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.
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!
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!
I wasn’t surprised to find differences in how meat cooks with sous vide and pressure cooking. I want to know more about the best way to cook other things that I use frequently: beans, cabbage, rice, etc. so I decided to do another comparison. Lentils are something that I do use quite often so I thought that a pressure cooker/sous vide test was in order here too.
I got the inspiration to gr cooking lentils from the Joule app on my smartphone. There was a section on “batch cooking”. Normally since I’m always trying to do single-serving cooking and don’t do well with leftovers I’d blow right by a suggestion like that but I noticed that those batch-cooked lentils could be stored in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days. That made sense since they would essentially be pasteurized. Interesting possibility for something that I use in as many ways as I use lentils!
Lentils are so quick cooking on the stove top that you might wonder why use a pressure cooker, or why (particularly with the time required) sous vide. One reason is hands off. In the pressure cooker it’s set and forget until done. The same is true of sous vide; for me that can be an advantage when I’m engrossed in writing and index. So, a comparison of the two methods.
Another thing that made me curious about cooking lentils this way was that they were cooked in pint jars. With the brown lentils I had in the house at 185°F for the recommended 90 minutes, plus the additional recommended 30 minutes I still didn’t have cooked lentils. But I thought this deserved further investigation so I went in search of other recipes for time and temperature suggestions.
My first stop was to consider how to cook lentils in the pressure cooker other than just pushing the “beans/chili” button on the Instant Pot (IP) was to look at American’s Test Kitchen’s Pressure Cooker Perfection. Much to my surprise I didn’t find lentils listed as an ingredient. So to other reliable sources for cooking time suggestions: from Forks over Knives website 20 minutes. From Kitchn, 15 minutes. Both recipes calling for natural pressure release.
For the sous vide (precision cooking) I did find lentil as an ingredient and, thus, instructions for cooking in Sous Vide for Everybody (location 3646). The recipe called for black lentils (sometimes called beluga lentils). Most often I use French green lentils (lentilles du Puy) but I occasionally use brown lentils so I opted to use those. At least I felt I was comparing apples to apples in terms of looking at cooking times and temperature since both were for black lentils.
I had already tried using Mason jars the water bath and in the IP so I decided to use a pint Mason for both methods of cooking.. Although I believe that Ziploc freezer bags are probably safe, I have a think about using as little plastic as possible for environmental reasons if I can use recyclable containers like the Mason jars.
As with the meat, I decided to season both batches the same so that the only difference was the cooking method so the lentils were cooked with only salt as seasoning; it’s the texture that I really wanted to know about. From reviewing recipes from several sources for both electric pressure cooker and sous vide I prepared two pint jars each with 4 3/4 ounces of brown lentils, salt and 8 3/8 ounces of water–one for the pressure cooker and one for the sous vide water bath. The pressure cooker was set for 15 minutes and normal pressure and the sous vide for 194°F and 3 hours (range 3-5 hours. Then the wait began.
The jar from the pressure cooker was cooled (it was sealed) and refrigerated until the sous vide lentils were cooked. That jar was also cooled (it was also sealed) and refrigerated. .
For the taste and texture tests, both jars were removed from the refrigerator, unsealed to look at the lentils before reheating. The cold jars were placed in a cold water bath to reheat to 145°F (1 hour and 30 minutes).
Just looking at the two, there was an obvious difference in how some of the lentils cooked in the IP were “blown out”–i.e. exploded, burst open, etc. Not great for use in a salad. No surprise here given what I’ve read about the differences in other legumes cooked in either of these ways.
Tasted before reheating (cold), lentils cooked in the IP were much softer, really almost mushy, OK in soup especially if you wanted to puree some to thicken it a bit. The sous vide lentils were firm, but tender–just what I’d like if they were for a salad or a side. After reheating, there were still the same differences.
The flavor? I’m struggling to describe the differences in flavor–there definitely was a difference. I think part of it was that the IP lentils you started tasting immediately when they hit you mouth; with the sous vide lentils you didn’t really taste them until you start chewing them. Then there was this burst of flavor which seemed to me to be more intense than with the IP lentils. I found it very difficult to separate flavor from the “mouth feel” of the two batches–I think the texture differences affected my reactions.
After this experiment I think I’ll be cooking a lot of lentils with the sous vide method. If I want lentil soup I’ll be turning to the IP. I’ll also add more salt to both.
It took me a while to join the Instant Pot (IP) cult, but I finally did and I’m glad that I did–I love my IP. Now I’ve added a new gadget to the kitchen: a sous vide immersion circulator.
I had tried some “jury rigged” sous vide (here and here) so I was sure it was a way of cooking I was interested in pursuing.
The Joule, from ChefSteps now has a place in my kitchen. We all also know that you can’t have a new kitchen toy without playing. So I had to decide what to cook first.
When I got my IP one of the first recommendations for something to cook was boneless beef short ribs. I’ve done short ribs as a braise in the oven (love them, but it’s a wintertime thing–not for summer when the A/C is working hard to fight the heat and humidity. As I was browsing amongst the cookbooks on sous vide I found a recommendation of something to try with sous vide. Yep, short ribs. There was even a recipe for them in the app on my smartphone (which you need to operate the Joule). An absolute no-brainer–short ribs by sous vide.
