Archives for July 2011

Homemade salted and herb butters

Now that you’ve learned how to make homemade Fancy Butter, you may want to make it even more fancy. Super-fancy butter making isn’t difficult, and it tastes so amazing you’ll be impressed you created it. The first time I made the Herb Butter (the second recipe below) my husband stood in the kitchen searching for foods he could slather it on. You will, too.

Salted Butter

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (I prefer the homemade Fancy Butter)
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • An 8-oz. Ball jar

Set out the unsalted butter on your counter and allow it to come to room temperature.

In a glass bowl, mix thoroughly the salt and the butter. I like to put some butter into a large serving spoon and mash the salt into the butter with the back of a fork.

Use immediately or store in an 8-oz. Ball jar. Using the back of a spoon, firmly pack the butter into the jar, careful to smoosh out all air pockets. Then, put a little water on top of the butter before screwing on the jar lid. This water will help the butter to keep from absorbing smells and help to preserve the butter. Just pour it off before you use the butter, and add a little to the top each time you put the butter back into the refrigerator for storage.

Herb Butter

Based on Ina Garten’s Herb Butter recipe

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (I prefer the homemade Fancy Butter)
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic (one medium clove should do it)
  • 1 Tbl finely chopped scallions (both white and green parts)
  • 1 Tbl finely chopped fresh dill
  • 1 Tbl finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (dried can work in a pinch)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (fresh or bottled, whatever you have on hand)
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Set out the unsalted butter on your counter and allow it to come to room temperature.

Mince and chop all of the herbs and put all ingredients except the butter in a glass bowl. Stir these ingredients together well.

Add the butter to the bowl and mix thoroughly. I like to put some butter into a large serving spoon and mash herbs into the butter with the back of a fork.

Use immediately or store in an airtight container. The Herb Butter should keep for about a week. I like to put a dollop of the Herb Butter on a freshly grilled salmon fillet, melted over roasted asparagus, or as a dip for crispy bread sticks.

Fancy butter

I love butter. I don’t eat it as often as I once did, but when I do eat butter, I want the experience to be glorious. I want it to make my taste buds sing. I want to be able to brag about it to my friends (although I wouldn’t, because that would be a little weird).

Buying butter from your local market is simple. And, since simple is a big theme on this blog, I’d be negligent if I didn’t acknowledge how easy it is to just buy butter.

However, making butter at home takes mere minutes and tastes incredibly better than the mass produced stuff. If you have 10 minutes and some heavy cream on hand, I strongly recommend whipping it up yourself. You’ll also get some amazing buttermilk out of the process, so it’s like you’re getting two great things for the price of one.

Fancy Butter, Basic Recipe

  • 1 pint organic heavy cream (the best you can buy, cream as the only ingredient, and NOT ultra-pasteurized)
  • Plastic wrap
  • An 8-oz. Ball jar and lid
  • Cheesecloth (natural, ultra fine)

Pour the cream into the bowl of your stand mixer and attach the whisk arm. Cover the bowl (as best you can) with plastic wrap or a lid specifically made for your mixer to keep the buttermilk from splashing out of the bowl. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can also use a food processor with a chopping blade. You can also close it up in a 16 oz. jar and shake it for a long time, and it will do the same thing, but with a lot more effort on your part.)

On medium-high speed, mix the cream until it separates into curd and buttermilk. You’ll know this has happened because you’ll hear the buttermilk sloshing around in the bowl and splashing up on the plastic wrap. You’ll also notice the curd will have a yellow hue to it.

Not done:

Done:

Drape a square of natural, ultra fine cheesecloth over a large glass bowl and then pour the buttermilk and butter into the bowl.

Wrap up the butter in the cheese cloth, and gently squeeze out the buttermilk liquid with your clean hands. At this point, if you’re keeping the buttermilk, pour it into a separate container (preferably glass) and then give the bowl a quick rinse. After rinsing the bowl, rinse the butter in the cheesecloth under the water, too. Over the bowl, squeeze out the excess water again. Be careful not to squeeze so hard that the butter squeezes through the cheesecloth. Repeat this butter rinsing and gentle squeezing process until the water is almost clear squeezing out of the butter (usually three or four times).

