Sous vide – Not just for summer

When you think of essential tools for summer cooking, chances are your mind goes immediately to the charcoal or gas grill, a cool salad or a pot of boiling sweet corn. You probably do not think of a sous vide cooker, the increasingly popular portable appliance synonymous with steak, but quickly catching on as a versatile cooking tool for many food types.

Steak is a mainstay on many summer menus, and sous vide gained popularity among steak enthusiasts for offering precise, thorough cooking that can be hard to achieve with a grill or range. Sous vide can bring that same precision to other summer dishes while adding layers of flavor and convenience as you dine and snack your way through the dog days of summer.

Appliance manufacturers now offer an array of sous vide options, from small portable immersion cookers, to all-in-one units, to built-in sous vide features that are part of a range. And even though sous vide is becoming more popular, AHAM research shows that sous vide cookers are still only in 3 percent of U.S. homes according to 2017 AHAM consumer research. So, you’ll still probably look like you’re on the cutting edge of home cooking to your friends and family.

“It’s really a tool that can help the everyday home cook produce truly foolproof food,” says Molly Birnbaum, editor-in-chief of America’s Test Kitchen Kids and editor of the book “Sous Vide for Everybody: The Easy, Foolproof Cooking Technique That’s Sweeping the World.” “It’s a ‘set it and forget it’ cooking method.” Brinbaum, former executive editor of Cook’s Science at America’s Test Kitchen, didn’t start cooking sous vide until she edited the book, which includes recipes for everything from eggs and dairy to chicken and other meats. She offered some summertime suggestions for sous vide cooks who are looking to move beyond steak:

Asparagus: “Oftentimes, we overcook asparagus,” Birnbaum says. “Sous vide takes away the guesswork. She recommends setting the sous vide cooker at 180 degrees. Sous Vide Guy recommends adding olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Cook sous vide for 15 minutes, then remove and sear in a pan or grill for 1-2 minutes.

New England Lobster Roll: “It’s the quintessential summer food,” Birnbaum says. Cook sous vide at 140 degrees. Follow these tips from Serious Eats to prepare a lobster for sous vide cooking before you make the lobster roll.

Corn on the cob: “Corn on the cob is very easy,” Birnbaum says. “The sous vide cooking intensifies the flavor of the vegetables. Sous vide corn tastes more like corn than other cooking methods. You don’t lose any of the flavor in the water that is released while cooking.” Cook at 180-185 degrees with butter.

Summer beverages: You can also utilize sous vide to cook extra-flavorful summer beverages. Put berries or citrus fruits in the bag and cook around 140 degrees. This creates a concentrated fruit syrup you can add to drinks like a raspberry lime rickey or grapefruit Paloma (tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice), Birnbaum says.

If you are ready to dip your toe into the sous vide water bath (not literally) this summer, Birnbaum recommends choosing a cooker that keeps the steady temperature, circulates the water well, and has Wi-Fi capability. “Other than that, use quality plastic bags and be prepared to get a little time back in your life.”

What are your go-to sous vide summer recipes? Share them in the comment section!

Craving jerky? Here’s how to make your own

Jerky. It’s that time-honored, protein packed snack synonymous with hikers, hunters and the great outdoors. But, it’s also a go-to everyday snack for many who are looking for a filling, flavorful protein boost and by people looking for easily stored, quick snacks while saving on freezer, counter and refrigerator space.

Whether your taste leans more toward cracked pepper, teriyaki or more exotic flavors, your jerky journey starts with a food dehydrator. While shopping, think about how and how often you’ll be using the dehydrator. Some things to consider are

  • Size: How much food will you dry at once? Where will the dehydrator be stored?
  • Number of shelves or racks you’ll need in the dehydrator
  • Visibility: Some models are clear to give you a view of the food during the dehydration process

Dehydrators offer various temperature settings. Most operate between 90 and 160 degrees F. And if you don’t have a dehydrator, some ranges even have a dehydration setting. You can also dehydrate foods in your oven, though you should check your range’s use and care manual for specific temperature suggestions.

