Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Dinner

So, we were going to have steak au poivre this Christmas, but I didn't like the looks of the tenderloin I found. I did find this one-bone prime rib roast/steak at a very decent price, though.

It's a bit less than three pounds, which is just about right for two people - and an excellent opportunity to try it in the sous-vide unit.

Since I don't have much imagination, I'll just try this Penzey's sampler for a rub.

Here it is rubbed and bagged:

Into the tank at 129°F for four hours. Meanwhile, sides and dessert. Here's a batch of roasted red potatoes with caramelized onions tossed with a little black truffle oil:

And a cherry pie from the frozen foods section of my local mega-mart. Yeah, I know, but I'm not making everything from scratch - and Marie Callender's is pretty good.

Not shown: steamed asparagus, because that's just boring, and horseradish sauce for the meat.

Here's the roast after coming out of the tank, with "drippings" - just about a couple of teaspoons - not enough to bother with.

Not very appetizing, is it? 

I had been planning to finish it in a hot oven with a garlic/thyme/rosemary and olive oil paste, but instead opted to simply sear it with a butane torch.

Yeah, that's much better. Here it is with the bone off and split in half so we can see that it's been cooked to the proper rare / medium-rare temperature.

And plated. This was really quite good, and a lot less fuss than traditional roasting. Definitely something to repeat.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sous Vide (for real this time)

Hmm, what has the FedEx man brought today?

Aha! It appears to be the sous-vide unit I ordered about six weeks ago! I wrote a while back about sort-of doing sous-vide in a plastic cooler and hot water, but this is the real deal - it's the new Anova unit, which I bought via a kickstarter pledge.

Here it is out of that weird box. Not much to look at; just a clip, a head unit with the heating and circulating systems integrated, and a sleeve. No user's manual.

I downloaded the manual, and it really didn't tell me anything I couldn't figure out just by looking at the front panel. It also didn't tell me anything about the Android app that's supposed to come with it (I found out later that the app is still in development, but there's a third-party one already available).

So, let's set it up:

It's nice and quiet, for one thing. And the interface is pretty easy; you just turn a wheel up and down to set the target temperature.

So let's make something! First up, some corvina with butter and fresh thyme:

On a whim, I also added a pouch of brussels sprouts, garlic, and olive oil:

Here's what it looks like in the tank:

Kind of boring, really. I just let it whir around in there at 134°F for a while (sprouts, 2 hours; fish, 1 hour). This is a fish I usually flour, sear in olive oil, and poach in wine - and for brussels sprouts I like to blanch, followed by a saute with the garlic and finish with a little soy sauce.

The results were, well, okay. The fish tried very hard to fall apart, and the vegetables were underdone. If I do this again I'll at least halve the sprouts, probably not cook the fish quite so much, and maybe finish both under a hot broiler.

Next up, let's try some salmon with a honey/dijon/curry glaze. Here it is prepped:

... and in the pouches:

.. and immediately after coming out of the tank (130°F for an hour):

.. and, finally, on the plate after having been run under the broiler for a bit. The sauce is just some leftover glaze warmed in the microwave, and the accompaniments are some leftover rice pilaf and some Trader Joe's frozen green beans. This was very good. 

How about some soft-cooked eggs? These were cooked at 149°F for 13 minutes:

Not too bad - the yolks were just a little less runny than I like, but the whites were not completely set. Turns out eggs are a little fussy, but someone pointed me to a pretty good webpage describing all sorts of time/temperature variations for eggs. I need to try the poaching method shown there.

What I've really been itching to try, though, are duck breasts. It took me a while to find these - Whole Foods, Central Market, Sprouts, Trader Joe's, and a local butcher were all strikeouts. I finally found them at an Asian supermarket.

Here's what they look like raw, with just some salt and pepper:

And in pouches:

After a turn in the tank at 135°F for an hour:

That liquid on the side is just what was left over in the pouches. I'll use that for a little pan sauce.

We need to finish the breasts by searing skin-side-first: 

After a while, we can see just how much fat will render out of that duck skin.

I flipped them and did the other side for about a minute, then let them rest a bit, sliced and plated: 

The sauce on the side is just apricot preserves warmed with a little dry mustard. The topping on the duck is fried shallots, and they're finished with the aforementioned pouch "drippings," reduced just a bit, and some toasted and crushed sichuan peppercorns. 

This was quite tasty and will definitely be repeated.

Anyway: this is a neat little toy; it doesn't take much storage space, and it wasn't all that pricey. I'm going to find a lot of use for it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spaghetti Carbonara

This is a simple dish with few ingredients, but the preparation can be a little fussy. Timing is critical - it's the kind of thing you want to have everything prepped and ready to go for before starting.

