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My New Kitchen Toy: Sous Vide Cooker

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I’ve seen a few people doing sous vide cooking at home for awhile now, on some cooking forums that I follow. I’m not sure of the full potential, but I’m intrigued. With a little Christmas cash to spend, I decided to buy a portable sous vide cooker that I believe was a good buy. After a little research, I settled on a model made by Gourmia that seems to get good reviews. The model number is GSV-140. Amazon was selling it for $99.00…retail is supposedly $199.00, which I probably would not have been willing to pay. A Foodsaver vacuum sealer is handy to have as well, though you could get away with using zippered storage bags…they just would be a little more likely to leak, and the vacuum makes the sous vide process more effective, I think. I’ve had a vacuum sealer for 20+ years. Disclaimer: I am not in any way sponsored by or reimbursed by either Gourmia, Foodsaver, or Amazon.

Okay. So, the sous vide cooker arrived and I unpacked it, and read through the quick start-up guide and some other literature that came with it. I’m not going to cover the definition of sous vide, or all the technical stuff here. You can find tons of information online. This is just to document my experiments and share them, if anyone is interested.

I had a vacuum sealed bag of chicken drumsticks and thighs on hand and decided to make that my first foray into sous vide.

Vacuum sealed chicken pieces.

Vacuum sealed chicken pieces.

It was pretty simple: follow the directions for clamping the cooker to a container (I’m using a stock pot), add water between two marks, using the bagged chicken to get the amount right with volume displacement. Remove the bag. Enter the time and temperature according to the instructions for the cut of chicken I used, and start. When the water is up to temperature, I added the bag back in, and clipped it to the side of the pot.

Dial in the time and temperature.

Dial in the time and temperature.

You will find that sous vide recipes often give a wide range of time for cooking. Without getting bogged down in the technicalities, what you are doing is a long, slow poaching; at a very accurate temperature. You cook for a minimum period of time required, to reach the target temperature throughout the product being cooked. At that minimum time, the food is safe to eat, but you can go to the maximum time in the recipe, without seriously affecting texture and quality of the product. Passed that time, some foods could get overcooked…mushy.

I set the temperature according to directions, at 158F. I cooked it for three hours. I could have stopped at two or gone for five, but I decided to do three hours. It was a bit unsettling that the juices in the bag were not “running clear”, like other cooking methods use as a gauge for chicken being “done”. They were still a murky, dark reddish color.

Chicken, unbagged.

Chicken, unbagged.

Cooked chicken

Cooked chicken

However, when I opened the bag and pulled a piece of meat apart, it was cooked through. It was very moist and had a good texture. At this point, I could have finished on a grill or in a saute pan, if I wanted to brown the meat. I decided to just eat one of the thigh pieces and put the rest into the refrigerator for a later recipe.

Checking to see if cooked through.

Checking to see if cooked through.

Day two, I have done some reading on sous vide cooking eggs. I’m doing four eggs currently at 147F for an hour and a  half.

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The result should be like an over medium egg, or a medium boiled egg. I like a set white…no slime, and a yolk that has begun to gel, but not solid. If I were cooking in a pan, the result should be a yolk that is starting to solidify on the outside and still runny in the middle…so that, when I cut it up, there is enough runny yolk to coat the cut white pieces…but not runny enough to pool on the plate. I get pretty specific about how I like my eggs…I know!  Will update later today.

Egg update: Holy mackeral. The egg yolks are perfect. The texture is creamy and amazing! The whites were a little underdone for my liking, but from my reading, I know that some may remain watery…and I was able to dribble that little bit off. So, now I just need to experiment with adjusting the temperature up a couple of degrees and/or try adding another half hour to the time. It was fairly easy to get the eggs out of the shells. I just cracked them on the large end and removed enough shell to allow the egg to be tipped out into a small bowl.

Tipped out into a small bowl.

Tipped out into a small bowl.

Carefully opening the egg.

Carefully opening the egg.

After I checked the yolk texture, I gently lifted the eggs onto some awaiting toast, leaving that little bit of watery white behind.

Sous vise eggs on toast. Yum.

Sous vise eggs on toast. Yum.

Yolk test...oh, MY!

Yolk test…oh, MY!

I will say that, while the whites were very soft, there were not what I would call “slimy”…that really repulsive stuff on eggs when someone under-cooks the whites. I would just like them set firmer. Overall, I’m very impressed. I have seen sous vide recipes for creme brulee and hollandaise sauce. I haven’t gone through them yet, but I’m betting the texture is remarkable. We’ll see!

