Weeknight Wondermeal: Simple Baked Salmon with Spuds and Spinach

2014-02-16 18.51.03Many of my Harvard kids (I teach and work at the University) complain that they don’t know how to cook.  I mean, why should they?  Their parents have taken care of them up to the point that they arrived here, and once here the dining halls take care of the rest.  But even though we educate their minds, we don’t do such a great job teaching them about the practical logistics of life after graduation.  Since most of them know about my gastronomic pursuits, they always ask me to teach them how to cook; this blog is one avenue for those lessons.  So, kiddos: here’s a SUPER easy one for ya.  It’s got 3 basic ingredients, a few items from the pantry, and requires only a cookie sheet, a pyrex baking dish, and a big ol’ bowl – but it’s delicious, healthy, and pretty enough to serve up to company, like when your parents come to visit you during that gap year to see where all the money they’re sending you goes…

I forgot to take a set-up shot, but here’s what you’ll need:

Simple Baked Salmon with Spuds and Spinach (for 2)

1 lb fresh salmon fillet
12 oz baby spinach
1 lb baby red potatoes
1 lemon
EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), white vinegar
sea salt, cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper, dried oregano

2014-02-16 18.09.55Start by washing your spuds, cutting them in half, and then tossing them with about 3 tablespoons of EVOO and your spices.

2014-02-16 18.11.42Lay those bad boys out, cut side down, on a foil-wrapped cookie sheet, douse with another glug of EVOO for good measure, and throw in the oven on 350 for 30 minutes.

2014-02-16 18.23.42Meanwhile, place your fillet of salmon into a baking dish large enough to hold it (this is an 8″x8″ pyrex).  Cut your lemon in half; squeeze one half of it over the fish, and slice the other half into thin rounds.  Pour a glug of EVOO over the fish, too, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then layer the sliced lemon over the top.  Throw this in the same oven as the potatoes and bake for 20-25 minutes.

2014-02-16 18.26.07Using the same bowl in which you tossed the potatoes (which you needn’t have cleaned out), add your spinach, some salt and pepper.

2014-02-16 18.44.07The potatoes are done when they can be a) easily pierced with a fork, b) their outer skins have gotten all wrinkly, and c) the cut sides are crispy and brown.

2014-02-16 18.45.54Spill these into the bowl over the spinach with all the hot oil which has accumulated on the pan, add a glug of vinegar (about a teaspoon or so), and toss this very well. The heat from the spuds and fat will wilt the spinach.

2014-02-16 18.48.22The salmon is done when it is completely opaque.  The oil and lemon juice will help keep the fish nice and moist; just use a spatula to divide the fillet in half and to slide the fish onto your waiting plates.

2014-02-16 18.51.37And there you have it: succulent, juicy, flavorful, healthy salmon served with creamy-interior, crunchy-exterior roasted potatoes and gently wilted spiced greens.  Serve with or without some crusty French bread, and call it a day.  You will be impressed with yourself, and your guests will think you’re the tops!  All this only takes 30 minutes of cook time, and a mere handful of ingredients.  If you can’t make this, my dear Harvard children, then you should have spent less time planning to change the world and more time tending to your diet.  Lucky for you, I’m here to help you through. You can thank me later, when you win those Nobel prizes and become CEOs of your own Fortune 500 companies.  Don’t worry – I can wait.

Potato Wrapped Cod with Bacony Garlicky Greens

2014-01-03 19.36.09Happy New Year, my dear blog friends!  I hope you and yours have had a healthy and happy holiday, and that you’ve eaten as well as I have since the last time I checked in.  It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for me – filled with friends and frolic – but I’ve missed sharing with you what Lolita has been making and eating.  I’ll start back again today with an elegant, delicious meal I’ve tried a few times before with limited success.  It’s the technique really; I’d never effectively executed the pan-searing of this lovely piece of scallop-potato wrapped whitefish before, at least, not without the potato slices falling off whenever I tried to flip the fillet.  But I’m not one to give up, especially on a succulent meal, and after doing a little research online about how others have made this lovely spud-swaddled delicacy successfully, I tried it again with incredible results.  A crispy wrapping of thinly sliced potatoes is *exactly* what a plank of cod needs to make it something extra-special, and when served atop a bed of bacony garlic greens, it makes a perfect meal: balanced, light, and helluva tasty, yo.

