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.
Prepare 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)
Remove 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.
To 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.
After 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!
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.
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.
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.
I had these big grand ideas to have Molecular Monday, cooking and experimenting the whole time my daughter was at preschool. It was gonna be great. I had a list of things to experiment with and I just got some cool new supplies I had ordered at molecularrecipes.com. But of course I’m a mom so nothing happened the way it was supposed to. I mangled my foot and possibly broke a toe last week playing tag with my daughter in the house so I had doctor appointments to make. The dog has to get to the vet for her laser therapy and acupuncture. Yes I just said my dog is getting acupuncture. It get better. I’m seeing a board certified vet with special board certification in veterinary acupuncture and her office is 3 blocks from my house. Only in California! Then I had to give her a shot for her arthritis. Adaquan is a miracle drug! Then I had to clean the house and unpack from the Mother’s Day weekend we spent in Palm Springs. Then I had phone calls to make to get doctors forms filled out for school registration. I’m mildly panicked that I’m late to register for kindergarten at this point. Hopefully they have to take me because we are a block from the school. Then it was time to pick my daughter up and take her to therapy for her sensory processing disorder.
My box of additives and films to make clear ravioli are languishing on the counter. The recipes I have bookmarked are mocking me. I briefly thought about jumping in last night after my daughter was asleep but I had animals to feed, a kitchen to clean and lunch and breakfast to prep for. Sigh. I will try again tonight. My goal tonight is balsamic pearls and at least one cocktail. Wish me luck.
Today I was treated to a full 15 extra minutes of rest…sort of. After my little angle came in excited to show me everything at 5 minute intervals my wonderful family got me something I bet was not on every mom’s list…popping sugar. I’m already looking up eclipse and will be back to the kitchen lab on Monday.
Sorry i have been taking a mothers day break so I haven’t been writing and this has been sitting in my drafts folder all week.
Tuesday night 4 people devoured an entire 6 lb octopus. The conclusion is that 19 hours in the sous vide at 165 was amazing but next time we will stop some at 12, some at 14 and some at 16 to compare. 19 hours was so tender it was amazing in salads and just eaten cold but it presented problems on the grill. the skin had become so gelatinous it stuck impossibly to,the grill and the meat didn’t have enough left to hold up. We did carpaccio with sriracha and lime but it was so soft we could not get a true think carpacio. the taste was fantastic but presentation was off a bit. We served some cold on arugula salad, with lemon and olive oil. The best was thinly sliced with lime and sriracha rooster and sliced jalapeño peppers. I will be getting another octopus very soon. Sorry for the lack of pictures but we could not start till my four year old went to bed so it was dark and the pictures were not appealing. Fear not we will do this again and I will have better presentation and pictures.
Last night I had my first big flop in molecular gastronomy. I wanted to make mozzarella spheres but I had a couple of problems. #1 we had gone out to dinner with the kids and had some wine, got my daughter to bed late and got started around 9PM after some wine and cocktails. #2 my scale died. Note to self – never ever attempt molecular gastronomy without a scale. I know it might seem intuitive that just winging it isn’t something you should do with anything starting with the word molecular but I really really wanted to do it and thought it would be a good experiment. Today my husband gave me a crash course in our sous vide supreme and we prepared a sous vide of octopus. I will post about that later. In the mean time I’ve got a little sodium algenate mess to clean up and a fridge full of liquid mozzarella.
Mom always told me not to play with my food. But mom had never seen Wiley Dufresne on top chef! I have long marveled at molecular gastronomy but as a busy ad executive with little experience in the kitchen I left fancy stuff to the real chefs. Now that I’m taking a work break to spend more time with my daughter I’m doing what any suburban mom would do, I’m experimenting in molecular gastronomy.
