Monday, December 19, 2016

Sous Vide Boneless Pork Loin

As a blogger, I get a lot of stuff sent to me. Books, food, gadgets, samples, snacks. Some of it gets reviewed and then it's seldom mentioned again. But other things turn into recipes, and then recipes turn into blog posts.

This is one of those instances. It started with an offer from Butcher Block Box, a company that ships meat to people who subscribe to the service. I said, sure, send me meat. I will review it. I mentioned them recently in a gift guide, because a meat subscription would be a nice gift for a lot of people.

Not the vegans or vegetarians on your list. They wouldn't be thrilled with you at all. But just about anyone else would probably like a box of frozen meat.

My shipment was delayed by a day because of a train derailment. Sheesh. Of course the perishables would get delayed. Even though the package arrived a day later than it was supposed to, the meat was frozen solid. So they get bonus points for good packaging.

This is just part of what arrived:

I chose the beef and pork option, because I had just bought chicken and I've noticed a much greater variation in quality with beef and pork than with chicken. I mean, yeah, some chicken is better than others, but it's never chewy, like a bad steak can be.

I got a nice variety of meats - some steaks, ground beef, thin-cut steak, a pork loin roast, and bacon. Everything was packed in reasonable amounts. Nothing too big to deal with. The pork loin roast was the biggest item.

I tried one of the steaks first, followed by the thin-cut steak. I had no idea what to expect with that, but the slices were really really really thin. Like for sandwiches. Which is what happened after I have that a quick saute on the stove.

I stared at the pork roast for a while. I thought about roasting it, but then decided to cook it sous vide. Yup, me and my sous vide. Again.

I considered cooking it in the same bag it came in, considering it was nicely vacuum-sealed, but decided I wanted to season it first. After it was fully thawed, I tossed it into a sous vide bag, then sprinkled on some Penzeys seasoned salt, then some Penzeys Mural of Flavor. It's an unsalted seasoning mix that's one of my favorites. Good flavor, but kind of universal and non-threatening.

In retrospect, I should have sprinkled the spices onto the meat before putting it in the bag for more even distribution, but it wasn't a big deal. As soon as the meat had released some juices and the bag was looser, I massaged the spices around to get the meat more evenly coated. It was just fine.

The finished meat was decidedly pink rather than white. If that bothers you with pork, you'll need to raise the temperature. But despite what your grandmother told you, pink pork is perfectly pleasant.

Sous Vide Pork Roast

  • 1 smallish boneless pork loin roast - I'm guessing it was about 2-3 pounds - I didn't check the label before I tossed the packaging.
  • Seasoned salt - I'm guessing I used about 1/2 teaspoon, or perhaps a little more.
  • Penzeys Mural of Flavor (or other seasoning you like) a generous teaspoon or more.
  • Olive oil - about 2 tablespoons, or enough to coat the bottom of the pan.

Sprinkle the seasonings on the meat and place the meat in a vacuum-sealer bag. Vacuum seal the bag. Obvious, right?

Set up your sous vide. I have an Anova sous vide with wireless and I use a large stockpot for cooking. Set the heat for 140 degrees and the time for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

When the time is up, remove the meat from the water bath. Open the bag and remove the meat.

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meat, fat-side down. Let the meat brown on that side, then turn it so that all sides get browned.

Remove the meat from the pan. Slice and serve.

This is also really good cold, for roast pork sandwiches. Yum.

I received meat from Butcher Block Box at no cost to me. I received the Anova sous vide at no cost to me quite a while ago. I have no obligation to continue posting about it, but I use it a lot. I have no relationship with Penzeys except that I like a lot of their products.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Blender-Enabled Muffins and the Harley Pasternak Blender

Sooooooo ...

I recently got the book Turbo Blender Desert Revolution and it says that you need a high-powered blender that can grind grains and heat foods. Shortly after I got the book, the folks at Salton asked if I wanted to test their Harley Pasternak Power Blender.

