Pork spare ribs

Cooking pork spare ribs to that point where they are extremely luscious and tender is usually a long process, usually involving the oven (at least for me). Even in the cooler weather this didn’t seem to be an option even with windows and doors open; however it occurred to me that I had another option: the Instant Pot. So despite the rather humid (even if cool) weather and the prospect of hotter weather imminent, that package of spare ribs went home with me.

I’ve cooked other meat (e.g. beef short ribs) in my Instant Pot with wonderful results so that was my plan. Realizing that i was going to have an abundance of pork I started thinking of ways to deal with it: some for the freezer perhaps since there are lots of things to do with good cooked pork.

My favorite way of cooking many things in the Instant Pot (IP) is the pot-in-pot method*–a container with a lid inside the Instant Pot. My reason for using this method so often is that in cooking for one I’m often using rather small quantities in a six-quart IP. Often I don’t want to add as much liquid as would be necessary cooking directly in the container of the pot itself.

I like this method especially for meats. The broth that you collect is undiluted by water so you have broth that is flavorful and will gel nicely. So that is how the spare ribs were cooked. The only “disadvantage” to this method is that you may need to increase the cooking times but since I use the IP mainly because of hands-off method and flavor I don’t find that to be a problem.

It really isn’t possible to give quantities for things like the peppercorns or precisely for the salt–you’ll have to judge by your taste.

Ingredients

  • about 2 to 2-1/2 pounds boneless pork spare ribs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • whole black peppercorns (a lot–about a generous teaspoon or more if you like pepper
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic
  • salt (more than you would think)–about 2 or 3 teaspoons

Preparation

  • The day before or at least three or four hours ahead of cooking, sprinkle the spare ribs generously with kosher salt.
  • When ready to cook, rinse if there is still salt visible and pat the meat dry.
  • Cut the strips into 2- or 3-inch chunks (to fit into your bowl).
  • Add 1 cup of water to the IP container, place the trivet, and set the covered bowl on the trivet.
  • Close the IP and set to “meat”. These took about 90 minutes at high pressure.

I removed a healthy serving of the cooked spare ribs for my supper on that cool, rainy evening (with sides of cabbage and some rice) and then cooled the remaining in the broth (and the fat) for another use.

Cooks notes: *This is a rather long video but it introduces the pot-in-pot method and containers suitable for this. I almost always use a cover on the inner pot so that additional liquid doesn’t collect in it. For more on containers see this link, this link, or here.

Seasoning cast iron

I have cooking equipment in my kitchen that needs seasoning: double-burner cast iron grill/griddle, a round single-burner griddle, two small skillets (the two-egg size), and a carbon steel skillet.  Once seasoned these take little care.

I’ve always used vegetable oil to season mine. I was interested to find an article recommending beeswax.  Now that I have bees, perhaps I will try that next time my seasoning needs refreshing.  It seems as if it might have some advantages.

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One-pan cooking

It’s really no secret that I don’t like washing dishes–I know some people say that they do, but I simply don’t believe it (I can kind of understand liking ironing, but…). It’s not as wv5220xthough I’ve never mentioned “one-pot meals” here and it’s pretty obvious that I don’t feel a huge need for recipes, but sometimes some guidelines are nice.

In perusing the internet I see lots of recipes that can be done in one pot–or maybe a sheet pan. These are so easily adaptable for single-serving cooking, use things that come in “chunks”,  and that it’s possible to buy in appropriate quantities.  For winter cooking I’ve got no problems using the oven as it simply contributes to heating the house. I’ve bought a one-quarter (9 x 13 inch) sheet pan to prepare for winter meals.

Summer is another matter–no oven use for this person.  I don’t want to add any extra heat, but cooking on a single burner would be within my limits (maybe actually doing it on an induction unit, too.)  Today, I found an article in Bon Appetit Basically that provided some guidelines for building a one-skillet meal that seems very amenable to improvisation–in other words a how to approach.

