Searing

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There is one important cooking technique that is impossible in my home kitchen, and that is searing. I can get good browning, but in order to sear you need your skillet super hot over the highest flames. In order to prevent my smoke detector from going off, I must also use my ventilation system, which is at the back of the stove behind the burners.

When the vent is on at the highest suction position, it literally pulls the flames out-of-place. Sideways.

Highest flame without vent. The vent is on the right of this burner, and this is the front burner.

And with the vent on.

You can see on the left the flames are practically non-existent, the flames are horizontal to the right, and at the front of the photo they’re all over the place.

Searing colors the meat and creates flavor from caramelization. Searing is important to me because it’s an important first or final step when cooking meat Sous Vide. The Sous Vide does the cooking, so all that’s required is searing the outside, without further cooking.

So if you’re trying to sear with my situation, the meat must sit longer in the skillet waiting for a sear, actually cooking the meat more. And this is wrong and practically defeats the purpose of using the sous vide.

I may have a found a solution for this problem, when I was reading a book called Mastering the Art of Sous Vide Cooking, by Justice Stewart. The book was recommended by fellow Sous Vide aficionado, Conor Boffin, of the One Man’s Meat blog.

I purchased the Kindle version of the cookbook; I was less interested in photos and food styling, and more interested in Sous Vide times and temperatures.

But there it was, at the back of the book, a photo of a Searzall attachment, that is placed on a butane torch.

We all own the little butane kitchen torch, I think use mostly for caramelizing the tops of creme caramel. But have you noticed that nasty butane odor? For that reason, I haven’t used mine for years.

Here is the description of the one I ordered from Amazon.

This thing sears without cooking, and doesn’t have the “off-putting aroma often associated with blowtorches.” Problem solved!

The photo on the left shows an example of a little torch like most of us own, compared to my new one. And on the right, the butane torch with the small Searzall attachment.

So to test it out, I seasoned a 24 ounce piece of beef called London Broil, and cooked it in my sous vide machine for 7 hours at 130 degrees F.

When I was ready to sear the beef, I wiped off all of the liquid and some of the remnant seasoning, and brushed on a little oil. And then I seared away!

In case you’re not familiar with a London Broil, it’s wonderfully tender, and a perfect cut to sous vide and share.

That night I served it alongside hummus and a tomato salad.

Notice that beautiful seared outside!

I’m so excited about this searing technique. I’m going to try it on shrimp next!

Strawberry Onion Chutney

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Rarely do I come out of “retirement” to cater. If I do it’s only for good friends, but still these gigs are few and far between. I’m just not in the catering groove any longer.

A few years ago, however, I said yes to a friend who needed help with her staff party. I don’t remember the menu in its entirety, except that I made a sous vide pork loin.

Because it was springtime, I created a chutney using fresh strawberries to go with the pork.

Following is the sweet-spicy-tart condiment recipe that I’m so happy I wrote down. I must say it was superb and loved by all!

Strawberry Onion Chutney
printable recipe below

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup ruby port
1/4 cup olive oil
4 white onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 1″ piece ginger, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 pound hulled strawberries, chopped into small pieces
Allspice, to taste

In a small bowl, soak raisins in the port. Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Add the onions and begin the sautéing process. It will take at least 30 minutes. A little browning is fine, but mostly I just wanted them nice and soft and cooked through.

Add the raisins and the port, along with the garlic and ginger, and cook the mixture for about 5 minutes.

Add the vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and cayenne, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Then stir in the strawberries and continue cooking the chutney, stirring occasionally, until the strawberry pieces have cooked, but still hold their shapes.


If I might say so, this chutney is spectacular. When I made it the second time, I used dark raisins, and served it with roasted chicken, which was equally delicious as previously with the pork loin.

And with cheese? It’s fabulous!!!

 

 

Cabbage Rolls, Deconstructed

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I am completely aware that the term “deconstructed” is overused these days, but that’s exactly what innocently came to mind when I first thought about this recipe.

Cabbage rolls have always been a favorite of mine – mostly because of all the varieties of stuffings potentially hiding inside. Ground pork with rice and raisins, reminiscent of dolma, or sausage rolled in cabbage, smothered in red sauce – all delicious, comforting, and reliable.

There’s nothing tedious or challenging about making cabbage rolls, but it’s easy to run out of the nice big cabbage leaves.

