Beer Cooler Sous Vide Grilled Rack of Lamb

I am obsessed with Kenji Alt's Beer Cooler Sous Vide Hack, using a cooler full of hot water to cook meat to a perfect medium-rare. In the last two months I've used it on strip loin steaks, tri-tip, thick-cut pork chops and top sirloin roasts.
*The only disappointing result has been pork chops. They were good, but they weren't noticeably better than regular pork chops.

My favorite reaction was from my mom, who is passionate about medium-rare beef. On her birthday, as I lugged a cooler full of hot water and top sirloin roasts into her house, I explained sous vide cooking. She didn't get it. I tried again; it still wasn't making sense to her. I pulled the roasts out of their baggies, and gave them a quick sear on the grill. Mom was grabbing pieces off the cutting board as fast as I could slice them. "Michael," she said, "I still don't understand it works, but this is perfectly cooked." I felt like The Good Son.

For Easter, I tried my new favorite technique with rack of lamb. I rubbed the lamb with herbes de provence and mustard, cooked it for an hour in 135*F water, then seared it quickly on the grill. And I do mean quickly - dripping lamb fat gave me some impressive flare-ups. If I left the rack still for a few seconds, it was engulfed in flames. One downside of the technique is you don't get to melt off the fat over indirect heat.

As usual, the lamb was cooked to perfection, medium-rare from side to side. That is what I really love about this technique. No more poking the pad at the base of my thumb, then the meat. No more trying to find center mass with my probe thermometer. No more being a nervous wreck, wondering if the steak is going to be perfectly pink, or depressingly grey. It is dead simple, and it just works.
*The downside? It feels like I'm cheating, and all the zip top baggies I go through. I haven't reconciled my carnivorous desire for perfectly cooked meat with my tree-hugging desire to use less stuff.

Recipe: Beer Cooler Sous Vide Grilled Rack of Lamb

All-Clad Factory Sale: Summer 2011

All-Clad Factory Sale: Summer 2011
*The dates for this summer's All-Clad factory sale have been announced, so I'm posting my usual heads-up to my readers...

All-Clad's factory is located in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Twice a year, on the first weekend in June and December, All-Clad holds a factory seconds sale at the Washington County Fair and Expo Center.

The 2011 summer sale is Friday June 3rd and Saturday June 4th. Hours are Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Here's the link to the location of the sale: Washington County Fair and Expo Center.

This is about a two hour drive from the Akron area. You get prices from 40% to 70% off on factory seconds. In most cases, the damage is just cosmetic; a little scratching on the stainless, or a lid handle that's a bit offset from center.

They have most of their line of cookware available, but not all, and some favorites (like the 12" stainless fry pan, and its lid) are hard to find. Overall, though, it's an amazing value. Make sure you get there early - there can be up to an hour wait to get into the sale.

*I went a bit crazy at their winter factory sale, so I won't be going to the summer sale. I'm saving my pennies for the limited edition 40th Anniversary "All-American Casserole" pan that's coming in July. Here's a Ming Tsai Sloppy Joe recipe using the pan [PDF].

Related Posts:
Things I Love: All-Clad Stainless Cookware
Review: All-Clad Stainless Cookware with d5 Technology


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Rotisserie Baby Back Ribs, Cuban Style

After our endless winter, we finally had a warm snap this weekend. The temperature went from the forties on Friday to a high of 78*F on Sunday. I had to grill.

My local grocery store had extra-meaty slabs of baby back ribs on sale. I'm not used to this - when I started grilling, you had to double check the packages, to make sure you didn't get shiners - ribs where the meat had been cut down to the bone, and the shiny ribs were showing through. Now they're selling "extra meaty" ribs. I had to get some.

I was wandering around the La Caja China website, looking at yet another barbecue toy I desperately want, but can't justify.
*I can hear the conversation now. "Yes, dear, I really needed this charcoal fired roasting box. Why? So I could cook a whole pig. And ten chickens.  But who's counting...what's that dear? For who? You don't think the five of us can finish eighty pounds of pork?"

Even though I won't buy the roasting box, thoughts of Cuban pork bounced around in my head. This recipe is what happened when I took the flavors from a couple different mojo recipes and ran with them.
*I'm substituting a mix of orange, lemon and lime for the sour orange that is traditional in mojo sauce. I liked Adam Perry Lang's mop sauce, so I mixed that in as well.

The ribs are a mix of crispy and tender pork, coated in spices, layered with the sweet-sour of the citrus based sauce. Even better - the ribs were gone in fifteen minutes, so I must have done something right!

Recipe: Rotisserie Baby Back Ribs, Cuban Style

Weeknight Tomato Sauce

When my grand scheme for dinner falls apart, spaghetti with tomato sauce is my backup plan. I always have a few onions, some garlic, and canned tomatoes at hand.
*One of the keys to making dinner every night is having a backup plan. After a long day at work, the temptress of pizza delivery is whispering sweet nothings in my ear. Instead of reaching for the phone, I reach for the dried pasta and a can of tomatoes.

