To Roast a Pig

In July I spent a weekend down in LA for one of my uncle’s famous pig roasts.

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More Pictures of Food

I am still using the Blue Apron meal service and I feel the need to complete the week out by at least posting about the last meal of the first week. From the first box the last meal is Roasted Chicken and Mixed Mushrooms. According to the blurb this dish is based of a ‘winning’ dish from the Season 13 Top Chef finale by chef Jeremy Ford. This is an interesting ‘synergization’ of products by pairing Blue Apron with Top Chef, but there is a problem: I have read a summary of the dishes served in the season finale of Top Chef and Jeremy Ford did not serve roasted chicken to the judges, its not a dish from the finale. Perhaps it is adapted from the duck dish served in the third course, but that dish was ridiculed by the judges as being almost raw. This research has removed all confidence that Blue Apron was trying to add to the recipe by mentioning the Top Chef winner.

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No peas to mess up this time

This time I double checked that I had all the correct ingredients, though as this was the last meal of the week it used all the Blue Apron ingredients which I had left. Most notably, this recipe was the first that I’ve made that needed a small amount of a liquid. The sauce uses a small amount of sherry vinegar, which came in an adorably small bottle.

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Single serving sherry, quarter for scale

From the start this recipe worried me for one big reason, instead of including carbohydrates the chef designing this recipe decided to use mushrooms. While willing to try this it means that this is a 570 Calorie meal because carbs are one of the most efficient ways of ingesting energy, good if you are dieting but that is a small meal if dinner is your large meal of the day.

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I have never cooked mushrooms before but this doesn’t seem right

The mushrooms came out a little burnt. Talking to others I know with the service who tried preparing the same recipe they had this problem as well. I think this stems from the inherent vaugness that Blue Apron has in their instructions. The mushrooms are cut into “bite size pieces” and then cooked with a little oil and seasoning in the oven. I noticed the my semi burn “bite sized pieces” were a bit bigger then my friend who small pieces were burnt to a crisp. Closely looking at the Blue Apron pictures I notice that their “bite size” was really cutting each mushroom in half, leaving very large pieces.

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The finished dish

I am still not a huge fan of the texture of mushrooms, especially when they are slightly singed and this dish did little to convince me. I think I need to work into mushrooms much more gradually than they are presented in this dish. The collard green as with the green vegetables in these dishes seems to be there more for color than flavor or texture. The savior of what would otherwise be a sad dish is the chicken thigh, it was absolutely delicious.

As a bonus since this post is a little late I have also received my second delivery of Blue Apron and have prepared one of the meals from it, Korean Bao Sliders. This dish is a good example of why I decided to try Blue Apron. Its a recipe that I would order out, or get at a food truck but not something that I would try at home. It was fairly easy to prepare and it was very tasty, and unlike the low Calorie chicken above the recipe prepares 6 sliders which, for me, was enough for 3 meals.

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Very careful to select everything correctly

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Tasty sliders

As I move into my second week of Blue Apron I am starting to run into a problem that I foresaw. This is a lot of food for one person. I got the second delivery of Blue Apron food on Wednesday and I still had leftovers from two of the meals from the previous week in my fridge. Unless I am very good about not eating out and cooking most nights using Blue Apron just for dinners for one will generate a compounding error and make the entire system unstable. There are two things that can be done to prevent this: one which I have started, bring the leftovers for lunch; and a second, if overwhelmed deliveries can be halted for a week, which I may need to do in the future if I still can’t keep up.

An Apron’s Addendum

So on trying my second meal from Blue Apron I realized that some of my criticism of the first meal was unfair.

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Can you spot what’s wrong with this picture?

If you look closely in the picture above you’ll see that for today’s meal Spiced Pork Chops & Mashed Potatoes there are sugar snap peas laid out with the other ingredients. It seems two meals this week involved two different types of peas, and I grabbed the wrong ones. The peas that went into the Gemelli were English peas the larger rougher cousin to the sweet sugar snap.

With the mistake already made I had no choice but to compound it and make the pork chop recipe with the sugar snaps. Luckily sugar snaps make a decent substitution for English peas.

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I would have preferred to sous-vide, but that’s not in the recipe

The recipe was otherwise very straight forward, though I don’t like how often they include “salt and pepper to taste” and other vagueness around how much salt to add. Salt, pepper and olive oil are the only ingredients that Blue Apron cooks are expected to have already, buts its always very exact about how much olive oil to use.

The recipes are designed to be simple to follow and not designed to be exact and idiot proof. I really would prefer if this was a scientific paper and these were the instructions to replicate the experiment’s results by peer revue. Instead of ‘heat oil in a pan until hot‘, tell me exactly what temperature the pan should be. Hot has a different definition between chefs and it seems in Blue Aprons interest to give detailed instructions so that everyone who uses their ingredients and recipe will get very consistent results.

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The finished dish

The dish was very good. The peas cooked with shallot made a good topping and mashed potatoes are always a good pick. I feel like the kale was added just for color, as it didn’t add any flavor to the dish and had most of its texture cooked out of it. But as someone who doesn’t really like green and leafy it worked for me.

