Tiramisu Delight

Love tiramisu but you are lactose intolerant or have a problem with raw eggs then this is the delicious solution. This dessert is made from lactose or fat free cream cheese, non dairy whipped topping and contains no eggs. It has been taste tested and passed with flying colors.

If you choose the fat free cream cheese this one piece of delight contains only about 150 calories. It is so rich tasting you will be satisfied until the craving hits you again.

Ingredients:

 2 tablespoons Instant Coffee

1 tablespoon sugar 1 cup hot water

Optional: 1 tablespoon of rum

2 pkg. (3 oz. each) ladyfingers, split, divided

1 pkg. (8 oz. each) lactose or fat free Cream Cheese, softened

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups thawed nondairy whipped topping

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Semi-sweet chocolate swirls or slivers

How to Make It

Step 1: Dissolve combined coffee granules and 1 Tbsp. sugar in hot water.

Step 2: Arrange 1 pkg. ladyfingers on bottom of 13×9-inch dish; brush with 1/2 cup coffee.

Step 3: Beat cream cheese in large bowl with mixer until creamy.

Step 4: Add 1/2 cup sugar; mix well.

Step 5: Whisk in whipped topping.

Step 6: Spread half the cream cheese mixture over ladyfingers in dish; top with remaining ladyfingers. Brush with remaining coffee mixture; cover with remaining cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with cocoa powder and garnish with chocolate pieces. Refrigerate for 4 hours.  

Quicky Picky

There are three main ways to preserve vegetables: Pickling, Canning, and Fermentation as with what is done with sauerkraut. For the purpose of this blog I am only going to talk about quick pickling.

Quick pickles are not as deeply flavored as fermented pickles but are excellent when used for salads, sandwiches and just general snacking. The biggest advantage is that they are fully flavored and ready to enjoy from twenty minutes to a few days spent in the brine.

First let me explain what quick pickles are. Their common name is refrigerator pickles. They are simply vegetables that are pickled in a vinegar, water, and salt (sometimes sugar, too) solution and stored in the refrigerator. Quick pickles also do not require canning when refrigerated.

Pickling is best done with super-fresh vegetables. Save the slightly bruised specimens for soups or other forms of preservation. Almost any vegetable can be pickled, and the shape you choose to pickle in is entirely up to you. For example, carrots can be peeled and sliced into matchsticks or coins. Cherry tomatoes are best preserved whole. Green vegetables, such as green beans or asparagus, can be blanched in boiling water for two to three minutes and then shocked in an ice bath to preserve their color, but this step is purely optional.

Most of my pickling is done for carrots and daikon radish combination for the Vietnamese sandwich, bahn mi. Carrots alone make a very good substitute for sauerkraut on corned beef sandwiches. Cucumbers are next make a very good bread and butter pickle by the addition of pickling spices and garlic. I will be adding some horseradish to the mix next time.

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup thinly sliced vegetables (such as carrot, red onion, and/or cucumber)
  • Whisk vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small bowl until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add vegetables and let sit, squeezing gently with your hands occasionally to help them pickle more quickly, 10 minutes.

The pickles will last three months or more in the refrigerator. Hope you will try these. An economical way to enjoy pickles for a fraction of the cost of buying them pre-made in the store.

Happy Porker

Yet more on ‘Eating Well on a Fixed Income’.  When bone-in pork shoulder went on sale for .99 cents in my area, I had a golden opportunity to see what I could make out of it.  
After picking up a pair of 10lb pork shoulders, I broke it down with my meat carving knife to get the following items. (You can see this in the picture, from twelve o’ clock and moving roughly clockwise.)
2 Pulled Pork Sections (shoulder bones and attached meat)
2 Pork Belly-style Sections
1 Pork Roast
3 Sets of pork steaks
2 portions set aside to make pork sausage
4 portions of pork shoulder chunks