My tomato sauce recipe has evolved over the last few years. I started out with olive oil, diced onion, garlic, and diced tomatoes, and simmered until thick. Then two things happened:

  1. I read about Marcella Hazan's famous tomato sauce [h/t
  2. I had kids

Marcella's sauce taught me to use butter instead of olive oil, for the rich taste that only butter seems to have.
*OK, butter and pork fat. But pork fat seemed excessive.

The other trick I learned from Marcella (and one the kids reinforced) is using a halved onion instead of diced onion. The halved onion gives up its sweet flavor to the sauce, without sauteing the diced onion. It's quicker, and when you discard the onion, the kids don't see the chunks of "yucky stuff" in the sauce.
*I want my kids to be adventurous eaters...but I get tired of them eating around pieces of onion in the sauce.

My other change is culinary heresy. I...I used crushed tomatoes. I know, to maintain my image, I should use nothing less than whole plum tomatoes, canned in San Marzano. But...I need a quick, weeknight sauce, not something that must simmer for 45 minutes.

So, here is my current tomato sauce recipe. It takes less time than boiling the pasta water. Like all good recipes, it's still evolving. But right now, if I'm backed into a corner by dinner, this is how I fight my way out.

Recipe: Tomato Sauce

Pressure Cooker Short Ribs with Mexican Flavors

My Pressure Cooker Short Ribs recipe took over the top spot on my Google stats a month ago, as my most popular post for the last month. I love that recipe, and I'm happy to see it bringing in new readers. Then I realized that I have short ribs in my freezer that need to be cooked. Obviously, this is a sign that I should revisit pressure cooker short ribs.

I'm craving Mexican food today; out came my collection of Rick Bayless cookbooks. The braised short rib recipe in Mexico, One Plate at a Time jumped out at me. I had most of the ingredient list at hand, and it is a straightforward short rib braise.

But...I couldn't just make Mr. Bayless's recipe. I can never follow a recipe any more, even when I try; I'm always tweaking and adjusting. Rick's ingredient list was the jumping-off point. I worked those ingredients into my trusted pressure cooker short ribs technique.
*And, I added beer to the recipe. It seemed like the right thing to do.

The result was tender ribs, the zing of hot peppers giving them a spicy edge. All in a little over an hour! This is the perfect comfort food to fight off early spring snowstorm blues.
*It was sixty degrees last weekend! How can it possibly be snowing! Seasonal affective disorder, here I come...

And...don't have a pressure cooker? No worries. See the Variations section for pressure free options.

Recipe: Pressure Cooker Short Ribs with Mexican Flavors

What Do I Do With: The Electric Pressure Cooker Question

Fagor 670040230 Stainless-Steel 3-in-1 6-Quart Multi-Cooker

This post is a little different from my usual "what do I do with" questions. Instead of an ingredient, I'm asking you, my loyal readers, about a kitchen appliance. I occasionally receive email from a reader, asking about electric pressure cookers. I have never used one; all my pressure cookers have been stove top models. I vaguely remember reading that stove top models are better than electrics, but I couldn't remember why. I decided to research electric pressure cookers; the next time I'm asked, I want a better answer than "because that's how I've always done it."

Electric pressure cookers seem like a good alternate to stove top models. I like the idea of set it and forget it pressure cooking...set the timer, then get on to something else. No messing with getting the burner to the right heat to hold the pressure. Also, a pressure cooker with a timed delay feature sounded great. A delay means I could leave beans soaking in the cooker, and when the soaking time was complete, the PC would turn on and cook the beans. And, finally, a few of the electric pressure cookers could also be used as rice cookers or slow cookers. As an Alton Brown groupie, I'm always a fan of multitaskers.

Now, there is some downside. First, it's yet another kitchen appliance. (I'm running out of room with all my gadgets - I'd have to trade something in to make room for the new cooker.) Second, almost all the electric pressure cookers are 6 quart models. They are not made in the wide range of sizes as stove top pressure cookers.
*With pressure cookers, size matters. Pressure cookers need airspace to come up to pressure. A pressure cooker can't be filled past 2/3rds of the listed size, or it won't have enough air to pressurize.

Then I found the big issue. In electric pressure cookers, "high pressure" is significantly lower than high pressure in stove top cookers. Stove top PCs have a high pressure of 15 pounds per square inch (psi), electrics only come up to about 10 psi. That is closer to the low pressure on stove top cookers than it is to high pressure.