2014-01-03 15.35.21

Potato Wrapped Cod with Bacony Garlicky Greens

1lb cod fillet
2 slices bacon
1 large russet potato
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch lacinato kale
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons EVOO
hickory smoked garlic salt, crushed black pepper, crushed red pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 qt frying oil
(Ignore those mushrooms and that onion; I didn’t end up using them)

2014-01-03 15.39.10I start by peeling my potato, removing as many surface blemishes as possible.

2014-01-03 15.55.19Using my mandoline’s lowest setting, I slice my potato into the longest wafers I can.  I drop these into a bowl of water to keep them from turning color.

2014-01-03 15.58.20I layer the slices of potato between sheets of paper towel to dry them once I’m finished slicing up the whole spud.

2014-01-03 16.03.02After heating my quart of oil to 375, I drop a few slices of potato into the fat at a time, par-frying them for barely a moment.

2014-01-03 16.04.23Fishing them out with a slotted or mesh spoon, I lay them in a single layer across some fresh paper towels (with a paper bag underneath for extra absorption) to soak up all the excess oil.  This par-frying technique softens the slices by leeching off a good deal of the starch; this makes them easier to wrap around the fish.

2014-01-03 16.18.58Speaking of which: look at that beautiful thing.  I asked the fishmonger at Whole Foods for this mostly uniform sized and shaped plank of cod, so I could cut it into two equally sized pieces – one for me, and one for the husbandman.

2014-01-03 16.20.23Some dear friends of mine (Hey, Montana Palmers!) sent me a lovely care packages of their homemade spices as a Christmas present, and I’ve been working them all into my recipes ever since they arrived.  This hickory smoked garlic salt was just the fit for this meal.  I sprinkle it, and some cracked black pepper, generously over my fish.

2014-01-03 16.23.09After laying down a large piece of plastic wrap, I assemble my slices of potatoes by overlapping them at the very edges and ends to form a “sheet” large enough to accommodate my plank of fish.  It takes 8 slices for each piece.

2014-01-03 16.27.17I place my piece of fish on the center seam of spuds…

2014-01-03 16.27.43… and using the plastic wrap, I wrap one half of the spuds over the fish.  I lay that part of the plastic wrap on the counter again…

2014-01-03 16.28.10… before using the other side of the wrap to lift and layer the other side of the spuds over the fish, overlapping the potato slices already in place.

2014-01-03 16.28.46Then I tightly seal the plastic wrap around the whole package, before repeating with the other portion of fish.  I place these beauties in the refrigerator to chill for about an hour.

2014-01-03 17.52.51Meanwhile, I cut my two slices of bacon into inch long pieces before frying them out in a large pan.

2014-01-03 19.05.27I also prep my kale by removing the stems and cutting each leaf into bite sized pieces.  I also mince my 4 cloves of garlic.

2014-01-03 19.08.19After an hour, my potato slices have adhered to the fish planks nicely, and they’re ready for cooking.  I sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of each “package”…

2014-01-03 19.24.45… and place them in a hot pan in which I’ve heated my butter and EVOO to frothy and sizzling.  I cook these arroser, which means I use a deep spoon (I use a miso soup spoon, actually; the flat bottom is very helpful!) to scoop up the fat from the pan and baste the tops of my fish packets while the bottoms sear on the pan’s surface.  Since I have thick pieces of fresh cod, and I want to make sure any worms are safely destroyed (look it up, people – there are Lernaeocera branchialis in most fresh white fish, but cooking to 140° kills ‘em good), I sear on each side – basting continuously – for about 5 minutes.

2014-01-03 19.26.38Meanwhile, I add my kale to the pan with the bacon and cook until slightly wilted.  Then I throw in all my garlic, a few shakes of crushed red pepper, and some salt, and I stir it around really really well.  I don’t want the garlic to burn or brown, but I do want it nicely heated through and thoroughly blended with the greens.

2014-01-03 19.28.42At the last moment, I remove the kale from the heat, shave some parm on it, and plate it.

2014-01-03 19.29.18My fish is ready when each side of it is nicely browned and crispy.

