Cooking sous vide is a relatively new technique for the home cook. Essentially, you vacuum seal food in plastic bags and cook it in a controlled-temperature water bath until done. I won’t go into detail about the cooking process, but with a home version made by SousVide Supreme available along with the smaller SousVide Demi, I am starting to think that this appliance would be a good cooking tool to use with kids.
Think about it. A five-year-old might have a difficult time cooking a steak on the stove, but with the SousVide Supreme, it is actually pretty easy. Kids can help season the food, put it in the bag, and then what child wouldn’t like using the vacuum sealer? Setting the cooking temperature and time is just a matter of punching in numbers, and after that you just wait. You don’t have to worry about flames, hot burners or pans, or oil splatters. It would also be a good way to teach your child about food safety and how that relates to temperature. Of course, a lot of sous vide cooking also involves browning and searing after the water bath, but kids can play a big part in preparing dishes that are usually left until they are a bit older.
Just watch this video on the SousVide Supreme blog where a young kid instructs on how to cook steak sous vide with a vacuum sealer. It looks pretty simple.
The SousVide Supreme Demi is a slightly smaller version of the larger Supreme model. Apparently, the Demi holds about 60% the capacity of the regular model, but can still cook 12 four-ounce portions. The Demi also comes in a variety of colors, and in terms of countertop space, it will take up about the same space as a crock pot.
Of course this appliance comes with a pretty steep price tag of $300 for the Demi and $450 for the regular Supreme, and you also need to purchase a vacuum sealer. This product is not for everyone, and I also have some caveats (or warnings).
Firstly, when buying an appliance such as this one, the home cook should learn to use it properly. Under-cooked food no matter how it is prepared can make people sick. Secondly, some people are very concerned about cooking food in plastics. If you are worried about this, then you may want to research it further before investing in such a product.
Lastly, other sous vide equipment does exist on the market such as the Sous Vide Magic. These set-ups involve using a container such as a crock pot along with a temperature controller. They are fine for adult cooks, but I would not recommend this gear for kids. The beauty of the SousVide Supreme is its simplicity both in terms of operating it and its set up, and there are no cords and probes to worry about.
With that said, I couldn’t find a lot of information about sous vide cooking with kids on the internet, but the Provident Gourmet has a post that details how she cooks pasta sous vide, portions it out, and uses it for quick pasta meals for kids. The author also gives some good tips about seasoning food when cooking sous vide. Just beware of olive oil and don’t over season.
Of course, there are tons of resources out there for cooking sous vide, and if you have some time, you can listen to an hour-long podcast where the legendary chef, Thomas Keller, talks about this method of cooking. Here is the link. Also, there is a neat video of Grant Achatz cooking a turkey sous vide for Thanksgiving. Here is part 1 and part 2. The bags aren’t technically vacuum sealed, but the concept is the same.
If you are interested in buying a SousVide Supreme or the new Demi, the company is offering free shipping during the holidays.
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A couple of weekends ago I was at the International Housewares Association show in Chicago and got a chance to check out the SousVide Supreme. Richard Blais from the 2008 season of Top Chef was giving demonstrations and plugging the product. If you remember that season, Blais was big into molecular gastronomy and sous-vide cooking so it is no surprise to see him associated with this device.
Essentially, this appliance is a home version of the expensive immersion circulators used at some restaurants, whereby food is cooked in a controlled-temperature water bath. Before this, enthusiasts wanting to experiment with sous-vide cooking (which means ‘under vacuum’ in French) had to search eBay for used laboratory equipment or purchase the SousVideMagic which is a temperature control mechanism that you can use along with a rice cooker, crock pot or other water-worthy vessel to create your own water oven set-up.
Sous-vide cooking is all the rage these days, but it is still a rather costly endeavor. The SousVide Supreme will run you $450 and then you will also have to pay extra for food-grade cooking bags and a vacuum sealer to remove the air. Beware that the SousVide Supreme vacuum sealer retails for $129. The SousVideMagic is cheaper at $160, but then you also need (or have to buy) a rice cooker or crock pot of some sort. And once again you will need bags and a way to vacuum seal them. Though I must admit that some people just use zip-lock bags, press the air out by hand as much as possible, and use a straw to remove the last little bit.
With that said, resources on the web are plentiful if you want to learn how to cook sous vide. The eGullet society has a thread called Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques, and Equipment that has a staggering 115 pages with 3,400+ replies dating back to 2004. Good luck reading that. They should give you a diploma in sous-vide cooking if you read through the entire posting. For a more manageable post, eGullet has a thread on just the SousVide Supreme that has around 100 replies. A lot of that discussion revolves around how well the temperature is maintained, water circulation issues, and a comparison to the SousVideMagic set-up.
