Saturday, March 25, 2017

Pasta Fazool - Pasta and Beans

Tonight I'm making the classic Pasta Fazool. The Italian name is Pasta e Fagioli, but of course you can also just call it pasta with beans.

Julian's Pasta Fazool
While this is a classic Italian hearty soup, it is pretty time consuming and has many steps. If you don't have a food processor I would say to skip this recipe. Otherwise you are in for quite a lot of work. If you're in a hurry, this isn't the dish you want to make.

With that said, I do like to make a batch once each winter. A good hearty soup like chili, pasta fazool has its own special flavor and this batch makes quite a lot. Plenty of left overs will be available, or you can feed a family of 10-12.

When you travel through Italy, and I've seen most of the country, you find that there are as many version of Pasta Fazool as there are people. I've not had two that are exactly the same. My recipe is what I remember from my childhood and similar to that of TV chef Lida Bastianich. You can make yours however you like it best, but I'll share my recipe below. I don't follow the recipe closely and use what I have on hand. This batch has more pasta in it than usual as I was trying to use up some leftover.

Pasta Fazool

(Serves 8-12)
In the pot ready to boil.
1 pound dry cannellini (white kidney) beans
5 quarts water
3 Idaho baking potatoes, peeled whole
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 dried bay leaves
6 slices bacon, cut into smaller chunks
1 to 1.5 pounds Italian sausage (mild)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 14.5 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound ditalini or elbow pasta
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesano cheese

Soak the beans in cold water over night. Drain and dump the beans into a large pot with five quarts of water (at least an 8 quart pot). Add the potatoes, rosemary and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a gentle boil. Let cook while preparing the vegetables.

Using a food processor with the standard chopping blade, process the bacon and garlic to a paste. Add the Italian sausage and pulse until well combined. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the bacon/sausage mixture and cook, stirring regularly to break into small pieces until lightly browned. Stir in the onions and cook 4-5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook another 5 minutes Stir in the crushed tomatoes, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Transfer the tomato sausage mixture into the soup pot and bring back to a full boil. Season lightly with salt and pepper and reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Using a slotted spoon, remove about one third of the beans to a bowl. (If some meat or other ingredients are included that is okay, but try to avoid the herbs.) Add just enough cooking liquid to cover them. Remove the whole potatoes to the bowl and break them into pieces. Transfer to the large bowl of a food processor or blender. Cover and process until fully creamed.

Add the creamed ingredients to the soup pot and cook another 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Increase heat to bring the pot to a full boil and add the dry pasta. Cook until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes more.

 Let the soup rest off the heat, covered, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with grated cheese.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Thai Marinade Pork Chops - Sous Vide

Pork chops are one meat you don't want to overcook. Much like beef steaks, you want a juicy perfectly cooked chop every time. One way to ensure this happens consistently is to use the sous vide method.

Julian's Sous Video Thai Glazed Pork Chops
Sous vide is a method of preparing food by vacuum-sealing and heating in hot water until the meat reaches the water temperature. The words sous vide are french for “under vacuum”, although this is not a requirement as many just use zippered storage bags for cooking. The problem with that method is of course, the bags want to float and you must find a way to keep them down in the hot water. I use a vacuum system.

Juicy and perfectly cooked.
Now you might think that food would be unattractive even if perfectly cooked using sous vide. Most meats are actually finished for a minute or two on each side in a hot skillet, to give them that perfectly grilled look. A technique used extensively by fine restaurants, banquet houses and caterers, sous vide gives you the flexibility to put the food in the water to cook and know that it won't ever over cook because it can't get hotter than the water temperature. What you need to make this water bath stay hot is of course, a sous vide device (sometimes called a water oven.)

Joule in a plastic water tank with lid on to prevent evaporation.
After much research I select the Joule by ChefSteps. It's smaller than many other devices and sits in a pot or plastic container. It has a clip on the side to hold it to the container/pot and it is also magnetic on the bottom. I selected Jouse because I was trying to minimize yet another device that I would have to store, but also wanted one that was well rated. It's powerful enough for steaks for 8, and at 11 inches, it’s small enough to squeeze into my kitchen drawer. I also like the Smartphone app interface and it also connects to our Amazon Echo so I can asked Alexa what the water temperature is at any time. The app itself is pretty amazing and I usually select the guided approach. For these chops I selected the types of chops I was cooking using the photos, and then it asked me about my desired degree of doneness (again using photos to guide me) and asked for the thickness of the chops (one inch in my case.)  She set the temperature automatically, started the water pump and said it would take one hour for the chops to reach the desired temperature once cooking began. When she signaled that the water was at temperature, I lowered the vacuum bagged chops into the water bath.