What difference does that extra 5 PSI make? I downloaded the Fagor Electric Pressure Cooker manual, and compared it to my Fagor stove top PC's manual. Generally, the cooking times in the electric were 30% longer than the stove top model. As an example: beef brisket cooks in 35-40 minutes at high pressure in the stove top PC. It takes 50-60 minutes in the electric cooker. Why is that important? Well, pressure cookers are sold as a way to speed up cooking. 60 minutes for brisket *is* quicker than the usual 3+ hours...but 40 minutes is even faster. Does the convenience of the set it and forget it electric make up for the extra time? Also, Lorna Sass, Miss Vickie, and all the other sources of pressure cooker recipes and write their recipes for a high pressure of 15 psi. I have to multiply my cooking time by 1.3 every time I try a new recipe? I'm sure I'll forget that at the worst possible time.
*And pressure cooking is more timing dependent than most other forms of cooking, because you can't check on how things look as they cook. Once a cooker is up to pressure, it can't be opened, unless you take the time to bring the pressure down, then back up when you're done.

All that said...I've never used one myself; everything I'm sharing here is from reading the literature, not personal experience. So, I'm throwing the question out to my readers:

Have you used an electric pressure cooker? Like it? Dislike it? What are the advantages and/or disadvantages? Share your experiences with us in the comments section, below.

*And...I am such a weakling when it comes to new kitchen toys. After everything I've read, I don't think I'd use an electric pressure cooker enough to justify the purchase. But I still kind of want one. Darn it.

Here are the three cookers I've been asked about. Again, not a recommendation, but they are the ones that I've heard about second-hand. I would love to hear about personal experience with any of these pressure cookers.

Fagor 670040230 Stainless-Steel 3-in-1 6-Quart Multi-Cooker

Cuisinart CPC-600 1000-Watt 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker, Brushed Stainless and Matte Black

Instant Pot® 5-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker, 6.33Qt, Latest 3rd Generation Technology, Brushed Stainless Steel
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Rotisserie Chicken with Teriyaki Sauce

I cook a lot of chicken on my rotisserie. Usually, I keep it simple. I dry brine the chicken, add a little fresh ground black pepper, and I'm done. Occasionally, when I'm feeling fancy, I stuff herbs under the skin. This time around, though, I wanted something more. I was looking for something different than my usual roast chicken, without adding a lot of extra work.

Luckily, I bought myself a subscription to Canal House Cooking for Christmas. I've been enjoying Melissa and Chris's recipes and pictures so much that I went back and bought all their back issues. (There were only three- it wasn't that big a deal.) And, in one of the books, they had a recipe for roast teriyaki chicken. I had my inspiration - but why roast the chicken when I could rotisserie it?

Rotisserie teriyaki chicken is exactly what I was looking for. Teriyaki sauce has simple, pantry ingredients and takes all of three minutes to make. Don't let the simplicity of the sauce fool you, though - it adds a sweet, sour and salty glaze that matches chicken perfectly.
*Teriyaki sauce and grilled chicken is a combination perfected in Japanese yakitori restaurants. I'm just scaling the recipe up - instead of bite sized pieces of chicken on bamboo skewers, I'm going with whole chickens on a rotisserie spit. Godzilla sized yakitori, anyone?

The only real trick is to save the teriyaki sauce for the last fifteen minutes of grilling, then brush it on frequently. Teriyaki sauce has a lot of sugar in it. The high heat of the grill will burn the sauce if it is cooked for too long. Waiting for the last last fifteen minutes lets the heat tighten up the sauce, but does not leave enough time for the sauce to burn. Applying the sauce in layers builds a thick glaze on top of the browned chicken skin.

Recipe: Rotisserie Chicken with Teriyaki Sauce

Slow Cooker Pot Roast, Italian Style

My recipe for slow cooker Italian pot roast evolved from a recipe in Cook's Country magazine. Cook's Country is part of the America's Test Kitchen empire, and the younger sibling of Cook's Illustrated magazine. I look forward to new issues of Cook's Country in large part because of their Slow Cooker column. It's fascinating to see what thorough* test kitchen has come up with. Cook's Country has slow cooker recipes that don't compromise flavor for ease of use.
*Sometimes they run off the rails in their quest for a perfect recipe. But I'm glad they're out there, pushing the envelope. Someone has to lead the fight against recipes with canned mushroom soup in them.

I was thrilled when they released Slow Cooker Revolution. This cookbook compiles all those Cook's Country recipes I love, plus hundreds of other slow cooker recipes they've been working on in the test kitchen. Finally, I have a cookbook I can refer people to when they ask about slow cooking.
*It was worth the price just for the picture of the "wall of slow cookers" they installed in the test kitchen. Someday I'll have a wall of slow cookers. And a test kitchen.

This is a standard pot roast recipe, with a couple of tricks that help it out during the long, slow cooking. The roast and aromatics are browned, to add the depth and complexity that only comes from caramelization. Dried mushrooms, tomato paste, and a little soy sauce add meatiness to the dish. Slow cookers trap liquid, resulting in a watery sauce; minute tapioca thickens the sauce for us. Finally, I use my stick blender to puree the sauce right in the slow cooker. The result is meltingly tender meat with a thick red sauce perfect for topping pasta. Enjoy!

Recipe: Slow Cooker Pot Roast, Italian Style