Later On

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Tonight’s dinner is pretty good: Chicken breasts with tomatoes, capers, and tarragon

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Here’s the recipe after some alteration:

Chicken Breasts with Tomatoes and Capers

Servings: Yield 4 servings, 3 WW points per serving

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 1/4 pounds
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste plus a pinch of Aji-no-moto on each breast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh tarragon, or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
One 28-ounce can of D.O.M. San Marzano tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup drained capers
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

Dry the chicken breasts well and sprinkle with salt and pepper and Aji-no-moto and let sit for 30 minutes. Heat a heavy-bottom skillet and the add the oil and the chicken breasts and sauté over medium-high heat, turning the pieces after 5 minutes and then again after 4 minutes. Remove to a plate and cover with aluminum foil.

Add the shallots and garlic to the sauté pan. Cook for a few minutes, then add the tarragon, tomatoes, vinegar, capers, wine, and tomato paste (which during prep I put into one bowl). Stir to dissolve the brown particles adhering to the bottom of the skillet.

Mix well, bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer for 9 minutes.

Cut the chicken into bite-sized chunks and add to the tomato mixture along with any juices from the chicken. Stir and heat for a minute. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

I follow the sautéing instructions for chicken breast from this video, though in seasoning I included Aji-no-moto.

Turns out to be very good with a rosé.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2018 at 6:57 pm

Butchering a half-steer: Beef cuts shown and explained

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Very interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2018 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Another update for my current diet advice: A video for the novice cook

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I had linked to this video in other places, and since my diet advice recommends cooking your own meals (and some readers I know are novice cooks in junior high), I thought it would be good to add to my current diet advice post.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2018 at 6:34 pm

MSG Without Fear

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From a Cook’s Illustrated newsletter:

Umami is perhaps more subtle than the other four tastes (sour, sweet, bitter, and salty), but when it is present, it’s typically unmistakable. There are other molecules that can contribute umami to foods, but the most important compound is glutamic acid, a naturally occuring amino acid. Glutamic acid is concentrated in animal proteins, which is why it adds a “meaty” flavor to dishes even when no meat is present. But its power is more fundamental than that; much like salt, it can simply add depth and intensity to a dish, enhancing the presence of other flavors.

Glutamic acid isn’t found only in meat; it’s ubiquitous in nature and shows up in a wide variety of other common foodstuffs. And here at Cook’s Illustrated, we use a wide variety of ingredients—particularly those that are dried and/or fermented to concentrate their glutamate content—to boost umami in dishes. We often use them in tandem with multiple glutamate-rich or umami-enhancing ingredients since each brings its own unique character to a dish.

We use anchovies or anchovy paste as a potent glutamate source, even in dishes without other seafood in the mix (used sparingly, anchovies add meaty rather than fishy flavor). Our Best Beef Stew uses anchovies (along with tomato paste) to give its sauce an intense meatiness that beef broth alone cannot provide. In our Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas), anchovies (along with tomato paste, Parmesan cheese, and pancetta) lend depth to a dish that is made mostly of vegetables. Anchovies also appear in seafood dishes such as Shrimp Fra Diavolo.

Tomatoes, too, are a great source of glutamates, especially when concentrated in the form of tomato paste. We use this product (in tandem with canned tomatoes, soy sauce, and dried shiitake mushrooms) to bring meatiness to our Best Vegetarian Chili. And tomato paste forms the base of our “Meatless” Meat Sauce.

Dried mushrooms are another great source of glutamates, particularly porcini and shiitakes (they also contain significant amounts of nucleotides, another class of umami-enhancing compounds). Our Turkey Meatballs recipe (whether Italian-, Moroccan-, or Asian-Style) contains powdered dried shiitakes (as well as anchovies and Parmesan cheese).

Fish sauce is made by fermenting anchovies and salt. It of course shows up in Thai dishes such as Pad Thai and Thai Grilled-Beef Salad . But we also use it in less traditional ways , such as in the rub for our Grilled Steak with Spicy Chipotle Rub, where it amps up the flavor of the steak.

Soy sauce is another fermented food (made from soybeans) that is a major source of glutamates. It’s in loads of Asian dishes, but it makes an appearance in our Best Vegetarian Chili and adds intense meatiness to the glaze for our Glazed All-Beef Meatloaf.

We could go on and on about the umami-enhancing ingredients we turn to in the test kitchen (we haven’t yet mentioned Worcestershire sauce, miso paste, or olives, all fermented products themselves), but we’d rather you start cooking with them instead!


