Sous Vide

If woot.com and Amazon.com were a mall, my husband would be a teenage girl on a Saturday afternoon. One could say that he has a mildly concerning shopping problem. So I was not surprised to come home recently to find a vacuum sealer on my dining room table. Given the number of hours I have dedicated to watching cooking shows, I immediately knew what to do with this new toy: sous vide!

For those of you who are slightly less obsessed with food than I am and may not be familiar with this technique, sous vide is a method of cooking food in an airtight plastic bag in lukewarm water for a long time.  Sounds gross and boring, doesn’t it?  I don’t have any fancy equipment, like an immersion circulator, that the pros, use so I used a regular saucepan and a food thermometer.  For my first attempt, I bought chicken because I didn’t want to ruin anything more expensive than that.  I had pretty low expectations.  Boy, was I wrong.

I found temperature and cooking time guidelines online, and away I went!  I started by sprinkling salt, pepper and chile powder to boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  I vacuum sealed them (a process that was far more fun than it should have been!) and put them in the fridge for a couple hours.  When I was ready, I plunged the entire plastic bag into water I had barely warmed on the stove.  I worried about the plastic melting where it was in contact with the sides of the pan, but it was fine.  After adjusting the gas a few times, I finally stabilized the water temperature at 160 degrees (farenheit), and cooked the chicken for 2 hours.  When I took it out of the plastic bag, it fell apart beautifully.  I wanted to sear it to give it a little bit of a crispiness, and I added some barbecue sauce to the hot pan at the end.  It was the most tender chicken I have ever eaten in my life.

Hopefully the chicken wings I am sous-viding tonight are as successful.  I’ll let you know.  And if Chuck wants to keep shopping like a teenager, he’s got my full support.

SPICY: Handle with Care.

I am just now getting around to processing some of the hot peppers I picked on the last day of our farm share in mid-October.  I had dried them in the oven shortly after picking them and let them continue to dry for the last couple of months.  I had fatalis, which at about 250,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), is the 6th hottest pepper in the world, cayennes (~30,000 SHU) and some Hinkelhatz peppers, (~125,000 SHU).  Having handled these peppers in the past and had burning fingers for days, I purchased disposable kitchen gloves for the job.  I started with the cayennes.  I desperately need a spice grinder, and had to settle instead for using my mini Cuisinart food processor.  I had a few seeds, but I’m willing to live with that.  I then moved onto the Hinkelhatzes.  A slight burning tickled my nose.  Commence sneezing!  For the next 10 minutes…until my lungs burned.

Moving on to the fatalis, I considered wrapping a mask around my face.  And then I looked at my cat, Parma, sitting on the stool next to my work station.  And I thought that it would be inhumane to spread a fine mist of fatali powder into the air.  If peppers half as spicy as a fatalis caused me such irritation, I could only imagine what it would these kickers would do to a kitty.  So there the fatalis sit, in my food processor, in a corner of the kitchen.  Just waiting.  Waiting until I get an extension cord and take them to the porch.  Waiting for the chilly New England drizzle to stop.  Waiting for a safer time and place.  They’ve been waiting for two months; another week or two won’t kill them, right?

Spicy Corn Soup

This evening I arrived home from a weekend away and was welcomed by a very empty refrigerator.  I had no plan.  The only item of any substantial quantity was corn – 3 ears.  So that’s what I used to make dinner: Spicy corn soup.  I started out with lots of ideas about what direction to take with the soup, so I just made it up as I went along.  I made this lactose-free, but you can, of course, use milk or cream in place of the rice milk below.

3 ears corn
1 large clove garlic (or equivalent)
3 T. olive oil
1 c. rice dream
1/2 c. water
1 T. hot Mexican chile powder
1 pinch cayenne
salt & pepper

Remove corn from cobs and set aside. Saute garlic in olive oil until browned. Add corn to pan and saute with chile powder for 5-7 minutes. Add rice dream and heat until just starting to simmer. Add cayenne, salt and a generous dose of freshly ground pepper. Simmer for 3 minutes. Mix in blender until soup is of smooth consistency. Add water and return to heat. Add water until desired thickness is achieved. I needed to boost the volume to make sure I had enough for dinner for 2, so I added a health dose of water and thickened the soup with Wondraflour.  I served it with toasted tortilla chips, brushed with butter and tomatillo salsa.  Voila!  Dinner on the fly…

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Food

Our farm share encourages us to take what we will use.  I do that.  In fact, this week’s crops came in such astounding abundance, that we didn’t even take our full share, and I still found the amount of food in my kitchen overwhelming.  In an oh-so-exciting way!  But I did turn down a few items because I don’t want to waste.  However, even when I use up everything I take, there are food scraps.  So before you take those scraps to the compost, I’d like to encourage you to use them.  Yes, those garlic and onion skins, tough asparagus stalk ends, tomato peels, basil stalks, bell pepper stems, carrot and beet greens – yes, all those things you don’t use in everything else…they make incredible vegetable stock.

