About sa.fifer

Lover of good, wholesome food and wine. Cooks for one and the cat. Likes to paint-- a frustrated botanical illustrator and amateur (photographer) and fledgling birdwatcher, beekeeper, and Kindle addict. Works as a freelance indexer.

A virtual tour of the world

Many of us are in lockdown–or under stay-at-home orders. Same here, but I still have my Kindle and internet access. So I gave in to my weakness for cookbooks–as usual (especially with the lower prices for e-books).

Long a fan of Christopher Kimball through Cook’s magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, and America’s Test Kitchen, I’ve followed to Milk Street. I’ve always been successful with recipes from those sources (although sometimes finding things a little under-seasoned for my tastes).

I’m also a lover of my Instant Pot, although I’ve yet to use the slow cooker function on it. Always on the lookout for recipes (at least for inspiration if not the religious following of them), I was happy to discover this book on my “recommended” list. Awesome to see both the pressure function and the slow cooker function covered in one book. (Maybe I’ll get around to trying the slow cooker function sometime–someday.)

What better thing to do when you’re forced to stay at home than cook something. My first venture was determined by foraging in the refrigerator and the freezer, so it’s not exactly like the recipe, but enough to get a feel for the book, and to have a queue of bookmarked recipes to follow for my vicarious travels.

The “Spicy Collard Greens with Tomatoes and Peanuts” (a version of muriwo unedovi) was up for trial with the caveat that I was not going to the grocery store and that I was definitely in need of some green stuff. The freezer yielded frozen collard greens, and there were canned tomatoes in the pantry. The recipe called for chunky peanut butter, but my pantry gave up only a jar of creamy–so I had to do without the crunch. Whole habanero chilies also weren’t lurking in the fridge, so I had to sub in a serrano chile pepper lurking in the crisper. Overall very favorable result for not making a grocery run. Since I’m cooking only for me, I did halve the recipe and everything worked well–not too much in my category of “leftovers”.

In the queue for trying whilst I’m hiding at home is the German-inspired “Braised Red Cabbage with Apples” (one apple lurking in the fridge along with the cabbage), and the “Lentils and Bulgur with Caramelized Onions” which is a riff on my beloved mujaddara (only with bulgur instead of rice).

Gifts for your favorite cook

Even though this seems to come at Christmas, it’s really useful for other occasions, too; like birthdays, or just to pamper yourself type occasion.

Some of my favorite comestibles here. Most of the websites mentioned have gifts or starters kits available. Add something new to your kitchen–there are so many things we don’t see in the supermarket are worth adding to your pantry.

  • Salt: . Seriously, yes, salt! Kosher salt is fine for the basics; however, salt is not salt is not salt. Salted: A Manifesto is a treatise that will introduce you to the world of salt outside the Diamond Crystal or Morton box (available hardbound or Kindle editions). Finishing salt as a final touch is awesome. It’s like that final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or that treasured balsamic vinegar to put the final touch on a meal. The Meadow is a great website (or store if you’re in the right areas) for salts.
  • Lentils: Lentils go far beyond the plastic bags that you see in the supermarket. If these pulses haven’t found their way into your kitchen, start here for information on different kinds. There are many colors, sizes, textures and flavors. My personal favorite for my kitchen are the French green from Bob’s Red Mill, but you can also get red and brown lentils there too; even Amazon.com has several varieties. For a visual surprise try some black (aka beluga) lentils for salads.
  • Potatoes: A vegetable that we often take for granted, but there are so many other varieties that don’t appear in the supermarket; they do have different flavors. So try some; yes, there is a potato of the month club. Here are so of the varieties of potatoes that you certainly won’t find in the supermarket.
  • Heirloom beans: Just like potatoes, we’re missing some good ones with the typical supermarket supply. Even the garbanzo (chickpea) has some surprises for us. The bean has made it into the gourmet food list. Rancho Gordo, Elegant Beans, and North Bay Trading Company have a variety of beans that many of us had never heard of. There is a bean club with quarterly shipments if you want to keep your kitchen supplied.
  • Extra virgin olive oil: It’s always good to have variety here and a source that is reliable given how much “fake” or adulterated is on the market. Just a drizzle of a great oil can add a lot of a simple dish. My favorite local (does online orders, too) is Bull City Olive Oil–definitely one that keeps appearing here as a source for infused/fused oils, and vinegars (balsamic, sherry for example). Try a vinaigrette with lavender balsamic vinegar and herbs de Provence infused oil. Or go totally decadent with some truffle oil (black or white to drizzle (lightly) on a baked potato–add a glass of champagne, too.

