Caramelized Carrot Soup

3 Jan

This post is coming to you a little later than I had originally hoped, but I have another new toy that I’ve been trying out, my Google Nexus 10. I’ve only had it for a little while, but so far I highly recommend it! Anyway, soup! Carrot soup is not something that I’ve eaten a whole lot of in my life, so I don’t have much basis for comparison. That being said, this soup was amazingly good! I suppose I shouldn’t expect any less from one of the most popular recipes in Modernist Cuisine.

This recipe utilizes what I consider to be one of the most intimidating and frightening pieces of equipment I’ve used, the pressure cooker. Now I have a feeling that most of my issues using the pressure cooker stems from my lack of experience with it (making this soup brings my total times cooking with it to two). I feel like the more I use it the less intimidating it will be, but it is required to make this soup, no ifs, ands, or buts. This recipe also gave my immersion blender one heck of a workout. While I highly recommend an immersion blender for this application, a traditional blender will get the job done in a pinch.

Here’s what else is needed to make soup:

  • Carrots (peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces)
  • Unsalted butter
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Baking soda
  • Carrot juice
  • Carotene butter

The only really negative thing I will say about this recipe is that the estimated time to make it is WAY off.  Since I made this after work one day, I made sure to cut all my carrots ahead of time.  Since that is really the only real prep work that needs to be done ahead of time, I’ll say that the 20 minutes of estimated prep time is pretty accurate.  However, the estimated time is only 40 minutes overall.  It took me at least that to make this soup even with the prep work already done.  The writers of Modernist Cuisine obviously didn’t take into account the fact that it takes upwards of 15 minutes just to get the pressure cooker up to operating temperature (or mine at least), and then 20 minutes of cooking after that.  But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s just say that this soup takes a little longer to prepare than the estimate time in the book.

So let’s get started!  Since the carrots were already chopped up, the first step is really simple.  I just let the butter melt in the pressure cooker over medium heat.  While that’s was melting, I mixed together the salt, baking soda, and water.  Once the butter was  melted, I threw the carrots and water mixture into the pot and gave it a good stir to coat all the carrots.  All to do afterwards is put the lid on the pressure cooker and let it do its thing.

When the carrots were done, I depressurized the cooker by running it under water.  This goes a lot quicker than I thought it would actually, so that was nice!  All that I did after that was use an immersion blender to turn the carrots into a smooth puree.

During the last minutes of cooking, I added the carrot juice to a separate pot to warm up.  Once I had my lovely puree ready, I stirred in the carrot juice to create soup.  The recipe says to add water, if necessary, but I found that I didn’t need any.  For good measure, I used the immersion blender some more to make sure the soup was really smooth.

Here’s where the Carotene Butter I made earlier this week comes into play.  It’s not enough that this recipe already has half a cup of butter in it.  Let’s add more!  At this point I worked in a couple tablespoons of the carotene butter with the immersion blender and added a little salt to taste.  And there’s soup!

This ended up making a very velvety, very delicious carrot soup.  We had it as a main course with some homemade bread and it was actually pretty filling, but certainly you could have this as one component of a larger meal.  It would be a very tasty complement to a winter salad as well.  I wish I had made a double recipe so that I could freeze it (oh yeah, this keeps in the freezer for up to two months!).  This is one that I’ll be making again sometime!

For next week, I’m going to go back and make the mac and cheese recipe that I didn’t get to make over the Christmas holidays.  My sodium citrate came in the mail this week so I’m very excited to see what it does!  But until then…

Bon Appetit!

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Stove-Top Carotene Butter

3 Jan

So this week’s recipe, if you’ve been keeping up, is Caramelized Carrot Soup.  It sounds very tasty, but I have another recipe to make before I can make the soup.  Stove-Top Carotene Butter!

