Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Sometimes You Read the Comments: Tuscan Tomato-White Bean Soup

 Hello everyone! This summer has been rather lazy in the cooking department. For meals, I've mostly made things I'm familiar with because the humidity sometimes get so bad I don't even want to think very hard. 

Suddenly, it was September and I realized if I was going to do anything special with fresh tomatoes, I should probably do it now or not until next year.

I'm losing my job (anyone need an IT Project Manager?) at the end of September, so comfort food is called for. Last time I made tomato soup, the results were not my favorite, though I definitely learned a few things.

This recipe intrigued me. I love white beans, though I usually have them in a salad with tuna. Hey, protein! Definitely makes the soup heartier, and the recipe is also easily adaptable to serve my vegan friends. Plus, I don't usually get enough vegetables in a given day/week anyway.

The comments on this recipe ranged from OMG I love it to I Had to Adjust. So, I adjusted quite a bit.

Our ingredients:

  • 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling (mild grump here for having to capitalize Tablespoon all over this recipe.)
  • 1 large onion, chopped (I also threw in a shallot)
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste (I doubled this because one of the comments had mentioned they thought the recipe bland and they added both sugar and vinegar)
  • 2 pounds tomatoes, chopped (I used Roma, which several recipes I looked at recommended for soup. I also threw in some leftover cherry tomatoes I had in the apartment)
  • 2 15-ounce cans no-salt-added white beans, drained and rinsed (I could not find no-salt-added, so I went with low sodium and rinsed them twice)
  • 1 quart low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (I used vegetable here)
  • 1 sprig rosemary, plus 1 teaspoon chopped leaves (I used four)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for sprinkling (I doubled this)
  • 4 cups cubed ciabatta bread (about 4 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (about 2 ounces)

The instructions were easy to follow:

  1. Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, 3 garlic cloves (try 5) and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, 5 minutes (15). Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute (5). Add all but 1/2 cup of the chopped tomatoes (I threw in them all, I'll explain why in a bit), the beans, broth, 1 cup water (1/2 Cup chicken broth, 1/2 cup water), the rosemary sprig(2), red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer 20 minutes.
Having learned my lesson the last time, I set a timer for 20 minutes, and continued listening to a current favorite podcast, Malevolent, while starting to write this entry. For the next hour, I got up and stirred every 20 minutes, scraping the sides as it reduced. When I tasted it, even with my additions, I felt it was way too bland, so I threw in a can of tomato paste, stirred, and put on another episode. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Adapted for Sous Vide: Butter Shoyu Chicken

When I want to make something, but I'm not sure what, I often find myself back at Just One Cookbook. I find Namiko Hirasawa Chen (aka Nami)'s writing style to be friendly and laid back, and I find the recipes easy to follow and they don't tend towards needing special equipment (Yes, I know, this entry is full of special equipment. the irony is not lost on me).

Butter-Shoyu Chicken caught my eye because I don't tend to think about butter or much dairy at all when it comes to Japanese foods and the taste combination intrigued me. Another factor: I had everything in the fridge, freezer, or pantry.

Well, almost. I had two boneless chicken breasts and no thighs, and they were skinless to boot, so I was not going to get the rich deep poultry flavors I wanted from the recipe as written. However...

I've been playing with the immersion circulator long enough that I was comfortable enough to try adapting so I could. Same ingredients for the sauce went into a glass measuring cup (a bowl works too if that's what you'd rather. Or a small jar for that matter where you can cap it and shake. Whatever's easiest for you in your kitchen):

  • 2.5 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons sake
  • 1 Tablespoon mirin
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
I stirred it well, using a swizzle stick a friend had given me for my bar. (thanks Gina!), put it aside and looked at the recipe again. 

I didn't need the oil for sous vide, so that could be eliminated. So could the additional Tablespoons of sake because I wasn't steaming the chicken with it. I made my bags with my vacuum sealer (Note: if this is too fiddly for you, there are other options I'll talk about below), stirred the sauce again and opened the chicken.

When I work with raw chicken, I touch it as little as possible, using tongs (links to different types here on The Accessible Chef). The chicken will start out either on a plate, in one of those handy not-quite-Tupperware containers you can get at the grocery store for your leftovers, or a decent-sized bowl. I sprinkled each side of the chicken with kosher salt and ground black pepper and put a breast in each bag, stopping occasionally to stir the sauce again to get that sugar dissolved.  

