All posts by accidentalgastonomist

I'm not a scientist. I'm not a chef. I'm not even particularly good at cooking. I'm a former advertising executive recently turned consultant and stay at home mom doing what any suburban mom would do, Molecular Gastronomy. Join me and my family in this wild adventure as I explore some out there cuisine from my suburban kitchen.

Best Ever Sous Vide Butternut Squash

IMG_7509When it’s chilly outside I keep plenty of this butternut squash lightly flavored with sage stocked in my fridge.  It takes minutes to prepare and the bags will keep a good month or even more in your fridge.  You can serve it as a side all by itself, put it on a fall salad, toss with some barley or farrow, add it to risotto or heat it up with some chicken stock and toss in the blender for a fast weeknight soup.

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For those of you who “follow me” I realize there hasn’t been much to follow recently.
Sorry I’ve been MIA lately but our kitchen currently looks like this.  We are in the exciting (terrifying) process of rebuilding our home!  Oh the joy of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, the fights between our contractor and our architect, the money draining from our bank account at a startling rate.  I could go on for days, but of course you’re here for the food.

Butternut squash is pretty much at the end of the season but you can still find it in the market in some areas and for some reason Trader Joe’s never seems to run out of the stuff! Most conveniently they’ve got it already peeled and chopped into perfect cubes for you so by all means take the shortcut.  I like to make things more difficult than they need to be so I instead shlep to the farmer’s market for the squash and then peel and cut myself.  I also walk uphill in the snow the entire way.

I do these in large batches and so that I have a good stock on hand.  It’s my daughter’s absolute favorite side and I find it incredibly versatile.

Here’s the super complicated (and by complicated I mean my 7 year old could do it) directions:

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  1.  Preheat the Sous Vide to 180.  If you are serving right out of the bag and want them less firm cook at 185.  I like them more firm so that they reheat well.
  2. Chop the peeled squash into cubes
  3. Put them into food saver bags
  4. Add 1 or 2 leaves of sage
  5. Add a pinch of salt
  6. Add a very small drizzle of olive oil
  7. Vacuum seal the bags
  8. Put in the preheated water bath.
  9. Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch some TV for 45 minutes to an hour
  10. Remove from the bath and refrigerate till ready to use

 

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Goodness in a bag. Orange honey ginger chicken sous vide

20140213-203146.jpgIt was the kind of day makes a mommy want to crawl into the worlds largest martini and google “boarding school.” Is kindergarden too early? Luckily I have a freezer full of the ultimate comfort food. My orange honey ginger chicken sous vide (and a glass of wine) comes to the rescue with its syrupy sweet goodness ready in minutes.

I make these in large batches and freeze them for emergencies and every day meals when there’s no time to cook.   It seems fancy so totally appropriate for a dinner party, all kids and adults love it, and it’s ready in about 15 minutes.  Ding, ding, winner!  Here’s what I do:  I spend an hour or less one afternoon preparing all the bags to go into the sous vide, I keep them in the bath overnight (6-8 hours) and in the morning plunge into a ice bath then toss them straight in the freezer. That’s all it takes to have several weeks worth of meals in the bag.

Step One – marinate the meat

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Marinate skinless, boneless chicken breasts in enough orange juice to cover. Leave them in the fridge for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  I had tangerines and blood oranges so that’s what I used, but I normally use just regular old OJ.

 

 

Step Two – prep the water bath

Prep your water bath and set the temp to 145.

Step Three – prep the bagsIMG_5028

I use a food savor but you could also use ziplock bags. If you opt for ziplock, make sure to use freezer bags and the old fashion click type, not the zipper type closure.

Put a few slices of orange, one slice of ginger about an inch long, a tablespoon of honey and one small pad of butter in each bag.

Step Four – bag and seal the meat

IMG_5056Take the chicken out of the marinade, do not rinse, and place one breast (or breast portion if you have portioned your breasts up for smaller serving sizes. I find that each breast is 2 or 3 portions for us, but we don’t eat much meat). Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper to each bag and vacuum seal. If using ziplock bags you will need to submerge the bags in the water bath almost to the top of the bag and carefully seal them as close to,the waterline as possible. The pressure of the water will force out the air.