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Lunch

An Azure Apron

This week was my first delivery from Blue Apron, the meal delivery service. The idea behind this service, and a few others like it, is to send a box with the raw ingredients for several meals and the recipes for the meal and the customer can keep the ingredients and cook the meals fresh when they want them. Basically its the food equivalent of the fashion worlds personal stylist and services like Trunk Space. Instead of going grocery shopping for yourself every week your groceries are picked out by experts and delivered to your door.

While this service is pretty convenient if one is unable to shop often for fresh food, or is looking to expand their culinary abilities beyond microwaving TV dinners; I signed up mostly to use it a a way to be introduced to new foods. I have always been a picky eater and have shied away from a lot of foods, especially if they are green and leafy. While I still don’t have a admiration for vegetables I think its about time I give them another chance, and instead of experimenting on my own I’ve trusted Blue Apron chefs to send me tasty meals all of which I am committed to making and trying in an attempt to expand my pallet.

The first meal this week is Spring Gemelli Pasta with Garlic Sugar Snap Peas, Crispy Capers & Soft-Boiled Eggs:

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Everything assembled and ready

Everything came individually packaged inside a great big cardboard box, cooled with ice packs. I am getting 3 meals for 2 people a week, so each box is a lot of food. Pictured above I have separated out the ingredients for the first of the recipes I decided to try. I found the packaging of the ingredients is the best/worst part of this service.

It would seem a little crazy with today’s Mega-Marts to think of shopping with such small portions. Go to Costco and try and buy only two eggs, they will look at you like you are mad. Being use to buying bulk food and food items that have not been packaged to survive a rough delivery the wasted packaging seems a little excessive. Almost everything has its own packaging or container and for very small amounts of ingredients it seems silly.

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Roasted Red Pepper Flakes

As someone who has lived alone I can also say the the packaging size is comforting. Feeding one person doesn’t take much food and it one tries to have a varied diet there can be significant food waste. Not much in supermarkets is sized for a single person for a single meal or rarely even a meal for two, the supermarket is ruled by the family sized fun packs. Buying those as a person with a single mouth to feed means sometimes you can’t reasonably use all the food before it expires. This is where I like the packaging of Blue Apron meals, its the exact amount of food for a meal for two, you don’t have to worry about wrapping anything up and putting back in the fridge.

The dish, Spring Gemelli pasta, looked pretty good. The thing that scared me were the peas, and not because they came with a hitchhiker. The peas were the ‘green thing’ in the dish, which make it look visually exciting, but were a new food to me and I didn’t know if it would ruin the dish for me.

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A Ladybug that came along for the ride

As for preparing the dish it took me a little more than half an hour, though it would have been less if I had managed time better. The direction were very straight forward. Its very easy to follow a recipe witch has a picture of what the dish should look like at the end as well as pictures of what each incremental step should look like. Since “cook at high heat until peas turn bright green” could mean anything. In the end my finished dish came out looking almost exactly like the one pictured on the recipe and the website, that’s an encouraging sign.

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The finished dish

But how did it taste? In two words, not bad. Really it was delicious except for one pesky criminal spoiling the dish. I expected the spring peas to be the thing that I didn’t like in the dish and they weren’t. The peas were really very good, like little pieces of candy in the starchy sauce. The problem with the dish was the pea-pods. I don’t understand how one could eat them on a mechanical or a culinary level. The peas stayed in their pods for the most part during cooking, but a soon as I tried to fork one all the peas quickly evacuated. Once I finally got one intact I found that the evacuation was for the better as the pod of the pea was tough and sinewy unlike the peas inside. Picking around the pea pods and squeezing out the peas made the dish quite tastier.

From this dish there are a few things I’ve learned, about cooking and about myself: one, saving some of the starch water from pasta and adding it back in can create a creamy sauce without the use of cream; two, capers are tasty; three, peas are goods eats; four, their pods are not.

Bacon Pancakes

So apparently today is pancake day. I found out a little late for breakfast, but was still in time for breakfast for dinner.

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And as its pancake day I’ll leave you with the catchiest song of all time, that happens to pancake related:

Sriracha Popcorn

This weekend I had friends visiting from out of town and while they were here I made one of my go to snacks: sriracha popcorn. They had never had, nor ever heard of such a thing and ask how it was made: these are the detailed instructions for a spicy and salty snack.

Ingredients:

The ingredients for sriracha popcorn are simple:
popcorn kernels,
butter,
salt,
and the star sriracha.

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The first step is to mix about a tablespoon of butter with half to a full tablespoon of sriracha, depending on how spicy you like it.

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Melt the butter with the sriracha. Microwave for 30 seconds in two 15 second burst should do the trick.DSC00255

But remember microwaving butter has a tendency to explode. Cover with care.

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Once its all melted, stir together until the fluid is consistent.