That’s plenty of material to work with if you know what pieces to use!  For example, the fattiest segments are cut like a slab of bacon and can be worked with just like pork belly.  The next-fattiest can be ground up and mixed with fresh and dried fennel to make amazing sausage.  Then the leaner pieces can be turned into pulled pork, stir fry, or chunks for Vietnamese Caramelized Pork.  While I wouldn’t want to eat pork every day for 2 weeks, there’s enough recipes around to do different things with the meat that you wouldn’t get bored!
Finally, I was able to answer a question that’s always been in the back of my mind as a frugal shopper: How much are you paying for the bone when you buy by weight?  Here in Austin, bone-in pork runs 20 to 40 cents a pound less than the boneless equivalent.  So which is the better deal?
Option 1: Bone-in Pork Shoulder @ .99 cents/pound
Option 2: Boneless Pork Shoulder @ $1.29 / pound
Now I can actually answer this, as I weighed the pork shoulder bones (which slid out cleanly from the pulled pork sandwich meat I made yesterday).  The bones from the two shoulders weighed .78 pounds, or .39 pounds each.
So out of a 10-pound pork roast, you’re paying for .39 pounds of bone and 9.61 pounds of meat.  That raises the price from .99 cents a pound to…(drum roll please)
…1.04 cents per pound!
Well, if you know how to use a carving knife + how to make amazing pulled pork, pork pernil, or any other roasted version that allows you to remove the bone without leaving any meat behind, the Option 1 wins, hands down!

Tablescapes & Plating

In one of my first posts I talked about how we start the dining process with our eyes. I have talked about the tools of the kitchen. What I want to say here is more along the lines of showing rather than telling.

I believe that all meals should be a ‘dining experience’, no matter if you are eating a hot dog at a food truck or a filet mignon in a posh restaurant. And remember that at home, we control how the food we cook looks on the plate!

Over the years, I have collected many different types of table-wear, so I can use different place settings. However, a bit of imagination goes a long way when creating a piece of food art. That is what I want to stress here: that the plating of food is like composing a picture. You want a balance of color and objects.

A splash of color provided by a sprig of celery leaf, dill, lettuce and other vegetables and fruits. Loaves of bread and gourds like pumpkins, make marvelous bowls. Seashells, and food safe trays made from wood all add to the tablescape as they add interest to the food that you spend time and effort into making. Oh, and make sure that the drips on edges of the plate are cleaned up before serving.

Look at every plate as if you were preparing it for a photo shoot and your mouth will start salivating before the first taste.

Cook Anything With These

Image result for cooking utensil images

Cooking and eating delicious food are two passions of mine. Of course, to create superior dishes require good ingredients. But ‘good’ ingredients does not necessarily mean ‘expensive’ ones!

Some of the best tasting dishes are made from cheap cuts of meat, and the commonest of vegetables. But here’s a bit of wisdom earned from over the years: sometimes, it’s the tools at your disposal that are key. 

Your first set of tools are an understanding of kitchen chemistry. After all, chemistry is the study of how substances change with the application of physical processes (heat, pressure) or combining them with other substances.  That sounds a lot like cooking to me!

Luckily, in recent years there’s been a lot of people analyzing how our tastes of salt, sweet, sour and bitter play with one another. Recently, a fifth taste has been recognized. Studies confirmed just a few years ago that our mouths contain taste receptors for this ‘more-ish’ savory taste.

Umami is what I am talking about. (It’s pronounced ooo-MAH-me.) The Romans loved garum, the fermented anchovy sauce that they sloshed liberally as we do ketchup today. It is key to the bone-warming joy of gravy made from good stock, meat juices and caramelized meats and vegetables.

Staples List #1: Tools to bring out flavor with chemistry.

Worcestershire sauce: This is a fermented liquid condiment created in the city of Worcester in Worcestershire, England, in the first half of the 19th century. 

White Wine or Sherry: This does not necessarily mean a ‘cooking wine’. They have extra salt in them. As a rule, if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it!

