Tag Archives: Cooking

Sort of Authentic Pho

AKA “What the Pho” 😀 To get that joke, one must understand the correct pronunciation of the dish: F-uh, as if you’re starting to drop an f-bomb.

OK, enough bad humor.

I call this “sort of” authentic Pho because I bypassed the painfully slow process of hand making the broth by boiling beef bones. I got the recipe from an issue of “Cook’s Illustrated Best soups and Stews from Around the World”; one of the various ‘best recipe’ titles that Cook’s Illustrated cycles through in it’s publishing.

I changed a few other things from their recipe as well.

First is that they advocated boiling a pound of hamburger in water to make extra flavoring for the ready made broth in the recipe. The trouble here is that they wanted the hamburger thrown out when you strain the broth to get the solids from the spices out. I’m not big on wasting food so it stayed in. Blasphemy to purists I’m sure but again, I’m not going to waste a full pound of beef.

If you want to go the easy route and still get strong beef flavor out of the broth while not using ground beef, drop a packet or cube of low sodium beef bullion into the broth.

Second is we both are not fans of soy beans, so we left those out. 😛

Let’s Get Cooking

First, this will make 6 to 8 decent sized bowls of Pho.

I’m going to proceed under the premise that readers also don’t feel like spending 8 hours boiling bones to make broth and will likewise use store bought bone or beef broth and optionally add beef bullion to that.

As an added tip to avoid having to later pour hot soup through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth, I highly advise putting most of the solid spices into a tea defuser / tea ball / cooking infuser like this one I got from Amazon:

no endorsement implied or made, there are plenty of options out there

You MAY actually need a pair of them given all the ginger and such that is supposed to be added to the broth.

Oh and as an added note, much like my recent Chile Verde recipe, this is too much good stuff to fit in a normal sized Crock-Pot. You’ll need a jumbo one or a decent sized soup pot.

My Modified Version of the “Cooks Illustrated” Recipe:

First the Ingredients

2 Onions, quartered through root end

12 cups of beef (or bone) broth. This works out to 3 of the standard 4 cup cartons sold in the U.S.

1/4 cup of fish sauce

1 (4 inch or 10 cm) piece of Ginger, sliced into thin rounds

1 Cinnamon Stick

2 tablespoons of Sugar

6 Star Anise pods

6 whole cloves

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon black whole peppercorns

1 (1 pound or 453 grams) boneless strip steak, trimmed and halved

14 to 16 ounces of rice noodles

1/3 cup of chopped fresh Cilantro

3 Scallions, sliced thin

Optional Ingredients and Garnishes

Bean Sprouts

Fresh Thai or Italian Basil sprigs

Lime wedges

Hoisin Sauce

Sriracha Sauce

Ingredient Notes:

I actually left out the sugar accidentally and didn’t miss it at all. I also added a couple cloves of pressed garlic to the broth because garlic addict. 🙂 A little extra cilantro got used as garnish as well. Finally, of the list above, the lime was the best garnish to me in terms of really accenting the flavor. Just go light and work your way up.

Oh and as for the ginger… I have NO idea how much that’s actually supposed to be. Their description makes it sound like ginger comes in neat little log rolls. Trust your cooking instincts there is all I can advise. Our food turned out fine.

I put the ginger, star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick (after breaking it into 3 pieces) into the defuser. As for the pepper, I used coarse ground black pepper instead and added it directly to the broth. One teaspoon will not overpower a full pot of Pho broth.

Lastly, with the 8 onion quarters, 6 of them were supposed to be cooked with the hamburger that was added to the broth and later filtered out. Using this more direct method, you could drop them into the broth and let them simmer, fishing them out later with a ladle or slotted spoon, OR save an onion and just add some onion powder or dehydrated onion to the broth. Neither are ‘official’ since Pho broth is supposed to be pure liquid, but the final product tasted great to me.

The remaining half an onion is supposed to be sliced super thin to add to the finished Pho. I used a mandolin for that .

Not this type:

This Type:

Yes, I know… More bad humor, LOL. Cooking should be fun though.

The Cooking Process:

Cooking can be relatively fast with this method, but I advise slow cooking to let the broth simmer and fully absorb the flavor from the spices. Ideally an hour and a half to two hours.

Start by adding the broth, optional bullion, onions (if so desired), black pepper and two cups of water to your soup pot. Put the spices into the defuser as noted above then add the defuser to the liquid mix. Heat the mix on high and bring it to a hard boil briefly. Once it hits a hard boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer. The magazine says 45 minutes. I’m a huge fan of low and slow however.

