April 2010 Archives

Simple Grilled Arctic Char Dinner

char1.jpgToday I made a very delicious but simple grilled Arctic char fish dinner.

Arctic char, by the way, is very similar to salmon. If you like salmon, you'll probably like Arctic char. It's available both wild and farmed.

Season the fish. Coat in a small amount of olive oil.

char2.jpgGrill for 2 minutes per side over very high heat. It won't be cooked through because it's going to go into the sous vide later. Actually, if you wanted a simple dinner it might make more sense to just go ahead and cook it for a few more minutes and cook it all the way through. Nonetheless...

Immediately chill the fish. This stops the cooking, but more importantly, if the fish is not cold when you vacuum seal it, one of two things will happen: If you have an external vacuum sealer (FoodSaver, for example), the juice will get sucked out of the bag, which is bad. And if you have a chamber vacuum sealer, the bag will inflate like a balloon. This happens because as the pressure drops any hot water in the bag will boil, causing the bag to expand. This is pretty much the opposite of what you want to have happen for sous vide.

Vacuum seal and sous vide for 30 minutes at 138°F. The time is not critical, and you can cook it longer if necessary. In fact, that's why I prefer to finish off the fish in the sous vide instead of on the grill. My grill is inconveniently located down a flight of stairs from my kitchen so it's a pain to cook anything else that goes with grilled food. By pre-grilling it and finishing in the sous vide, it's much easier to have everything done at the same time with no fuss.

char3.jpgSince this was a simple meal I just served it with spicy green beans and rice.

The green beans are simple, too, because I pre-blanch the beans so all I need to do is toss them in a sauté pan with sesame oil, Thai chili pepper sauce, and soy sauce  for a minute or two before serving.

char4.jpgThe rice, white sushi rice, comes out of the rice maker, so that's simple, too.

So there's a lot of equipment involved, but the great thing is that it comes together so easily at the end and there's only one small sauté pan to wash. And, of course, it's delicious!

Spicy Bloody Mary

1.5 oz. hot pepper vodka (*)
hot sauce (I used Cholula, but Tabasco or any other hot sauce is fine)
Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. horseradish
ground black pepper
celery salt (or regular salt, or omit)
Spicy V-8

Shake with ice and serve on the rocks in a highball glass. Garnish with celery stalk. And lemon, lime, and/or olive, if you so desire.

(*) I make my own hot pepper infused vodka by adding jalapeños and a few dried habanero peppers to vodka and letting it infuse for a week or so. You could also use a prepared pepper vodka like Absolut pepar.

Teriyaki London Broil

This is basically the same recipe as I made earlier for the teriyaki flank steak, except this time I used a smaller 0.82 lb. London broil.

Prepare a recipe of teriyaki sauce.

Trim excess fat from a London broil (beef shoulder steak). Add the steak and a portion of the sauce to a vacuum bag and seal. Refrigerate for 3 hours.

Sous vide for 3 hours at 134°F.

Let rest for one hour. Discard the juice from the sous vide bag.

Put the London broil on a sheet pan and broil for 3 to 4 minutes until lightly browned. This gives it a much better color and presentation than just using it out of the sous vide as I did before.

I prepared three servings of 3.0 oz. (cooked weight) each, served with white sushi rice, broccoli, and a side of the teriyaki sauce.

Pot Roast

potroast1.jpgThe end result is similar to Mom's Pot Roast, though the preparation and cut of meat is different.

Season about a pound of inexpensive meat with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Vacuum seal. Sous vide for 4 hours at 136°F. I used packaged "stew meat" that was already cut into pieces, but just about anything works.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Peel and cut two carrots and three medium Yukon gold potatoes.

Add olive oil to a roasting pan and add the vegetables, trying to keep them in a single layer.

potroast2.jpgSeason with salt, pepper, and onion powder and roast, uncovered. for 15 minutes.

Flip vegetables, season the other side, and roast for 15 minutes.

