Popcorn!

I am a big fan of popcorn. I’ll take that over potato chips, or any other variety of chips almost any time. It’s just the thing to go with a good book while you’re having a duvet day.

PopCorn MakerYou can probably even make a case that it is at least “healthy-ish”–compared to most other snacks that come in bags from the grocery store–and it’s more fun. You can custom tailor the seasoning to fit your mood. At least I know what’s in it if I’ve popped and seasoned it myself.

I’ve gotten very fond of my Lékué PopCorn Maker for making popcorn in the microwave (and that’s about the only thing I do in the microwave).  I will admit to using oil (usually about 1-1/2  tablespoons of olive oil for about 1/3 cup popcorn) when popping popcorn. For some awesome popcorn, use just a little Baklouti chili pepper (fused) olive oil (about 1 teaspoon) with the regular olive oil. Wow!

Other favorite infused oils (all from Bull City Olive Oil) to touch up my popcorn with are harissa, chipotle, or garlic.

While I don’t often do stove-top popcorn, I did find some interesting suggestions for other flavorings to try from Taste in “Really Good Popcorn“: brewer’s yeast, dulse flakes (I know I like other seaweed seasonings), and Urfa biber (described as in that article as “a dried Turkish chile pepper with a raisin-like sweetness, a subtle spice, and the gentle acidity of a lightly roasted Ethiopian coffee”–that sounds totally great.  Since I’ve used Aleppo pepper on popcorn and that makes this sound very interesting to me.

A son gôut!

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Tuna, lovely tuna!

 

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those lovely tuna medallions

Wow! While skulking through Harris Teeter supermarket I noticed that they had beautiful tuna “medallions” for only $6.99 per pound.  The chunks are not a problem for me since if it were steaks I’d need to cut them up anyway. The main thing is the quality and the price. It’s time replenish my supply of tuna confit.

Since my last post on tuna confit, the recipe from that post, which was from Fine Cooking, I’ve been perusing sous vide recipes and have come up with some modifications for the seasonings, and the method. I’m using the method from ChefSteps this time around (with a little modification of seasoning and cooking time and temperature). One modification was to infuse the oil with some additional herbs suggested in other recipes, and then straining/filtering the oil before packing the confit (in Mason jars).

Tuna Confit (2017)

Ingredients

  • tuna (about 2 pounds)
  • salt and sugar (4:1 ratio) for the dry cure/dry brine
  • extra virgin olive oil, about 4 cups (enough to cover) the tuna

Infused oil ingredients

  • extra virgin olive oil (about 4 cups)
  • Turkish bay leaves (2 or 3 depending on size)
  • sprig of thyme
  • sprig of rosemary
  • smashed garlic cloves (about 3)
  • black peppercorns (about 2 teaspoons)
  • red pepper flakes (just a dash)
  • zest of one lemon (removed with a vegetable peeler)

Preparation

  • Infused oil:
    • Place the oil in a slow cooker or multifunction pot on the warm setting and add all seasonings.
    • Allow oil to infuse for several hours (a temperature of about 150°F) then cool the oil to room temperature.
  • Tuna:
    • dry cure/dry brine the tuna for about 30 minutes then rinse, transfer to plate and let it dry.
    • put the tuna into 500  mL jars, pouring oil around each piece, adding enough to cover the tuna in the jar
    • cook in a multifunction pot on the warm setting for two hours
    • cool tuna and refrigerate

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When I tasted the oil, the flavors were a bit strong so I diluted it with an additional cup of extra virgin olive oil before using it to pack the tuna. Since the oil had lemon zest added during the infusion–I didn’t add lemon zest to the cans as the ChefSteps recipe had suggested. I think that would have been just too much lemon for even me–and I do like lemon!

My “medallions” were a just little thicker than the usual tuna steak so I allowed them just a bit of extra time with the dry cure (about 45 minutes) before rinsing and allowing them to air dry. There was a big difference in the firmness after that short period of dry cure.

After rinsing and patting dry with paper towels, I left them sitting on parchment paper for about 30 minutes to air dry, turning them over just once, then packing them in 500 mL Ball/Mason jars, adding oil to the bottom of the jar, and then after each piece of tuna

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The ChefSteps recipe suggested cooking the tuna at 113°F  for 1 hour and 30 minutes. My experience has been that, even though I love sashimi, I like my cooked fish cooked just a bit more. Part of the reason for making confit is not to eat it immediately but to be able to keep it longer as my replacement for “canned tuna”–so I’ve opted for a higher temperature–actually a lot higher temperature–more in keeping with the original recipe.