So I was staring at a cabbage the other day, and thought I could simply parboil the cabbage, and create a layered “casserole” of cabbage and sausage. But I also needed a white sauce and cheese.

I not only was thinking of traditional cabbage rolls, but also a recipe I made which was bacon and mushrooms in béchamel and wrapped in cabbage leaves – more of a side dish than a meal, and deliciously rich.

So here’s what I did, combining the components of both recipes.

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls
printable recipe below

1 large head of white cabbage, about 3 pounds
1-2 tablespoons oil or bacon fat
2 pounds Italian sausage
1/2 pound ground pork
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Approximately 4 cups of bechamel, double this recipe
Grated Gruyère, about 16 ounces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Have a large pot of slightly salted water heating on the stove. Slice the cabbage in half and remove the core.


When the water comes to a boil, add the cabbage halves and keep them submerged. I used a plate with a weighted lid.

Cook the cabbage for about 6-7 minutes, or until the leaves soften a bit. Place the cabbage in a colander to drain and cool. When you can handle the leaves, separate them slightly and let them drip dry on a dish towel or paper towels.

Meanwhile, cook the sausage, pork and onion over medium-high heat, along with some oil, until barely any pink shows; don’t overcook.


Add the fennel seeds and white pepper. Taste for salt.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13″ baking dish.

Begin with adding cabbage leaves to the bottom of the dish.

Next add one-fourth of the sausage mixture, topped by one cup of bechamel, and sprinkle with about 4 ounces of grated cheese.


Repeat these layers three times or, if your baking dish is shallower, form only three layers, using thirds of the sausage mixture, bechamel, and cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, until golden. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing.


Serve with some buttered potatoes for a really hearty meal!


One could certainly add celery, carrots, and parsley to the meat mixture.

Or, go a different direction with seasoning the meat component to make it Italian-inspired. There are so many options.

note: This deconstructed cabbage roll casserole would be just as good with a red sauce instead of a cheesy white one, and definitely less caloric, if you worry about that sort of thing.

 

 

 

Chinese Steamed Buns

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I enjoyed many variations of steamed buns while growing up – some were plain, some were filled with bright red pork filling, others looked like works of art.

They were especially ubiquitous during the time my French mother was in her Chinese phase (see Growing Up Foodie), which was a mostly wonderful culinary experience for our family.

But I never knew the extent of the magic created in a bamboo steamer until my husband and I went to our first dim sum restaurant.

This was in San Francisco’s Chinatown, 30+ years ago. It was a busy, bustling restaurant, full of people who spoke non-English. Waiters pushed little carts around tightly-placed tables and it was a bit unsettling. This is what the insides of the carts look like:

We weren’t sure what to do, so we kept pointing at food and nodding, because everything looked so good. There must have been at least 200 different items from which to choose. Maybe even more.

We were so excited, hungry, and a little nervous, that I think we ended up with food for a dozen people. Knowing us, we probably finished it all.

Years later we visited the same restaurant, this time with our daughters who were 10 and 12, and fortunately we knew what to do. This restaurant must be the place to go because it was still bustling and the food was superb. I know we could find the same restaurant again, but unfortunately we can’t remember the name of it to share with you.

This recipe for steamed buns is my one of my husband’s favorite things to eat. He often asks for them as part of his birthday dinner, like he did last week.

The dough is a basic bread dough, and the filling is Chinese sausage. It’s a recipe my mother created, because of her love of Chinese sausage.

So here’s the recipe for my hubby’s favorite steamed buns:


Bread Dough

1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm milk, at about 110 degrees
3 1/2 cups white flour

Heat 1/4 cup of water in a large bowl to approximately 110 degrees; if you can put your finger in the water and hold it there, it’s hot enough. Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar, and let it sit for a few minutes.

Then stir up the mixture, place it in a non-drafty part of your kitchen, and let it sit for 5 minutes; it will have doubled in volume.

Stir in the warm milk, then add 3 cups of flour. Mix as much as you can with a spoon. Then turn out the dough on your work area and, using flour only as necessary, knead the dough until it is smooth. This should take about 5 minutes. Don’t add too much flour – just enough to keep the dough from sticking.

Form the dough into a ball, and place it in a clean, greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp towel, then put the bowl in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 1/2 hours.

It will have doubled in bulk. Punch down the dough, and let it rest about 20 minutes.

