Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Having fun with sous vide: Rib Roast

A little while back, I got an immersion circulator from Anova Culinary to test. I'd been itching to try one since the first home units came out, but the last thing I have room for in my kitchen is a big tank of water. The Anova immersion circulator doesn't include any sort of cooking vessel. Instead, it's the heater, pump, and controls in one fat cylinder.

The nice thing is that it doesn't take as much space to store. The nicer thing is that you can affix it to different pots. Sure, there's a size range. But I've used it with two different stock pots, and it's great with both.

I've been muddling around with it since I got it, and I'll admit that I haven't a clue what I'm doing. But I'm having fun and learning from mistakes. My fault, not the device's fault.

After cooking pork and chicken, I decided to move on to beef. I picked up a couple bone-in ribeyes, then noticed that the rib roasts were on sale. Like, half the price per pound of the steaks.

Okay, then, roast it is.

When I got home, I poked around online a bit, and found quite a few people who thought that using sous vide to cook a roast was a bad idea. I found just a few who liked it. Many of them cooked their beef roasts at about 145 degrees, which seemed odd to me. I wanted a roast that was medium rare, at most. Not medium.

So, I threw caution to the wind and went my own way.

I seasoned the roast with Healthy Solutions Bold Beef Rub. I just got samples of that, and figured it was a good opportunity to try it. Then I bagged the roast, and sealed it, and bagged and sealed again. I had run out of FoodSaver bags and bought a cheaper brand, and I didn't completely trust the bags, so I figured two bags was a good precaution.

Turns out, I didn't need to worry about the bags. But anyway ...

I set the temperature to 130 degrees and let the roast cook for seven hours. Yup, seven.

When that was done, I put it in the fridge - I was cooking it for the next day. So, I let it chill.

The next day, I took the roast of out the fridge about an hour before cooking.

This is the roast, sliced the next day, cold.
I cranked the oven to 450 degrees, took the roast out of its bag, got rid of the liquid, and put it on a foil-lined baking sheet.

I rubbed the top with a little more of the spice mix, then tossed it in the overn and let it cook for 30 minutes. I took it out of the oven, covered it with foil, and let it rest for 30 minutes before I sliced it.

It was about as perfect as it could be, and unbelievably tender. This was a basic supermarket on-sale rib roast, not a super-fancy prime cut of beef. They're never tough, but this was meltingly tender. I was totally shocked, and I'm definitely doing this again.

Because of the sous vide cooking, the meat was the same doneness all the way through. The short high-heat cooking browned the outside edge and warmed the meat, but it didn't affect that all-the-way-through doneness at all.

Want a slice?
And, I have to say I liked the flavor that the beef rub gave it. It wasn't overpowering, but it definitely added flavor.

I'm thinking the leftovers will make great beef sandwiches, either hot or cold. And the ribs will no doubt end up being lunch for me very soon.

Definitely a win all the way around.

To go with the beef, I cooked some potato chunks in the Phillips Air Fryer that I wrote about here. (See, I do use these things after I review them.) I drizzled the potatoes with olive oil and sprinkled them with another spice mix from Healthy Solutions. This time I used the Herb Crusted Tilapia mix. I know it sounds weird to use a fish-centric seasoning for potatoes, but the first three ingredients were onion, garlic, and parsley, so I knew it would work with my potatoes.

And I was right. The mix is relatively mild - which is what you'd want with delicate fish - and it was perfect for the potatoes. They tasted like potatoes with flavor rather than potatoes obliterated by spices. I think this would work well with pretty much any vegetables, as well as with fish.

I'll me sharing more sous vide experiments as I come up with things that work. I want to try some vegetables, and then maybe some shortribs - I hear those are great. Have you tried sous vide? Is there something you;'d like to see me try?

Disclaimer: I received the immersion circulator and the spices as samples from their respective manufacturers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Celebrating Earth Day with some Margaritas #cocktails #Earthday

Happy Earth Day!

The first time I ever heard of Earth Day, I was in Pittsburgh on a work assignment. Since I was there for three months and staying at a hotel, I had plenty of time to visit all the tourist spots, the non-tourist spots, the festivals and the restaurants.

It was actually a pretty happy-go-lucky three months, since I didn't have to worry about housework or yardwork ... or really any work, once I was home from actual work.

I did some cooking, since I was staying in a place that had a kitchen, but I went out quite a bit because I wanted to explore and sample what the area had to offer. And there was always food at the festivals and art fairs and other celebrations I went to.

That year, Pittsburgh celebrated Earth Day with a festival at one of its prominent parks, and I spent a good part of the day there, just soaking in the ... earthiness. Since then, Earth Day hasn't been big on my "must celebrate" list, unless someone reminds me.

So when the folks at Casa Noble tequila asked if I wanted to sample one of their organic tequilas for Earth Day, I had nothing else on the calendar. And I'm always up for cocktails. I wrote about Casa Noble once before, so I knew I was going to like the product.

My first thought was a margarita, but I didn't want to go with the typical lime-based cocktail. I happened to be cutting up a pineapple and thought, gee, why not use pineapple juice?