2014-01-03 19.35.47I mix a little Greek yogurt with crushed black pepper and a little lemon juice, stick that into a squeeze bottle, and use it to garnish my lovely fish.  The crispy, potato exterior is the perfect compliment to the flaky fish ensconced within.  The greens are perfectly wilted – still a little toothsome, but not stringy – and the abundance of garlic offsets the unctiousness of the bacon like a champ.  Each bite of this meal is like warm heaven…

Weeknight Wondermeal: Warm Smoked Pork, Beans, and Kale Lovejoy

DSCN5172This summer has been all cockamamie.  We had a sweltering June, but August was remarkably temperate, and now – less than a week into September – it’s already pretty cool out.  I usually don’t find myself making anything soupy or stewey until November, but after a chilly walk home yesterday, I was compelled to break out the wok and the stock and craft some comfort yumminess.  This is a riff on my “Warm Chicken Lovejoy” – the only thing it’s missing is the chicken.  As a weeknight wondermeal, it’s cheap (less than $15), quick (less than an hour), uncomplicated, fairly light, and super soul-satisfying and delicious.  Some smoked pork chops simmered in turkey stock with soup beans, potatoes, fresh veggies, and lovely wilted kale is everything the body needs to bravely face the change of seasons.

Warm Smoked Pork, Beans, and Kale Lovejoy

1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
3-4 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 qt turkey stock
1 can mixed soup beans and barley
1 bunch lacinato kale
2 smoked pork chops (preferably bone-in)
sea salt, cracked black pepper, garlic powder, EVOO

DSCN5159I forgot to take a set up shot, so let’s just jump right into it.  I start by adding a roughly diced mirepoix (that’s onions, carrots, and celery for the uninitiated) to a glug of EVOO in my hot wok, which I sautee until fragrant and slightly translucent.

DSCN5160Then I layer my potates on top.

DSCN5161Then I dump my can o’ beans on top of that.

DSCN5162Then I place my pork chops on top of THAT.

DSCN5163And finally, I pour my quart of stock over the whole mess, then add some salt, a whole mess of black pepper, and a dash or two of garlic powder.

DSCN5165I let the pot simmer on medium low for about 30 minutes, stirring occaisonally, and allowing the liquids to reduce.  Once they’re soft enough, I squoosh a few pieces of potato with a fork against the side of the pan, which thickens the sauce.

DSCN5166I’ve washed and de-stemmed my kale, which I add to the pot, pressing down on the leaves with a wooden spoon to submerge them in the simmering liquid.

DSCN5167After 10 or 15 minutes, they’ve nicely wilted, and enough of the liquid has boiled off to yeild a nice rich gravy. This can now hold for a while if necessary (Clayton took *forever* getting home from work, so I kept this simmering on low for another 20 minutes or so) — all it does is make the flavors that much richer.

DSCN5169Along with some toasted garlic bread for sopping, this deep bowlful of beany meaty greens-studded stew fills the belly with wholesome heartiness and homestyle goodness.  This is one of my go-to dishes: any combination of pork (sausage, chops, boneless ribs), stock, beans, and greens always hits the spot when simmered slow and low.  Clayton and I dug into this meal like badgers, and weren’t done until we’d sucked every morsel of sweet smoky pork meat from the bones and sopped up every molecule of fragrant, savory gravy.  The fact that it’s so easy makes it all that much better.

Lockdown Hash

DSCN4852It has been one hell of a week here in Boston.  Bombings set off on Monday, our noble Marathon violently marred, death and dismemberment brought home to children and other innocents, and terror injected into our Beantown lifeblood like intravenous drugs designed to heighten anxiety and stress.  Last night and all of today has been all about police action, high emergency, and triage; one cop has been killed, others are seriously injured, shootouts have exploded and explosions have been hurled, and there has been an unprecedented complete and total lockdown of 6 different communities — including mine — within our fair borders.  We have been held captive all week in a true siege perilous, literally and figuratively: this most ancient seat of our young nation is undeniably under attack.   I worry about my neighbors, I worry about my Harvard kids, I worry about my friends.  I worry about this boy, this fresh-faced, nice looking, by-all-accounts good boy who is hiding among us somewhere… waiting, maybe?  Planning, maybe?  Or scared and alone and hurt?  I can’t not care; he looks so much like he could be one of my students.  My little haven, my home, is 5 blocks away in one direction from the merciless fatal shooting of MIT policeman Sean Collier, and 5 blocks away in another direction from the merciful release of the carjacking victim which the news is, at this time (6:57pm EST), still surprisingly silent about.  Needless to say, Clayton and I have stayed safely indoors, and totally glued to the TV, waiting until our beloved neighborhood is safe again.