While the broth is simmering, put the steak into the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes. The goal is to get it to be cold enough to be firm and easy to thin slice, bit not actually frozen. If you’re lucky enough to have a deli slicer for meat at home, cutting the beef into thin strips will be super easy. If not, a properly sharp knife will do the job fine once the meat is firm.

Getting the meat as thin as possible is important because traditionally the meat is cooked in the bowl by the sheer heat of the broth.

Next up, while the steak is firming and the broth is simmering, we deal with the rice noodles. They take a little different process than wheat based pasta.

First place the noodles in a large container and cover them with hot tap water. Soak them until they’re pliable; about 10 to 15 minutes. Once they’re pliable, drain them then put them into a pot with 4 quarts of boiling water until almost tender. This will only take 30 seconds to a minute. Immediately drain the noodles and divide them among individual bowls.

Turn back up the heat on the broth to bring it to a rolling boil again. While it’s reaching that point, divide up the steak and shaved onion into the individual bowls. Serve immediately along with the previously listed extra garnishes and some extra fish sauce as a possible additional garnish.

A Couple Final Notes:

First, if you’re like me and have issues with potentially getting scalded by soup being dished out at a rolling boil… You can bypass the need to do that by cooking the rice noodles till fully tender. Also, you’ll want to spread the steak pieces out on a plate and microwave them for 30 seconds or so; until they’re losing the red and are light pink. Bring the broth back up to the point it’s just starting to boil and then add it to the bowls as above. The noodles will be soft and the steak pieces should finish cooking also while still being very tender.

Next, for those who get apoplectic over the idea of eating red meat (like my mother), I’m told that there are restaurants out there who substitute chicken broth and chicken breast for the beef ingredients and it supposedly works fine. Never tried it. I’m just putting it out there as an option for those with dietary restrictions or preferences. 🙂

Lastly, a warning! If you’ve never used Fish Sauce before…

We bought the Hokan brand in the center of this pic

It smells like dead fish that’s sat out in the sun decomposing for a couple weeks. The quarter cup that’s added to the broth quickly loses it’s scent and adds just a hint of flavor to the dish. I certainly wouldn’t want an open bottle sitting on my table as an added garnish though. “How It’s Made” (a TV show that walks viewers through the creation of various things) says fish sauce is used in Asia as a substitute for salt.

The process explains the smell…

That being the case, I’m tempted to try soy sauce as a replacement.

Either way, the food turned out spectacular. My first time making it, but we will definitely be making it again. Is it official, purist Pho? I don’t know. Tastes good however. 😀

Scratch Made Chile Verde

With the weather having turned cold, I made some homemade from scratch chile verde to fight back against the cold weather. 🙂

It took some searching to find an authentic, made from scratch version of the recipe. Too many were canned this and canned that. Blah! I finally found one on NoRecipes.com (a jab at AllRecipes.com perhaps?), and am reproducing it here along with a few notes about what worked and what didn’t.

The Recipe:

3 Large Poblano Chili Peppers

2 Medium Anaheim Chili Peppers

3 Large Jalapeño peppers

6 Cloves of Garlic, Unpeeled (Yes, UNpeeled)

1 Extra Large White or Yellow Onion, peeled and quartered

2 2/3 Lbs (1200 grams) of Tomatillo Peppers (roughly 20 bigger ones)

An ounce (25 grams) of fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons of vegetable oil

3 3/4 Lbs (1700 grams) of pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch (5cm) cubes

4 Cups of low sodium Chicken Stock

2 Teaspoons of Honey

1 Teaspoon of Cinnamon

1 Teaspoon of Cumin

1 1/2 Teaspoons of Salt

More Cilantro and Cotija Cheese for Garnish

Important Pre-Prep Notes:

Before we get started, there’s a few important things to note.

First, the oil is going to be used to sear the pork in a dutch oven or pan before adding it into the mix. If you want to get creative, you could cook it on a smoker instead (which I would have done, weather allowing), or some other way. It will also be simmering a while in the final pot so try not to cook it beyond a medium rare so as to avoid drying it out.

Second: As best I can tell, the honey and cinnamon in the ingredients list only serve the purpose of reducing the heat or spiciness of the dish. The seeds in the peppers, especially the Jalapenos, are what generate that heat. If you prefer a milder Chili Verde and remove all the seeds, I’d avoid the honey and cinnamon as they’ll give the dish an unpleasant aftertaste without the heat to balance them

Third: This is a large recipe and will NOT fit in a standard size Crock-Pot or similar slow cooker without halving it. It will easily feed eight hungry people, particularly if you serve it on a bed of rice like my family (and my Latina godmother) used to.

