Saturday, December 10, 2016

Herb and Butter Sous Vide Chicken Breast

AND ... besides an awesome recipe, I'm going to give you a bunch of reasons why you need a vacuum sealer.

I mean Christmas is coming, right?

Full disclosure: This post is sponsored by FoodSaver and they sent me a really slick new vacuum sealer to test.

But this is now my THIRD vacuum sealer made by them, so I knew I was going to be happy with it before I agreed to post.

My first FoodSaver suffered a tragic accident, so I replaced it. The second one is still here and functional. I bought both of those. And now I have a new one with some features I really like. More on that later, though.

There are a bunch of reasons I think a vacuum sealer is a great kitchen tool, in general.

First, it saves food from freezer burn. You'll see photos of what I mean.

Second, you can seal foods that are affected by oxygen and they'll last longer. Like guacamole. I have guacamole that's been in the freezer since last year, and it still looks perfect.

Third, you can vacuum seal things in ball jars, bottles, and canisters with the adapters. There are also vacuum bags with zip opening, so you could seal vacuum-seal things that you'll be using in portions, like lunch meat or cheese.

Fourth, you can marinate foods a lot faster.

Fifth, you can see what's in the bag when it's frozen.

Sixth, and this is a huuuuge one for me. You can cook foods sealed in the bag using sous vide.

I'm a huge fan of sous vide cooking, and I've posted a lot of recipes here for foods I've cooked sous vide. I trust the thick bags that the Food Saver uses. I don't trust zipper plastic bags, particularly not for long-term cooking. If I've got an expensive hunk of meat or I'm investing a lot of time into a cooking operation, I'd be really mad if a zipper failed.

So anyway, the challenge from FoodSaver was to pick a food product and store one in the freezer for a month sealed in a FoodSaver bag, and have another one stored in the freezer in the usual way. I bought some chicken boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

For the "normal" method, I chose a zip-top bag and removed as much air from the bag as possible. The second one went into a Foodsaver bag.

A third breast got seasoned first with some spicy chipotle seasoning, before I froze it. This is actually a great idea if you want to have some food that's prepped and ready to go into the sous vide, you can add seasonings, butter, or whatever.

Adding different seasonings to different pieces of chicken (or other foods) could be quite handy of you have people in the house who like different flavors or different levels of spice. You can add the seasonings and label the bags, but you can still cook all the different flavors at one.

Just toss  as much chicken (or whatever) into the water, set the time, and walk away. If you're not sure what you're going to use the chicken for, then leave it unseasoned. It's easy enough to add that later.

After a month in the freezer, the FoodSaver chicken (the one on the bottom in the photo below) looked about the same as it did when it went into the freezer. It was solid, of course, but it looked pretty much like it did before. The one in the zip-top bag (the one on top) didn't fare quite as well. Where the plastic didn't freeze right against the chicken, freezer burn was already taking over. You can see it there on the right side, where it's turning white and there are ice crystals in the bag. UGH. It sure as heck didn't look pretty.

Normally, I'd trim off the freezer burn if it wasn't too bad. I mean, sometimes it's just too far gone and the whole thing needs to be tossed. But if it wasn't awful, I'd lop off the bad part and salvage the good part. But I decided to just go forth with my cooking plans since the freezer burn was just in one place. I was curious how bad it would be after cooking. I'm a risk-taker, huh?

So ... I opened the sealed FoodSaver bag and added a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of an all-purpose seasoning called Chef Shake. You could use pretty much anything you like ... Mexican, Cajun, Italian, Greek ... whatever flavors you like. Or your own custom mix. Whatever makes you happy. Olive oil would be okay, too, or leave the fat out entirely.

I put the zipper-bag-stored chicken into another FoodSaver bag and added the same seasonings. Those two, plus the pre-seasoned breast, went into the hot tub. I mean ... the sous vide.

Once they were cooked, it was hard to tell by looking at them in their bags that one of them had suffered freezer burn because of the spices milling about in the bag. But ... when I sliced into the one with freezer burn and tasted it (yes, I do these things for you) it was a little more obvious. I don't suggest you eat freezer-burned food.

So ... I removed that part and went on to bigger and better things.

Herb and Butter Sous Vide Chicken Breast

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (one per serving, unless they're huge)
Your favorite seasoning mix (I used Chef Shake)
Salt (optional)

For individual servings, use one bag per breast. This is great if different people like different flavors. Otherwise, you can put several chicken breasts in a single bag. Keep them in an even layer rather than piling them on top of each other.

