

 

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The nourishing and warming aspects of oatmeal

oatmealOatmeal — that breakfast staple of our grandparents — reigns supreme in your breakfast recipe repertoire.  But it can also become one of your family’s favorite mealtime side dishes with just a little imagination.

This week the entire US is experiencing a blast of truly cold weather with many states not even getting above zero.  This is a very good week to warm up the kids and family with gourmet oatmeal breakfasts.

My family has battled the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s for over a year.   My Mom was diagnosed three years ago with the disease.  Surely by now, everyone knows the disease affects memory loss, but unless you’ve witnessed the decline of a loved one you probably don’t realize that the disease is accompanied by a loss of taste, anorexia and an inability to eat and digest a lot of food types.  However, oatmeal has remained one food that Mom would eat and we were able to add all kinds of supplements and flavors to keep her strong.

Oatmeal is a power food — high in fiber, calcium, and potassium — with a low glycemic index.  It is known to reduce blood pressure and help maintain heart health.   Oatmeal is rich in nutrients and phenols that provide antioxidants and it is naturally anti-inflammatory.

Best of all, oatmeal — rolled oats or steel-cut oats — are neutral in flavor and provide whole grain benefits while accepting a variety of flavor additives.  They are also budget-friendly and available in every American grocery store.

Here are just a few ideas to amp up your oatmeal and expand your whole grain culinary taste.

Breakfast Oats

Oatmeal and your favorite fruits!  Oatmeal pairs well with almost any fruit for a perfect breakfast cereal. After cooking your oats, mix in blueberries, honey, and cinnamon: Or mix apples and maple syrup, or pears and pecans with this great grain.  Add any dried fruit and your favorite seeds or nuts to change out the routine like apricots and toasted pumpkin seeds or cranberries and pistachios.

  • tropical_oatsPut a tropical twist on your oatmeal by adding yogurt and pineapple, mango and coconut to your bowl. Yummy!
  • Chocolate oatmeal — absolutely yes.  Add a drizzle of melted semi-sweet chocolate and 1/2 a banana to your morning oatmeal for a dessert-style breakfast that’s still pretty healthy. For a healthier version at 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, 2 teaspoons of raw honey and a banana to 1/2 cup of uncooked oats and 1/2 cup of coconut milk.  Refrigerate overnight.
  • Oatmeal pancakes put a new healthy twist on a family favorite weekend breakfast.  Oatmeal pancakes keep the family from getting hungry all morning and they taste great with any traditional pancake toppings.
  • Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
  • Granola
  • Parfaits

Oatmeal Side Dishes.

  • Steel-cut Oat Risotto.  Replace the arborio rice with steel cut oats in the preparation and mix in mushrooms, asparagus and Parmesan cheese for healthy side dish option.
  • Roasted tomato and basil oatmeal is a fabulous side dish for any lean protein meal.
  • Roasted vegetable oatmeal creates a filling base for eggs for a lighter evening meal.

Refrigerator Oats are ready when you are.

Use simple canning jars that can be reused for this healthy breakfast treat.

Basic refrigerator oats are made by adding 1/2 cup of rolled oats (Use old-fashioned rolled oats for the texture.  If you use quick cooking oats you’ll end up with a pasty, gummy texture.) to 1 cup of milk (soy, almond, coconut, or even plain old 2% or whole milk) in a jar or container.  Top with fruits, nuts, spices, and sweeteners.  Refrigerate overnight, and in the morning it magically has become a hearty and flavorful breakfast porridge.

Here you are only limited by your own imagination.  My favorite recipes are:

  • 1/2 cup oatmeal, 2 teaspoons Chia seeds, 1 cup milk, 1 diced apple, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon of honey.  Cover, shake and refrigerate overnight.  In the morning top with a drizzle of homemade caramel or chocolate sauce.
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal, 2 teaspoons Chia seeds, 1 cup coconut milk (remove the cream at the top of the can), 2 rings of pineapple cut in chunks, 1/4 cup of blueberries (frozen or fresh), 1 tablespoon blanched almonds, 1 tablespoon of honey.  Top with a spoonful of Greek yogurt and toasted coconut.
  • For picky eaters – mix 1/2 cup of oatmeal, 2 teaspoons of Chia seeds, 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa, 2 tablespoons of honey, 1/2 a small banana, 2 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter, and 1 cup of milk.   It will taste like desert to them, but you’ll know it’s packed with good things.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sofritto: The key to great starts

Lesson 1: sofritto

sofrittoEvery great cuisine starts with a basic recipe of flavor — a sofritto, mirepoix, battuto, holy trilogy — are slight variations that create the base of many meals.

A French mirepoix is the best known classic. It combines 2 parts onion to 1 part each celery and carrot. These are sauteed together in butter without any browning to become the start to most French stews and soups.

