Cooking @ Home

Blue Label Burger Blend – Beer Cooler Sous Vide Burgers

Behold the Blue Label Beer Cooler Sous Vide Burger.

Back when John Tesar was slinging those divine burgers at his much missed “The Commissary,” many people heard the term c-Vap for the first time. It’s all about getting a perfectly even and accurate temperature throughout the entire beef patty while maintaing virtually all the juices. He explains it here:

It is basically a sous vide process. I had yet to purchase my Polyscience Sous Vide Professional Immersion Circulator, but wanted to give it a whirl at home. Some googling turned up this awesome phrase: Beer Cooler Sous Vide. You basically use a cooler and a meat thermometer to keep the water temperature in the correct range for a poor-man’s sous vide. This technique should only be used for certain foods, as it is not accurate enough for finessed results, and could cause some problems for long term immersions. But it’s cool for burgers!

First, the meat – I found this recipe for the Blue Label Burger Blend. A mix of sirloin. brisket and oxtail.

Blue Label Burger Blend: Sirloin, Brisket and Oxtail.

Blue Label Burger Blend: Sirloin, Brisket and Oxtail.

Blue Label Burgers pattied out.

Blue Label Burgers pattied out.

Now that the meat is portioned and pattied, we need to get it into vacuum bags for our sous vide process.

The burgers in individual zip baggies (open).

The burgers in individual zip baggies (open).

Instead of using a vacuum sealer, here is a great trick: Submerge your bag fully in water and the air is forced out. Seal, et voilà. Easy.

Each bag is slowly submerged in water to force out the air.

Each bag is slowly submerged in water to force out the air.

When the air is out - zip seal the bag.

When the air is out – zip seal the bag.

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Now we need to get the water up to temp – I was going for “medium” on this batch so went with 140F/60C. The burgers need at least an hour at this constant temp, but they can go for 3 or 4 hours and hold steady there at a perfect medium. Such is the magic of sous vide cooking.

The Beer Coller Sous Vide bath is brought up the temperature with water heated on the stove.

The Beer Cooler Sous Vide bath is brought up the temperature with water heated on the stove.

The bagged burgers are introduced into the water bath.

The bagged burgers are introduced into the water bath.

With the cooler lid closed, the temperature stays pretty constant – occasionally you will need to slowly add some hot water to bring it back in range and keep it there.

The Blue Label Burgers blissfully swim.

The Blue Label Burgers blissfully swim.

After an hour or so we have perfectly medium burgers – evenly cooked throughout. To finish them, just throw them on a very hot griddle and sear the outside to get some Maillard Reaction action going!

Once cooked through, the burgers are finished on the plancha (hot griddle).

Once cooked through, the burgers are finished on the plancha (hot griddle).

The Blue Label Sous Vide Cheese Burger

The Blue Label Sous Vide Cheese Burger

Some cheese and homemade gourmet Special Sauce and artisan fixin’s complete the process.

The Brad's Sauce. Ehem.

The Brad’s Sauce. Ehem.

Good stuff.

Behold the Blue Label Beer Cooler Sous Vide Burger.

Behold the Blue Label Beer Cooler Sous Vide Burger.

Festa dei Sette Pesci (The Feast of the Seven Fishes)

What's a lapsed half-Catholic to do on a Christmas Eve better than attend a Feast of the Seven Fishes?!

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My friends Jim and Kandi invited me to join the crowd of 30 or so at their house this year on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve) for their yearly bash.

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The southern Italian tradition has some origin in the whole 'no meat on Fridays' thing, but has gotten out of hand and now commemorates the 'Vigilia di Natale.'

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Though the number seven is referenced, some families might serve 10 or as many as 13 dishes commemorating either the sacraments, stations of the cross, or the apostles + Jesus.

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Traditional fancy items might include  Baccalà (Salted Cod), Fried Smelts and Anguilla Livernese (Eel with Olives, Chiles, and Capers).

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^ As a bonus, we get Jim's red sauce and his famous meatballs – he'll have some sauce leftover for Christmas Lasagna.