*taps fingertips together menacingly*

Why yes, yes I would ...

Bwaaa haaaa haaaa!

I already made one recipe from the book, but this time I decided that I would make a recipe that required grinding some grains. Which I happened to have. The book called for soft white wheat berries, and it just so happens that I bought those recently, too.

I messaged one of the authors of the book to ask whether he thought the Harley Pasternak blender would work for his book. He wasn't sure. The book requires blenders that spin so fast that they heat ingredients, and that are powerful enough to grind grains.

So ... did it work?

First, I put some water in the blender, started at low, and cranked the power up to top speed. And ... the water got warmer and warmer and warmer and then it was actually hot. It passed the first test.

But how about turning grains into flour? The first challenge is the ability to make flour. The second is the ability to grind evenly. You don't want to have some flour and some chunky bits. I put 2 1/4 cups of soft white wheat berries in the blender, set a timer for a minute and watched in complete fascination.

Not only did it turn wheat berries into flour, but it did it without needing me to stop and shake the blender or stop and scrape the sides. It was fun to watch, and kind of magical. Wowza.

So, yeah, obviously it can make your morning smoothie.

The controls on this are simple. The lever on the left is for on and off. The lever on the right is for pulsing. And the dial in the center is the speed control. There are no numbers or set speeds - it's just a smooth transition from the slowest to the fastest speed.

As far as the muffins, these were supposed to have a lemon glaze, which I'm sure would have been lovely. But I decided I wanted basic and somewhat savory muffins that could go with dinner. They have a bit of sugar, but they're not super-sweet. No sweeter than some cornbread muffins I've had.

Buttermilk Muffins
Adapted from Turbo Blender Desserts by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

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2 1/4 cups soft white wheat berries
5 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
3 large eggs at room temperature
5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Note: I ended up making 18 muffins instead of the 12 this recipe should have made. I probably could have filled the muffin cups a little more, but since I live at high altitude, I'm always skittish about things rising out of control. These kept their shape nicely, so I probably could have filled them more. It's also possible that other pans have deeper cups than the pans I used.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter at least 12 cups of a muffin pan. I used baking spray instead of butter, but use what you like.

Put the wheat berries in the blender container and blend at the highest speed until you have a fine flour. This should take about a minute.

Add the sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cover and pulse a few times until the mixture is blended, then transfer the flour to a large bowl.

Add the buttermilk, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla to the blender. Cover and blend at low speed until it is smooth.

Pour the buttermilk mixture on top of the flour mixture and stir until smooth. Divide the batter to fill the muffin cups.

Bake at 400 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 12 minutes. Let the muffins cool in the pan set on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn the muffins out and let them cool completely.

I received the Harley Pasternak blender from Salton at no cost to me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pea Risotto

I'm a fiend for risotto, so of course I had to try the Sweet Pea Risotto from A Recipe for Cooking by Cal Peternell.

But then ... there were those peas. Even when peas are in season, finding them fresh is pretty much impossible. No one likes shelling peas these days, so unless you're growing peas in your garden, you're probably going to want to make a substitute here.

I used frozen peas. They're available all year long, and I always have them on hand. I like adding them to salads. I just put them on the salad as-is and they thaw almost immediately. So anyway, I just measured the frozen peas, and all was good.

I was a little surprised at the color of this risotto. I guess I expected it to be more of a bright green, but it wasn't even close to that color. I liked the flavor, but I might actually use more peas next time. I didn't happen to have any mint available, although I can see how that would be a lovely flavor with the peas. I used parsley, since it was the herb that I happened to have on hand.

Sweet Pea Risotto
Adapted from A Recipe for Cooking by Cal Peternell.

1 1/2 pounds English peas, shelled (about 1 1/2 cup, divided) - I used frozen peas
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided (or to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken stock, hot
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons thinly sliced mint leaves (I used parsley)

In a very small saucepan, combine 3/4 cup of the peas with 2 tablespoons butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and enough water to not-quite cover the peas. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until very tender.