Lastly: If you want to stay kosher / halal, or just find pork unhealthy, boneless skinless chicken breast works fine as a substitute for the pork.

The Prep Work:

Prep Time is supposedly 10 minutes, but I call shenanigans on that. Roasting and peeling the peppers should count as prep work not cooking. Total time with prep and cooking is just under 3 hours, but most of that is just letting it simmer on the stove so the flavors meld together.

Step 1: Preheat your oven to it’s highest setting or put it on broil.

Step 2: While the oven is preheating, Wash the Poblano, Anaheim and Jalapeño peppers and cut slits in them to prevent them from popping. Put them on sheet pans along with the garlic (skin side down), and onions.

Step 3: Remove the husks from the tomatillos and wash them thoroughly to remove as much of the waxy residue from their surface as you can. Cut slits in them to prevent them from popping in the oven and put them on sheet pans as well.

For those that have never seen a tomatillo, here’s what they look like with the ‘husk’:

AND, without the husk or stem:

Note I cut out a small bad spot in the one on the lower right corner. 🙂

Shopping Tip: Tomatillos are peppers, but also related to tomatoes. You can tell if they’re ripe by judging the firmness, just as if it were a tomato. If it’s hard, it’s not ripe. If it’s firm but has just a little give, it’s ripe. If it’s soft, it’s going bad.

Step 4: Put the green chili peppers in the oven and roast until their skins have blistered and started to blacken. Flip them over and roast until the second side matches:

Step 5: Roast the tomatillos in the oven until they’re soft and lightly scorched on top.

NOTE: The main reason for steps 4 and 5 is to soften up the peppers and blister up the skins on the green chilis for peeling. It does impart a little flavor also though. If you want to up the flavor factor, fire roast the peppers on a hot BBQ or over a gas stove burner instead of in the oven.

Image from Nonnasway.com

Step 6: When the green chilies are done, remove them from the oven and let them cool until you can handle them. Remove as much skin as you can from the peppers. It doesn’t have to be a perfect job. The work will be similar to peeling the skin off an onion. Once that’s done, remove the stems and seeds along with any light colored membranes. Then remove the stems and seeds along with any light-colored membranes. Peel the garlic.

One skinned and seeded Poblano pepper.

Remember the above note about seeds here. The Jalapenos are the hottest of the three green peppers, while the Anaheim and Poblano are typically milder. It won’t hurt to leave some seeds in, or even all of them if you like spicy food.

Step 7: Toss all the roasted green chilies, tomatillos, onions, garlic, and main recipe portion the cilantro into a food processor and process until no large chunks are remaining:

Vitamix for the win!

Steps 8 and 9 can be skipped IF you decide to grill the pork (or chicken) instead:

Step 8: Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch over over medium-high heat until hot. Generously salt and pepper all sides of the pork.

Step 9: Add the vegetable oil to the preheated pot and add the pork in a single layer, leaving a bit of space between each piece of pork (if it doesn’t all fit, then do this in two batches). Let the pork brown on one side undisturbed and then flip and brown the other side.

If grilling or slow smoking the meat, cook to the same level of doneness.

Step 10: Add the green chili and tomatillo puree to the pot, along with the chicken stock, honey, cinnamon (both of which are optional depending upon seed content of the mixture), cumin, oregano, and salt. Scrape up the browned bits of pork juice from the bottom of the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the Chili Verde simmer until the pork is fall-apart tender (about 2 1/2 hours).

Lastly, adjust the seasoning to taste and then serve over tortillas, rice, scrambled eggs or whatever excites you. 🙂 Garnish with the additional cilantro and the cotija cheese.

A Couple Quick Final Notes:

First, three hours may seem like alot of time in the modern world, but it’s worth it. Most of that time is just letting it simmer also. No real work to that beyond occasionally checking and stirring it. You will NOT get flavor like this from canned products and a quickie version.

Secondly, the leftovers will slowly get a little spicier as they sit. That’s normal due to the tomatillo seeds (and possibly some of the others) being left in it. Freezing should stop that process and may be necessary depending upon how much leftovers you have anyway. 😉

If you really like spicier food, you might want to try doing steps 1 through 7 a day or two before and keeping the puree in the fridge until cooking day.

And my personal thanks to NoRecipes.com for posting this authentic recipe.