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Muscadine Grapes: Unexpected Bounty!

Big, juicy muscadine grapes!

Big, juicy muscadine grapes!

 

I got a text message from a niece recently, because she saw that I had made scuppernong jelly, and I had commented that my usual foraging locations were not productive this year, so I had to purchase the grapes at the local farmer’s market. She and her husband had just moved back to my area recently and she discovered that the property has a large grape arbor in the back yard. Would I like to come by and pick some grapes? Absolutely!!!

I have an 18 month old grandson and she has a 13 month old baby, so we arranged a play date and grape picking get together. A couple of days later, she mentioned that they had friends over this past weekend and they had picked a big bag of the grapes, but she thought there were more available. *sigh* Well, I guessed the grapes would be pretty sparse. After a little playtime inside with the babies, we headed outside…hmmm…there’s a cluster of ripe grapes, and a few more, and more…and I realized that there was no shortage of grapes here.

Kids outside by the grape arbor.

Kids outside by the grape arbor.

I filled a 2 gallon pail and there were plenty left! After another week, there will be more ripened and ready to pick. I have weighed what I picked, and I have 11 pounds, 6 ounces!

Nice haul of muscadine grapes!

Nice haul of muscadine grapes!

So, now I have to decide what to do with the grapes…if I need them all for a batch of wine, or if I will have enough to make some jelly, too. I may have to go back next week for a smaller batch to do jelly. I’ll be reviewing my last two wine batch blogs to see what I did with them. Two years ago, I did a muscadine red wine that turned out pretty dry, due to the yeast I chose. https://mmmbrews.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/day-144-muscadine-wine/  Last year, I did a muscadine/blueberry wine that was a little lighter/softer, but still fairly dry. https://mmmbrews.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/starting-blueberry-muscadine-wine/  I would like to do one that is a little sweeter, but I still don’t want to do the overly sweet wines that are normally associated with muscadines. Also, for last years wine, I bought a pH test kit and something to adjust it, if necessary…have to track that down and read up on it again. I also rented a wine bottle corker and bought bona fide wine bottles and corks. The first batch was put into beer bottles. I might have to open a bottle of each…for research.  I have also read that sweeter homemade wines don’t preserve as well, so just a little sweetness would be good. More to follow after research and when I get time to work on it.

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Scuppernong Jelly 2016

Scuppernong grapes

Scuppernong grapes

 

Well, this year hasn’t been too productive in my usual spots for wild foraging my Muscadines; so, I wound up purchasing some Scuppernongs at the local farmer’s market. Scuppernongs are the green/gold variety of Muscadines. I think the flavor is a little lighter, and maybe has a little honey note to it. (I’ve thought about making a Scuppernong mead, but haven’t done it yet.) I bought a “one gallon” bag of grapes for $10.00 and weighed them when I got home. It was literally one big grape over four pounds. Of course, I ate about 4 or 5, so it was about 3 pounds and 14-1/2 ounces when I started the jelly making process.

Mashing and boiling the grapes.

Mashing and boiling the grapes.

The recipe that I’m using is from the USDA Guidelines…pretty much have to do that if I want to be able to enter my final product in the N.C. State Fair Food Preservation competition. (I’ve entered a number of things over the last four years and won two first place blue ribbons and several second place ribbons.) Here’s a link to the recipe: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_07/grape_jelly_powder.html   But keep in mind, things don’t always work out perfectly regarding volume.

Grapes after 10 minute simmer.

Grapes after 10 minute simmer.

This time, the grapes I had yielded only 3-1/2 cups of juice…even though the recipe only calls for 3-1/2 pounds of grapes and a cup of water. The recipe is based on Concord grapes, though…maybe they provide a better yield than Scuppernongs. Anyway, to get to the 5 cups of juice that is called for, I strained my grapes through a cheesecloth bag that I created and hung from a cabinet and allowed to drip into a bowl.

Extracting the grape juice.

Extracting the grape juice.

After squeezing the pulp, I put another 1-1/2 cups of water in a pot on the stove and boiled the cheesecloth bag in it, like a teabag for ten minutes. I poured the now-flavored water into the bowl and re-hung the bag to drip. I’m trying to keep the flavor from getting watered down.

The juice is now refrigerated until I’m ready  to continue the process tomorrow. This allows any sediment to settle and reduces the chance of tartrate crystals forming in the final product. The juice will be filtered through cheesecloth again before continuing.

