Hummus in a Hurry

My husband loves hummus; plain, red pepper, garlic. kalamata olive, doesn’t matter. He loves them all.  Fortunately, hummus is not hard to make from scratch – just mix together tahini, chick peas, your desired flavoring and seasoning in a food processor.  Turn on the machine and within minutes – Hummus!  Sounds easy and it is, except for the tahini.  The oil and paste will separate during storage and must be re-blended before it can be used.  It’s not hard, just a step I rather not have to deal with.

A few weeks ago, our grocery store, which runs a promotion called Free Friday, offered a chance to try a new product by Bush called Hummus Made Easy.  I was a bit skeptical about how it would taste but I figured what have I got to lose.  It was free and I already had a can of garbanzos at home.  Why not give it a try.  So I grabbed a package of the Roasted Red Pepper Hummus Made Easy package and headed for the checkout lane.

Hummus Made Easy product

Hummus Made Easy product

The product certainly lived up to the name.  The instructions on the package said to drain and rinse one 14.5 oz can of garbanzo beans.  Place the beans and the contents of the Hummus Made Easy package in a food processor and process until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. I wanted this to be a fair test of the product so I didn’t make any modification to the directions by adding any additional seasoning.

It took about 90 seconds in the food processor to achieve the smooth consistency I was looking for.

Finished Hummus

Finished Hummus

Turns out my skepticism was ill-founded.  The hummus was well seasoned with a very definite roasted red pepper taste.  George gave it a try when he came home, by then it had been in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, and gave it a big “thumbs up.”

 

Bush offers three different varieties of Hummus Made Easy – Classic, Roasted Red Pepper and Black Bean.  I would debate the black bean version as it is made with black beans and not garbanzo beans.  To me that is a black bean dip not hummus, but as hummus is essentially a bean dip…….

We liked it enough that I would consider buying the classic version and trying it in the near future.  I will definitely buy the Roasted Red Pepper version, especially if I want hummus and don’t want to spend $6+ for tahini!

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Stuffed Breast Success!

For the last several years I have made a stuffed chicken breast  stuffed with fresh mozzarella and basil leaves and then wrapped in prosciutto.  I would sauté the wrapped breasts over high heat to sear the prosciutto, cover the pan, reduce the heat and cook until the chicken breast were cooked through.  The only problem with this method was by the time the breast was cooked through the mozzarella had melted and oozed out of the wrapped breast.  I tried to prevent this from happening in several different ways; reducing the amount of cheese, increasing the number of slices of prosciutto, baking the chicken instead of finishing on the top of the stove.  Nothing solved the problem of oozing mozzarella. Until I got my immersion cooker.  Last week I thought about using the sous vide technique and decided to give it a try.  I figured I had nothing to lose.  Tuesday night was the test.

I planned on serving zucchini and a small amount of pasta to round out the meal.  I assembled all my ingredients and set up my sous vide machine.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts    serves 2

Ingredients for Stuffed Chicken Breast dinner

Ingredients for Stuffed Chicken Breast dinner

  • 2 four to six oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 pieces of mozzarella sliced from a ball of fresh mozzarella
  • 4 large leaves of fresh basil
  • garlic salt to taste
  • 4 pieces of thin sliced prosciutto

 

 

With a very sharp knife parallel to the counter top, butterfly the chicken breasts.  In hindsight I should have butterflied these breast before they were completely defrosted.  Doing so would have given me a more even cut.  But you work with what you have. Open the breasts and add garlic salt to taste. Place the basil leaves on the bottom piece of the breast and top with the mozzarella.

Butterflied breast

Butterflied breast

Breast stuffed with Basil and fresh Mozzarella.

Breast stuffed with Basil and fresh Mozzarella.

Fold the top half of the breast over the filling.

Wrap the one piece of the prosciutto around half of the chicken breast.  Wrap the remaining half of the breast with the second piece of prosciutto, overlapping slightly.

Place the wrapped beast into a quart freezer bag and add olive oil – I used about 1 teaspoon.

Wrapped and stuffed chicken breast ready for the immersion cooker.

Wrapped and stuffed chicken breast ready for the immersion cooker.

Repeat with the second breast.

Slowly lower the bags into the circulating water and seal.  Cook in the immersion cooker for the desired time and temperature.  I set my immersion cooker to 144 degrees F and, based on the thickness, cooked them for about 65 minutes.

