Friday, May 30, 2014

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Pureed roasted tomato sauce
Tomato season! I love tomato season. Well, it is not quite tomato season-- not the beautiful sun ripened tomatoes. But I do not despair because nonsupermarket tomatoes are available and I am roasting them. I love roasted tomato sauce and they are the perfect use for the "not quite tomato season" tomatoes. I ask for the canners at the farmers' markets because you don't need the perfect tomatoes for this sauce. I chop them up, add a bunch of onions, garlic, oil, and herbs to them, and roast them.  Once they cool, I throw them in the food processor (which means you don't have to be obsessive about your chopping). Yes, it is truly that easy. Dishing the sauce into bags and vacuum packing for easy freezing makes an evening meal a snap.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

A Lot of Tomatoes, Diced (We diced about 6 pounds of tomatoes)
Garlic (1-4 Cloves), Chopped (This time I used garlic chives from the CSA)
One Small Onion or Half of a Large Onion, Diced
A Couple of Tablespoons of Olive Oil
Fresh Herbs, Chopped (I like to use parsley, basil, and rosemary)
Crushed Red Pepper (Or a dried hot pepper, crushed)
Kosher Salt, To Taste
Freshly Ground Black Pepper (I Use a Fair Amount of Pepper)

Preheat your oven to 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4  (I prefer to convention roast at 350F/180C/Gas Mark4 so I have an evenly heated oven for multiple trays). Throw all of the ingredients into a bowl or food safe plastic bag and toss. I don't measure the ingredients but taste to determine seasonings.

Pour onto cookie sheets and spread so the tomatoes are in a single layer (I line mine with aluminum foil and coat the foil with a thin layer of oil).
Ready to roast
Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes. Cool on trays. Process in the food processor or blender until smooth. The lovely sauce can be the base for pasta sauce, Bloody Marys, soups, chicken cacciatore (one of my all time favorite dishes)....
The bottom line: How much of this will I make over the summer?  A lot. I freeze it in vacuum sealed bags and enjoy it through year until the next summer.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Asparagus, Bacon, and Leek Pasta

The farm
I love our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture); this year we joined the Fair Share Farm CSA.  One of the requirements of the CSA (for a full share) is to work three shifts on the farm. The Sokols went and worked our half of a day on the farm. And when I say work, I mean work. The farm is absolutely beautiful. The farm is neat and tidy-- kind of like the way Cold Comfort Farm was at the end of the movie. We loved harvesting the veggies -- I don't consider that work. The work started when we started pulling up the row covers and the hoops that held them. Katie at the beginning of our shift wanted to live on the farm and by the end of the shift was happy with her assigned chores at home (yes, we are those kind of parents- we require our child to do chores).
Our work (well really everyone else's work) paid off when we got our first share: goat cheese, lettuces, herbs, asparagus, and leeks. I must say it was some of the best looking lettuce I have ever seen. I always want asparagus and leeks. I traded the bok choy for more lettuce. I just can't warm up to bok choy. Maybe someone out there has a recipe they love. If so, please send it to me. Thanks- in advance.
Beautiful lettuce
Our first night we had a butter lettuce salad with warm goat cheese, beets, pears, pecans, and a balsamic vinegar glaze. Yes, it was incredible. (For the warm goat cheese take some goat cheese and form into a disc cover with panko crumbs and sauté in butter and for the beets drizzle with olive oil and add some crushed pepper and roast until a tin foil pouch at 375F/ 190C/ Gas Mark 5 until they are tender; cool and slice. The time depends on the size of beet). I actually buy a balsamic vinegar glaze and just dress my salads with it. I love it.
Beet and warm goat cheese salad
I spent more time on what to do with the leeks and asparagus and came up with this pasta. Please use pancetta or think cut good quality bacon for this recipe (actually you should always use good quality bacon).
More CSA produce
Asparagus, Bacon, and Leek Pasta

1 lb (.45 kg) of uncooked pasta
4 Slices Thick Cut Bacon, Diced
1 1/2 Tbsp of Butter
3 Leeks, Thinly Sliced
A Bunch of Asparagus, Chopped
3/4 Cup (177 ml) of Half and Half or Whipping Cream
Salt and Pepper, To Taste
A Dash or Two of Cayenne, Optional
Parmesan Cheese, Grated

Slice the bacon and cook over medium heat until it is starting to get crisp. I like to throw in a pat of butter with the bacon.  Meanwhile cook pasta, reserve 1/2 cup (118 ml) of pasta water. Add the leeks and asparagus (and some salt and pepper) to bacon and cook until leeks are tender.
All kinds of good stuff in the skillet
Lower heat and add the half and half and reserved pasta water.
Adding the half and half and reserved pasta water
Lower heat and simmer under asparagus is desired tenderness. Add a bit of cayenne. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add pasta to sauce and stir until covered in sauce. Top with cheese and serve.
The finished dish
The bottom lone: will I make it again? Yes, incredible pasta. My family loved it.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sous Vide

The steaks getting a bath- sous vide style
I have a love and passion for food- growing it, buying it, preparing it, and pondering the science behind it.  I admit that I have a problem. I call it a food fixation. I love spending time in the kitchen. I love dreaming up new dishes. I love eating. I have a huge weakness for kitchen gadgets. I love kitchen gadgets. Yes, even ones that only have one use. I will never be able to down-size my kitchen because I won't want to get rid of my kitchen gadgets (and I will never be able to invite Alton Brown to my home). My family puts up with (and benefits from) my food fixation. I guess in the grand scheme of things it isn't that bad of a weakness.....