Here are the ingredients: spaghetti, eggs, parmesan cheese, and bacon. Pancetta is of course the traditional meat component, but I like the smokiness of good American bacon. And use a high-quality pasta - this is a very nice spaghetti alla chitarra I found locally.

Yes, I weigh my pasta. I'm weird like that. 

Here's the prep work (almost) completed. I don't beat the egg till the pasta is almost done - the first time I had this, in a restaurant, it was served with just the egg yolk in half a shell, the idea being that I would mix it into the dish to finish the sauce. I certainly don't mind doing that, but it's easier to just do it in the kitchen.

Figure on one whole egg and half a cup of grated parmesan per half-pound of pasta. I've also added a little chopped parsley here.

Fry the bacon gently in a large sauté pan. If it renders a lot of grease, you can pour some of it off, but you do want some. I tend to leave about a tablespoon or two. Start the pasta when the bacon is about half done.

When it gets nice and crispy like this, just keep it warm while you finish boiling the pasta. Beat the egg(s) when the pasta is about a minute or two from completion.

When the pasta is done, dump it into the pan with just a little pasta water - I have about 1/4 cup here, I think. Stir it up really well, and...

.. stir in the egg very quickly, while the pasta is still really hot. You want to cook the egg without letting it curdle, so don't let the egg pool in the pan.

Finally, stir in the cheese. Keep moving the pasta around until all of the cheese melts. Add a little more pasta water if the sauce needs to be loosened up a bit. If you're adding parsley (as I am here), stir it in right at the end.

And here it is plated, with a nice green salad. This is a really rich and satisfying dish, and kind of a nice break from the heavier tomato- or cream-based sauces we Americans tend to take our pasta with. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lentil Soup

I have fond memories of eating lentils with rice on a couple of week-long Boy Scout hikes across the Isthmus of Panama. There's not much that's more restorative to body and spirit after a day of a long slog, much of it in thigh-deep water, up and over the Continental Divide, particularly when paired with a good bit of Tabasco Sauce. We changed it out for red or black beans from night to night to vary the menu, but that was the typical fare - good, hearty campesino fare, augmented on at least a couple of nights with some wild turkey. (The bird, not the whiskey - remember, we were Boy Scouts.)

Lentils make great soup, too. This is an adaptation of something I found in the latest Joy of Cooking. I started out by making a simple stock from the bone out of a pork roast that I'd used for something else, and two quarts of water:

I know, that picture isn't very exciting. Trust me, though; good things are going on inside that pressure cooker. Meanwhile, I prepped everything else, starting with picking over the lentils.

It used to be the case that you'd always find a rock or two in a package of dried beans or lentils. Nowadays, not so much - I think they've gotten pretty good about cleaning them in processing.

We still have to wash them, of course. I like this Japanese rice-washing bowl for that. Note the slots in the pour spout - those allow us to wash and drain the lentils (or rice, etc.) in the same vessel. 

And here are most of the rest of the raw ingredients: carrots, celery, garlic, onion, bacon, tomatoes, and thyme. 

You don't have to have a Belgian-style wit with some orange wedges squeezed into it on hand, but it helps. (Note to beer snobs: yes, I know Blue Moon is brewed by Coors.)

Chop up all the vegetables and the bacon:

Meanwhile, the pork bone has been in the pressure cooker for nearly an hour, and that's long enough. Here's the finished stock:

And the bone by itself. After it cools, I'll cut all the remaining meat off that bone and chop it up for the soup. No, the dogs don't get the bone - that thing's had all of its substance pretty well boiled out, and is too brittle for them to chew on.

Getting back to the vegetables, we sweat them in a bit of olive oil. We don't want them to get brown; just tender. 

Note that I'm using the pressure cooker even though I'm not going to cook this under pressure. Why dirty another pan?

Here's the rest of the ingredients: some leftover boiled potato and some Andouille sausage I had in the freezer. I'll dice the potatoes and slice up the sausage - so, no, this isn't a vegetarian dish.

Here's what we want the vegetables to look like:

Add the lentils, tomatoes, and thyme:

... and the stock. Bring it to a gentle boil and stir occasionally. 

After about an hour, it'll look like this:

Add in the potato and sausage, and the pork from the bone, and adjust the seasoning. This needed some salt and pepper, but I didn't want to salt it before it was done because of the bacon.

And here it is in a cup. I actually ended up thinning this out a bit more with some chicken stock. Damn fine eating on a cool day with some saltine crackers and a bit of Sriracha sauce.