Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gadgetry: Orion Cooker

Wow look at me two posts in one day.

Ok you can call me a shill if you like, I know I go on and on about my gadgets and toys. And I've been meaning to put up a post for you about my flaming inferno tower smoker cooker thing-a-ma-jig. So I present to you my quasi review/show off of the Orion Cooker. I swear these people should be paying me when I feature their products, not enough eyeballs I guess :)

The orion cooker is not technically a smoker. A smoker is a unit (be it electric or otherwise) that can sustain a low heat and create smoke. This device is a convection cooker that applies smoke. For my purposes it's a bit splitting hairs, however bbq purests would definitely *not* refer to this thing as a smoker.

As you can see this thing users coal, lots and lots of coal. In fact it's possibly my only complaint about this device is that it requires 15 lbs of instant light charcoal. Most of it goes along the bottom "gutter" and 20 or so briquettes go into the tower at the top. Why you ask? Well basically this creates a convection oven like heating in the actual container. (The whole thing is sealed). Using convection cooking and indirect heat you're basically cooking large quantaties of meat very very fast. The downside of cooking stuff really really fast is that once you are done and you open up the convection oven, you don't really have enough to power a second helping, but the coals are still really really hot and will burn for hours before it's cool enough to cleanup. I bet if you picked something that doesn't take as long (fish) and paired it with something that takes say a "medium" amount of time, you might be able to get thru 2 batches of cooking.

As you can see on this inside shot it has little posts that you can put near the top to hang ribs. There's a total of 3 grate brakets for you to cook 3 stacks of roasts, chicken, fish. They also have a turkey stand (see turkey post). The bottom pan is a drippings pan where all the juices (and lots of fat) melt off. Around the pan is where you put your wood chips.

Course there's the cleanup. If I can find a better way of dealing with the coals (maybe buy a bucket?) and cleaning the whole thing up (it's an ordeal with the scouring pads and the water hose). I think I would call this thing perfect.

Their marketing does not lie, literally I whipped up a batch of fall apart tender beef and pork ribs for several of my parties in 1 hour and 15 mins. Without exception the ribs are always a hit with all the tasters. Everything I've produced on this cooker has been amazing. Very juice, very tender, and it takes no time at all. The turkey from this thanksgiving was amazing and came out with that classic brown skin you always see in the pictures but aren't quite able to get because the oven bag screws it up.

Happy Eating!

They can't all be winners

All of my bentoers were out except for my wife. She opted for simply putting together what we have on hand. So it's not pretty but it does get a fairly healthy lunch out the door to nourish her.

As part of our gluten-free initiative, we've learned to stock the fridge with pre-cooked "building blocks". Pre-boiled pasta, various proteins, corn tortillas, baked GF bread, bags of salad, you get the idea. This certainly makes it an easier since dining out has become a touch more difficult and better on our budget since usually our first inclination when the fridge is empty is to go out.

I still have a ways to go when it comes to providing some snacks, particularly of the sweet variety so that we don't turn to really bad junk food. Just because you're gluten free, it doesn't mean you're automatically eating healthy. If you stick with all the pre-packaged stuff you'll end up gaining a ton of weight (surprising to see the labels).

Anyways back to lunch. I had a nice pork tenderloin that I had made for dinner/rest of week. I combined that with some of the corn spaghetti pasta we already had sitting in the fridge and some basic tomato sauce. Nothing to special but still a decent light lunch.

More to come: I'll be posting my promised post on the orion cooker here shortly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gluten Free Italian Style

Second week of gluten free and we're going after an italian theme. I'm still getting my sea legs under me on working with gluten free pastas and carefully sifting my pre-made ingredients for any sign of wheat. I'll have to say that each of the three types of GF pastas have performed quite differently, so far corn and brown rice flour pasta has seemed to perform much better than their quinoa counterpart. Quinoa once chilled seems to lose it's moisture very quickly and become very hard and difficult to re-heat (I had to do a reboil on one batch). The brown rice seems to disintegrate pretty quickly so watching the time was critical there. Corn has proven to be my favorite of the three so far. I haven't gotten back any reviews from my eaters so far, but I'm eager to see how the lasagna went. Maybe I'll devote a post here about the various pastas we've been using, and if anyone has an suggestions please comment and let me know. Anyhow on with the show.

We start the meal with a Chicken Artichoke Mushroom Lasagna. Very yummy, I think the roasted garlic sauce I used really put it over the top. The sauce is cream based rather than the more traditional tomato base. Of note was the pasta that I used was "oven ready" meaning no boil, I went with the hour cooking and added a bit of chicken stock as liquid to help with the pasta. I think if I were to re-use these noodles, I'd need to make a more traditional lasagna, there weren't enough ingredients in this one and the edges came out under cooked.

Next we have a Minestrone Salad. Basically it's all the contents of a minestrone soup but dressed with an herby balsamic viniagrette. This salad is loaded with neat textures, crunchy, soft, and some points in between. This really is a healthy salad that helps as the filler element that doesn't incur too much on the calorie side.

