The Briner

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My sister-in-law and I share a serious love of cooking, so her gifts are always spot on. For my birthday she sent me something really unique, called “The Briner.” It’s a large, plastic container designed for brining meat.

As you can see in the below right photo, there is an inside “lid” that holds meat down inside the container and keeps it submerged in the brine. It’s ingenious!

To quote from The Briner website, this patented product “resolves the #1 challenge to successful brining – floating food! Simple design, easy to use, easy to clean, works great.”

Previously, I’d used my largest, deepest pot for brining, and had to stack heavy plates on top of the meat in order to keep it from floating, especially the few times I brined a whole turkey or chicken.

Not being an expert briner, I looked to Paul from That Other Cooking Blog, who is obviously a proponent of brining. I’ve followed Paul for years now; his blog is also a great resource for sous vide cooking. Plus, his professional photography is featured in a cookbook entitled, “The Essential Sous Vide,” published in 2016.

Isn’t that one gorgeous photo on the cover??!!

So I asked Paul some basic brining questions. In a nutshell, here’s what he said.

“Everything is brinable.”

Paul said a lot more than that – he’s quite generous with his knowledge, but that’s the gist of what he said. And I guess, why not?!!

He also brines and then uses his sous vide. That almost hurt my brain to think of how exceptional protein could turn out with everything going for it!

And again, why not?!! So I decided to brine with The Briner, and sous vide a pork loin chunk.

Those of you who don’t own a sous vide machine, I highly recommend you look into one.

This is the model I own. (above) It’s half the size as the commercial sous vide, less expensive, and perfect for a small family.

To me, it’s an essential appliance, especially for tough cuts – brisket, flank and hanger steaks – and easy-to-overcook cuts, like pork and chicken.

Here’s what I did for the brine.

1 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
8 cups water
1 1/2 pound pork loin
2 oranges, quartered
1 onion, quartered
A few smashed garlic cloves
Rosemary
Thyme
Sage
Bay leaves
Star Anise
Cloves
Some crushed juniper berries

Using a large pot, combine the salt and sugar with the water and heat until dissolved. Set aside the pot to let the mixture cool.

Place the pork loin in The Briner, or a large pot. Pour cooled brine over the top.

Add the remaining ingredients, squeezing the orange pieces a bit into the brine.

If the meat is not covered by the brine, add some more cold water.

Then add the lids to The Briner, place in a cool place like a cold garage or refrigerator for 24 – 48 hours.

After brining, rinse the pork, and dry off well.

Vacuum seal the loin and keep chilled until the sous vide is ready. You can season the pork, add more herbs, and even add butter to the pork before sealing, but I did not.


Preheat the sous vide to 135 degrees. The pork will be done after 12 hours. Plan according to whether you will be removing the pork and immediately browning it and serving it, or if you plan to refrigerate it overnight first.

Here’s what it looks like after the sous vide process.

Brown the pork in a little oil, seasoned with a good garlic pepper or seasoning of your choice. You can brown the whole chunk of loin, but I decided to slice it into serving pieces first.

Honesly, the pork is ready to eat after the sous vide’ing, but most people are put off by pink pork!

I served the pork with a creamed spinach.


Then I tasted the pork. Oh my.

I tasted the brine ingredients!

I could taste the onion and orange, specifically. The depth of flavor was tremendous.

And, of course, the pork was super tender from the sous vide process.

So young Paul was right. Why not take advantage of all the tools and tricks we have to create the best food possible!

Mintade

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Many years ago when I was planning my daughter’s wedding day, with the anticipation of having lots people in the house, I wanted to have a refreshing drink available as an alternative to water. And an alternative to booze as well, in order to prevent any potential mishaps. Maybe I’ve watched too many viral videos of drunken wedding parties!

The small evening wedding was at our house, so it was a busy day. I was smart enough to have a casual bridesmaid lunch catered, which really freed up my time. My first instinct, of course, was to do it all myself. Fortunately I changed my mind. The one thing I really wanted on that special day was to thoroughly enjoy it.

I did make individual granola-yogurt parfaits for anyone wanting an easy breakfast. And I served coffee, bottled waters, plus some champagne later in the day, but like I mentioned, I wanted something extra to offer as a non-alcoholic drink.

I had come across a recipe for Mintade, and in my mind I said it like it was a French word, with a short “a” sound. Which now seems really dumb on my part. It was meant so be pronounced like lemonade, or limeade. Duh. In any case, the recipe sounded perfect for the occasion.

Another alternative could have been a fruit and cucumber water, similar to what’s served at spas, but I wasn’t sure if that kind of water would be enjoyed by everybody.

This ade is a refreshing combination of citrus juices mixed with lots of mint. It’s very simple to make. It’s also very pretty. You can either serve this ade chilled or room temperature. The original recipe calls for water added to the fruit juices, but I added sparkling water. If you also use sparkling water, serve the ade in smaller pitchers so it doesn’t go flat.