Add about a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of the seasoning to each bag. Please adjust the amount of seasoning to your taste and for the seasoning you use. If you're using something super-spicy and you only want it mildly spicy, cut back on the seasoning. If your seasoning is very mild or you want something flaming hot, add more.

If the seasoning doesn't have salt, add a pinch, or to taste. Much of today's chicken is brined, so it's a little salty. But a little pinch is fine.

Seal the bag using the FoodSaver. You can cook this right away, but let's assume you're prepping to cook later. So ... into the freezer they go!

When it's time to cook, set the sous vide for 146 degrees for 2 1/2 hours. Toss the still-frozen chicken into the sous vide.

Yup, you can cook it from its frozen state. It thaws really quickly even before the water had reached cooking temperature, and I started with hot tap water.

When the timer says it's done, remove the chicken.

You can slice and serve immediately. I used the chipotle-spiced chicken right away, in tacos.

For the more gently-spiced chicken, I opted to toss them into the refrigerator to chill. I used them the next day on a salad. You could also cook ahead and then gently reheat and serve. Or add the chicken at the last second to a stir fry - just long enough to heat it up.

Chicken breast cooked this way is always moist. Never dry. And it absorbs the flavor of the spices you add, so it's never just plain chicken. So freaking good!

About the new FM5000 series FoodSaver:

So, the big benefit of this model over my old one (which is pretty old) is that it does the sealing closer to the end of the bag, so you're not using as much bag material.

This one has a different method for making bags, too. You make the first seal at the end of the roll, before you pull the bag material out. So, you pull a bag out, and that end has already been sealed from the previous operation. You flip a lever which seals and then you cut your bag loose. Again, you have a seal at the end of the roll.

The new bag, when you seal it, goes into a different slot, so that roll is never in the way.

Also, the roll stores where you can see it, which is nice. I wish there was space for two rolls, but I mostly use the widest ones, so it's not really a big deal.

Thanks to FoodSaver for sponsoring this post.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

English Pea Salad with Cream Dressing

When I got the book Victuals by Ronni Lundy to review, I was just a little skeptical. I wasn't sure what to expect.

The book is subtitle "An Appalachian journey, with recipes," and that's pretty accurate. There are a lot of stories about the area and the people, and there are also a bunch of recipes.

Truthfully, I was more curious about the recipes. I had no idea whether Appalachian recipes would be familiar or not.

Turns out, they were mostly familiar, but some had a twist. The fried chicken was pretty similar to other recipes I'd made. Salmon cakes were pretty familiar, but I'd never made them with dill pickle in them. I might give that a try because it sounds good to me. The pickled bologna with peppers was just sort of strange.

The pork and kraut with cider gravy sounds like something my mom would have made, except that she made her pork steaks completely differently. I'm going to try the one in the book because it sounds pretty darned good.

Then I saw the recipe for a salad made with peas that had a cream dressing. Actual cream. Thickened with a little cider vinegar. That really fascinated me. I knew I had to try it. Originally, this was a spring/summer sort of dish because it used fresh peas, so the green onions and radishes that went with it made sense.

But the author said it's been adapted so frozen peas work, too. Which is great because I love frozen peas and I'm not overly fond of shelling peas, even when they are in season.

The one little problem I had with the recipe was the radishes. They're not particularly available right now in grocery stores. Or at least the ones I shopped at.

I decided I still wanted to make the recipe, even though radishes were rate. I wanted something with a little crunch, so I used some baby zucchini. It didn't add the bright pop of color, but it still looked nice.

And then I went to the winter farmer's market - a last chance for the local farmers to sell their squash and potatoes and canned good - and I found one booth that had radishes. So I added those to the salad as well, the day after I made the original.

I have to say that the radishes really were pretty, and the bit of sharpness they added was nice. The zucchini was good, but the radishes are definitely better.

English Pea Sans with Cream Dressing

Adapted from Victuals by Ronni Lundy

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon honey
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1/2 cup thinly sliced small radishes (I used one very small zucchini)
1/4 cup minced green onions
Freshly ground black pepper

About an hour before you want to make the salad, combine the cream, vinegar honey, and a pinch of salt in a small jar. Shake for about minute to combine, then let it sit at room temperature for about an hour. The dressing will get thicker as it sits.

Meanwhile blanch and drain the peas. Pat them dry, or just let them sit in a strainer to get rid of the water.

