Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sous Vide Pork Chops

Ah, pork, I gnawed you well.

Do you remember back in the day when your mom cooked every piece of pork until it was as dry as shoe leather Probably because she was afraid of it?

There are some cuts of pork that are perfectly happy being cooked for a long time. Like ribs. Or shoulder. A long, slow cook results in fall-off-the-bone tenderness. But other cuts ... not really. They just get dry and chewy.

Nowadays, pork-cooking recommendations have changed. Pork no longer needs to be incinerated. It can be a little bit pink. Even the USDA says that 145 degrees is safe, and chefs are setting that threshold even lower. While no one's advocating rare pork, pink is preferable.

And here's the deal about temperature safety. It's not just about the highest temperature that the food reaches. The time that the food is at a certain temperature also makes a difference. So, a lower temperature for a longer time has the same effect (as far as safety) as a higher temperature for a shorter time. It's just like pasteurization, where milk can be heated to 161 degrees for 15 seconds or it can be heated 280 degrees for 2 seconds.

When I got some pork chops from Frontiere Natural Meats, they seemed to be the perfect candidates for sous vide cooking.

It turns out, I was right. These chops were fantastic. Okay, it was good meat to start with, but sous vide was a great technique for cooking them.

While cooking something using sous vide can take a looooong time, like the 72-hour short ribs I made a while back, that time is mostly unattended.

If you're sous vide cooking for a ridiculously long time, you might need to add some water to the pot as it evaporates, but other than that, you just let it go. Since we're not talking about unattended fire, the risk of something going horribly wrong is pretty low, much like having a waterfall or a fish tank left unattended.

In this case, I cooked the pork chops in the sous vide, and then seared them to get a pretty brown crust - and to add some seasoning. Since the chops from Frontiere were vacuum-sealed in their own pouches, I didn't even bother taking them out and re-sealing them in my own bags - I just plopped them into the warm water, and let them circulate.

How easy is that?

The result was fully-cooked, but slightly pink meat. It was tender and juicy, with a nicely seasoned crust from searing them after they were cooked.

Sous Vide Pork Chops

3 thick cut boneless pork chops (or as many as you need, and that will fit)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Oil, for searing

If the chops aren't vacuum-sealed, place them in a vacuum-seal bag and vacuum and seal them. That was certainly an unwieldy sentence, wasn't it.

Place them in a sous vide bath at 140 degrees for 2 hours. Longer should be perfectly fine.

When the cooking time is done, remove them from the bags and pat them dry.

Heat a cast iron frying pan on medium-high heat. Drizzle your favorite cooking oil on the meat - just enough to coat it slightly. I used an olive oil blend that can handle relatively high heat. Grind on some fresh black pepper and sprinkle on some salt to taste.

Sear the chops on all sides.

Serve. You can leave them whole, or slice them for presentation.

Did I mention that the other nice thing about sous vide cooking is that you don't need to worry as much about resting time as with other cooking methods? When you roast or grill or fry meat, the temperature is still rising after you take it off the heat. In theory, you should let the meat rest until the temperature stabilized or begins to drop a bit. But with sous vide, the internal temperature is stable, and it's not going to rise after cooking. Pretty slick, huh?

Disclaimer: I receive meat from Frontiere so I can create recipes for my blog.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Muffin-Cup Cheesecakes

I was very late in becoming a cheesecake-maker. I could make a whole Thanksgiving dinner without a written recipe when I was 18 years old. I started creating my own bread recipes when I was in my early 20's.

But it took me quite a while to jump on the cheesecake bandwagon.

It's not that I don't like cheesecake. I like them a lot. but we used to live just a few miles from a cheesecake factory (not the restaurant chain - an actual factory) that would sell cracked or lopsided cheesecakes at discounted prices. So I didn't really need to make them.

Once I started making cheesecakes, one problem I ran into with published recipes was that they made huge cheesecakes. Which is fine if I'm taking them to a party. But for just the two of us ... well, we really don't need to have a giant cheesecake sitting around.

When I saw a cheesecake recipe in The Hello Kitty Baking Book, I figured I'd give it a try. I had just gotten the book, and while I was totally amused by the concept, I was more interested in recipes.

Need I say that the book was very ... pink? Yup, very very pink. And cute. And adorable. And then I started looking for recipes to try. Besides the little cheesecakes, I had also bookmarked brownies and cupcakes and cookies and pie.

What prompted me to make the cheesecakes first was that, well, I had a new muffin pan I wanted to baptize.