This is a pretty simple recipe, but it does require a good amount of time.  It’s definitely a must that it be made ahead of time for the soup.  The only special equipment required is an immersion blender, also called a stick blender in some circles.  In addition to being used the finish the soup for this week, The Modernist Cuisine suggests using it for cooking fish and shellfish, and for whisking into a warm vinaigrettes.  It keeps in the refrigerator for about two weeks, and if frozen it will keep for six months.  I’ll be keeping what I don’t use for the soup in the freezer since this isn’t something I see myself using very often.  At any rate, here’s what’s required:

  • Fresh carrot juice (I used store bought.  It came out fine, so if you don’t have a juicer don’t feel bad.)
  • Unsalted butter
ingredients

The Ingredients!

The first step is to heat the carrot juice (2 cups) over medium heat.  Once that comes to a simmer, start adding an entire box of unsalted butter one cube at a time and blending until melted.  Learn from my mistake!  Use a larger pot than what you think you’ll need.  An immersion blender needs some room to do it’s thing, and you don’t want to end up with carrot juice all over your stove like someone may or may not have.  🙂  After all the butter is combined into the juice, all you have to do is let is simmer for about 90 minutes.  So go do something else!

So, once you’ve cleaned your house, watched a little TV, played outside, or whatever it is that you felt like doing for an hour and a half, remove the butter/juice mixture from the heat and mix in another cup of carrot juice.  Then, just transfer it to a container and refrigerate overnight so the butterfat can separate from the juice.  Once that’s done the mixture should look something like this.

separated butter

Separated Goodness!

To be fair, this doesn’t look all that appetizing.  But plain butter doesn’t look all that appetizing to me either, so there’s that.  If you used freshly juiced carrot juice, you’ll want to scoop out the butterfat and warm it back up, running it through a fine sieve and/or cheesecloth after it’s melted again.  If you used store bought carrot juice, this isn’t really necessary unless you’re me and want your butter to fit nicely into it’s final container.  So, scoop the butter off the top and there you go.

finished butter

Finished Butter

The finished butter is very soft!  You can tell by the finger divots in mine. (Yes I poked it…don’t judge me!)  It definitely smells of carrots, and I’m looking forward to trying it later this week when I make the soup.  I guess that’s it for now though.

Stay tuned!  Bon Appetit!

Microwaved Steamed Broccoli, a Probe Thermometer, and the Best Pork Loin Ever

30 Dec

I didn’t really plan on posting anything today, but dinner has inspired me to write!

We’ve been eating out…a LOT.  Now that it isn’t quite so hectic around our house, we’re getting back into cooking meals for ourselves.  We had to run out to the store today and just foraged for ideas for dinner.  I found a pork loin I liked, and bought some broccoli and red potatoes to go with it.  I didn’t really know what I was going to ultimately make at the time (uh…other than pork, broccoli, and potatoes), but it seemed to have potential and it gave me an excuse to use my super cool new digital probe thermometer.

I found this really great recipe on Allrecipes for roasted pork loin (it was actually the recipe of the day, which was convenient) that I used as a basis for dinner.  Since my pork loin was only about a pound, I mixed about 1/2 tsp salt, pepper, 2 mined garlic cloves, 1/2 Tbsp. dried rosemary, and olive oil until it was pasty, then smeared that all over the pork loin and put it in my trusty cast iron skillet.  I put in my probe thermometer and set it to 150 degrees then stuck the whole thing in the oven set to 350 degrees.  How long did I cook it?  I’m guessing about 30 minutes, but I didn’t need a timer.  I have a super cool new digital probe thermometer!  

While the pork loin did it’s thing in the oven, I put a pot of red potatoes on to boil (in salted water with 3 garlic cloves).  After they were fork tender, I used a hand mixer to blend them together with 2 Tbsp of butter and some milk.  I added salt and pepper to taste and that’s it.  Mashed potatoes are so easy!