Step Five – put in water bath for 4-8 hours

Step Six – submerge in ice for 5 – 10 minutes

Step Seven – put in freezer for later use or go directly to step eight

Step Eight – thaw the bag in a bowl of water

Step Nine – make the sauce

In a skillet melt a couple of tablespoons of butter.  Add to it a a 1/2 cup of OJ, then pour in a couple of tablespoons of honey and a pinch of salt.  Stir continuously over high heat until it starts to bubble up.   taste and adjust with extra honey, salt or juice as needed.

Step Ten – add the chicken to heat through

Add a chicken breast (and a couple of peeled tangerine sections if you have them) and cover for a couple of minutes, turn the chicken breast and cover for another couple of minutes.  Then take of the lid and if the sauce is too thin just remove the chicken, turn up the flame and let it bubble for a few minutes.  The sauce should be thick and syrupy.

IMG_5377For valentines day I did a variation on this using blood orange juice and topping with pomegranate seeds.

Freaking fantastic sous vide asparagus

IMG_4968I had never even considered cooking asparagus sous vide.  After all it doesn’t need to be cooked for a long time, it’s easy enough to steam and I didn’t really see the need to infuse it with other flavors.  That all changed the other day when I was doing a large batch of veggies, it was time to cook dinner and I realized it would be easier to just vacuum pack my stalks and toss them in the pot.  I simply can not believe the difference in flavor.  They are more intense and more mild at the same time.  They actually taste fresher for lack of a better term.  I will not be hauling out the water bath every time I want to make some nice asperagus but if I’m already cooking sous vide I will certainly toss in some of these wonderful stalks and enjoy.

Step One – heat up sous vide water bath to 185

Step Two – Add asparagus, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt to a bag and vacuum seal.

Step Three – Put in the water for 15 minutes

Step Four – Plunge the bag into ice water for a few minutes.  Open bag and enjoy.  I grated some lemon zest over mine before serving.

Popping Grapes

20140110-085003.jpgMy wonderful husband got me an isi gourmet whip for Christmas and I decided it was time to play.  I had co2 cartridges and grapes so I made carbonated grapes as my second experiment (I made whipped cream the day after Christmas but I can’t post those pictures). The secret to carbonated is…owning an isi whipping syphon. That and cold.  Cold allows Co2 to get into food on a molecular level.  No cold, no fizz.  You need to chill both the whip and the grapes completely.   Then you need to put in 2 Co2 cartridges being sure to hold down the handle to expel gas after the 1st cartridge but not the second.  20140110-084914.jpgThis gets rid of the air at the top of the canister so that it is completely filled with Co2.  The  Co2 must now make it’s way into the fruit so you refrigerate the whole thing on it’s side.  Grapes take 8-10 hours to carbonate and last about 10 minutes so serve immediately.  Once we expelled the gas and pulled them from the canister they were sizzling and whistling with co2. They taste almost like fermented grapes. We paired them with some Pt. Reyes blue cheese, but we immediately thought…sangria!

 

 

 

 

 

Grass Fed Rancher Steak Sous Vide

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In Los Angeles we have an incredible butcher named Lindy and Grundy.  They carry only organic, local, pasture raised and grass fed meats, but the most unique part is that they are a snout to tail butcher.  Not only is the meat incredibly healthy, only grass fed on 100% organic small farms, but you can get really unique cuts. I feel better about my daughter eating it, and I know it’s sustainably raised so I can feel rather smug about my elitist home cooking.

The cut I was working with today was a rancher steak, also know as heart of the clod.   Although it sounds like a middle school insult, it comes from the shoulder clod and is a tough piece of meat only good for braising. This makes it an ideal cut to sous vide. I’ve never understood people who take an expensive New York and sous vide it. Instead I want to coax flavor and texture from more overlooked cuts that would normally require a lot of time and effort to prepare. My steaks came from the butcher already tenderized with a jaccard so all I had to do was marinate, bag and cook.

20140105-204958.jpgPrepare a marinade of Worcestershire and soy sauce. Place the steaks in a shallow pan and cover with marinade. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours.