Last night I surprised my husband with a fantastic meal of fennel crusted ahi and a spherical yogurt experiment. Luckily my husband is way more of the chef than I am so he’s really into the experiments. Here’s how my day went…
In the afternoon while entertaining kids on a play date at our house I pulled out my agitate bath from the fridge (previously the bubbly snot). Now totally smooth it was ready to make spheres. I got out my shitty imperfect scale and made the yogurt mix I found on molecular recipes . I followed the recipe to a t this time but I will riff on it next time, using this as a base. It makes enough yogurt mix for approximately 50 yogurt balls which was really overkill for a Thursday night family dinner. Next time I will half it and still have too much. After my yogurt mix was made I followed the instructions placing small spoonfuls of the yogurt into the bath. At first I thought I had done it wrong because they sort of hung on the surface but eventually they sunk into the agitate to form balls. I set my timer for 2 minutes and gingerly fished them out. This is trickier than I had anticipated. I had a 3″ fine mesh strainer but the mesh was so fine the agitate (again, think consistency of snot) barely went through and took a long time. I was also getting lots of agitate in the water bath and I found fishing them out of a square bowl challenging because the strainer was too big for the corners. I tried a slotted spoon I had but the slots were big enough the spheres slipped right through like magic. They are slippery little suckers! I will be making a trek to William Sonoma tomorrow for the perfect slotted spoon. Once in the water bath I gently stirred a bit and fished the first one out. It was far from a perfect sphere in the bath but once I got it on the spoon you couldn’t tell. I tried it with some key lime syrup and it was yummy. The yogurt is tangy and sweet and the texture is perfect. A little pillow that bursts in your mouth. The experience is sensual. I can really see building a meal around this for parties.
Making these was really a small time investment once i had all the right tools. the agitate bath took maybe 15 minutes to make the night before, the yogurt mix came together in a few minutes and making the spheres took about 5 minutes. there was maybe 10 minutes of prep time getting all the tools lined up and the water bath prepared. its also fairly efficient and would be easy to do for a party. I was able to make about 10 at a time in my 5″ x 7″ container. The depth of the bath is important. Mine was about 4″ deep and that seemed perfect. I would not go less than 3″ in depth or your balls aren’t going to drop properly. Ok that probably sounds wrong but you get the picture.
Now that i had been ignoring the kids for 15 minutes (after explaining that private parts are to remain private), I thought I’d surprise the them with a treat. It’s sweet, it’s yogurt, it’s cool. Kids should love this right? No. They took one look at the shiny little white balls sitting in pale green syrup and said ‘no’! I should have colored them blue and called them dinosaur eggs. What was I thinking? I was once a great advertising exec, have I forgotten already? Oh well, I loved it. More importantly I saw the possibilities that this blank canvas presents. Suddenly I’m ready to open up my restaurant. I’ll call it chez play dough.
That night when my husband got home I had the first trial waiting. Before dinner I started us with a cocktail of lemoncelo yogurt spheres on cute little spoons I got at restaurant supply. We thought it was ok but the strong vodka taste really overpowered the yogurt. Our search for a perfect pairing continued. After dinner I made a bunch more yogurt spheres and brought the water bath over to the table with the spheres rinsing inside. Then I place sliced fruit, mint, syrups and liquors on the table for us to try mixing. They key lime syrup with tiny mint leaves was a hit but our favorite pairing was putting it in a spoon with a few drops of something called liquid love by Tobin James. It’s essentially chocolate flavored desert wine. The mix tested a bit like an ice cream Sunday. We also tried it with ice wine which was not great and Bailey’s which was surprisingly bad. Then we tried it with star fruit which was good and kiwi which was better. I think it might be best with mango I was just too tired to slices a mango. We also experimented with previously made balls and ones made ala minute. I had read that even after you stop the process in the water bath the gel continues to form so you need to serve them right away. We found that after several hours in the fridge in a water bath they were ok but a bit more firm. They lacked a little of that pillowy texture that was so sensual. They could hang out in the bath for 15-30 minutes without too much loss in quality but beyond that was definitely a compromise.
By the end of dinner we were talking about ways to turn this savory by eliminating the sugar and putting in some herbs or pairing with spice. I saved the bath so that we could see if it can be used twice and tonight I want to do some non sweet versions and maybe the mozzarella spheres. This weekend I think my husband will be showing me how to sous vide so that I can make sous vide octopus.
I’m not a chef. I’m not even a particularly good cook, and I am as far from a scientist as someone can get. I’m a former ad executive and a suburban mom. But last week I found myself web surfing molecular gastronomy for some unknown reason and then purchased a package of Sodium Alginate from amazon. Oh no what have I done? I’m half way to sperification!
So I’m starting a blog to tell the world about my crazy experiments in food as I, artist and suburban mom, attempt to recreate some of the most mind blowing modern cuisine by today’s hot chefs. Wish me luck but most importantly wish my family luck! Next step yogurt balls.