Other suggestions based on the latest additions and most used things in my kitchen:

  • Instant Pot: It took me a while to get on the bandwagon for this kitchen appliance but it now has permanent place on my kitchen counter–especially for cooking beans without all the planning you’re used to if you don’t have an Instant Pot (or other pressure cooker). Though this recipe lists common supermarket varieties, it works just as well with the heirloom varieties. Not to denigrate canned beans since I do keep some on my pantry shelf, with the Instant Pot there are so many more to experience. However, beans are not the only reason to give this appliance kitchen counter space–it performs other functions as well–yogurt, sterilizing, rice cooking and slow cooking to mention just a few. It’s also wonderful to have those steel-cut oats ready for you when breakfast time arrives–no morning fumbles and long cooking time.
  • Instant Pot accessories: Since I do a lot of cooking for one with my Instant Pot I have found the “pot-in-pot” technique (also here and here) wonderful for small or even single servings or for several things at one time. Some of the “accessories” that I’ve found particularly useful for this can be found at ekovana, life without plastic, and of course, Amazon.com. I also use Pyrex bowls, but not plastic. For covers when cooking this way (to avoid extra water in the bowl) silicone lids (oven-safe) work well.
  • Sous vide circulator: Another fine way to enhance your cooking is to add sous vide or precision cooking to your methods. It’s my most recent addition but I’ll be quick to point out that it’s not displaced my Instant Pot by any means. I finally decided on Joule from ChefSteps but the Anova was a consideration too. This is really a different way of cooking. The results are fantastic, but it’s not going to replace the slow oven braised stew, baked garbanzos, or lamb stew, made in a cast iron dutch oven or a clay cooker (Romertopf) but it’s a method that’s going to stay in my kitchen. The low temperatures make it possible to use infused oils to flavor proteins–e.g. mushroom and sage to flavor chicken, Chilean sea bass with fennel oil, or salmon with fernleaf dill oil. For review of Joule see here.
  • Sous vide accessories: Even cooking for one sous vide is a great addition to the kitchen. Once you start this precision cooking process you’ll find that a craving for accessories develops. While I’ve used my dutch oven, or the inner container of my Instant Pot for containers for sous vide cooks, I think that I’ll have to make room for a different kind of container dedicated to sous vide for several reasons: for long cook times, it’s unhandy to have your dutch oven occupied that way if you want to do some unplanned braising. For long cook times (e.g. short ribs) the bath needs to be covered to prevent evaporation and plastic wrap is really klutzy. Finally, I want a rack to wrangle multiple bags in the same container that wouldn’t fit in my existing pots and pans. I’ve been using Ziploc freezer bags. I’m considering reusable vacuum bags but more research is needed.
  • Already got the sous vide circulator? Add a cookbook to get started with it.

So add some spice to your life and your kitchen! A son gôut!

—Ô¿Ô—

Disclaimer:

Brands mentioned here are my personal preferences. I receive no remuneration or consideration for mentioning them. I’m sure there are other equally good sources or brands but these happen to be the ones I use.

—Ô¿Ô—

Bring on the fat!

We’ve had years of vilification of fat all because of some reports of research that was not well done or accurately reported. Low-fat and fat-free have been advertising buzz words leading to processed foods that are supposedly healthy but really are not. If you want more on this saga check out books and blogs by Gary Taubes or Nina Teicholtz (here, here, and here under Nutrition).

I’m a fan of fat (possibly even a fat fan) used judiciously in cooking. I found this article in Bon Appetite by Carla Lalli Music refreshing and full of good information about using fat that you can get for free. (Note that is free fat, not fat free!) Fat and flavor go together.

A son gôut!

—Ô¿Ô—

How to Make Cultured Butter (Cultured Butter Recipe) – A Beautiful Plate

As a butter-lover, one of the things I miss (from growing up on a farm)) is “real” butter and butter milk. Since I’m now an urban dweller, I purchase my butter in the market so it’s “sweet cream” butter.

Although this requires some planning and effort, it’s worth it if you want a real taste treat–and you also like real butter milk. So I wanted to share this recipe from A Beautiful Plate.

A son gôut!