I’d suggest you take a look at the full article, but in summary:

  1. Cook your protein first. For quick-cooking things like shrimp, etc be sure to undercook just a tad.
  2. Add aromatics of your choice.
  3. Deglaze with your choice of liquid.
  4. Add vegetables; quick-cooking ones are best but that leaves a lot of options.
  5. Add pre-cooked grains if you wish.
  6. Return to protein to the skillet, to reheat if necessary.
  7. Serve!

If you do this in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet the cleanup is going to be really simple. Even better, if the skillet can also go in the oven you’ve even more flexibility in finishing off you one-skillet meal. (Tonight, my skillet will contain some good onion sausage and kohlrabi leaves with a few aromatics–onions and garlic.)

A son gôut!

Cast iron cooking

I grew up with cast iron–and I still love it. I have some enamel cast iron cookware (Le Creuset), but I also use the plain black cast iron stuff that is a workhorse in the kitchen, for example, my griddleLodge is a readily available brand., likely even at your local hardware store.

Plain black cast iron is a great way to add some useful items to your batterie de cuisine inexpensively.  Sure, it does have some limitations, but lots of advantages, too. Sure, Le Cruset enameled cast iron is wonderful, colorful, but not an inexpensive way to get the advantages in your kitchen (and it also has some disadvantages).  One thing about cast iron: it is heavy! Seriously heavy–that’s part of what makes it desirable, but can make it difficult to handle; skillet-shaped pans can with dual handles rather than the long handle of the skillet can be a good idea if you are concerned about the weight.

 

There seem to be some misconceptions and myths surrounding this versatile cookware. The concept of “seasoning” seems to induce a particular hesitancy for some. Even though I’ve used it for a long time (not willing to give away how long) and feel comfortable with it, there is an online course with Clifford A. Wright (a favorite food person of mine) on cooking with cast iron (through Craftsy).

One of the things I’ve always liked about Clifford Wright’s recipes is the focus on flavor, without a bunch of frou-frou stuff–it’s like black cast iron–just the basics. He also stresses looking and tasting as part of the cooking so that you can learn to improvise as you cook what you want to eat as you like it. This orientation carries right into this course. If you need an introduction to the care and feeding of cast iron, this is worth every penny.  The recipes that are demonstrated are available to download as PDF document.

This really gets to the heart of single-serving, simple, delicious, easy cooking for one! One of my favorite “helpers” for this kind of cooking has become fused and infused olive oils.  I especially like Bull City Olive Oil as a source since I can taste the oils before I bring them home. If I’m unsure how I’ll like it in actual cooking, I’ll get a “mini”–just enough to try a few different ways in my kitchen: new addition for me is dill infused oil. I like dill, but it’s not a flavor that’s at the top of my list–so it will be interesting to see if I want (need) a bigger bottle of the oil–(I’m thinking just a drizzle to finish off griddled salmon).

Another thing I liked that there is no focus on high-tech equipment–the recipes are demonstrated using kitchen equipment like an old-fashioned, hand-cranked egg beater. You won’t watch the videos and then feel you need to run to the cookware store for equipment!

Basic techniques are explained and demonstrated very well, and recipes that are easy to adjust for cooking for one.  There are recipes from around the world to bring some adventure to your cooking for one–all this with inexpensive black cast iron.

(Disclaimer: no affiliation or monetary considerations from anything mentioned here–just personal opinion and my (opinionated) preferences here).

Improvise! A son gôut!

 

Christmas evening supper

Christmas eve–what’s for supper? Your basic duck breast, pan-seared and dressed with some of the spoils of my visit to Bull City Olive Oil. Just a take-off on a vinaigrette, but what fun. A nice fatty duck breast pan-seared so that the skin is cracklin’ crispy–with a very simple sauce–fruity.

