Food

Sous Vide Tuna

I’m not a big fish fan.  Cooked fish, at least; raw is good.  When I think of tuna fish, I can’t help but think of that smelly canned stuff my ex-boyfriend used to eat with a nut tool.  I’ve gambled on seared tuna in restaurants, and been disappointed more times than not.  I like it nearly raw.  It’s usually far too cooked for me, only a small sliver of pink in the middle.  Once it’s grey I want no part of it, TYVM.

Since the sous vide allows for even cooking without overcooking, I decided to try cooking it myself, see if I could keep it from getting too tuna-in-a-can tasting.  Not that I’ve ever actually tasted tuna in a can.

I followed the Anova recipe, for the most part, such as it is:  salt and pepper, into a baggie, add some olive oil, let it sit for a bit, then dunk it into the water bath.  I wasn’t sure what temperature I wanted it at, and went back and forth between 110° and 115°.  I read the comments on the Anova site and on the recipe I found on Serious Eats (which was, honestly, the same basic recipe, just with a lot more information on temp and texture), and finally went for 110°.  The tuna steaks I had were right at an inch, so I let them sit in the bath for 40 minutes.

Once I pulled the tuna out of the water bath, I made a last minute decision to coat them with panko (seasoned with black pepper) before searing.  I also set out some chipotle mayo (closest thing to aioli I have in the house) and a honey orange vinaigrette dressing I made for the salads we had last night.  The chipotle mayo was a bust, but the vinaigrette was nice.

Overall, the tuna looked great, lots of dark pink and very little grey.  I probably could have seared it a bit longer, to be honest (I did about 35 seconds per side).  But the meat was a bit firmer and drier than I would have liked.  Next time I might try dropping the temperature to 108 and cook it for only 35 minutes, then sear for 45 seconds per side.

Because yes, there will be a next time.  I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it, either – I actually thought it was rather bland (I’ll make sure I have proper aioli next time).  Husband liked it well enough, and (wonder of wonders) The Kid ate some and liked it.  And anything The Kid likes that is not junk food, I’ll add to the rotation.

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Adventures in Sous Vide Cooking

One of the things I want to blog about this year is our adventures in sous vide cooking.  We were first introduced to sous vide via Modernist Cuisine, which, of course, we lusted over, but the price tag was prohibitive.  But then they came out with Modernist Cuisine at Home, which was more affordable, although still quite expensive.  I bought it for Stephen as a gift while we were in Finland, and we drooled over the photos.  We didn’t have anything in the way of equipment, and we really didn’t want to buy new kitchen equipment while overseas, but there were a few recipes we could do – a low temp steak and a sous vide salmon in the kitchen sink.

The low temp steak was fine, but neither of us saw the real need for it.  The sous vide salmon, on the other hand, turned out well, and we began eating it once or twice a month.  It’s a great introduction to sous vide, because you need no special equipment.  All you need is baggies, a kitchen sink, and a meat thermometer.  The recipe is available online if you are interested in giving it a try yourself.  (I also blogged about it previously here.)

When we moved back to the US last year, an immersion circulator was one of our first purchases – I believe Stephen bought me one for Christmas.  We use the the Anova with wifi/bluetooth capability, and, with only a couple of hitches which we’ve since smoothed out, we’ve been really happy with it.  So much so that we bought my parents one for Christmas this year.

As part of that, I’ve been doing a lot more research, compiling information and recipes to share with my mom.  There are already a bunch of great websites for learning about sous vide, and this site really isn’t meant to be one of them, but I do want to share some experiences here.  So you’ll be seeing posts about sous vide cooking in the future, and if you want to give it a go on your own, let me know!

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On hoarding, slang, and cookies, plus an insight into my mind

I admit to having hoarding tendencies. Not 30 dining room chairs and newspapers to the ceiling hoarding, but yes, I have a hard time getting rid of things sometimes, and I will not eat the last ice cream sandwich because then there will be none left. Combine the hoarding with a bit of a competitive streak (not competitive with anyone in particular, just “grrr, must have more”), and what happens? I have frozen 6 liters (just over 200 ounces) of breast milk, just in the month of October. It’s not something I planned, it just kind of…happened. (Isn’t that what all hoarders say?) So why have I done this? A few reasons. Because of my previously mentioned tendency of Must Have More. Because I can – whatever other issues I may have had with childbirth and motherhood, my boobs are milk producers. And because I actually give away the bulk of my milk, and I love that I’m able to help another little guy get some additional breast milk. It’s a small thing for me to do, but the benefits are great. So I’ll continue to freeze as much as I can while I can.