To each bag I added .5 Tablespoon of butter, which I cut in half and put one on each side of the bagged breast, and then 2 Tablespoons of salt. From there, I sealed the bags and put in the ridge, then started up the rice cooker. I was going for brown rice, which my Toshiba says takes an hour and twenty minutes.

I filled the sous vide container with water and heated it up to 147 F, which is 63.88 C (and 337 K, if you care 😃). Once things were set to cook, I had I did some minor cleanup and watched an episode of Death in Paradise on Britbox. It has been remarked upon that I might be addicted to crime shows, especially British ones.

One murder later, I put the rest of the sauce in a small pan on the stove, and set the heat to medium. I also filled a small pot with water, set that burner to high, and washed some snow peas. Those would get tossed into the water once it boiled, just long enough for them to turn bright green.

While waiting for the water to boil, I opened the sous vide bags and drained the juices into the pan with the sauce and turned the heat up to medium-high until I started seeing small bubbles. then I reduced it down to low, giving it a bit of time to reduce. 

If I'd been having company, I likely would have seared the chicken in a grill pan to have those nice marks on it, plated it over the rice, and scattered the snow peas in an artful circule. That wasn't quite what happened. I put the rice in my favorite bowl, pre-cut the chicken so it would be easy to grab with chopsticks, added the chicken, the snow peas, and spooned the sauce over the chicken and threw a few green onions on top. Absolutely delicious.  

I forgot to get a picture, to my embarrassment. I was pretty hungry by that poin.

Regarding sous vide bags. They can be a big pain in the ass to make. While vacuum sealers aren't hard to use, they can be heavy and awkward, and they take up a lot of storage space. I haven't tried this, but some people swear by this water displacement method, with a standard zipper bag. A few vendors out there also make silicone re-useable bags. I have a few of these, but haven't tried yet. I do find them easier to close than standard zipper bags because the seal mechanism is larger.  I have plenty of leftovers, so I may try reheating the chicken sous vide with one of them. It's about time I tested that out.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Scallops and some noodling

A nice thing about cooking for one is some things suddenly become a lot more affordable. Like some seafood.

I was able to score some sea scallops (the big ones) last weekend, and what I can pay for 5 or 6 scallops is at least $10 less than having them cooked for me in a restaurant, so there's a major win right there

Scallops are easy to cook. Medium heat until the butter or oil (I usually use olive oil). I find that 90 seconds a side will give me a nice sear, but still leave the inside deliciously tender. The short cooking time is also helpful for people who can't stand too long. Which leads me into the noodling.

I really should have been, and I am very sorry I did not, over the last decade plus of this blog, taken accessibility in the kitchen into consideration as a default mode. This came to my attention when a friend posted this article (shared with her from Terri Lynne Hudson) on social media and I ask that you please read and share it. Minced Words looks like it's going to be a regular column and I will be signal boosting and referencing.

Many people love Alton Brown and one of his fans' favorite things to quote is his strong dislike of the unitaskers in the kitchen, unless it's a fire extinguisher. He has a point, if you're able-bodied. Nobody should be shamed for using something that makes it possible for you to do something that you couldn't otherwise. So the hell with that nonsense. 

Think about this: how many things do you use in your kitchen that you take for granted that can be helpful to a disabled person? Things to open jars comes to mind first--things that help you grip are a life saver for someone with arthritis. Silicone rings on your mixing bowls to keep them from slipping. 

Most recipes out there don't take such things into consideration as what you might be able to lift, how long you can stand, what you can grip. Bad on all of us recipe bloggers out there. We can do better. 

We also need to stop shaming people for buying ingredients that might be pre-peeled or pre-cut or in jars. Using those things doesn't make anyone less of a cook. 

I need to do some more research regarding where I can do better here. I will try to mention what tools I'm using and what might be helpful for someone with disabilities and limitations. If you have ideas, comments are welcome.


Back to the scallops, if that isn't too jarring a segue, because I did want to share this with you.