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To Prepare the Steamed Buns filled with Chinese Sausage

Have about 7 ounces of sliced Chinese sausage on hand, as well as toasted sesame oil.

Turn the dough out onto the work area. Roll the dough into a cylinder, and divide the dough evenly into 12 pieces. Form each piece of dough into a disc, about 3 1/2″ in diameter.

Sprinkle a few drops of sesame oil in the middle of the disc, and then top with some sausage slices.


Pull up all four sides of the disc, then squeeze them together and twist to seal the dough.

As you make the buns, place them in a steamer basket that has been oiled. Or, alternatively, cut out squares of parchment paper and spray those with oil to keep the buns from sticking, placing them underneath the buns. Just make sure the steam can move around the steamer basket.

When you have finished making all twelve buns, let them rise in the steamer basket.

Meanwhile, bring a wok or pot of water to a boil on the stove, with the water level with the bottom of the steamer basket.

After the buns have risen for about 20-30 minutes, turn the water down to a simmer, then place the steamer basket in the wok.

After about 8-10 minutes, check the buns; the dough should be firm. If they are sticky, keep steaming another minute or two.

Remove them as soon as you can from the steamer basket and let cool slightly.

Then enjoy! They’re soft and the most fragrant while warm.

Here’s a panorama iphone pic of a dim sum restaurant we went to in New York City in 2017. It truly is as big as it looks!

I encourage everyone to enjoy dim sum at a reputable Chinese restaurant. There’s always chicken feet – for the hard to please!

Full disclosure: I first published this post in February of 2013, soon after I made these steamed buns for my husband’s birthday, but felt obligated to make the buns again, for my husband’s birthday, and post better photos.

Boneless Leg of Lamb

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Years ago, I remember telling a friend that I wanted to take a butchering class some time. She said, “you mean you want to learn how to kill chickens?”

I then clarified that I wanted nothing to do with animals outside of my kitchen, but I wanted to know what to do with them once they were in my kitchen.

The extent of my butchering has been trimming beef tenderloins. This came from too many times purchasing packaged filet mignons, which looked perfect underneath the stretched plastic wrap, but when I got them home they would fall into 2 or 3 pieces.

That’s when I started buying whole tenderloins and being in charge of cutting the filets myself. It’s less expensive, and nothing goes to waste.

When on Amazon.com looking though cookbooks a few years ago, I came upon what seemed like a perfect reference book for me. It’s called The Butcher’s Apprentice, by Aliza Green, published in 2012.

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This book was my dream come true. Pretty much anything you need to learn how to do with meat is in this book, along with step-by-step directions. Recently I decided to de-bone a leg of lamb using the book.

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I opened it up and immediately noticed that the photos are mirror images of what they should be. I would have imagined the photos be from the butcher’s perspective, maybe using a camera attached to the ceiling.

I tried laying the book on the floor upside-down, but the angle of the camera was off for me.

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There was also no labeling of the leg of lamb. Turns out mine didn’t have a pelvis attached. The parts about shanks and femurs and so forth were lost on me – I was mostly trying to match what the meat looked like in the photos.

Basically, I gave up on my “prized” book, and just removed the two bones that I found, some fat, and some of the fell.

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What was left was a mess, but I seasoned it with garlic pepper and salt. Check out my scimitar! My husband thought I’d perhaps joined the dark side when he spotted it.

Then I pushed it all together, and tied it up.

I placed halves of garlic cloves, from about 5-6 cloves, into holes I made in the meat using the point of a knife.

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I poured some olive oil in a large roasting pan and placed the lamb on the oil. Then I turned over the lamb, making sure it was covered with oil.

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After more garlic pepper and salt, I put the lamb in the oven that was preheated to 400 degrees.

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After 10 minutes I used large forks to turn it over. The other side browned in about 5 minutes.

I reduced the oven to 325 degrees. I think the old standard is ten minutes a pound, but I decided to use my oven probe to make sure the lamb cooks only to medium rare, or 125 degrees.

The thing is, when you use a probe, you actually have to listen for the beeping that tells you that the probe has reached the desired temperature. I, unfortunately, was not in the kitchen, so the oven went to HOLD and continued to cook my precious lamb roast.

When I realized that the lamb had been in the oven too long, I quickly took it out of the pan and let rest on a cutting board.