An Italian battuto starts with a French mirepoix, but then adds fennel and/or garlic to add spice to sauces that need to spice up pasta.

Creole cooking combined the same 2 parts onion with 1 part celery and 1 part green pepper to form a Holy Trinity of flavors. These are cooked in butter or oil or even bacon fat to create the base of gumbos or jambalaya.

Latin and Caribbean cooking combines onion and peppers with garlic and cilantro for spicier combination. A sofritto is cooked in oil until the vegetables almost form a paste. It then can be used to create soups, but also can be added to ground meats, chicken and rice. This is a sofritto.

How to make a perfect sofritto.

Start with olive oil or rendered fat from pancetta or bacon. Add onions and peppers to hot oil and saute for several minutes until they soften and begin to darken (roast). The onions and peppers should be finely diced or even pureed in a food processor. As they saute, pay special attention to the color of the vegetables. The lighter the sofritto, the lighter the flavor. As the onion and vegetables darken, the flavor deepens. Be careful not to burn the vegetables as a roasted flavor brings out the sugars, but a burned flavor is bitter.

When you’ve achieved the color desired of your sofritto, add 1-2 cloves of garlic and remove from the heat. Let the heat of the vegetables and the remaining heat in the pan cook the garlic. Then add the fresh cilantro.

Sofritto is a great start!

 

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Braised Short Ribs

braised-short-ribsBraised short ribs is one of my comfort foods.  My Mother didn’t make this recipe for us, but in my family we had a Sunday roast every week and this slow-cooked meat with a velvet sauce reminds me of Sundays at home.

This is my choice for a recipe for dinner parties.  The texture and taste always pleases guests.  Braised Short Ribs is easy to plate and always looks impressive.  Finally, the prep that requires me to stay in the kitchen is minimal and I can do my table scape and get cleaned up while it braises in the oven.

Braised Short Ribs Recipe

Braised Short Ribs
Recipe Type: Main Course
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6 servings
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil (use an oil with a high smoke point)
  • 4-6 English Cut Beef Short Ribs (trimmed of excess fat — approximately 2 pounds)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme (you can substitute 1/2 teaspoon or dried thyme if you can’t find fresh)
  • 1 dry bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3-4 cups of beef stock
  • fresh parsley for garnish
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Chop the vegetables into similar size pieces
  3. Roughly chop the garlic
  4. Preheat the oil on medium high heat until oil reaches shimmer stage.
  5. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper.
  6. Sear the ribs in the oil until brown — approximately 3-4 minutes per side.
  7. Remove the ribs to a plate while you cook the vegetables.
  8. Add onion, carrot and celery to the pan drippings. Stir occasionally until softened. This should take approximatel 5-6 minutes. Add garlic and cook only until fragrant — about a minute.
  9. Add thyme sprigs and bay leaf and stir gently.
  10. Melt butter into vegetables. When the butter has completely melted, sprinkle the mixture with flour and stir for about 3 minutes until the flour hydrates and the mixture appears dry.
  11. Add the wine and stock and stir. Return the ribs to the pot. The ribs should be immersed in the liquid about 1/2 way.
  12. Cover and place the pan in the oven for two hours.
  13. Remove the ribs from the pan and strain the vegetable mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Return just the liquid to the pot. Reduce the sauce until it is thickened and velvety smooth (this shouldn’t take too long).
  14. Serve ribs with the sauce and garnish with parsley.
  15. Serve over mashed potatoes or with any two vegetable sides.

 

When you braise foods you first sear or fry them to quickly develop flavors in the bottom of the pot, then gently stew those meats or vegetables until they are tender.  Because braising requires foods to be submerged in liquids for a long cook, it is best used with heartier meat cuts or with vegetables that are fibrous enough to withstand the long cooking time.

Suitable meat cuts are brisket, ribs, chops, chucks and cuts that have significant marbled fats and long fibrous muscle strands.  Vegetable choices are root vegetables, leeks, cabbage and greens.

For my Braised Ribs, I like to first remove any visual silver skin from the ribs and cut out any hard marbled fat blocks.  The silver skin protected the muscle in the meat cut from injury and unfortunately it will toughen during cooking and become chewy.  Likewise a heavy fat cap on the ribs or blocks or hard fat will not melt during cooking and should be removed with a sharp knife at this point.

Before starting the cooking process I like to cut up all the vegetables.  The stove top cooking goes very quickly so having everything chopped ensures the ribs don’t get overcooked or heat up and cool down too quickly before the braising liquid is added.