The plan was scallops over a bed of arugula with a sauce of white wine, butter, and lemon. Side of quinoa with Parmesan and pepper. For the sauce:

  • 1 Tablespoon of salted butter
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon, which is about 2 Tablespoons
  • 1 Cup of white wine, this was sauvignon blanc, which I've been drinking a lot of lately. Actually, I'm drinking white wine spritzers. The 1980's are coming back to haunt me. 
  • A few grinds of black pepper (or shakes, depending on what you have)
  • 1 Tablespoon of capers, drained and rinsed. I use a teacup that came with its own mesh strainer to drain and rinse capers. 

I melted the butter on low heat, then slowly stirred in the wine and the lemon, letting it simmer while I made some quinoa (half a Cup, dry) in the rice cooker, which is my current favorite convenience tool. When the quinoa was almost ready, I brought the heat up to medium high until it boiled, then dropped the heat to low so I could reduce it some more. It tasted nicely tart.

For serving, I put a handful of arugula on a plate, then when the quinoa was finished I stirred in some a Tablespoon of butter, 3/4 of a cup of Parmesan. It stayed warm in the rice cooker's bowl while I zapped the scallops. 

Once I plated the scallops, I put the capers in the sauce and added it. It didn't quite reduce as much as I wanted. It was a bit too tart at first, but as it ran all over the plate and into the quinoa, something interesting happened. The saltiness from the cheese seeped into the sauce and about halfway through the meal, everything together on the fork was a perfect mouthful.

Maybe a little less lemon next time anyway.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

So hungry I forgot to take a picture

 When the Covid lockdown happened two years ago, I didn't go completely nuts with the bread making. I do have a dehydrated sourdough starter from a friend, but I haven't put it together yet. I had the urge to knead dough this weekend, and I didn't feel like my usual French rolls or stotty, so I went hunting.

I don't use the Food Network's website as much as I used to, but the baguette I made today came from this recipe.  (I cut the recipe in half). 

  • 2 envelopes dry active yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Canola oil, for greasing bowl
  • Cornmeal, for dusting pan
  • 3 to 4 ice cubes

Combine the honey, yeast and 1/2 cup warm water. Stir to combine and let the mixture stand until the yeast is activated and begins to foam, 5 minutes.

I had my water at about 115 degrees F, I think that might have been a bit too warm. 

Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl with a dough hook and slowly add in the yeast mixture. Gradually add 1 cup warm water and mix until the dough comes together into a ball that is not too wet (you may not need all of the water). If the dough is sticky, add a little bit more flour. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 2 to 6 minutes. You can do the thumbprint test: press in the dough with your thumb and it should bounce back when it's ready.

I don't own a stand mixer, so I was mixing this in the bowl with a rubber spatula until it came together. I ended up adding a bit too much water, so it took a while to get the spatula and then my fingers unsticky. As a result, I may have ended up kneading a bit too much.

Form the dough into a ball, place it in a lightly-oiled bowl and cover with a dishcloth, so it doesn't dry out. Let rest in a warm environment until doubled in size, 25 to 30 minutes.

It took closer to 40 minute to get the dough to bulk up this much. My kitchen was about 73 degrees F.

Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Shape into 2 baguettes by making a flat rectangle out of your dough, then folding the top and bottom towards the middle, like an envelope, and sealing the seam with your fingers. Keep repeating the folding and sealing, stretching the rectangle lengthwise as you go, until it's about 12 to 14 inches long and 2 inches wide. Fold and seal either end to round. Flip seam-side down and place on a sheet pan or baguette pan that has been dusted with cornmeal. Score the tops of the loaves, making deep diagonal slits 1/2-inch deep, cover with a dishcloth and let rise in a warm environment until they have doubled in size, 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and position your oven racks with one on the bottom and the other in the middle. Place an oven-safe (non-glass) bowl or pan on the bottom rack.

When your bread has doubled for the second time, remove the towel and quickly and simultaneously, slide the sheet tray with the baguettes onto the middle rack while carefully throwing the ice cubes into the bowl on the bottom rack. The ice will create a burst of steam that will give you a nice crispy crust. Quickly shut the oven door so no steam escapes. Bake the baguettes until golden brown, 15 minutes.