Cooking: Not Every Experiment Works…

At least not completely. 🙂 Sometimes, however, you’re left short of normal ingredients and have to improvise. The whole premise of the Food Network program “Chopped” is about being able to wing it like that via combining a basket of mystery ingredients into a meal. Sometimes winging it works, sometimes… well… not so much.

Such is the case with a recent meal I put together. We decided on my world famous meatloaf for that night; simple and hearty. Well, as it turned out, the meatballs I was going to mix in with the hamburger had gone bad. Not wanting to run out to the store again, I found some linguica in the cold drawer of the fridge.

Oddly enough, the brand we buy down here.

Linguica is a Portuguese sausage that’s good in a wide variety of dishes. Most notably (although I’ve only seen it on the West Coast), it’s one of the world’s greatest pizza toppings. Try it that way if you can find it in your area. You’ll love it.

So, determined to try something a little different and keep the meal on course, I diced up the linguica and mixed it into the meatloaf

Baked it as usual, since the weather didn’t allow for smoking it on the grill. On the surface, it turned out fairly well:

After coming out of the bread pan

The one drawback however, was that linguica can be as greasy as chorizo… almost anyway. Thus despite having both bread crumbs and egg as binding agents, the meatloaf didn’t hold together too well.

The meatloaf did have enough grease to leave us both with mildly upset stomachs though. Not a horrible dinner, but not the success I’d have wished for either. The flavor of the linguica really did add to the meatloaf though.

What I’d Change:

So what lessons can we take from this? The first and obvious answer is to use a less greasy sausage if you want to use sausage as a second meat in your meatloaf. The other option that came to mind us to use something like this meatloaf pan from Bed Bath and Beyond:

You can get something like this almost anywhere with a little searching. The interior rack allows grease to drain off the meatloaf (which would have been a big help in this specific instance), and allows you to easily remove the meatloaf from the pan.

Worth the investment? I guess that depends how often you make meatloaf. It’s a bit of a rarity here, but still something we enjoy on occasion.

Getting Creative with Gnocchi

Time to catch up on my food posts. 🙂 This was a meal we did towards the beginning of the week. We’d tried Rana brand fresh pasta in the past and really liked the results, so when we saw this gnocchi meal kit, we decided to give it a try.

We decided to make it an all-in-one meal and add some sausage to it; Jimmy Dean as we’ve eaten alot of Italian sausage lately and wanted to mix it up. I cooked the sausage first and let it drain on paper towels while I cooked the gnocchi per directions. Net result:

fru fru meat and potatoes, lol The tortilla chip looking things in the salad are parm cheese crisps

One quick and easy meal in under a half hour. It tasted better than it looks (and I think it looks fairly good).

SO, what’s my critique of the Rana meal kit? Overall fairly good. The seasoned butter was too salty for my liking however. It also recommends cooking at a medium heat. Having tried that, I’d cook at a medium high (say 7 on a scale of 1 to 10), then turn it down a little as you add the cheese sauce. It could have used just a little more of that cheese sauce also.

As far as the Jimmy Dean sausage add-in… We both agreed actual Italian sausage would have been better, or even better yet, some grilled chicken breast. Live and learn. We will be trying it again at some point. 🙂

As always, no endorsements of any kind for my review here, just me talking about what I liked and what didn’t quite work for me.

A Couple of Quickie Dinner Ideas.

Another Meals Monday here (and the other pics I was going to post and blog about disappeared), so here we are with a couple of quick almost Italian dinner ideas.

First is an easy Italian Meatball sandwich:

It’s an easy fix; toast some pre-purchased bakery rolls, add smoked gouda and some pre-made meatballs:

Never had this brand before but man they’re as good as homemade. I did have to cook them in the air fryer though, which took about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the meatballs, warm up some decent bottled marinara (there are a couple of store bought sauces that are edible) and add that… You’re good to go in 15 minutes. 😀

DIY Quick Pizza:

Another fast option. Start with a quality frozen cheese pizza. Digiorno and Screaming Sicilian are really the only two brands I like

The big slices of whole mozzarella are part of why I like them too. 🙂

Anyway, from there, just throw on your own toppings of choice, pop in the oven for 20 minutes, and viola! Quick dinner!

With any pizza I do at home, I pat it with a paper towel after it comes out of the oven to absorb some of the grease, as the above pic shows.

Relatively quick, and cheap. Very easy.

As with any meal, quality ingredients make the difference. I picked quality meatballs and one of the few good brands of frozen pizza. The rolls were from a bakery also.