The Perfect Short Rib Braising Pan

Perfect braising pan - short ribs cook perfectlyA braising pot is a heavy skillet, everyday chef’s pan, or even a large soup pot.  Braising pots usually don’t have high sides — about 3-4 inches deep — and they have a well-fitting lid so you can keep all the liquids from evaporating during cooking.   I personally use a Lodge Braising Pan as pictured here.    It’s a 3-quart capacity which is capable of holding  10 good-sized ribs or a brisket for a family of four.  It’s available for about $60 and costs about 30% as much as the famous Le Creuset braiser.

Lodge is the leading manufacturer of cast iron pans and like Le Creuset, this braising pan might be too heavy for people with dexterity issues. Braising pans need to accommodate liquid and meats A good alternative is the All-Clad 18/10 4-quart week night pan.  A braising pan always has to have some heft to it to properly conduct heat evenly, but the design of this pan, with its balanced handle and easy helper handles make it easier for people with arthritis or dexterity issues. The All-Clad Week Night pan is $199 with a 5-ply bottom surface that is also safe for induction cooking.

The Short rib Cooking Process

Place a large heavy bottom pot with 2 tablespoons of olive oil or vegetable oil over medium-high heat and let it pre-heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Season the ribs liberally with salt and pepper.  Sear them in the pot until deep golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side.  Work in batches if necessary and don’t over crowd the pan — leave an inch or two  between each rib so that they sear and they don’t steam.   Remove the ribs to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium.  Add the onion, carrots and celery to the pot and cook.  Stir them occasionally until tender — about 5-6 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute until the fragrant.  Stir in the thyme and bay leaves and then melt the butter into the vegetables.  When the butter has melted, sprinkle the flour over the mixture and toss to coat.  Gently stir the vegetables and flour allowing the flower to cook and hydrate for another 2-3 minutes.  Add the wine and stock to the pot and bring the liquid up to a boil.  Nestle the ribs back into the mixture and cover with the lid.  (If your pot doesn’t have a lid, you can cover tightly with aluminum foil carefully sealing all the edges.)

Place the pot into the oven and cook for approximately 2 hours.

Remove the cooked ribs from the pot and cover them  to keep them warm.  Pour the remaining vegetables and liquids through a fine mesh strainer, pressing gently to remove all the liquid.  Discard the solids and return the liquid to the pot over medium heat.  Reduce the sauce until thickened and velvety as necessary.  Season as needed with salt and pepper.

(I hate wasting or discarding anything.  The vegetables strained from the sauce as soft but very flavorful.  If you save them, mix them with any left over rib meat–if you are lucky enough to have them–and beef stock for a quick next day soup.)

Serve the ribs with the sauce and garnish with chopped parsley.

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Give your friends a taste of the world with this Spice Kit Subscription

The most unique gift this season fspice-kit-400x398or your friends who enjoy cooking is a Monthly Flavor Kit from RawSpiceBar.com.

You can send a 6-month subscription right to the door for for just $37.  A 6-month Spice Kit subscription is $7 per month ($42) but you can save an additional $5 off your first subscription 6 month gift order by using code: RAKFLAVOR.

Each month your friends will receive 3 freshly ground, recipe-ready flavor kits.  Each kit is accompanied by 3 custom recipe cards that combine with the spices and their local, fresh ingredients to create three globally inspired meals for 3-4 people.

Customize gifts for your friends based on their own tastes.  Recipes are tailored to vegan, vegetarian, gluten free or paleo diets, or those simply eating for weight loss and health!

The spice packets arrive at their door freshly ground and at the peak of flavor.  What a great way to explore the world of flavors without having to commit to a large jar of a spice you might not use again for months.  You don’t have to purchase any additional spices — everything is included except local produce and kitchen pantry items.

No more “old spice” experiences.

We’ve all done it.  You go to the grocery store to buy a spice because you’re going to test a new recipe. You get to store #1 and they don’t have that spice in stock.  You drive to another store in hopes of finding it.   You end up buying a jar of Garam Marsala or ground fennel for a recipe that requires a 1/4-teaspoon.  You pay $4 for that jar and a year later you still have most of it in the cabinet taking up space. When you open the jar you smell the spices and they either don’t have any scent or the perfume is just a little off.   The Raw Spice Bar’s recipe/spice kit combination lets you test out flavors before committing to a complete jar.  You get enough of every necessary spice to complete your monthly recipes.  It’s so convenient because you don’t have to drive to get it, pay extra or store the leftovers spice.

Recipes

The sample Raw Spice Bar recipes are tasty and easy to prepare.

Why give your friends another sweater, bath set or wine bottle.  A Raw Spice Bar Spice Kit subscription comes every month and reminds them of you for about the same price.  Who knows, you might even get a free dinner invitation from this creative gift!

Baked zucchini appetizers with cheese and herbs

Baked zucchini appetizers with cheese and herbs

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