Next Day: I ran the juice through cheesecloth and held back a tiny amout of sediment. I needed to add about a 1/2 c. of water to make 5 cups total.

Almost ready to can.

Almost ready to can.

Followed the rest of the recipe instructions and ended with nine 1/2-pint jelly jars and processed them in the water bath canner for 5 minutes. Now they sit for 24 hours. (I love hearing those lids popping as the vacuum seals them to the jars!)

Jars of Scuppernong jelly.

Jars of Scuppernong jelly.

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Cherry Fruit Leather from Fresh Cherries

Sugar, water, cherries

Sugar, water, cherries (There’s a few Mt. Raniers in there.)

With cherries in season and some deals here and there, I had some on hand. Unfortunately, nobody was eating them and they were just passing their prime. Having recently discovered that my almost 15 month old grandson was very enthusiastic with the discovery of “Fruit by the Foot” snacks, I decided to pull out the dehydrator and give it a shot. By coincidence, I happened to find a deal on some Presto brand liners for making fruit leather and had bought a couple. That probably spurred me on a bit as well. My dehydrator is a Nesco brand, however, and it has a bigger center hole than the Presto model, so the dehydrator motor would not fit through the Presto accessory’s center hole.

Presto liner on a Nesco dehydrator. Presto has a smaller hole...oops.

Presto liner on a Nesco dehydrator. Presto has a smaller hole…oops.

Having already poured the fruit puree, my best bet was to put the trays at the bottom with the empty ones on top. Those, plus the lid, got me close…still sticking up a little, but enough for the dehydrator to work.

Put fruit leather trays on bottom. Note small gap between lid and motor.

Put fruit leather trays on bottom. Note small gap between lid and motor.

As for the fruit leather, I looked around on Pinterest and found a recipe that looked like what I was searching for. The recipe, at http://www.bakedbyrachel.com/cherry-fruit-leather/  (credit where due!), specifies using an oven at 170F and sheet pans with silicone liners, but I figured that substituting a dehydrator would be no problem. I will admit  that I didn’t really measure my cherries…but I think I was in the neighborhood of four cups. In the end, I perfectly lined the 2 inserts, with none left over.

One tip: double check your cherries for pits. I thought I was careful, but a couple made it into the blender and I had  to run the puree through a sieve. I left behind a little fiber and peel, I guess, but I think I would add that step anyway, for a smoother puree. So, here’s the recipe:

 

Cherry Fruit Leather

4 cups fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted

1/4 cup water

1/3 cup granulated sugar

 

Directions

Add the water and the fruit to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Use a potato masher to mash the cherries as they cook. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until well broken down. (I must admit that I added the sugar also and it seems to have turned out okay, though it was supposed to be added later.)

Mashed cherries simmering.

Mashed cherries simmering.

Transfer the cooked fruit to a blender, in batches, and blend until smooth. I did mine in 2 batches. Be careful with hot stuff in blenders! I left the center hole open and covered with a towel, to avoid building pressure and causing a hot fruit puree explosion.

Pureed and strained.

Pureed and strained.

Return the puree to the saucepan…after passing through a sieve, if necessary or desired. Add the sugar…if you didn’t do it when I did, by mistake. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened some. Remove from heat and stir bubbles down a bit.

Simmered on reduced heat for 10 minutes.

Simmered on reduced heat for 10 minutes.

Lightly spray your dehydrator disks with a nonstick spray or lightly brush with oil and place on dehydrator trays. Ladle the puree onto disks and carefully give a jiggle to even out puree.

Ladled onto nonstick sprayed liner.

Ladled onto nonstick sprayed liner.

Add the cover and the motor and dehydrate until a little tacky to touch, but not dried out completely. (Although…it needed to be a little drier than I thought.) Should be between 4 to 7 hours, depending on your dehydrator, humidity, etc. (Mine actually took more like nine hours.) Allow to cool. Peel from dehydrator inserts and store, rolled in wax paper or parchment and stored in an airtight container, up to one month. (Cut in smaller strips, if desired.) Enjoy!

Ready to eat cherry fruit leather. Rolled in parchment paper.

Ready to eat cherry fruit leather. Rolled in parchment paper.

I did need to go to the longer period of time for the dehydrator…actually, well beyond. One tray was a little thicker than the other and, when I touched it, it kind of schmudged it some. Yeah…made up that word. And I turned it off after about 5 hours, thinking it was done. I decided it wasn’t done, later, after it had cooled. I popped the trays back in the dehydrator and let them go another 3 or 4 hours. The thicker one then went another hour. But they turned out fine, in the end, and taste good. Live and learn. Next time, the process will be smoother.