Once you have chosen a dehydrator, it’s time to get to work making jerky. Dehydrating meat and other foods can be a bit labor-intensive on the front end, but that will save time later. “There’s a lot of prep work, a lot of slicing that needs to be done to get the product ready to dehydrate,” said Nancy Becker, a home economist with AHAM member National Presto, which manufactures food dehydrators. But that work saves time later, Becker says. “You can just take it right out of the jar and eat it.”

Like all cooking, the jerky-making process starts with safety. Dehydration won’t necessarily bring the meat to 165 degrees, the temperature necessary to kill bacteria. Plan on cooking your meat to 165 either before or after dehydration. Since you’ll most likely be marinating your jerky, Becker suggests boiling the meat in the marinade.

Any type of meat or fish can be made into jerky. Dehydrators are popular for preserving game meat. If you’re buying a cut of beef, choose a leaner cut or ask your butcher to recommend a good cut of lean meat. Trim away any visible fat. Beef, however, will still contain some marbling that can contribute to rancidity, Becker says.

Will Wagner, a jerky-making veteran of 20 years, author of the cookbook “Jerkyholic,” favors eye of round for making beef jerky. “It’s inexpensive and there’s not a lot of fat,” he says. Beginning jerky makers will probably find most of the ingredients for a basic marinade – salt, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, garlic – already in their kitchen, Wagner says. When you’re ready to experiment, try incorporating different flavors. Wagner prefers spicy jerky, flavored with peppers like Carolina reaper and habenero. “That really kicks it up and makes it interesting,” he says. His current favorite is Habanero Tabasco jerky (recipe below). He also recommends Dos Pepper Jerky, which combines ground  black and lemon pepper for a spicy kick, and The Best Homemade Jerky, which incorporates habaneros, Wworcestershire sauce, sea salt, onion powder and black pepper.

If you haven’t chosen a marinade or seasoning, now is the time to get creative. You are bound only by your meat-loving imagination, but here are a few ideas to stimulate your creativity, and appetite:

Harissa Jerky (Beef Jerky Hub): The mixture is meant to emulate harissa, a sweet, spicy paste common in North Africa.

Habanero Tabasco Jerky (Jerkyholic): A spicy recipe that combines tabasco habanero sauce with Worcestershire, black pepper, garlic and smoked paprika.

Spicy Maple Siracha Beef Jerky (The Kitchn):  Sweet, savory and spicy flavors unite.

When slicing the meat into strips, Becker recommends either cutting while frozen meat is partially thawed or putting fresh meat into the freezer to make it firmer. “It will slice much better,” she says. However, wait until it is fully thawed to put it into the dehydrator. How long you marinate the meat depends on the recipe, but it’s common to marinate meat overnight or even longer.

Your dehydrator’s use and care manual will provide specifics on how long the drying process will take. That will also depend on the thickness of the cut and the amount in the dehydrator. “The best way to determine whether it is done is to take the strip and bend it,” Becker says. “You want it to crack a little bit, but not completely break.”

Storing jerky: Jerky doesn’t last forever. Jerky can be kept at room temperature in a sealed container for two weeks, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia. It should be kept in the refrigerator or freezer if you plan on storing it for longer periods, Becker says.

Jerky is great, but sometimes, you want to add more plants to your diet. You can use your dehydrator on fruits and vegetables, too. Dried fruit makes a great snack, and vegetables can be rehydrated to use in recipes. A few things to know:

  • They’re going to shrink. “What astonishes most people is when you load the dehydrator, it looks like you have a tremendous amount of food,” Becker says. “When you’re done, it looks like you have a snack.” Fruits and vegetables with a high water content will be much smaller once they are dehydrated.
  • Some fruits, like bananas and apples, brown quickly after they are sliced. “If you don’t want those color changes, you have to pre-treat them,” Becker says. She recommends dipping them in pineapple or lemon juice after slicing. “If you’re going to store them for a few months, it will minimize those color changes.”

Do you have an exotic or unique jerky recipe? Share it in the comments below.