This didn't quite go as planned, but it was very entertaining. While I'm not completely uncoordinated, I also have a very small oven, so I didn't really have the space the toss the ice cubes. Instead, I ended up having to pull out the pan from the bottom rack to throw in the ice, but I did get a nice top crust. I also kept the baguette in five minutes longer because my dough had ended up so sticky. It was the smart way to go, but it was a bit underdone on the bottom.

I had half for dinner with some fresh mozzarella. Condiments were olive oil, salt, and some balsamic vinegar, with a bit of salami on the side and a Malbec from California called King Clay.

So what should I name my sourdough starter if I revive it?

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

I wasn't going anywhere for a while--sous vide beef barbacoa

Hello everyone and may 2022 bring you many delicious things!

I started the year at a friend's playing board games with some of my favorite humans.  I did some errands and saw a movie that weekend, and then on Tuesday, I got my first Covid symptoms.

The first test was negative. The second one was positive. So, if I was isolating, why not sous vide something for 24 hours?

I forget what inspired me to look up barbacoa, which I have had with both lamb and beef. Beef was cheaper this week and I found a pretty good recipe, though I have a few thoughts to make it better:

  • 1 3 lb boneless chuck roast
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 3 chipotle chiles in adobo
  • 2 Tbsp adobo sauce (from the chipotle chile can)
  • 5 garlic cloves (Considering More for next time)
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Instructions
  • Preparing the Beef
  • Set sous vide machine to 79.5C/175F.

Lightly season the chuck roast with salt (make that generously. Or one pass of regular salt and one pass of garlic salt if your garlic salt hasn't hardened into a solid mass). Put the roast in a sous vide bag, and remove the air through a vacuum sealer or the displacement method. Drop the bag in the bath for 24 hours.

I've never done the displacement method. I do now own some silicone bags that I might try, but I strongly prefer the vacuum sealer.)

Preparing the Barbacoa Sauce
In a food processor or blender, pulse together chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, garlic and beef broth until well blended.

In retrospect, I don't think more than a couple tablespoons of the beef broth is needed. There will be plenty of liquid in the sous vide bag when it's ready. 

Pour chipotle mixture into a mixing bowl. Add in cumin, oregano, lime juice and apple cider vinegar and whisk ingredients together. Once mixed, add in bay leaves and let the mixture sit overnight in the fridge to emulsify the flavors.

Remove bag from bath. Carefully take chuck roast out of the bag and pat dry with paper towels. Brush a thin layer of oil on the roast, and season the entire roast to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat up large skillet on high and add oil. Sear chuck roast for 60 seconds on all sides, or until browned. Remove from pan, and place on a plate to rest for 5 minutes. Once rested, shred the beef using two forks.

I have a cast-iron grill pan that I use for searing. It gives me a nice color without adding a black crust. I know some people love that, but I've always found it off-putting. 

Heat up large skillet on medium low and add a touch of oil. Pour in barbacoa sauce and let warm for 1 minute. Add in shredded beef and toss until the beef is evenly coated in sauce. Let the beef simmer in the sauce for 3 minutes. Remove barbacoa from pan and use this delicious beef for the world's greatest tacos!


I used this as yet another attempt to make arepas. This time I used instructions from a friend who found a recipe that was as close to his grandmother's as he could find. Still having trouble getting these done in the middle. 

They were still delicious. I topped them with the beef, some black beans (from a can; I added some garlic and some lime juice), fresh mozzarella (the mano cheese I ordered was out of stock and several recipes said this was a good substitute), avocado, green onions and chopped serrano pepper:

Overall, I am pleased and will make this again when I'm not isolating and can share it with someone. There are lots of leftovers. I figure on making a rice bowl out of some before I give the arepas another go.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

I haven't made shrimp in years: A Sous Vide Adventure

A nice thing about living solo is seafood to feed the household doesn't break the bank if I shop carefully. This week, shrimp were on sale. One of my favorite restaurant dishes is shrimp & grits. Grits are effectively the same as polenta, and I always have it in the house.

Then it occurred to me that I never tried to do shrimp sous vide, so why the hell not? I looked up timing on a few different sites. The temperature range was pretty large, as you can see on this chart on Serious Eats. I decided to not be too terribly adventurous the first time and cook the shrimp (which came already peeled) at 137 F, which is a little over 58 C. It's also 331.5 K, but I digress.