Cook’s Illustrated senior editor Andrew Janjigian is back, and this week he’s here to tell us about one of his go-to seasoning tools: MSG.

I love MSG (aka monosodium glutamate). I put it in everything when I am cooking at home. OK, maybe not everything everything, but in anything I want to have a more intense, savory, mouthwatering flavor. MSG is the umami-enhancing ingredient par excellence and is, in one form or another, the secret behind any savvy cook’s (ans Cook’s Illustrated ’s) favorite depth- and meatiness-increasing ingredients: soy sauce, fish sauce, anchovies, aged cheeses such as Parmesan and Pecorino Romano, tomato paste, and miso paste (to name just a few). All these foods are rich in glutamate, one of the most abundant naturally occurring amino acids.

The flavor-enhancing properties of MSG were first discovered in 1908 by Japanese biochemist Kikunae Ikeda, who wanted to know why the dashi soup stock his wife made was so delicious. He attributed its excellence to the addition of kombu, a type of kelp. From kombu, he isolated a crude crystalline powder that turned out to be glutamic acid. He coined the term umami to describe the savory/meaty flavor of glutamic acid, a flavor now considered one of the five basic tastes (alongside salty, bitter, sweet, and sour). He then invented and patented a process for producing purified MSG and made himself rich by selling it as a condiment named Aji-no-moto. (It’s Japanese for “essence of flavor” and is also the name of the company that Ikeda founded.)

Asian cultures have embraced MSG as the essence of flavor ever since Ikeda’s discovery, but here in the United States we’ve traditionally had an aversion to the ingredient. But MSG is simply the sodium salt of glutamic acid, which means it’s just glutamates in a purified, powdered form. When dissolved in water, the sodium ion separates from the glutamate ion, and you have glutamic acid again. There’s nothing “chemical” about MSG, except inasmuch as all foods are made up of chemicals (water and table salt are chemicals, too). Nor is there anything “artificial” about it; its simply glutamic acid that has been extracted from any number of naturally occurring sources and then purified.

Our irrational fear of MSG started in 1968, when biomedical researcher Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok (a Chinese immigrant to the United States) wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine , describing a cluster of symptoms he’d experienced after eating at Chinese restaurants, a “numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitation.” While he did not link the illness to MSG directly, he suggested it as one possibility, along with the food’s high sodium content and the use of Chinese cooking wine. Others wrote in with similar stories, and not long afterward, hysteria linking MSG to so-called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome had taken hold in the American consciousness. This, despite little more than anecdotal evidence suggesting the connection, and the fact that MSG had been widely used as a food additive in the United States for years before the syndrome was described.

Since then, numerous double-blind studies have failed to find a link between MSG and any adverse symptoms, including headaches (or “general weakness and palpitation,” for that matter). And the use of MSG in many commercially produced foods has continued unabated, albeit under the radar of many consumers. Instead of adding powdered MSG to their products, manufacturers use other forms of glutamic acid that aren’t recognized as such by the average consumer: “hydrolyzed vegetable protein,” “autolyzed yeast,” “hydrolyzed yeast,” yeast extract,” “soy extracts,” or “protein isolate.” The fact is, many of the packaged foods we love contain glutamic acid and are all the more delicious because of it. (In other words, if you get a headache after eating KFC or Nacho Cheese Doritos, dont blame it on the MSG.)

So now that you, too, are ready to embrace MSG as the essence of flavor, where to begin? First, you can find Aji-no-moto at most Asian grocery stores or online or pick up a bottle of Accent Seasoning in the supermarket spice aisle. Next, taste a pinch of it straight from the container or dissolved in a little water, and you’ll see how it tastes reminiscent of the sea. Then Id recommend adding it to things like scrambled eggs, sautéed greens, or broths and soups. (Much as you would with other flavor-enhancing staples such as salt, sugar, or acid, you want to start small, no more than 1/8 teaspoon at a time, and taste as you go. A little bit of MSG goes a long way; too much won t give you a headache, but it might make your dishes taste like miso soup when they are not meant to.) Try adding MSG to tomato-based pasta sauces for meaty depth even in the absence of meat. Or dissolve a pinch or two of it in the vinegar or egg yolk to make salad dressing or mayonnaise really sing. Once you get a hang of how MSG can lend a subtle flavor boost to so many foods, you might find yourself—like I do at home—keeping a jar of the stuff right next to your salt for ready access.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2018 at 7:43 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

Mühle synthetic, Phoenix Artisan Dark Chocolate, and the Baili BR171—and breakfast

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This dark-chocolate shaving soap and aftershave was a Phoenix Artisan special for a Valentine’s Day, and I continue to like it as a nice change of pace. The Mühle synthetic mimics the feel and performance of badger quite well, and the lather was excellent in consistency and fragrance.