Don’t try this at home with $1 frozen pizzas and wonder bread. 😀

As always, ZERO affiliate links or reimbursements of any kind here. I simply recommend what I enjoy.

Updated Cookware Review

A while back, I did a review of Le Creuset cookware, and some of the more affordable copies of that cookware. Overall, my experience up till that point had been that the clones seemed to hold up well, and would probably be fine with a little bit of proper care. Well, when I did our anniversary dinner a couple weeks ago, I found out different.

Those who saw the post may recall that after cooking the steaks low and slow on the smoker, I put them into a hot pan on the stove top to give them a quick sear.

In fact, it was the pan in the above picture. I took a better look at it a day or so ago, and here’s what I noticed:

The heat had caused stress fractures in the ceramic coating. Apparently they should have included a warning that said “Don’t use with the stove burner on high”.

Admittedly, I’ve had good luck with the other 3 off brand pans, but I’ve never used them on more than medium heat. Well, live and learn… You do indeed get what you pay for.

This particular pan was a Crock Pot brand product by the way.

The Art of the Brisket Sandwich & Judging BBQ

A belated ‘Meals Monday’ Post and it’s going to be a two for one! First there’s the brisket sandwiches.

OK, the plating isn’t as pretty as my usual pics, but I was in a hurry to eat. 😀 Can you blame me with the smoke ring showing on that overhanging meat?

So how does one create the prefect brisket sandwich? Fresh smoked brisket on a warm hot cross pretzel roll, add a tiny pit of mayo to the bottom and a little BBQ sauce on top of the meat; just enough to add a little flavor and moisture. Then top with smoked gouda cheese. 🙂

Devour immediately.

Fun story here also. That is not MY brisket. We finally found a good BBQ place here. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard in Tennessee, but that’s a story for another time.

So we’re out driving along, running errands and we stop at a traffic light right next to this old gas station. Windows are up, and we still smell something heavenly. It was coming from the gas station, which had been converted into a little restaurant tailor made for Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. We just had to whip in there and check it out.

We’ve actually tried three different restaurants recommended on Triple D, and this was quite a bit better. The guy had two stick burners (some BBQ lingo for y’all) out back and was cranking out some amazing ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken and sausage. Well, the brisket was so good we bought an extra pound to take home. Hence the Sandwiches. 🙂

What Makes Great BBQ?

Opinions vary there, but I’m going to give you a couple of competition judging standards. No, I’m not a competitor, but I’ve networked with several and a judge or two also. Personally, I’ve found the closer I get to these guidelines, the better the meat tastes too, so there you go.

A Smoke Ring:

It doesn’t matter what you’re cooking; ribs, brisket, chicken even turkey (which isn’t normally a competition item), you have to have a good smoke ring on the meat. This is the indication that the wood fire flavor has permeated the meat.

This IS my brisket. A 16 hour labor of love.

That red ring around the outside of the meat is the smoke ring. If you want to learn the science of what creates a smoke ring, there’s a great article at BarbequeBible.com. For everyone else, I’m just going to continue.

Bark!

Bark, quite simply, is a combination of a modest surface char AND surface seasonings darkening during cooking. A good bark will be on the crispy side and add texture to the meat. Getting a good bark is tricky, and all but impossible with a pellet smoker like I use. Sugar as part of the rub is a common way to get a “good” bark, as it readily darkens and hardens with the heat of the BBQ. NOT something I personally advocate.

Moisture

Rather obvious here, but you want any meat to be moist and tender. Not too dry.

Tensile Strength

I’m not sure what they proper judging term here is, but the idea is that the meat should stay together, not just fall apart. If ribs or brisket just fall apart, it means they were overcooked. Too tough: not cooked enough.

Perfect competition standard is that the meat should come apart with a light tug.

For ribs, that means the meat stays on the bone until bitten, or gently pulled upon. Then it should be tender when chewed.

Brisket has a bit more ornate standard, but Texans take their brisket seriously, LOL.

A slice of brisket should stay together if draped over a finger or held by two fingers at one end of the slice. If it can do that and is still tender to eat, you got a good one.

Similar ideas hold true with chicken or pulled pork. Chicken should stay on the bone, but come free easily when pulled, and pork shoulder roast should stay together until it’s pulled apart (hence the name pulled pork).

Flavor:

Another obvious one, but it merits a note. Ideally when smoking meat, you should be able to taste the smoke flavor, not just see the smoke ring. Some BBQ places use oak for example. Fairly common wood and easy to get ahold of. BUT it leaves very little flavor in the meat compared to something like hickory, mesquite or maple.