I round out our sides with a Tomato Canallini bean dip. Not too much to write home about here. I think I should have doubled the amounts and I didn't end up with a whole lot. Basically we start by infusing some oil with garlic and proceed to layer in the tomatos and beans and finishing it in the food proc. I tossed in some hazelnut crackers for good measure.

I'm kinda bummed here, I didn't get a picture of dessert. Did you know, rice krispies contain flour? Yeah, I know who'd a thought. Well I found a wonderful alternative in the rice chex which proudly displays their gluten free status on their box. Well so now we have rice chexies treats. I can't tell you how yummy this stuff is. I think there's still some left so I'll try to post a pic of it. I did the mental math on a per serving that this turned out, I don't *think* it's as bad for you as it tastes. I believe what's pictured in the box is something less than 90 calories (don't quote me on that), not bad considering most cakes and stuff that could fit in the little square are really loaded.

Although this box was fairly quick to put together, since I had to do it on a Monday (my bento-ers had MLK day off, I didn't) it made for a pretty long day for me. All in all very glad to have done it, the act of cooking usually takes my mind off other troubles, so I call it a labor of love. Thanks for reading

Box contents
  • Chicken Artichoke Mushroom Lasagna
  • Minestrone Salad
  • Tomato and Canallini bean dip
  • Rice Chexies treats

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I'm back!

Welcome back readers! 2009 starts out with a proper challenge for me. The household has decided to try out a gluten free diet for the next two months. This extends far out of my bento territory as now I'm preparing building blocks for a whole weeks worth of food. So for those that aren't in the know on the gluten free thing, I'll write up a bit after the food post to explain some of the reasons why we moved to gluten free and why it's suppose to be good for you. So all that said, gluten free doesn't necessarily mean healthy. You can be gluten free and still eat like a pig, so my original challenge still stands of building a healthy bento for my eaters under budget, but with the added constraint of it being gluten free. So you might be asking what is gluten free? Well in a small nutshell, no wheat products (it's more complex than that, but just go with me on this one) This type of change is a lifestyle change, we basically re-bought our pantry and had to become more diligent on label reading (did you know soy sauce is not gluten free!) I had to start off in a hurry and picked up a gluten for dummies book. I think the recipes here have a little to be desired for, e.g. the chicken although tasty, I think I would have done differently. That said they probably had a different crowd in mind for the book, either way I'm going to have to learn to adapt. Well let's get started shall we?

First up, I have a cheesy easy chicken. I think this was meant to be more cassarole like but it ended up being more like a braised chicken. It's pretty tasty, I think I next time I'll add more herbs to punch up the flavor. It was slow baked in the oven but for some reason the chicken didn't seem to pick up the flavor. I purchased some "corn" pasta which tasted very very close to normal wheat based spaghetti pasta. I'm encouraged that moving into gluten free won't mean giving up too much. The dish overall should be pretty yummy.

Next we roasted up some asparagus and then dressed it with a viniagrette. Very yummy, I used a grain mustard hear to give the dish some texture. The idea here is once you roast the asparagus you finish it off in a viniagrette back under the oven. The result is a very flavorful dish.

It's been cold here lately, and I had to make a soup. Working within calorie constraints I made a delightful vegetable soup. I was a bit worried when I started that all of the vegetables seemed to sit above the liquids but after a few hours of cooking the veggies finally cooked down, I think we could have used a bit more liquid as well as seasoning (I think I'd add a bit of cinnamon and a touch of cumin to improve the taste). The shear volume of healthy vegetables here really make this a powerhouse of healthy.

Finally dessert. My wife has a bit of a sweet tooth, so I made a batch of this nutty trail mix hoping that it would provide enough of the "sweet" component that she didn't feel like she was giving up too much on this gluten free diet. I got to break out the candy thermometer again to test for "soft ball" consistency with my sugars. The end result is actually a very yummy (albeit calorie laden) dessert.

Ok so, now that I've described the bento. For those that are still following, why gluten free? Well gluten free diets have been shown to be successful in helping with certain conditions among them: autism, digestive problems, migraines, nutrition absorbtion, hormonal imbalance, the list really goes forever. Whether or not gluten free fixes this, well my jury is still out however, it's worth a shot. I know a friend that put his child, who was mildly autistic, on the diet and has seen wonders occur. The idea here is that we as humans were not made to digest wheat, we don't have the luxury of 4 stomachs like cows do. In fact, the undigested parts of wheat wreak havoc on our digestive systems. There have been studies of how more primative cultures did not contract modern diseases (diabetes, heart risks etc) until refined wheat was introduced by the modern world. Alternative studies show that gluten acts much like drugs on certain younger children and actually perpetuates cycles of bad development in young children. Believe me, I've read up on as much as I could in one weeks worth of time, I think there might be something to follow here, sure some of it might be speculation. Is this propoganda true? I don't know, I'm simply a humble cook trying to experiment and keep the family healthy. So if that means I get to learn to bake without flour and cook around constraints, then I take it as a challenge as cook and hopefully it'll be an adventure you'll enjoy reading about as I try to tackle it.

Box contents
  • Cheesy Chicken bake over gluten free pasta
  • Roasted asparagus with Mustard dressing
  • Vegetable soup
  • Multi-Nut trail mix