Luckily, we had a dozen eggs and a handful of random items in the fridge to make both lunch and dinner, since we’ve been locked indoors and all stores are closed anyway.  But after an onion & bacon omelet with cheddar grits for breakfast, I wanted something a little more vegetable for dinner.  My pantry isn’t fully stocked, but I do try to keep some basics on hand, like canned beans and tomatoes and stock and stuff.  I found a few carrots in the fridge, some just-about-to-turn-rubbery small colored potatoes, I had 1/2 an onion, and bacon is always welcome more than once a day anyway – so I came up with this skillet:  Potato bacon hash, carrot studded tomato sauce, with baked egg, melted farmhouse cheddar, and garlic Texas toast for dipping.  Super hot, *really* comforting, and served in a cast-iron skillet heavy enough to use as a weapon to beat back terrorists: just what we needed to feel safe and satisfied after a surreal day.

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Lockdown Hash

8-10 small potatoes (these are purple, red, and creamer)
1 can peeled tomatoes
1/2 onion, diced
1 cup diced carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup EVOO
4 sliced bacon
4 tbs butter
2 eggs
4 thick slices of toast
garlic powder, sea salt, cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper, oregano

DSCN4832I start by dicing my onion, carrot…

DSCN4833… and garlic.

DSCN4835I throw them in a hot pan with a glug of EVOO to sauteDSCN4836I add a dash of salt, pepper, and oregano, and cook on medium heat until just translucent — about 4 minutes.

DSCN4834I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: San Marzano canned tomatoes are the best.  I crack me a can.

DSCN4837And dump all the contents into the pan with the aromatics.

DSCN4838Then I add my wine and about 1/2 cup of EVOO.

DSCN4840I set the heat on low, cover the pan, and let my sauce cook for about 30 minutes until thickened.  At some point, since I’m anxious watching the news unfold, I end up breaking down the tomatoes into smaller pieces.  Meaning, I just sort of stand there stabbing at them with my wooden spatula, splattering my clothes since my eyes are riveted on the TV.  After the 30 minutes, I remove the lid and let the liquid start to boil off, to make a nice, thick, chunky sauce.

DSCN4841On one of my back burners, I boiled my potatoes in salted water for about 15  minutes, or until I was able to pierce them easily with a knife.  I drained and cooled them, and have now cut them into small pieces.

DSCN4842I get my two small skillets nice and hot on my burners, and I fry off two slices of chopped bacon in each.  I add a LOT of cracked black pepper to each pan, too – just ‘cuz.

DSCN4843Once my bacon is nice and crisp, and all the fat has rendered and is sizzling, I split my potato pieces evenly between the two pans, laying them in a single layer across the surface, to let them sear for a couple minutes.  After they’ve crisped on the hot edge, I stir gently to flip, and sear again.  I do this for about 8 minutes, stirring every once in a while so that the pulpy cuts of potato can crisp and brown against the iron heat.

DSCN4845When the home fries/hash browned potatoes are perfectly crisped, I push them to one side of each pan.

DSCN4846On the other side, I layer my nicely thickened chunky tomato sauce.  Sort of a yin-yang thing.

DSCN4847I’ve shaved several nice thin sheets of cheddar off the block, which I layer on top of my potatoes and tomatoes.

DSCN4848And in a well between them all, I crack a single egg.  My oven is preheated to 400 degrees, and I throw the pans onto the bottom most shelf, and let them bake for about 7 minutes — until the egg whites have just set, and the cheese is melted and bubbling.

DSCN4851Since I started writing this post 20 minutes ago, there has been another volley of gunshots, and the media is hopeful that that heralds a resolution to today’s drama.  There hasn’t been any movement in hours; but now something seems to be happening.  This blog is as much to show off my cooking as it is to remind me of my life, like a diary; each meal brings me back to a moment in my past in ways no other experience can do.  Tonight’s meal was heartwarming, comforting, true homestyle, delicious, and filling — as many of my meals have been; but, given the historic events unfurling within hearing distance of my humble little condo, I doubt I could ever forget it, even if I hadn’t written it down.  But I felt a need to share – and if I could have made this for every one of my local peeps, waiting like me for news that the suspect has been caught, and that all is safe (more or less) – I would have.  These pictures, and this insignificant story, are my small way of sharing.