I gathered up some pineapple scraps - not the tough rind, but the bits of mostly-fleshy-parts that got removed when I was cutting out the pineapple "eyes." And the core, too.

I threw all that into my juicer and ended up with enough pineapple juice for a few cocktails. And a pretty nice-sized glass for breakfast, too. Good enough for me.

Pineapple Margarita

1 ounce Casa Noble Reposado tequila
2 ounces fresh pineapple juice
Blood orange, for garnish

Combine the tequila and pineapple juice in a shaker with ice. Shake-shake-shake ... shake-shake-shake.

Strain into a margarita glass over ice and garnish with blood orange.

For color, I added blood orange to the margarita, but you could use any citrus you happen to like - a regular orange would be good. Or tangerine or clementine or grapefruit, even. Or go traditional and use a lime.

You can just rest the fruit on the rim of the glass, or squeeze some of it into the cocktail, like I did here to add some of the juice color to the cocktail.

A few chunks of pineapple speared onto a skewer would have made a great garnish, but somehow I didn't think of that until too late. Oops.

And of course, if you're a fan of a salt rim, go for it. I usually don't.

But that ain't all. The folks at Casa Noble offered this recipe, which is more traditional. And little more potent than the ones I mixed. Their recipe uses the Crystal (clear white) tequila.

Casa Noble Organic Margarita

2 ounces Casa Noble Crystal
1 ounce fresh lime juice (or the juice of 1 whole lime)
3/4 oucnce La Sierra agave nectar
Garnish: lime wheel and/or kosher salt rim

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake, strain, serve up or on the rocks. Garnish with a lime wheel. To salt rim- moisten rim of glass with lime, gently roll in a plate of kosher salt.

More about Casa Noble

The tequila I chose came in a pretty blue bottle, but it's a bit hard to see the color with the tequila in it, like in my photo below. But I have a feeling I'll be using the bottle for other things once it's empty.

Along with my tasty bottle of tequila, Casa Noble supplied some extra information about their products.

The Reposado (which is the one I chose) is aged in French white oak barrels for exactly 364 days. I'm sure there's a reason for that. precise timing, but I have no idea what it is.

They described it as smooth, sensuous and full-bodied; light amber in color with hues of bright copper. They're serious about their tequila, hmmm?

They say the tequila has aromas of soft vanilla, delicate white oak, and light but persistent lemongrass and floral citrus notes. Sounds like a fine wine.

And then we come to flavor. "The lightly charred French White Oak gives this tequila notes of vanilla, chocolate and butter in addition to the citrus and sweet agave. The intensely sweet taste is introduced with oaky tones followed by a long finish with hints of caramel and candied nuts shadowed by a subtle spice."

Well, I'm not sure I tasted all of that, but it's a pretty smooth tequila. and quite tasty. This is one you could serve over ice and sip, if you wanted to. I'm going to have to go back and do a heck of a lot more sampling, just to see if I can detect all those flavors. Tough job, but someone's got to do it.

If you want more information, you can hunt them down on Facebook. They're also on Twitter as @casa_noble and on Instagram as casanoble. I was provided with a bottle of tequila in order to create my recipe.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Okie dokie, Artie-chokey

Someone's cooking here, and it's not me.

Yep, the fella went into the kitchen, and he did an outstanding job. He shopped, he prepped, and he cooked. I photographed and gently guided. And I giggled a little bit. But that's to be expected. He never cooks.


Okay, there was the Nashville Sneakers episode, but that was in the last century.

But I digress. Or I'm ahead of myself.

You see, I'm in this group called Cook My Book, and the idea is that everyone picks a cookbook from their collection and those books get mailed around in a big circle at regular intervals.

People cook recipes from the books and they write notes next to the recipes they've made.

And maybe cause some accidental spillage and staining. Oopsie. And then we sign the front or back of the book with notes to the owner and send the book to the next person on the list.

As we cook recipes, we post about them on our little Facebook group - what we liked, what we didn't like, what worked, and what we'd change next time. It's a great way to get familiar with a bunch of books and hang out with people who like to cook.

And eventually the books all make their way back to their owners with all sorts of scribbled notes and messages.

This is my first year. I'm thinking I might be a life member. It's a blast.

So, Bob's been hearing about this group and watching cookbooks come and go. And when he heard that my friend Sandra was in the group, he said, "I'd like to do something for her. I want to cook from her book."

My jaw dropped. Not that he wanted to be nice. But that he said the words, "I want to cook" and he was awake and not hallucinating or anything. But ... there's a reason.

 I had told him how Sandra took over this blog while he was in the hospital, and how she became such a good friend when I needed friends, and he wanted to do a little something to surprise her.

I don't know how surprised she is, but I'm still a little woozy at the thought of him using one of my sharp knives.

Coincidentally, I had my own copy of the book Sandra was sending around (Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi), so I gave him my copy so he could pick out a recipe.

He paged through it and mentioned that there didn't seem to be any meat. Maybe he was hoping for a pot of chili or a rack of ribs, but that didn't stop him. He was on a mission to cook something.