Pour all the remaining liquid out of the bowl, unwrap the butter from the cheesecloth, and let the butter rest in the bowl. Using the back of a spoon, firmly pack the butter into the 8-oz. Ball jar, careful to smoosh out all air pockets. Then, put a little water on top of the butter before screwing on the jar lid. This water will help the butter to keep from absorbing smells and help to preserve the butter. Just pour it off before you use the butter, and add a little to the top each time you put the butter back into the refrigerator for storage. My grandmother used to do this with margarine, and it works wonders with butter, too.

Your homemade butter should keep for up to two weeks, but I sincerely doubt you can go that long without eating all of it. It’s incredibly yummy.

Over the remainder of this week, I’ll show you how to make herb butters, clarified butter, brown butter, and throw in some recipes for how to use these amazing fats. Today’s recipe is just the beginning.

Questions for cooks: Taste bud differences

Reader Megan submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

When I eat cilantro, it tastes like dish detergent. When my husband eats cilantro, he says it tastes yummy and nothing like soap. I don’t like the acidic taste of raw tomatoes, but my husband loves them. When cooking a meal, I know when things taste good to me, but how do I know if something I make will taste good to a guest? How different is the experience of taste from one person to another? How varied are one person’s taste buds from someone else’s taste buds?

I can confirm that individual food preferences will sometimes highly vary based on personal history, the concentration and quantity of taste buds, and scent memory. Finding common ground between you and your guests can be a challenge.

To avoid disappointed faces, try these approaches:

  • Use prior knowledge of your guests to guide your menu. If you can recall a time you’ve seen them enjoy Italian food, then keep that in mind when you step into the kitchen. Do you remember a conversation when they mentioned a hatred of mushrooms? Keep them out of your cooking at all costs.
  • If you have zero idea what they have enjoyed in the past, keep your cooking basic, then allow for individual customization. Tacos can be made with a small assortment of base fillings which guests pick during assembly. A plethora of toppings will provide further customization, keeping guests happy no matter what their tastes are.
  • While not the most cost effective or timely solution, you could prepare an assortment of options ahead of time and reheat/complete them when guests arrive. With enough time and preparation, you could have four or more meals ready to go in your freezer, ready to be reheated and completed with additional fresh ingredients. This would give your guests a potentially huge number of options at your disposal. Personally, I like to have a few glass Pyrex storage containers full of tasty meals hanging out in my freezer for just such an occasion. They can go into the microwave straight from the freezer, and are a breeze to clean.

Thank you, Megan, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

French press iced tea

I moved! While the RVing adventure has been a blast, I felt it was time to settle down into a home sans-wheels and enjoy living on a foundation again. I’m loving the additional counter top space and full sized oven. Hooray!

Hauling boxes for a move during an Arizona summer sure isn’t something I plan on doing again any time soon. The sweat was flowing like buckets, but I had plenty of water to avoid overheating. Here’s another great way to stay cool this summer.

Clean out any coffee grounds from your French press and fill with assorted teabags/loose tea leaves. For my example, I’m using two bags of Red Berry Zinger by Celestial Seasonings to establish a fresh fruity base, accompanied by a bag of green tea and a chamomile blend for background. I’ve also added several lemon peels and sugar to taste (roughly 1/4 cup).

Using all those tea bags will produce concentrated flavors that mellow and balance when the ice melts.

Fill your French press to the top with boiling water and steep for four or five minutes. Be sure to take a blurry photo of your progress.

Shoot more goofy photos while it steeps. You get bonus points for using a reflection to point at the awesome skylight in the kitchen of your new apartment.

Pour tea into a two quart pitcher full of ice, then serve in a nicely chilled mug full of ice. Cup your hands around that sucker while drinking for a delicious icy rush of heat relief. More bonus points for rimming the mug with turbinado sugar.

Simply magical butter and onion pasta sauce

A cool breeze on a hot summer afternoon. A friendly kitty head-butt when after a lousy day at work. The smell of freshly washed sheets as you climb into bed. What do these things all have in common? They’re unexpected pleasures that can magically improve your mood in simple ways.

