Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Omelettes: No Need For Non-Stick

We've all done it before: had to scrape a carpet of egg off the bottom of our skillet when trying to make an omelette (though those browned bits are tasty). America's Test Kitchen recommends just using a non-stick skillet since it's easier to avoid getting eggs stuck in them. But what if you don't want to use non-stick cookware because: (1) you can't get as good of browning/deglazing with it, (2) you can't safely heat it as high as all-metal cookware without worrying about degrading and leeching chemicals, (3) it doesn't last as long as all-metal cookware, and (4) it just takes up more space and costs more to have more cookware? Well, I'm here to tell you that you can easily

There is a simple trick to make it so your eggs don't stick: bring your eggs to room temperature before cooking them. Or at least warmer than just out of the refrigerator. And of course this is assuming you've properly heated your pan and oil before adding in your eggs.

How do you do that? Well you could let the eggs just sit for maybe 10-15 minutes, but I find that the fastest way is to submerge them in a bowl of warm water for a couple minutes until they no longer feel cold to the touch. Once they're at that point, your ready to go.*

Actually, this principle applies to meat, too, and tofu. Basically, if your food is too cold when you put it in the hot pan, it's gonna stick. So let your meat or tofu or whatever (or the exterior at least) warm up somewhat before cooking by letting it rest outside the refrigerator for a while, 10-30 minutes depending on how warm the ambient air is.** Or, you could apply the same principle as the uncracked eggs in warm water--if your meat is conveniently vacuum sealed in plastic (or in a ziplock bag with the air squeezed out), you could put the package in a container of warm water to speed things up (also handy for thawing more quickly). I find that the time it takes me to prep other ingredients is a convenient window of time to let the meat/tofu come to temperature, though, so I don't bother with a warm water bath if it's not frozen.

Finally, what's in my omelette? This one was fried black beans (frijoles refritos), quick-steamed spinach, and chipotle tomatillo salsa. The spinach I steamed using a microwaving technique I learned from Bayless's Mexican Everyday. The basic idea is to put whatever vegetable you want to quickly steam/parboil in microwave safe bowl, sprinkle with water or add several tablespoons water depending on how much you're cooking, and then cover with a microwave safe plate or plastic rap with several holes poked in the top to allow steam to escape. Then you just microwave on high until the veggies are done. For this tiny amount of spinach I only needed 30 seconds. For a pound of broccoli you might need about 3 minutes. It's a very handy technique!

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!

*Tangentially, check out Kitchn's post on whether refrigerating eggs is necessary.

**DON'T set out frozen meat and wait for it to reach room temperature. It'll take so long that the outside will start to grow harmful bacteria before the center thaws. Let it thaw in the refrigerator instead before proceeding.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Making Mexican

So I've been working through Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday lately, and it's been a really excellent introduction to Mexican cooking (and first forays into Latin more broadly) so far. Because Bayless wrote this book with everyday cooking in mind, the recipes have been very accessible, yet still very flavorful. It actually fits well with my general approach to cooking in terms of the level of complexity: the recipes aren't for beginners or those who really only have time to unwrap and microwave a frozen entrée, but doable on a weeknight, or ahead of time making larger batches when you've a larger time window.

It's definitely helpful that I found a Latin grocery store nearby where I can buy most of the more specialized ingredients needed, a lot cheaper than I could in a mainstream supermarket, too (if they carry it at all). A lot of work with chilies, dried or otherwise, a lot of garlic, and other spices worked into salsa, marinades, and rubs, as well as salad dressings (though I'm guessing that's maybe more Bayless bringing Mexican into a more Western food context with salads?). I've worked with my food processor (well, the food processing attachment of my hand blender) a lot lately to make these sauces of various sorts.

The great variety in the flavor of the different chilies has been fantastic, and one of the big things that has struck me as I cook with the book. One of my favorite things about learning new dishes from various cuisines is that moment when I catch a whiff of a browning chili pepper, or sautéing dried shrimp and scallions, for example, and recognition of something familiar that I've smelled before in restaurants hits me. 

It's great that you can make a batch of dressing and then refrigerate it for use over time, though. Very handy for time efficiency (as is making enough for leftovers broadly). Dressings (vinaigrettes mainly) have definitely been something I'd been meaning to explore more, as on a more conceptual basis, they are very versatile flavoring components. Reduce the oil content and you've got a marinade or sauce for cooking with. And other than oil and vinegar of some kind, you're really free to put in an infinite variety of things. Tom Colicchio's Think Like A Chef illustrated this concept for me, too, in the variations on vinaigrettes he presented (putting in roasted tomatoes, or braised artichokes, and other ingredients).