Maple is considered ideal for pork, as it adds a sweet smoky flavor to the meat.

There you have it though; a basic guideline to determine if you’re really getting top notch BBQ, or you’re missing out. 😉

Le Creuset Style Cookware Review

A slight spin on my “Meals Monday” given the current housing situation here… Even if I had all my kitchenware, I’m still left with no grilling allowed at the apartment and only a cheap electric stove to cook on. We’ll be improvising here for a while with Meals Mondays.

So let’s get to it… I’m sure some of you have seen the fancy cookware on the Food Network and cooking shows elsewhere. Vitrified porcelain coated cast iron that always looks so shiny and new. What are the pluses and minuses? Is it worth the money? Are there alternatives? Silk is here with answers! 🙂

The premiere brand for this kind of cookware is Le Creuset. They’ve been largely the only manufacturer for ages. Their stuff is world class, last a lifetime and pass it on to your kids quality (barring stupid level abuse). It’s also world class expensive. My 5.5 quart dutch oven is currently on sale for $288 (this is NOT stuff you buy at Walmart).

So is it worth it? If you’re like me and prefer things that last, instead of replacing things every couple of years, it probably is. As said, these will last forever under normal use.

HEAT: A Plus and Minus

This is probably the biggest determiner of if this type of cookware is right for a meal you’re making. Between the cast iron construction and the heavy lids, Le Creuset cookware is famous for retaining heat AND heating evenly. People say the dutch oven is great for baking bread because of that. NOW, if you’re making a recipe that calls for something to be cooked on high for a time and then reduce heat… You’re going to have problems.

My best example here is trying to do a one pan breakfast meal. Cook the meat on a higher temperature, then try to turn down the heat so I don’t flash fry the eggs next… Not much luck.

Sometimes it’s simply a question of making the heat retention work for you. Turn down a soup early, even pull it off the stove and it’s going to keep the soup nice and hot.

If you need exact temperature control and to be able to vary it though, some sort of aluminum cookware is probably best. Get something coated though, as aluminum has been linked to various health issues.

A True Heavyweight:

Being ceramic coated cast iron, this type of cookware is gawawful heavy. The dutch oven is 11.5 pounds all by itself. Think of the money you can save on gym memberships though, LOL. Seriously though, a few people will find the weight factor to be off-putting.

Nonstick??

SORT OF… The vitrified porcelain coating is reasonably stick resistant and is as good as most nonstick pans if you use a good coating of cooking spray like Pam. A little olive oil in the pan works fairly well also. I haven’t gotten to experiment yet with how well something like butter or lard work.

Durable?

Vitrified porcelain is specially made, and a good bit more durable than normal porcelain. You’re supposed to be able to use metal cooking utensils with no issues. I’m still careful here myself however.

Stain Resistant?

Well, not perfectly so. Stains will seem to sink into the porcelain, BUT any time they have, I’ve been able to scrub them out with some liquid cleanser. Barkeeper’s Friend FTW. 🙂 Long story short, food will not just slide right out of your pan like it was a TV infomerical, and it will take a little work sometimes to keep the pans looking brand new.

Alternatives?

Le Creuset had a virtual monopoly on this style of cookware since 1925. There are several brands out there now making slightly similar stuff with ceramic or porcelain exteriors, but SOMETIMES the interior is still bare cast iron. Personally, I **HATE** trying to season cast iron too.

The best alternative I’ve found is made by Crock-Pot. They make pots in very similar sizes to Le Creuset, but are typically 1/3 the price. Take a look at the 5 quart dutch oven on Amazon for example. Normally $90 vs $360 normal price for the Le Creuset, and currently on sale for $52. They also do skillets and frying pans.

The frying pan I did my breakfast pizza post in is a Crock Pot pan:

I have three other Crock Pot brand pans also:

The difference between the “knock offs” and the Le Creuset is that Crock Pot and others use a porcelain enamel coating that’s probably not quite on par with Le Creuset’s vitrified porcelain process. While still durable, it’s probably not QUITE as abuse tolerant as Le Creuset’s vitrified porcelain coating. It’s every bit as easy to clean up, etc… otherwise however.

“Vitrified porcelain tiles are created by combining clay with other elements such as quartz, silica or feldspar under incredibly high temperatures. The vitrification process creates porcelain tiles that contain a glass substrate. The glass substrate gives the tiles a sleek appearance, provides added strength and makes the tiles water and scratch resistant. Vitrified porcelain tiles do not need to be re-sealed or glazed.”

