Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Small-Batch Brownies

I really love to bake, but it seems sort of ridiculous to make a whole layer cake just for me. Fortunately, I have wonderful neighbors who are always willing to take in homeless baked goods. Still, a whole layer cake is a lot of cake, even when I have help eating it.

I usually look for recipes that make a single layer, or I cut the recipe in half, which isn't all that much fun when it uses 3 eggs. So, when a publisher offered me a copy of 175 Best Small-Batch Baking Recipes, I knew I had to try it.

Cake for one or two? Count me in. Don't worry, neighbors ... I'll still have plenty of goodies for you!

The first recipe I decided to try was for brownies. I love brownies, and they have the distinct advantage over other baked goods in that I like them when they're chilled, unlike many cakes that are best at room temperature. Storing them in the fridge gives them a longer life, so I can take my time eating them.

I was quite pleased to see that I had six different brownie recipes to choose from, including a white chocolate brownie with cranberries and hazelnuts. I chose a somewhat classic recipe that had nuts. It called for walnuts - which is pretty typical - but I used macadamia nuts, since I recently got some from a friend in Hawaii.

It's good to have friends.

One thing I thought was complete genius in this book was the way they handled pan size. They didn't suggest going out and buying some weird-sized pan to make the small batch in brownies. Instead, they use loaf pans. Wow. I never thought of that! And heavens knows I have enough loaf pans around here.

The recipe I chose made brownies that were a bit soft and cake-like and also a bit fudgy, but I think they would be more dense at sea level.

These don't include any leavening except the air beaten into the batter when the eggs are whisked, and that sort of whipped-in air tends to expand more up here in the mountains than it would where most people live.

The recipe was easy to make - I didn't even need a hand mixer. The ingredients all include metric measurements as well as US, so you can use whichever you prefer, and it also makes it easier if you prefer to weigh your dry ingredients rather than measure.

The recipe includes frosting, but I didn't make that. I prefer my brownies unadorned.

Chocolate Walnut Brownies
Adapted from 175 Best Small-Batch Baking Recipes by Jill Snider

2 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup butter
2 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I used macadamia nuts)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x5 loaf pan with parchment paper (I made a sling that covered the bottom and long sides) and spray with baking spray.

Put the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and heat on medium heat in 30-second increments, stirring after each heating, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until light and frothy (they might be easier to whisk in a larger bowl, but a medium bowl is all you need to hold the ingredients). Gradually add the sugar while whisking, until the mixture is thick. Whisk in the chocolate mixture and vanilla. Add the flour and walnuts and stir them in.

Bake in the preheated oven at 350 degrees until just set, about 20-25 minutes (mine took a bit longer). Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before removing using the sling.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Did you miss me? Coming Soon!

So ... I haven't been posting a lot lately. mostly because I've been so freaking busy with other things. I've been writing a lot, but I also spent some quality time at the International Housewares Show, where I put a lot of miles on my sneakers and I saw a whole lot of amazing cooking gadgets.

I'll be writing about some of the things I saw at the show, both here and on my gadget and review blog. I'm still sorting through photos and press releases and whatnot, but I'll have posts soon, I promise.

But for now, I'll leave you with this video of a new gadget coming this fall from KitchenAid.

What can you do with thinly sliced apples? Well, at the show they made wraps using a length of the apple as wrapping material, but this thing isn't just for apples. You could create long sheets of potatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers ... lots of different vegetables.

The options are endless.

This thing will be in my shopping cart as soon as it's available.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Do you need an Instant Pot? And here's some soup.

The Instant Pot sure as heck has become popular these days. But do you really need one?

First, let's clarify a bit. Instant Pot is a brand name. And it's a brilliant brand name. Who wouldn't want instant food?

The Instant Pot that most people talk about is an electric pressure cooker. There were electric pressure cookers on the market long before the Instant Pot arrived. But for some reason, the Instant Pot folks made an old appliance popular.

Because there were stovetop pressure cookers long before there were electric ones. Your grandmother might have even had one.

Now, the company has branched out and they're making other cooking devices as well. But we're not going to talk about them, okay?

The Instant Pots have a bunch of different buttons for poultry, meat, yogurt ... a newer model has a button for cooking eggs. Those buttons are all shortcuts for foods that people cook a lot. But you don't really need those buttons. I seldom use them. Instead, I use the slow cook mode, the pressure cooking mode, and the saute mode. Then I set my own time.