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Even the kids were diggin' it. Buon Natale!

The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey, 2010

The turkey has done come to roost. Here is my 2010 Thanksgiving round-up.

As many people do, I had a split holiday this year. One of my brothers (the one from LA) came home this time – so we had Thanksgiving early at our mom's, then we did a late dinner for our dad at my place. The original plan was to do my thing to Mom's turkey at her house, then take Dad out to dinner later – but I found myself at Central Market early enough last Wednesday – and I just couldn't help myself. 45 mins later it was clear that I was doing 2 turkeys.

(On a side note: Having procured mine early, I did a little survey at two Central Market locations regarding their Duck Fat availability. In each case my query was met with "It's the strangest thing – we ran out really early this year…" I intend to work with them next year to make sure there is a sufficient supply for my curious readers!)

Luckily, Mom had all her famous sides under control – so all I had to do was show up and inject, then monitor the roasting with my bro – who is also a devotee of my process. Mom is happy enough to relinquish turkey duty to her sons, having enjoyed the results these last five years or so. All went to plan – the perfect bird was achieved, and enjoyed by all.

Five hours later, we did it all again!

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^ The Free Range Turkey – brined overnight; ^ Patted down, with the aromatics ready.

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^ Aromatics and herbs in place; and The Duck Fat. (I know…)

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^ Plumped up and ready to go; ^ and after the first 30 mins at 500°.

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^ My famous Roasted Chestnut Mashed Potatoes; and some other sides…

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^ The disturbingly decadent Turkey/Duck Fat drippings; and the resulting gravy.

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^ Yes – perfect. The meat literally gushes…!

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^ …and this is what it's all about. Food is love, my friends. The Happiest of Holidays to you all!

How to Cook the Perfect Turkey

Here it is! The yearly posting of my Perfect Turkey Post! Enjoy, and see the results of last years HERE.

You see, most everyone who has tasted my holiday turkey agrees that it pretty much is the best thing going. So you'll have to take note now, as I will probably be mean and take it down before next Thanksgiving – because, frankly, I don't need the competition. You may find the following disturbing – but these are the waters. You have been warned.

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^ Why not start with a fresh Free Range bird? Often, I order a Willie Bird through Williams-Sonoma – but in a pinch you can find one at any decent market.

Meanwhile… I refuse to debate – so brine. I always buy the Williams-Sonoma Brine-of-the-Year – it's my own holiday tradition and always just lovely – for $16-$18.

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^ The bird in the brine after 12 hours; ^ and NOW: The Terrible Secret. That's right, get a tub of DUCK FAT. I heat the tub gently in warm water until it turns to liquid. (Locally you can find duck fat in the deli section at Central Market, in very limited supply).

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With a sturdy injector (again, Williams-Sonoma – I'm not shilling, I just love that place this time of year) start stickin'. At least three good doses in each side of the breast, and a couple in each thigh. It's awesome – the bird swells in a great way! It's just not right when you think about what you're doing – but go ahead. You will notice some fat seems to be collecting under the skin as the meat seeps – perfect. You'll end up with about half to 3/4 a tub IN the bird, then slather the rest on the outer skin. (I usually have two tubs, keeping one cool so the fat is solid for spreading on the skin.)

Be careful of the angle of injection, however – last year I had all my friends awaiting my much ballyhooed perfect turkey… we carved off of one side of the breast. Everyone pleasantly enjoyed the bird. Eventually, their eyes betrayed them. "Wait… what's the big deal here?!" Something was amiss. I knew as well. It was dry. We decided to address the bird. Carving into the other side of the breast – the meat literally gushed with flavorful juices – the intended result. It was obvious that I had injected the offending breast at an angle that not only allowed all the added fat to escape – but the natural juices as well. I forced everyone to eat a piece of the actual "perfect" product – but the moment was lost. Lesson learned. Inject from the top!

OK – back to the plan… from this point just follow Alton Brown's classic turkey roasting guidelines - I've tested others, his method is best:

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^ Stuffed with aromatics (Apple, Onion, Cinnamon Stick, Rosemary & Sage). Great for the turkey, but the added bonus here is that your house will smell even more amazing.