Mintade

Mint leaves, torn
Approximately 1 tablespoon white sugar
Grapefruits, preferably pink
Oranges
Limes
Lemons
Grenadine, optional
Sparkling water, chilled

Place the torn mint leaves in a pitcher, preferably a glass one.


Sprinkle the sugar over the mint leaves and muddle for about one minute. Keep in mind that this drink is called mint ade, not citrus ade. The mint is a very integral part.

Begin juicing all of the fruit.


Add the juice, through a strainer, to the pitcher.

I used 4 grapefruits, 4 oranges, 2 lemons, and 6 limes, to approximately 1 cup packed mint leaves.

If you have the time, Cover the pitcher tightly and chill overnight in the refrigerator to better infuse the mint.

Add some grenadine to taste/ I used approximately 2 ounces. This was not in the original recipe, but I don’t like adding cup fulls of white sugar to drinks. That’s the only problem I have with mojitos. So the grenadine adds some sweetness and a little color as well. But it’s completely optional.


To finish, pour the sparkling water into the pitcher, an equal amount as there is juice.

Serve immediately, using a filtered lid to keep the mint from getting into the glasses. There’s nothing worse than mint in your teeth!

note: If necessary, depending on the occasion, the mintade would be wonderful with a slug of vodka, rum, or tequila! And instead of sparkling water, you could always add Prosecco!

Spring Pilaf

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A long time ago, when I catered for an American Heart Association charity dinner, I made this pilaf. I don’t really remember what inspired me to make it, except that I know it was part of a spring menu featuring beef as the protein. Fortunately it went over very well.

As some of you might know, when you cook for the public, you have to be careful. You really can’t make anything too “crazy” or it will turn people off, no matter how gourmet or trendy the ingredients might be. But make everything too bland and blah, and no one will ever hire you for your catering services. So there exists a fine line.

Honestly, I discovered long ago when I cooked for various charities, that the less people knew, the better off they were. If I put out tent cards with a descriptive menu, I would hear lots of “EEEWWWWWWSSS,” or “I’m not eating thats” before anyone even saw their meal! So I learned to keep things to myself, and tentative diners ended up enjoying their food much more!

I’ve been wanting to repeat this pilaf for a long time now, because it was really good and unique as well. There are two main flavors in the pilaf – orange and leeks. For the orange, I used orange oil – that is, orange-infused oil.
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For the rice, I used long-grained brown in this recipe, which I don’t love, but I needed to use it up. Short-grained rice, which I prefer, hulled barley, or even kamut could be substituted, with some extra cooking time.

So here’s my recipe for my spring-inspired rice pilaf. It is good with just about any protein, from beef to scallops.

Spring Pilaf

1/4 cup orange-infused olive oil*
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 small leeks, cleaned, sliced crosswise
1 cup long-grained brown rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup frozen petite peas, slightly thawed

Place the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and leeks.
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Sauté for a few minutes; a little caramelization is okay.

Pour in the rice and stir it into the onion-leek mixture until all the grains are coated with oil.
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Add the chicken broth, the salt, and the pepper.
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Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and turn the burner down to the lowest setting. Let the rice cook for 35 minutes. Then turn off the stove, but leave the lid on for about 15 minutes more.

Remove the lid, then stir in the peas. Gently mix everything together.
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Serve hot with your desired protein. I served this pilaf with an Asian-marinated venison short loin. Asian flavors and orange really compliment each other.
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If you love parsley, add some chopped parsley over the pilaf, or a few finely chopped chives.

If you want the pilaf even more citrusy, add some grated orange or lemon rind.

* I highly recommend using an orange-infused oil in this recipe, but if you can’t find it, try adding some orange zest to the pilaf right before serving. Or use a few drops of sweet orange oil.
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note: Depending on the rice or other grain you use, cooking times will differ, as well as the amount of liquid necessary in which to cook it. Read the package directions so you get the grain-to-liquid ratio correct.

Cranberry Orange Compote

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We’re well into the holiday season, and as much as I’m enjoying my pumpkin-infused recipes, as well as everyone else’s, it’s also time to start thinking about cranberries!!!

Every fall I make batches of cranberry sauces and chutneys early and freeze them, which doesn’t really make much sense. For one thing, I’m the only one who eats them in my immediate family, and so I always have leftover jars even after the holidays are over. I guess it just doesn’t seem like the holidays to me if I don’t make some kind of something with cranberries!

Today I’m making a compote. Compotes are pretty much sweetened, stewed fruits – sometimes mixtures of fruits, sometimes including dried fruits. A compote is not typically as sweet as traditional cranberry sauce. Of course you need some sweetness to offset the tart cranberries, but you don’t have to go overboard with the sugar. I mean, have you ever tasted the gelatinous stuff they sell in the can? Horrendously overly sweet!

However, if you do want a sweeter compote, just add more sugar! Or a little port! I’m not the cranberry compote police!