Easy peasy.

But do you really need one?


First, pressure cooking is not magic. Some people try to use the Instant Pot for everything, and then they end up with some recipes that don't turn out well, or they take just as long to cook as they would in the oven or on the stove.

You don't need a pressure cooker for foods that cook quickly. Like fish. And a chicken cooked in a pressure cooker isn't going to have a lovely brown crisp skin, like you'd get if you roasted it.

But it's great for cooking things that take a long time, like tough cuts of meat or dried beans. One of my favorite things to pressure cook is corned beef. It turns out tender and juicy. Never dry or stringy. It's great for making pot roast and beef stew in a fraction of the time it would take on the stove.

Since I work from home, I usually don't find myself in that position where I have a short time to cook something before dinner. So, I'm less interested in that sort of 30-minute hurry-up cooking than I am in making things that turn out better in a pressure cooker.

Besides tough cuts of meat, I love making cheesecakes in it. And it makes a wonderful rice pudding.

Sometimes, though, speed can be a plus. Like this soup I made. I started with a rotisserie chicken carcass, used the Instant Pot's slow cooker feature to make a broth, then I strained that and added some sliced carrots and diced onions. I let that cook on slow cooker mode while I went out to run some errands.

When I got home, the vegetables were almost cooked, but not quite. But I was getting hungry. So I set the Instant Pot for pressure cooking mode for 2 minutes. Just a guess on the time, but it was a good guess.

I added a can of corn, a small can of tomato puree, and some leftover rice and peas that I had in the fridge. After it was all mixed, I gave it a taste. Then I added salt, pepper, and lime juice.

So, yeah, sometimes it's good for speeding up cooking a little bit.

But do you need an actual Instant Pot, or will any brand do?

Tough call there.

Instant Pot has popularized the concept, and they've got an active online presence as well as a Facebook group. But there are other Facebook groups that talk about electric pressure cookers made by any brand. And some of the electric pressure cookers out there are made by companies that have a longer track record in the market than Instant Pot.

So ... do you need an electric pressure cooker?

Maybe.  I love mine and I use it often. Only you know if you'll want to use an electric pressure cooker, though.

Does it have to be an Instant Pot? Not really, but so far I love mine, and I've put away my previous one that was another brand. If you're thinking about buying an Instant Pot, keep in mind that they've been coming out with new models pretty regularly. So be sure you shop around to make sure you look at all those options.

One other thing that can make your pressure cooking more successful is a good cookbook. I happen to like The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book, but there are others. Make sure the book covers electric pressure cookers, though. The timing and methods are different than when you're using a stovetop model.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Will it Bread Machine? Rich bread with eggs and milk

I'll confess. I use my bread machine a lot more than most folks would imagine.

As much as I love the process of making bread, I don't always have time, and there are days when there are so many other things going on in the kitchen that there's just no way to find an unused swath of kitchen counter space to make the process pleasant.

I have a few basic recipes that I know will work, and I even wrote some recipes a bread machine (this Gourmia bread machine), so I'm comfortable with creating recipes. But the one thing I learned from my long association with bread machines is that not every traditional bread recipe will work in a bread machine.

But sometimes I throw caution to the wind, like with this recipe from a cookbook. Once again I'm making recipes from a cookbook that's being passed around in a cookbook group I belong to. The book is Small Victories by Julia Turshen.

The recipe, as written was for raspberry jam buns, but the last thing I needed was a batch of sweet buns. There were variations (called spin-offs in the book) for cinnamon rolls, garlic buns, herb goat cheese buns, monkey bread, salami or prosciutto bread, and buttery dinner rolls.

I considered making the dinner rolls, but still didn't want to fuss that much, so I decided to just toss all the ingredients in the machine and let 'er rip. I didn't warm the milk, as the instructions said, and the butter was straight from the refrigerator rather than at room temperature. It all went in, as is.

I used Red Star Platinum Yeast rather than regular active dry, but otherwise I used all the ingredients suggested. If you're using a different brand of active dry yeast than Red Star, you might need to soften the yeast in liquid before kneading since some of the active dry yeasts from other brands have a larger granule size that won't dissolve if it's put directly into the dough. If you use Platinum, Red Star Active Dry or any rapid or bread machine yeast, you don't need to soften the yeast before proceeding.