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^ Basically, you form a foil cap over the breast – REMOVING it before you stick it in the oven.

Now roast for 30 mins. at 500°. You'll then have this:

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…good. Now put the foil cap back on the breast and back into the oven it goes, (now at 350°)  - roast until the internal temp of the thickest part of the breast reads 158° via a remote thermometer.

NEVER open the oven door. Ever.

Once 158° temp is reached, pull the bird and let it rest 15-30 mins under a foil tent, the bird will continue to cook and bring the internal temp up to 165°. The problem with most turkeys is that they are left in the oven far to long (those little red pop-up things go off at 180° – guaranteeing a terribly dry turkey). Truth be told – I have pulled larger birds out at 150°, but I know what I'm doing… Use your best judgment – just don't overcook that sucker!

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^ And here we go (a 22 pounder; and a 14lb. bird) – it's unreal. The moistest-est turkey ever. No lie.

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Oh, I also like to make my own Jellied Cranberry Sauce – recipe on the bag, but I pass it through a chinois and get amazing results – even the haters agree! Have at it kids… and again – you were warned.

Click HERE for the results of the 2010 bird!

Tomato Porn: Heirlooms from Ken Pirkle’s Rain Drop Farms, Donna, TX

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No need for small talk. Just sit back and enjoy…

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You will find these in the arsenal of many a talented Texas chef.

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These were courtesy of Kent Pirkle at Rain Drop Farms in Donna, TX. 

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There's no website, but find him here: raindropfarms@yahoo.com or 512.784.6633. There's a minimum order of 8 lbs. – so call your friends!

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I ate most of them raw with Sea Salt; made some Tomato Water; but last I diced some up and simmered with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Oregano and Basil from my patio, and Maldon Sea Salt – awesome.

Topical Cocktail: Bulleit Bourbon Mint Julep

Well, I'm getting better. After a disastrous planning snafu a couple years ago, I've now taken to growing my own mint – just for such an occasion as the 136th Run for the Roses at the Kentucky Derby. Thanks to a Michael Martensen leave-behind, I have some of the terrific Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey.

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The classic Mint Julep consists of Kentucky Bourbon, Mint, Sugar and Ice. This year we did two versions: one with lightly pressed mint leaves and simple syrup, the other with mint muddled with brown sugar. I think I dug the latter. A nice way to celebrate Calvin Borel's third in four. Now, once again, I must plan ahead and get some dang Julep Cups!

The Macaron Post

I made these:

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So there. 

Recently a little post over there on SideDish featuring some well-intentioned (but rough-hewn) examples of this classic french confectionery sparked a rather entertaining debate (and here) on whether one is to pronounce them macaron or macaroonThomas Keller, Pierre Hermé and I say macaron. Whatever – it inspired me to dig out this story, one that I held from posting.

A few months ago, my friend brought me back a dozen macarons from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery. I'd never really had a good one before, I guess – 'cause I was floored by the incredible textural experience and almond laced flavor of these little buggers.

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As a fun way to thank my friend, I learned how to make them!

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^ A key part of the process is to "age" the egg whites needed for the batter – that's right… these sat out at room temperature for 24 hrs. ^Then you need ground almonds or "almond flour."

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^ For the classic pistachio macaron, ground pistachios are added along with the standard confectionary sugar. ^ Here, additional granulated sugar is tinted green with food coloring to enhance the appearance of the final product.

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^The colored sugar is whipped into the egg whites; then these are incorporated with the almonds, pistachios and confectionary sugar. 

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^ For a "cappuccino" version of the batter, I added ground espresso beans to the sugar and omitted the pistachios.

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^I found out that I didn't have a pastry bag – so I did the baggie trick – meh… imperfect rounds – even after the obligatory smacking down of the trays.

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^All this trouble and precise baking are in aid of producing these little "feet" at the bottom of the cookie. I kind of over-achieved on this batch, but the crisp shell and moist, airy interior were well produced. Traditionally, a filling of ganache, buttercream or jam is sandwiched between two cookies.