So here’s what I did:

Cranberry Orange Compote

2 bags cranberries
Zest of 2 oranges
Juice of 2 oranges
1/3 cup sugar

Sort through the cranberries in a colander, occasionally rinsing them with cool water as you do. Remove any discolored, rotten, or suspicious cranberries and discard.
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Place the cranberries in a small pot. Add the zest, orange juice, and sugar.
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Place the pot on the stove, cover it, and turn on the heat to low. You want to take your time doing this. The cranberries will slowly heat up, and along with the steam from the orange juice, and will gradually burst. This might take as long as ten minutes. At this point, remove the lid.
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If much liquid remains, slowly cook it off, still keeping the heat low.
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And there you have it. Let it cool, and use it as a condiment for pork or turkey, pair it with cheeses, or serve it over yogurt for breakfast. Room temperature or chilled both work depending which you prefer.

Get busy and make your cranberry condiments. They seriously take minutes to make. You’ll never buy the stuff in the can, ever again.
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Cuscuz de Galinha

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I fell in love with this Latin American dish, not just because it’s so pretty, but because of the peasant nature of it. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Essentially it’s cooked, meat-filled cornmeal layered with peas, that’s then topped with hard-boiled eggs, hearts of palm, tomato slices, and olives. Then the whole thing is steamed before it’s served. I just had to try it.

The origin of this recipe, which translates into “Molded Steamed Chicken, Cornmeal and Vegetables,” is Brazil. The Feijoada I made also originates from Brazil, and interestingly enough, is also served with orange slices. The fanciful nature of this dish makes me wonder if it’s one that is served on a special holiday, but I couldn’t find any info on that.

The recipe I used is from the Time-Life series Foods of the World – my old stand-by cookbooks. This one – Latin American Cooking. I made a few necessary changes, but nothing that compromised the dish. I will type the recipe up exactly how I did it.

Truthfully, the recipe pushed me a little out of my comfort zone just because I’m not used to doing such fiddly presentations, but I challenged my patience and just stuck with it. The good thing? This is a fabulous dish!!!

Cuscuz de Galinha

Chicken:
6 chicken breasts*
1/4 cup white vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 large tomato, chopped, seeded
1 cup chicken stock

Line the bottom of a large skillet with the chicken breasts, then add the next seven ingredients.

cuz

Place the skillet in the fridge and marinate the chicken overnight.

The next morning, cook the chicken in the marinade for about 10 minutes, using tongs to move the breasts around. Then add the chopped tomato and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes.

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Transfer the chicken to a plate, and strain the marinade, keeping the juices in a large bowl.

When the chicken has cooled, slice it up into narrow slices, and add to the juices, tossing to moisten the chicken.

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Chorizo:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, crumbled

In another skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat, then add the sausage and cook them until they have browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Place the sausage on some paper towels to drain.

When they have fully drained, add the chorizo to the chicken mixture.

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Cornmeal:

4 cups yellow cornmeal, medium grind
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1-2 tablespoons hot sauce (optional)

Place the cornmeal in a large pot and add the salt. Add the boiling water, and stirring constantly, incorporate the water into the cornmeal.

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Then stir in the butter, olive oil, and parsley.

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Add the chicken and chorizo and some of the juices if you think the cornmeal needs a little moistening.

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Preparation:

3 tomatoes, seeded, sliced about 1/8″ thin
hearts of palm from a can, rinsed, dried, sliced about 1/8″ thin
4 hard-boiled eggs, cut crosswise into 1/8″ slices
Pimiento-stuffed green olives, cut crosswise into 1/8″ slices
1 cup thoroughly defrosted peas
Oranges, for serving

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Grease the inside of a large colander, the finer holes the better. If you’re using large tomatoes, center a tomato slice in the middle bottom of the colander. If you’re using smaller tomatoes, just be as creative as you can be with the design. Build the design outward, using the hearts of palm, eggs, more tomatoes, and olives.

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When you are done with lining the colander, place one-third of the meat and cornmeal mixture in the bottom of the colander and press down lightly. Try to lay the chicken slices horizontally, so you end up with a layered effect. Top with half of the peas.

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Continue with one-third of the cornmeal mixture topped with the remaining peas, then press the remaining cornmeal mixture on top, smoothing the top.

Cover the colander tightly and place it in a large pot; the bottom of the colander should be above the bottom of the pot. Add water to within about one inch from the bottom of the colander, then cover everything tightly, either with foil or a tightly-fitting lid.

Proceed to steam for one hour, making sure the water doesn’t completely evaporate.

After one hour, let the dish cool slightly, then turn it over onto a serving plate.

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To serve, carefully slice a wedge, and serve it with orange slices.

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* I used chicken breasts because a certain person who eats my food only eats breasts of chicken. But if I had my way I would have used thighs, or a whole chicken, cut into pieces.

note: The name cuscuz is interesting, and the origin is intriguing, although this isn’t a wheat couscous like in the Middle East. However, the “grains” of cornmeal stay separated like a couscous, but maybe because I used a medium-grind, whole-grain cornmeal.

Verdict: I will probably never make this dish again, but not because it doesn’t taste good. I would actually make a deconstructed Cuscuz de Galinha in the future, because all of the components are really good. It was fun to try.