Push the vegetables to one side, add the cooked meat and juice from the sous vide bag. Add a little soy sauce to both the vegetables and meat. Roast for 15 minutes.
potroast3.jpgServes 3 (at the size show).

One Serving

Just in case you ever wondered, if you follow the package serving sizes for a plate of spaghetti, this is what you get:

spaghetti.jpg2.0 oz. spaghetti (weight in dry pasta, before cooking)
4.3 oz. pasta sauce (by weight)
2.1 oz. Italian sausage (weight after cooking)

No seconds.

Opening vacuum sealed jars

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Using the FoodSaver mason jar attachment or a chamber vacuum sealer to seal mason jars is great! It works very well, especially for fragile foods like lettuce and spinach, and the jars and lids are reusable.

The only problem is that sometimes the lids are hard to remove without damaging them. Through experimentation I've found this technique to be fast, effective, and unlikely to damage the lid:

1. Remove the screw ring
2. Find the spot on the glass jar where the screw ring bumps are closest to the sealing lid.
3. Using a medium-sized regular screwdriver, very gently twist between the glass bump and the lid. You're not trying to pry off the lid, just gently let enough air into the jar that the lid can just be lifted off.

If you do this carefully it requires almost no effort and it won't bend the lid so you can use it over and over.

Steak dinner (I hope)

Tonight's dinner will be a steak. Or so I hope.

Earlier this week, I had intended to eat steak. Weeks ago I had grilled it, immediately froze it, and waited for an appropriate time to take it out of the freezer and put it into the sous vide and enjoy a delicious and still perfectly medium-rare steak.

What transpired, however, was something entirely different. I had a glass of wine. And a delicious Caesar salad.
salad17.jpgAnd more wine. And then I got distracted with the Internet, a movie, and around 3 hours after my planned dinner time, I thought to myself, "I'm kind of hungry."

I was hungry because I had forgotten to eat my steak! Fortunately the sous vide is very forgiving and all I did was pop it out of the machine and into the refrigerator, and it should be fine when I reheat it a second time, days later. And, magically, it still will be perfectly medium rare. I love the sous vide machine.

This is unlike the time a friend of mine (not me, really), passed out with a steak under the broiler. He had to get professional cleaners to get the smell of smoke out of everything in his apartment.

Update: I successfully cooked and ate my steak today!


Things that should not be vacuum sealed

I'll update this post as I find things that just don't vacuum seal well.

Broccoli and Cauliflower. When stored in a low-oxygen environment, these vegetables produce the most horrifying of odors. It's not so bad if they've been blanched, but raw is definitely a problem. Avoid at all costs.

Scallions (in bags). They get squished, and then they appear to go bad faster than they would in a normal loose bag.

Lettuce (in bags). Lettuce in jars is great. Lettuce in bags gets crushed, then seems to spoil fairly quickly. I suspect that the act of squishing is bad, which is not surprising because it presumably breaks the cell wall of the plant.

Radishes vacuum sealed for long periods of time (weeks) appears to not work as well as you'd think for a relatively sturdy vegetable. The bag appears to inflate somewhat, the color leaches out, and they get very wet. Something is going on chemically but I don't know what yet.

Sealing mason jars in a chamber vacuum sealer

So I had an epiphany! I'm really into this sealing stuff in a jar thing using the mason jar sealing attachment on my Tilia FoodSaver:
This is great for squishable stuff like lettuce and is also nice because the jars and lids are more easily reusable than the plastic bags.

The problem is that it's not nearly as easy as it looks to use the attachment. Probably a good half of the times I try to seal it fails to take and I have to let the FoodSaver rest a bit and then try again. And it doesn't work with wide mouth jars.

I would certainly put up with this if not for the much more impressive ARY VacMaster VP210 in my kitchen.