Bread Machine Egg and Milk Loaf
Inspired by Small Victories by Julia Turshen

3/4 cup whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons Red Star Platinum Yeast*
2 eggs
3 1/4 cups (390 grams) all purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I suggest 1 1/4 teaspoons)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss it all in the bread machine. I'd suggest cutting the butter into at least 4 pieces so it kneads into the dough easier. If you don't have Platinum yeast, that's fine - just use whatever yeast you like to use in your bread machine.

I used the basic bread setting, 2 1/2 pound loaf, and a medium crust. When I make this again, I'll use a light crust setting so the crust doesn't get quite as dark on the bottom and sides. It wasn't bad, and it wasn't burned, but is was a little darker and thicker that it needed to be.

And that's it. Set the machine, wait until it's done, and remove the loaf when it's done.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Chicken and Mushrooms

When I got the book Stacy Lyn's Harvest Cookbook, I saw a lot of recipes I wanted to make. But, like many books that celebrate harvests, it called for a lot of fresh ingredients that aren't particularly wonderful at the grocery store in February. While I probably could have bought strawberries, I know they would have been sub-par, and that's not fair to the recipe or to the rest of the ingredients.

I paged through the book until I saw the Chicken and Mushrooms over Cheesy Grits. It sounded good, and the ingredients all made sense at this time of year. But the grits. Sigh. I adore grits, but I had just made a batch of rice with saffron. So I skipped the grits (waaaah, I love grits) and I served the chicken with the rice.

I followed the recipe pretty closely except that when I grabbed the chicken stock, it was actually turkey stock. Oops.

Oh! And I used all crimini (aka baby bella) mushrooms. I'm not fond of shitaki mushrooms enough to want to buy them. So, instead of 1/2 pound of crimini, 1/4 of button, and 1/4 pound of shitaki, I used all crimini.

The other adjustment I made was that after the chicken was done, I thought the sauce was too thin, so I removed the chicken, removed the lid, and continued cooking the rest until the sauce was reduced and it had thickened more. The instructions called for cooking it "partially covered" which is open to interpretation. I guess mine was more covered than it should have been.

I think if I make it again, I'll cook uncovered at first and cover it if I think it needs to be covered. While it didn't look like it was going to be too liquidy when I first assembled it, the mushrooms exuded a lot of liquid during cooking. But some folks might prefer more liquid, so it's not a fault with the recipe, it's just a preference.

Chicken and Mushrooms
Adapted from Stacy Lyn's Harvest Cookbook by Stacy Lyn Harris

4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots cut into 1-inch pieces (I had small carrots, so I used 4)
1 pound crimini mushrooms
1 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken stock

Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish, then coat the chicken with the flour. Save about 1 tablespoon of the flour remaining in the plate.

Put the oil in a large pot and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken and cook until brown on all sides. Remove the chicken from the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions, and cook for 2 minutes (I cooked mine a bit longer, until the onions were softened a bit). Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, then add the flour and cook for one more minute, stirring.

Add the broth, carrots, mushrooms, and rosemary. Return the chicken to the pan, along with any juices that came out of the chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil, then partially cover the pot and lower the heat so it simmers. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle and the vegetables are tender.

At this point, I removed the chicken so it wouldn't overcook, and I removed the lid and increased the heat to thicken and reduce the sauce. You might or might not need to do this.

Serve over rice, grits, or whatever you prefer.

About the book: There are a lot of recipes here that I'll try when there are more fresh fruits and vegetables in season. My one quibble about the book isn't the recipes, but the printing. It's a pretty book, no doubt, but a lot of the recipes are printed on pages that have colored, patterned backgrounds. It's certainly lovely to look at, but it makes the text harder to read. Not impossible, but not as easy to read at a glance as if the page had black ink on plain white paper.

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

Friday, February 3, 2017

Sous Vide Rack of Lamb

While rack of lamb isn't something I make often, it sure as heck doesn't need to be saved for special occasions. I mean, everything goes on sale once in a while, and when that happens, I take advantage.

As far as cooking it, of course I cooked it sous vide. It's my favorite way to cook a lot of different kinds of meats, and it's particularly good when you want an exact doneness.