My newest love is the Sansaire Sous Vide Circulator. The device itself is easy to use. The learning curve surrounding the process and theory was not a big one, and we are once again talking about science and food in my kitchen. It makes me so happy. The food we create is amazing. The trout we sous vide was incredible. The best I have ever had. Truly. I think my husband agreed because he took a bite of trout and stated that it was the best $200.00 he ever spent. (He brought it for me for my birthday--a tremendously good gift).

So, is there really a difference? Yes, yes there is.  The first meal I made was steak. I am currently getting my beef from Barham Farms just outside of Liberty, Missouri. We buy half of a side at a time so we get all kinds of cuts. The steaks are amazing. Even better cooked sous vide.  The ability to vacuum seal the steaks, place the in a pot with the Sansaire Circulator and go for a run is worth the price alone.   
Vacuumed packed steaks ready for their water bath
The steak is perfectly cooked -- medium rare all the way through from edge to edge and I don't have to worry about over cooking it.  All that remains to be done is to sear the outside (it is gray, ugly, unappetizing, and needs to be seared). Searing can be done with a blow torch (I love the the blow torch), the inside grill, a pan, or the outside grill. It is amazing. My trick is to add salt, pepper, and fresh herbs to the steak prior to vacuum packing them adds a layer of flavor that is fantastic. Be careful the flavors you add to the meat for the vacuum packed water bath stage are intensified. We separately packed the steaks and tried different seasonings and the herbs were the tastiest.
Perfectly cooked steak with beer sautéed mushrooms
Eggs. Lets talk about eggs.
Sous Vide eggs
I do not like running eggs. They gross me out (and there are very few foods that gross me out). I love the fact that I can put my eggs in a pot and sous vide them to the perfect temperature-- there is no guess work.  My temperature is 165F/ 74C  (yes- I know it sounds like my sleep number for a bed). I don't like the gray ring around the yolk and I will never have it again.  The best part? I put the eggs in a pot, set the temperature on the Sansaire and went out for breakfast.  When I came back, I had perfect cooked eggs. Yeah me!

Trout-- here is a picture of my trout- perfectly cooked and moist.  It was truly incredible. I put it in a plastic bag and put it in the Sous Vide set at 113F/ 43C for 30 minutes.

Yummy Trout
I threw the potatoes in the oven to roast and prepped the rest of dinner. I slowly caramelized some onions and garlic. When the fish was done, I took it out of the pot and plastic bag, removed the skin, and threw it in the pot with the onions to sear it.  I topped it with some fresh herbs. The result was utter perfection. Who knew?

I also made shrimp and scallops in the water bath and tossed in them in a Cajun cream sauce served over pasta with steamed broccoli. It was liberating to be able to drop the shrimps and scallops in the water bath and focus on the other parts of dinner. I have not made short ribs yet- I will soon. The pot roast I made was really good. A tender pot roast that is medium rare can only be achieved (to my knowledge) through sous vide. Wow, I am starting to sound like an infomerical.
Shrimp and scallops sous vide in a Cajun cream sauce 

So here is some of the detail-- sous vide is French for "under vacuum." The simple act of cooking in a water bath at the final temperature desired changes the way I think about cooking in dramatics ways. As I have said before (my daughter will tell you I tell her this every chance I get) cooking is just a series of science experiments. Cooking is a wonderful mixture of physics, chemistry, and biology. Sous vide is my (and sometimes my family's) latest edible science experiment.

Ok back to the science. When we cook meat, we use heat to denature (change) the proteins in the meat (protein makes up approximately 1/5 of the meat, the rest being water and fat). Ordinarily, it is difficult to maintain a low enough temperature over time to break down the proteins so we cook meat for a shorter period of time over high temperature. The result is meat that is unevenly cooked-- often a perfectly cooked core and overcooked edges. With sous vide the meat is cooked at the desired temperature for a longer period of time and the result is an evenly cooked piece of meat from tip to tip.

Overcooking is not possible so timing is not as critical. Having said that if you do leave food too long in the sous vide it will turn to mush (I have not done this yet- but it is on the list). Vacuum packing the food prevents the air from insulating the food so the oxidation reactions are slow so there is less chance of unwanted color changes or off-flavors. At the lower temperatures the cell walls do not burst.  In the case of cooking meat, tough collagen in connective tissue can be broken down, without heating the meat's proteins high enough that they denature to a degree that the meat is tough and dry.

The bottom line: I think sous vide (at least in my kitchen) is more than a passing fad. I think it is a wonderful way to cook but will not eliminate my grill, stove, or oven. My blow torch will be getting more use.