Preparing Meat in the High-Temperature Top-Heat Grill

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I’ve been using a high-temperature top-heat grill for some time now and I must say: I love it! Never before have I had meat this tender and yet with such a nice crust.
The setup of a top-heat grill is simple.
Located at the top is the burner.
Below this there are runners for adjusting the height of the grate.
All liquids are collected in the grease drip-tray at the bottom of the grill.
The whole insert is removable. Once the grill has cooled down you can just take it out and clean it in the dishwasher.

Top-heat grills come with a max-temperature of 850 Degrees Celsius (that’s 1,562 Degrees Fahrenheit for those still using the outdated imperial system).
This is really hot, but to be honest, this is measured directly inside the heating-element. The temperature on the surface of the meat is approx. 600 Degrees which is still well above the minimum temperature of 400 Degrees required to achieve the “caramelizing” effect that comes with the Maillard-reaction. This causes a chemical reaction which leads to an extremely tasty crust.
There are two types of top-heat grills: those that run on propane gas and electric grills.
As I use my grill inside, I decided to buy the “Steakreaktor” from Klarstein.
Using a gas-grill inside is dangerous as the grill burns a lot of gas in a very short time to achieve and maintain the high temperature. Especially in a small kitchen this may lead to a lack of oxygen and a high concentration of Carbon-Monoxide, a possibly fatal combination.
For the test, I took two nice chunks of organic steak.

Before going on with preparing the meat make sure that you turn on the grill and set it to the highest possible temperature.
For the Steakreaktor this will be “Hotter than Hell”.

The grill will heat up within approx. two minutes.


The steaks were salted using Black Lava Salt which, as I find, gives the meat a great flavour.
Never add pepper at this stage! With the temperatures the grill reaches, pepper will burn and cause an unpleasant bitter taste, spoiling the meat.

The meat is then placed on the grate of the grill.
Here, you need to take care to place it as far back as possible to make sure that it’s located under the burner.

The meat is then pushed into the grill.
Make sure that it’s located as close to the burner as possible. Not too close though, as under the heat it will rise slightly. If it then touches the burner it will slide off the base-plate when you pull it out.

After a few minutes (depending on how well done you like your meat) you pull out the grate and turn over the meat.
Personally, I like my meat very rare so I do it approx. 3 minutes on each side.
If you take your meat from the Sous-Vide you’ll want to grill each side for approx. 45 seconds.

Here you can see the great crust you get from a top-heat grill.
If you look closely at the example, you’ll see that the meat was placed slightly too far to the front of the grate. About one centimeter of meat wasn’t directly under the burner so it doesn’t have a crust.
Liquids that ooze from the meat are collected in a small tray at the bottom of the grill.
As you can see on the photo, only a tiny quantity of juice and fat actually ran out of the meat. The high temperatures will cause the Maillard-reaction to start almost immediately, effectively sealing the surface of the meat and keeping nearly all liquids inside the meat where they belong.


Go Green: Creating Basil Cream with Xanthan Gum

Sometimes I find that just adding Basil to a dish is boring.
We can do better than that, so I decided to make some Basil Cream.
I didn’t want to heat the Basil as I needed it to keep its full flavour.
That’s why I used Xanthan (E415) to do the job.
First of all, take a lot of Basil. You can’t use too much. The more you take the more aroma you will get.
Then add some Olive Oil (I use 3 tablespoons for 100g of Basil) and some water (rule of thumb: 2/3 of the weight of the Basil, in this example: 66ml).

Now use a hand blender to blend thoroughly.
This will take some time. Basil will stick to the blades and you’ll need to remove them manually.
Whatever you do, don’t put your fingers between the blades! Always use a small spoon. If for some reason these blades start turning there won’t be enough left of your fingers to sew back on!

Once its’ well blended, strain the liquid through a sieve.
Use a spoon to press the liquid through the sieve. You want to get as much out as possible.
Once a dry, dark green crust remains in the sieve you can stop straining.

Now add 1% Xanthan Gum.
As the remaining liquid weighed 174g, I added 1,74g of Xanthan.
You need to be very precise here. Adding too much will make the cream too thick.

Use the hand blender to blend the liquid with the Xanthan Gum. Remember to clean the blender first as you don’t want any of the Basil Crumbs in your cream.