Turn off the smoke alarm so you won’t be interrupted while cooking. You need to start with a skillet that will tolerate high heat–it needs to be almost smoking hot to begin–and no worries about sticking given the fat in the duck skin. I used my favorite carbon steel skillet–very well cured (now black and nonstick), and has the advantages of cast iron, without the weight. Just the right size for two duck breasts.

20161224_173256I had thought that perhaps just a drizzle of one of the infused vinegars would be good, but after tasting the vinegars with a piece of breast that was loose in the package, I decided it needed  more complexity, so I started with  extra-virgin olive oil infused with mushroom and sage–awesome as a condiment in its own right, but for nice fatty duck it needs to be brightened a bit with one of the infused balsamic vinegars. Decisions, decisions!

I had black mission fig, black cherry, and blackberry with ginger. After tasting I decided that blackberry-ginger was what I wanted this evening, though any of these would have been good with duck. I didn’t use typical vinaigrette proportions but I did emulsify the oil and the vinegar (1:1). The mushroom-sage oil is very earthy and a great contrast to the fruitiness of the blackberry with that little spark of ginger.

20161224_174026To prep the breasts I patted them dry and scored the skin side, careful not to cut into the meat–just to help the fat render while pan-searing. You need a very sharp knife so that just the weight of the knife pulled across the skin will cut into it. Then I salted the meat side of the breasts and let them sit for about 20 minutes to season.

After patting them dry I put them into a  very hot skillet, skin side down, and cooked until most of the fat rendered and the skin side was brown and crispy (about 5 to 8 minutes), reducing the heat a bit to keep them from getting too brown before a sufficient amount of fat had rendered. Then turned them and continued to cook until the temperature was 135ºF by instant read thermometer (about 5 minutes).

While the breasts were searing, I whisked the oil and vinegar together, and got the roasted potatoes out of the oven. While the breasts rested (and continued with carry-over cooking), I poured off the excess fat from the pan, left just enough to  sauté a mix of  baby arugula and radicchio for a side. Very quick. Very tasty!

The bitterness of the arugula and radicchio was a great contrast to the richness of the duck, and the blackberry-ginger/mushroom-sage sauce. (Blackberry and sage are awesome together–makes me want to try a sorbet with that combination.)  The Les Hérétiques wine (old vine Carignane grapes) has lots of berry fruit (blackberry  with some earthiness, and minerals) all in all a great wine for this meal even though it’s just my “house” wine.

All together a very flavorful supper for no more time than it took.  So many possible flavor variations possible with this simple sauce. A son gôut!

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Holiday time again….

Like it or not the holiday season approaches. I’ve one Christmas gift to order yet, but then I’m through. I thought I’d pass on a few suggestions for gifts for those of you who still have a cooking person on your list to shop for:

  • Volrath French carbon steel skillet: probably my most-used, it has the advantages of cast iron, without the weight.
  • Romertopf clay cooker: a go-to especially for one-dish meals in cold weather.
  • Home espresso machine: Can’t start the morning without my jolt of caffeine either straight espresso or café latte.
  • Clever Coffee Dripper: If I’m not wanting quite the jolt of espresso this gets something more like French press, with the benefit of a filter to eliminate the sediment.
  • Kunh Rincon garlic press: If garlic is a cooking necessity, a garlic press can be a time-saver, or it can be a total nuisance when you have to clean it, so you don’t use it. This is a good one, recommended by Cook’s Illustrated after testing lots of them.*
  • Max Burton Portable Induction cook unit: Live where it’s hot and humid in the summer? You just hate to turn on the stove? Induction cooking is much cooler–though it does require cookware that is either stainless steel or iron.  If a magnet won’t stick on your cookware, then you need the Hob Heat Diffuser that will allow you to use other cookware with the induction unit.
  • Pressure cooker: The Fissler FSSFIS5859 Vitaquick Pressure Cooker was the winner of the Cook’s Illustrated testing* and is pricey.  The runner-up was the Fagor Duo line, less pricey, highly recommended and noted as “best buy”. (This is the one I’ve used.) This cooker does work with induction cook units–a real plus in hot, humid weather when you still want those dried beans cooked.
  • Fasta Pasta Microwave pasta cooker: This is a real gem to have in the kitchen! So much easier than boiling that big pot of water–again great in hot, humid weather, but once you start using it, you’re hooked. Again this is a kitchen “gadget” that was tested by Cook’s Illustrated.*
  • If the cook you’re shopping for is just getting a kitchen set up, there’s always some of the essentials for good cooking: Penzeys herbs and spices, either basic, for bakers or for the cook starting to branch out, a do-it-yourself box of specialty herbs and spices.  If you have someone on your list who has to watch sodium intake, there are lots of salt-free blends. If you buying for a cook pressed for time, seasoning blends can be real time-savers–in my kitchen I don’t want to be without herbes de Provence for that time when I’m just too rushed to think blending my own.
  • For relaxation and enjoyment,  either alone or with company, a selection off teas to have on a leisurely morning, or relaxing afternoon break.  Harney & Sons Master Tea Blenders have a fantastic selection–black, green, herbal, flavored, and all the accessories necessary to make a special occasion. Teas can be ordered individually, or there are collections ready made.  If you’re unsure what tea would please your “giftee” most, then send a selection of samples–for a modest $2 you can send enough to brew a decent pot of many teas. Some very expensive ones–e.g. Black King which rings up at $240.00/pound–the sample may run $5. What a great way to let someone explore fine teas–treat yourself.
  • Like a liqueur to sip while relaxing? If you’re in North Carolina, there are some lovely liqueurs made in Durham by the Brothers Vilgalys: Krupnikas, a spice honey liqueur would be a real treat, or look at the unusual liqueurs they make: Beatmik, Beebop, Zaphod, and Jabberwok.  All are great in cocktails, for just sipping straight, added to hot chocolate or hot cocoa.  If you’re not in North Carolina you may still be able to get these delightful liqueurs through other distributors.

Wishing you and your favorite cook very happy holidays–lots of good food, friends, conversations, as well as wines and spirits!

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*Cook’s Illustrated equipment testing is done without manufacturers knowledge until after publication, and products tested are chosen for consumer benefit. They do not accept requests for testing from manufacturers.

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Most-used fry pan in the kitchen

Carbon Steel Fry Pans

carbon steel fry pan

Every cook has certain go-to pieces of kitchen equipment–whether it’s a favorite knife, or a particular pan. One of my particular favorite fry pans (or skillet, if you wish) is a  carbon steel fry pan. Mine is a Vollrath, but de Buyer also makes good ones.) It’s been with me for (literally) decades (though I’m not going to tell you the real numbers here).

It is a lot like cast iron–it must be seasoned before use, it doesn’t go in the dishwasher, and you don’t scrub it with a Brillo pad or soap, except maybe every decade or so. It can go into the oven, under the broiler, and be used at very high temperatures.

Why do I like it so much and use it so often?  Well, it has the advantages of cast iron without the weight of cast iron. Properly seasoned and treated with reasonable care, it’s nonstick–without the concerns of high temperature use, and it’s suitable for induction cooking, too. It’s not a really pretty thing–it’s discolored by frequent use since it’s usually the first fry pan I reach for, even though I have others–All-Clad and Calphalon–even one that is actually “nonstick”.

Occasionally you may get some stuck on food. To remove that use a salt scrub. The other “trick” to keeping it in good shape is to always dry it by putting it over heat, instead of just drying with a towel.

I have to admit that my carbon steel fry pan (the 9-3/8-inch one) finally reached the point where it was time to do a serious clean-up on it–lots of elbow grease, Brillo pads, and even oven/grill cleaner to take it back to where it started, and re-season it.  After curing it again, according to instructions is back in good form as my most used fry pan and ready for another few decades of good service.