The thing that makes this relevant to The Modernist Cuisine is the fact that I made the steamed broccoli in the microwave.  It’s so easy I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it this way!  I just cut my broccoli florets off the stalk and put them in a microwave safe casserole dish.  I added some salt, pepper, and a little lemon juice to the broccoli and then put about 1/16th of an inch of water in the bottom of the casserole.  I then covered the dish with plastic wrap and put in the microwave.  Overall I ended up cooking it for about 3-1/2 minutes on high, but I checked it a few times to make sure I didn’t overcook the broccoli.  While really nothing special, the broccoli came out great and I’ll definitely be steaming veggies like this in the future.

As a side note, here’s a handy thing to do with the broccoli stems!  Instead of throwing them away, cut off the fibrous pieces and cut the broccoli hearts into sticks.  They make for great snacking!

The real star of this show was the pork loin!  I have made pork any number of ways over the years, and while this seasoning mixture wasn’t the best I’ve ever used (that award goes to Ina Garten’s Loin of Pork with Green Peppercorns), the end result was absolutely fantastic thanks to the thermometer.  I cannot believe I haven’t been using one of these things forever!  I mean, I’ve heard various chef’s (though I’m mostly looking at you Alton Brown) talk about how awesome they are, but I guess you never really appreciate what you’re missing until you’ve experienced it for yourself.  Seriously, it was the easiest thing ever.  I set the alarm to go off at 150 degrees, and the loin coasted to a perfect 160 while it rested.  I’m not sure what more you could ask for.  It was the juiciest, tenderest, most delicious texture I’ve ever had in a pork loin.  Even after I was full I wanted more!  Please, trust me on this, never cook another roast without one!

So that’s it for now.  I’m very excited to test out my new pressure cooker for this week’s Modernist Cuisine recipe, Caremelized Carrot Soup, but more on that later.  Until then…

Bon Appetit!

Hiatuses and My Christmas Haul!

28 Dec

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I may have added a few bricks to that particular road by trying to cook and blog so close to Christmas.  Sometimes life happens and I don’t always get to do things exactly as I had planned.  And I suppose I might have forgotten how busy the holiday season can be.  However, Christmas is over now and it’s back to the kitchen with me!

What’s great is that I got some really cool kitchen stuff for Christmas that will help me in cooking from The Modernist Cuisine!

First up, I got a very nice digital scale.  This is the third digital scale I’ve owned, and I hope this one lasts.  The first one had a good run and finally gave up.  The second had a cruel run-in with our toaster.  Apparently it warps and stops working if you leave it on top of the toaster oven while toasting.  I don’t plan on keeping this one on top of the toaster so as to avoid that problem in the future.  Eventually I would like to have another digital scale to handle very small quantities, but this one will handle most anything I can throw at it for now.

I also got a digital probe thermometer.  This is really awesome because I’ve wanted one for what seems like forever!  I haven’t had an occasion to use it yet but I’m very excited to test it out!

Lastly, and most awesomely, I got a pressure cooker!  To be honest, I have never in my life used a pressure cooker nor do I remember anyone in my family ever using one.  However, this one piece of equipment opens up a world of possibilities for modernist cooking.  I got a stovetop model, not an electric one, but that suites me just fine.  With a small kitchen, the last thing I wanted was another piece of equipment that has to plug in and sit on the counter.  While excited to try this one out, I’m also terrified that I’m going to blow up my house!  It has safety features and whatnot though so maybe this isn’t such a big issue.  🙂

The other thing that I’ll say is that I bought some sodium citrate online.  Another new ingredient for me!  I didn’t have much luck finding it in stores around here, which isn’t much of a surprise.  Actually, Kyle (the hubby) asked about it at our local pharmacy per some advice I found online.  The lady there looked at him like he might be a terrorist!  He had to, very quickly, explain that he only meant to make macaroni and cheese, not a bomb.  Hopefully we’re not on any kind of watch list now.

So between a new ingredient and several new pieces of equipment, I have plenty that I can write about!  I haven’t picked out a recipe for next week yet (I can’t make mac and cheese like I planned pre-Christmas until I get the sodium citrate) but I know I have a lot more to pick from just by having the pressure cooker.  If anyone has any requests or recommendations, by all means let me know!  Thanks for reading and I’ll post again soon!