You can stop blending once the cream has reached a nice viscosity.
Now pour into a squeeze bottle.

This cream goes very well with tomatoes.
You can use it to create something like “Caprese Moleculare”.
I do this by placing Mozzarella di Bufala at the bottom, followed by Mozzarella Cream and diced tomatoes.
On top comes the Basil Cream. This adds a great aroma and perfect colour.

Xanthan Gum: Magic for Sauces and Pastes

For some sauces and liquids, Xanthan Gum is the way to go.
Stirring it into a cold liquid will significantly increase the viscosity of this liquid, turning it into a cream or paste.
You will probably consume more Xanthan in everyday life than you’re even aware of. Just check the packaging of your toothpaste, cosmetics, ice cream,salad dressings, sauces.
Gluten free foods are also highly likely to contain Xanthan Gum as it gives them the stickiness that normally comes from Gluten.
If it says “E415” on the package, it contains Xanthan Gum.

The great advantage is that Xanthan Gum doesn’t change the flavor or the colour of the foods that are treated with it.
I personally use it a lot in my cooking.

One great example is soy sauce. Soy Sauce has a very low viscosity. Iyou pour it over food it will just run down and collect at the bottom of the plate. Not what you want if your dish is artfully stacked or it simply needs to stick to your food to get the full flavour.
Of course you could simmer down the soy sauce until it has the required viscosity. This will take a long time though and, what’s worse, the result will taste extremely salty. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Instead, all you do is add a little bit of Xanthan Gum, stir hard using a hand blender or, in case of small quantities, a milk frother. You’ll find that while you stir, it gains viscosity and starts turning into a perfect soy cream.

Start with 0,5% and work yourself up in steps of 0,1% until your cream has reached the desired viscosity.
So, if you have 100g of Soy Sauce, add 0,5g of Xanthan. Stir for a while and check the viscosity.
If you aren’t satisfied with the result, add 0,1g and continue stirring. And so on. Don’t go too high though. Be patient when you stir. It takes a bit of time for the effect to kick in.
For a perfect viscosity I find that 1% is sufficient for most pastes.

The absolute limit should be 2%, i.e. a max. of 2g Xanthan Gum on 100g of Liquid.
This is still far below the limit where it would act as a laxative.

Please make sure to use an extremely fine scale. Just remember that you apply Xanthan Gum in steps of 0,1g. If you are just 0,05g off, that would be 50%!
Your scale should therefore be precise to a hundredth of a gram.

When you’re done you can fill the cream into a squeeze bottle. This can be used for storing your cream in the fridge for a few days and makes it really easy to apply it to your meal.

Another good example is Balsamico Vinegar.
I’m sure you know these “Balsamico Creams” you can buy in the shops. Guess what…if you’re lucky, they’re only 40% sugar, often more.
Check out this example of a Balsamico Cream I found in Italy. Granted, it’s cheap. But 41% sugar and 277 calories per 100g, really?

I covered the name of the manufacturer as it doesn’t really matter. Basically they are all the same.

Do yourself a favour. Buy a proper Balsamico di Modena, add a little Xanthan Gum (0,5%…, raise percentage as described above) instead of this convenience-stuff.

Look at the picture below.
This real Balsamico has only 84 calories/100g and 15% sugar, i.e. a third of the ready made cream.


So, here is how it’s done.

What we need:
– Balsamico
– Xanthan Gum
– Fine Scale (1/100th gram)
– Milk Frother
– Squeeze Bottle

First of all, weigh the Balsamico you’re going to use. In my example this is 50g.

Now add 0,2g of Xanthan Gum by sprinkling it delicately over the Balsamico.
Xanthan Gum tends to form lumps. The looser you sprinkle it the less lumps you will have.

Add Xanthan Gum in steps of 0,1g and use a milk frother to stir it into the Balsamico until the viscosity is right.

After some time you will notice that the viscosity of the Balsamico increases.

When you’re done and the creaminess is right, fill it into a squeeze bottle. Also, try it.
Yes, it’s much less sweet than one of those ready made Balsamico Creams. But hey, it’s vinegar.
It’s supposed to taste like vinegar.
This is the real thing.
On the picture you can actually see the viscosity of this Balsamico.