Julian's sous vide chops, without marinade.
As you can see from the photo above, I've made chops several times. The first time they were not seasoned before they hit the hot skillet to finish. The second time I made a Thai marinade and put that right in with them in vacuum bag. They came out quite delicious both times. My marinade recipe is below.

Four chops in upright rack without marinade.
The beautiful thing about the sous vide is that after the hour of cooking, you can let the chops sit in the hot water for an additional 90 minutes. They will NOT over cook. So you can finish them in your hot skillet whenever you're ready for them.

Thai Pork Chops - Marinade and Glaze

(enough for 3-4 chops)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons lime juice

Whisk the ingredients together, reserving about 1/4 cup for later use.

If using sous vide, place the marinade in the bag with the chops, seal and place them in the hot water and cook per your devices instructions. I like them just a bit pink. I'd call them medium-well. For that the water should be at 60C or 140F. For one inch thick chops that takes about an hour. The chops will hold in the water bath up to 90 minutes after they've finished cooking. When you are nearly ready to serve, heat a heavy skillet with a little vegetable oil until it is quite hot. Remove the chops from the bags and discard the bags and used marinade. Place the chops in the skillet for 1-2 minutes. Turn and use the reserved marinade as a glaze on the chops. Let rest five minutes and serve.

If using this for traditional pan fried or oven baked chops, place the chops in a large zippered storage bag or baking dish. Pour the marinade over the chops and cover. Refrigerate for one hour, turning once halfway through.  Bake or pan fry as usual.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sriracha Chicken - Sous Vide Optional

Chicken breasts can be dry and tasteless if not properly prepared. This recipe works to keep the kitchen moist and flavorful.

Julian's Sriracha Chicken
Even though this has the sriracha seasoning from Thailand, it really isn't too spicy. The heat is moderated by the honey and mostly you just pick up a bit of the garlic flavor. I would make it just the way it's shown below. If you do find it too much for your tastes, just reduce the amount used or limit the marination time.

I'm going to make mine using the sous vide today, as that water-bath method keeps food very moist. But this recipe will also work fine using a traditional oven or cook top technique. I'll give you instructions for both methods.

This recipe uses boneless, but skin on chicken breast halves. This can be hard to find in pre-packed chicken. I usually buy the bone-in variety and just cut out the little breast bone myself. You'll find this quite easy to do if you can't purchase them already boned.

Sriracha Chicken


4 skin-on boneless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons sriracha sauce
Juice of one small lime (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons butter (for browning)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Combine the honey, sriracha and lime juice to make a marinade. Place the chicken in a large zippered plastic bag or vacuum bag.  Pour in the marinade, add the butter pieces, close tightly (or vacuum on the moist setting if using a vacuum bag) and place in the refrigerator for one hour. Turn once during marination.

Sous Vide method: Heat the water with the sous vide device to 140F (60C). Add chicken to the hot water in the sealed bag and push it down to the bottom. Cover and let cook 60 minutes. Can hold for 30 minutes longer as needed. Open the bag and remove the breasts, reserving the liquid. Melt the additional two tablespoons of butter in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the breasts, skin side down and brown (about 3-4 minutes). Turn and brown 30 seconds more on the other side. Remove chicken to a cutting board and let rest. Pour the reserved marinade into the skillet and scrape up the brown bits stirring constantly until slightly reduced. Slice the chicken into pieces, plate and spoon the sauce over the chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve hot.

Oven method: Pre-heat your oven to 350F degrees. Remove chicken from the bag and reserve the liquid. In a flame-proof baking dish (safe for use on the stove top), place the chicken pieces skin side up. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the chicken reads 140F degrees on an instant read thermometer. Remove the dish to the cook top and over a medium heat, turn the chicken skin-side down and brown as necessary to get a dark crisp skin. Remove chicken to a cutting board and let rest. Pour the reserved marinade into the skillet and scrape up the brown bits stirring constantly until slightly reduced. Slice the chicken into pieces, plate and spoon the sauce over the chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve hot.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Rum Bundt Cake

Rum Bundt cake and Caribbean rum cake are not at all the same thing, and today I'm making the former. A light, flavorful Bundt very much different than the dark heavy Caribbean rum cake. Many rum Bundt cakes are made with a boxed cake mix, but this is not. It's made completely from scratch and absolutely moist and delicious. Since the rum is cooked, very little alcohol remains, but it still has a wonderful sweet rum flavor.