Microwaved Eggplant Parmesan

16 Dec

Ingredients:

  • Panko Bread Crumbs
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
  • Eggplant
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil
  • Marinara Sauce
  • Ricotta Cheese
  • Mozzarella Cheese
  • Basil

I’m not sure that I would really describe this recipe as an Eggplant Parmesan.  It is more of an Eggplant Lasagna to me.  Either way it’s really good!  Everyone that I’ve told about this recipe has had about the same reaction though.  “Why wouldn’t you just bake it?”  Speed is the answer!  I had this recipe completed start to finish in 45 minutes which was the time estimate noted in the book.  This was amazing to me considering I had a 2-year-old as my sous chef and no one else was home.  And believe me, from wanting to be held to wanting me to watch Blue’s Clues with her, she did absolutely everything she could to make sure I didn’t get to make this.  The really great thing about this recipe though is that it can be made ahead of time.  You can keep it in the refrigerator for up to three days and in the freezer for up to six months.  And when you’re ready to make it, it only takes about six minutes in the microwave (maybe a bit longer depending on your microwave and how cold the dish is) as opposed to 45 minutes to an hour in the oven!  Awesome!

So let’s get right down to it.  I mixed equal parts of the panko bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and put that in my toaster oven for about five minutes.  The recipe wanted me to preheat the oven to 350 and bake for 10 minutes, but since I had the toaster oven I just used that.  I think you could also use regular bread crumbs instead of the panko style.  The panko bread crumbs are just a little lighter.  Either should work though.  Just use what you have on hand.

While the bread/cheese mixture was baking, I sliced the eggplant into about 1/4″ thick slices and put them in a single layer onto a paper towel lined plate.  I did manage to find a plate large enough to fit all the slices, but next time I will be working in batches.  The plate was so big that it wouldn’t actually rotate in the microwave, and I found that since I ended up making my Eggplant Parmesan in a 8″ casserole dish instead of a 5″ one like the recipe suggested I needed more eggplant than what I had.  Lessons learned for next time!  So after all the eggplant slices are on the plate, I sprinkled them with salt, covered them with more paper towels, and put them in microwave for about three and a half minutes.  

After that’s done, remove the paper towels and wipe down the plate.  The recipe said to use a clean plate which I thought was just silly.  Why dirty another dish?  Put the eggplant back on the plate and brush with olive oil on both sides.  Cover with plastic wrap (suitable for use in the microwave) and cook until they are tender all the way through, about four minutes.  Again, work in batches if you need to.

From here out you assemble the dish much like a lasagna.  In the bottom of your microwave safe casserole dish spread a generous amount of marinara sauce.  I used store bought just because it was easy, but please feel free to use your homemade marinara if you have it.  There is actually a recipe for marinara sauce in The Modernist Cuisine that I’ll be trying at some point.  I just honestly didn’t have time to make it this week.  Anyway, after that place a single layer of eggplant on top of the marinara sauce followed by a third of the ricotta cheese, sliced mozzarella, and fresh basil.  The recipe does have measurements for how much to use here, but I didn’t use them.  I just added enough so that it looked right.  Maybe that’s not the best way to go but meh…that’s what I did.  Cooking is subjective anyway!  🙂

Repeat this setup until you have three layers and top with any extra marinara sauce you may have.  Then top it with the cheesy bread crumbs.  At this point you can cover it and put in the refrigerator or freezer for later, but I went ahead and cooked mine in the microwave until it was hot and bubbly.  Since everything is already cooked, all you’re looking for is the dish to be heated through.  You’ll probably want it to let it cool for a few minutes before serving, but that’s it!

eggplant parm

Yummy Eggplant Parm!

