Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sous Vide Summit

So I hosted what I dubbed a "Sous Vide Summit" at my house this weekend. What does that mean? It means getting a bunch of foodies interested in Sous Vide method of cooking, the result is a meat-a-thon of unbelievably tasty treats. I had a great time and am very glad to finally be back in the swing of having dinner parties. Although a bit of work prepping and cleaning, the fun with friends new and old is always a blast. Lots of pictures to share today so hang on to your hats for what probably will be a long winded post.

So to start, my own contribution to this shin dig was possibly the easiest (not that seasoning, vacuum sealing food, and dumping the package into perfectly controlled water is hard by any means) my experiment was to show case various grades and cuts of steak each cooked at the magical perfect 134 degrees Fahrenheit or better known as Medium Rare. If you click in you can see the steaks raw side by side, we have from left to right, three rib eye steaks USDA Prime, Choice, Select (great, good, ok) and two Sirloins USDA Prime and Select (great, ok). I popped them into the Sous Vide Supreme for two hours and finished them on the cast iron. The result is what you see on the right. Top two (left to right) Sirloin Prime and Select, bottom three (left to right) Rib Eye Prime, Choice, Select. General comments were that all the steaks were amazing, there was a split on picking the winner between the buttery goodness of the prime rib eye versus the big beefy flavor of the equally tender prime sirloin. We had general agreement that sous vide-ing turns most cheap cuts of steaks to be pretty darn awesome.

You can see the table full of meat we had and that only covered my stuff. We ended up creating the "overflow" table of "old" food as each course new course of food displaced the current set. My other contribution was Gordon Ramsey's famously simple broccoli soup (a hit).

Next up my new friend Paul of Xesla who brought the most amazing array of food (and gear). You'll see above his sous vide rig, it's a rice cooker with a PID controller that basically cycles the rice cooker on and off to hold the temperature stable. His other cool piece of tech is this small traveling plug in fridge he said it was meant for car camping. I'm going to need one of these.

Ok on to the food. Paul brought duck rillet, home cured pork belly, ham hock terrine, and his sous vide contribution of three day beef short ribs (grass fed organic, HEB brand, and Randal's brand). Most impressive, the rillets over his home made sour dough ciabatta bread was awesome a brilliant charcuterie showing. The short ribs (title picture) were of course fantastic, Addie (of Relish Austin) was the first to guess (correctly which short ribs were from where) I seconded the motion. The Grassfed definitely had a better and richer flavor, the interesting bit was that the Randal's short rib came out very dense. Of the three the grassfed held up to reheat better, the Randal's came out too dry. I did confirm one interesting fact, finishing meat on the cast iron causes lots of smoke, but not enough to set off my fire alarm but, if there's black pepper in the crust it will set off the alarm. I suspected this, but this third time around clinches it for me ;)

Paul did a post on the event see it here.

Ryan (from NoseToTailAtHome) was up next with an spicy asian marinated pork belly and a normal salt and pepper pork belly. Both were sinfully tasty, we were a little disappointed that the marinade did not seem to take on the pork belly. If I'm going to try my hand on this one, I may go ahead and finish on a cast iron, I think the fat could use a bit of sizzle to bring out some more flavor, but that's just personal preference.

Kent brought over a Shoulder of Feral Hog, which he later shredded and tossed with a Asian chili sauce. The flavor was fantastic and of course the pork was extremely tender. I loved the flavor of this one, I think as a pulled pork this actually yielded a better result than my lexington pulled pork bbq. The only thing missing would be the bark which you couldn't really obtain by cooking sous vide. Kent also brought over some Shrimp vacuumed in with some butter. The shrimp was amazing, it really retained a lot of that shrimp flavor since it was cooked in the pouch and not lost in a boiling process. Finally he served some soft cooked eggs, as always these eggs come out perfect, the yolk is like a custard perfectly cooked no hard spots.

Onwards to dessert! My picture of the peach crumble by Addie was blurred (sorry) I think one of the others got a good picture so either i'll post a link over or ask to borrow their picture. Paul of course comes in with Fennel and Pandam ice cream and a block of dry ice and asks for the use of my kitchenaid. I've heard of this method of making ice cream, but this was my first time witnessing and tasting it. The ice cream was actually kinda fizzy tasting, very delicious and interesting. Michael of cookingforengineers brought by some fudge made famous when the NY times did a piece him.