I’ve found that the key is not to boil them forever.  While soups often get better with a long, slow simmer, stock tends to weaken over time.  And in the middle of summer, who wants all that steam in the kitchen?  So start with your standard mirapoux – olive oil, garlic, carrot and celery. Saute for a few minutes, and then toss everything else in with water, salt and pepper.  In about 45 minutes, you’ll have a deep brown, very flavorful vegetable stock.  I drained mine through cheesecloth to weed out the little bits.   Then I froze some in small quantities, gave some away and used some almost immediately.  And after all is said and done, you can put the boiled veggies in the compost.  And feel great about having gotten the most out of them.

Grated Beet Salad

I often find beets to be boring and repetitive.  They are one of those foods that have such an overwhelming flavor that it seems to me that no matter how they are prepared, they just taste like beets.  They dominate almost anything you cook with them.  That being said, I love beets, and they do have a lot of great accompaniments.  I, however, have found a preparation that tames them a touch, and I am happy to share it here:

2-3 beets: I had 3 small golden beets, but any kind will do
red wine vinegar
minced garlic
olive oil

Bake beets until reasonably soft, firm but tender when pierced with a fork.  For larger beets, this may be up to an hour, but for smaller ones, start poking them with a fork at 30-35 minutes.  Once cooled, peel and then grate – the large holes of a standard box grater is fine.  Mix with vinegar, garlic and olive oil, all to taste.  Personally, I think adding some fresh parsley might be a nice addition to this recipe, so I’ll try that next time.

When I pick up my farm share each week, I often have the opportunity to buy local honey, cheese, maple syrup, wine and other locally-produced goodies.  I haven’t taken advantage of this option until recently, when I bought a couple cheeses.  They are different from the usual products I buy, but very delicious.  One of the cheeses I purchased is a goat cheese, and that’s what I used as an accompaniment to the beet salad.  I cut some chunks of goat cheese and rolled them into little balls (purely for presentation), froze them briefly so they would maintain their form while the rest of dinner (pork tenderloin and local corn) was on the grill.

Antipasto

Recently, after a long drive, Chuck and I arrived home and really didn’t feel like cooking. I happened to have most of the ingredients for a great antipasto on hand, so this is what I threw together. Granted, all together, this looks like a lot of work to start from scratch, but the components can all be used in a variety of combinations.

From bottom left, in clockwise order:

  • Anchovies – just plain old canned flat fillets in oil
  • Canellini bean paste: I make a couple variations of this, but it’s essentially, cannelini beans (fresh or canned), garlic or a garlic scape, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, herbs to taste. I recommend thyme or an Italian mix. You can cook the garlic and beans together first or just mix everything together in the food processor.
  • Pesto: made with homegrown basil and garlic from my garden
  • Roasted garlic and stuffed cherry peppers (storebought)
  • Breaded, sauteed artichoke hearts
  • Grilled, marinated asparagus: olive oil, balsamic, garlic, salt, pepper
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Caponata – my dad’s recipe is a great balance of sweet and savory (see below for details)

All served on a bed of farm-grown arugula.  Throughout, there is also shaved parmigiano regiano cheese and sliced sourdough bread.  How else would you scoop up all those delicious goodies?

Caponata:
1 small eggplant
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/4 yellow onion
1 t. sugar
1-2 T. red wine vinegar
salt, pepper to taste
1/8 c. golden raisins, modify to avoid making it too sweet for your taste
1-2 T. capers
2 T. toasted pine nuts
3 T. balsamic vinegar
1-2 T. olive oil

Thickly slice an eggplant, salt and drain in a colander lined with paper towel. (2-3 hours)Chop into cubes.Sauté, garlic, celery, onions and eggplant in olive oil for 10 minutes. Add sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Add golden raisins and capers.  Cook 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat; add toasted pine nuts and some balsamic vinegar. Cool and refrigerate for a day.

Summer Bounty

Our farm share started in June while I was out of the country, so I missed the first few weeks, but we’ve been getting local fresh veggies for the last several weeks, and boy, do I love it!  Here is last week’s share, featuring carrots, orange beets, a head of lettuce, pickling cucumbers, garlic, spring onions and eggplant.