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^I made some blueberry buttercream to fill some of the coffee cookies; ^and a pistachio buttercream for that type.

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^I also made a violet buttercream for some of the pistachio cookies – awesome. Far from perfect, but not too shabby!

Check it: Bacon Jam. Yes, Bacon Jam.

A couple weeks ago I couldn't help but note two references to Bacon Jam on facebook during the same day. I think one mention was by my pal Claudia Young, an excellent eater – the other from a former Top Chef contestant. Eventually I gave in:

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A quick Google yielded some ideas. I did some picking and choosing and came up with a plan.

I diced some thick-cut applewood smoked bacon and sautéed it in butter with some shallots. After the shallots caramelized I added garlic, brown sugar, sherry vinegar and Sriracha. Then some chicken stock…

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That cooks down for a while – then goes in some espresso! Man, the house smelled – decadent.

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This stuff is crazy good! I leave it to you to figure out what to put it on – I ate most of it straight from the jar! Caramelized pig parts iz goood.

UPDATE: The dish Claudia mentioned that started all this was: sweetbreads, candied kumquats, bacon jam at craftbar, Atlanta. …Dang.

Cowboys / Eagles Playoff snack.

My stress over the game sent me to the fridge in the first quarter. As my open kitchen has a view of two HDTVs, my man-cred was safe as I started the hollandaise…

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I came up with this: Seared Scallop on Mustard Hollandaise, Sage Brown Butter, Pimentón picante.

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Suck it, nacho-heads. Now I think I'll walk to the bar and watch the rest of the game. Go Cowboys!

Don’t start with me… My turkey rules.

(re-posting for your Thanksgiving enjoyment!)

You see, most everyone who has tasted my holiday turkey agrees that it pretty much is the best thing going. So you'll have to take note now, as I will probably be mean and take it down before next Thanksgiving – because, frankly, I don't need the competition. You may find the following disturbing – but these are the waters. You have been warned.

Brine
The Secret

^ I refuse to debate – so brine. I always buy the Williams-Sonoma Brine-of-the-year – it's my own holiday tradition and always just lovely – for $16. NOW: The Secret. That's right, get a tub of DUCK FAT. I heat the tub gently in warm water until it turns to liquid.

Stick It
Injection

With a sturdy injector (again, Williams-Sonoma) start stickin'. At least three good doses in each side of the breast, and a couple in each thigh. It's awesome – the bird swells in a great way! It's just not right when you think about what you're doing – but go ahead. You will notice some fat seems to be collecting under the skin as the meat seeps – perfect. I had a split holiday this year, so I did a small 10-12lb bird this time – usually do a 20lb+. You'll end up with about half to 3/4 a tub IN the bird, then slather the rest on the outer skin. (I usually have two tubs, keeping one cool so the fat is solid for spreading on the skin.)

Now, I just follow Alton Brown's classic turkey roasting guidelines - I've tested others, his method is best.

Aromatics

^ Stuffed with aromatics (Apple, Onion, Cinnamon Stick, Rosemary & Sage).

Basically, you form a foil cap over the breast before you stick it in the oven – then remove it for the first step: Roast for 30 mins. at 500°. You'll then have this:

After 30_01
After 30_02

…good. Now put the foil cap back on the breast and back into the oven, (now at 350°) and roast until the internal temp of the thickest part of the breast reads 158° via a remote thermometer. NEVER open the oven door. Ever. Let it rest 15-30 mins under a foil tent, the bird will continue to cook and bring the internal temp up to 165°. The problem with most turkeys is that they are left in the oven far to long (those little red pop-up things go off at 180° – guaranteeing a terribly dry turkey).

Done_01
Done_02

^ And here we go – it's unreal. The moistest-est turkey ever. No lie.

Cranberries
Cran_Chinois

Oh, I also like to make my own Jellied Cranberry Sauce – recipe on the bag, but I pass it through a chinois and get amazing results – even the haters agree! Have at it kids… and again – you were warned.