It should have occurred to me much sooner, but there's really no reason why you can't put mason jars in a chamber vacuum sealer! This works because the pressure in the chamber drops and since the lid is loose, the pressure in the jar drops too. Then, when the pressure in the chamber is brought back to room pressure the pressure in the chamber is greater than the pressure in the jar and the lid makes a seal. Excellent!
vac2.jpgvac3.jpgThe VacMaster doesn't successfully seal 100 % of the time, either, but it's capable of running more or less continuously, and I can put a half dozen jars in at a time, so it's not such a big deal. And the vacuum is so strong at 30 seconds that I can barely get the lids off!

The big jars are rarely a problem, but the 4 oz. mini-jars gave me a lot of trouble... until I realized that the best way to seal dry things (like salad vegetables) is to put the jar in the sealer upside down! The weight of the jar keeps the lid from flopping around as the air is rushing into the machine when it's re-pressurizing and breaking the seal.

Update: I've found this technique for opening vacuum sealed jars to work very well.

Update 7/7/2010: If you're sealing dry-ish things like lettuce or salad vegetables, it works even better to put the jars in upside down. This causes the weight of the jar to help seal the jar. This is especially useful with 4 oz. jars which are particularly obstinate.

I realize that few of you have a FoodSaver and even fewer have a  chamber vacuum sealer, but this is so cool I had to share. And someday, someone will find this post via Google and I will become the world's foremost expert on vacuum sealing mason jars in a chamber vacuum sealer.

Update 6/12/2013: Especially with the small-mouth 8 and 16 oz. jars, putting the screw-on right fairly tight works the best. You'll get a great vacuum seal and then you can remove the ring. Logically I thought loose would work better, but really tight works best.

More Salads

salad12.jpgSo far the salads are still looking really good. This salad was made in less than a minute using a jar of green leaf lettuce (in the jar for 10 days) and a bag of mixed salad vegetables (cucumber, broccoli, green peppers, onions, celery, carrot, radish, cremini mushrooms, in the vacuum bag for 2 days).

salad13.jpgThe ingredients look almost as fresh as they did when I prepared them, and it's certainly great to have a salad with lots of veggies that quickly!

Served with Olivia's organic garlic and herb croutons and Annie's Naturals green goddess dressing.

After four days, the vegetables still looked very good! I made this salad with green leaf lettuce and a homemade balsamic vinaigrette:


I like beets, but they're just one of those things that I rarely prepare for myself. Fortunately, I've found that the sous vide machine is excellent for preparing beets.

Peel and slice one large red beet. Add to a vacuum bag, along with salt, pepper, and a little olive oil. Vacuum seal.
beets1.jpgSous vide for 45 minutes at 180°F.

The beets are very tender but are still firm and maintain their shape at this length and temperature. Once cooked they'll keep well in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Chicken Caesar salad

salad11.jpgA simple meal for summery evening... chicken Caesar salad.

Chicken sous vide, romaine lettuce, Annie's Naturals Caesar dressing, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and Olivia's organic garlic and herb croutons.

Served with Absolut Boston (black tea and elderflower) and soda.

I would have added anchovies, but I accidentally bought sardines instead of anchovies. Oops.

Update: No chicken this time, but a few anchovies. Also delicious!

Lets vacuum seal a bunch of stuff!

I've had such great luck with vacuum sealing lettuce and salad stuff, I decided to just try vacuum sealing a bunch more stuff!

I'd like to eat more vegetables, but it's kind of a pain to prepare and cook vegetables for one. I much prefer pre-cooking, vacuum sealing, and freezing meat because meat keeps much better. I don't mind expending the effort to make homemade food, just not necessarily at the time that I'm hungry!

The vacuum sealing salad veggies with the lettuce worked pretty well, but this time I increased the amount per-serving and put them in a separate jar, since they don't keep as long as lettuce. This time I prepared radishes, green peppers, cucumber, yellow onion, carrot, crimini mushrooms, celery, and broccoli (blanched) for salad:
salad6.jpgI prepared some more romaine lettuce; this time I tried vacuum sealing in bags instead of jars. I had to reduce the vacuum to 15 seconds (0.08 MPa) and it seemed to avoid crushing it too much.
salad7.jpgUpdate: 4 days later, I've found that the romaine in bags does not last as long a the romaine in jars. I think it's because I had to lower the vacuum to prevent making the lettuce as flat as a sheet of paper, and it still got beat up pretty badly. In the jar you can get quite a bit of vacuum and the lettuce stays its normal shape. So jar lettuce is definitely preferable to bags, and not just because you can reuse the jars.