—Ô¿Ô—

Reheated sous vide monkfish

This is a first for me–I’ve eaten reheated fish. I have been known to re-purpose leftover fish–e.g. salmon into a Scandinavian potato salad, or grilled tuna steak into tuna salad; reheated leftover fish invariably (after one bite or even just a sniff) goes into the garbage.

One of the attractions of sous vide cooking for me as a single-serving cook has been the references to how well foods cooked this way can be stored (right in the cooking bag) for longer times.

reheated sous vide monkfish

My test of this was the monkfish that I cooked sous vide a few days ago: the fillet cut in half, cooked separately in two quart-sized Ziploc bags with only a little salt and some olive oil. One serving was eaten immediately. The second serving was cooled quickly and refrigerated (unopened) in the cooking bag for eating later. (Circumstances prevented me from reheating this for several days, but the monkfish remained sealed in the cooking bag until i reheated it in the water bath, to the cooking temperature.)

Results? OK, so this wasn’t a blind taste test, but I just ate every bit of that second fillet and I doubt that I could tell it from the fresh-cooked portion–it may well be the first time I’ve eaten reheated, cook fish. (That would be an interesting test.)

Although a cliche, this may be a life-changing event for me–at least in terms of cooking for one. I might not be limited to cooking things that are more usual leftovers,or limiting myself to small portions of fish that I’m going to eat at one time. Most of the references that I’ve found to keeping sous-vide cooked dishes indicate that the storage time if unopened–just cooled and store in the cooking bag–is much longer than the usual use-by times for cooked stuff. The lentils that I cooked in the mason jars kept very well–as indicated for up to ten (yes, 10) days sealed in the cooking jar (after being cooled and refrigerated). A real boon for when I’ve a busy schedule–hands–off cooking, the ability to have extra meals in the fridge, minimizing waste, and (especially) getting things cooked just the way I like them because of the temperature control. A son gôut!

—Ô¿Ô—

Monkfish (real) sous vide

Sous vide cooking has intrigued me for quite some time–so much that I had to do some trials to see if I really wanted to purchase a special appliance for it. One of my early experiments was with monkfish and then Chilean sea bass. Well I’ve finally purchased a thermal circulator–made the leap to real sous vide equipment. I’ve already cooked several things with the real equipment: short ribs, lentils, and some vegetables.

While I was skulking through my local Harris Teeter supermarket yesterday, I made my usual swing past the meat and seafood cases, and there was monkfish. It somehow seemed appropriate that I try it again with the “real” equipment. So I blew my budget on a lovely filet of monkfish. The butcher (or perhaps in this instance he should be fishmonger) removed the membranes so that I don’t even have to do that!

monkfish fillets

While searching for recipes, I found a wide range of temperatures recommended: from 113°F to 144°F (140°F was what I had used in my first trial). After reviewing the post from Stefan’s Gourmet Blog again since there were descriptions of texture for different temperatures. I love sashimi, but I wanted cooked fish here so after perusing other recipes, I decided to go with 132°F–tender and flaky. This is a lower temperature than what I used with my earlier monkfish (which was wonderful). The filet that I had was really more like two servings, so I cut it in half and I’ll see how it reheats for the second serving. (For single-serving cooking it would be wonderful to be able to reheat something like this.)

I read in several places that the tail fillets are the only edible part of this fish; however, online see that it is possible to purchase monkfish cheeks, apparently from larger fish. I’ve eaten cod tongues, and cheeks.

I dry-brined for 30 minutes, and then cooked for 37 minutes with just the salt and some extra virgin olive oil. The result was even better than my first try at the higher temperature. I didn’t try to finish by searing, just added a brown butter sauce with some lemon zest and juice. The taste and texture were wonderful! Next time, although the fish was opaque and just starting to flake, I think I’ll try just a degree or two higher for the next cook–e.g. 133 or 134°F as I’d like the fish to be just a little flakier than this was.

it is not a pretty fish, but so tasty–the poor man’s lobster

Not pretty, but certainly tasty and one of my favorite fish. This precision control of the temperature has lots of possibilities–a son gôut!

I’ll be reporting on how the other half of the filet tasted after cooling and reheating (although reheated fish usually just, despite my best intentions, is headed for the garbage despite the waste.

—Ô¿Ô—

Resources for sous vide

Obviously the decision (and selection process) of a sous vide circulation heater necessitated a good deal of research before, and perusal of cookbooks after it arrived in the kitchen.