The photos in this post are just a couple of the (delicious!) things I've been making from Mexican Everyday. At the top is cochinita pibil on corn tortillas with lime marinated red onions and habanero hot sauce. The second is a great, homey chicken-rice with black beans and garlic tomato salsa. And the third is a sweet potato salad with carmalized onions and chipotle dressing over arugula.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Simple Roast Parsnips

Woah! I may be late to the party, but freshly roasted parsnips are delicious. A close relative of carrots, parsnips have a similar texture, but are tougher and require a bit longer of a cooking time. They're also a little less sweet and have instead an almost floral taste to them. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it's more complex than carrots' flavor.

If you haven't already, give 'em a shot!

Here's a simple and delicious preparation:

Simple Roast Parsnips
(this recipe can be made vegan by replacing duck fat with a vegetable oil of some sort)

1 lb. parsnips, peeled, roll-cut into large chunks
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 TBS duck fat or other oil or fat
salt to taste (~1/2 to 1 tsp)
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried rosemary, crushed or chopped
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 F.
  2. Add parsnips and garlic cloves to a roasting pan (they should sit in one layer; don’t crowd the pan or they will steam instead of roast). Melt duck fat in a small bowl in the microwave (or any fat that is solid at room temperature, such as pork fat or coconut oil). Pour over the vegetables in the pan, sprinkle with salt and herbs, and toss to coat evenly.
  3. Roast in oven on the middle rack for about 30-40 minutes, or until a fork easily slides through the parsnips. Toss vegetables every 15 minutes while roasting. When finished, if desired, squeeze the roasted garlic out of their skins and toss with the finished vegetables. Serve while still hot.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Intermediate Microwave Technique and More Savory Oatmeal Variations

Yup, I'm still groovin' on savory oatmeals, every day. Here's what I've been into most recently: lightly salted oatmeal with spinach, a dash of white pepper, and topped with a drizzle of sesame oil, fried shallots (using prepared fried shallots you can find at southeast Asian grocery stores), and a quick soft-cooked egg. A pinch of curry powder is optional and also good. Check out my recipe below.

My process with oatmeal and the egg is done with time efficiency in mind since it's my breakfast before work every day. The oatmeal takes advantage of my "pro-est oatmeal tip", and I cook the egg using an intermediate microwave technique which I'm finally going to blog about now! I didn't before because, well, it doesn't necessarily look the prettiest, and I'm guessing many of you will be leery of using the microwave for eggs. But the results are good, quick, easy, and easier to clean up by far than cooking an egg separately on the stove.*

Basically, setting the power level of your microwave at some level below its default maximum level, you can safely cook food as delicate as an egg. Yes, that's what that "Power Level" button is for! Generally, you'll be able to set the level in increments of 10%. So power level 1 is 10% of the max level, 2 is 20%, etc. If you have a 1000W microwave, power level 1 gives you 100W, and so on. The thing is, microwaves differ in terms of their wattage, so you'll have to look on the inside walls of your microwave to see what its wattage is (something like 800W, 1000W, 1.60 kW, or whatever it happens to be). And of course, at a lower power level, you need to set a longer time.

*I did try cooking the egg in with the oatmeal for a while, which is even simpler as far as equipment involved, but I didn't like the results.

[Update: plastic wrap is unnecessary. Don't bother! Unless you're still testing the timing and are worried about an exploding egg.]

Savory Oatmeal with Spinach and Fried Shallots
Makes 1 serving

1/2 cup (50 grams) rolled (old fashioned) oats
~4/5 cup (200 grams) water

~1/3 cup plain soymilk
~1/4 tsp salt, adjust to taste
large handful of spinach

dash of white pepper
(optional: pinch of curry powder)

sesame oil
fried shallots
  1. Add oats and water to a small saucepan and heat over medium to medium-low heat. Let it cook until some of the water has cooked away and the oatmeal is starting to “bubble” (little pockets of air will be escaping, but you won’t see bubbles since the water level will be below the oatmeal level).
  2. Add soymilk and salt, stir to mix into the oatmeal, and bring to a simmer.
  3. Add spinach, white pepper (and optional curry powder), stir in and cook until thickened to your preference (cook longer for thicker oatmeal).
  4. Pour oatmeal into a bowl, drizzle with sesame oil, add soft-cooked egg, garnish with fried shallots, and enjoy.

Microwave Soft-Cooked Egg

1 egg
~1/3 cup water

1.    Add water to a ramekin or small microwave safe bowl and crack egg into the bowl. Lightly salt if desired.
2.    Microwave for around 3 minutes at about 400-500W power level.**
3.    Drain water, and you have your cooked egg.

** You’ll have to figure out how to set the power level on your microwave and experiment a bit to get a sense of what power level and timing gets you what level of doneness for the egg. The 1-10 setting should correspond with 10-100 percent of the maximum W of the microwave (hence, power level 4 on a 1000 W microwave would be 400 W). This is, of course, also affected by the amount and temperature of water added and the temperature of the egg when it’s put in to microwave. If you need a specific doneness, then you’ll want to nail down all these parameters.