When cooking sous vide, food safety is also an issue. This type of food preparation uses lower temperatures to cook food (often meat) for a longer period of time. When meat is cooked at a higher temperature it kills all the bad stuff very quickly, but the proteins also shrink and expel moisture. That is why overcooked meat is so dry and tough. By cooking at lower temperatures, however, the meat retains its moisture and stays soft and moist. But there is a fine line between creating a heat that cooks the meat and kills the bacteria and also creating a warm, moist environment where bacterial growth is actually promoted. Remember, bacteria also like dark, warm, moist places. In fact, botulism is still a concern with sous-vide cooking and anyone attempting it should take care to learn proper, safe techniques. Douglas Baldwin’s A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking is a good place to start when learning how to safely cook using this method, but the document can get a bit technical. Just make sure to look up preparation times and temperatures or follow instruction manuals with your device of choice.
Serious Eats also has a good post on cooking steak sous vide, and they provide nice visuals for a range of cooking temperatures so you can see how much moisture is being lost at which temp. Just reading that article alone will give you a fair understanding of what is at play with sous-vide cooking and if it is the right method for you. Just keep in mind that sous vide is a great way to prepare short ribs, so if you are fan of that cut of meat, you might want to consider it.
The Steamy Kitchen blog is also a good resource if you are thinking about buying the SousVide Supreme. The author tested the machine out on meat and eggs and has a lot of photos of the device in action. By the way, Richard Blais said the SousVide Supreme cooks onions perfectly. It isn’t just about meat, you can also use it for eggs, vegetables, and even some sauces.
I don’t have this machine yet, but I will probably consider it after grilling season is done. Even then I need to evaluate whether I would use it enough to justify the price or if I want a big appliance taking up room in my kitchen.
If you are interested, you can buy the SousVide Supreme 10-L. SousVide Supreme Water Oven at cooking.com and the SousVideMagic is sold at Fresh Meals Solutions.
Thomas Keller also has a book out called Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide but is more for a professional or very serious cook.
Good luck cooking at low temperatures.
Recently a question was posed to me about which bread making machine was best, and frankly I didn’t know. While living abroad I learned how to make a simple bread dough from a Jamie Oliver recipe and have used that recipe ever since. I have never used a KitchenAid mixer or any other machine for bread; I make it completely by hand and I love the results. But frequent bread making from scratch is rarely an option for most people, and now that I have an artisanal bakery nearby, I have only made bread once in the last six months.
Essentially, bread making depends upon a person’s situation. Food needs, busy schedule, size of family, and existence of bakeries can all affect how and if we bake a loaf of bread. So here are a few questions you might ask yourself when thinking about buying some new bread making equipment.
- Do you have a good bakery nearby? You will likely bake less bread if that is the case.
- What type of bread do you like? Do you want artisanal bread or just better sandwich bread for you kids’ lunch box?
- Do you have dietary restrictions? If you can’t eat gluten, then making your own bread is a good option.
- Cost? If you can’t afford a bread machine or mixer, you may need to make bread the old fashioned way.
- How much bread do you eat and how often? These are simple questions but important.
Too many people buy bread machines and kitchen mixers and never use them. They just have different bread needs, and that’s perfectly fine, but if you are looking to invest in kitchen tools or to start making bread, examining your habits, needs, and expectations will help make it so you actually use the equipment you buy.
So with that said, I like to group home bread making into four categories.
- Handmade bread from scratch with no tools;
- Handmade bread with use of kitchen tools such as mixers;
- Semi-handmade bread with use of a bread machine; and
- Completely automated bread with full use of a bread machine.
The first method of completely making bread by hand is probably the most messy and time consuming and takes some dedication. This is what I do as I don’t own a food processor, KitchenAid mixer, or bread machine. However, I don’t feel that most people unless they are serious bakers or bread lovers would choose this method nowadays, especially with so many kitchen tools to make the job easier.
I initially chose making bread this way because I had no appliances and no good bakeries. If you are a serious bread purist, concerned about cost, or a foodie that just wants to learn baking and make a handful of loaves per year, this style of bread making will probably be fine. It works, isn’t as hard as it seems, and tastes great. I just started out with a simple recipe and moved on to more elaborate breads. Here is the Jamie Oliver recipe I use.
The second method of using kitchen appliances to help out is probably the most common. Either a mixer or food processor assists in mixing and kneading the bread dough, and you are left to proof and bake the bread on your own. The advantage of this method is that it cuts down on some of the work and clean-up and also gives you a lot of flexibility with making different types of bread. You control the bread product. And for most cooks, you will already have a mixer or food processor that can handle bread dough. This is the way I would do it if I had the tools.
If you cook bread in this manner, I would also recommend two books that will help cut down on the time without sacrificing bread making results. Both Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Bread In Half The Time will give tips and techniques to make fresh bread quicker by proofing dough in the microwave or using a different type of dough that can be refrigerated.
