Unofficial Slow Cooker Summer Challenge

For the last couple of weeks in the Boston area, it’s been a little hot and a little humid.  It hasn’t been bad enough to be considered a heat wave.  When I take my late evening walks, it’s actually quite comfortable.

But when it’s that time of day to cook a meal, the stove is the last thing I want to use.  This makes me a little sad as making soups and baking things in the oven tends to be my default cooking style.

(Grilling is not something I’ve done on my own.  However, I’m determined to change that this year.  I’ve dug out an old charcoal grill left by a previous housemate that I will finally clean out and use.)

So, I’ve been playing with my slow cooker some more and I’m going to try using it as my main cooking method this summer.  I might as well.  I’ll be working from home for the rest of the summer (and likely for the rest of the year).

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

I’ve done a sweet Italian sausage/tomato sauce/bell pepper recipe.  Most of this batch went to some friends, but I kept what I couldn’t fit in the container.  It was pretty good, and something I’d like to re-visit with some changes.  While I like Italian sausages, I am health conscious, and try not to eat a lot of sausages in general.  (Having said that, I do several pre-cooked sausages in my freezer right now because I can’t afford to be picky shopping during a pandemic.)  I think the next version will be to make my own meatballs and cook in the same sauce.

Quick breads actually do pretty well in a slow cooker.  The cornbread in the photo was a slow cooker recipe.  And this weekend, I made my favorite sourdough discard banana bread in the machine – it was delicious.

If you’d like to make my sourdough discard banana bread, take a 6 quart slow cooker and line it with parchment.  Drop the whole batter in.  Cook on high for 2 hours, with a tea towel lining the lid.  The towel makes a huge difference for making baked goods in a slow cooker.  It keeps any condensation from falling onto your product.

I’ve actually been slowly working on a rotisserie-style chicken in a slow cooker for the past year.  I think I’m finally getting the hang out it.

I have a lot chicken bones in the freezer waiting to be turned into stock.  I think I’ll try my sourdough recipe in the slow cooker (yes, the texture will be altered COMPLETELY but if it still yields a tasty bread, I won’t complain).  I’ll have to figure out a good vegetable side dish to make because I don’t always want a salad even though it’s the summer.  I will NOT be braising any cabbage though.  It’s fine in the colder weather but the one time I made braised cabbage in the summer, several flies found their way into my apartment.  I think that’s the one downside of slow cooking in the summer.  Flies will find their way to you depending on what you’re cooking.  The last two times I made chicken, a fly found its way into the house (although, one fly is still better than the several from the cabbage round).

I’ll also take this opportunity to revisit cookbooks I have (Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker and The Easy Asian Cookbook for Slow Cookers), but I’ll probably draw most of my inspiration from whatever I have available.

I guess we’ll see how it goes.

In case you missed it, my favorite banana bread recipe can be found here:

https://awesomesauceeats.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/how-to-stop-wasting-flour/

A Place At The Table, a cookbook review

“A Place At The Table”, a new cookbook edited by Rick Kinsel and Gabrielle Langholtz, is a compilation of recipes from 40 beloved chefs across the US who are all immigrants.  The contributing chefs range from Dominique Crenn (France) to Marcus Samuelsson (Ethiopia/Sweden) to Michael Solomonov (Israel). The subtitle is “New American recipes from the nation’s top foreign-born chefs,” but I feel like it’s not descriptive enough.  Some of the recipes are fusion types, and some are recipes taken from cultural heritage. And then, there is a smattering of recipes that are just high end restaurant cooking.

There are no chapters.  The book is simply divided up by chefs.

The photos are beautiful, and it looks like every recipe has a photo.  However, there is a caveat… Not all photos exactly match the written recipe.  The most obvious culprit of this was the pegao norteño (a Chifa lamb dumpling dish by Carlos Delgado).  The photo is of the restaurant version, made obvious by the large flecks of gold leaf garnishing the dish.  