Stay safe, my dear readers.  Lolita out.

Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg

DSCN4633Besides being a full time college administrator and a part-time blogger, I also help teach writing intensive classes in English Literature at Harvard, and this semester we are studying Darwin’s theory of evolution (in terms of the impact On the Origin of Species had on the 19th century novel).  Perhaps that fact, along with a small plate of sprouts I enjoyed at Michael Schlow’s new joint, The Sinclair, the other night, inspired this chicken/egg creation: a partially de-boned Cornish game hen served with roasted Brussels sprouts and tiny wee potatoes, topped with fried onions, bacon hollandaise sauce, and a poached egg.  This was NOT an easy dinner to prepare!  De-boning the hens still takes me a while, making hollandaise sauce while poaching eggs requires a Doctor Octopus-like physiology, and there were a lot of little component parts that had to be executed all at the same time in order to serve everything hot together.  But, dear reader, was it worth it!  My tender, juicy hen covered in the runny golden goodness of cousin yolks paired with the earthy herbaceousness of caramelized baby cabbages, white potatoes, and flash fried onions was the perfect offering for a chilly, windy, and wet late winter’s dinner.

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Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg

2 game hens, breast and back bones removed
2 small whole sweet onions, peeled, trimmed, and boiled in water until tender
20-3o Brussels sprouts
10-20 tiny white potatoes
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup diced white onion
4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter
EVOO
flour, sea salt, cracked black pepper, white wine vinegar

DSCN4622I’ve presented de-boned game hens once before on this blog (check it out here), when I went into great detail about how to remove the back bones and breast bones of these little beasties – but today I didn’t have the time to take all the pictures.  There are some good tutorials on YouTube, too – which I refer to each time I go through this procedure.  I’m still not as efficient as it as I’d like (read: it takes me a long time, and I cuss like a sailor throughout the whole process), but the results have been wonderful each time.  By removing these portions of the skeleton, you are making these otherwise difficult to eat birdies a breeze!  The only bones left are in the legs and wings, but one can carve right through the body of the bird with a delicate knife to gather up rich, whole mouthfuls of succulent, juicy chicken.  However, once those bones are removed, you are left with a rather deflated critter, so I like to give it back some shape by stuffing something yummy and roundish back into the chest cavity.  In this case I did so with tiny sweet boiled onions, which I’d peeled and trimmed (leaving them whole by keeping just the butt of the bulb intact) and cooked until easily pierced with a fork.  Then I trussed up the birds with some twine so they’d maintain their shape.  After rubbing them down with salt and pepper, I set them aside until I was ready for them.

DSCN4624I neglected to add these important components of the meal to my set-up shot, so here’s a little something for you now.  I only need about a 1/2 cup of diced onion, and I fry the slices of bacon until crispy.  Oh, and when I said tiny potatoes, I meant TINY — these bad boys are about the circumference of my thumb, and no more than a knuckle long.  And I’ve got baby hands, people.

DSCN4625These I partially peel…

DSCN4623… and the sprouts I trim and halve, keeping the really small ones whole.

DSCN4628I’m able to spread both veggies out on the same baking sheet – which is good since they’ll take about the same amount of time to cook.  They’ve all been doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and the sprouts I lay cut-side down.

DSCN4629The trick to a meal this complex is having everything ready to go at the same time.  On my back right burner, I’ve got a water bath set up to double-boil my hollandaise sauce, which starts with a stick of butter melting in the small bowl resting on my tongs. On the right I have a large pot with several inches of water set to a simmer to poach my eggs.  The front burner has my largest fry-pan, a couple glugs of EVOO, and some more butter which I heated to a foaming mass before gently placing my birds within.  I meant to put them both breast side up at first, but their floppy, skeleton-less anatomy confused me, so one’s face up and the other is face down.  No harm done.

DSCN4630“The lost art of the arroser.”  I had the pleasure of discovering this term in print just when I needed to find it – since I engaged in said art when preparing tonight’s dinner.  This refers to the technique of spooning hot fat oven the up-side of a protein searing in a pan, so it can gently cook on both sides at the same time.  I’ve seen this on Iron Chef and other cooking shows, and I’ve mimicked it to great effect in the past, but I’ve never known what it was called.  Thanks, New York Times.  Anyway, given that it takes two hands – one to tilt the pan, the other to spoon the butteroil – I couldn’t take a good shot of me in action, but suffice to say that as my birds sizzled, I basted them continually with hot golden deliciousness for about 5 minutes of sear time before flipping them.