Three passes with the Baili BR171 left a perfectly smooth face, and then a splash of the dark-chocolate aftershave finished the job.

And then my usual breakfast:

In a 10″ sauté pan, heat 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil. Then add:

1 bunch scallions, chopped
6-8 stalks asparagus, chopped
1 Serrano pepper, chopped
1/2-3/4 cup chopped oyster mushrooms, favoring caps over stems
good pinch of kosher salt
several grindings black pepper

Sauté for a few minutes, then add:

6 halved cherry tomatoes—I use mini San Marzano tomatoes, which I cut into thirds

Sauté a minute or two longer to let the tomatoes cook, then bring the vegetables together, reduce heat a bit, and add

1 free-range egg

Cover and cook for 2 1/4 minutes.

Put into a bowl, add hot sauce if you want, and eat. The egg continues to cook a bit in the bowl, particularly if the vegetables are piled on top. This amounts to 3 Weight Watcher Freestyle points. I already had my 2 Tbsp chia seed in a glass of water (3 points) and 1/4 cup pomegranate juice (2 points), along with a cup of tea. I have a second cup of tea with the egg and veggies. Thus total breakfast count is 8 WW points.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2018 at 8:33 am

The Art of Kimchi

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Costco here—and perhaps everywhere—sells large tubs of kimchi. Here’s my own personal tub:

1775g (3.9 lbs) of goodness, packed into a jar with a handle. The next soup I make I will add some kimchi, just as in the previous soup I added seaweed salad.

Mei Chin in Saveur discusses the goodness of kimchi:

The distinctive taste of kimchi is familiar to anyone who has tried Korean food: the crunchy and cool cabbage leaves or chunks of daikon; the chile paste that burns the tongue; the pungent aroma, redolent of garlic and ginger and touched with a hint of the sea. In Korea, that spicy, earthy-tasting dish of fermented vegetables is on the table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and everything in between. I cannot think of a single food from any other country that is half as important to a nation’s culinary traditions as kimchi is to Korea’s. I have been to French restaurants where there has been no bread basket; I have been to Chinese restaurants where you have to ask for rice; I have eaten Italian dinners that didn’t include pasta. But it would be unheard of to sit down to a meal in a Korean home or restaurant and not be served kimchi.

November in Korea is the season for making paechu kimchi, or cabbage kimchi, arguably the most popular kind: the glossy, dark red tangle of brined cabbage leaves that have been rubbed with a paste of ground chiles, garlic, minuscule salted shrimp (saeu chot), anchovy sauce (aek jeot), ginger, and scallions and aged in jars for days, weeks, months, or even years. The November cabbage harvest in North Korea and South Korea and the making of kimchi that follows is a yearly observance called kimjang. In these chilly days just before winter, the last of the season’s bounty is preserved for use throughout the year. In alleyways, on busy boulevards, and along the sides of bridges in Korean cities, vendors hawk ten-foot-high piles of cabbages and giant bundles of scallions. Elderly ladies armed with shopping bags prod the produce, looking for the best specimens. They bargain for jugs of salted shrimp and bags of the dried chile powder (gochu garu) that will infuse their kimchis with its fiery essence as they age.

That period of aging is when these ingredients become kimchi: they are both salted or brined and then fermented, the vegetables’ sugars converting into lactic and acetic acids and carbon dioxide. The longer the kimchi ferments, the stronger its aroma and flavor; stinky is a word we English-speaking kimchi lovers use for the most intense versions, and we say it with the same affection a cheese aficionado feels for a ripe Taleggio. If you can eat it and love it, you are part of the tribe.

Kimjang is a big deal in Korea, but paechu kimchi is just one of literally hundreds of kinds that can be made throughout the year. Other popular versions include those made with daikon, cucumber, oysters, and more. I have tasted subtly flavored kimchis made from mushrooms or burdock root, light and crunchy ones made with soybean sprouts, meaty ones made with tender chunks of pumpkin, and luxurious ones made with young octopus. Kimchi can be mild, like tongchimi, or water kimchi, a combination of ingredients like cabbage, Asian pear, pine nuts, whole chiles, and pomegranate seeds floating in a tangy brine. It can also be eaten before it is allowed to ferment, as with geotjeoli, or “salad,” kimchi, which consists of raw leaves of cabbage dressed with kimchi fixings, a kind of coleslaw that heats the belly as it cools the throat. In all of these forms, kimchi is curiously refreshing, not just because of its heat, which shoots straight to the brain, but also because it effervesces on the tongue. Kimchi serves the same purpose in a Korean meal that palate cleansers serve in a Western one: when you are tired of eating, you take a bite of it, your eyes and mouth water, and you have the energy to begin eating again.

