Category: Recipes

Sous-vide cooking with our new Anova Cooker

Sous-vide cooking with our new Anova Cooker

Sous-vide cooking amounts to putting your food in a sealed plastic bag and immersing it in a temperature controlled water bath for an hour or so. Until recently, sous-vide cookers had cost several hundred dollars, but the latest models are about $100 and suitable for Christmas presents. Our new Anova Nano Precision cooker is just such a device, and we report here on our first experiences with it.

The essence of sous-vide cookery is immersing your food (meat, fish or some vegetables)  in a water bath at just the temperature you want the food to reach. For example, if you want a steak to have an internal temperature of 130˚ F, you put your steak in a vacuum sealed bag in a temperature-controlled water bath at 130˚ F for about an hour. The entire steak will have an internal temperature of 130˚ rather than just the middle. You finish the steak with a quick browning in a pan to give you the outer crust you’d expect.

The Anova cooker is a well-made, compact appliance that you clamp to the side of any fairly deep pot. It comes with minimal documentation (a tiny 5-page leaflet) directing you to download the Anova app for your smart phone.

This app immediately connects to the Anova via Bluetooth, allowing you to manage the settings from your phone. Use of the app is not entirely transparent: you would think that you could adjust the temperature and time from the app, bit you can actually only select times and temperatures associated with various recipes within the app: Beef Poultry, Eggs, Fish and seafood, Lamb, Port and Vegetables (Carrots and Corn only).

Steak

We bought some on-sale prime sirloin steak for our first experiment, placing the seasoned steak into a gallon zip lock bag with some seasonings.

We set the Anova for 130˚ using the app. This took a little fiddling, as it was not obvious at first ow to switch from Rare to Medium Rare. You just swipe right to move to the next temperature setting, but there was no indication on the screen that it was swipe-able. You should bring the water to temperature before putting the meat in. Since you can get tap water at 130˚, this is not too difficult. For high temperatures, you need to use your stove to heat the water, as the Anova takes quite a while to get to higher temperatures.

You slowly lower the bag into the water, letting the water pressure force out the air, and then seal the bag. It should sink in the water if you got most of the air out. We started the cooker, and an hour later had cooked, steak but with a gray exterior. We browned it in a cast-iron pan and then served it.  It was as good as the steak, which in this case was modest, but the cooker worked like a charm.

Chicken Breasts

We also followed the recipe provided with the cooker for chicken breasts.

Nearly all of these are by noted food writer Kenji Lopez-Alt. In those case, we put each of two breast halves in a separate 1 quart zip lock bag with a little oil and a sprig of rosemary and cooked them at 150˚ F for one hour. Then, we browned the chicken skin on a fry pan and deboned the breast easily. We sliced each breast up for serving and ate it with gusto. The breast was perfectly cooked and juicy, unlike nearly all other chicken breast recipes and an simple evening meal. It was great.

sliced

Carrots

carrot bag

To cook carrots, you cut them into 1-2 inch pieces, bag them and add a bit of sugar and butter, and seal them for immersion. We simply were not able to get all the air out of the bag because of the irregularity of the carrot pieces. We tried weight the bag by clamping a spoon to it, but the bag leaked and the carrots were not fully cooked. You also have to raise the water bath to 183˚ and this is beat done on the stove. You probably need to invest in a vacuum sealer to do carrots, but since we have a number of recipes for carrots already, this is not that urgent.

It’s not clear how often we’ll use our cooker, but it is very easy to use with the smartphone app and the results are really impressive. We have it in our stove drawer now for easy access.

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Tuscan Chicken Pasta: Instant Pot or Not

Tuscan Chicken Pasta: Instant Pot or Not

This simple and delicious chicken pasta dish is a breeze in an Instant Pot, but since the cooking time is so short, you could just as easily make it in a 3 or 4 qt saucepan with a lid. We got the idea from this online recipe, but a quick search will bring up dozens of variations. Our recipe varies from that link mainly in we use fresh garlic instead of garlic powder, and we avoid the mysterious “Italian seasoning.”