We had some similar items in the share this week, but tomatoes and corn also made an appearance.  Mmm…

Catch Up

I haven’t been blogging lately, but I have been cooking, so now it’s time to do a little catching up. I’ll start with a couple highlights:

Tomatillo Avocado Salsa

Rick Bayless is a great chef of Mexican food, dorky for sure, but a real inspiration.  I watched an episode of Mexico: One Plate at a Time, and he made salsa verde that was so easy I just had to try it.  He said I could use 2 serrano chiles, but he didn’t tell me it that it would be quite so spicy! After my first bite, I had to tame the salsa, so this isn’t exactly Rick’s recipe – lime juice and avocado were my additions.

Blend the following in a blender:

1-2 serrano chiles
1 small onion, yellow or vidalia
4 tomatillos (use more to balance the serranos)
1/2 – 3/4 of an avocado (again, use more to minimize the heat)
1 clove garlic
a handful of cilantro
juice of 1 lime, along with some zest

You can eat it right away, use it as a dip or a sauce.  The bright green color brightens up any plate.  It keeps in the fridge for a couple weeks.

Rosemary Lamb

Nothing too fancy here, but this sure was delicious – olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and plenty of fresh rosemary.

Tribute to Roma

Recently Saveur magazine featured Roman food.  As if reading about eating in Rome was not inspirational enough, the pictures did me in.  I just had to cook these dishes–or as many of them as I could–I settled on tackling four.  An ambitious meal for a weeknight, but well worth it!

I’ll let the photos do most of the work on this post.  They’ll do more justice than writing possibly could, but in the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I learned that balsamic vinegar and butter can catch on fire (oopsy daisy).  Watch it closely if you’re cooking on a gas stove when starting the pork dish.  Thankfully my husband wasn’t home yet, so there are no pictures of the flames or smokey kitchen that resulted.


Maiale in Agrodolce

With every burner on the stove going, running to the backyard to grill the pork wasn’t feasible for me, but I bet it would be even more delicious had I grilled it.

Cacio e Pepe

Adding pasta put this meal over the top in terms of quantity of food, but I was dying to try this simple pasta dish.  I should have been a little more liberal with the pepper!

Broccoli Strascinati

Not for the faint of heart when it comes to garlic.

Finocchio con Latte al Forno

If you clicked on this link (or know Italian), then you know this is a fennel dish.  I must appeal to those of you who think you hate fennel because it tastes like licorice.  Raw, yes, it does, and I can’t stand it.  But cooking fennel can completely eliminate the anise-y flavor.  The preparation here seems very odd (braising in milk?  Really?).  I was quite skeptical, but it was absolutely delicious.

I would like to dedicate this post to Tami, who I hope can taste vicariously through me!  It is for her that I post only the Italian names of these dishes.

Soup’s On!

Winter in New England.  It has been appropriately cold and snowy so far this winter.  And that means soup.  In the last three days I have made lots of it.

First, French Onion (and Mushroom).  Wondering what to do with the leftover onion skins? I made a couple quarts of vegetable broth and tossed them in the freezer for a later date.

I also made chicken soup, with no particular recipe.  I started with a mirepoix plus garlic (I am Italian, afterall).  I browned some skin-on chicken thighs, added water, herbs and let it simmer for a while.  I removed the chicken thighs and cut them into pieces before adding them back into the soup.  Once it cooled I skimmed most of the chicken fat off the top so that it’s not greasy and unhealthy.  Here, you could choose to add the chicken bones to the veggie broth or start a chicken broth from scratch.  Use every ingredient to its fullest!

Finally, I made vegetarian tortilla soup.  It’s so quick and reaches maximum flavor potential very quickly.  Perfect for getting home late and whipping up a healthy, filling dinner on a very chilly evening.  My mouth still burns as I post this, but you can alter the heat to your taste.  Here’s my recipe:

Elizabeth’s Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

INGREDIENTS:

1 t. olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 small onion, diced
1 cups tomato sauce
1.5 cup bottled salsa
1 can corn, including liquid
1 teaspoon dried cilantro
.5 teaspoon cumin
1  teaspoon chile powder
.5 teaspoon cayenne
.5 teaspoon chipotle seasoning, optional
5 small corn tortillas
.5 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350.  Break corn tortillas into pieces and coat lightly with vegetable oil.  Spread evenly on cookie sheet and back for 4-6 minutes, watching carefully and turning/stirring frequently.  Remove when lightly toasted and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.  Note: If you prefer to use store-bought chips, feel free, but I find the toasted chips make a big difference.

Saute onions and garlic in olive oil in medium-large sauce pan.  Add next 8 ingredients.  Simmer for at least 10 minutes.  Serve with tortilla chips.

Top w/ cheddar cheese (optional).