The keys to an allergy-free home

If you are one of the millions of Americans that suffer from seasonal allergies, you know that the changes in weather bring a plethora of allergy symptoms. Although you can’t control the triggers outdoors, there are some things you can do indoors that can make a major difference.

According to the American Lung Association, Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, but for allergy sufferers, this doesn’t mean protection from pollen, dust, smoke and other allergy triggers that can make life less than enjoyable. Instead of simply living with the sneezing, congestion and itchiness, take some action and limit your exposure to allergy triggers.

Tips for limiting allergens in the home:

  • Keep windows closed and limit outdoor activities, especially when the pollen count is high.
  • Shower before you go to bed to help remove the allergens that may have collected on you or your clothes throughout the day.
  • Do not hang your laundry outside to dry as the items may collect pollen and other allergens. Use a dryer or hang the clothes inside instead.
  • Use an air cleaner to help clean the air in your home.

A good portable air cleaner is a great way to filter airborne particles and help you breathe ‒ and sleep ‒ easier. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that indoor air pollutant levels may be two to five times higher than outdoor pollutant levels, making an air cleaner a good idea for everyone, not just those with allergies.

Do you want a HEPA, ULPA or electrostatic filter? Does your filter have an ionizer? AHAM offers information on these sometimes-confusing terms and allows you to compare air cleaners at You can also compare certified air cleaners by Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), suggested room size, and brand name. All of those will help you find an air cleaner that is right for your home.

The CADR shows how quickly air cleaners filtered tobacco smoke, dust and pollen during testing. Higher ratings indicate a faster rate of cleaning. Once you have established the rate needed for your room size, you can weigh the importance of product features, such as noise levels and design.

Meatless Cooking for the Mainstream Eater

Are you a meat lover looking to incorporate more plants into your diet? Easy! Just replace that thick, juicy steak with some steamed tofu and brown rice.

What, that doesn’t sound good? It’s not the same? Is something missing?

If you haven’t checked in on the plant-based world recently, you’re in for a treat.  The new generation of plant-based “meats,” unlike the carrot/oatmeal/bean discs of the past, are burgers and other pre-made products that emulate the flavor, cooking experience and (finally!) texture of meat. Purveyors of the new veggie burgers are confident they can appeal to both those looking to go full-on vegetarian and meat-eaters who simply want to eat more plants. But don’t just take our word for it – within the next few years, you’ll be able to find faux meats everywhere from McDonald’s to Qdoba to, well, pretty much anywhere.

“Every month, it seems like new products are hitting the market,” said Kerry Song, owner of Abbot’s Butcher, a plant-based “butcher shop” in Los Angeles. Abbot’s Butcher sells three plant-based products: ground “beef,” “chorizo,” and chopped “chicken”. The products will soon be distributed nationwide.

“It’s really great to see what companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are doing for the category,” Song says. “Most [people seeking plant-based options] aren’t vegans or vegetarians, they’re flexitarians. We’re seeing that cultural shift toward plant-based eating. As it becomes more mainstream, people are going to start expecting the taste and texture.” A 2017 Nielsen survey found that 39% of Americans and 43% of Canadians are trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets.

Vegetarian or not, you aren’t going to eat burgers every day. So, the challenge for meat lovers, when you venture beyond faux-meats, is how to create the same level of taste and satisfaction with plant-based meals. As with preparing any meal, success starts with what you do in the kitchen. Abbot’s Butcher products have been incorporated into recipes like Bolognese, stuffed bell peppers, sloppy joes, burritos, hashes, and as pizza toppings, Song says.

“It’s showing people they don’t have to compromise when cooking at home,” Song says.

When it comes to transitioning to plants from meat, there are two schools of thought, says Justin Fox Burks who, along with his wife, Amy Lawrence, runs the food site The Chubby Vegetarian. There are the newer products like the Beyond Meat and Impossible burgers that provide a close approximation of meat, and there are recipes that will appeal to meat eaters, but aren’t necessarily trying imitate meat.