  • 1 lb boneless chicken breasts (2 lobes of a single chicken breast)
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 2 tsp half-sharp paprika (Ours came from Penzeys)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 2 12-oz cans chicken stock
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • 12 oz penne pasta (we used tricolored)
  • 6 oz cream cheese
  • 1 ½ cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 3-6 oz sun-dried tomatoes, cut up
  • 4 oz baby spinach leaves
  1. Set the Instant Pot to Sauté, press adjust to set it to High.
  2. Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika.
  3. Sauté the chicken breasts for 2 minutes on each side and remove to a plate.
  4. Sauté the onions for 1-2 minutes, until softened, adding more olive oil if needed.
  5. Mash the garlic with the side of a knife, remove the skin and chop them up.
  6. Add the garlic to the sauté and cook until fragrant.
  7. Turn off the sauté heat.
  8. Add the chicken broth, basil, oregano, salt ant pepper, milk, pasta and chicken breasts to the pot.
  9. Close the pot and set to Manual and 5 minutes.
  10. When the 5 minutes is over, do a Quick Release and remove the lid.
  11. Remove the chicken to the plate and cover with foil to keep warm. It will continue to cook on the plate, so be sure to cover it.
  12. Cut up the cream cheese and stir into the pasta liquid, until it has melted and the sauce is smooth.
  13. Cut the sun-dried tomatoes into quarters or smaller and add to the pot.
  14. Add the parmesan cheese and spinach.
  15. Cut the chicken in to cubes and return it to the pot.

Serve warm, garnished with more parmesan if you like.

in bowl

In a saucepan

The recipe is pretty much the same, except that you should cook the penne pasta and chicken in the stock, covered, for 10 minutes. You may have to add more water if the stock boils down too much. It is also easier to reheat it, when everything is combined, but as it cools the sauce does become thicker.

Salted caramel chocolate tart

Salted caramel chocolate tart

Here is a great holiday pie recipe that takes only minutes to make, although it does take several hours to chill. Warm it back to room temperature when you serve it, to make cutting caramel easier, and use a warm knife.

Depending on whether you make this in a tart pan or a pie pan, this is a tart or quiche, but is simple and delicious. And, for holidays, it is easily transportable. Save the Maldon salt until just before serving so it doesn’t dissolve in the ganache.

Crust

  • 3 cups crushed chocolate cookies
  • 4 Tb unsalted butter

crust

  1. Crush the cookies in a food processor. Lacking simple chocolate cookies, we tried chocolate biscotti, chocolate chocolate chips cookies and thin Oreos with the filling scraped off. All worked well.
  2. Melt the unsalted butter in a microwave for 1 minute at 50% power and mix in with the cookies.
  3. Press the crumbs into the bottom of a pie pan or tart pan.
  4. Bake 10-15 minutes at 350˚ F, until fragrant.
  5. Cool or chill until ready to fill the pie.

Caramel filling

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 6 Tb chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  1. Mix the sugar and cream of tartar and add the water.
  2. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil, with stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and let the sugar solution cook slowly (8-10 minutes) with swirling until it is deep amber, and wisps of smoke start to come from the pan.
  4. Remove from heat and add the butter, carefully, a piece at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon, to avoid foaming up.
  5. Add the cream slowly with stirring.
  6. Add the salt.
  7. Pour into a glass pitcher to allow it to cool
  8. Pour into the piecrust, cover with foil and refrigerate, an hour or overnight.

caramel in pie

Ganache

  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tb honey
  • ¼ tsp coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Flakey sea salt
  1. Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, honey and salt.
  3. Bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate.
  4. Let stand 5 minutes, to melt the chocolate.
  5. Whisk until smooth
  6. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until stiff, usually a couple of hours, (depending on how many cocktails you drink in the meantime.)
  7. Spread the ganache on the chilled filling.
  8. At the last minute, sprinkle with Maldon or other sea salt.

Serve pie at room temperature.

 

Pork chops and applesauce in an Instant Pot

Pork chops and applesauce in an Instant Pot

The Instant Pot is the ideal way to make pork chops without drying them out. This is a problem since most commercial pork is very lean. Even when you use a premium product like Chairman’s Reserve, you have to take care not to overcook the pork. Your pork will be juiciest if you remember that it need only be cooked to 137˚ F and not to the ridiculously high temperatures of yore.

We bought two large double chops to illustrate the technique.