This was so much fun. I might have to do this one again, maybe even pick up a PID controller and cheap rice cooker and have two rigs for myself. Big thanks to everyone that came over it was so great tasting everyone's creations. Look forward to more dinner party posts.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Costa Rican Bento

Well naturally after a trip to Costa Rica I *had* to do a bento on the subject. To be fair the only thing I did eat there that was in this lunch was the Gallo Pinto. The real inspiration is courtesy of my friend Kelly who picked me up from the airport and took me to his favorite bar for some Chifrijo which I talked about earlier. Kelly was nice enough to score me a book of Costa Rican traditional dishes, his estimate was that it was more like the normal day to day stuff that folks would cook in their own kitchen nothing too fancy, right up my alley.

We start our meal off with Tortas De Carne, or simply put beef patty, I like to think of them as squashed meatballs. I will say one of the hardest things about this bento was sourcing some of the ingredients. I had the forethought to bring home some Salsa Lizano a local variant on Worcester sauce that the local use on *everything*. It's thicker than Worcester sauce, has the same tang but has a slight spicy component that makes it interesting. The other "spice" mix that was called for was "Complete Seasoning". Apparently this is actually a well known "blend" and I was lucky enough to find some in the ethnic aisle in one of the larger markets here in town. Anyhow back to the beef, lots of cilantro, onions and red bell peppers complement the spices and they were quickly pan seared. The Tortas were very flavorful and the sear insured a moist patty.

Next up, probably the only dish that I actually ate in Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto. This is considered the national dish of Costa Rica and don't let the looks deceive you it's not just black beans and rice. There's actually a fairly large ingredient list to bring out some of the complex flavors of this slow cook dish. Again we use the Salsa Lizano and a bit of Worcester sauce. Ultimately, I failed on this recipe, not everyone thinks so, but deep down inside I *know* so. See I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Asians, or at least the ones I know including myself, we don't know how to make rice in a pot. No, really! Why do you think every asian household has a rice cooker, it freaking does everything for you. You just need to measure the water properly (I don't go with the markings on the pot, I use my mom's back of the palm trick) hit the button and it pops up as soon as the rice is done. Wait 10 mins, unveil and you're done. My gut told me to use the rice cooker, the stove is temperamental, but I didn't stick to my guns and went to the stove anyhow. The rice was a *bit* under cooked. I covered for it by adding more water to the beans and cooked the rice in longer. It fixed most of the problems but not all. I still contend that the stove is the crappiest way to prepare rice we have technology folks, you don't see me rubbing two sticks together to make fire do you?

Ok enough rant. The next dish is called Guiso De Chayote Con Elotes Tiernos or Corn stew with tender Chayote. I've never worked with chayote, it's got a very neutral taste, it's consistency is somewhere between a cucumber and broccoli stem. This is a very simple dish that is easily overlooked. The flavors were not as bold as the other items in the box, it's a simple veggie side. Personally this was my favorite in terms of balancing healthy and taste. The vegetables were simply simmered in milk until tender and treated with a bit of salt and pepper.

The soup features the Pejibaye that I bought and later improved into a dish. Kelly impressed upon me how good this Crema De Pejibaye soup was and if I had the opportunity that I should make it. I had my doubts on obtaining pejibaye, I scoured Austin and finally was able to find some at the local ethnic market jarred in brine. Apparently pejibaye is named different by region and country so I almost past up the jar but the visual on this fruit caught my attention. I won't say that this was the healthiest of soups but I will say I was surprised that it didn't rely on heavy cream or copious amounts of butter, rather some good old Cream of Chicken condensed soup. This was possibly the most popular part of the bento, folks really liked the creamy texture and the nutty flavor imparted by the pejibaye.

Last but not least is my quasi dessert. Pudin De Elote or corn pudding. This was very simple to put together, condensed milk, corn, and egg, yeah that's it. It's hard to describe this dish, the consistency was like a flan or custard. The corn flavor was very distinct which is an unusual quality in a dessert (hence me labeling it a quasi dessert). Folks seemed to like it just fine so I guess it worked out. I'm not a big dessert person so I found it a bit sweet for my own tastes.

Fun bento this time around I'm glad I've been able to at least get out this one bento this week. The next few months will be very trying when it comes to posting about cooking. I've got several trips for work through September, but I will get a chance to blow through Denver, Orlando, London, Paris and Marseilles. I'll be lucky to get in two bentos from now until the beginning of September. If I'm feeling really plucky I'll go for three. I will try to post from the road, and I'm having folks over for some some collaborative cooking, look forward to a post on that.

Ok, thanks for reading!

Box contents:
  • Torta De Carne
  • Gallo Pinto
  • Guiso De Chayote Con Elotes Tiernos
  • Crema De Pejibaye
  • Pudin De Elote