I made some changes to the recipe. First, I used a vanilla cookie crust instead of a chocolate graham cracker crust. And I didn't add the strawberry jam topping. Instead, I added a sour cream topping. And then I cut the recipe neatly by one-third - it was pretty simple since the original called for 3 packages of cream cheese and three eggs.

The one oddity about this recipe was that at the beginning, it called for one muffin pan, but didn't specify the size or the number of muffin cups that needed to be lined with cupcake liners. At the very end of the recipe, it said that it made 24 mini muffin cupcakes.

But ... I decided to use my brand-new jumbo muffin pan that a friend had sent to me. And instead of using paper liners, I used silicone muffin cups. I ended up making six cheesecakes.

Even with all those changes, the important part of a cheesecake is the cheesy part, and I left that part mostly intact. Okay, I might have upped the vanilla a little. But I do that by reflex. I love vanilla.

Mini Cheesecakes
Adapted from The Hello Kitty Baking Book by Michele Chen Chock

For the crust:
1 cup cookie crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter

For the cheesecakes:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
Small pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg at room temperature

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line 6 jumbo muffin cups with paper or silicone liners. Find a pan that you can put the muffin pan into so that the muffin cups can be submerged about halfway into water in the larger pan. A roasting pan is probably a good choice.

I didn't feel like digging out my roasting pan, so I used my favorite 9x13 baking pan. The muffin pan didn't quite fit the way I wanted it to, so I put a small rack into the bottom of the baking pan to lift it a bit, and it was perfect.

Combine the cookie crumbs and butter. Divide into the six muffin cups. Press the mixture into the bottom to create a firm crust. Since I was using silicone muffin molds, I pressed the crumbs up the sides a little. That would probably make paper cups looks not-so-pretty, but if you're going to unmold to serve, that's not going to matter.

Bake the formed crusts at 350 degrees until the crust is lightly browned and is firm - about 5 minutes.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer in a bowl until it is soft and fluffy. Add the sugar and salt, and beat until well combined and the mixture is creamy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Add the egg and beat until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl, if needed.

Divide the mixture into the six prepared muffin cups, and smooth the top of the mixture.

Add very hot or near-boiling water to the bottom pan (roasting pan or anything similar) so that when you put the muffin pan into the outer pan, the water comes about halfway up the sides of the muffin cups.

Bake at 325 degrees until the cheesecake mixture is mostly set but still slightly jiggly. about 20-25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and place the muffin pan on a rack to cool, then refrigerate the cheesecakes for at least 3 hours before serving.

Note: If the muffin pan and hot water are too risky to handle, you can let the pan cool in the water until it's cool enough to safely remove the pan from the water.

Optional: The original recipe called for adding a thin layer of warm jam to the tops of the finished cheesecakes, and then using a Hello Kitty template to add a powdered sugar image to the top of the cheesecake.

Instead, I opted for a sweetened sour cream topping. I didn't measure, but just added sugar and a small splash of vanilla to about a cup of sour cream, to taste. I added that to the tops of the cheesecakes about 5 minutes before they were done. At that point, the tops had a bit of a skin and had firmed up enough to support the addition without having it sink completely into the cheesecakes.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It's my birthday and I'll post silly stuff if I want to

My husband says that one of his goals every day is to make me laugh.

Most days he succeeds. Sometimes it a chuckle or a giggle. Sometimes it's a groaning eye roll.

And then some days, it's a serious guffaw or a side-splitting howl.

Last week, a friend of mine (let's call her Carla) send me a ceramic sculpture that she had made for me. There was a tray, a saucer, a giant mug, and some decorative items. There was was a light gray mouse perched on the edge of the mug, then another light gray mouse and a dark gray mouse attached to the tray.

And then there was food. Three cookies: chocolate chip, oatmeal, and peanut butter; and two little loaves of bread.

Well, some of the pieces broke loose in shipping, so I asked my husband if he had any glue. He took the whole thing into the garage and put things back in order.

I came home from errands last Saturday, put down my bags, and saw that the sculpture was sitting on the dining room table. "Oh, he finished gluing it," I thought. I took a closer look.

This is what I saw:

And I laughed myself silly. Hearty guffaws.

See, he put dark glasses on the mice ... three blind mice.

They're paper glasses and they're taped on so they're easily removable. But for right now, they're staying in place, because I think it's hysterical.

And Bob says he hopes Carla thinks it's funny, too.
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