My mind never before put “simple” and “home made pasta sauce” together, but that was before I tried this unexpectedly wonderful version I found over at Smitten Kitchen. It sat as a bookmark in my browser, blinking like a red dot on my radar for about a year before I got around to trying it. I used to think every homemade pasta sauce took hours to put together, but that has all changed now.

As others who have tried this recipe have written, some real magic happens with this sauce. This sentiment is completely understandable given the tiny number of ingredients and incredibly simple preparation instructions. All you need to do is simmer a big can of whole tomatoes with some butter and onion for forty-five minutes, remove the onion at the end, then mash everything into a sauce. The bright fresh flavors will have you thinking this is some David Copperfield-type stuff for sure.

Simply Magical Butter and Onion Pasta Sauce, a la Smitten Kitchen

serves 4

  • 28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes from a can (San Marzanos are preferred)
  • 5 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • salt to taste

Empty the tomatoes and their juice into a sauce pot, along with the butter and halved onion, then bring to a simmer. Cover and adjust heat to maintain a steady simmer for 45 minutes, or until fat droplets from the butter freely float to the surface.

Remove the onion and crush the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a spoon or blend using a stick blender.

Adjust seasoning with salt, but most canned tomatoes come pre-salted so you may not need this ingredient.

Do a card trick, saw your assistant in half, then serve the sauce over your favorite pasta.

Grilling basics: Using cedar-planks

Fish is delicate and absorbs flavors easily from a grill. As a result, it tastes best when grilled over hardwood charcoal and infused with additional glazes or spices. Since many glazes make a fish fillet sticky, and therefore very difficult to remove from a grill grate, we recommend using cedar planks under the meat. Not only does the cedar add a wonderful flavor to the meat, but it also keeps the fillet in one piece when it’s ready to eat.

If you’ve never used cedar planks for grilling before, this is the basic information you’ll need:

Start by getting a food-grade quality cedar plank (if you’re making your own, you need to buy untreated cedar). You can find them online, at your butcher counter (ours give them away free if you ask for them), in kitchen supply stores (though, usually more expensive than anywhere else), and even at some hardware and home improvement stores.

The next step is to soak the cedar planks for at least two hours before grilling. This keeps the planks from burning up while you grill with them.

You can see, we soak ours in a shallow cake pan and we weigh them down with a cup of water.

When you’re ready to use them, pull them out of the water and set the fish fillet directly onto the wet board. The fish should be skin-side down on the wood.

Put the planks directly onto your hot grill, and cover with your grill lid while cooking.

When your fish has reached its desired temperature, remove the whole plank-fish unit from the heat and serve. The fish skin will usually stick to the plank, which makes the eating process even easier.

This particular salmon fillet was coated in a honey-bourbon glaze. To recreate it, mix 3 Tbl of honey with 1/2 cup of your favorite bourbon. Using a pastry brush, spread the glaze over the salmon immediately before putting the salmon on the cedar plank. The garnish is a slice of apple also glazed with the honey-bourbon mixture. This preparation is incredibly simple, and very tasty.

Grilling basics: Using a chimney starter and making coffee-crusted flank steak

When we grill during the week, we use a tiny Weber grill (specifically, it’s a Smokey Joe 10020, which we affectionately refer to as just plain Joe). I think I’ve mentioned this before, but we use Joe because he heats up quickly, evenly distributes heat, and doesn’t require a lot of charcoal. Within half an hour of lighting him, we usually have lunch or dinner on the table.

We use a chimney starter and hardwood charcoal when we grill. (We use either the Trader Joe’s or the Whole Food’s charcoal brands). With the chimney starter there is no need for lighter fluid and no need to arrange the coals in a certain pattern. If you’re unfamiliar with the incredibly simple process, you fill the starter with charcoal:

Put a few pieces of newspaper in the bottom of the starter:

Light the paper on fire:

Wait 20 minutes, and then pour the hot coals into your grill very carefully:

This specific grill was heated up to cook coffee marinated and crusted flank steak:

(You’ll have to trust me that the finished product tastes and looks much better than this raw meat. Sadly, I ate the entire meal before I realized I hadn’t taken any photographs of it. Yum.)