DSCN4631Damn they look good.  I do the same technique for the flip side of each bird before I get them both settled, breast side down (so they’re resting on their “elbows”, so to speak).  This is crunch time: it will take 25 minutes for the sprouts, potatoes, and chickens to roast off in a 350° oven.  The pan with the veggies goes on the bottom rack – which is closest to the heat source in my oven – and the chickens go in their pan onto the top shelf to finish baking through.  I now have 20 or so minutes to get everything else done before I need to plate.

DSCN4626First, I toss my onions in flour, salt, and pepper before…

DSCN4627… frying them in some oil until crispy and brown.

DSCN4632Now it’s egg time.  The trick to making both hollandaise sauce and poached eggs is to have everything ready in advance.  Water should be at a low simmer for both preparations; the back, smaller burner for the sauce, and the front larger burger for the eggs.  Given that I was under pressure to get everything out on time, I didn’t take pictures of each process, but for the hollandaise sauce you can check out this previous posting, which goes into great detail, and for the poached eggs I actually followed Kenji’s most recently posted procedure from Serious Eats.  The eggs only take about 4 minutes to poach, and the hollandaise takes about 10 minutes from start to finish.  After the 10 minutes prep it took to get everything ready, by the time my sauce and eggs are ready, it is just about on the minute I need to pull out my chicken and veg from the oven.

DSCN4634The roasted sprouts and potatoes form the bed for this little baby chicken, while the oozing yellow yolk and sauce act as its blanket, with a little scattering of fried onion bits for contrast.  After cutting the trussing strings, I am able to disengage a leg from the bird with the gentlest of tugs – which, of course, I do daintily with my pinky finger extended in polite form.  But once the succulent, tender, and steaming meat makes it to my tongue, all bets are off, and I throw down my silverware and just start sopping and supping with complete abandon.  The richness of the sauce and yolk are offset by the salty bacon and deeply caramelized sprouts, and the potatoes add just the right amount of starch to the plate.  This was a dinner that was lovely to look at, but even better to eat.

Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin, Honey Roasted Carrots, Potato Crisps, Gorgonzola Cream, Demi-Glaze, Gremolata

DSCN4576The reason why we omnivores like veal is because of how tender it is.  Yes, the little critters are confined to a very small pen which keeps them from moving around a lot, which keeps their flesh meltingly soft by preventing the development of tougher muscles, which many people think is sad (or atrocious, depending upon your ilk).  I have no such scruples: I am gluttonous for foie gras; I revel in veal; I love lobsters boiled live; hell, I’d enjoy an ortolon if I ever got the chance to eat one.  If you consider me inhumane because of my eating habits, I certainly respect your opinion… but I’ll likely not invite you over for dinner when I’m pulling out all the stops.

All this is just preamble, though.  I bring up the tenderness of veal for one reason: to say that it’s even MORE tender when cooked sous vide.  Although not a particularly old technique, sealing foods in air-tight bags and cooking them in a water-bath set to the temperature at which the food should be served  is optimal for several purposes: by cooking the food in this manner, there is no risk of over-cooking, and there is no drying out of the surface layers of proteins by virtue of the much higher heat needed to bring the internal temp to the right degree; something magical with collagens and proteins and cellular stuff happens at a lower heat held for a long time — tissues turn to gelatin, and juices stay locked in place; and meats need only a quick browning on a hot pan at the last minute before service. But sous vide cookery generally requires the purchase of a prohibitively expensive and very space-consuming piece of equipment, since since money and space are two things I don’t have, I thought I’d have to struggle with maintaining the temperature in a saucepan on my stove, which I’ve done successfully once before, but which took lots of time standing by the stove stirring and adjusting the water with flame and ice (figuratively speaking).  Tonight’s technique was MUCH EASIER.  And the results?  Veal so perfectly cooked and tender I could cut it with a sharp glance.  Doused with demi-glaze, served with  potato crisps draped with gorgonzola cream, honey roasted carrots, and a snappy Meyer lemon gremolata, dinner transported me to Nirvana with each and every sweet sweet bite.

Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin, Honey Roasted Carrots, Potato Crisps, Gorgonzola Cream, Demi-Glaze, Gremolata

1lb veal tenderloin, trimmed
4 tbs butter
1 tbs dried tarragon leaves
1 small bunch slender carrots
3 tbs EVOO
3 tbs honey
1 large russet potato
3 oz gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup cream
1 Meyer lemon
4 tbs minced parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt, cracked black pepper, dried oregano, dried rosemary
1 package Classic Demi-Glaze Gold

DSCN4551Instead of a set-up shot, showing all my ingredients, I shall instead show you the star of tonight’s show: my Igloo cooler.  Based upon Serious Eats’ brilliant life hack article, I now know I don’t need to buy a ridiculously expensive piece of equipment to sous vide – all I need is a $20 cooler.  Y’see, not only do these babies keep things cool, they keep things HOT, too.  For anything that can be cooked sous vide in less than 5 hours and in less than 160° water (these are my approximations), a nice, tight sealing cooler will do the trick.

DSCN4554I start by rinsing, then patting dry, my veal tenderloin.  After rubbing it down with salt and pepper, I put a few pats of butter on the meat, along with the tarragon…

DSCN4555… before wrapping it tightly in plastic.

DSCN4556The whole package then gets set inside a large freezer zipper bag, and using a straw, I get as much air out of it as possible.  I zipped the bag up as close to the straw as I could before I started sucking like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, then I even slightly zipped across the straw while sliding it out of the bag so that as little air as possible would leach back into the bag before it was sealed completely.  SeriousEats points out that one can also submerge as much of the bag as possible in water before sealing to push out all the air, but every time I’ve tried that I’ve always spilled a little water into the bag – and I didn’t want to get my meat wet.  This worked fine.

DSCN4558I thought I would have to use a kettle to get my water hot enough, but my kitchen faucet delivers water at close to 160° – so I actually had to add a little cold water to get my temp to a little over 142° F. I then filled up my largest, heaviest measuring vessel with hot water, too, so it would submerge – which I used to anchor my bag of meat which still wanted to float.  I shut the cooler, and walked away for 90 minutes.

DSCN4559Meanwhile, I used my mandoline set at the thickest setting to slice my russet potato into substantial chips.

DSCN4560I placed them in a single layer on top of a baking paper lined cookie sheet, and then brushed them with EVOO before sprinkling some salt, pepper, rosemary, and oregano on them.

DSCN4561I also trimmed the greens off my carrots, peeled them, and spread them across a ceramic baking dish.

DSCN4562Someone gave me this lovely raw honey, which is very potent and delicious.

DSCN4563The carrots get doused in EVOO, salt, pepper, and honey, and then both they and the potatoes get placed into a 400° oven for about 30 minutes.  At the halfway point, I flip the potatoes and roll over the carrots for even cooking.

DSCN4564Gremolata is one of those condiments that isn’t used as often as it should be.  The traditional mixture of minced parsley and garlic with grated lemon zest adds snap and freshness to tons of preparations, and it goes particularly well with rich meats.

DSCN4565A little salt, pepper, lemon juice, and EVOO gets added to the veg, and all is mixed well.

DSCN4566Ahhhh – gorgonzola.  DSCN4569I melt a tbs of butter in a saucepan, add my cream, and then my gorgonzola to make a cheese sauce.  On another eye, I prepare the demi-glaze with only a few ounces of water (I want a nice, rich drizzle of flavor, and not a gravy) and a dash of minced garlic.

DSCN4568My 90 minutes have passed, and I eagerly reach into my Igloo to see how my veal tenderloin looks.  And it looks MARVELOUS.  It is perfectly cooked to a lovely medium rare – but it admittedly looks a little flaccid and unappetizing all greyish like that….

DSCN4570… which is why I’ve got an oiled, cast iron skillet smoking on one burner.  I sear my tenderloin on all sides, propping up the narrow edges (which make my meat want to roll over) by clipping the tongs in the ‘closed’ position and resting them flat against the edge of the pan.  I sear for about 1 minute all the way ’round – so 6 minutes total.  I’m looking for the Malliard reaction, which is a fancy way of saying I want to brown the outside of this tender morsel.

DSCN4571Perfect.

DSCN4575Just the extreme edges are tantalizingly browned, and the insides are exactly medium rare throughout.