Based in meat-loving Memphis, Fox Burks and Lawrence have co-authored two vegetarian cookbooks, “The Chubby Vegetarian: 100 Inspired Vegetable Recipes for the Modern Table,” and “The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table.”

“The goal of this generation of plant-based meats is the idea you can cook them exactly like meats,” Fox Burks says. “You can put it in the griddle, it cooks the same amount of time, and rare, medium or well-done. They have plenty of fat in them, so they sizzle, they pop. They’re good ‘training wheels’ when you want to eat more vegetables. Then you start thinking about sweet potato steaks and wings made from cauliflower.”

“Texture is 100 percent of it, especially for vegetables,” Fox Burks says. “If you overcook a vegetable, you’re going to end up with mush. We try to give people interesting ways to cook vegetables so they’ll want to eat them.”

You can capture some of the meat-eating experience by preparing, and sometimes even cooking, vegetables in much the same way you would meat.

“If you take a vegetable and treat it like a piece of meat—dry rub, blacken, barbecue, smoke—you’re going to end up with a delicious vegetable in the end.”

How do you treat a vegetable like meat? Fox Burks and Lawrence love using their oven’s broiler to blacken carrots for “carrot dogs” or to roast red peppers. “We use the heck out of our microwave,” he says. “We love being able to show people how to cut a few corners, like microwaving potatoes for gnocchi, and there’s no better way to soften a tortilla.”

Lawrence recently re-introduced meat into her diet, which she says makes her a good test subject for plant-based recipes that emulate meat dishes. Recreating that experience comes down to texture, spices and cooking.

“You can work with mushrooms,” she says. “You can work with beans to get your protein. You can do a black bean burger. Mushrooms seem to be a good substitute for a lot of things, but mainly pork. It’s all in how you fix them, how you season them, and how you cook them.”

A good sear is essential for bringing out the crispness and flavor that meat lovers crave. Lawrence recommends searing it well, and adding a smoky element through spices, a sauce or a rub.

One of The Chubby Vegetarian’s more popular recipes is spaghetti squash barbecue ribs. “Roast them in the oven or cook them on the grill, slather them in barbecue sauce. They’re ridiculously good, and you’re doing all the processes. You add the smoke, the heat, the acid the salt, just like you would to pork.” If cured meats are your thing, try the pastrami-cured beets.

Some of the plant-based burger brands that have been common sights in grocery store freezers for years, like Boca, can be good substitutes for meat in stews and chili, says chef Jimmy Gentry, owner of PO Press Public House and Provisions and Paradox Catering in Collierville, Tenn.

When cooking vegetables at home and in his restaurants, Gentry often turns to his sous vide immersion cooker, marinating vegetables in the vacuum-sealed bags to add flavor. “When we’re cooking cauliflower, we’ll vacuum seal it with a pat of butter, a couple of sprigs of thyme, a clove of garlic and some lemon zest.” Cook it sous vide at 86 degrees C for about an hour. “We’ll char it in a sautee pan,” he says. “That gives it a little bit of color, a little bit of crunch on the edges, a little bit of char, but the inside is still perfect.”

Season your vegetables, using even more than you would on a piece of meat. Spices will help coax the flavor out of the vegetables, which often lack the natural flavor of meat.

If you’re used to eating meat, you might prefer denser vegetables. “A great example is a portabella mushroom,” says Camron Razavi, executive chef at Restaurant Iris, a fine-dining restaurant in Memphis. “Treat it like a burger or steak. Cauliflower is still popular. You can cook cauliflower steaks just like a piece of meat. You can roast them, bake them, braise them.”

Razavi, whose background is Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, often incorporates spices common in those cuisines, like cumin, coriander, turmeric, tarragon, and star anise, into his vegetarian dishes. He counts a grill pan on the stove top among his go-to cooking tools for preparing vegetables. “Take your time and make sure your pan or grill is really hot to get those nice grill marks or char on there.”

Razavi recently re-introduced meat back after following a vegan diet for a year, though his diet remains plant-based.

“There are so many alternatives now to anything you can think of,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to try new things. If you see something interesting, try it out.”

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