Ketchup: Yes, believe it or not! This is used for the base of a whole bunch of sauces.

Fish sauce: The umami flavor in fish sauce is due to its glutamate content. Soy sauce is regarded by some in the West as a vegetarian alternative to fish sauce though they are very different in flavor. Fish sauce is not only added to dishes as a seasoning, but also used as a base in dipping sauces.

Oyster sauce: This describes a number of sauces made by cooking oysters. The most common in modern use is a viscous dark brown condiment made from oyster extracts, sugar, salt and water thickened with corn starch. Some versions may be darkened with caramel, though high-quality oyster sauce is naturally dark.

Soy sauce: (Also called soya sauce in British English) This is a liquid condiment of Chinese origin, made from a fermented paste of soybeans, roasted grain, and brine.

Garlic: Most often used as a flavoring agent but can also be eaten as a vegetable. It is used to flavor many foods, such as salad dressings, vinaigrettes, marinades, sauces, vegetables, meats, soups, and stews. It is often used to make garlic butter and garlic toast.

Onions: one of the most widely used foods in cooking because of the luscious flavor they add to cooked vegetable and meat dishes.

Ginger: The root or underground is often associated with Asian cooking, and commonly used in stir-fries. The stem (rhizome) of the ginger plant can be consumed fresh, powdered, dried as a spice, in oil form, or as juice. It has also been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes.

Cornstarch: Wheat flour and cornstarch are the two most common forms of grain starches we use in our cooking. 

Potato starch: Potato starch, tapioca (made from manioc root), and arrowroot are larger-grained starches … This type of starch is called resistant starch, which functions kind of like soluble fiber. Many studies in humans show that resistant starch can have powerful health benefits. This includes improved insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, reduced appetite and various benefits for digestion

All-purpose flour: Thickener and building block for sauces, pasta, and baked goods.

Eggs: The ultimate natural emulsifier – they smooth things out, allow batters to stick and flow, and add richness to everything.

Grain Starches: Wheat flour and cornstarch are the two most common forms of grain starches we use in our cooking. Because it is almost pure starch, cornstarch is a more efficient thickener than wheat flour.

Grain starches also contain a relatively high percentage of fats and proteins, which can make sauces thickened with these starches look opaque and matte-like. These starches also tend to have a distinctive cereal taste once cooked.

Root and Tuber Starches

Potato starch, tapioca (made from manioc root), and arrowroot are larger-grained starches that gelatinize at relatively lower temperatures. Sauces thickened with these starches are more translucent and glossy, and they have a silkier mouthfeel. Root starches also have less forward flavors once cooked.

These root starches don’t stand up as well as grain starches to longer cooking and so they’re best used to thicken sauces toward the very end of cooking.

Choosing Which Starch to Use: If you need to thicken at the beginning of cooking, as for macaroni and cheese or a classic beef stew, go for a grain starch. If you need to quickly thicken a sauce just before it comes off the stove, use a root starch. I prefer using root starches in baking for custards, puddings, and pie fillings.

***

Aside from the right ingredients, the correct mix of kitchen equipment allows you to transform simple and inexpensive ingredients into meals that you’d pay several times more for at a restaurant.

Staples List #2: Kitchen equipment to bring out flavor with physical processes (cutting, browning, mixing, etc).

Food Processor with a 720 watt motor: As mentioned in a previous blog entry, the food processor can do the work of many other appliances. It chops, slices, grinds and mixes. All with only a change of its blades. It is less expensive and more versatile that a stand mix master and easier to use.

Mandolin: This is for the items that need a thinner slice like homemade potato chips.

Iron Skillet: This has been the workhorse of the kitchen for centuries. The older ones are the best. If you by a good new one it could cost you over a hundred dollars.

If you didn’t inherit one like I did, start by scouring thrift shops and antique stores for a more reasonable priced skillet. Don’t worry about the way they may look. They can be brought ‘back to life’, check out how on the internet. I like to have several sizes as well as a flat iron grill for tortillas and egg omelets. Twelve inch is a good versatile size.