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Step 2: the popcorn

The next step is the popcorn. You may prepare this as you prefer, plain unseasoned popcorn is what we’re after. The simplest method I’ve found is just adding popcorn kernels to a brown paper lunch bag and microwave.

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Here I’ve used around 4 tablespoons.

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Fold the edge of the bag over to make sure no popcorn escapes.

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I put it in horizontally.

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I pushed the popcorn button on my microwave. But it comes out to about two and a half minutes.

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Mmmmm…. popcorn!

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Step 3: Mix it up

Pour the popcorn out into a bowl.

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Pour out the sriracha-butter onto the popcorn and mix well then salt lightly.

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Step 4: Enjoy

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For Science!

Sous-vide cooking is a new trend that has recently started gaining popularity with home cooks though it has been used by restaurants for a much longer time. Sous-vide cooking is to cook very precisely using a small heater, a temperature sensor, a thermal medium that has a fairly high specific heat, and a control feedback loop. Simply put it is a heater, a pump and a thermometer wrapped up to be used to heat a container of water to precisely the desired temperature, into which food in plastic bags is placed and cooked. I am one who has been experimenting with sous-vide cooking, and as it is in the area of my interests I take notice when it gets attention, and as more circulators designed and marketed for home use are created its been getting a lot of attention.

A statement that I have often seen attached with the introduction of the concept of sous-vide cooking keeps appearing and is starting to make my skin crawl.

“Sous-vide cooking is like science with food”

Sous-vide is no closer to ‘science’ than any other form of cooking. Sous-vide looks like science as the cylindrical circulator, partially submerged in bubbling water and glowing with lights and temperature read outs, looks like something from a science fiction movie. Preparing one’s food by portioning it out and sealing it in vacuum bags does seem at first more like lab procedure than making mac and cheese, but sous-vide is not science.

Merriam-Websters defines science as “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation”. When cooking using a recipe, using sous-vide or otherwise, there is no experimentation, no study, and no observation. Nothing new is learned by following the recipe, no knowledge is created. Cooking with published recipes could be compared to the peer review segment of the scientific process, but without a definitive hypothesis to confirm this peer review adds little scientific value, even if it is delicious.

Sous-vide get compared to ‘science’ because it adds to cooking something that is very useful in the scientific process, control over variables. By exactly controlling the temperature of the water a cook has much more control over the heat diffuse into the food. This may seem very trivial unless you’ve spent time with a bad oven that didn’t heat evenly across or had your popcorn burn’t by a 1500W microwave because you are used to a 1000W microwave oven. So instead of comparing the laboratory precision of a sous-vide circulator to science, why not use it to actually do science!

Step 1: Form a hypothesis.

Can bacon be prepared via sous-vide?

Wait, a hypothesis should be the answer we are testing, not a question we are answering!

Bacon can be prepared via sous-vide style immersion cooking.

That’s almost something that can be tested, lets just polish up some of the vagueness.

Bacon can be prepared via sous-vide style immersion cooking to a similar consistency as bacon prepared on the stove top, convection or microwave oven.

Its not solid enough for  research grant, but its something we can test. Really its very simple, can sous vide make nice crispy bacon?

Step 2: Design an experiment.

According to research done on related topics, pork fat should start rendering around 140° F. So starting at at least this temperature is a good place to start the experiment. Since rendering fat at low temperatures seems like it would take a while my experiment will start at 155° F raising it every hour if no visual progress is observed.

If the bacon comes out crispy and and delicious our hypothesis is confirmed, if not the hypothesis, under these testing conditions, remains unconfirmed, or as Mythbusters puts it: ‘Busted’.

Step 3: Preform the experiment.

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Bacon, ready to be prepped.

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Vacuum sealing the bacon.

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mmmmm….science.

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155° F

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Cooking

After an hour of cooking at 150° F with no noticeable change in the submerged bacon the temperature was raised to 160° F and left to continue cooking for another hour.

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Observational evidence: not as appealing as sizzling

The hour at 165° F left little impact on the bacon, a small amount of fluid had joined the bacon in the sealed bag, fat or other drippings from the bacon. The heat was increased to 170° F.

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Up to 170° F

After the three hours of cooking the bacon was still is a squishy state, very similar to the sate it started in. Though it was probably safe to eat, it was by no means appetizing.

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“Cooked” bacon.

Step 4: Conclusion.

BUSTED

With this experiment we were unable to confirm the given hypothesis. This proves with a single scientific data point that given the procedure outlined here, tasty bacon is not made. This is not a recipe to pass on to your grand kids, but there is one more step to the basic scientific process…

Step 5: Repeat.

To be considered a valid scientific experiment it should be repeatable by peers. I don’t know if anyone will want to preform this experiment, as given our results there seems to be better uses for the meat, but if they wanted to the experiment is documented and can be repeated and the results verified or contested by the scientific community.

Also given the result we achieved we cannot conclude that the starting hypothesis is true, but this does not mean it is false. Only that it is unproven. Based on the results of this experiment new experiments can be created with slightly different procedures in an attempt to confirm the given or similar hypothesis.

That is cooking with science.