Julian's Rum Bundt Cake
Rum cake is a favorite in the Caribbean islands where we own a vacation home. But sadly, most of what you get at the tourist shops isn't very good. When you do get a homemade Caribbean black rum cake, they are actually much more like what we call a fruit cake, and like those we have in the U.S. mainland, they are all descendants of the British holiday puddings. The primary difference between a classic British pudding and a rum cake is of course, the rum.

These cakes are sometimes called black cake, because the color is quite dark. In the Caribbean, making a classic rum or black cake is expensive, as it includes dried fruits not common in the islands, such as raisins and prunes. These are much more expensive than local fruits and so it is for this reason they are usually made only for the Christmas holidays, with plenty of local rum, which is inexpensive. Locals say you should 'start the fruit when the hurricane season ends', which is around October. By start the fruit, they mean soaking the dried fruit in rum. Most families serve it on Christmas day and then just keep it out on the table for guest snacking until it's gone. They sprinkle on more rum if it starts to get dry. In fact, many drink it with a glass of rum. What makes the cake nearly black is the soaking of the dark fruits in rum and the use of brown sugar, molasses and a bittersweet caramel called browning. Unlike the British or American versions, in the Caribbean they grind the soaked fruit to a fine paste, so you never bite into a piece of fruit.

Browned nicely on the outside, golden rum inside.
So I'm afraid I've told you all of this when I'm not making a Caribbean rum cake, but rather my favorite rum Bundt cake, which comes nearly verbatim from King Arthur Flour, my favorite flour company.  It's really quite excellent and always much more popular than the Caribbean version, at least here in the north of the USA.

Bundt Pan Sticking:  Some people tell me they have trouble with their Bundt cakes sticking to the pan and not releasing cleanly. I've never had this experience. I have one old pan and one new top of the line pan. Every cake has released just fine using nothing but food release spray to prepare the pan, along with either with traditional all-purpose flour or ground nut flour (I prefer the latter.) Here are some solutions if you have a problem with pan sticking. First, use a non-stick pan of good quality. Then, make sure the entire pan is sprayed with food release, including the central cone, and do not use butter for this purpose. If you don't have food release, use solid shortening or spray vegetable oil. Butter causes sticking. If you don't have nut flour, use granulated sugar. If you use sugar, be sure to turn the cake out of the pan when it's warm, otherwise it too will stick.  Let most cakes sit out on the counter for 5-10 minutes before turning them out. Run a knife gently along the edge and center cone and even down the sides. If the cake doesn't release when it's turned over, let it sit in this position for another five minutes. If it hasn't dropped onto the plate, the use a gentle side-to-side shaking motion to help release it. If the cake has left in the pan too long and is now cold, reheat it for 5-10 minutes in the oven at 300F degrees.

Rum Bundt Cake


2 cups  all-purpose flour
          (King Arthur Unbleached preferred)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ounce box, Jello-o pudding mix, dry
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
4 large eggs
1/2 cup white or aged (golden) rum
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon butter rum flavor (optional but excellent)
1/4 cup pecan or almond flour, for dusting baking pan

Nut flour coated Bundt pan.

Rum soaking syrup

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white or golden rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla


1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly spray a 10 to 12 cup Bundt pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle on the pecan or almond flour and turn the pan to coat evenly. Set aside.

2. Place all of the cake ingredients except the rum, vanilla and butter rum flavoring in the bowl of your stand mixer and blend on medium speed for 2 minutes. Be sure to scrape down the bowl after one minute.

3. Add the rum, vanilla and flavor to the batter and blend for another minute. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and spread level with a spatula.

4. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes until a long pick inserted comes out clean. (I use a bamboo skewer for this purpose.)

5. Allow the cake to begin cooling in the pan while you make the soaking syrup.

6. In a medium-sized saucepan combine the syrup ingredients, except vanilla. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

7. Use a long skewer to poke holes all over the cake. Pour about 1/4 of the syrup over the cake (still in the pan). Allow the syrup to soak in, then repeat again and again until all the syrup is used.

8. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit out overnight to cool completely and soak in the syrup. When ready to serve, loosen the edges of the cake by carefully inserting a thin long knife along the edge of the pan. As this cake cooled in the pan, it does not come out as easily as traditional Bundt cake. If you have trouble with release, follow the instructions above. Invert on to your serving plate.