While the breasts were cooking I used my mandolin to create zucchini strips.  I diced up three large cloves of garlic. In a heavy sauté pan, I heated up some olive oil and sautéed the garlic just until fragrant.  Then I added the zucchini and cooked over low heat until just warmed through.  I put my cast iron pan on a high burner and let it heat up until it was smoking hot.  I did not add any oil to the pan as my cast iron is pretty well seasoned and there was a bit of oil clinging to the breast after being removed from the freezer bags.

Just before serving dinner I removed the breasts from the immersion cooker.  I was overjoyed to see the mozzarella was contained inside the wrapped breast.   I placed them in the super hot cast iron pan to crisp up the prosciutto – about 45 seconds per side.  When it came time to serve I placed a bit of pasta on each plate and topped it with the stuffed chicken breast.  I served the zucchini on the side topped with some fresh tomato.

Stuffed chicken breasts, pasta and zucchini.

Stuffed chicken breasts, pasta and zucchini.

Next time I will try this with some red sauce.  I love this new toy!

Posted in Chicken, Cooking, Family, Food, Italian, Kitchen tools, meat, pasta, sides, Sous Vide, Uncategorized, vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You’ll Roux the Day

For the past several weeks I have attempted to make a new chicken and sausage gumbo recipe but something always seemed to preclude my making the dish.  This new recipe came from Cooks Illustrated magazine and touted a new way to make a ‘faster’ roux.  I’m all for a faster roux.  If I make my roux in a traditional way I stir together the flour and the oil and spend at least 45 minutes stirring the roux over the heat to achieve the perfect color.  (I once had a guest tell me the perfect roux took a six-pack of beer – start the roux and open the first beer.  By the time you have finished the six-pack your roux will be done! Not for me.)

Earlier this year I discovered the way to make a roux in the oven – stir together the flour and the oil and bake in the oven until the roux reaches a desired color.  It takes almost as long as cooking on the stove but you don’t need to spend the time constantly stirring the pot.  An occasional stir does the trick.

This new recipe, in the current Cooks Illustrated magazine,  described yet another way to make a faster roux.  Once again it involved using the oven. This recipe called for me to place the flour in a 12 inch skillet and place it in a 425 F oven.  The flour toasts in the oven – with occasional stirring – until it achieves the desired color – 40 to 55 minutes.  While it is toasting you can prepare the rest of the gumbo.  After the flour has reached your preferred color it is removed from the oven and allowed to cool.  It is then mixed with chicken stock to form a smooth, thick paste which is stirred into the gumbo mixture.  The dish is cooked for another 25 minutes to allow the gumbo to thicken.

I measured out my flour into my skillet and put it in the oven.  Every 15 minutes or so I would give it a stir to make sure it browned evenly.  As the flour baked it began to take on the nutty smell associated with toasting flour. At this point I checked it more frequently as I didn’t want it to burn.

Flour, browned in the oven, for my roux.

Flour, browned in the oven, for my roux.

I used the roux color guide in my Paul Prudhomme cookbook to determine that the color I wanted.  I removed it from the oven and left it to cool  As it cooled I kept watch on the rest of the gumbo ingredients until the chicken was cooked through.  A this point the recipe directs you to remove the chicken to a plate to cool and prepare the roux paste by adding chicken broth to the toasted flour.  This paste is then whisked into the gumbo.    The andouille is added to the gumbo and it cooks until the roux thickens.  Meanwhile I shredded the chicken, as directed by the recipe and diced the green onions for garnish.

I ladled the gumbo into bowls and we sat down to eat.  The first mouthful convinced me that I won’t be making this version of a roux again. The color was right and the taste was spot on but it failed the mouth feel test.  The roux had a grainy texture that neither George or I cared for.  I believe the graininess was due to the fact that no oil was used in the roux.  Making the roux on the stove top or using the oven to bake the oil and  flour roux yields a much silkier product.

Lesson learned.

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Sous Vide Salmon

Since receiving my SanSaire Immersion Cooker two weeks ago I have experimented making poultry, beef and pork,  Last night it was time to try fish. Last Friday, during my weekly grocery shopping trip, I purchased a large salmon filet.  I cut two evenly sized filets from the center of the piece for the express purpose of cooking them in the immersion cooker.  I opted to cook them to medium so I set the immersion cooker to 130 degree F.

I prepared the filets by sprinkling them with some freshly chopped dill and slid them into the freezer bags with a dash of grape seed oil.  The recommend cooking time was 22 minutes so while the fish cooked I made long grain and wild rice and a dill sauce. Yellow carrots and a sauté of spinach completed the dish.