That per Wikipedia, and while the entry was referencing tiles for counters, floors and showers, the process is essentially the same with the porcelain coating.

Is it worth the extra money for the Le Creuset? In my opinion, probably not UNLESS you won’t miss the extra money AND you tend to be rough on your cookware. I operate under the philosophy of “take care of your stuff and it’ll take care of you”. Going by that, AND what I’ve seen of the Crock Pot cookware I have, I expect it to last just as long as the Le Creuset.

While Le Creuset is still a better product, alot of that big price difference seems to be just for the name. Common with luxury goods.

My 3 quart Cuisinart brand pot

Cuisinart also makes some products along these lines, as you can see from the picture above. Same as Crock Pot stuff but a bit more pricey.

My Verdict:

While not ideal for every coking situation, this style of cookware is durable, long lasting, heats evenly and cleans up well. The inexpensive brands should last a lifetime with a modest amount of care. Le Creuset is even more rugged yet, but comes with a premium price tag.

If you’re fed up with throwing out cookware every few years because the non-stick surfaces have decayed, and you can’t get the stains off the bottom, etc… This IS worth it. Pay a bit more, take care of it, and you should never have to replace it.

I love mine enough that they were among the few items we did NOT trust to the movers on the trip to Tennessee.

Reblog: Meat Shopping Tips

With the pandemic impacting store inventories, I’m seeing quite a bit of really lousy meat and produce on the shelves. Between that and my being pressed for time, I’m reblogging a post from mid-2019 on shopping for meat. Shop carefully and stay safe.

I’m going to change gears here a little.  EARLY on in the blog here, I made it known that cooking is one of my other loves. 🙂  Anything from near competition level Southern BBQ to baking cakes and cheesecakes.  Am I world class?  No, not quite, but I’m darned good.

Apologies to any non-carnivores here, but since I run into the problem of finding fresh cuts of meat, I thought I’d share some info for readers.

First, let’s address the obvious question; what does it matter?  High end steak houses age their steaks a long time, right?  Yes, they do.  It’s a special process that is different from just leaving food to sit in a store or home refrigerator though.  The final part of that process also involves scraping and trimming mold off the surface of the meat also.  Some folks are OK with that, but the idea of eating meat that used to be covered with mold is gross to me.  What the dry aging process also does is take moisture out of the meat to concentrate the flavor of the remaining meat and juices.  You’re taking the steak part way to jerky for the sake of flavor.

I’m getting a bit off topic though.  My point is it’s a different deal getting an aged steak at a restaurant and having something sit around in the store forever.  I will quickly add that if you’ve ever had freshly butchered meat, there’s a world of difference between that and store bought or aged meat.

Hopefully the stores in your area are better than the ones in my city, but using food coloring or nitrogen to make meat look fresh longer is getting to be a very common trick as grocery stores try to stretch profits.  You can potentially end up with something that looks good on the surface, but is brown and starting to rot inside.

IMG_0374 - Copy

The above picture was meat I was going to cut up for fajitas…  Until I saw the brown in the middle.  What you have there is food coloring, probably injected as well as surface dunked.  Hence the weird ring of brown

Food coloring is easy to spot.  When you’re inspecting the meat, does it look to be a natural color of red?  That meat above was borderline on looking right color-wise.  One of the most blatant examples I personally found though was this:

IMG_1317

No, you’re not seeing things, that $18 a pound filet Mignon IS indeed fire engine red…  Even the fat!  So are the beef kabobs next to them.  Talk about food colored to death.  That’s the meat counter at Sprouts; a supposedly upscale grocer that prides itself on fresh and natural.  Lesson for the day; even “high end” grocery stores can try to pull a fast one on you.

Food coloring is getting to be out of favor though.  There’s a new technique used by grocers and meat distributors; spraying the meat with nitrogen gas.

Contrary to how that may initially sound, it’s not inherently a bad thing.  Nitrogen will slow the natural oxidation of the meat, which is a big part of what makes it spoil.  It’s similar to the reasons athletes and body builders use nitrogen based supplements and some places put nitrogen in car tires instead of air.

The problem comes when grocery stores ignore and refresh the pull dates because the meat still looks good on the surface.  Nitrogen won’t penetrate all the way through the meat so the center decays while the surface looks good.  Since the nitrogen is also rarely applied to every square inch of the meat, careful examination can turn up brown spots before you buy:

IMG_0563 - Copy

Now, note that is a USDA Prime cut of Brisket, which is the highest quality available.  More there in a bit.  This Brisket was also being sold by Costco, which used to pride itself on high quality and doing right by it’s members.  Does that big stripe of brown look quality to you?  It’s an indication that there’s more brown under the surface though.