And, unlike when you're roasting, you get the same doneness all the way through. You don't end up overcooking the thinner parts or the outside edges. and you don't have to watch it like a hawk. If it cooks a little longer because you didn't hear the alarm, it's not going to get ruined.

This was insanely easy, and it was done pretty quickly, too. While this was a "just for me" splurge, this would be a great main dish for company. To make it even easier, you could cook the meat sous vide the day before, then sear it right before serving, to get that nice crust and to warm the inside.

Sous Vide Rack of Lamb
Depending on the size of the rack and what else you're serving, figure on 2-4 chops per person.

1 8-bone rack of lamb
Salt and pepper, to taste
Greek seasoning mix*
Olive oil

Heat the sous vide water to 135 degrees.

Sprinkle the rack of lamb with the salt, pepper, and seasoning, to taste. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough to moisten, and rub the seasoning onto the meat.

Place the meat in a sous vide bag, vacuum, and seal.

Place the bagged lamb in the water and cook at 135 degrees for 1 hour.

Remove the bag from the water. Remove the lamb from the bag and pat dry.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan until it's just about smoking. Sear the lamb, fat side down, until it's brown and crispy, then sear on the other sides.

Let the lamb rest for a few minutes before slicing into individual chops.

*Or use any spices or any spice mix you like. With lamb, I like oregano or rosemary with lemon, but feel free to use anything you like.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Sous Vide Shrimp - Perfectly Cooked for Shrimp Cocktail! Plus a Super-Quick Sauce!

Oh, look, another sous vide post.

Don't worry. It's not going to be all sous vide all the time. But I'm working my way through sous vide cookbooks, looking for the one that will be my go-to book. This time, the book is The Essential Sous Vide Cookbook by Sarah James. I bought this one because the author had a pretty good track record working for Instructables.

Raw, shell-on shrimp were on sale at my local grocery store, so I bought 2 pounds, then I decided to see if the book had any sous vide recipes. Yup. There was a very simple recipe, which was exactly what I was looking for. With sous vide recipes, my first concern is whether the cooking time and temperature will work. If that doesn't work, the rest of the recipe doesn't matter.

Shrimp is a good candidate for sous vide cooking since shrimp go from undercooked to overcooked in the blink of an eye. Overcooked shrimp are the most likely result because if you cook them until they're done, the carryover heat takes care of the overcooking. And then they're kind of tough and rubbery.

The instructions were simply. Put the cleaned peeled shrimp into a sous vide bag with a little bit of olive oil or butter so they'll fit in a single layer. I used butter.

Then, cook at 130 degrees for 15 minutes, drop the bag into cold water to begin the cooling process, then refrigerate. Then the shrimp can be used in salads, with cocktail sauce, or however you want to serve them. The interesting thing was that two recipes where the shrimp was served hot used a temperature of 135 degrees for 30 minutes, with no interim chilling.

But for chilled shrimp, I'm going to say this time and temperature was really nice. I also tossed some into hot leftover fried rice, and the were perfect for that, too.

Sous Vide Shrimp
Adapted from The Essential Sous Vide Cookbook by Sarah James

1-2 pounds of raw, peeled, cleaned shrimp
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter

Heat the water to 130 degrees.

Place the shrimp and butter into a sous vide bag so they'll fit in a single layer.

Put the bag into the sous vide water and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the bag from the water and place it in cold water to start the chilling process, then refrigerate until fully chilled.

Serve cold in salad, with cocktail sauce, or however you like. I even stirred them into some leftover vegetable stir-fried rice that I had left over. So yum!

Super-Quick Cocktail Sauce

This is pretty much the only cocktail sauce I ever had when I was a kid. We always used a brand-name chili sauce to make the sauce, but the folks at Kam's Kettle Cooked sent me some of their mild-flavored sauce as a sample(they make both mild and hot), so I used that instead. Their sauce has a slightly spicier flavor which worked perfectly well for my cocktail sauce.

To make the cocktail sauce, just mix chili sauce with jarred horseradish - whatever proportion you like. As horseradish sits around, it loses strength, so if you have a fresh jar, you might just need a tiny bit. If the jar has been hanging around a while, it will take more to get the same kick. If the jar has been around for a long time, it might have no life left, so it's time to buy a new jar.

If you make too much cocktail sauce for the amount of shrimp you have, mix it with some mayonnaise and a little bit of chopped sweet pickle or sweet pickle relish to make Thousand Island salad dressing.

