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—

Advertisements

Black pepper is underappreciated!

Black pepper is about as ubiquitous as any spice can possibly be.  It would probably be hard to find a kitchen without it.  Sometimes is preground (yuck) and doesn’t really have much except enough heat to make you sneeze.  It’s something many probably pick up in the grocery store without thinking about it.  But, black pepper is black pepper is black pepper is not true.  It is often added as kind of an afterthought amongst other spices and herbs.

Whole Special Extra Bold Indian Black PeppercornsI’ve always been picky about my black pepper–my favorite is from Penzeys.  I’ve been mail-ordering it from there for ages–and have kept on even with the local store since I’ve got my established list of herbs and spices there.

If you peruse the list of black peppers from Penzeys, you’ll find quite a selection:  India Tellicherry, India Malabar (both excellent) and then there’s the Special Extra Bold Indian Black Peppercorns.  True more expensive than either of the others, but worth every penny more.

However, as much as I liked black pepper (over eggs, in mashed potatoes, with strawberries, balsamic, and black pepper), I didn’t really appreciate black pepper as the main seasoning until I made fårikål.  The seasoning is black pepper!  Lots of whole black peppercorns that cook right with the cabbage and the lamb. And should get eaten rather than picked out; after the long cooking they still have some tooth but are soft enough to eat easily and the flavor is just amazing.

Black pepper is worth exploring as something other than an add-on to other herbs and spices.  It should always be bought whole rather than ground or cracked.  While you can spend a small fortune of a pepper mill, you can also get a reasonably inexpensive one.  It will open a whole new world of flavor.  The highly recommended mill from America’s Test Kitchen was from Cole and Mason, and surprisingly, very reasonably priced.

Another tasty dish featuring lots of black pepper that you should make once you have some really good black whole peppercorns to go with you pepper mill is cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta).  But do try it with good ripe strawberries, too.  Or on a lusciously ripe muskmelon or watermelon.

A son gôut!

—Ô¿Ô—

Culinary rhizomes: Ginger and turmeric

We’re all familiar with ginger root (from the grocery store or dried whole or powdered) and turmeric (commonly found in curry powder–the bright yellow-orange stuff), and galangal in Southeast Asian cooking, but you can add those to the things you can grow in your kitchen garden–even if it is a container garden.

The ginger family of plants (Zingiberaceae) provides us with a number of “spices” that we use frequently:  ginger (Zingiber officinale), turmeric(Curcuma longa), and galangal (Alpinia officinarum or “lesser galangal), and cardamom seeds (genera Elettaria–green cardamom-and Amomum–black cardamom).

Ginger, turmeric, and galangal are perennial herbaceous plants with specialized horizontal stems (rhizomes) that lie underground, but close to the surface.  While we are most likely to encounter these in the dried form or find the ginger rhizomes in the produce section of the grocery store, you can add the fresh forms of some of these to your culinary repertoire.

All these plants mentioned above have similar requirements for growing: even moisture, well-drained soil, partial to dappled shade, warm temperatures, and high humidity, and protection from cold.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

You can start your ginger by getting the “root stock” (an official technical term here) from the grocery store.   You want rhizomes that are plump, and fresh looking, and that have knobs or nubs growing off the main part of the root.  It’s likely that the ginger root you find in the grocery store will have been treated with something to retard growth/sprouting, so rinse it thoroughly before you plant it.

Bury it about one inch deep in well-drained soil and keep evenly moist.  If you’re planting it in a pot, you should use one that is of 12- to14-inch diameter and about same in depth, but does not need the full depth of most 14 inch pots.

It may take a few weeks before you see shoots appear.  You’ll not want to harvest your ginger heavily the first season, but you can harvest some after about 4 months.  Ginger will not need (or like) full sun–it would prefer part (dappled) shade.  In areas where you get hard freezes, you’ll need to overwinter indoors.  In areas where the winter is mild, it may die back to the ground with the onset of cool weather but should come up again in the spring.  (I’m partial to growing it in large pots).  During the summer it can be put outdoors and moved to shelter to prevent freezing in winter.  It should be fertilized with an all-purpose fertilizer about twice during the growing season.

You harvest by very gently uncovering part of the rhizome, or where it’s seen above the surface towards the edge of the pot–leaving the center portion undisturbed.