Salmon filets immediately after being removed from the immersion cooker,

Salmon filets immediately after being removed from the immersion cooker.

 

If you click on the photo to the left you can see the vacuum seal around the fish.   The fish came out moist and tender.  I left the skin on during the cooking process but removed it before plating.

 

 

The recipe for the dill sauce included 1 tbl of butter, 1 tbl of flour, chicken broth, cream dill, salt and white pepper.  I melted the butter and added the flour to make a roux.  I let the butter/flour mixture cook until the roux was lightly colored.  Then I added the cream and chicken broth until the sauce reached the consistency I wanted.  I added the dill and  allowed the sauce to gently simmer for a few minutes to give the flavors time meld.  Salt and pepper to taste was all that was needed to complete the sauce.

Here’s the plated dish.  I served the salmon atop the sautéed spinach with a bit of the dill sauce.  The extra sauce was passed on the side.  The sauce paired nicely with the carrots as well.

For those of you considering  the purchase of an immersion cooker I will tell you that I love mine.  There are a number of things I want to try in the cooker and look forward to

Plated sous vide salmon with dill sauce.

Plated sous vide salmon with dill sauce.

experimenting.  For example, whole stuffed trout,  beef short ribs, stuffed chicken breasts. The list is as long as my imagination!

Posted in appliances, Cooking, Entree, Family, fish, Food, Kitchen tools, Meatless Meals, Recipes, Salmon, SanSaire Immersion Circulator, sides, Sous Vide | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Putting an End to Good Use

We eat a lot of fish.  I usually have fish on the menu at least once a week – sometimes more.  I prefer to buy either whole fish or a whole filet if possible as it provides me with so many options.  Trout is usually cooked whole. But I often cut up salmon to get two nice filets from the center, leaving the tail and head end for other uses.

On New Year’s Eve I made Salmon en Croute.  I had a beautiful piece of wild caught salmon that gave me two filets perfect for the dish.  The remaining pieces I wrapped up for the freezer.  NOTE – the head end does not include the head!!!!! This week I am trying out Salmon filets in  my new immersion cooker so I had the tail and head end of that filet.  Friday those pieces came together and were the star of our dinner.  The dish?   Pasta with Smoked Salmon, Leeks and Peas.

I started the dish prep by smoking the salmon in my stove top smoker over Alder wood.  About 15 minutes in the smoker and they were done.  Granted, I could have just purchased the required amount of smoked salmon but why not use what’s on hand. I let the salmon cool so I could flake it for use in the dish.

That evening dinner came together in a snap.  It was perfect for a cold winters night!

Pasta with Smoked Salmon, Leeks and Peas  Serves 2

  •  8 oz piece smoked salmon (do not use the sliced product)
  • 1 tbl olive oil
  • 1 tbl unsalted butter
  • 1 medium leek, white and light green part only, washed, cut in half length-wise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted and drained
  • 1/2 tbl tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (you can substitute a lower fat product but it will impact the mouth feel and creaminess of the sauce)
  • 3/8 tsp dried tarragon
  • 6 oz fettuccine or similarly sized pasta
  • 1 1/2 tbl minced parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Remove skin and bones from the smoked salmon and pull into pieces.  Set a pot of salted water on to boil over high heat.  While the water is heating, heat the olive oil and the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Stir in the leeks and peas, cover the skillet and cook , stirring often, until the leeks are tender.  Stir in the tomato paste and cook until fragrant.   Add the broth and the cream, raise the heat and bring to a boil  Add the tarragon. Reduce the heat til the sauce is at a gentle boil and cook until the sauce is reduced by half.

Add the fettuccine to the boiling pasta water and cook until al dente.  Do not overcook, you want some tooth to the pasta.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.  Return the pasta to the pot and add the sauce, salmon and parsley. Cook over gentle heat until the salmon is heated through and the sauce is lightly thickened.  Add the reserved pasta water, a bit at the time if the pasta is too dry.

Divide into bowls and garnish with additional parsley.

I serve this with a baguette.  Fast, filling and oh so good!

Posted in Cooking, Entree, Family, fish, Food, Meatless Meals, pasta, Salmon, Smoked Food, Stove Top Smoker | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New Toy!!!