Overall, the recipes themselves sound enticing.  I think my only real critique is that not all the recipes are home friendly for me.  I know some homecooks like the occasional large project, but I don’t like fussy recipes with an ingredient list the size of the entire page (*cough*geoduck tartelette*cough*dominique crenn*cough*).  Nor do I want to look for ingredients that are hard to come by.  I live in a city, and I go to several supermarkets and ethnic markets pretty easily but if I have to go online to shop for an ingredient, I lose interest very quickly.  For example, I cannot make the smoked honey yogurt with whey snow and white grape syrup recipe because I have never seen smoked honey for sale in my area.

Luckily, there are still other recipes that appeal to me.  The ones I am most curious about are:

  • Shrimp and okra pancakes and charred scallion dipping sauce
  • Soy- and sugarcane-glazed grilled pork chops and tomato-peach salad
  • Winter melon soup
  • Banana bibingka (I almost made this… but didn’t only because I’ve had too many sweets lately)
  • Coffee-braised brisket
  • Banana layer cake with vanilla cream and candied walnuts
  • Hand-torn noodles with cumin lamb
  • Pancake stack cake

 

In the end, I opted to make Nite Yun’s coconut milk marinated pork.  It’s pretty straightforward – you marinate thin slices of pork loin in coconut milk, brown sugar, garlic, fish sauce, and black pepper.  However, it does need some pre-planning because the instructions tell you to marinate for 4-24 hours. Then, you cook up in a grill pan for a couple of minutes per side.

My attempt looked nothing like the photo.  I’m pretty sure the photo version cooked the pork on a real grill which I don’t have.  To be fair, I used a regular pan and not a grill pan, but I had trouble getting the pork to really brown because there was just too much moisture on the surface.  No pan was really going to fix that.  (Note, I did try to remove as much of the marinade as possible.)

The first photos I took looked a bit terrible (so I’m not posting them) but I originally served the pork with some of the leftover mushroom rice I made from my last post. Honestly?  I was a little underwhelmed. I sliced the pork as thinly as I could by hand, because the instructions indicated thinly sliced pork no further specifics. My recommendation now is to not go less than a quarter of an inch.  I might even suggest half an inch slices, just to reduce the likelihood of overcooking.  

Sizes of slices aside, I couldn’t taste the marinade in the meat that well even though I had the pork marinating in the fridge for about 16 hours.  4-24 hours seems completely unnecessary to me. But the marinade itself is fantastic. I didn’t have the heart to throw it out, so I boiled it for a few minutes to make it safe for consumption and kept it as a sauce.

The photo below that I will share is the second serving of the recipe, dressed with the leftover cooked marinade and served with plain cabbage.  (You can scroll the photo over to see the book photo.)  I loved this version! I’m thinking that next time I’ll cook the pork (probably in the oven to pinkness), then separately take the other ingredients and serve as a sauce.  

So, this book… hard to review because it’s a compilation.  I can’t really judge the book on one recipe but I’m not a “cook the book” type of person either.  I’m recommending this book to foodies who want to sample recipes from critically acclaimed chefs, cooks looking for creative inspiration, and people who want to learn more about the chefs featured (there’s a nice little bio page for each chef).  If you’re someone who identifies as a functional cook, check the book out from the library before deciding you want your own copy.  

Will I cook from this book again?  Definitely.  Will it be in the immediate future?  Probably not.  Take that as you will.

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Prestel for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is released September 24, 2019. 

The Gaijin Cookbook, a review

“The Gaijin Cookbook” is a very different creature from its predecessor “Ivan Ramen,” both books by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying.  When “Ivan Ramen” came out, it was self evident that the recipes were from the noodle restaurant of the same name, and artisan ramen is a complex process.  The Shio Ramen chapter itself is divided into making the eight components of the dish. “The Gaijin Cookbook” is practically the antagonist to the first book.  It’s about cooking Japanese food at home for a weeknight or for a party.