The ginger you harvest from your plant will be much less fibrous and less “hot” when compared to the large rhizomes that you purchase in the grocery store.  The leaves/stalks can also be used to brew tea (steep leaves in boiling water for 5 minutes) and you can add to stir-fries or other dishes if you slice the stalks/leaves thinly–it has a mild ginger flavor and maybe a hint of lemon or citrus.

Turmeric ( Curcuma domestica syn Curcuma longa)

Turmeric is touted as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant–I’m not touching on those properties here, but rather the culinary uses.  It has been called “poor man’s saffron” and that’s one of my favorite things: add fresh turmeric to rice.  It’s very earthy and warm.  It’s not saffron, but it’s good.

To grow your own, you’ll need the fresh rhizomes–found in Asian, Indian or Latina groceries–probably located close to the ginger, (and maybe the galangal).  You’ll treat it almost as you would ginger:  plant about one to two inches deep in a 12- to 14-inch pot (about 12 inches in depth as well), keep evenly moist but well-drained, and give it part shade to dappled shade.  This is also a tropical perennial so it will need winter protection.  In cool weather, the leaves will die back, but if not frozen the rhizomes should sprout again in the spring.  (I tried keeping some, with the ginger, in the house to overwinter, but neither turmeric nor ginger survived as a plant; the rhizomes did put up shoots again in the spring.)

You can harvest as you would ginger–by carefully cutting off small pieces toward the edges of the pot.  You need to handle with care as it will stain hands and probably counters–it’s used as a dye, too.   Left undisturbed (except for harvesting from the edges) you may see blooms in the second year.

Turmeric is currently appearing in chocolate bars, and being touted as a “superfood”. I just like the earthy flavor, in many things where I would use saffron (but am too cheap to do that).

I hope to add galangal if I can find the fresh rhizome–there is an Asian food store that I keep watching. I suspect I’ll find it there sooner or later.

—Ô¿Ô—

..

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!

—Ô¿Ô—

A mortar and pestle

I  have a dedicated spice grinder (one of those little “coffee grinders” that doesn’t work on coffee,) but I’ve decided that I need a good mortar and pestle.  I gave away the wooden ones and the porcelain ones that just don’t work either.

Why do I want a mortar and pestle? Well, the spice grinder does not work well for small quantities like I often used when doing single-serving cooking–I do mean literally single-serving cooking. When all I want to grind is six allspice berries and 1/8 teaspoon of cumin seeds–the grinder is overkill, and they really just bounce around in there, so it’s not really efficient and then add cleaning time and effort. (This is kind of like my feeling about food processors versus my chef’s knife–give me simple and effective, along with easy clean-up for small quantities of stuff!)

That doesn’t mean I’m giving up my spice grinder–it’s great when I’m making a huge pot of chili con carne and need to grind larger quantities. But when all I want is a few spices to put into two servings of mujadara I’ll opt for manual labor. Not giving up the food processor either–love it for making large quantities of mirepoix for the freezer.

Given how unhappy I’ve been with all the previous mortars and pestles I’ve had, I went in search of a review of them. From Fine Cooking I found “Equipment Review: Mortars and Pestles” with a discussion of materials, pros, and cons, and even some specific recommendations.

The top rated one was made of granite with granite pestle from ImportFoods.com was one tested. Part of the utility of a mortar is how rough or smooth the inside is. I don’t want to buy one sight unseen from “that place” because I won’t be able to look inside it and feel the interior.

–Ò¿Ó–

Salt is salt?…Not!

Salt seems to be an ingredient we take for granted. What kind of salt do you have in your kitchen? A lot of us have forsaken “table” salt for other kinds of salt. A frequent response from cooks is “kosher”.  But what brand?

Most of us probably know that table salt and kosher salt, while both sodium chloride, cannot be interchanged when salt is measured by volume. But what about kosher salt?

This article, “The Kosher Salt Question” is a good discussion of the two major brands of kosher salt. Read it before you use a volume measure to salt a recipe.

A son gôut!

Tuna, lovely tuna!

 

Tuna_20170709_140604

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

__Ò¿Ó__

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

__Ô¿Ô__

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.

 

Dry_cure_20170709_141321

dry curing

post_dry _cure_20170709_145716

air drying after curing

Packing_20170709_153235

starting with oil in the jar

Packing_2_20170709_153301

add tuna

Packing_3_20170709_153704

leaving some headroom in the jars

cooked_20170709_183505

it’s tuna confit!

 

__Ò¿Ó__