So how do you find good meat if it’s all treated with Nitrogen?  It still comes back to color.  Nitrogen chases the oxygen out of the tissue and fluids, and oxygen is what gives meat it’s red color when it’s fresh.  SO, when it’s still early after it’s treatment, the meat will have a bit more of a pinkish color but still look fresh.  After it’s sat a while, the meat will get permeated by oxygen again, and turn more of it’s natural color:

IMG_0567 - Copy

THAT is probably a good tri-tip.  It’s red, the color is even and where the color varies, it’s more of a pinkish color like the bottom center.

What you want to look for and avoid is this:

IMG_0570.JPG

See how it looks red at first glance, but the steak that’s second from the top is showing brown in the left 2/3 of it?  The steak right below that one is faintly showing some brown also.  A discerning eye can save you some heartache and even more stomach ache.

If you have any doubts about the quality of the meat when you get it home and open it, cut a small slit in it and look inside.  Yes, you may lose a bit of juices when you cook but it’s better than eating iffy meat.  Better safe than sorry.

To be fair, meat like those Sam’s Club steaks above may not be far enough gone to present a health risk, particularly if you have a reasonably strong system.  With steaks costing $10 a pound though, don’t you deserve to get reasonable value and the most flavor for your money?

One last thing.  I mentioned above I’d talk about the differences between the USDA’s grades of meat.  This won’t apply outside the U.S. but many other places have similar systems.  A quick internet search can turn up info for you

In the U.S. we have three grades of meat:

Prime is the highest grade, and is the the most tender with the best marbling of fat.  It’s also the most expensive.  Typically it’s only found at better quality restaurants.  Real butcher shops and a few places like Costco will also have it usually.

Choice is the mid grade of meat.  This is what most grocery stores and low to mid quality restaurants typically carry.  While not quite as tender as prime and not having quite as even a level of marbling of fat, it’s still a good quality of meat, especially in the hands of a good chef.

Select is the lowest grade of meat.  It’s edible but won’t be as tender as the other grades, and will have less fat or more uneven fat marbling, meaning a higher potential for it to be dry after cooking.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

Today is Meals Monday so it’s time to get this recipe posted. 🙂

First, credit where it’s due. This recipe is from the “Fix It and Forget It Cookbook” that focuses on cooking things in a slow cooker.

That’s the same wire-bound version I have. Many tasty and easily thrown together recipes in it. This particular recipe was contributed to the book by one Becky Harder from Colorado. 🙂 Proper credit given, let’s jump to the recipe.

INGREDIENTS:

4 – Boneless Chicken Breast Filets

2 – 15 ounce cans of black beans, undrained

2 – 15 ounce cans of Mexican stewed tomatoes or Rotel Tomatoes

1 – Cup of your favorite salsa

1 – 4 ounce can of chopped green chilies (I prefer Hatch chilies)

1 – 14.5 ounce can of tomato sauce

1 – bag of tortilla chips

2 – Cups of grated cheese (Mexican blend, Jack, Cheddar or whatever)

PREPARATION:

Combine all ingredients except chips and cheese in large slow cooker.

Cover and cook 8 hours

Just before serving, remove chicken breasts and slice into bite sized pieces, then stir back into soup.

To server, put a handful of chips in each individual soup bowl. Ladle soup over chips. Top with cheese

PERSONAL NOTES:

First, this is simple and very flavorful. It really is a classic crock pot “fix it and forget it” meal. It’s one of my favorite meals in the cook book, and great on cold days.

This recipe makes a TON of soup. It’ll feel more like a thick stew when you stir the pot. I typically have to add a mix of chicken broth and tomato sauce after the first meal so that the remainder is a soup instead of chili. 🙂 Doing that, you can get 12 to 14 bowls of soup out of this.

I cut the chicken up ahead of time instead of fighting with it after cooking and making a mess. It’s worked out fine. Just remember the chicken pieces will shrink a little in cooking and size your pieces accordingly. If you like shredded chicken vs neat pieces, then you’ll have to shred it after cooking obviously.

There are tons of options and variations to the basic recipe. Some people add corn. Some people put avocado slices on top with the cheese. Some people put a quarter of a lime on the side to squeeze in some extra flavor. Another personal favorite is to top with a dollop of sour cream.

Normally I have a picture of the food up, but it’s been a while since I’ve made this. Chicken Tortilla Soup will show a million search engine hits anyway, LOL.