  • 2 large pork chops
  • 1 Tb olive oil
  • 6 oz apple juice (one small drink box is enough)
  • 3 apples, cored and sliced (you don’t have to peel them)
  • Salt, pepper
  1. Set the Instant Pot to Saute (high) and add the olive oil.
  2. Dry the chops, season them and saute them until slightly browned.
  3. Turn off the pot and pour out the oil and any rendered fat.
  4. Add the apple juice and the sliced apples.

with apples

5. Close the pot and set to Manual for 10 minutes
6. Let the pressure reduce slowly (NPR) and open the pot.
7. Remove the chops and keep them warm
8. Pour out the apple juice and any other juices.
9. Puree the apples using an immersion blender. This also chops up the peels into the applesauce.

Serve the chops with a side of applesauce.

It is important that you let the pressure reduce slowly so that the meat juices don’t boil off. In this case, the pot was back to normal pressure in about 10 minutes.

The resulting chops were very tender and juicy. We measured the temperature of the two chops: it was nearly 165˚ F, so we suggest that for these large chops, 8 minutes would have been enough, and for smaller, single chops, 5 minutes is probably plenty.

The applesauce is very good with the pork chops, but is probably a bit porky to eat later by itself, so don’t overdo it.

Ham and bean soup in an Instant Pot

Ham and bean soup in an Instant Pot

 

What’s in that bowl?
It’s bean soup!
I know, but what is it now?

That old Benny Hill gag always comes to mind when we make or eat bean soup. A nice bowl of beans, veggies and stock with a little meat added can make a really delicious and nutritious meal. You can use one type of beans or a mixture. And the whole cooking process takes only about an hour, completely unattended.

BobsWe started with Bob’s Red Mill Black Bean Soup Mix. This has about 5 kinds of beans, but no seasonings or veggies: those are on you. It has for many years been customary to soak beans overnight before cooking them. This is supposed to make them more digestible and reduce flatulence. But this is controversial, and you probably don’t need to do it.

Nonetheless, for our first Instant Pot bean project, we soaked them over night. Next time we’ll omit that step and just cook them a little longer. We took two cups of the bean mix and rinsed them off under running water, and then soaked them for 12 hours over night, and then rinsed them. You would need to do this rinsing anyway to remove agricultural debris. The beans will have at least doubled in bulk while soaking.

Then we used them as described below.

  • 2 cups beans, soaked overnight
  • 3 ½ cups chicken stock
  • 2-3 Tb olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peels and chopped coarsely
  • 1 green, sweet pepper
  • 1 cup cubed ham (or more)
  • 1 small bunch parsley, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • Salt, pepper
  1. Put the olive oil in the Instant Pot pan and set the pot to Simmer (highest setting)
  2. Add the carrots and saute for 2-3 minutes
  3. Add the onions, celery, and pepper and saute until soft
  4. Add the garlic and saute briefly until you smell the fragrance
  5. Add the beans and chicken stock and mix
  6. Add the ham, parsley and spices and mix.
  7. Close the Instant Pot and set to 25 minutes on Manual. If you didn’t soak the beans, you may need to add 10 minutes, but 25 is probably enough either way.
  8. Allow the mixture to rest 15 minutes before releasing the steam.

Serve in bowls, with crusty bread on the side. Makes around 4 servings.

Barbecued ribs using an Instant Pot

Barbecued ribs using an Instant Pot

You can make really good barbecued ribs in about an hour using your Instant Pot to cook the ribs, and a gas grill or your oven to brown them. Some people have suggested using cider or apple juice as the cooking liquid in the Instant Pot pressure cooker, but we never found it made much different. Instead, we use a couple of aromatic spices added to the cooking water: garlic and bay leaves.

Barbecue aficionados frown on cooking the ribs until they fall off the bone. They should be cooked but cohesive.

  • 1 rack baby back pork ribs, cut in half
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 garlic cloves, mashed
  • 2 bay leaves

raw ribs in pot

  1. Place the ingredients in the Instant Pot, seal and cook on Manual for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat your gas grill on high
  3. Release the pressure and take the ribs out and put on a platter to carry to your barbecue grill. Or, place them on a foil lined cookie sheet to put in the oven.

Using a gas grill

half barbecued

  1. Turn the middle burner off, and turn the outer 2 burners to medium. Lay the ribs on the grill over the middle section, and brush with your favorite barbecue sauce.
  2. After 15 minutes, turn, and brush the other side.
  3. Cook about another 15 minutes, or until the sauce begins to caramelize.