About the cookbook: I've only made this one recipe from this book, so I can't really draw an opinion yet. I'll be making more recipes soon. The book was NOT free from the publisher. I bought this one.

And here's a bonus for you. Download the Shrimp Fried Rice photo as a coloring book page. It's free. No obligation, no need to sign up for anything. Here's my artwork:

For more blog posts coloring pages, click here or click the Coloring Book Pages tab at the top.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Sous Vide Scrambled Eggs

If you're scratching your head and wondering if I've gone off the deep end with all of these sous vide recipes lately ... well, maybe.

But also, I got a few cookbooks with sous vide recipes that I wanted to try. I recently bought Richard Blais's book Try This At Home, and when I browsed through it, the sous vide scrambled eggs caught my eye.

They're not really a recipe, I guess, but more of a side note about cooking technique. The actual recipe was Riley's Scrambled Eggs with Asparagus and Hollandaise.

I didn't make the asparagus or the hollandaise. But I used the sous vide method to cook some eggs.

The Recipe(ish):

Basically, you whisk together 4 eggs and a tablespoon of milk, along with salt and/or pepper to make you happy.

Preheat the sous vide water to 168 degrees, then drop the bag in for 10 minutes.

Fish the bag out, mush the eggs around in the bag (you'll see some very yellow uncooked yolk in the center of the eggs in the bag) and drop it back into the water for another five minutes, or however long it takes for the eggs to set.

The Results

The first time I tried this, there was a bit too much of the super-loose egg for my taste, so I decided to cook the eggs longer the next time. Then I decided I wanted the eggs a little firmer, too, so I increased the temperature.

Honestly, I'm still fiddling with this. It's not that the recipe is bad, it's just that everyone's taste in eggs is a little different. I think for me, the sweet spot will be somewhere around 171 degrees. Maybe 170. See, it's not that much different from his favorite temperature, but it does make a difference when cooking something like eggs where they can go from custard to curd in the blink of an eye.

As for the book, there are some recipes here than I'm pretty sure I'll make, a lot that I will use as inspiration or that I'll make one component but not the whole shebang, and then a bunch more that I'll probably try as-is.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Instant Pot vs. Sous Vide! A Saucy Food Fight featuring Baby Back Ribs

I've been doing a lot of sous vide cooking lately, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. So, when I picked up a pack of baby back ribs, I decided I'd give them a try. I've cooked pork loins and pork chops with great success.

One thing I've found with many meats I've cooked via sous vide is that if I want to brown them after cooking, it works best to refrigerate the meat first to let it cool down. For me, this means I usually cook the food so it's ready the day before I actually want it, then I refrigerate overnight.

On the day I want to dine, I finish cooking. This way, I'm just searing the outside and warming the middle, rather than driving more heat into the meat, which could overcook it.

This might not be necessary with every cut of meat, but I also find it convenient, particularly for small, thinner cuts. The meat is fully cooked and resting in the refrigerator so I can have it on the table in a very short time when I decide I'm hungry. And these days I'm mostly cooking smaller cuts of meat.

Except when I go on a pork rib binge. That's totally different.

So anyway, After puttering around a bit, I decided to cook the meat three different ways. First, I cooked one batch in my Instant Pot, using my usual method. I know this method works, and I wanted it to be my control sample.

This isn't the same as cooking ribs on a grill or in a smoker, but it makes decent ribs. And crazy fast.

Then I started looking up sous vide recipes. I didn't care so much about spices or sauces, but I wanted to pick two different cooking temperatures and times, to test the results.  I settled on 165 degrees for 12 hours for one batch and and 145 degrees for 36 hours for the other batch.

I cut each rack in half to fit the bags, and for the fun of it, I put a little bit of sauce in one of each pair of bags. I don't know if that made a heck of a difference. I think a little bit of the sauce flavor did get into the ribs, but not so much that it made a huge difference once the ribs were sauced and broiled.

Next time, I might try a rub and see how that works.

When the pressure-cooked ribs were done, I slathered them with sauce, then broiled them to get the sauce all sticky and bubbly.

When the sous vide ribs were done, I let them cool slightly, then tossed them in the fridge, still in their bags. When I wanted to eat them, I took them out of their bags, got rid of the accumulated juices, slathered them with sauce, and broiled them just like I broiled the pressure cooked ribs.