The book disappeared into the garage for a couple weeks, and when it emerged again, there was a sticky note on the page for Lemony Globe Artichokes.

I expected that he's pick a few and ask my advice. But no, he picked artichokes. Why? Because he knows how much I like them.

Okay, everybody ... awwwwwww

I had just gotten some glorious artichokes from Frieda's, so I was set with those. I told him that it made sense to cut the recipe in half (making two artichokes instead of four), which made the recipe slightly more challenging. But I was confident.

I wrote up a shopping list for him, so he could pick up a few things we needed. Mostly fresh herbs. Some lemons. Nothing too challenging. Frozen peas. I went with to document the adventure, and gently guided him close to his targets, but I let him do the hunting and gathering on his own.

He probably could have found everything without my help ... eventually, but I figured that asking him to figure out how much fresh tarragon was needed to yield 1/4 cup might be a little too cruel.

Even finding the tarragon could have been a challenge - I mean, it's not all that common. And cilantro sometimes masquerades as parsley, and we sure as heck didn't want to see that happen.

So I guided him to the right decisions, and to the correct peas in the frozen section. I like the petite peas, although the recipe didn't specify.

And then, before he got cooking, I set out a cutting board and provided him with tools as he needed them. Measuring cups and spoons. String. Hot water in a pot. A lemon squeezer.

As he used things and he didn't need them any more, I whisked them away. Just like magic.

Weirdest moment might have been when I was using my fingers to try to grab an artichoke leaf to see if it would tear off easily. While it was bobbing in simmering water.

And he said, "Don't you think you should use a tool to do that?"

Um, maybe. But this is - ouch - just as - ow, hot - easy - owie - and it just takes a second. When you do it all the time, it doesn't seem so odd.

So, I instructed a bit, helped just a tiny bit, and mostly just observed to make sure nothing went totally off the rails. I have to say that I was very impressed with his attention to detail.

He followed the recipe directions carefully, one step at a time:

Picking leaves off of stalks ...

Chopping parsley ....

Measuring chopped herbs...

Dicing onions ....

Prepping artichokes ...

It was interesting to see a non-cook cooking. The only slight glitch was that the artichokes could have been rubbed with lemon a little sooner, but no big deal. He did what the instructions told him to do rather than reading the instructions like a more experienced cook would have.

The biggest challenge was neatly tying the halved stuffed artichokes so they'd stay together while they simmered.

I estimated that we'd have artichokes on the table in an hour, but it was a tad longer. I didn't take into account the extra prep time needed when someone's not familiar with tools and methods.

But in the end, it was totally worth it. I liked the recipe, and it was a lot of fun to see Bob in the kitchen. I doubt it will become his new hobby, but maybe we'll try again another day.

As we were eating, I asked him if this recipe was easier or harder than he expected. He said it was harder. Then he asked if the recipe was easier or harder than what I normally do. I said it was about the same.

So there ya go.

Sandra, this one's for you!

Lemony Globe Artichokes

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

2 globe artichokes
2 lemons, halved
3/8 cup fresh dill (a shy half-cup), finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 medium-small onion, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup frozen green peas
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 clove garlic, smashed (through a garlic press, or finely minced)

Trim the artichokes so they can sit flat on their bottoms, and remove the toughest bottom leaves. Cut the artichokes in half vertically, from top to stem. Remove and discard the choke (cough-cough) and some of the small innner leaves, to make room for the stuffing. As you work, rub the cut surfaces with one of the lemon halves to keep the artichokes from browning. As you finish each artichoke half, place in into a bowl of cold water.

Mix the chopped herbs and onion with plenty of salt and pepper.

Drain the artichokes. Stuff the cavity of each half with the herb/onion mix so it's full but not overflowing. You're going to be reassembling them. You should have excess stuffing. Hang onto that - we'll be using that shortly.

Put the artichoke halves together and tie them with string to secure them.

Put the assembled artichokes in a pot that they will fit into snugly (this keeps them from floating or coming apart). Add the juice of one of the lemons (two halves), and then toss in the squeezed lemon halves. You might as well toss in the lemon half you used to rub the artichokes, as well.

Add enough water to cover the artichokes, leaving about 1/4 inch out of the water. Add  generous amount of salt. Simmer on low heat for 20 to 35 minutes. The artichoke bottoms in particular need to stay submerged, since that's the edible part and you want to make sure they cook. If need be, you can put a small plate on top of the artichokes if they want to float. Cover the pot during cooking, and cook until the artichoke heart is tender - stick a knife into the base to check - and a leaf should pull out easily.

Remove the artichokes from the pan and let them drain for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute the remaining stuffing with 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about three minutes, then add the peas, sugar, garlic and a few tablespoons of the artichoke cooking water. Cook for 2 minutes more, then taste and add more salt, pepper, or lemon, as needed.

Transfer the artichokes to serving plates or a platter. Remove the string and lay the halves with the cut side up. Pile the peas on top of each artichoke. Drizzle with olive oil and serve hot.

You can serve with a few wedges of lemon, if you like.
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