Using your oven

  1. Preheat the oven to 375˚
  2. Brush the top of the ribs with your favorite barbecue sauce and cook for 15 minutes,
  3. Turn, brush the other side and cook for about 15 minutes.
  4. If the sauce hasn’t become bubbly, put under the broiler for 5 more minutes.

barbecued on platter

Serving

Cut the ribs apart and serve on a platter. (See above.)

Leftovers

Don’t worry about buying too much pork. You can probably do 2 racks at a time if you wanted. And once it is cooled, refrigerate it. The next day, just cut off the pork and cut it up a bit. It makes great pulled pork sandwiches. Just put some on a bun, add some barbecue sauce and heat it up for 30 seconds in the microwave.

pulled pork sammich

hash browns and corn

Easy buttermilk pancakes

Easy buttermilk pancakes

Making buttermilk pancakes is so easy and so quick that I never saw any reason to use pancake mixes.  The recipe came down from my grandmother, written down by my Aunt Elsie, who pointed out that you can remember it as 2-2-2-1-1-1/2.

Here are all the ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Buttermilk (usually 2-3 cups)
  • 1 Tb butter for the griddle

Note that I reduced the baking soda to ¾ teaspoon, to bring out the buttermilk flavor better. If you don’t think this is an easy recipe, watch this video, where I make the batter and make pancakes in less than 8 minutes.  You can too.

You mix the above ingredients to make a “thickish batter,” according to my aunt, and while the amount of buttermilk is up to you, I find that you get taller pancakes from a thicker batter. If you like thinner pancakes that cook a little faster, just add a little more buttermilk. Melt the butter on the griddle at 375 F, and cook the pancakes on the first side until you see a few bubbles. Turn them once and cook another minute or so.

This recipe came from my grandmother, the former Edna Perry, who married John Marshall Neely, M.D. in 1901, when she was 19. She probably brought the recipe with her, making it well over 100 years old. While it isn’t wildly unique, it works perfectly every time.

Sticky Buns: easier and stickier than ever

Sticky Buns: easier and stickier than ever

Sticky buns are a spectacular way to start any morning, and it really isn’t hard to make them if you start with 90  minutes or so free the night before. The result is hot, delicious  baked buns  in the morning that everyone will love. We usually start making the dough about 9 pm, and put the rolls together around 10:15 pm.

There are three parts to sticky buns: the glaze, the filling and the dough. Some recipes suggest a brioche dough, which is delicious, but quite a bit more work. Our dough is a simple yeast dinner roll dough that you let rise for an hour and then form into buns that rise over night. The overall buns are so rich that the kind of dough doesn’t actually matter much.

To make the dough

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 package regular yeast (avoid the rapid rise variety)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups flour (about)
  1. Add the 1/2 tsp sugar to the water and stir in the yeast. Allow the solution to stand until the yeast begins to bubble and foam a bit (maybe 4-5 minutes)
  2. Meanwhile, mix the milk, shortening and sugar, and heat in a microwave for one minute.(The shortening does not have to melt.)
  3. Add 1 cup of the flour to the work bowl of a food processor and pour in the warmed milk. Process until blended.
  4. Add the egg and mix in.
  5. Add the yeast mixture and mix in.
  6. Add flour until you have a soft dough.
  7. Allow the dough to rise until doubled in bulk, about an hour.

While the dough is rising, make the glaze and the filling.

To make the glaze

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick (8 oz) unsalted butter, cut up
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the brown sugar, butter and honey to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Pour the glaze into two buttered square 9” pans, or one oblong pan, and sprinkle the pecans over top.

To make the filling

filling i n bowl

  • 4 Tb butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • Melt the butter  for 30-40 sec in a microwave, and mix in the sugar and pecans

Assembling the buns

  1. When the dough has risen, punch it down in a floured board, and divide in half.
  2. Roll out each half to a 6 x 18” rectangle and sprinkle with half the filling.
  3. Roll up the dough lengthwise into a roll and cut each roll into 9 slices
  4. Place the slices in the two pans, cover with aluminum foil, and  let rise over night in a  cool place, such as a basement.
  1. In the morning, heat the oven to 375 º F and bake the buns for about 15 minutes, until the glaze is bubbling.

baked

Loosen the rolls from the sides of the pan with a small spatula, and then place a plate over each pan and invert it quickly. This is best done over the sink as some glaze will probably dribble out. The rolls should drop onto the plate.

