thoughts on cooking techniques

I think it is fair to say that I am a foodie. The bulk of the television programs I record on my DVR are from Food Network. I cook dinner most evenings. So what is on this foodie’s mind? Cooking techniques.

kitchen utensilsI think it makes perfect sense to say that cooking is cooking, but I tend to divide cooking into two categories: conventional cooking and cooking using a specialized appliance. Conventional cooking uses the stovetop, the oven, and the outdoor gas grill. Specialized appliances include the electric pressure cooker, the air fryer, and the slow cooker.

I have all three. The slow cooker seems to me to be the most conventional while the other two might be a little more gadgety. I have been happy with most of the meals I have made with my ancient and appreciated slow cooker. I have cooked plenty of electric pressure cooker meals as well, but for me the results are often not quite as satisfying as a conventionally cooked meal. Somehow pressure cooker meals can end up all tasting the same. The exception is pot roast, where I have adapted a tried, tested, and true recipe from the pressure email group. It always comes out marvelous.

The air fryer is great for things you might normally deep fry, and far healthier besides, but I have had mixed results. One has to be vigilant. The various models vary so wildly that a given recipe can’t be trusted for your individual air fryer. I have learned the hard way that you need to calibrate a recipe you might want to try against the time chart for your specific air fryer.

Ultimately I’m a conventional cooking kind of guy and that works out well for me.


grilling again

I wrote a while back about how our outdoor gas grill never got used last year. This was due to a couple of factors: we had a new stove that we loved and on account of my surgery I was not allowed red meat until late August. So the grill sat there unused.

grillThis year we decided that we would get back to grilling, but our grill was in serious need of cleaning. Due to social distancing we discontinued the services of our housekeeper, but thinking that she might appreciate the work we told her that we would pay her the regular house cleaning rate to clean the grill. However, she failed to call us on the agreed-upon day after the rain was to have ended, so Terry undertook the task of cleaning it herself. She completed the task and we’re now good to go. Given the current heat spell I think that we’ll probably give the newly-cleaned grill its first use tomorrow. 


Dishing with Julia

Here is something tailor made for these stay at home, quarantine, social distancing days. It is a new PBS program entitled Dishing with Julia Child. Simply calling it delightful doesn’t do it justice.

Dishing with Julia ChildThere are six episodes in the series. My local PBS station, PBS SoCal, is airing them in batches of two each Friday evening. If your PBS station isn’t showing the series it is available through your cable provider’s on demand service, or via streaming for PBS Passport and Amazon Prime members. In each episode professional chefs watch an episode of The French Chef and comment on it.

I DVR’d the first two episodes and mistakenly watched the second episode first. In that episode Julia shows how to bake bread. Sara Moulton and Carla Hall comment together, as do Marcus Samuelsson and Vivian Howard. They note how Julia loves butter, sneaks in tangentially-related cooking techniques, and provides alternate methods for doing a given task in the kitchen. In the first episode, which I watched second, Julia demonstrates preparing fish while José Andres and Eric Ripert point out how the camera started and just kept running. The program was not edited; if Julia made a mistake she recovered and went on.

If you’re looking for something to put a smile on your face in these bleak days Dishing with Julia will do it.


falafel lessons

falafelsI have made falafel at home off and on at home for a number of years. I had always deep fried my falafel. That’s how you make falafel, of course. But we got an air fryer for Christmas and I shortly thereafter tried falafel in the air fryer. Turned out great. That’s good, because falafel ingredients are, after all, healthy. It’s just the cooking method that isn’t.

Now my falafel making had always been tied to my Vitamix ownership. The problem with that is when you put the garbanzo beans and seasonings into the Vitamix it works for a bit and then creates an air pocket and just spins, mixing nothing. Then there’s the problem of getting the mixture out from underneath the blades. Something of a pain.

So last week when I decided to try a new recipe, I used a totally different technique. I pulled out my KitcehnAid meat grinder attachment and ran the garbanzo beans through that into a stainless steel bowl. I threw in the seasonings, put on a pair of food handling gloves, mixed everything together, and formed the falafel balls. That worked!

Falafel lessons: air fry, don’t deep fry and use the KitchenAid grinder attachment along with that most valuable of kitchen tools, your own hands.


pots and pans

pots and pansI spent one summer in college working in a local restaurant as a dishwasher. My senior year in college I worked for the food service vendor in a failed attempt to get into food service management. (That is another whole story.) In both cases washing dishes and washing pots and pans were two separate functions.

The same is true here at home. We have the dishwasher for plates, flatware, glasses, and other dishes. Pots and pans we wash in the sink. At our house in Gilroy, both in the original and remodeled kitchen, Terry always seemed to do the pots and pans even when I was cooking. Here in Hemet, I do most of the cooking and I do the pots and pans.

This makes no real sense, but I think it somehow has to do with the choreography and flow from the dining area to the kitchen in our respective houses. And I’m happy to clean the pots and pans along with the associated utensils (the KitchenAid (cheese) shredder attachment, the mandolin, etc.). After all, I got them dirty. I ought to clean them.

I enjoy cooking and am happy taking responsibility for the follow-up.


parsley, sage, thyme, and, of course, rosemary

I have always been serious about spices in my cooking, but when we did our kitchen remodel in Gilroy we added a built-in spice rack and I went ape-you know what. We bought empty spice bottles at Bed Bath and Beyond and filled them with spices from the good folks at Penzeys. At our house here in Hemet we have a spice drawer rather than a custom-built spice rack, but we still have just as many spices. We even have an overflow plastic spice organizer in the pantry.