Pay attention to how long the peas take to cook, since this will help you figure out when to add your peas to the finished risotto. Since I like the frozen peas just barely warmed, I added them at the end of the cooking time. But, if you like your peas soft and squishy, do pay attention to the cooking time.

When the peas are done, push them through a sieve, or use a blender or other device to turn them into a puree. I used a stick blender right in the pot I cooked them in. Easy peasy.

Heat a medium skillet over high heat and add the oil and 2 more tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Stir until it sizzles noisily, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring as needed, until the onions are soft. This will take 15-20 minutes.

If the onions start browning before they're soft, add a splash of water or put a lid on the pan.
Once the onions are cooked, raise the heat to medium high and add the rice along with 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for two minutes, until the rice toasts a little, stirring often.

Add the wine, let it bubble for 30 seconds, then lower the heat and add 1 cup of the hot chicken stock. Keep the heat at a level that gives you a lively simmer, but not a boil. Stir to keep the rice from sticking.

When the liquid is nearly gone, add another cup of stock and stir often. Continue stirring and adding stock in the same way. This procedure takes about 20 minutes from the time the wine is added, so add the peas at the appropriate time so they're cooked to your liking.

Keep adding liquid and stirring until the rice is tender but still has a little bite. If you run out of stock, add water.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, the pureed peas, and the parmesan. (This is when I added the whole peas.) Stir energetically for 15 seconds. Taste and add salt, if needed.

Let the risotto rest, off the heat and covered, for a couple minutes for it to gather itself. Sprinkle with the mint (I used parsley) and serve.

About the book:

This book has a rather interesting organization. First, it's organized by courses, which is pretty common. But then, within courses, most are organized by season. I like to cook seasonally, as much as possible.

On the other hand, some foods are not particularly seasonal. The recipes in the "second course" section are not organized by season, which makes sense. The recipe for fish cakes didn't require any ingredients that wouldn't be available at any time of the year. Others, like lasagna, struck me as a cold-weather food, but I wouldn't turn it down at any time of the year.

The sweet pea risotto I made was considered a spring dish, which makes sense if you're planning on using fresh peas. But, since frozen are so easy to find, season didn't matter.

My suggestion is to look at recipes for your current season, but look at the others as well. Because you never know what might sound appealing.

There are a lot of appealing recipes here. The recipe instructions tend to be wordy, so they look more complicated than they are. The extra wordiness is actually useful information along with tips on what to look for as you cook - so don't be put off by recipes that span multiple pages.

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

Monday, December 12, 2016

Cholaca Chocolate ice Cream

Thanks to blogger events sponsored by Sprouts (the grocery store, not bean sprouts or anything peculiar like that), I keep finding new products that I absolutely go crazy over. This time around, it's a chocolate product called Cholaca.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Liquid cacao. You have to try this.

This stuff is like liquid happiness. Which, actually, it is, since it boosts seratonin levels, and that's the stuff that makes you happy. Plus, it has theobromine, which boosts energy. After sampling way more Cholaca products than a normal person would consume on a normal day (except maybe for Ira, who runs the company) I was feeling energized and happy. In a good way.

And without the jitters that I sometimes get with coffee. Which is awesome.

The first thing I sampled was a special concoction that Ira had discovered when he went into the kitchen for an afternoon pick-me-up of Cholaca, while a co-worked was grabbing a can of Coke. Ira had the bright idea to pour a little Cholaca into some Coke. He was telling a few of us about this, and when we expressed curiosity (horror? amazement?) he skedaddled off and came back with a can of coke and some Cholaca. So of course we had to try that. It was different, but good.

And that's where the epic chocolate journey started.