 

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Garden Update March 2016

Garden overview.

Garden overview.

There are some positive signs in the garden and I’ve added a couple of things. There are also some things that are also giving me concern. I’ve tried starting several things from seed in starters, but the results are fairly weak. I’m getting a few sprouts, but not consistent success.

Some sprouts...not too impressive yet, though.

Some sprouts…not too impressive yet, though.

I have also planted some multicolored Swiss chard from seed, directly into the garden and noticed that they are popping up, so I’m optimistic about that one.

Hard to see, but sprouts are popping through for the Swiss chard.

Hard to see, but sprouts are popping through for the Swiss chard.

I have a single yellow bell pepper plant that was purchased already growing. It seems to be okay, but not showing any vertical growth yet. I’m also experimenting a bit this year with some sweet potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes. They were sprouting in the house, so I cut some pieces and planted them. We’ll see what happens.

Previously planted and now in year 3, are Cascade hops  and muscadine grape vines. I have put some strings in for the hops to climb…they seem to be doing okay.

Hops ready to climb.

Hops ready to climb.

The muscadine vines…

Muscadine grape vines.

Muscadine grape vines. On the bottom, left, I think is ginger…bulbs look more like onion. Waiting and watching.

…I don’t know if any grapes will happen this year. I’m just letting them go where they are and see what happens. If any grapes appear this year, I’ll plan to put up a small arbor, just for them, by next Spring.

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Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

About a week ago, my wife was looking for a box of Crunch ‘n’ Munch Caramel Popcorn that I had bought. I had bought two boxes and she had eaten one over the course of a couple of days. She assumed that the second box was hers, too, since I know she likes it. A reasonable assumption, but one that was proven wrong, because I had a craving the night before. Poor thing was so disappointed!

Never wanting to leave a woman disappointed(*wink, wink*), I decided to pop onto the computer and do a little secret research. Most of the recipes called for corn syrup, which I didn’t have on hand, or exact temperatures and extra steps that I just didn’t want to deal with for a quick recipe to surprise my wife with on short notice. To the rescue came a recipeI found through Pinterest at http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2013/04/23/peanut-butter-caramel-corn/ . Take a look, if you have a chance, you may find something else you like there as well! I like to give credit, where credit is due, and support those people who have helped me with a great recipe.

This recipe is simple, easy, and can be done in a matter of about 20 minutes with pretty common ingredients and equipment. There’s no need for a thermometer or precision. What you will need is some measuring cups, a small sauce pot for the caramel, a medium sauce pot with a lid for popping the corn (or you can use microwaved or air popped), a large mixing bowl for combing the popcorn and caramel a spoon or wire whip and a rubber spatula.

Here’s the recipe:

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients:

  • 10 cups unflavored popped popcorn (homemade or 1 standard size bag)*
  • 2/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts, optional
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
 *I think I use a little more popcorn and stretch the caramel out a little thinner.
Directions:

Pop the popcorn, remove any unpopped kernels, and set aside.

Popped a good sized bowl of popcorn and leave room for mixing!

Popped a good sized bowl of popcorn and leave room for mixing!

Line a sheet pan with parchment and a little non-stick spray. Put the sugar and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine. You can cover it initially to help it come to a boil, but it isn’t required. Once the mixture comes to a boil, let it go for about three minutes.
Boiling sugar and honey...HOT!!! Be careful.

Boiling sugar and honey…HOT!!! Be careful.

 

Carefully remove the mixture from heat and add the salt, peanut butter and, if using, the optional peanuts.* Stir until well-combined.
Peanuts, salt, and peanut butter added and stirred well.

Peanuts, salt, and peanut butter added and stirred well.

Pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and, using a rubber spatula, turn the popcorn until the caramel is evenly distributed.
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Pour the popcorn onto the prepared sheet pan and carefully spread the hot mass out evenly to cool completely. (See header photo) When cool, break up the caramel corn into bite-sized clusters and try not to consume it all in one sitting!
*The recipe actually calls for the peanuts to be added after the caramel is poured on the popcorn, I think…but I wanted mine coated with the caramel as well.
So, I dove into the recipe and knocked it out. I have to admit, It wasn’t *quite* completely cool when I broke mine up into clusters and presented it to my wife…so it was just a tiny bit chewy. But that didn’t really matter…my wife was suitably amazed and impressed with my thoughtfulness and effort. Then she tasted the popcorn…amazing! She could not put it down. It was a MAJOR success! Eventually, she made me take it away from her, so she wouldn’t eat it all. Again, being the loving husband, I finished the rest of it. This one really is a winner. I hope you’ll try it and enjoy!
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Making Bagels

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So, I’ve made bagels once before, but it’s been awhile. For some reason, I just felt like making a batch. Who knew that today (February 9th) is National Bagel Day?! Was there something subliminal going on there? These won’t be baked until the following day, though…but I made the dough and shaped them on National Bagel Day. That still counts, right? Right.