The layout of the book is a bit odd.  I’ve added quotes from the book about what each chapter is about.  And each chapter had some recipes that were grouped together, and sometimes recipes that only related to the chapter and not to each other.  So I’ve done my best to reflect that.

  1. The Recipes by Category
  2. Eat More Japanese – “… foundational recipes and flavors that taught [Ivan] to understand Japanese food”
    1. The Vanishing Japanese Diner
    2. Natto [Fermented Soybeans]
    3. Feeding Our Kids
  3. Open to Anything – “… fusion… recipes that have mingled… leading to new and delicious collaborations”
    1. (various recipes)
    2. Sandwiches
  4. Empathy – “nurturing through food”
    1. (various recipes, mostly rice and stews)
    2. Nabe
  5. Otaku [Geeking Out] – “more intensive recipes”
    1. (oden, dan dan noodles, gyoza)
    2. Frying
  6. Good Times – “dishes that are conducive to sharing while you sip on an adult beverage”
    1. (various recipes)
  7. New Year’s – “symbolic snacks that will ensure prosperity in the coming year”
    1. (various recipes)
    2. Jubako
  8. Pantry

 

If this were a novel, I’d be ok with this layout.  But as a cookbook, I find it a bit confusing if I’m looking for a recipe.  It almost feels random instead of intentional. If there’s a specific recipe you’re looking for, it’s the index you’ll need to depend on.

But the recipes themselves look good.  Here are some of the recipes I want to try:

  • Seasoned Ground Chicken (Tori Soboro) – I want to compare this version to the soboro I already make today
  • Mentaiko Spaghetti
  • Miso Mushroom Chili
  • Pork and Tofu Meatballs with Buttermilk Sauce
  • Smoked Fish Donburi
  • Okinawa-Style Soba with Pork Belly and Tatsuobushi
  • Salmon and Miso Hot Pot
  •  Sweet Dashi-Poached Prawns
  • Candied Sardines
  • Sesame Furikake
  • Katsuobushi Furikake

 

For my inaugural recipes, I made shimeji mushroom rice from the Empathy chapter, and the chicken meatballs (tsukune) from the Good Times chapter.  Both were straightforward to make, and ingredients were easy to come by where I live.

For me, the meatballs were decent but not necessarily a recipe I will remake as written.  It’s just a very ginger forward flavor even with the accompanying sauce. But I still like the general instructions, so I’m thinking about messing around with it, maybe using Chinese black bean paste as the flavoring agent.  It’s just a personal preference, not a critique on the recipe.

That’s when I decided to make the mushroom rice.  I wanted to see how a second recipe would work out, and I loved the results.  It’s a light flavor, and the cooking instructions are spot on. I used haiga rice (haiga is a semi-polished short grain rice where the bran is removed but not the germ, and cooks like white rice), and skipped the bonito flakes.  The recipe instructs you to soak the rice for at least 20 minutes, and up to 1 hour. I chose 30 minutes. For garnish, I just used scallions (no photo documentation, but I also used store-bought furikake as a garnish when I was eating leftovers).  Next time, I’ll use the katsuobushi and see how it changes the flavor. I can see myself making this regularly going forward as it stores in the fridge well and is great for meal prep.

Another thing that I enjoyed about this book was the photography.  The food photos are enticing. The portraits of Ivan scattered among the pages give insight to his personality.  And because I’m a romantic at heart, the photos of Ivan and Mari are endearing.

If you don’t have a cookbook on everyday Japanese cooking or don’t have one you like, give “The Gaijin Cookbook” a try.  I think it’s very home cooking friendly, and there’s a good diversity of recipes.  

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is released September 24, 2019.

Reference Links:

https://www.hmhbooks.com/shop/books/The-Gaijin-Cookbook/9781328954350

https://www.ivanramen.com/

 

Sometimes, it’s ok to call it quits

In a perfect world, I’d be experimenting with sourdough breads regularly.  I’d create boules of beauty, and share them with friends and family.