The jars of tuna in olive oil were put into the slow cooker on the warm setting which should give me about 160°F. I know that’s not going to be as lush and velvety as if it were cooked at a lower temperature. But preservation is part of the objective here (I mean, that was certainly the original goal of confit). I want this to last (in the fridge) for a bit.

Jar size was a bit of a problem–three of the medallions were simply too large to be sure that they would remain submerged under the oil, even allowing for shrinkage with cooking. Since the jars were going to be sealed, I didn’t want to take the chance of having to open them to add more oil. So–extra room in the jar with only two medallions in each.

No matter how this turns out it will be hands down better than most canned tuna (unless you spring for the really expensive stuff) and a lot easier than doing it on the stovetop or even in the oven.

 

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dry curing

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air drying after curing

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starting with oil in the jar

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add tuna

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leaving some headroom in the jars

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it’s tuna confit!

 

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Eggs, egg salad, etc

It’s amazing what you find whilst skulking about on the internet. The latest “odd” thing was a novel method of making lots of hard-cooked eggs at one time: in the oven.  It sounds simple–I may have to try it just to see if the texture is as good as reported.

But one thing leads to another–I guess that’s why it’s called browsing. On a chilly, rainy day with a big mug of not cocoa in hand, it’s not possible to simply check one link, so this one relating to cooking eggs lead me to a link on pickled eggs and other eggy links, including “All About Eggs” which covers eggs other than chicken, as well as information about color and size, and printed stuff on the carton, just in case you want to know about cage free or natural.

 

6-Pack-Chicken-EggsEggs (and milk) seem to be among the necessities in my kitchen. Whether working–or have a lazy hiatus between jobs–eggs get used in so many ways. Some of the less frequent uses include deviled eggs and pickled eggs. If I’m in a mad rush to meet a deadline an egg (or two) are easy to turn into a quick meal in so many ways. Omelettes, scrambled, poached, egg salad, or just added to soup or as a “dressing” for veggies.

 

Although I don’t make deviled eggs often, I do collect recipes for those occasions that call for them. Mostly deviled eggs call for mayonnaise. I’ve got no problem using mayo in them but I like some options for flavoring.  Following the Food52 link lead me to a recipe calling for yoghurt which sounds kind of interesting (though it does include some mayo).

I almost always have mayonnaise in the fridge–but a recent reluctance to venture out in the rain to go to the grocery store left me without mayo and a need for some quick egg salad, which like deviled eggs seems to almost always call for mayo.  I had the onion and celery, and capers so I decided to “wing” it: chopped up my eggs, and carefully, bit by bit while tasting added Arbequina extra-virgin olive oil (again from Bull City Olive Oil–love that place) that is a medium intensity but still rather delicate, and then just (again by taste) a bit of apple cider vinegar, and finished with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Definitely not southern-style egg salad, but very good. It’s likely that I’ll do it again even if there is mayo in the fridge. (I did eventually find an egg salad recipe using olive oil.)

That little experiment got me looking for other recipes for egg salad made without mayonnaise–some recipes that I found just use mustard (I do sometimes put some mustard in egg salad), others used Greek yoghurt (though I don’t “do” non-fat–and I use Skyr as starter for my homemade). Another recipe that I found interesting was one using avocado for the “fat” part of the egg salad–so intriguing that I may have to try that when next I have a ripe avocado on hand. And then, the delightful post from Food52 on “How to Make Egg Salad Without a Recipe” which I think will elicit a smile (at least) if you’re an egg salad fan. If you want to really take your egg salad to another level, take a look at “Mediterranean Egg Salad” or “Egg Salad: The True Breakfast of Champions“.

Why my foray into egg salads? Well, hot weather is approaching, and I know I’ll be looking for more meals involving minimal heat–and I really like eggs, but always looking for new ways to use them–maybe even graved eggs!

Wondering about other things to do with eggs? Try here.  A son gôut!

from wikipedia

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Steamed eggs?

Browsing through my email cooking subscriptions, I found an article that made me think of my egg cooker–one of my favorite small kitchen appliances is my egg cooker–yes, it’s a single-use appliance, but it’s worth the bit of space it takes up because it gets used often–to hard cook eggs that I want to have around for snacks and salads, to soft cook in the shell for breakfast, or to poach. It is so much easier than “boiling” in a pot of water; it eliminates cracked eggs, with funny alien looking growths. I can’t screw up the timing. Even in my minimally functional morning state, I can do the simple task of measuring some water in a Maveriick egg cooker IMG_3799specially marked cup to cook my egg. The buzz (truly obnoxious) when the eggs are done takes care of overcooking issues.