Almost every year I ask Santa for a new toy.  As you may have guessed, my new toys always have to do with food preparation.  This year Santa brought me a SanSaire Sous Vide

SanSaire Immersion Circulator

SanSaire Immersion Circulator

machine – technically called the SanSaire Immersion Circulator. I noticed them on Amazon and may have dropped a hint or two (in the form of a link to the site) so Santa would know I was interested.

I’ve been intrigued by the sous vide method of cooking for some time.  I had seen them used on cooking shows and the results looked fabulous.  Unfortunately the machines I saw seemed to be the size of small Volkswagens and cost almost as much. I resigned my self to sampling sous vide food at restaurants.  And then I saw an article in some food related publication that compared the more realistic “home based” versions of the machines. After some research  I decided I would ask for the SanSaire Sous Vide  machine and Santa granted my request!

In the 11 days since Christmas I have used the machine three times – to cook a chicken breast, two filets, and two very thick pork chops.  And I can tell you that the machine lives up to it’s promise.

The process is simple:

  • Fill a pot with the correct amount of water.
  • Attach the immersion circulator to the side of the pot with the clamp and set the desired temperature.
  • Place the food in a zip lock freezer bag with a bit of oil.
  • Submerge the bag slowly to force the water out of the bag – this is incredible to see!
  • Cook for the amount of time required to reach the target finish temperature.
  • Sear if desired.

My first attempt was a large chicken breast I was going to use for a dinner chicken and

Chicken seasoned and ready to be lowered in the immersion pot with the immersion circulator.

Chicken seasoned and ready to be lowered in the immersion pot with the immersion circulator.

avocado sandwich served on a croissant.  In the past I have seasoned and sautéed the breast or I have poached it in stock.  Neither method yielded a juicy, tender chicken breast. I set up my machine, put the seasoned the breast with chipotle chili seasoning and put it in

a zip lock bag.  Away it went into the water bath.   One hour and thirty minutes later I had a chicken breast that was cooked completely through but was

Sous Vide chicken breast.

Sous Vide chicken breast.

beautifully juicy and tender. With one success under my belt I decided to try a steak.

Everything I have read led me to believe that cooking a steak in a water bath would yield a tender, juicy piece of meat.  I decided to use two pre-cut bacon wrapped filet mignons.  I removed the bacon and seasoned the meet with salt and pepper.  I put the steaks in individual plastic bags, sealed them as directed by the user manual – yes there is a user manual and you really need to read it – lowered them into the water bath and set the machine to produce a medium rare steak.  About 75 minutes later the steaks were ready to come out of  water bath.  I was prepared for the appearance of the steaks as they came out of the pot.  They were done perfectly but did not have the seared appearance that makes your mouth water.  With about 5 minutes left on the water bath I began heating up my cast iron skillet until it was smoking hot.  A quick sear on each side and the steaks looked great. The steaks were tender and juicy and the sear did not overcook the meat. Sorry – we were too hungry and the steaks looked too good – no pictures!

Yesterday it was time to try the pork chops. I had thick boneless chops cut from the center

Thick cut pork chops ready for the bags.

Thick cut pork chops ready for the bags.

loin.  Once again I seasoned the meat, placed each chop in an individual zip lock freezer bag, added a bit of oil in each bag and lowered them into the water bath. I took the chops out after about 75 minutes.  I used my cast iron pan to brown the chops.  I was a bit too eager to eat and didn’t get enough of a

The bags of pork chops in the water. Notice how the bags have sealed around the chops.

The bags of pork chops in the water. Notice how the bags have sealed around the chops.

sear on the exterior of the chops but they were still really good.  You can see from the picture how juicy the chops were after cooking and searing.  I’ve made a note to allow more time to sear the chops than I did last night.

Finished pork chop. Beautifully moist and cooked to our preferred level of doneness.

Finished pork chop. Beautifully moist and cooked to our preferred level of doneness.

 

 

 

 

 

Next week I will be preparing coho salmon filets in the water bath.  I anticipate the same excellent results.

Sous vide cooking does live up to the hype.  There are a few drawbacks that may mean it is not for everyone.  The biggest reason is time.  Sous vide cooking takes a long time as compared to throwing a steak or chops on a grill.  For items like steaks and chops you need to sear the meat to get that beautiful crust.  SanSaire recommends you purchase their searing tool – essentially a blow torch,.  I suggest you use a cast iron skillet.  It takes a few minutes but doesn’t require the purchase of additional tools.