And yes, I had two pots with different sous vide sticks set for different temperatures going at the same time. I know how to have fun!

The Results!

The winner, for me, was the sous vide ribs cooked for 12 hours at 165 degrees. They were slightly pink, very plump and juicy, and super tender. They still hung onto the bone when I cut them into single ribs, and when I bit into them, my teeth knew I was biting something.

They also fared well when reheated, which I find is pretty typical with sous vide meats. They don't seem to tighten up or dry out as quickly as conventionally cooked foods. Of course, the sensible thing to do was to broil as many ribs as I needed rather than broiling all, but I did have to reheat some and I didn't notice any quality issues.

12 hours at 165 degrees

The second best were the pressure cooked ribs. They were also plump and tender, but not pink and not quite as juicy, particularly when I reheated them. What, you thought I ate all of them in one big meal? And not quite as ... hmmm ... fluffy, I guess, compared to the sous vide ribs. Yup, the pressure cooked were just a little more dense than sous vide. Which is actually okay, I like that texture a lot, too.

I'm sure I'll still be pressure cooking ribs once in a while. It's so fast! I can bring home a slab of ribs from the grocery store and have dinner in a reasonably short time. The other advantage to the pressure cooked ribs, though, is that I save the stock and use it to make tomato soup.

Pressure-cooked ribs. Recipe here.

My least favorite (although not actually bad) was the batch cooked at 145 degrees for 36 hours. They were a little too tender for my liking. I had a hard time cutting them into individual ribs because as soon as there was slight pressure from the knife, they just slid off the bone. When I bit into them, it was almost like the meat flaked apart (kind of like flaky fish) rather my teeth letting me know we were biting into something meaty.

While the ribs at the thicker end of the rack fared better, some of them were verging towards being a little overcooked and dry, too. And some parts were pinkish while the thinner sections were more white. I might try the 145 temperature again, but this time limit it to a 24-hour cook time.

36 hours at 145 degrees
Of course, preferences for cooked-rib texture is a personal thing. You might like yours softer than I do, or you might not want to see any pink in the meat. Or you might appreciate more chew. Make 'em the way you like 'em!

Have you tried sous vide cooking yet? What's your favorite recipe? Or, if you're curious about it, is there anything you'd like to see me try?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Vanilla Ice Cream

Click here for a coloring book version of this!
Vanilla ice cream might sound ... well, plain vanilla. But it's a good test of a new ice cream book. And just because I made unadorned vanilla ice cream doesn't mean I ate it that way. I had plenty of dulce de leche to use up from my recent sous vide experiments.

And to be honest, I like vanilla ice cream a lot. If it's made well, and it's rich and creamy, and it was made with good vanilla extract, it can stand on its own, without strong flavor covering the vanilla-ness.

Speaking of books, this recipe was from The Homemade Ice Cream Recipe Book by Robin Donovan. I got it from the publisher and immediately started to browse. The first thing that struck me was that many of the recipe used the same proportion of cream to milk to eggs - two cups of cream to one cup of milk to six eggs.

At first, I thought, uh oh, there are going to be a bunch of recipes that are all the same except one will have vanilla extract and another will have mint. But after looking more, that's not the case. That ratio happens to be a very good one for making a rich ice cream, so it makes sense that it's used over and over.

The funny thing is that I got another book recently (not an ice cream book) that had an ice cream recipe with the same ratio. Like I said, it makes good ice cream. And it's the right amount to fit into most home ice cream makers, so that's probably the reason it's so common.

The first chapter with recipes is called Classics and Standouts, and it's the more common flavors, from vanilla to mint chip to cookies and cream. The next is chocolatey flavors, followed by nutty, fruity, and party flavors, followed by a chapter of sherbets and frozen yogurts. It finishes with a chapter of cones, toppings, and other non-ice cream recipes.

I already have a couple of ice cream books, but it's always fun to try new recipes. The brown butter pecan is definitely on my list to try. Meanwhile, I was really happy with this vanilla. It uses a little less sugar than my standard for this amount - I usually use 3/4 cup, while this uses 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons. And I was perfectly happy with that level of sweetness, AND the texture of the ice cream.