Combine the peas, radishes (or in my case, the zucchini) in a bowl. Add the dressing and pepper, to taste, and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Simply Tomato Soup

I love soup, and one of my favorite soups is tomato. Sometimes I like it with rice, sometimes I like it with noodles, and sometimes I even add carrots. I love tomato soup so much that I even like the stuff that comes in the red and white cans. And it makes a nice companion for a grilled cheese sandwich.

When I found a tomato soup recipe in a book called The Quick Six Fix, I had to give it a try. I mean, it's tomato soup. It would have been crazy for me not to give it a try.

The concept of the book is that there are pantry ingredients that you should have on hand at all times, and you should need no more than six additional items to make any recipe. Also, you should be able to do the prep work in six minutes or less, and the cleanup should also take six minutes or less.

Most of the recipes also cook quickly - 30 minutes or less. Some take longer, but it's generally hands-off cooking. And ... there are cleanup tips within the recipes. Like, if you've just emptied a pot in the middle of a recipe, it might tell you that you ought to soak the pot now for easier cleaning when you're all done.

As far as on-hand ingredients, most of us have things that we keep around at all times because they're the ones we know we like enough to keep them in the pantry or fridge.

What you keep in stock is probably different from what I have on hand, but there are probably some things that most of us have. The basics of salt, pepper and olive oil (or another cooking oil) are pretty obvious, but this book has a more comprehensive list of "must have" and "nice to have" items.

I agreed with most of it, except perhaps the coconut milk (I don't like coconut) and the heavy cream. I don't use heavy cream often enough for it to be something that's always on hand. I buy it when I need it for a recipe, then I find something else to do with the rest.

On the other hand, my list of must-have items is probably longer than what's in the book. I have more spices, for sure, and several types of cheese. And tortillas. And bread flour, whole wheat flour, semolina flour, dry yeast ... but that's just me.

If someone was starting a new kitchen, they could take his list to the store and have a good selection of food to work with. Of course, eliminating things that they don't like. If someone doesn't like olives, there's no reason to buy them right?

So anyway, when you get to recipes in the book, the non-standard items are in bold print, so if you actually follow the concept, you'll know right away what you need to buy. In this recipe, there were only two non-standard items: the baguette and the basil leaves.

I decided not to make the baguette toast, and I substituted a few other things. I always have tomato products on hand, so I used what I had and didn't go looking for San Marzanos. I knew it would be an annoying search to find exactly the tomatoes listed in the recipe. I know for sure that I can find whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, but I've never seen diced ones at the stores I go to. I'll look for them next time I'm raiding the tomato aisle, though. But I always have at least a few cans of other types of diced tomatoes.

And then I used some frozen basil that I had, rather than going out to the store for fresh. While fresh basil is great, this was getting stirred into a hot soup, so I didn't think it would make that much different. So I made this without needing to go shopping at all.

I'd suggest that if you make this, you add the chili flakes, salt, and pepper to taste. Particularly the chili flakes. Those can be fairly mild or they can be raging hot. So add as much as you like, keeping in mind that this is soup and not salsa. When it comes to salt, I usually start with about half of what a recipe suggests and I add more until it tastes right to me. Sometimes I don't need as much as a recipe suggests, and sometimes I need more.

A nice garnish for this soup is a little dollop of Greek yogurt. Or with crackers and some blue cheese, if you don't feel like making parmesan toast. Just my suggestion.

Simply Tomato Soup
Adapted from The Quick Six Fix by Stuart O'Keeffe

For the soup:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes, or to taste
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 28-ounce cans diced San Marzano tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock (I used chicken stock)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 basil leaves, torn

For the toast:
3/4 cup shaved parmesan
14-inch length of baguette. sliced diagonally into 1-inch slices

Heat the oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to hold all the soup ingredients. dd the onion, garlic, chili flakes, salt, and pepper. Cook for until the onions have softened, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock and sugar. Simmer on medium for 10 minutes, then turn the heat off.

A couple notes here. First, I used chicken stock, because that's what I had. Also, it comes in 1-quart (4 cup) boxes. I measured out 2 cups to set aside, but my tomatoes were really thick, so I ended up using the whole 4 cups. And last, it took a while for this to come up to a simmer. So be prepared for that. Oh, and really last, you can let it simmer longer if you like.

Sprinkle the parmesan on the bread and toast under the broiler until the cheese has melted. Watch carefully. It goes from nothing to char pretty quickly. Timing depends on how close your oven rack is to your broiler.

Puree the soup, along with the butter. You can use a stick blender, or pour the soup into a blender.

Return the soup to the pot (if you used a blender) stir in the basil, and serve warm with the toast.

I received this book from the publisher at no cost to me.