To give credit, where credit is due, I am using a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by way of a website: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/. The recipe makes 12 bagels. It begins with a “sponge”, which is similar to a sourdough starter, except all the ingredients are fresh. About half of the flour is used with all of the water and half of the yeast. After a couple of hours, the sponge is combined with the rest of the ingredients to make the dough. After the dough is made, kneaded, and portioned, it is allowed to rise. Once formed, the bagels relax briefly and then are refrigerated overnight. The process is finished in the morning.

BAGELS

Sponge:

1 t. Instant yeast

4 c. Bread flour

2-1/2 c. Water

Dough:

1 t. Instant yeast (original recipe calls for 1/2 t., but mine has been in the fridge for awhile, so….)

3-3/4 c. Bread flour

2-3/4 t. salt (why not 3? I don’t know, but I followed directions here.)

2 t. malt powder (not malted milk powder) You could substitute a tablespoon of malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar, according to the recipe. (I used a tablespoon of molasses.)

1 T. baking soda (to add to boiling water for cooking)

Corn meal for dusting the baking sheet

Toppings, if desired. Poppy seeds, dehydrated chopped onion or garlic, salt, sesame seeds, etc. (I don’t do sesame, due to an allergy in the family.) I made my own mixture for Everything Bagels.*

Day or Evening Before

Make the sponge. Combine the ingredients and mix to combine. It will be wet and sticky. Cover and allow to rise for about 2 hours.

Sponge for making bagels

Sponge for making bagels

The sponge has risen!

The sponge has risen!

Make the dough. After rising, add 3 cups flour, yeast, salt, and malt powder (or substitute) to the dough and mix as well as you can.

Turn out on a clean, floured surface and begin kneading, using the last 3/4 c. flour to keep from sticking, incorporating it as you go. Knead for 10 minutes.

Kneading the dough.

Kneading the dough.

Immediately after kneading, divide the dough into 12 equal portions (about 4-1/2 oz). My scale is broken, so I had to eyeball it. Line a sheet pan with parchment and lightly spray with non-stick spray. Shape the portions into balls and put them on the cooking sheet. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel or damp paper towels and let rest for twenty minutes.

Divide the dough and shape into balls.

Divide the dough and shape into balls.

After resting, use your thumb to punch a hole in the center of each dough ball, and rotate the dough around to widen the hole. Try to maintain even thickness all the way around the bagel.

Shaping the dough.

Shaping the dough.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. You are done until tomorrow morning!

Ready for the refrigerator, overnight.

Ready for the refrigerator, overnight.

The Next Morning

Preheat the oven to 500F. Prepare a baking sheet with a sprinkle of corn meal. Bring a large, preferably wide, pot of water to a boil. Add the baking soda and stir to dissolve. This helps the dough brown properly, when baked. The original recipes from many, many years ago, called for lye. For some reason, that is frowned upon these days. (Seriously, don’t do it.) While the water is boiling, drop bagels in, one at a time, until the surface is covered. Boil for one minute, flip over carefully, boil for another minute.

Boiling the bagels.

Boiling the bagels.

Place the boiled bagels on the baking sheet and, if using toppings, apply them at this point, while bagels are still moist. Continue until all bagels have been boiled and topped.

I did half "Everything" and half plain.

I did half “Everything” and half plain.

Place the bagels in the center of the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 450F, rotate the pan, and cook for another 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove from the oven and cool…until you can’t stand it any more! Note: my bagels took about 18 minutes, actually.

Done! How long can I wait? Not long!

Done! How long can I wait? Not long!

My “Everything Bagel Topping” without sesame seeds: I used about two tablespoons each of Roasted, salted sunflower seeds, minced dehydrated garlic, chopped dehydrated onions, and then about a tablespoon of poppy seeds. I used a mortar and pestle to break up the big stuff a little before adding the poppy seeds.

My "Everything Bagel Topping", no sesame seeds.

My “Everything Bagel Topping”, no sesame seeds.

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