The third method of using a bread machine to do everything except baking the bread is a hybrid approach and is also popular. You still have some control over the bread but the bread machine eliminates the mixing, kneading, and proofing steps. You simply take the unbaked, proofed bread from the machine, form it how you want, and bake it in the oven. This is a great compromise approach if that suits your needs.
With proper measuring of ingredients and a book or two, this method will also yield very good baked bread. A useful tool for this method is a digital scale to get the ingredients properly measured as that is one of the main causes of unsatisfactory bread machine results. Go by weight and not volume if you use a bread machine.
As for bread machines, a highly recommended model is the Zojirushi BBCCX20 Supreme Bread Machine. I have also seen the Panasonic SD-YD250 Automatic Bread Maker mentioned as a good choice, and it has excellent reviews on Amazon. The Zojirushi will allow you to control the bread making process a bit more than the Panasonic, and it has a horizontal loaf, which usually means better crust. The Panasonic is more of a start-to-finish machine, puts the yeast in on its own, and has a vertical loaf. With both of these machines, you can take the dough out and cook it in your own oven.
And if you end up going the total bread machine route, a highly recommended book is The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook, and if you want to create more artisanal-tasting breads Rustic European Breads from Your Bread Machine is useful.
Finally, the last method of complete automation with a bread machine is obviously the easiest, but you lose a lot of control over your bread result. This doesn’t mean it is bad bread, but you will have less control over shape, rising, and crust and you may need to experiment to get your results to come out properly. Again, the books listed above will help produce better results, and they will also give numerous recipes. The main benefit of this all-in-one method is less work, but if you are willing to forgo true artisanal bread, a bread machine will allow you to have fresh bread awaiting you in the morning along with that great aromal. Also, for larger families that eat a lot of bread, taking this route may be the easiest and best option to ensure a great supply of fresh bread.
And last of all, if you want a good site for a lot of useful bread-making resources, I would recommend checking out King Arthur Flour. Serious bakers use this site, and it is well organized and has a lot of good equipment. Happy baking.
In the July issue of Bon Appetit, they featured a portable espresso maker made by Handpresso out of France. The video below shows you how it works, but basically you pump the unit about 40 times, put in hot water, insert one of those little espresso packets, turn over and dispense. It seems pretty nifty, and if you are one of those that needs a shot of espresso in the morning and is also outdoors or on the move a lot, this is probably a great product for you.
With that said, there is definitely a yuppie feel to this product. Even the name “Handpresso Wild” is a bit silly in that oxymoronic sort of way. And that couple in the video looks rather ridiculous sipping espresso on a rock in the woods. In the end, you might get made fun of more than you get compliments, but then again those same people poking fun at you will probably want you to make them a cup of coffee, so who cares.
There is also a new Handpresso Domepod unit that uses ground espresso instead of the packs, but according to a review at Wired.com, they can be a bit messy. On the Handpresso website you can also see a variety of accessories available such as plastic cups, carrying cases, and other products to make your cup of java even more portable. The price tag is on the high end at $100 for the maker and accessories will cost you too, so this isn’t for everyone, but it would probably make a great gift for the outdoor coffee nut in the family.
I don’t use microwave ovens a lot, but in a recent Saveur it was noted that on October 25th, it was the birthday of the introduction of the home mircrowave oven. The Tappan Stove Company using Raytheon military microwave technology introduced the first home unit in 1955. It retailed for $1,295.
Ten years later, Raytheon acquired Amana and put out the popular Radarange. I still remember those old microwave TV commercials where a large steel ball on a chain would crash into the door of the Amana radarange thus proving its strength and durability. I’m not sure how that related to cooking food, but I still remember the commercial at least.
The model above is what I had as a child in the 70s, and you can buy it on eBay for $150. From what I remember these units weigh a ton, so expect to pay a lot in shipping too.
I you don’t use your microwave that often, Real Simple listed 14 ’surprising’ uses for a microwave. This includes disinfecting sponges, softening brown sugar, roasting garlic, and cooking vegetables. Following that line of thought, in the New York Times there is an article by Mark Bittman on how to better use your microwave oven. Basically, if you would steam a vegetable, you can use the microwave instead. It saves time, dishes, and some say it retains more vitamins.
If you are looking at upgrading from your current model, Food & Wine in February 2009 listed some breakthroughs. Microwaves now have sensor cooking that automatically adjust cooking time, for instance the Panasonic Genius Prestige. There are also many microwaves that are both convection ovens and standard microwaves. And you can also get some that are in-built drawers if you don’t have enough counter space. Dacor, Viking, and Sharp all make versions. The Dacor and Viking options will be much more expensive, but the Sharp gets some pretty bad reviews for reliability.
As far as tips, Cook’s Illustrated says that using plastic wrap when cooking in a microwave can trap food-scorching steam and passed on a reader tip of using inverted glass bowls instead of plastic wrap. The magazine also gave the tip of using basket-style coffee filters to prevent splatters.