To me, this is a wonderful meal for weeknights, especially if made ahead of time and especially for people who are busy like me!  I will definitely be making this again.  My husband was amazed that it was made completely in the microwave since he wasn’t here when I made it.  H said it tasted like it came out of the oven, and I completely agree!  Our daughter absolutely loved all the cheese, but I think the eggplant was a little too bitter for her taste.  She did try it though, which is definitely progress over last week’s recipe!  We’ll see how it goes next week when I’ll be making something from the Mac and Cheese chapter!  How exciting!  But until then…

Bon Appetit!

The Microwave!

12 Dec

What can I say about the microwave?  The Modernist Cuisine says, “The microwave oven is simultaneously one of the most used and most underappreciated tools in the home kitchen.”  I tend to agree.  I use my microwave a lot, but not really for cooking.  I mostly use it for defrosting frozen meats and reheating previously cooked food.  I’d use it as a timer too, but my microwave happens to be mute so the timer doesn’t really do much for me.  Anyway, the point is that cooking real food in a microwave is a bit of a foreign concept for me, so the fact that MC has a whole chapter devoted to it is pretty exciting.  It’ll be nice for me to think of something that takes up so much space in my kitchen as something more than a thawing machine.

Microwaves have gotten a bad reputation in many ways.  I’ve seen chefs on TV flat out refuse to even own one, but most people just think that they cook unevenly.  I completely agree with this as well.  I, for one, know for a fact that I’ve reheated food and one bite will be refrigerator cold and the next will burn my tongue.  The problem there is cooking food in open containers.  According to MC, if you cover your food, it cooks a lot more evenly.  Problem solved!

Much to my amazement, microwaves also have multiple power settings!  I was wondering what all those extra buttons were for.  All joking aside though, depending on the wattage of your microwave you can get very different results when cooking food.  That being said, it’s important to know your wattage.  I confess, I didn’t know what the wattage of my microwave was prior to exploring the topic for this week’s postings, but I found this great article on eHow that details how to find out.  Luckily for me, the wattage information for my particular microwave was right inside the door.  Now I’m wondering how I’ve missed that for all these years.  At any rate, two wattages were listed…input and output.  For those not in the know, the input wattage is how much power it takes to run the microwave.  The output wattage is how much power is actually going into your food, so this is the number that matters.

The MC recipes are all cooked in a 1,100 w microwave.  Great…now what do I do?  My microwave is only 1,000 w.  Not to worry though!  I found another great site that has a conversion chart for microwave cooking.  This chart essentially told me that I just have to multiply the cooking time for a 1,100 w microwave by 1.1 and that will give me the correct cooking time for a 1,000 w one.  If you’re blessed with a higher wattage model, you can just cook on one of those lower power settings I mentioned earlier.

So that’s about it for microwaves for now at least.  This week I’m going to be trying out Microwaved Eggplant Parmesan.  I’ve had some bad experiences in cooking eggplant in the past so I’m a little curious to see how this turns out.  I guess we’ll see.  So long for now!

Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwich with Tomato Confit and Pistachio Pesto

9 Dec

So first off, let me say that I’m sorry this wasn’t posted earlier.  I intended to have this posted on Friday but with traveling for work and traveling for family I just haven’t had time to post this.  Anyway…

In order to create a very tasty grilled cheese sandwich, you must first invent the universe…or something like that. At least that’s what I’ve heard. In this case, you do need to make a couple other recipes. Before I get into that, let me say that for right now at least I will not be posting the exact recipe. I’m not sure how those copyright laws work exactly, and it seems unfair to the people that put all that time and effort into creating The Modernist Cuising at Home to post the full recipe for free online. I do promise though to do more research into this and post what I can.

The first thing I made this week was tomato confit. The basics of the recipe is that you take some tomatoes, core them, score the other end in an “X” pattern, and then blanch the tomoatoes so you can remove the skin easily. The Modernist Cuisine tells you to boil water and blanch the tomatoes for 30 seconds before plunging them into ice water to stop the cooking process. That’s all well and good, but I’m way more modern than that! I have a microwave! So instead of taking all that time to bring a whole pot of water to boil for eight measily roma tomatoes, I microwaved them using a little bit of water to blanch them, and then peeled the skin off. It was just as easy but used way less time and water.