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When I sliced it, the lamb wasn’t terribly overcooked, but it certainly wasn’t medium rare, which is how I love it. This is not a mistake I haven’t made before – I’ve got quite a few burnt pots to prove that I get distracted easily when I’m cooking.

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If lamb is cooked properly, just like a filet mignon, it doesn’t need much!

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I served the lamb with persillade and roasted tomatoes.

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The persillade was also wonderful with the tomatoes.

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The pinkest parts of the lamb were wonderful, probably because of the high quality of the meat.

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Overall, I’m really disappointed in this book. I don’t think photos taken from an observer’s perspective does anyone any good when trying to learn an involved skill like meat butchering. I had better luck closing the book and using common sense.

French Markets

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I don’t profess to be an expert on markets in France. In fact, I’m not at all. In the past, when I visited my family as a child, I don’t remember markets. I do remember walking to shops with my grandmother in her village, getting milk, then cheese, then meat, and so forth. I don’t think I remember seeing a farmers-type market until I was much older. I also remember my mother commenting on how much prettier all of the produce is compared to the U.S.

Fast forward to married life, when my husband and I have, luckily, traveled in France and many other European countries. Because we always wanted to see the countryside, we’re typically on the move. We’ve never rented a home, spent a week, and cooked.

So it wasn’t until I visited Stéphane from the blog My French Heaven, that I really got to see markets and experience them.
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In 2013, when my daughter and I went, the three of us went to a different market on four days in four different towns! But I know that the one Stéphane frequents is on Sunday in Libourne, where he resides. Which is why he refers to it as his church.
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In France, as it is in many European countries, markets aren’t like a visit to a super Wal Mart. It’s about planning what to cook, seeing what’s in season, visiting with friends. It’s almost more of a social institution than just buying groceries.


After three trips to visit Stephane, I’ve been to the Libourne market many times now. I recognize his favorite butcher, who blushed when my girlfriend gave him a hug for a photo. I recognize the old curmudgeon of a foie gras guy. And there are the cute young ladies who sell seafood. And so forth. Can you imagine having such a relationship with a cheesemonger? I have none of that where I live.

If you’ve never been to a French market, please read Stéphane’s post, entitled “My Market is my Church.” It gives you tips on how to navigate a market, how to talk to the vendors, and also what not to do.

I thought this was such important information because if I’d never had guidance from my mother, I could be one of the ugly Americans, touching the beautiful produce, asking for samples, perhaps yelling when a Parisien butted in line in front of me.

That doesn’t happen in France. In fact, you keep your hands to yourself and you remain calm. Farmers are proud, and they’re not selling any strawberry or green bean that isn’t perfectly ripe. There might be dirt on the carrots and potatoes, but that’s the only thing that an American would consider imperfect. You tell the vendor you want a half a kilo of mushrooms, and he/she will place them in a bag for you. Payment is in cash.
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Farmers markets are also not like our food festivals in the US. They’re not giving out food samples to draw you in. They’re too busy doing what they should be doing anyway. If you want one of their cheeses, ask for it, or move on.


There are counterfeit farmers. In Stephane’s post, you’ll read that if you see stamped eggs, for example, or if a “farmer” has baby-bottom soft hands, chances are you’re not dealing with a true farmer. They’ve most likely stopped by the French Costco equivalent and are re-selling at the market.

When my husband and I visited Stephane recently, we spent a couple of days in his home town. This was at my request, because as much as I like traveling and eating out, I can honestly say that there’s nothing quite like spending time with Stephane at his home, shopping with him, sipping the wine he’s chosen for you, and being served perfect food prepared by him.
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For lunch on our first full day in Libourne, he served my husband and I steaks with a green peppercorn cream sauce, and sauteed potatoes. Followed by a platter of cheeses.


We had purchased all of the ingredients that morning at the market.

In the evening, just for me, along with my Lillet, I enjoyed cured duck filled with foie gras.
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Then Stephane made us a dinner of his famous prawns in a Jack Daniels cream sauce.


How nice it must be to have a relationship with people who really understand their food, who have raised it, caught it, cooked it, and are proud of it. It’s wonderful to have trust in these vendors as well, and know their reputations. These people are so knowledgeable that they will tell you how to cook the eel they’re selling, still wiggling, of course, or even how best to prepare a cut of lamb. This is also a part of what makes shopping at farmers markets so meaningful.