We got these cuts of meat already marinated and crusted from our butcher, but it’s easy to do at home. Simply get two individual servings of flank steak and marinate them overnight in the refrigerator in a zip-top bag full of coffee. The coffee should be a roast you enjoy drinking, because you can taste it after you’ve grilled it. Also, the coffee should be room temperature or colder when you put the meat in it. You don’t want the liquid to cook the meat.

Right before you’re ready to put the meat on the grill, strain off the liquid, salt the meat, and dredge it through your favorite coffee grounds. (The whole coffee beans you see in the picture above are just for decoration, only use grounds.) Rub the coffee into the meat a little, similar to how you would a spice rub. Grill the meat to a nice medium-rare, remove from heat, cover with a bowl like a dome, and wait five minutes (letting the meat rest) before serving.

Coffee-crusted flank steak is perfect with fried eggs and hash browns, as a “breakfast for dinner.” The coffee makes the steak sweet, almost as if you had added a lot of sugar to a cup of coffee. It’s really good, though, and gives you a little bit of a caffeine kick. If you don’t want that caffeine rush, use decaf coffee instead.

Favorite food feeds on Twitter?

I’m a fan of Twitter because I get a lot of my food news through it. I subscribe to the feeds of numerous local chefs, bartenders, restaurant reviewers, grocery stores, food scientists, nutritionists, cookbook authors, and even a few celebrity chefs and food writers.

I especially love the feeds from my local grocery stores. For instance, I knew last Friday that my local Whole Foods was having a “Buck-a-Burger” sale on their gourmet hamburger patties, which saved me a good chunk of money for the cookout we had with my family on Saturday. (Do a search to find your specific local grocers.) As long as you’re not following (too many) navel gazers, I’ve found Twitter to be an extremely useful tool for collecting insights into the food world.

Here are some of the Twitter feeds I follow and find interesting for various reasons:

Individuals (chefs, cooks, food scientists)

Companies

Food science, nutrition, and other food-related feeds

If you’re on Twitter, what are your favorite feeds? Are you following ours @SimpliFried? Share your suggestions in the comments.

Questions for cooks: Meals that travel well without refrigeration

Reader Rose submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

I recently started a project that has me traveling to the other side of the state every other week. My flight leaves at 6:00 a.m. and arrives at 10:30 am. I then leave again at 4:40 p.m. and return home at 10:30 p.m.

I get a per diem to cover all three meals when I take these trips. But I really want to just pack my meals so I can pocket the per diem. Besides, the town I go to is very small and remote. There is a grocery store, but it’s selection is not good, and everything is expensive.

Anyway, I have to go through airport security and gelpack-type freezer packs are not allowed. I’ve heard things about using ice, but it seems to depend on the agent and the airport. So, I would like to avoid food that has to be refrigerated. To make matters worse, I have to strictly watch my salt intake, so most microwave and canned foods are not good options.

This is like a riddle or a word problem on a math test: “Rose needs 1,500 calories a day, but has to avoid refrigerated and preserved foods. How can it be done?”

Right off the bat, I know that fresh fruits and vegetables are going to be a good option for you. Apples, bananas, raw broccoli and cauliflower crudites, snap peas, and oranges shouldn’t cause a problem for you as you go through security. If the item is not refrigerated in your grocer’s produce section, you don’t need to refrigerate it in your lunch pail.

Bagels and bread should be fine. Same goes for almost all aged, hard cheeses. Cheese sandwiches aren’t usually exciting, but using a hearty bread and a wonderful cheese will be filling and enjoyable. I’m thinking something like a jalapeno cheddar bread with some pepper jack cheese, or a rustic Italian with a Parmesan or Manchengo.

Smoked salmon and cured meats travel well, too. I love a salumi that bites you back or causes you to take notice, like a Culatello di Zibello, a delicate prosciutto, a hot pepperoni, a crusted pancetta, or a spicy coppa. Don’t go overboard with the smoked and cured meats — just a little with crackers should be enough to give you some protein — because you don’t want to elevate your salt intake too wildly.

Cliff makes some wonderful granola bars that aren’t especially high in sodium or fat, and taste great. Talk to people who regularly go hiking, and they’ll also have great suggestions for you.

Thank you, Rose, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Check the comments for even more portable suggestions from our readers.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

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