Scrape any remaining glaze onto the rolls and allow them to cool a bit before serving,

one bun

Makes 18 buns.

Note: The overall flavor of the glaze is influenced by the honey, so be sure to choose a milder flavored honey.

 

How to scramble 2 dozen eggs

How to scramble 2 dozen eggs

You don’t have to scramble eggs a little batch at a time if you have  a large pan. We used a 13-inch All Clad pan to cook ours. The accompanying video shows it in detail.

Start at very low heat, and slowly the stir the eggs. You can go up to low heat if you want, but to make nice, creamy eggs, you want to cook them slowly.

Start with just the eggs, no salt and no milk. You’ll add the butter right away. We used a stick, or 4 oz of unsalted butter in this recipe. Slowly stir the butter into the eggs so it melts. Keep stirring until the eggs begin to thicken. At the end add a hefty pinch of kosher salt, and 3-4 Tb of crème fraiche or sour cream.

Decorate the plates or serving platter with some chopped parsley or chives.

 

Enjoy your breakfast!

 

Soft-boiled eggs and egg cups

Soft-boiled eggs and egg cups

You probably have made soft-boiled eggs for breakfast once in a while. Here is a simpler and more reliable way to get perfect eggs, along with some serving suggestions.

We have found that you can cook a number of eggs at once in a vegetable steamer basket, instead of soft-boiled eggs? Yep, wait and see.

To cook the eggs, let them sit out of your refrigerator for 5 minutes or so, so they aren’t ice cold. Then, put a vegetable steamer basket in a saucepan and fill the pan with water so the water level is just below the basket. Bring the water to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. This only takes a minute or so, because there isn’t much water in the pan.

steamer white eggsUsing a slotted spoon or other long handled spoon, quickly lower the eggs into the basket, and cover the pan.  Let them cook for 6 ½ minutes. Then run cold water into the pan, drain and run in cold water again to stop the eggs from over cooking. Don’t worry, they’ll still be plenty warm.

Now is where international opinions diverge. If you are American, you probably put the soft-boiled eggs in a bowl with some toast, cut them open and dig out the eggs with a spoon, and eat them right away.

Egg cups

If you are British or Australian, or have immediate ancestors who are, you probably serve your  soft boiled eggs in egg cups.  The outrage Brits and Oz people feel about vulgar American soft-boiled eggs can be absorbed here, here and here.  Their point seems to be “Do you just let the eggs roll around on your plate?” and “Where does the drippy yolk end up?”

In the British approach, you put the just cooked egg in an egg cup, cut off the top, and serve the cup on a plate with strips of toast (called “soldiers”) or toast points. No crusts here, of course. We found a few egg cups around.

Our neighbor brought us one made for Fanny Farmer in the 1940s, that originally came with a chocolate egg in it. We also found a nice porcelain one that will hold a conventional hen’s egg, or in the larger part of the base, a duck’s egg.  In fact, if you turn the egg cup over, there is small cup in the base that might hold a quail’s egg.  We also found that there are a number of egg cups on Amazon including 4 plastic ones for about $10.

Egg cups go back as far as 3 CE, where they were found in the ruins of Pompeii, but were distinctly for the ruling classes, until the advent of the railroads, when both British and American shops along railroad lines sold souvenir egg cups at each stop. There were also sterling silver egg cups, intended to be baby gifts, but weren’t too practical as the sulfur in the egg tarnished the silver.

There is also a cute video from Martha Stewart showing a huge variety of egg cups. Apparently they are seriously collectable.

topperSo, how do you open this egg? Experienced egg cup users just flick the top of the egg with a butter knife and cut it open. You can also get an “egg topper,” that will score the top of the egg when you pull on the handle and let go. It may or may not take the top off, but once it is scored, you can lift it off easily. So here they are, with eggs in the cups. And we’ll have to admit, they do look elegant.

 

 

Peeling the eggs

Now, one of the points of the egg cup is to hold the shell still, so you can eat the egg conveniently. But, what about peeling the just-cooked egg and serving it in a bowl with soldiers or toast points? If you cook the eggs in a steamer as we did, you will find that you can easily peel them under cold running water, and still have  a warm egg to eat with your toast.

two shelled in bowl

But, the ultimate solution could be to put those warm, peeled eggs back into the egg cups and eat them that way, dipping toast into the warm yolk. We tried that, and they were delicious!

shelled in egg cups