However, this isn’t a perfect world.  A handful of close friends are gluten free.  I rarely get to share the things I cook and bake because I’ve messed something up just enough that it doesn’t feel fit for sharing, or I’m just make enough food for myself for the week.  At the end of the day, I’m just feeding myself.

I do make bread on occasion.  I even had a rye sourdough starter going for over a year.  But those two statements?  Rarely done at the same time.  When I make bread, it’s usually with SAF instant.  When I was maintaining my sourdough starter, I was just finding ways to cook the discarded starter.  I was almost never making proper bread with my starter.  It even got to a point where I forgot I had a starter hanging out in my fridge.  I literally did not notice it in my fridge until about two months after its last feeding.

Even then (!!!), it took me a couple of weeks to finally toss it in the trash.  Some part of me hated feeling like I was giving up on a project.  But logically, it didn’t make sense to try again.  More so, because I have a place in a 10 minute walk away that does a wonderful sourdough.  I’ve started going there a bit more frequently because I absolutely love their sourdough pizzas, but you can pick up bread to take home.  I can spend 2-3 days making sourdough bread on my own, or I can spend $4 – $7 at my local restaurant.

It will do me more good than harm to recognize what I am willing and not willing to do.  If I didn’t live so close to awesome bread, I’d probably feel differently about this.  Or if I had a large family to feed, which I don’t.

But you know what they say: when one door closes, another opens.

Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker, a cookbook review

My most recent cookbook acquisition is Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker, which I was pretty dang excited about.  I appreciate a good slow cooker recipe, but the only other slow cooker cookbook I have is America’s Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution.  I have used the ATK book, but probably not as often as I should.  Amazingly, I feel like the recipes in each book are different enough that the books complement each other in my cookbook collection.

9780307954688

The good things about Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker:

  • Good variety of recipes.  The book is divided into these sections: meat, poultry, seafood, meatless, side dishes, breakfast, sweets, and stocks/sauces.  There is a decent global feel to each of the sections.  For example, chicken section includes the following recipes: chicken tagine, Tex-Mex chicken and beans, chicken mole, Hainanese Chicken, and Ethiopian Chicken Stew.
  • Every recipe comes with a photograph.
  • Most of the recipes are not intimidating.

The (possibly) bad things about this book:

  • Some of the recipes require stove top cooking as part of the prep work.  In the boullabaisse recipe, you have to soften in a skillet the vegetables, aromatics, and then cook down diced tomatoes.  After all that, then you get to load up the slow cooker.
  • This might just be me being greedy, but I’d prefer if most of the sections had a few more recipes.  The meat section has a little over 30 recipes.  The poultry section has 18 recipes, 4 of them are duck recipes, and only 1 recipe is turkey related.  The breakfast section only has about 9 recipes.

Honestly though, I have high hopes for this book.  I made the chicken korma recipe this past weekend.  Overall, I was very pleased with the results.  It was a little unusual for a chicken korma recipe since it involves cashew butter and almond butter (it does mention that you can blend up nuts instead of getting the nut butters), but I think it does add to the texture of the korma sauce.

Disclaimer – I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post.  

Reference Link:

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/215168/martha-stewarts-slow-cooker-by-from-the-kitchens-of-martha-stewart/

Science and Cooking at Harvard SEAS, 2015!

It’s been a long while, so I decided it was high time to hang out in lecture hall C of Harvard’s Science Center for the opening lecture featuring Harold McGee and Dave Arnold last night.  Overall reaction?  I still have a nerd crush on Dave Arnold.  He’s like a puppy when it comes to food science and related interests.  How can anyone not like him?

Before the lecture started, the audience was handed plastic packets filled with sugar-related items.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 9.35.26 PM

What the?

I don’t eat a lot of sugar anymore!

Confusion ensued.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 9.35.14 PM

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Harvard SEAS lecture 10/17/11, Nandu Jubany and Carles Gaig

(Nandu is on the right; Carles Gaig is on the left.)