After reading the descriptions of sous vide meat, the scientist in me just had to do a little study of my own. I’ve really enjoyed short ribs out of my IP. Certainly they were not the same as the long oven braise that I would do in the wintertime, but for hands-off cooking and summertime, they are great. It seemed logical that I should cook something using my new sous vide that I knew so I could really get a feel for what sous vide really does. So, a little experimental design here.
I got a package of four very homogeneous-appearing boneless beef short ribs. Two of those went into the IP, and two into the sous vide according to the recipe on my smartphone. I seasoned both the same: garlic powder, onion powder, and salt then set to cooking.
The Joule app gave me a choice of cooking temperatures for ribs: 156°F, 167°F, and 176°F, with 167°F marked as the “fave”. Since I thought a good deal of experimentation had probably gone into those recommendation, I opted for the middle one for the recommended time of 24 hours. (Yes, really.) The other two went into the IP for 90 minutes that I’d previously used to get nice tender short ribs. (I’d tried less time, higher pressure but didn’t get the result I wanted. Less and there was just a bit too much chew to the meat.)
When the short ribs in the IP were cooked, I cooled them quickly, put them into a freezer bag and refrigerated them. (The freezer bag was because the sous vide ones and my IP ones would be reheated in the water bath.) At the end of the 24 hours, I chilled the sous vide ribs and refrigerated them too.
For the taste test, reheated both batches in the sous vide water bath at 140°F for 35 minutes and plopped them onto a plate and dug side by side and dug in. Was there a difference? Yes there was.
After all the descriptions of meat cooked sous vide I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The seasoning on them was just about the same so they were beefy, onion-y, and garlicky. The appearance was slightly different: the IP ribs were a bit darker. Both were very tender, but the “mouth feel” of the sous vide ribs was much moister than those from the IP.
I really like the sous vide ribs! Am I going to give up cooking them in the IP? Not likely since it’s also hands off, but it’s quick. Will cook more ribs using sous vide? You bet! I’ll certainly want to try some different temperatures, though. I perusing the Sous Vide for Everybody* cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen I found that their suggestion of time an temperature for braised short ribs was 160°F for 20 to 24 hours.
When thinking about sous vide you have to remember we’re talking precision cooking here–not hit or miss, or close. So it’s likely to take a bit to get the feel for just how I like things cooked using sous vide, but it should be an exciting journey.
A son gôut!
*Note: If you’re skulking on Amazon for sous vide cookbooks, be sure to look carefully at the author or editors. There is another with the exact title except that it has 2019 appended.
It seems to happen in late summer, yearly: an infestation of fruit flies. It’s just a fact of life. I usually just use my homemade traps and I’ve gotten rid of them in short order.
I was (as always) glad to know that I’m not alone with this end-of-summer event, but surprised to see a test on the effectiveness of homemade traps. Even though I’m pretty satisfied with my method, curious minds must investigate the possibility that someone has built a better (mouse) trap.
Frankly, I’ve been lazy and simply put out the cider vinegar mix in any small container even without the funnel or the lid with hold punched in the top and it still works, and add to that, for only once a year I don’t want lids with holes poked around the kitchen! In my simple open-container method (yes, lazy) the dish soap seems to really help advance the mass slaughter.
Note I’m using the Instant Pot as an example because that’s what I own, no slight or promotion of any other brand is intended–and I get no remuneration or consideration for this. It’s strictly personal opinion.
I did finally succumb to the lore of the Instant Pot; I glad that I did because it is a wonderful tool in the kitchen. I love my Instant Pot (henceforth the IP); however, this rant is not directed to the IP per se, but to out expectations of a kitchen tool promoted by uncritical acceptance of advertising and overzealous adoption with unrealistic expectations. (Okay, perhaps the hot weather has made me a bit grouchy, maybe even bitchy, but then, lots of ads do that to me anyway since so many are insulting to our intelligence.)
I’m tired of seeing ads of the ilk “the IP can do everything” or “anything”. Not true. Then to read complaints that it doesn’t do what was claimed. We need to consider it a tool. Think about it. Screwdrivers and pliers are also tools, but we don’t expect one of them to do everything. They are quite different in the tasks that they perform and no toolbox would be functional without both (and even so more specialized versions of each one.)
Pressure cooking is not new, but we are fortunate to have the IP (and other electric pressure cookers) make pressure cooking much easier and less frightening. I’m not denying that there are many things that can be done in an IP (or the equivalent). It does work even for cooking pasta, steaming veggies and fish, and making hard-cooked eggs. But it does not do everything.
In using a pressure cooker you are cooking in a humid environment (and the same really applies to slow cookers) that requires an adequate amount of liquid and does not allow evaporation, so there are some things that just won’t happen inside the IP or slow cooker as they will in a low oven or even with stove-top cooking. Although hot weather keeps me from doing oven braises, there’s still nothing quite like a long, low-temperature, braise of some beef in red wine or in beer. The evaporation of liquid and browning that takes place during that process just can’t be duplicated in a pressure cooker. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to use a pressure cooker for a faux boeuf bourguignon or carbonnade ; it simply means that my expectations are different–both can be very tasty.
During hot, steamy weather I’m thoroughly enjoying by beef short ribs (from my IP and maybe quickly run under the broiler or grilled to add the browning). So, enjoy your IP or slow cooker for the things that they are really good at doing. (Unless I were to regress to college dormatory I can’t imagine any reason why I would use it for making popcorn but a son gôut!