Sauce Pans: I have four in my kitchen. One that holds about two cups, four cups and a two quart. Also a Dutch oven. I have one porcelain cast iron Creuset style pan with a lid for brazing in the oven. I also have four different sizes of skillets. From small to large with flat perpendicular sides.  I find this is best to use when I need a lot of room on the cooking surface because it is never good to crowd what you are frying.

Bamboo Steamer: I used to have a steel steamer that collapsed when not in use and fanned out when putting in a pot to steam items. I no longer use the metal one. I find a bamboo steamer is easier to use and gives better results for a much more variety of uses such as steaming buns or sausages. Vegetable are better because they are steamed and not sodden when taken out. You don’t have to lift the whole steaming tray out when you want to check the food.

Spatulas: Different shapes are used for different food items. Three most used one in my kitchen is a silicon one used for the none stick pans, a flat blade for grilling and one called a fish spatula that has a beveled edge for getting under the more delicate meats and fish.

Wooden Spoons: An array of wooden spoons are very useful. Stainless steel slotted spoons and metal tongs. The ones that kind of look like a lobster claw.

Potato Peeler: I have two kinds that I find useful. A regular one and one that does multiple type of cuts as well as peels. This is for julienne cuts of carrots, potato, cucumbers and other vegetables.

2 Baking dishes: 9 inch round, 9 X 13 rectangular. Can be glass or tin.

Mixing bowls: Small, medium and large.

Measuring cup set

Measuring spoon set

There are literally hundreds of kitschy kitchen gadgets out there that either don’t work or have a single use. The Rollie Egg master is one, if not the worst ideas I have ever seen for a useless kitchen tool. http://www.thepizzle.net/the-rollie-eggmaster-is-the-best-dumbest-cooking-device-ever-invented/

The items I have listed above are what I believe can be used for cooking that a kitchen would need to be able to cook just about anything.

Home Made Is Best

Homemade pork sausage with fennel!
This required two pounds of home ground pork shoulder and a large bulb of fresh fennel, roughly chopped.  Added pulverized fennel seed, black peppercorns, red chili flake, kosher salt, minced garlic, and a dash of white wine.  The proportions came out perfect – the sausage has a perfect balance of herbal flavors and heat.
I prefer to leave sausage meat loose (no casing) as it’s less work and more versatile. For example, here I molded some of the result into a pair of sausage patties and fried them for lunch. Note that there is very little grease in the pan. Delish! Pork shoulder is fatty, but compared to store-bought sausage it doesn’t weep grease and it’s an explosion of fresh flavor when eaten!

Pork Fennel Sausage

2 lbs Ground pork shoulder

1 large fennel bulb, chopped rough

1 tsp ground fennel seed

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp red chili flakes

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon white wine.

Grinding Meat at Home – A Word of Praise for the Food Processor

A homemade burger, using ground beef made with the food processor.

The ideas and dishes shared on this blog have two goals in mind: to allow for better quality dishes, while not breaking the bank.  One technique which combines both goals is to grind your own ground beef and pork at home.

A lot of people never think about doing this because they don’t want to buy a meat grinder, or a meat grinder attachment for a mixer.  Actually, you can put that concern to rest by simply using your home food processor.

The Cuisinart DFP-14NRY. A 720-watt motor, $159 on Amazon.com.

While I wouldn’t recommend using a blender or a Magic Bullet to do this, most any food processor can grind meat into hamburger so long as it’s already chopped into cubes. If you have a less-powerful food processor, be sure to place less beef in it at one time. (Less powerful = a processor that handles less than 11 cups of food at a time, or with a smaller than 720 watt motor.)

There are several cuts of meat that will work for grinding but by far the easiest and most commonplace is chuck steak.  When you get the steak home, start by trimming off as much of the silver skin and hard, knobby fat as you can manage. Don’t worry about trimming off fat that’s soft and pliable.