I speak with and email a lot of people whose native language isn’t English. I’m usually pretty careful about how I say things – I try to speak slower (though am rarely successful), I try not to use contractions, slang, etc. The other day I was speaking with a French lady, and I said, “I haven’t seen so and so in a coons age.” …yeah…

I’ve been on a cookie streak lately. I made snickerdoodles a few weeks ago, and this week made Nutella cookies and brown sugar cookies, both pinterest pins that have been on my board for a long while. The verdict? Eh. Although several others raved about the Nutella cookies and that they should be outlawed, I only found them to be okay. I’d still rather just stick a spoon in the jar and eat it that way (which is why I don’t keep Nutella in the house). And the brown sugar cookies were fairly blah without the frosting, but the frosting made them exponentially better. Butter and powdered sugar have a tendency to do that…. Have you tried any cookie recipes lately that were spectacular?

Insight to how my mind works: We dressed Baby J up as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man for Halloween. It got me thinking about next year’s costume. I thought it would be fun, while we can, before he gets into spiderman and Shrek and the store-bought costumes, to dress him with 80s pop culture in mind – so we did Ghostbusters this year, maybe he could be Judd Nelson at the end of Breakfast Club next year. Or, wait! He’ll be old enough to “entertain on command,” how about we give him a mini boom box and tell him to hold it over his head (a la Say Anything). Then I got to thinking about how we wouldn’t get to trick or treat in Finland, but what if we were in the US and someone gave out pencils instead of candy. (Did anyone else ever get pencils or erasers in their bucket?) And then he could say, “I gave her my heart, she gave me a pencil.” And voila, I’ve thrown myself into a fit of giggles. Yeah…that’s what Stephen has to deal with. Feel sorry for him yet?  😀

It’s unfortunate I’m against posting photos of Baby J on this blog, because trust me, he was SO DARN CUTE as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  But here’s a picture of the costume – I used the Baby Merlin Magic Sleepsuit, then made the bib and the hat, and stuffed the hat with some saran wrap:

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man  Costume

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Costume

Categories: Baby J, Food, Random | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Angel Food Cupcakes – Personal Kitchen Challenge #19

The problem with making egg nog at Christmas is that you have a ton of leftover egg whites to deal with.  Last year I made fortune cookies with said egg whites – this year I really wanted to make angel food cake.  Only one issue:  I don’t have the correct pan with me here in Finland, and I really didn’t want to go out and buy one, since I have one in storage back home.

So I did some searching and found a recipe for Angel Food Cupcakes – perfect!  I followed this recipe from howsweeteats.com, topping them with fresh whipped cream and fresh berries.  Of course, the recipe called for cream of tartar, to help stabilize the egg whites.  That’s one of the things that kept me from making angel food cake last year – cream of tartar doesn’t seem to really exist in Finland.  So last summer I asked my mother-in-law to bring me some from the US, so I would be prepared if I needed it in the future.

I made the batter, filled the cupcake tins, and couldn’t help but but lick my finger.  I know I shouldn’t have, raw egg whites and everything, but it’s just a habit – you scrape the spoon with your finger, and when you’re done, you lick your finger before washing up.  Don’t tell me you don’t do it, too!  Anyway, I only did it once, because then I remembered I shouldn’t be doing it, and I scooped up a spoonful of batter and fed it to Stephen.  It tasted like marshmallows!!

For the topping, I used a pint of heavy cream, 3 tbsp of sugar, and 1+tsp vanilla extract, whipped it all up (it took forever!) and felt no guilt licking that bowl.  Fresh raspberries and blueberries made the cupcakes colorful and even tastier.  

Angel Food Cupcakes

Cupcake with raspberries

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language. Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Slow Oven Steak – Personal Kitchen Challenge #18

Massive FAIL on this one.  After the great success of the sous vide salmon from the Modernist Cuisine, I decided to try their method of slow cooking a steak in the oven.  The instructions were to use a strip steak, about an inch thick, for about 5o minutes.  I got fillets, about an inch thick.

It took two hours.

I finally just made the sides and we ate that for dinner.  Half an hour later, we finally had some steak.

Let me just state that this was a fail on my part.  Well, sort of.  The key, I believe, is having an in-meat thermometer, so you don’t have to open the oven to check the internal temperature.  Every time I opened the oven to check the temperature, the heat escaped, so it took longer.  At least, I think that was the problem…

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Sous Vide Salmon – Personal Kitchen Challenge #17

The Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Modernist Cuisine at Home

For Valentine’s Day*, I bought Stephen The Modernist Cuisine at Home.  We’re both fascinated by the techniques used in Modernist Cuisine, and of course the photos are amazing.  The At Home version is about a fifth of the price as the full version, making it quite attractive…

Anyway, I told him to pick out a recipe for me to use for a kitchen challenge, and he picked out the Sous Vide Salmon (even after the whole “I don’t like salmon” from before – go figure!).