Pesto’d Lamb Chops

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The thing that I learned about meat a long time ago, is that you have to cook it properly. Everything else is just icing on the cake. Whether it’s grilling a steak, roasting a pork loin, or braising a rabbit, it’s all about cooking the meat properly. It doesn’t matter if you’re adding a sauce to the steak, roasting the pork with sweet potatoes, or braising the rabbit in tomatoes. It’s all about cooking the meat properly.

Now to most of you this might seem like a simpleton statement, but many years ago, it was an epiphany to me.

When I first started cooking a lot, which was when I got married, we couldn’t afford most “fancy” meats, unless it was a special occasion, so I was very used to braises and stews, even if these were globally inspired, such as Ethiopian Doro Wat with chicken, and French Boeuf Bourguignon with beef.

As our financial situation improved, I was able to buy steaks more often, which is my husband’s favorite cut of beef. Such a man thing. But I got to play around with other cuts as well.

Because I hadn’t had much experience with just cooking meat, I bought a few meat cookbooks. And the books really taught me nothing. Why? Because the recipes were all about the icing – a red wine sauce for a veal chop, or a salsa to top a chicken breast, or an orange glaze for duck breasts. No matter what the accessory ingredients were in the recipes, the meat was always cooked the same. For example:

4 chicken breasts
Salt and pepper

4 duck breasts
Salt and pepper

4 – 1″ thick filet mignons
Salt and pepper

Pork chops
Salt and pepper

See what I mean? I really hadn’t thought much about this fact until after I read the meat cookbooks, and I really haven’t referred to them since. As long as you know how to properly cook cuts of meat, the rest is easy.

To me, it’s mostly about the rareness of the meat. I prefer my beef at 125 degrees, or medium-rare. The same with lamb. Both chicken and pork I stop cooking at 155 degrees. A thermometer is a good way to cook meat properly, or to your liking, until you get to the point where you can tell the doneness with your tongs.

So the doneness is quite important when cooking meat, and also the seasoning. There’s always salt and pepper, but of course, other spices and herbs can be used as well. But there’s always salt and pepper. Look at any meat chapter if you don’t believe me. No, don’t. I could be wrong…

Regarding salt and pepper, some chefs believe in adding them after the meat is cooked, mostly, if I understand correctly, so that the pepper doesn’t burn. I do a little of both, but I definitely don’t meat in dried herbs before searing them. They would burn.

So I’ve been craving lamb, and lo and behold my local grocery store had loin chops on the shelf today. Not my favorite cut, but I knew I could manage. And here’s my recipe:

5 loin lamb chops, approximately 3/4″ thick
Salt and pepper

Olive oil
Prepared pesto

Bring the lamb chops close to room temperature before cooking. If you prefer well done meat, then this step isn’t as critical.

Add a little oil to a large skillet over high heat. For a good sear on meat, the oil must be sizzling hot. Also have your ventilation system on.

Pat the chops dry, and season with the salt and pepper, if you believe in doing that.
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Add the chops to the skillet, only about 2-3 at a time.
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After a couple of minutes, turn them over and brown the other side.
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As with steaks, there are two ways to go about finishing the chops. Because these lamb chops are fairly thin, they could easily have been cooked only in the skillet, lowering the heat after turning the chops over, and cooking until medium-rare, or your preferred doneness.

However, chops and steaks can also be placed in an oven and finished off at 350 or 400 degrees. This works especially well with thicker steaks and chops.

There’s nothing quite as delicious as a lamb chop simply seasoned with salt and pepper, but I wanted to serve myself these lamb chops topped with pesto* (no one else around here eats lamb). So I chose to sear the chops, then put them all back in the skillet, off of the stove. Then I topped the chops with pesto.
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I turned on my broiler, but my rack was at the middle level, not at the very top. When the broiler was ready, I placed the skillet in the oven. Within about 4 minutes, the pesto was melted, and the chops had cooked a little more through.

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I served the chops with a sweet potato mash and Brussels sprouts.


It’s not pictured, but I later took some of the oil and jus from the skillet and poured it all over the Brussels sprouts.
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Fabulous!!!

* My pesto does not contain cheese, because I make so many jars of pesto during the summer months and freeze them. So it’s quite condensed. But pesto that contains Parmesan would work just the same. You could always grate Parmesan over the top when you serve the chops.

note: Pesto is also good on chicken breasts and pork. Of course, we’re kind of addicted to pesto in this household.