Chuck steak’s location on the cow. Relatively tough, weight-supporting muscle but oh-so-tasty.

Next, cut it into cubes slightly larger than one inch on a side.  Once again, if you spot any silver skin or hard fat, take the time to remove it.  This ensures that your ground meat is smooth and not gristly.

Place 1-2 cups of the meat at a time into your food processor and pulse-chop it a few seconds at a time until you get ground beef with a relatively rough, loose texture.  The grinding process releases a ‘sticky’ protein that will allow you to compress the meat into shapes like patties for your burgers.

If you don’t need to use all the ground beef at this time, your best bet is to divide it into 1-pound sections and place each one in a plastic freezer bag.  Properly stored ground beef lasts 3 months without a problem in the freezer, and a great deal longer if you use a form of vacuum food storage.

There are several advantages of grinding your own beef.  Supermarket-ground beef has a higher risk of contamination, as it’s made from muscle tissue taken from dozens or hundreds of cows. If you like (as I do) hamburger cooked with a bit of pink inside of it, then your risk of food poisoning drops significantly since you know exactly what’s going into your burger and how fresh it is.

On the left, home-ground beef. On the right, the denser, stickier, and slightly drier ground beef one would buy at the supermarket.

Supermarket ground beef is also more densely packed.  The sticky proteins have been wrung out like water from a wet towel, making the meat ‘mealy’ and leading to denser, less juicy burgers and meatloaf.  Definitely, from a quality standpoint, self-grinding is the way to go.

From a price perspective, self-ground beef is much more budget-friendly so long as you exercise patience when you shop. Where I live, ground chuck at the local supermarket runs around $3.50 to $4 per pound. Chuck roast is usually more expensive than that.

However, chuck roast regularly goes on sale for $2 per pound. When that happens, a little cutting, grinding, and freezing a dozen pounds of hamburger will save you some money, get better quality meat to work with, and allows you to know *exactly* what’s going into your food!

Chow Mein Ramen Noodles

One of the fastest, easiest and inexpensive Chow Mein dinners for two ever.

It is made using chicken or beef pieces. As I have mentioned before when I buy large cuts of meat I save the smaller trimmed pieces for other dishes like soups, and stir fry. The dish shown is with beef pieces.

It is economical About $1 per serving, as far as time, total time 15 minutes. Ingredients, simple and best of all a one pan dish cleanup.

Recipe:

1 tblsp oil

approximately 7 oz of thin sliced chicken or beef

2 garlic cloves minced

2 ramen noodle cakes I use the top ramen packages (discard seasoning packets. I save for something later.)

7 oz of shredded cabbage

3 green onions cut into 2 inch lengths

1 cup of water.

Note* You can add bean sprouts, water chestnuts slices,small corn if you want. You also may need a bit more liquid but wait and see if after adding the noodles it is a little dry. I added some beef stock.

Chow Mein Sauce:

1.5 tblsp light soy sauce

1.5 tblsp oyster sauce

1 tblsp Chinese cooking wine

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp sugar

Directions:

  1. Mix sauce in a bowl
  2. 2. Heat oil in large skillet over high heat.
  3. Add garlic. After 10 seconds add the meat.
  4. Cook for 1 minute then add cabbage and the white part of green onions
  5. Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, until the cabbage wilts then push everything to the side and put in the two ramen cakes.
  6. Add water, after 45 seconds turn over the ramen noodles. After about 30 seconds break up the noodles and add your vegetables. Toss for about 2 minutes until all the noodles are covered with the sauce. If the noodles are not quite done you may want to add a bit mor water of chicken or beef stock.

Ready to eat immediately.

Sushi! It’s About the Rice.

When I talk to people about sushi a common response is: Eww, I don’t eat raw fish!

First of all, sushi is not raw fish. It is the vinegared rice. Along with the vinegar, a small amount of sugar and salt is added to cooked rice.