Vanilla Ice Cream
Adapted The Homemade Ice Cream Recipe Book by Robin Donovan

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

The recipe suggests cooking this mixture in a double boiler. I've done that and I've also cooked it on the stove. And I've cooked it in the Kitchenaid Precise Heat Bowl, which is very precise and won't overcook the mixture. Do it any way you're comfortable - the key is to heat it slowly and never let it get so hot that the eggs begin to scramble, because that's just ugly.

Combine the cream, sugar, egg yolks, and salt in your preferred cooking vessel. Heat slowly, stirring continuously, until it thickens and reaches a temperature of 170-175 degrees.

Strain the mixture though a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Add the milk and vanilla to the bowl and stir well. To speed cooling you can set this bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice water and stir until it has cooled down. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. When frozen, transfer to a storage container and freeze until firm.

I received the cookbook from the publisher at no cost to me.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Sous Vide Beef Roast (and some Dulce de Leche for dessert!)

Click here for a line art version of this photo that you can color!
I've become quite enamored with sous vide cooking. It's foolproof (with a good recipe) and much of the cooking is hands-off. Just put the food in the bag (with or without seasonings or other stuff), seal it, and drop it in the pot. Set the and temperature, and you don't have to think about it until it's done.

Much of the time, I cook the food and then refrigerate it until the next day, when I sear or broil it to get some browning on the outside. And of course, this also heats it up to serving temperature.

This time, my sous vide cooking was inspired by a new cookbook, The Complete Sous Vide Cookbook by Chris McDonald. Since the recipes are soooo easy, you're getting both a beef roast and some dulce de leche.

I hadn't heard of the author before, so I was wasn't sure how reliable the recipes would be. Sous vide cooking isn't like any other method when it comes to temperature and timing, so that's why it's a good idea to start with a good recipe, before you wander off on your own.

In this case, I actually did do some wandering. The recipe was designed for a prime rib roast, but I cooked a New York strip roast instead. I figured it wouldn't be too terribly different, since it's a tender roast that could use the same kind of cooking. Turns out, I was right. It was just as tender as when I've done rib roasts.

The one thing that's a little different with this recipe is that you preheat the water to a hotter temperature, then lower the temperature for the cooking time. I've never done that before - I usually just put the food in the water bath and let it heat up to the cooking temperature before I start timing the cooking.

I don't know if this method made a difference in the final product, but it worked well, and it made sense. When the cool roast went into the hot water, the temperature dropped to close to the final cooking temperature, so it was ready to start the timing.

Sous Vide New York Strip Roast
Adapted from The Complete Sous Vide Cookbook by Chris McDonald

1 New York strip roast or boneless rib roast
Olive oil, as needed
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the water bath to 190 degrees.

Meanwhile, rub olive oil over the roast and season with salt and pepper. You could also use another spice mix or rub. I actually used a seasoning that's made by my local butcher shop.

Place the roast in the sous vide bag and vacuum seal. Put it in the water bath, reduce the temperature to 134 degrees, and cook for 9 hours.

Remove the pouch from the water and let it stand for 20-30 minutes, then remove it from the pouch, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate fro 20-30 minutes.

Note: I just chucked mine in the refrigerator and seared it the next day. By the time it was browned, it was warmed to a decent serving temperature.

Preheat a grill to medium-high (I used a cast iron frying pan).

Put the roast on the grill and brown on all sides.

Transfer to a cutting board and slice against the grain.

Dulce de Leche

Click here for a line art version of this photo you can color!
If you've ever looked at recipes where you're supposed to put a whole can of condensed milk in a pot and cook it ... and you've wondered if that's a safe and sane thing to do, this method of making dulce de leche is pretty foolproof.

Just transfer one can of sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk!) to a sous vide bag and seal (don't vacuum it into your machine - just get most of the air out and then seal it).

I tried this method with plain sweetened condensed milk, and with chocolate sweetened condensed milk. Both worked fine.

Heat the sous vide bath to 200 degrees. Place the bag in the water and cook for 8-10 hours. I tried both 8 hours and 10 hours, and didn't see a difference. So cook it for however long is convenient for you.

Remove the bag from the bath and transfer the dulce de leche to a storage container.

I found the easiest way to get the dulce de leche out of the bag was to snip a corner and squeeze it out as soon as it was reasonable to handle. If you wait until it's room temperature, you can still squeeze it out, but it's pretty thick, so it's not as easy.

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