Start sous vide warming to 133 (my Nomiku does a more precise temp of 132.7 but 133 will be fine)

20140105-205011.jpgRemove from marinade, season with salt and pepper and place in a food saver bag with sliced onions and mushrooms. I used some trumpet and crimini mushrooms but pretty much anything flavorful would work. Add one pad of butter in the bag and vacuum seal. The butter is critical to the flavor and texture. You won’t get the same result from olive oil. Under my links you can read serious eats steak sous vide primer. It discusses in ore depth the reason that butter is important. I placed mine in the 132.7 water for 16 hours plunged into an ice bath and then froze them for later meals for my daughter. One of the things I love about sous vide as a mom is that I make small portions that are easy to thaw and heat in minutes.

20140105-205058.jpgTo serve I thaw them in the sink, heat an iron skillet to searing hot, add butter and a drizzle of olive oil and sear on both sides. The steak is cooked to medium rare temperature so if you prefer medium or your kids won’t eat pink meat simply cook a bit longer on the skillet. The texture is amazing. Closer to a New York, and the flavor is fantastic.

Sous vide beet carpaccio

IMG_3430I love beets! I love them, but many people don’t. Here’s a beet recipe I came up with that satisfies even the beet haters amongst my friends. It introduces a savory element through thyme infused in a sous vide slow cook. The beets come out perfect every time and it’s a lot less messy than roasting in your oven. They are simply beautiful and will dazzle your dinner guests. I often take these to dinner parties as a starter and they never fail to amaze.

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20140104-131648.jpgWhen you serve them always introduce an acid element such as vinegar or lemon juice. I’ve served them simply on a white plate with lemon juice and lemon zest sprinkled on top or I’ve made a micro green salad with them. Here I paired them with humbolt fog goat cheese, micro arugula, baby kale and some walnuts. I lightly drizzled it with a champaign vinaigrette.

Recipe

Preheat the sous vide water bathe to 185.

Peel and thinly slice the beets.

Place in a vacuumed sealed bag with a sprinkle of salt, a drizzle of olive oil and 2 sprigs of thyme.  Vacuum seal the bags and place in the preheated sous vide.

Cook for 2 hours and afterwards immediately submerge in a ice water bath for 10 minutes to stop the cooking process.  If you’re feeling lazy you don’t even need to do this since you’re cooking veggies, it just means they keep cooking so your texture could be slightly less firm than you want. You can serve immediately or keep your little gems in the fridge for a month. They are great right out of the bag but they benefit from added acid and a peppery element such as arugula or just a sprinkle of pepper.

Grandma ‘the butcher’

20130913-215408.jpgAfter a morning hosting my daughter’s 5th birthday party we did what most families do, we butchered a rabbit. Having purchased two wild Scottish hare from a restaurant food purveyor, we now needed to butcher the creatures and then sous vide the bunny parts. My mother is particularly good with a knife so we enlisted her help. I don’t think my daughter is scarred for life by the image of grandma shoving her hand into the bloody caracas of Thumper, but I might be. Don’t go up against grandma in a knife fight kids!

Young adult Thumper thumping his foot from Bambi
Young adult Thumper thumping his foot from Bambi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We looked up how to carve up the bunny on the internet and grandma went to town. My vegetarian sister almost threw up when she pulled out the heart, lungs and other bits.  We should have had a plan for those and cooked them up in some amazing gourmet interpretation of offal, but we had no idea what to do, so we just roasted them for our very lucky dog.

One thing to note.  Don’t start a process like this without a LOT of time on your hands.  We were really rushing things at the end and it was not ideal.   Here’s the thing,  bunny parts are small.  Very small.  They are hard to work with and for us non butchers hard to identify.  We had a little assembly line going with Grandma cutting up the parts.  My husband and I bagging them and putting in other ingredients then vacuum sealing with the food saver.

We put some in bags with wine, garlic, and rosemary.  Some got a beer and mustard mix with garlic.   Some just got salt and pepper and a dash of olive oil.  We put olive oil in all of them because the rabbit is such a lean meat.  Then we put in the sous vide.  We tossed it all in a bath at 145 (I think) but we left them in way way too long.  We left them in overnight  if memory serves but to be honest with all the present unwrapping and kids melting down I’m not entirely sure.  I somehow lost my notes in the process so I’m sort of winging it (did I mention that I’m a fairly shitty scientist?)   What I do know is that the taste was amazing but the texture was not.  Most of the parts were too soft although the legs and thighs were quite nice.  Turns out  it’s important to correctly identify the parts and cook them separately and at different temps.   Something called the “saddle” apparently doesn’t sous vide well at all.  I suppose I should have made a rabbit stew with all the bits that are too delicate to sous vide, but did I mention this was the day of my daughter’s birthday party?