After the tomatoes were blanched and peeled, I cut them in half lengthwise per the recipe and seeded them. Apparently I didn’t do a very good job coring the tomatoes, so I had to remove a bit of the core as well. This is not difficult if you don’t want to core the tomato ahead of time, but it’s important to be very careful when removing the core so as not to tear the tomato. Once that’s done though, you pat the tomato half dry with a paper towel and place it cut side down on a silicone baking mat. I’ll admit, I roasted my silicone baking mat a few weeks ago and haven’t replaced it. I used a piece of parchment paper for this recipe and it turned out fine, so I will go out on a limb and say that parchment paper will work! After all your tomatoes are put on the mat/paper, top them with garlic, bay leaf (I used fresh, not dried), and thyme and bake them in your oven set to 250 for an hour. After an hour, turn the heat down to 210 and continue baking until they are pretty dried out and gummy. This took only four hours in my oven but could take up to 8 hours depending on the size and water content of the tomatoes. The result is what I call “tomato candy.” The tomato flavor is extremely condensed in the drying process and it is amazing, even using winter tomatoes!

Image

Tomatoes drying in the oven.

Once they’re done drying out, put the tomatoes in a bag with olive oil and vacuum seal to infuse the oil. I don’t have a vacuum sealer yet, so I used a ziploc bag. I put the bag in a bowl of water and worked all the air bubbles out. Then I sealed the bag, and that seemed to work pretty well. This is called the “water displacement” method of sealing bags. The recipe is very good, but my advice is to make a larger batch so that you have them on hand considering the time involved in making tomato confit.

The next recipe needed to make a great grilled cheese sandwich was pistachio pesto. This one was quick and easy! The recipe called to blanch all the greens, which I’ve never done when before when making pesto. I didn’t notice much of a difference, so maybe next time I will skip this step to see if there actually is one. In addition to the obvious, pistachios, there is basil, spinach, cilantro, and scallions in the recipe. After the greens are blanched, you blanch two (or more, depending on your taste) garlic cloves. Then mix the greens, garlic, pistachios, and parmegiano-reggiano cheese in your handy food processor. Add olive oil as you would a normal pesto, and you’re pretty much done. I have to say that I tasted a lot more of the cilantro than anything else in the recipe, but it is still a very tasty pesto.

Image

Electric green pesto!

There was a recipe for “the perfect melting cheese” that I neglected to make for this sandwich. I think it turned out alright even without the cheese melting perfectly, but I will be making it later on of course. There are several grilled cheese sandwich variations in the book, so I have time. All the stuff done ahead of time made for quick preparation of the sandwich itself though, which is great for a working mom. I just layered the pesto, tomato, goat cheese, basil and that was it! The recipe calls for buttering the outside of the bread, which I found a bit difficult after the sandwich was assembled. I’ll have to work on that bit. Anyway, so you can either grill the sandwich in a pan for 2-3 minutes per side or use a sandwich grill like I did. Essentially, you just grill the sandwhich until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted and you’re done!

Image

The Sandwich!

This ended up being what I consider to be a very high end grilled cheese sandwich, probably the best one I’ve ever had! It didn’t, however, pass the toddler test. My little one loved the goat cheese, but wasn’t really all about the sandwhich itself. The hubby loved it though, and so did I. If I have a complaint, it’s that the tomato confit got a bit lost within the goat cheese and pesto. I’m not sure if maybe I didn’t use enough on each sandwich, but I ended up using all the confit I had. It was a lot of work to put into a sandwhich, but it was well worth it.

I’m excited to try another recipe and see how it goes. Next week I’m going to be trying something from the microwave cooking chapter. But until then…

Bon Appetite!