This is an inexpensive (under $20 even today and as you can see, well-used, Maverick) egg cooker–no fuzzy logic, nothing complicated. It’s just physics in operation. The eggs are cooked by steaming. There is an on-off switch, but otherwise, absolutely no controls to fuss with–except the cup to measure the water. (The cup also has a piercing gadget built right into the bottom of the cup so you don’t have to look for a thumb tack or push pin. So, you’re wondering why steam cooking eggs is better? A more tender egg white and a smoother yolk that is much appreciated by egg aficionados.

If you don’t have an egg cooker but would like to try steaming your eggs here is a link to an article from Bon Appetite on steaming eggs. You do have to watch the time with this method, but it would let you see the difference with steaming (which may lead to the purchase of an egg cooker); however, I not about to give up some other cooking methods like carefully scrambling in butter, poached in olive oil (video), or in Spanish potato omelette.

(Cook’s note: It would seem that the Maverick egg cooker has gotten more expensive, and a fancy version comes looking like a white hen; perusing Amazon.com for egg cookers, I see that there are still some basic cookers still available in that price range; given how happy with my Dash yoghurt maker, were I looking for a basic, inexpensive egg cooker I’d likely try theirs or the Better Chef.)

 

 

Homemade skyr

41ktixxzjwl-_sx425_I finally got a yogurt maker. I didn’t go for the Cuisinart with all the bells and whistles–just opted for the Dash which seems to do the basics.  I didn’t order hot pink, but that’s what I got; I can deal with that–I’m not going to be sitting around contemplating it–so long as it works–and it does do what it’s supposed to. I got the “Greek” because it has a strainer with it and it does bulk yogurt instead of little itty, bitty jars.

Of all the commercial yogurts I’ve tried, the Icelandic Products Skyr is my favorite. I looked at the cultures used in that: Streptococcus thermophilus Icelandicus™ and Lactobacillus bulgaricus bifidobacterium. These are noted as heirloom cultures. Since this is my favorite store-bought yogurt I decided to use that as my starter culture.

Most of the recipes that I found for skyr called for rennet but that’s not listed as in ingredient in the Icelandic Products skyr, so I’m not using it. The ingredients did say skim milk but since I’m still working on the Always Hungry? plan, which calls for whole milk products, I made mine with whole milk.

I used 8 hours 30 minutes for my first batch. The texture after straining was great but for my taste, it needs to be just a bit more tart so I’ll try using 10 hours next time. Perhaps after I get off the Always Hungry? program, I’ll try skim milk and see how that works.

I’ve used the whey that was strained off to thin the consistency of the power shake just a bit instead of pouring it down the drain since I’m adding whey protein powder to the shakes. Though it’s a bit richer tasting than most commercial yogurts, it seems to work fine in all the uses called for in the meal plan.Certainly much cheaper than buying Greek yogurt–and I know exactly what is in it.

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Always Hungry? Mediterranean Chicken

And the weight loss is back on track, and meals still really tasty. From the Always Hungry? today I picked the Mediterranean Chicken recipe to try. The recipe struck me as  lacking oomph that I needed today, but a meal plan is a meal plan. This was, at least, a one-pot meal, and easy.

Refrigerator tidying was in progress at the same time as I started preparing the chicken. Some of the things that I found lurking in the back of the fridge ended up in the  Mediterranean chicken–though I played with it a bit, the final dish contained all the ingredients called for in the recipe–well, except one. That recipe called for putting green beans in near the end of the cooking time. I didn’t do that. Just didn’t trip my trigger, and since I made the whole four servings I’ll need to reheat and that wouldn’t work well with the green beans. (The haricots verts that I had in the fridge turned into a side that has always been a favorite: room temperature with sweet marjoram infused olive oil, and a sprinkle of Maldon salt–keeping with the spirit of the meal plan.)

The basic recipe is simple: chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces, sautéed with onion, then simmered with canned tomatoes with garlic, olives–salt and pepper, of course. The recipe called for kalamata olives–not what I had so I used a mix of green (that had been marinated in garlic and red pepper flakes), and oil-cured black olives to make up the 3/4 cup called for in the recipe. I was surprised that there were no herbs called for here–but I remedied that!