For sous vide, you cook the dish in a vacuum sealed bag in a bath of hot water until the internal temperature reaches the target.  You can buy sous vide machines, of course, but it’s a simple enough technique simply using your kitchen sink, which is what I did.

So the first thing you do is vacuum seal salmon and some olive oil into a freezer baggie.  Not having a vacuum sealer, I tried the method suggested in The Modernist Cuisine.  I never realized how easy it actually is to vacuum seal bags without a vacuum sealer.  It’s crazy easy, y’all!  You just submerge the baggie in water until just the zipper is on top, and close the zipper.  Presto – done!  I’ll be doing this all the time now!

Next you fill the kitchen sink with hot water (about 47°C, in this case).  The sink doesn’t really hold the temperature as well as a proper sous vide machine would, so I had to top it off with hot water a couple of times, but it worked well enough.  You submerge the baggies in the water bath for a set time (about 25 minutes, in my case) until the internal fish temperature reaches the right temp.

Modernist Cuisine

Submerge the baggies in the water bath – I clipped them to a baking rack , and set the thermometer in the middle.

After cooking the salmon in the water, I tossed it in a hot pan with butter and spices for half a minute on each side to sear the outside a bit.

Modernist Cuisine

Sous Vide Salmon with a lemon spinach pasta side.

We both really enjoyed the final product.  It was more flavorful than the simple salmon from my previous cooking challenge.  And it’s really quite hard to screw up, because the timing doesn’t have to be quite as exact.

I didn’t want to risk copying the recipe for those of you who don’t want to fork out the money for this awesome book.  However, I found it on their website!  Here’s the link – go try it yourself!

I can’t wait to try making sous vide steak!

*Yes, Valentine’s Day.  I made this months ago, and am just getting around to posting it.  I’ve actually made it several more times since then, and we love it!  Now I preheat the sink by filling it with hot water, then get the water temp to about 50°C.  It will cool a little, but not enough that I need to top off the hot water.  Works great!)

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Fortune Cookies – Personal Kitchen Challenge #16

After making the eggnog over Christmas*, I had a ton of egg whites left over.  I looked into recipes to use up those egg whites – Angel Food Cake, of course, but why not try making Fortune Cookies?

Homemade fortune cookies

Homemade fortune cookies

The recipe was basic enough – egg whites, sugar, flour, salt, cream.  I had a brief scare at the grocery store when I realized I hadn’t written down the Finnish word for Almond Extract.  However, pulling on my past experience with making macaroons and buying almond meal, I simply found the almond meal again in the store, figured out the word for almond on the packaging, then looked for that word in the extract area.  See, I’m smart!  😉

I followed this recipe from Martha Stewart, but also took a little something from this youtube video by yoyomax12.  The video host recommends doing 2 cookies at a time, because they cool fast enough that folding them will become difficult.  She also suggested using a mug to shape the cookies, and placing them in a muffin tin to cool completely.  Genius.

First off, the batter, while freaking delicious (I considered eating the whole bowl of batter without cooking it, and I would have accepted any ill effects because it was that good) was thicker than I expected.  The cookies in the first  batch came out way too big.  Not the size of my palm, like it should have been, but bigger than my whole hand.

I adjusted.  I had to spread out the batter with my fingertips to get them thin enough on the baking sheet, which means lots of finger licking!  🙂  And lots of hand washing.  😦  My hands are already so dry, I actually have to put vasoline on them, so more handwashing is not recommended…

Anyway, after the first couple of batches, I got the hang of it, and got into a routine.  Timer buzzes, remove baking sheet, put second baking sheet in oven, reset timer, peel cookies off cookie sheet, flip (I figured this helped cool them enough to touch), insert fortune and shape cookies, refill cookie sheet.  The cookies take 6 minutes to bake – the first 3 minutes was the routine above, then I would sit down and surf the internet for the remaining time.

I was getting good enough that I decided to try 3 cookies at a time.  It worked!  I had gotten good enough to fold three at a time!  But I wasn’t going to try 4.  Besides, the cookie sheets were starting to get all burny (very technical term) after cycling in the oven so often with baking spray and crumbs.  So I made one more BIG one for a friend celebrating a birthday, and then made cupcakes with the rest of the batter (which turned out pretty well, actually).  Plus, I was out of fortunes…

I took the fortune cookies to a party, and one of the Americans saw them, pointed, and said, “Are these imported?”  Nope, I made them.  Yay me!

*Please don’t think I’ve had frozen egg whites in the freezer for seven months.  I actually made these fortune cookies many months ago…I just haven’t posted it until now!