It was a quiet evening for a SEAS lecture tonight. I think the room was only 2/3rds full. I suppose it’s because the guest speakers were Nandu Jubany and Carles Gaig, both Spanish chefs without the fame of Jose Andres or Grant Achatz. I say “if you didn’t make it to the lecture, your loss.”

I missed out on Nandu Jubany last year and regretted it. I heard whisperings of his delicious garlic aioli, and when I heard he was returning this year, I was determined to show up.

Recipe #1, from Jubany, milk mayonnaise
**Important – the temperature of your ingredients should be the same.** (since this is a mayo, room temp or slightly colder temps are fine)
300g milk
700g neutral flavored oil (Jubany used sunflower oil)
10g minced chives
10g minced parsley
15g wasabi powder
For hardware – immersion blender and a tall enough container

Throw everything together into your container. In short bursts on low, turn the immersion blender on and off. Gradually, let the immersion blender stay on. Then, you can set it on a higher speed, and slowly move the immersion blender up and down. You want to incorporate the un-blended ingredients sitting at the top at a controlled pace into the blended ingredients at the bottom. When everything is successfully blended, you are done. Continue reading

Cooking from creative, young minds

disclaimer – I don’t know the “who” behind these recipes. All I know is that they were created by young grade school kids (maybe 1st grade?) back in 2000 as a Mother’s Day project.

I was talking about baking with my 7 year old niece in the office building kitchen when a colleague asked me if I wanted to read his friend’s kid’s cookbook.

wha? Ok, I’m game.

Apparently stashed at his desk, Tom quickly produced a stack of photocopied paper showed signs of love and age.

I read every page in “the cookbook.”  And I can’t stop laughing. Here are a couple of my favorites, exactly copied:

RAINBOW ICE CREAM
15 cups of sugar
17 cups of milk
4 eggs
1 cup of red
1 cup of yellow
1 cup of green
1 cup of blue
1 cup of orange
Put in the bowls.  Then you eat it.  First put the ice cream in the fridge then eat it. Continue reading

Pumpkin yogurt, or when experiments go well

I finally got around to making yogurt. It’s pretty easy even though the directions can be lengthy. For little ol’ me, who doesn’t eat a lot of yogurt over the course of a week, making a quart of plain yogurt does not save me any money. Chances are that a quart of whole milk costs the same as a quart of plain yogurt at your local market. Factor in labor and the energy your stove took to cook up the yogurt, you realize that it’s not cost effective at all unless you make big batches of yogurt at once.

You would think that this means that I won’t be making yogurt anymore, right? No, not quite.

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It’s a Boston thing…

… AKA corned beef and leftovers, part 1.

I never had a proper serving of corned beef until I was 23 years old. Before that, I only had a deli version that came in a plastic packet as a kid.  But one of the vendors through my full time job did annual St. Patrick’s Day lunches with real corned beef until the recession hit. I loved it.  The missing ritual became more noticeable when I kept hearing all my co-workers talk about their version of corned beef. (Hey! Even the Italian French woman in my office makes corned beef every year!)  It was driving me crazy.  So, steps needed to be taken.

I wanted to make corned beef last year, but the Alton Brown recipe calls for saltpeter as an ingredient. I’ve been told that there’s one pharmacy in my general area that sells saltpeter, but I’ve been too lazy to track it down. A year later, I’ve learned that you don’t need it to make corned beef. It’s mainly to retain a nicer color. As long as you keep the beef in the refrigerator while it’s brining, there isn’t much chance of bacterial infection.

I don’t have  instructions to use per se, but I was working off of an Alton Brown’s recipe and one of Martha Stewart’s recipes. If you’re using kosher salt, make sure that it’s pure salt, free of anti-caking ingredients. Using pickling salt is one way to make sure that you’re using pure salt. I ended up using fine pickling salt, which meant reducing the kosher salt amounts by half (I think I could have reduced the salt even a little more than that but I wasn’t willing to experiment at the time).

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