Ingredients

NOTE: The pickled garlic cloves were from tidying the fridge and I thought the bit of tartness would be nice since the tomatoes were very sweet smelling. The garlic cloves and the green olives both had hot red pepper flakes, so I didn’t need to add. If I were doing this without these, I’d likely add about 5 or 6 cloves of garlic sliced thin, a dash of red pepper flakes, and a splash of vinegar–likely white wine.

  • 1 pound of skinless, boneless  chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup of pitted oil-cured black olives and green olives, halved
  • 1-1/2 cups of chopped onions (I cheated and used frozen ones)
  • a 28-ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, hand-crushed into the pan,  the thick juice added as well
  • 1/2 cup of pickled garlic cloves, sliced
  • one 14-ounce can of garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried Turkish oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (olives were salty)
  • 1/3 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 3  tablespoons olive oil
  • feta cheese for garnish

Preparation

  • In a large skillet or brasier  heat the olive oil
  • Sauté the onion until translucent, add the sliced garlic a continue to sauté until fragrant
  • Add the chicken, salt, and olives a sauté until the chicken is opaque
  • Add the tomatoes, black pepper, and garbanzo beans
  • Simmer uncovered for about 35 minutes until the sauce thickens nicely
  • Garnish with feta cheese and serve with vegetable or salad

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In my tidying of kitchen and fridge, there were a small handful of cherry and grape tomatoes on the counter, so I pitched those in as well. I think that my modifications were in keeping with the spirit of the meal plan–even though the green beans migrated to a side dish. Those were a nice contrast to the dish–and now I can put part of it into the freezer for later use. This nice spicy, garlicky combination of chicken, tomatoes, and garbanzos would have been lovely accompanied by a glass of red wine, but–that will come later; meanwhile, I’m eating healthy, tasty food and losing weight.

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Ratatouille (slow-cooker)

vegetables for ratatouilleDuring the summer abundance of eggplant, squash, and tomatoes  we’re often in the OMG-what-can-I-do-with-these-zucchini mode. Ratatouille and caponata  provide some good eating even when the hot weather has rather killed the appetite. I thought that being able to do this in the slow-cooker instead of stove-top would be an advantage in sweltering weather that is already taxing the A/C without adding more heat.

It’s easy to find ratatouille recipes–a quick search on the internet will provide a plethora.  The question:  are they  “good” recipes”?  I’m not sure I can tell you what (specifically) tells me “good”, “passable”, or “oh yuk”.  Most likely past experience, and reading a lot of food science, and (from America’s Test Kitchen) “why this recipe works”.

Here is a ratatouille recipe given by a friend, from Food.com, reproduced below. I’ve never made ratatouille in a slow cooker so I thought this was worth trying. In reading the recipe, I had only a couple questions, so I decided to make the recipe as directed–well, almost–as much as I can–I’m just a compulsive tinkerer, and constitutionally unable to follow a recipe strictly, but almost.  ratatouille ingredientsLooking at the recipe, I knew I’d want more garlic. Had I not been using part frozen peppers (from a Kitchen Disaster), I would not use green peppers–I prefer ripe (red, yellow, or orange) like them. I’m changing the herbs to thyme and oregano,  rather than basil (for reasons explained below in Cook’s notes).  My other question about this recipe had to do with that quantity of tomato paste. Why?

When I started the prep, I was still undecided about the tomato paste.  My inclination was to leave it out because this is an “all fresh” dish, and (to me) tomato paste tastes canned and cooked. Since this does not call for the tomato paste to be added until later, my obvious solution is to wait and see how it tastes, especially since these are summer tomatoes. If  I were wanting to supplement the “tomato” part of the flavor I would likely add some sun-dried tomatoes, rather than tomato paste–unless there is a dearth of “umami” (which is one of my reservations about slow-cooker dishes).

Slow Cooker Ratatouille (Food.com)

The modifications that I made on this recipe on the first round are shown in parentheses after the ingredient. These were just to meet my seasoning preferences, not for any other reason.  Don’t hold this on “warm”–it just doesn’t do well.

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • salt
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes–about 3 medium
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 1 large red bell peppers or 1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dried basil (substitute 1/2 teaspoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon Turkish oregano)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed through a press (4 garlic cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (held until end as I think it gets bitter with long cooking)
  • 1 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
  • 1 (5 1/2 ounce) cans pitted ripe olives, drained and chopped coarsely (oil cured black olives)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (substitute chopped fresh oregano)

Directions

  1. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt; let stand in a colander 1/2- 1 hour to drain.
  2. Press out excess moisture.
  3. Rinse the eggplant with water and pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Place the eggplant in crock pot.
  5. Add onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, olive oil, basil, garlic, pepper and 1/2 tsp salt.
  6. Mix well.
  7. Cover and cook on high setting about 3 hours or until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape.
  8. Stir in the tomato paste, olives, and the fresh basil.
  9. Serve hot, room temperature or chilled.