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Foods I miss as an ex-pat

There are certain things we can’t get here in Finland.  What, you’re surprised by that?  I’ve found substitutes and DIY recipes and made do with things that don’t taste quite right, but here are some things I miss dearly:

Goat Cheese.  The goat cheese here is…not right.  It doesn’t have that creamy texture, it’s more like a brie texture.  One of my favorite treats is spreading goat cheese on dried figs and wrapping some prosciutto around it.  There is no “spreading goat cheese” around here.

Spaghetti Squash.  God, I miss spaghetti squash.  I think when we get back to the States, Stephen may get sick of spaghetti squash, because it seems all I can do lately is think about it.  They have honeydew melons in the grocery store, which look exactly like spaghetti squash, which just makes it worse.  It’s like they’re teasing me…

*Not* spaghetti squash...

*Not* spaghetti squash…

Yellow Squash.  I know a lot of people don’t like yellow squash, but I do.  I can take a yellow squash and a zucchini and make a meal of it.  I can get zucchini here, at least, but I do miss yellow squash.

Monterrey Jack cheese.  Mexican food just isn’t the same without it.

Portobello mushrooms.  You can get 500 different varieties of mushrooms, especially in the fall when everyone goes foraging in the forest, but I have yet to see portobellos…

Velveeta.  I’ve got a serious hankering for White Trash Dip (aka Rotel Dip).

Sushi.  God, I miss sushi.  I can get it when I go to the “Big Town” an hour away, but here in town?  Forget about it.

Every single ex-pat, without fail, regardless of country of origin or where they currently live, misses something from home.  Tex-Mex appears frequently, which I can relate to.  The other thing I see a lot of is a craving for Kraft Mac & Cheese.  I have the solution!!!  And it doesn’t involve a huge, heavy box, or a half-assed DIY mix that’s good but not-quite-right.  Are you ready?

Go to Costco, Sam’s Club, what have you, and buy a Massive Pack of Kraft Mac and Cheese.  (My friend bought two 15-packs for us before we left the States.)  Open all boxes.  Remove cheese packets.  Put packets in large ziplock bag.  Tear instructions from one box.  Put in ziplock bag with the cheese packets.  Throw everything else away.  Yes, including the pasta.  Pack in suitcase.  See how little room that takes up?  Now, when you get a hankering, buy some pasta (I think the Blue Box has about 6.5-7 oz of pasta in them), butter, and milk (I use wine instead of milk, which I highly recommend), and make yo’self some Mac and Cheese!  Now, I can’t take credit for this, this was totally my friend’s idea, but it works perfectly.  I brought 30 packets of cheese over in my suitcase, and it barely took up any room.  (We included a tear out of the box just in case there were any security questions about this weird orange powder…)  Now, keep in mind, this will work just as well with your Shells and Cheese, if you prefer that.

You don’t have to be an ex-pat to miss (and not be able to get) certain foods.  New Englanders living in Colorado probably miss good fresh clam chowder or lobster.  Southerners living in Ohio probably miss sweet tea.  Food is so intrinsic to who we are, our personal history, our sense of self, that we experience true nostalgia when we can’t get certain things.

So, what foods do you miss that you can’t get?

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Pretzels – Personal Kitchen Challenge #15

Continuing on my yeast/dough work, I decided to make some pretzels for a party we recently went to.  I used this recipe from Fifteen Spatulas.  They were great.

(Yeah, that’s about all I have to say about them.  Easy to make, everyone loved them, someone even contacted me later for the recipe.  I’d say it’s a keeper!)

Pretzels

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Flourless Chocolate Cake – Personal Kitchen Challenge #14

I’ve gotten kind of sidetracked on my personal kitchen challenges.  I had originally intended to try more “gourmet” type meals, dishes that required a certain expertise or finesse.  But I quickly (and out of necessity) started doing a lot of dishes that included things I couldn’t get here in Finland, like dishes that included Bisquick or limeade concentrate.  So for Valentine’s Day, I went back to what I thought was a more “gourmet” dish.  I decided to make a flourless chocolate cake using a recipe from the TV show Top Chef.

The recipe included 3 ingredients:  eggs, sugar, chocolate.  Despite the fact that I ended up using three mixing bowls, 3 prep bowls, a pot, and four different stirring utensils, this was actually quite easy to make.  Not only that, but it tasted delicious.  It’s a recipe I will definitely be using again. I only wish I had some ramekins to use for baking – I was relegated to using disposable oven-proof bowls, so the results weren’t quite as pretty as I had hoped.  Still, we ate every delicious bite.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Note to self:  pick up ramekins next time I go to Ikea…

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

 

Categories: Food, Personal Kitchen Challenge | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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