I also prepared a few more servings of baby spinach in vacuum sealed pint jars:
salad8.jpgBecause I'm a vacuuming maniac, I also vacuum sealed the remaining onion, radishes, and some broccoli. The broccoli in the store was getting a little old and would begin to brown at the edges soon so I washed, cut, and vacuum sealed that too.
salad9.jpgUpdate: So I learned an important thing: don't vacuum seal uncooked broccoli! It doesn't spoil, but wow, does it smell bad! Apparently when you store broccoli in a low-oxygen environment, methanethiol and other chemicals are produced and can't escape. There's scholarly research into this phenomenon. This doesn't seem to happening with the blanched broccoli that I've been putting in my salads, fortunately.

It's kind of a lot of bags, but I have a chamber vacuum sealer and my bags are thinner and significantly less expensive than FoodSaver style bags - mine are less than $ 0.04 each. That's less than half the price of store-brand zip-lock bags on sale! And it seems to significantly cut my food loss through spoilage, so I think it's probably a net win, even though I use more plastic.

Finally I made several servings of mixed salad veggies, both in canning jars and in vacuum bags. I'm interested to see if there's a quality difference between the jars and bags. I had intended to use 4 oz. jelly canning jars, but I was a little out of control on the veggies and apparently need to use 8 oz. canning jars, instead. I used 16 oz./pint jars since that was all that I had.
salad10.jpgThis was a fairly time-consuming process - nearly an hour - but I figure I get all that time back when I want a salad and I can just dump it on a plate!

The followup posting shows salads made with the vacuum sealed vegetables after two and four days.

Update: I've also had great success with vacuum sealing:
Green peppers
Jalapeño peppers

Vacuum sealing radishes for long periods of time (weeks) appears to not work as well as you'd think for a relatively sturdy vegetable. The bag appears to inflate somewhat, the color leaches out, and they get very wet. Something is going on chemically but I don't know what yet.

Update 4/21/2014: I was reading Ideas in Food and it pointed out that there is a danger of botulism in vacuum sealed food, because botulinum toxin thrives in an air-free environment. I haven't killed myself yet, but botulism is very serious stuff, so it probably is a good idea to limit your refrigerated vacuum sealed vegetables to a few days to be safe.

Spinach and green leaf lettuce experiment

As part of the great salad experiment I thought I'd try some more fragile greens, namely baby spinach and green leaf lettuce.

This is what my fresh organic baby spinach looked like:
salad1.jpgAnd the green leaf lettuce:
salad2.jpgI washed, spun, and sorted the greens and put them in pint canning jars and vacuum sealed them. This worked very well with the romaine lettuce, though technically romaine lettuce keeps pretty well in the refrigerator even without vacuum sealing. The same cannot be said for green leaf lettuce, however.

After one week, the spinach was basically indistinguishable from the original. I still have a jar in the refrigerator so I'll check back after two weeks.
salad3.jpgSame is true for the green leaf lettuce, which is even more impressive because it had been torn into pieces a week prior and were ready to just drop on a plate and make a salad:
salad4.jpgI like this preparation because not only do the greens keep much better, but they're already washed, sorted, and prepped; I can immediately put them on a plate for salad. With spinach, I often toss it in a sauté pan and wilt it, then add a little hana katsuo (Japanese dried bonito fish flakes) and soy sauce as a vegetable side:
Ten days later, my green leaf lettuce in a jar looked almost as good as it did when I prepared it!

And 13 days later, my spinach still looked pretty good, too:
Update 6/20/2012: I've made a new vacuum sealed salad post with my latest best practices, but this post and great salad experiment are still a good read.