Stefan’s Gourmet Blog did a great rabbit test  and he concluded that for farmed rabbit 8 hours at 165 was like a traditional braise.   Next time I will listen to Stefan!  I was cooking wild hare, not farmed rabbit so it would be more tough to begin with and would require more experimentation.  We had very very mixed results and because I can’t find my notes we’re going to have to repeat this the next time grandma comes to town and we feel like traumatizing my sister.

I’d chalk this one up to a fail…but a really tasty fail.  What I can say for sure is that the red wine, garlic and rosemary was fantastic as was the beer and mustard mix.  Both equally tasty and I’d do it again but only with the legs and thighs.

Save Spots the goldfish and make balsamic pearls – check

Just the average day in the Stuart family, started with a melt down at 6:25 am, went on to broken bathroom lights, filling out kindergarten registration paperwork, making my first gellification and ending with another meltdown followed by the fish floating on his back.

Lets start with the gellification, I’m having some friends over for dinner on Friday and I decided to make a micro green salad with balsamic pearls. Because they can be made ahead I decided to spend the few free minutes I had before taking the kids to gymnastics making balsamic pearls. You start by taking the cheapest olive oil you can find and pouring it in a deep and somewhat narrow container. I used an old square vase I had gotten Mother’s Day flowers in. I got the cheapest utter crap olive oil I could find at Trader Joes. Now put that olive oil in the freezer for 30 minutes. Next heat balsamic with agar powder on the stove till it begins to boil. Now put it in an huge syringe and squirt it into the cold olive oil. Stir it around a bit, fish the stuff out with a strainer and put in water to rinse off the olive oil. Now you can put them in a container in the fridge and use whenever you want. They were fast and easy and made perfect shiny little black balsamic pearls that resemble caviar. Seriously the whole thing including prep took me less than 20 minutes and you can make a bunch and do tons of things with them. I look like such a rock star to my husband and it was so easy!

After my molecular success the day pretty much went downhill. It ended when I came back in the kitchen after putting Miley to bed to find her goldfish spots floating on his back. But much like in The Meaning of Life, spots wasn’t dead yet. Luckily he just had gas. Yes I have come to understand that fish fart and if they eat too much they can get blocked up and not be able to fart. So I gave spots a frozen pea for fiber and put out strick orders that nobody is to feed him for 3 days. Spots has been saved, the balsamic pearls are fantastic and all is well in the world.

Does this foam look familiar?

On Top Chef I would have been sent packing my knives! Tom and Padma would have scoffed that everyone is so over foam and this really brought nothing to the party. On the plus side it took minutes to make and I had to prep the pancake mix for the morning and make a school lunch tonight. So foam it was. My husband is out of town on business so of course I made myself a dinner of peanut butter puff cereal and toast while cleaning the kitchen and preparing a new molecular experiment. Doesn’t everyone? I just got my shipment of Soy Lecithin and had some pineapple juice in the fridge so I got out that immersion blender and in a few minutes had pineapple foam. I toyed with just tossing it on top of the cereal but it wasn’t colorful enough so I put out a little rasberry sorbet from Trader Joes, tossed on some berries and carefully spooned out the pineapple froth. It looks nice on the plate, was insane easy to make and was fairly tasty. No wonder all those top chef contestants do it! Not a bad way to class up a simple fruit desert and look way more talented than you are. I think a more colorful foam would be better though and I think that I had the ratio of lecithin to juice off a bit. It’s suppose to be about .4% I think but I didn’t bother with the math. Of course a lazy molecular gastronomist is probably a bad molecular gastronomist but this time it still turned out OK. I will follow a recipe and properly measure things when I make the beet foam later this week. Now I need to lay out the clothes for the morning, feed the cats and get to bed. I’m hanging up my immersion blender for the night.