DSCN4577The explosion of flavors on my plate just blew me away.  The sweet carrots, crispy potatoes and sharp, creamy gorgonzola sauce, the rich, garlicky demi-glaze offset by the fresh, green gremolata, and the oh-so-silky-and-tender-and-delicious veal medallions.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to prepare veal any other way, and now I can’t wait to try the same technique with strip steaks and filet mignon, and even eggs for perfect Benedicts.  But now – I EAT!

Crispy Fried Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, Dark and Creamy Umame Gravy

DSCN4332I have been obsessed with frying things ever since I read SeriousEats.com’s tutorial on Korean Fried Chicken.  The technique they describe worked with chicken wings perfectly, so I wondered if I could do the same thing with other fryables.  It worked very nicely with shrimp – creating something of a tempura-type crackling coating – but how about something really substantial?  I mean, chicken wings are pretty small, and shrimp only get so big, too (to wit, at 4’10” am I perpetually addressed as ‘shrimp’ or ‘shortie’, neither of which makes me particularly happy).  How’s about a meaty pork chop?  My days in the south exposed me to the wonders of a perfectly fried chop, coated with a buttermilk batter and pan fried, served usually with a white gravy and some collards.  I decided to work up my own version of a fried pork chop, using a simple flour/vodka slurry as the breading, some sweet potatoes and mushrooms as the complements, and my favorite soy sauce cream gravy (click here to see a variation on the theme).  The results were fantastic!

Crispy Fried Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, Dark and Creamy Umame Gravy

2 thick, center-cut pork chops
3/4 cups corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup gin or vodka
vegetable oil for frying
EVOO
8-10 button mushrooms
2 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
snipped scallions/chives for garnish

DSCN4305I love pork chops, especially when they look like little T-bone steaks, like these.  This cut includes both a little of the tenderloin as well as the regular rib meat, which provides some textural variety on the plate.

DSCN4307I start by mixing my cornstarch, baking powder, and some spices in a large ziplock bag.

DSCN4308In go my chops, and I shake the bag vigorously to coat them with the cornstarch mixture.

DSCN4310I place the chops uncovered in my fridge on a rack so they can dry out a bit — about 30 minutes.

DSCN4311Meanwhile, I remove the stems from my mushrooms, reserving them to use later.

DSCN4312I get 2 tbs of butter and a glug of EVOO nice and hot in my large fry-pan…

DSCN4314… and I layer my mushrooms in the hot fat, sprinkling them with a little salt and pepper.

DSCN4315I make sure they cook fully on top…

DSCN4317… and on bottom.

DSCN4319While these are simmering, I pull out my chops, on which the cornstarch/baking powder has gummed up a bit – just the way I want it.

DSCN4321In a large bowl, I’ve whisked my flour, water, and gin together to make a very thin batter.

DSCN4323Holding the chops with tongs by clipping it on the T-bone allows for me to dunk all the meaty bits into the slurry to thoroughly coat each piece.

DSCN4323aI add enough vegetable oil to a deep-sided pan to just cover the chops, and I bring this to a medium high temperature – about 350°F.  Of course, I don’t have a thermometer to help me gauge this, so I just drip a little flour batter into the pan periodically until the drop immediately sizzles and starts to brown upon hitting the surface of the oil.  It’s ready for my chops at that point.

DSCN4325I slide both chops carefully into the oil, making sure not to splatter myself like I usually do.  (Thank God for OxyClean, or just about all my clothes would have constellations of oil drips on them.)  Since these chops are thick, I let them fry for about 10 minutes on each side.

DSCN4329While this happens, I add my soy sauce and heavy cream to the mushrooms in the pan, which I bring to simmer on low heat, stirring regularly so the flavors can blend.

DSCN4325aWhen the chops are a nice golden brown on the bottom, it’s time to flip them carefully to the other side. Another 10 minutes or so will do it.

DSCN4326I’ve been baking my sweet potatoes all along, by the way.  After an hour on 350°, I can easily squeeze them with my oven-mitted fingers, so I pull them out…

DSCN4328… remove their bright orange insides to a bowl, where I mash them with my remaining butter.

DSCN4331These savory pork chops have a cracking, super-crunchy, egg-shell thin coating are super-tender and juicy.  The simple sweet mash is offset by a rich, dark, silky and fragrant soy cream gravy, and each button of mushroom bursts with flavor on the tongue.  Not only is this a very easy recipe, but it presents itself elegantly on the plate, and can satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.  Now, what else can I fry?