Notes:  Being of scientific orientation, I decided to do an experiment–half the recipe is cooked as above; and the other half cooked separately, with modifications after I had tasted the results of the original method. First, I had to cook for an additional hour–I thought my rice cooker/slow cooker ran rather hot, but not according to this.  After tasting I did add the tomato paste as the tomato flavor was not at all pronounced, but I think the tomato paste (unless browned before adding) doesn’t add the depth I want. I needed more salt (which kind of surprised me because I don’t usually need to add much. Oregano and thyme needed to be bumped up as did the garlic. Those minor things were done to the first batch. So far the onions  have stayed crispy and I think I’d prefer them a bit softer so maybe microwave them before putting into the slow cooker (that had to wait because they were already mixed with the other vegetables). This came out with more juice than I’d expected.

Now for the second batch. I’m adding more olives, more garlic (sliced rather than pressed), some red pepper flakes (about 1/8 teaspoon) for a little zing (but not a lot of heat), and sun-dried tomatoes (instead of tomato paste), a bay leaf, and increasing the oregano and thyme. Instead of increasing salt, I’m going to add just a touch of nam pla (fish sauce)–or an anchovy fillet mashed would work. This is not intended to make it at all fishy just more flavorful. This needs to be stirred after an hour so that the bottom veggies don’t mush and the top be a bit undercooked. Check for doneness–don’t just trust the time. I prefer my veggies cooked but with a little “tooth” to them, so in my slow cooker this finishes in about 2 hours. I like this one as there’s no added liquid, except the dash of nam pla and what the veggies give off. Minced fresh oregano added the last 15 minutes of cooking leaves it very fresh tasting.

Bottom line: this is quick and works if you want a very light ratatouille, not complex ratatouille.  I don’t want my ratatouille over whelmed with herbs and garlic, but I’d like to make it a bit more complex, or layered flavor–maybe it needs a little more umami It has the advantage of being very quick to assemble.

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As you likely know if you’ve read other posts, I’m somewhat partial to recipes from America’s Test Kitchen.  When the published Slow Cooker Revolution I had to check it out.  I was hoping that those recipes would improve my attitude to (and increase use of ) my slow cooker. There’s no denying it’s convenience, but generally I’ve simply not been happy with the results when compared with oven or stove-top methods.

A comparison of America’s Test Kitchen recipe with the one above is interesting. One of my “complaints” is that their recipes sometimes  seem more complicated–though they do increase flavor.  The recipe below is from the Slow Cooker Revolution (Kindle edition). This is the recipe that inspired me to try the one above.  The cooking instructions are quite extensive so I’m only going to summarize them for purposes of comparison. I’m trying to find a compromise of best flavor and easy preparation.

Slow-cooker ratatouille (America’s Test Kitchen)

Serves: 10 to 12

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 eggplants (2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 zucchini (1-1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Preparation

  1. Brown eggplant, half at a time, in olive oil (5 to 7 minutes), and transfer each batch to slow cooker.
  2. Brown zucchini, half at a time, in olive oil, transferring each batch to slow cooker.
  3. Cook onions, bell peppers, garlic, and thyme until softened and lightly browned (8 to 10 minutes), stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in reserved tomato juice, scrape up browned  bits, and smooth out lumps, and transfer to slow cooker.
  4. Stir tomatoes into slow cooker, close and cook until vegetables are tender (4 to 6 hours).
  5. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Notes:  The time it takes to brown the vegetables really is not that long, so it’s worth the extra flavor. It’s a drastic difference, even when you add some umami-hyping ingredients to the Food.com recipe.

The differences here are, notably, the use of flour to thicken, the lack of tomato paste, and the preparation of the eggplant. One of my reasons for trying the recipe from Food.com is the handling of the eggplant, with the idea that salting to remove fluid might eliminate the need for flour–I doubt that you’d know there was flour in this recipe simply by tasting.

After tasting the first batch of the recipe from Food.com with the adjustments noted in Notes, it’s a keeper for simplicity. The America’s Test Kitchen is a bit richer since you’ve browned the veggies. Either is good–depends on the time and effort you want (or have) to invest.

. . . a son goût

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cooked ratatouille

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