March 2010 Archives

Vegetable Cooking Time

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Asparagus.jpgThe Nose Knows

How long should asparagus cook? That questions comes up all the time for vegetables.

One infallible way to know when a vegetable is cooked is to let your nose decide. You can't put a number of minutes on any vegetable. There are too many variables: size, age, species. For asparagus: is it fat or thin, young or old, green or white? And other variables that come with each kitchen: size of the pot, amount of water, method of cooking (boiling, steaming, etc.) Add in the time variance for altitude and it's a guess at best when someone gives you the number of minutes to cook your vegetables.

But, if you let your nose be your guide, you'll know  the vegetable is almost done when you can smell the flavors being released. At that point, taste a sample and see if the asparagus, or whatever vegetable you're cooking, is what you had in mind. Maybe you like your veggies al dente (to the tooth or firm). Maybe you like them soft and easy to eat (for geriatrics or babies).

When your nose alarm goes off like a kitchen timer, you should test immediately, and be ready to take your veggies off the heat, put them into a strainer and shock them with cold water to stop the cooking process and seize the color.

Now you're thinking, 'but then my veggies will be cold.' You can put them in a warm serving dish, keep them is a slightly warm place, but what I do is reheat them just before serving in a bit of butter or olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. This is a place where other flavors could be added like a few cuttings of a fresh herb, but the reward really is that the vegetable is cooked to the texture you like with the least amount of flavor lost.

Another tough question: Cover on or cover off? Which veggies cook better covered and which ones like steam evaporating right out of the pan.  A rule of thumb: Vegetables that grow underground, cook best with the lid on. If the veggie grows above ground, cook with the lid off. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. For example when I cook spinach, I always use a lid to keep all the residual moisture from the spinach in the pan because I don't start with water in the bottom of the pan. Just the water that remains after cleaning the leaves. Don't ever cook spinach in an aluminum pan or the iron in the spinach will have a reaction with the aluminum.

Good luck with this cooking method and remember, like all rules, sometimes they are meant to be broken.

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Corning Beef

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Beef Brisket is in the refrigerator right now, in a zip-lock plastic bag covered with salt and spices like crushed pepper, nutmeg, bay leaf, thyme. It's been turned once a day for the past week, and weighted down with steel plates because we happen to have them. In a normal kitchen you could use a smaller pan filled with water, or heavy cans of tomatoes -- anything that's heavy.

The whole process took about 10 minutes originally. And the turning took a minute once a day for 7 days. The benefit to corning your own beef: no nitrates, you can choose the quality of the meat and you are in control of the taste. Use the best spices and salt or the ones you like best. The taste will be different for any combination, will taste fresher, but still have that recognized quality that we like about corned beef -- just not the lipstick pink appearance.

After seven days, we took the brisket out of the bag and thoroughly rinsed it. Let it soak for a few minutes in water. Otherwise it will be too salty when cooked.

After rinsing, the brisket was placed in roasting pan in the oven at 225 degrees. And you can leave it all day. Better than a crock pot is a decent oven. You don't touch the oven, so it maintains its heat and is cost effective. The meat never gets too hot. A watched pot may never boil, but an unwatched crock pot might. Never do you want the liquid to boil or the meat will be tough. In Denver water boils at 197 degrees F instead of 212, but that's still too hot for the beef we want, which is so tender that it falls apart on your fork.

An hour before I wanted to serve the corned beef, I added chopped carrots, onion and cabbage wedges to the roasting pan. I roasted potatoes on a cookie sheet on another rack in the oven. This way the potatoes were crusty oven fries, but you could add potatoes to the liquid in the roasting pan and have boiled potatoes, if you like that style.

The entire dish was served in one bowl with a wide rim where see set the oven fries.


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Black & Tans --

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What's the correct way to make a Black and Tan?
So here pictured, you'll see two ways of making a black and tan. One, on the right, started with black, the Guiness Stout, and then, the tan was poured in afterward.

The one on the left was made with the lighter beer filling the glass, a Beck's lager in this case, and the black (Guiness) being poured slowly into it.

If I had a video camera, you could watch the cloud-like foam rising in the glass, the one on the left just sitting there. If there was such a thing as a smellora, you could also smell the Guiness rising to the top. Black first, then tan. That's the way to go.
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baguette.pngsandwich-hummus-goat-cheese.pngbaguette-goat-cheese-hummus-sandwich.pngI'm on a budget, okay. Who's not these days?

I'm not letting that get in the way of eating well. Sure, I'm going for beans as a low priced source of protein, but I've put it on a beautiful hunk of bread with nice goat cheese. And voila, it epitomizes what the French know about food. Care, not money, makes food taste good.

So, as a lot of study (Julia Child, Mark Bittman's story about no-knead bread in New York) I make a great baguette. And forget it, you'll have to do the work yourself. My recipe's a secret.

And the beans I'm using are chick peas (garbanzo beans). After buying a pound of them for $1.65 and using about 1/8 of a pound in this recipe, I can't believe anyone hands over $4.5 for a tiny plastic tub of hummus.
Here's a recipe that I'm happy not to keep secret because it's so easy and inexpensive. Now if I only own a goat ...

Garlic Hummus
1 1/2 cup chick peas dried
3 cloves of garlic, warmed in the oven
2 tablespoons of tahini
3 pinches of salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
olive oil, enough to make it smooth about 1/4 to 1/2 cup
Soak chickpeas over night in warm water with a big pinch of salt.
Next day, make sure they are covered by at least an inch water, bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 8 minute (that's all!). You might want to give them a little more time if you're mashing them by hand.

First, mash or blend together the tahini, salt, vinegar and warmed garlic, it should be soft and easy to mash. Slowly add in chick peas, water and oil in equal parts in order to keep everything mixing, more oil than water if possible.

The Hummus Goat-cheese Sandwich
Split a chunk of baguette and pan toast the halves in olive-oil in a pan.
Spread hummus and goat cheese each on it's own half.  Cover and turn off the heat, let the cheese melt and put it together. 
Serve with your favorite spinach salad or chips and salsa, if you're not into the whole low-carb thing.