In South Korea, kimchi is practically a national obsession. There is a kimchi research institute, a kimchi museum, and government-sponsored kimchi festivals. Korean scientists have fed kimchi to mice and shot it into space with Korean astronauts. Cookbook writers, scientists, and housewives in Korea tout the beneficial effects of kimchi’s lactic acids and fiber upon the digestive tract. In addition to being rich in vitamins B and C, kimchi has, according to more than one study I’ve read, even shown promise in preventing cancer. It is, apparently, a superfood.

When I first tried kimchi, I made the mistake of eating it like a condiment, in the same bite as a piece of barbecued meat, say, or a spoonful of egg custard, thinking that its hot flavors are meant to offset soft ones. My Korean-American friends soon corrected me, explaining that kimchi is most often treated like a small side salad—often as part of an array of side dishes, known collectively as panchan, served at Korean meals. It is also frequently used as an ingredient in other dishes. When I was in Seoul on a recent visit, I found kimchi stirred into homey stews, grilled with succulent meats on a skewer, wrapped into nori rolls, steamed with fish, and folded into pancakes. I ate it in kimchi jigae, a rich, hearty stew of pork belly, mushrooms, and tofu that is thick with pungent, long-aged kimchi. At a restaurant called Hwa Jeon Min, I had bossam, a popular meal of pork belly, raw oysters, and radish kimchi. At the night market in the Dongdaemun district, a grumpy man with a small food cart served me scrumptious dumplings filled with kimchi. And in the basement of a shopping mall, I came across a dish called budae jigae, a bubbling concoction of hot dogs, Spam, packaged ramen noodles, and cabbage kimchi. Invented during the Korean War, it is popular among hungover college students and, despite its odd combination of ingredients, very satisfying.

Kimchi grew out of a tradition of salted, preserved vegetables, known as ji, that originated in northern China, and it has been eaten in Korea since the 13th century. But the capsicums, or hot peppers, that give most of today’s kimchi its color and kick were not introduced to the Korean peninsula until the 16th century. Like all salted, smoked, or cured food, kimchi was made to ensure that the year’s harvest did not go to waste and that there was plenty to eat in winter. And though the food is now prepared for its own sake rather than as a means of survival, the custom of making kimchi that is observed in home kitchens across the Koreas anchors cooks in these age-old rituals of harvesting and preservation.

The observance of kimjang every November entails hard work. I had no idea how time-consuming the ritual can be until last fall, when I traveled to Seoul with an old friend, Jeong-eun Park. At the home of her mother, Yeong-ae Kim, kimjang lasted for several days. On the first morning, Yeong-ae, a petite, immaculately dressed woman of 60, woke up early, drove from her apartment in Seoul’s Songpa-gu district to her family garden plot two hours outside of Seoul, and harvested cabbages through the early afternoon. On her way home, she stopped by a supermarket to buy her condiments—four bags full. Because the two dozen cabbages, each of them weighing more than five pounds, would not fit inside her three-bedroom flat, which she shares with two of her grown daughters, she stacked the vegetables in the foyer outside her front door. When she was ready to get started, she transferred some of the cabbages to the apartment’s tiny entryway, where she had prepared washtubs filled with water and salt.

First, Yeong-ae split the cabbages in half by bringing the blade of a sharp knife down through each head. Next, in an impressive feat of strength, she wrenched them into quarters with her bare hands and then placed the quartered cabbages in the tubs to soak them overnight. Later, during the night, she would wake up four times to turn the cabbages over.

The next day, Yeong-ae showed no signs of the restless night she must have had. After breakfast, she, Jeong-eun, and I, as well as a sister-in-law of Yeong-ae’s, sat down on the living-room floor, which we’d lined with newspapers. Before us were piles of scallions and Korean watercress, heads of garlic, bottles of anchovy sauce, big jars of salted shrimp, and plastic bags of Yeong-ae’s homemade chile powder, ground from Korean red peppers that she’d grown in her garden plot and dried on the roof of her apartment building. Yeong-ae and her sister-in-law chopped the garlic and then carefully used their hands to mix the ingredients. Then we all began to rub the cabbage leaves with the pungent paste.

Finally, we  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2018 at 3:03 pm

My current favorite paring knife

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The Yaxell Dragon 3.5″ paring knife. Extremely nice.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2018 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

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