This is where it ended. Mmm. Ice cream.
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So anyway, the main product that Cholaca makes is a liquid cacao that's emulsified with water to make it drinkable. There are three different versions, but the only difference is the sweetness level. The original has just a little coconut sugar. There's a sweet version that has a little more coconut sugar. And there's an unsweetened version. They suggest a 2-ounce shot as an energy booster and happiness maker. Or mix it with some milk and heat it up for a crazy good hot chocolate.

If you've read this blog more than once, you probably know that I don't like coconut. However (mysteriously) coconut sugar is fine. Probably because it's made from the sap and not the fruit. Just like maple syrup is made from maple sap and not ... uh ... some other part of the tree.

So anyway, the next thing we tried was a straight-up shot of Cholaca that was served in a cute little jar. I polished that off in no time. And then we moved on to hot chocolate. Oh heck yeah. The hot chocolate was freaking amazing. And not overly sugary.

And then the chocolate wafers appeared. Wafers! These are intended as baking chocolate and are totally unsweetened. Right now, there are two different types available based on the country of origin, so you can choose Cholaca wafers from Ecuador or from Peru.

Have you ever tasted unsweetened chocolate? It's pretty ... not so good. But I ate a couple wafers while we decorated gingerbread cookies. The wafers were actually very nice, thanks to the high level of cocoa butter that's in them (this is what Ira told me).

By that time I was super-happy and made a demented gingerbread dude with part of his arm eaten by a shark. He got a little smudged during the trip home, but I think it only adds to the appeal.

Download this photo as a coloring book page!

And then we made a sugar scrub using white sugar, coconut sugar, cholaca, olive oil, and coconut oil. At that point, I wanted to just dive in and eat the scrub, coconut and all, but I decided I should behave myself.

And then there were the parting gifts from Cholaca. We each got a bottle of Cholaca (we got to choose between original and sweet) and some of those wafers. And a cute mug. And the jar of sugar scrub (I put mine in a different container when I got it home) and of course we brought home the cookies, too. No, they didn't give us ice cream to take home.

Oh, and if you're wondering how I made ice cream when that bottle of Cholaca seems to be full, it's because I immediately bought MORE of it.

Oh! Those wafers! I've set mine aside to bake with. I have ideas. Ira popped in during the cookie decorating to mention that the wafers might not be a perfect substitute for regular baking chocolate in a recipe because of the high cocoa butter content.

No worries. I think I can handle that.

At some point during the evening, I mentioned that I wanted to put Ira in a bottle and take him home with me. I have no idea what that even means, but his enthusiasm was obvious. He loves his job. He loves chocolate. He wants everyone to get to know the best chocolate in the entire world!!! Yup, he really loves his product. But he talked about it in an engaging way, and not in a pushy way and he spent some time talking about where the cacao is grown and how he's helping the local farmers. It was really interesting, but I was itching use the Cholaca in a recipe.

I had the good sense not to start cooking when I got home (although I was tempted) but it wasn't long before I decided to use some of the liquid Cholaca to make ice cream. The wafers will have to wait a bit, but I already have sooooo many ideas.

Okay, many of the ideas involve me hoarding the wafers and popping them into my mouth on a regular basis. But I might have to make brownies. Or ... something.

But first, Cholaca ice cream.

This is a very creamy ice cream, and not crazy sweet. It's not a super-dark-chocolate ice cream, so if that's what you're looking for, you'll need to add more chocolate in some form. I liked it the way it was, though.

Cholaca Chocolate Ice Cream

1 cup heavy cream
2 cups half-and-half
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Cholaca original
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix everything together until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. If the mixture isn't super-cold (most of the ingredients should be cold, except that sugar, right?) place it in the refrigerator to get a little chillier.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instruction.

Transfer to a storage container and freeze until firm. There is likely to be a little bit that doesn't fit in your container. I suggest you eat that right away. Quality control is very important, you know.

Thanks to Sprouts for sponsoring the event, supplying additional non-Cholaca goodies, and of course thanks to Cholaca for hosting and supplying their products. 

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.