Penzeys rosemaryThe thyme is in our main spice drawer. The parsley and sage are in the overflow organizer. And rosemary? I haven’t given rosemary proper respect. In fact, when I went to do a recipe that called for rosemary a couple of weeks ago I realized that I didn’t have any. I bought some fresh rosemary from the produce department in the grocery store. A couple weeks later I had another recipe that included rosemary and I used what was left.

I realized I needed to to give rosemary a better spot in my spice pantheon. So I added it to my last Penzeys order, and it now has a spot in the main spice drawer, booting out a rarely used spice. Why it took so long, I don’t know, but the disrespect has been addressed.

P.S. Remember when we listened to music on vinyl in stereo? Remember that you could separately control the left and right speaker volume? You could listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s rendition of the English folk tune independently on one side and their anti-war chant separately on the other. That’s something that we can’t do any longer.


steak in rather than steak out

Rachael Ray’s premise for her 30 Minute Meals episode “Steak Out, Italian Style” is that if you are tempted to go out for a steak dinner you can just as easily make a great one at home. This episode tells you how.

Rosemary SteakNow I am not a big steak fan, you probably know that. But this dinner looked absolutely delicious, and I knew it was right up Terry’s alley. After I watched the DVR’d episode I brought it up via On Demand and showed it to Terry. She agreed that it looked great. I decided to make a go of it on Saturday.

It addition to rosemary steak, the meal includes Marsala mushrooms and waffle fries with Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Terry told me it was a “killer dinner,” and I have to say I was very pleased with the result. But a 30 minute meal? It definitely was not.

Now I did inadvertently leave out a couple of things. I forgot the wine for the mushrooms. (Yes, I forgot the wine in Marsala mushrooms.) And I was supposed to put crumbled bacon on top of the Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Totally spaced on that. But in reality neither were missed at all.

The comment at the beginning of the recipe on the web page says you should eat this in front of the television. Absolutely no way. This is a meal to be eaten with your significant other at the dining room table by candlelight, your faithful canine sitting on the floor nearby.

That’s what we did. It was marvelous.


simplicity

I believe the first place I saw instructions for making a slow cooker whole chicken was in the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer. They were, after all, interested in interested in selling their giblet-free whole chickens. It said, in essence, put the chicken in the crock pot and turn it on. That was pretty much it.

I have done this a few times, and I don’t know why I don’t do it more often. That was, however, our dinner yesterday.

slow cooker chickenThe closest Trader Joe’s is a half hour away in the very congested town of Temecula. (I don’t know how you get from one block to the next in Temecula without getting bogged down in complete gridlock. Somehow, though, you eventually get to where you’re going.) Fortunately, however, our local Sprouts here in Hemet sells giblet-less small organic chickens, and that’s what I bought.

Shortly after eleven in the morning yesterday I put together a slightly modified mixture of Jamaican Jerk Seasoning Blend and rubbed it on the chicken. I put the chicken in the slow cooker and set it to low, so it was in the crock pot before eleven thirty. I then left it alone.

Around twenty to seven in the evening I put a rice mix on the stove and at seven o’clock I checked the internal temperature of the chicken. It was well above the required 165° for chicken. I put everything on the table.

It was a delicious dinner. The Jamaican jerk seasoning was great. And there was enough left over to seal up and freeze for two more dinners.

Sometimes a simple approach produces great results.


Food Network Magazine

Food Network MagazineI wrote a while back about how the demise of my favorite cooking magazine, Cooking Light, happened without my noticing it after the acquisition of Time Inc. by Meredith Corporation. I commented that Eating Well, the magazine that Meredith wanted readers to pick up instead, was pale by comparison.

Looking for a replacement, I picked up a copy of Food Network Magazine at the grocery store. I really liked it and Terry did too. I liked it so much that I subscribed.

Not only does Food Network Magazine have a lot of recipes, like Cooking Light and quite unlike Eating Well, it also runs stories about our favorite Food Network personalities, which is just plain fun. The recipes in their printable format on the web are very easy to copy into my recipe database software, something that Cooking Light and the other Time Inc. magazines managed to make more difficult when they changed format a couple of years ago.

I will enjoy the new issues as they arrive.


replacing a failed kitchen tool

I have long had a Misto sprayer for olive oil in my kitchen. I am probably on my fourth or fifth Misto; I would not be without one.

old sprayerA while back I decided I wanted a sprayer for safflower oil as well. I love cooking with olive oil and do so whenever it is practical, but there are times when you are cooking at higher temperatures and olive oil simply won’t do the job. My high temperature oil of choice is safflower.

I went to Amazon and found a clear plastic pump bottle that was labeled as food-safe. I bought it and it worked well for a while. But then the tube that did the pumping came loose from the lid. My attempt to repair it with super glue failed. So back to Amazon.

new sprayerI spent a lot of time looking, researching, and comparing. I finally settled on a glass spray bottle that wasn’t specifically labeled as food-safe, but by implication seemed to be so. And a number of reviewers and answers to questions mentioned using it in the kitchen. I bought it and I’m happy with it. Because it is a regular spray bottle and not a pump bottle the spray does not fizzle out when the air pressure is gone. It is quality, solid, and doesn’t take up a lot of space. So indeed, I do like it and when Terry first tried it she was much happier with it than with the previous one.

It’s a great replacement for a less than optimal initial purchase.