Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sous vide - so-so?

I must admit, I love the concept of sous vide: Lovely little packets done to perfection and awaiting to be plopped on a plate and served. Poached salmon you can set and forget, for hours.

But thank you, thank you David Hagedorn for testing out the home versions and being brutally honest about the results. (Read the Washington Post article here. The headline for the web version is much better than the ones on the paper version.)

One thing the story reminded me of was our camping eggs trick. You boil water, put the container in an insulated bag, put your beaten, seasoned raw eggs in a freezer zip bag and dunk it in the hot water. In a few minutes, put the bag out, squish the eggs around a bit, then put it back in the water until they are the consistency you like. Voila - scrambled eggs and no pan to clean. I think The Bee actually published this trick and got taken to task for a. the eggs may not get thoroughly cooked and could be dangerous to those with compromised immune systems (which begs the question, should sick people be camping?) and b. the bag could melt. Luckily, neither has happened on my watch, but I can see the point.

Friday, September 24, 2010

C'ville Market

Finding a grocery store in Charlottesville isn't hard. There are lots of them, from the large (Sam's Club) to the boutique (Feast!) and everywhere in between. I tend to go to those closest, Foods of All Nations (which often translates as "Foods of All Prices" because much is often dear) and Harris Teeter (which is kind of like Nugget Markets for you West Coast readers). But I've enjoyed venturing off now and again. I stop in at Food Lion off the I-64 5th Street exit (they have a lot of Latin food items and at better prices than the specialty stores), Reid Supermarket (for the variety of cheap meats), and Integral Yoga (always has a variety of local apples the other stores don't, plus a better variety of wheat "meat"). I love the shopping experience at Whole Foods, but it's almost as out of the way as Sam's (which I refuse to join; solidarity with the downtrodden workers and all that).

Also a little out of the way, but well worth the trip, is C'Ville Market. It's in a warehouse-looking strip mall on Carlton Avenue, on the southwest side of town. You come in the doors, however, and it looks like a little country store, only with better service, and a walk-in refrigerated produce section, a treat in itself on summer days.

Yes, I'm a fan. And you can check out the specials each week on their site,

Thursday, September 23, 2010

An easy bread salad

Also known as panzanella

Although I make this salad by feel, it does require a few things that cannot be substituted: Homegrown tomatoes (or ripe ones from a farmer who's not shipping them somewhere), high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and stale artisan bread. If your tomatoes are really juicy and your bread is sufficiently stale but not hard, you can just cut the bread in cubes and skip the soak.

Lori K's easy bread salad
Serves 6

1 large day-old baguette or equivalent stale artisan bread
2 large ripe tomatoes, cubed (one red, one yellow adds color)
2 tablespoons capers, drained
Sliced kalamata olives to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 basil leaves, ribboned
handful of arugula if you have it
Sea salt and peppercorns, freshly ground

Soak the bread in hot water until softened but not soggy. Squeeze out the water. Put in a big bowl. Toss in everything else, adjusting oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Chill and serve.
Vary the flavor by soaking the bread in broth, adding peperoncini slices for a kick, a little rosemary or replacing the vinegar with lemon juice.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stocking up on stock

The one sign that's hard to pass up in a grocery store is "Whole fryers, 59 cents a pound." On sale, they sit like little plastic-wrapped, slightly lumpy bowling balls. They are sold as fresh, but they are darn near frozen, maybe a degree or two above. Still, they going into the cart, four at a time.

Spatchcocking a chicken
Once home, I line them up and begin to cut.

I usually spatchcock two of them: I take them out of the bag, put the neck, heart and gizzard in the stock pot, set the liver aside, rinse and dry the chicken well, take a pair of kitchen scissors and cut up each side of the backbone, which then goes in the stock pot, too. Flatten out the birds, season and  put the two of them in a 9x13-inch glass casserole, put in a 450-degree oven for 45 minutes or until the juices run clear. They come out beautifully brown and easy to carve.

The cooked, flattened chicken
Meanwhile, the other two are separated into wings, thighs and breasts; everything else goes in the stock pot, skin and all. I add a couple of bay leaves, some pepper corns, a couple of carrots and an onion. I cover the parts with water, bring to almost a boil, then turn it on low to simmer for several hours until the meat is falling off the bones. I then strain the broth and put it in the fridge to separate the fat. I pick off whatever meat looks good for chicken salad or soup and throw the rest out. I usually end up with at least 4 quarts of broth and enough chicken for about 10-12 dinners for two, not counting soup.

I usually fry the livers in a little olive oil, seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic, then eat them on toasts. If you don't have a cholesterol problem, they are good for you, high in iron and other nutrients: thiamin, zinc, copper and manganese, and Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and folate.

The entire process usually takes me about an hour and a half, not counting the time it takes to simmer the broth.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dressing up fresh fruit

Mission figs
The fading days of summer are full of ripe fruit of all kinds: figs, pears and melons to name a few. And while you may be busy canning some of this goodness to tide you over for the winter, or laying in containers of frozen fruit to be enjoyed in smoothies later, be sure to enjoy all that you can right now, because nothing is better than fresh, ripe fruit.

As good as fruit is, sometimes it needs a little something extra - an accessory, the culinary equivalent of a silk scarf or a fine silver necklace. After poaching pears in a red wine the other night, I had a little of the mascarpone that I served with them left over. And I had a pint of very ripe figs.

I'll probably lose my foodie credentials for admitting this, but I've never had mascarpone straight. I've had it in tiramisu, but never by itself. It's nothing short of amazing; calling it a triple-cream soft cheese does it little justice. It is more like a luscious whipped cream condensed into a spread.

After I halved half the figs and put a dollop of cheese on each, I made another batch of the wine sauce and poured it over. Mmmm, it was almost as good as the pears, the sauce kicking up the sensuousness of the figs to a gasping height.

Lori K's wine sauce
Serves 4

250 ml red wine
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 small vanilla bean, split

Mix everything in a small heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil then simmer until the sauce reduces to about half (this may take up to a half hour). Remove vanilla bean halves. Pour over fruit or ice cream.