The ChefSteps website for the selected device (the Joule) is bristling with information including recipes. I’m sure that had I chosen a different device (e.g. Anova) I would have found the same resources.

But if you have a new way of cooking you must also have a new cookbook. Thanks to my Kindle and a subscription to Kindle unlimited I was able to sample a lot of different cookbooks. I’ve found several for specialized uses of sous vide that have gone on my wish list, but the one that I bought was Sous Vide for Everybody. I like all the sciencey explanations of why recipes work. There was a delightful “freebie” with the book: recommendation to check out a particular website. Lifehacker site has a delightful collection of articles on what and how to use sous vide cooking.

As useful as the recipes from ChefSteps are, I’m in favor of having independently tested recipes. For my first “cook” I did short ribs and I did find it interesting that the temperature recommendations from that book were a bit different from the website, although overlapping. Given the results of my first batch, I do want to try the temperature recommended in that cookbook.

For right now that’s my source for recipes as I explore sous vide; however there are books from several authors that have gone onto my Kindle wish list: Jason Logsdon (several sous vide books), Dave Arnold (for Liquid Intelligence), Lisa Q Fetterman (Sous Vide at Home). Some of these for basics, others for special applications of this precision cooking technique. So much exploration to do!

A son gôut!

—Ô¿Ô—

…..

Storing fresh herbs

I love fresh herbs. Ideally, I would have herbs growing on my deck so that it’s just a matter of walking out and snipping what I need for anything I cooking–well, excluding some that are best grown in some semblance of shade. In reality that’s not the case; work and hot weather have gotten in the way of my on-deck herb garden, sadly. So that leaves me foraging for herbs in the produce department of my local supermarket, usually pretty successfully for the basics.

There’s a problem with single-serving cooking and supermarket foraging for herbs: those expensive little plastic clam shells often end up languishing in the crisper until they turn to something disgusting.

I’ve seen the recommendations to keep them on your counter-top like a bouquet, and seen the ads for special containers for storing them in the refrigerator. Those packages, or even the bunches of parsley and cilantro, are still a lot of herbs if you’re cooking only for one. The on-the-counter method has some drawbacks–little short sprigs don’t fit well in to a container without some work–stripping leaves, changing the water, and being devoured or designated as toys by the cat. Even so the “leftovers” usually end up discarded from terminal wilt after I’ve let them run out of water, so I revert to the fridge.

Yes, I’m also cognizant of the ice-tray-water suggestion, or storing in oil, too. But if you’re still searching, here a list of some of the best sources I’ve found.

I’m glad I can get fresh herbs at the market, but you simply can’t beat having them growing close to the kitchen door–even if it’s just in pots on the deck to pick just what you need when cooking, or just to rustle around in them for the joy of smelling them and maybe changing your mind about how to season what’s cooking now. A son gôut!

—Ô¿Ô—

So what’s this sous vide stuff?

Sous vide is a bit of a misnomer. It means “under vacuum”. That was how it originally started but now it would really be more appropriate to call it something like precision cooking now.

Vacuum was first used as a way to remove air from around the food so that there was good contact with the water in the bath since air is a poor conductor. Now while it’s possible to use vacuum a lot of sous vide cooking is done using Ziploc freezer bags and removing air by letting water in the bath press the plastic onto the food. You can also do this kind of cooking in–you guessed it–mason or Ball jars although you’ll need to increase times just a bit since glass is a poorer conductor of heat than with the think plastic.

Note that I specifically used the Ziploc brand name. Those are recommended as being safe and holding up to the cooking temperatures and times used. Most recipes suggest gallon bags, and not ones with the slider. You want the double seal. Since I’m mostly cooking single-serving size amounts I’ve been using quart size, and a smaller water bath than is usually recommended.

Some of you might be cringing at the temperatures and the times you see. They are safe. Even the lower temperatures essentially pasteurize the food according to USDA standards. More on that later, but pasteurization is really a pretty fascinating process.

I’ve already cooked one thing in a mason jar–lentils. Cooking right in the jar makes one of the good things about sous vide even better especially in cooking for one: that jar of lentils (about 3 really hefty servings) could go in the fridge so there was no extra washing up. Awesome. I’m envisioning some other advantages to sous vide for doing single-serving cooking!

—Ô¿Ô—