Sausage, green pepper, and onion lasagna

lasagna1.jpgI like this simple and flavorful lasagna. I can only eat so much lasagna, however, so I make mine in a 4 1/2" x 8 1/2" glass loaf pan. That's four servings, about a third of a 9x13 pan, because even though lasagna freezes well, the last thing I need in my freezer is eleven servings of lasagna!

1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
2 hot Italian sausages, cooked and thinly sliced

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add a small amount of olive oil and sauté the onions until slightly softened. Add the green peppers and sliced sausage. Cook until softened.

Should make about 14.3 oz. of sausage mixture. Set aside.

In a large bowl prepare the ricotta cheese mixture:

1 egg, beaten
5 oz. (by weight) ricotta cheese (1/3 container)
0.6 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
2.6 oz. shredded mozzarella
Red pepper flakes

Should make about 10 oz.

4 sheets of no-boil lasagna
26 oz. jar of tomato sauce

I like the Barilla "flat like homemade" no-boil noodles because they're perfectly sized for a 4 1/2" x 8 1/2" loaf pan. I used Bove's basil tomato sauce.

Coat the inside of a 4 1/2" x 8 1/2" glass loaf pan with spray oil. Add the following layers, starting from the bottom:

4.3 oz. sauce
-- pasta
3.3 oz. ricotta mixture (1/3 of total amount)
7 oz. sausage, peppers, and onions mixture (1/2 of the total amount)
1.3 oz. mozzarella
4.3 oz. sauce
-- pasta
3.3 oz. ricotta mixture (1/3 of total amount)
4.3 oz. sauce
-- pasta
3.3 oz. ricotta mixture (1/3 of total amount)
7.3 oz. sausage, peppers, and onions (remainder)
4.3 oz. sauce
-- pasta
8.8 oz. sauce (remainder of jar)
1.3 oz. mozzarella

In case you're wondering about the all of the crazy weights, I prepare dishes like this on a scale. You just zero out the scale before adding each ingredient and it makes it really easy to make the same dish very uniformly and consistently.

lasagna2.jpgSpray the underside of a piece of foil with spray oil to minimize cheese sticking to it. Cover the pan with foil.

lasagna3.jpgCook at 375°F for one hour.

It's a good idea to stick a sheet pan on a rack under the dish, since there's a pretty good chance it will bubble over.

While there are a number of ways to reheat frozen lasagna, the best way I've found is to put the frozen vacuum sealed bag into the sous vide machine at 170°F for one hour.

Great Salad Experiment - Part 2

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Two weeks ago I made a bunch of salads in vacuum sealed jars, and it worked quite well. I decided to end the experiment here and see how everything turned out.

The Romaine lettuce looked OK. It's starting to dry out a little and there's a tiny bit of browning on a few edges. I'd say a week or maybe a week and a half is probably what you should aim for, but it would still be usable but not as great after two weeks.

salad15.jpgAnd at least in the airless vacuum sealed jar, lettuce cut with a metal knife looks pretty much identical to the torn lettuce.

salad16.jpgThe vacuum sealed green pepper seemed kind of wet, but it was still fairly firm. It's definitely an improvement over a ziplock bag, and the cut one in a vacuum bag seems to last longer than an uncut one loose in my refrigerator. I might start vacuum sealing all of my green peppers.

salad17.jpgThe vacuum sealed cucumber was the least successful, however at two weeks that's much longer than you'd expect a cucumber to survive. After cutting off the open end, however, the rest of it was surprisingly good. Still, I think two weeks is too long for a cut cucumber.

salad18.jpgThe cut yellow onion started to expand a bit, as cut onion tends to do, but the texture seemed fine and it still looked pretty good after two weeks. And the vacuum bag definitely helps keep your refrigerator from smelling like onion.

salad19.jpgSo that's everything from the first round of experiments. The next experiment involves green leaf lettuce and baby spinach, and the results are looking very good so far.

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