Sushi may be made with raw fish but also can be made without meat or with cooked seafood as long as it uses vinegared rice.

In some countries, the terms sashimi and sushi may be used interchangeably, but this is incorrect. Sashimi, is usually thinly sliced very high grade fresh raw meat or seafood.

Sushi wrappers are made from dried seaweed sheets called nori. There are other wrappers made from soy, vegetables and some fruits. This provides an array of colors. Wrappers can be used for an inside wrap with a sushi rice outer casing.

The most common way it is served uses nori as an outer wrap. This dark sea green surrounds the rice in a tight wrap so it can be cut into bite sized pieces.

Sushi chefs go through years of training and apprenticeships to become a certified sushi chef. They learn all species of fish and the subtleness of their flavors. The best way to slice the meats that are used and the basic chemistry of the sauces they make. Even the technique used to when sharpening their knives. Sushi knives are flat on one side of the blades edge and scalpel sharp.

However, making sushi at home is a fun way to incorporate art and taste into one. With the help of molds and shaping devices almost anyone can make a passable sushi plate.

Recipe for sushi rice.

1 cup cooked basmati or sushi rice

2 tablespoons of rice vinegar (or 3-4 tablespoons of sushi vinegar)

1 tablespoon of sugar

¼ teaspoon of salt

While the rice is warm, room temperature is okay. Just don’t use cold rice. When working with the sticky rice (It has to be sticky or it will not stick together and you will have a mess) make sure you work with wet hands to prevent the rice from sticking to your palms.

Pack the rice into a mold on the bottom and the sides leaving a center space for your filling of choice. Imitation crab meat cucumber and avocado are good choices for beginners. Don’t over pack! It’s tempting but leave room for the rest of the rice to cover the filling.

Next press the rice into the mold firmly so that the rice is tightly compacted.

Turn out the compacted rice onto the nori or other wrappers and fold or roll until each end overlaps. Wet the edge and refrigerate to firm it up. When cutting use a very sharp knife and make sure to wet it for each cut. Plate your creation in and artistic presentation.

Sauces used with sushi

Soy sauce, wasabi paste, chili paste, ginger paste

Make your own;

2/3 cup of mayonnaise

2 tablespoons of Siracha sauce I use Sambal

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon of sesame oil

Don’t give up if the first few tries aren’t perfect. You get better with practice. I still occasionally make a mess of things and I have made sushi numerous times.

Living High On The Hog

Baby back ribs are a favorite of mine! I prefer them to the typical pork spare ribs found at the majority of BBQ joints as baby backs are the meatier of the two.

Locally, baby back ribs run anywhere between $3.50 to $5 a pound. However, my local Randall’s grocery routinely has sales on their meats. That includes ribs pretty regularly. When ever they are on sale, it’s always worth grabbing at least one rack. (I’m sure if someone watched they would think it strange that I look through the entire batch in the display freezer before I pick out the one that I want!)

There are recipes where you can sous vide the ribs for 12 hours only at ~165 degrees. I prefer to sous vide my baby backs for longer at lower temps: 152 degrees for 24 hours. I do this for a few reasons.

First, I don’t have to worry about the tenderness of the rib meat. Second, at this time and temp, the silver skin on the bottom layer will effectively dissolve. That way, I don’t have to remove this membrane from the meat, which is a real pain for my arthritic hands. The final reason is that with only smoked salt and pepper, the natural flavor of the pork comes through. As an added bonus, the liquid that come from the ribs is full of flavor and usable for gravies, soups and sauces.

I finish the full rack in a 400-degree oven. I begin by brushing sauce on them then at 15 minutes intervals I turn over the ribs to let the sauce caramelize. I do this three times. Front to back and then back to the front.

The rack of ribs shown in the pictures represents about three delicious meals for two.

Left over meat taken off the bone makes delicious tacos, barbecue sliders, or an Asian inspired dinner with a side of steamed rice.