There are a number of upsides to using an immersion circulator.  Unlike many of the sous vide machines the SanSaire does not require you to vacuum seal the food before lowering it into the water bath.  As you slowly lower the zip loc bag into the pot the pressure of the water on the sides of the bag forces the air out of the bag and effectively “seals” the food in the bag.  The food can remain in the water bath until you’re ready to heat. The circulator holds the food at the desired temperature with no degradation of the finished product.  Imagine holding grilled pork shops or a steak for more than a few minutes after it has reached temperature!

Do I love my new toy? You bet!  Santa also brought me a cook book with recipes for the larger Sous Vide machine.  It doesn’t take much to adapt them for my immersion circulator.  I see a lot of fun in the future!

Posted in American Food, appliances, Chicken, Cooking, fish, Food, Kitchen tools, meat, Pork, Salmon, SanSaire Immersion Circulator, Sous Vide, steak | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Years Eve, Again

Yesterday I talked about the dinner menu we enjoyed on New Years Eve.  Today I want to share the recipes for the Lobster Mousse and the Crab Bisque.  Both turned out well tho I believe I would modify the sauce for the Lobster Mousse by using less lemon juice. To my taste it overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the lobster.  George thought it was just fine.

Lobster Mousse  with Lemon Sauce                         yields two cups of mousse

For the Mousse:

  • 1/4 lb cooked lobster meat – if your market sells 4 oz tails you will need two.  The shell takes up some of the weight
  • 3/8 cup clam juice
  • 1/2 tbl unflavored gelatin
  • 1 rib of celery, chopped fine
  • 1 tbl finely chopped onion
  • 3/4 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • 1/8 cup mayonnaise
  • salt and white pepper to taste

For the Lemon Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon

Garnish:

  • Flat greens such as spinach or spring lettuce
  • Caviar
  • Crackers

Cut the cooked lobster into 1/2 inch pieces.

Place the clam broth in a small sauce pan and sprinkle the gelatin over the broth.  Place of low heat and stir until gelatin is thoroughly dissolved.  Set aside to cool.

Whip the cream.

Combine the celery, onion mustard , parsley, whipped cream, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, lobster and cooled broth.  Mix thoroughly and spoon into a 1/2 quart mold.  I used two  ramekins that held about 1/2 cup of the mixture. The rest went into a larger ramekin to be enjoyed the next day.  Tightly seal the containers with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm  – at least four hours (I made mine the day before so I was certain they would set by dinner.)

To make the sauce mix the mayonnaise and lemon juice together and refrigerate until ready to use.

Lobster Mousse with Lemon Mayonnaise SauceTo assemble – place the greens on the plate, unmold the mousse and place on the greens.  Pour some of the sauce over the mousse and garnish with the caviar. Add crackers to the plate and serve.   Serve additional sauce on the side.

Crab Bisque   Makes three servings

  • 1/2 cup onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup carrot, minced
  • 1 (10.5 oz) can chicken broth
  • 2 tbl flour
  • 3 tbl butter – divided
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sherry – please don’t use cooking sherry. Crab is too expensive to be ruined by bad sherry
  • 1/2 tbl lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4 oz lump crabmeat
  • salt to taste
  • fresh chives, minced for garnish

Saute the onion and carrot in 1 tbl of butter until soft. Set aside.

In a saucepan (2 qt or larger,) melt 2 tbl of butter and add the flour, whisking constantly over medium heat, about 5 minutes.  You are making a light brown roux – do not let the mixture burn!

When the roux is light brown and has a nutty odor, slowly add the chicken broth whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming.  Add the cooked onion and carrot mixture, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Note: I made the soup in advance up to this point and let it cool. I finished the soup right before I was ready to serve this course.

Add the cream, sherry, lemon Juice, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper and crab.  Salt to taste.  Bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Crab BisqueLadle into soup bowls and garnish with fresh chopped chives.

Scallop Salad with Cucumber dressing

Scallop Salad with Cucumber Dressing

The three other courses consisted of a scallop salad, Salmon en Croute and Chocolate mousse.  As I was reviewing my New Years Eve menus from past years I discovered the we had Salmon en Croute last year as well.  Hey, if it works…. This year we had a different sauce which I liked better.  The sauce was a mixture of dill, heavy cream, sour cream, flour, salt and pepper.

There is no picture of the Chocolate Mousse.  We were too full so we saved it for New Years Day!

salmon-en-croute

Salmon En Croute with Red and Yellow Carrots

 

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