I didn't follow the recipe on the page, just the timing and temperature. Here's what I did with the shrimp:

  • 8 ounces of shrimp, cleaned. I also took the tails off because I hate de-tailing shrimp while I'm eating and it's easier to do it when they're raw. I realize some people consider this an abomination, and I can live with that.  
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon butter, softened
  • 6 roasted garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, cracked a few times with a mortar and pestle
  • Zest of half a lemon
I mushed the ingredients together and used a plastic knife leftover from takeout food to spread the butter all over the inside of the bag. Before loading the shrimp, I tossed the shrimp with the baking soda (I put them in a ZipLoc plastic container and shook it for thirty second), then added the shrimp to the bag, pressing the shrimp into one layer. I started up the immersion circulator to get the water bath to temperature. I decided on 137 F, to give it a slightly softer texture, but still with a delicious pop. I cooked them for 30 minutes, then finished them on a grill pan on the stove. I'd like to try a torch next time, but I still need to buy one.

For the polenta:
  • 1/2 Cup polenta
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped shallot
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 Tablespoon butter (for the shallots)
  • 1 Tablespoon butter (for the polenta)
  • 3/4 Cup grated Grana Padano cheese
  • sea salt
I sprinkled the tomatoes with a bit of salt, then tossed with 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a glass casserole dish, roasted at 400 F for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10 or so.

While that was happening, I melted the 1/2 Tablespoon butter in a small pan and cooked the shallots on low, stirring constantly until they were brown. Once both of these were done, I set them aside.

For the polenta, I had a package with no directions. I boiled 2 Cups of water, stirred in the polenta, brought it back to a boil, then put it on to simmer for about 30 minutes. It needed a little longer than planned, though the results were soft, creamy, and a bit stuck to the bottom f the pot. Once all the water had been absorbed (about 45 minutes total, your mileage may vary) I stirred in the tomatoes and shallots, the butter and then 1/3 of the cheese. I added the rest of the cheese in slowly, then once that was done, assembled my plate.

The garnish is a sprinkling of oregano, more for color, and then some Calabrian chiles in oil, which was a delicious last-minute impulse.

Look for more shrimp recipes from me because this was deliciously easy!

Monday, November 15, 2021

Noodling About Peanuts

If you take me out to the ball game, I will ask for neither peanuts or Cracker Jacks. Do they even still make Cracker Jacks? Anyway, I generally don't care for traditional American presentations of peanuts. 

I did, however, fall in love when I tried chicken in a peanut sauce at a Malaysian restaurant in Boston when I was sixteen. I've since enjoyed various satay variations, an attempt at peanut soup, Pad Thai, and peanuts as garnish on a Vietnamese vermicelli bowl.

I do not remember what I was hunting for when I came across this recipe  I've made it twice. The first time, I decided to overcomplicate things and threw in tofu and mushrooms. It really doesn't need anything else:

1 pound soba noodles (I had this as a main dish, which was about 3 oz of soba noodles dry)

¼ cup smooth natural peanut butter

¼ cup tahini

¼ cup water or chicken broth (I used vegetable broth here. While this isn't enough chicken broth to add a strong meaty flavor, I didn't want to have any meaty flavor to this. Plus, with the veg broth, I can serve this to my vegan friends)

½ cup low sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 small garlic cloves, minced (I did a little extra and I recommend pressing these so they'll be absorbed into the sauce better)

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

3 tablespoons honey

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoon sesame seeds

4 scallions, white and light green parts chopped

1 medium cucumber, deseeded and julienned

Boil water for the soba.  Cook according to package instructions.  (with the soba I bought, that meant throwing it in boiling water with a little salt, cooking for two minutes then rinsing with hot water to stop the cooking. Soba can get mushy easily.)

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the peanut butter, tahini, water (or chicken broth), soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes (More like 12).  Turn off the heat and stir in the cider vinegar, honey, and vegetable oil.

Pour into a large serving bowl, and mix with the drained soba. Top with sesame seeds, scallions, and cucumbers.  Serve immediately or let cool in the refrigerator and serve cold.

I ate mine room temperature and it was delicious. I think I can go a touch less on the vegetable oil next time. The noodles kept slipping off my chopsticks. 

If you try this, let me know!