Now use the Squeeze bottle to apply it to your dish. Because of the viscosity you can achieve great effects here.

Unboxing my new Cast Iron Pan

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Today my new cast iron pan was delivered.
I had ordered it from www.diepfanne.com just two days ago, so that was really quick.
What’s special about it is that it’s really heavey and that the handle is easily removable. As I usually cook on a gas-stove, that’s really important for me.
Normal pans don’t have removable handles which means that they always get extremely hot and you can’t touch them without suffering severe burns.
Another special feature is that the handle is actually made of charcoal.
This is treated with an epoxy resin to make it durable.
Looks great, doesn’t it?

It came packed in a sturdy cardboard-box.
Inside there were some other items I had ordered (wooden spoons, some whisks), all packed in paper.
They also added the latest edition of “Slow Food Magazin” free of charge.

The pan itself is packed into a nice, sturdy fabric-bag which I’ll probably use for storing stuff.

Inside the fabric-bag the pan is wrapped in oil-paper to prevent rust.
Some instructions on how to treat the pan before its first use are also included.

The sealed charcoal-handle looks beautiful.
It’s hand-crafted Germany,
Fitting it to the pan is very easy and can be done without actually having to hold the pan itself.
This is definitely a bonus when having to fit it to a hot pan.

If you’re looking into purchasing one of these, check out https://www.diepfanne.com
Besides pots and pans they also have other useful kitchen-accessories in their shop.


Herbs

Whenever I go shopping for food, I see people buying fresh herbs.
Using fresh herbs is good idea per se, but why buy them?
First of all, most of these herbs are packed in plastic bags. Even more waste to pollute our oceans.
Next question:
Are they really organic?
Or just some stuff grown in huge plantations, highly fertilised and not really tasty?
I always wonder why people don’t grow their own herbs.
For hundreds of years, herb-gardens were everywhere. People grew their regional herbs or collected them out in the fields.
So why don’t we do that?
Herb-seeds are available in any gardening-store.
You can plant them in pots, see your herbs grow and harvest them whenever you need them. Plus they don’t come any fresher than this.
Also, you can grow seeds that aren’t readily available in your area. For example, you won’t find cilantro everywhere in Europe.
If you grow your own, you’ll always have all the herbs you need.

Which are the basic herbs?

A handful of different herbs will satisfy most of your needs.
If you have limited space, e.g. a balcony or only a windowsill, I would propose to go with the following:
Basil
Chives
Parsley
Thyme
Cilantro

If you have more space, e.g. a garden or some large pots, I would additionally grow the following:
Mint
Rosemary
Marjoram
Oregano

Some of these don’t take frost very well, so you’d want to plant them in pots to take them inside in winter.

Seeds or Seedlings?

Many stores sell herbs as plants which you just need to put into a bigger pot.
So why bother with buying seeds and growing them yourself?
I personally would always go with seeds. This enables me to control every phase of their development.
I can make sure they have the right soil. I don’t use chemical fertilizers. I don’t use pesticides. None of this is possible if I buy seedlings.


Recipe: Black Tagliatelle with Lobster

Black Tagliatelle with Lobster

Ingredients (for two persons, multiply accordingly if you want to prepare this dish for more guests):

Lobster and Sauce:
1 Lobster
2 Onions
2 Carrots
1 Leek
Rosemary
Tomato puree
Dry White Wine
Martini

Tagliatelle:
200g white flour (Italian 00-flour or, if not availabe, some other very finely ground wheat-flour)
2 eggs
1 package of squid ink
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt

When I got a nice lobster at my favourite fish-dealer the other day, I decided to make something nice of this.
As I got only one lobster, this wasn’t enough for a full meal so I decided to do it with noodles.

Every part of the lobster is used for this recipe, there is no waste.
First of all, the meat is removed from the tail and from the claws.
The tail-meat is cut into slices, i.e. medallions.
All meat is placed on a dish and put aside to be fried later.

The shells carry a lot of flavour. Dumping these in the garbage would be a real waste. They are broken up and are placed in the hot oven for approx. 7 minutes, depending on the number of shells you have.

Once they have reached a nice brown colour, remove them from the oven.
Roasting them in the oven has given them a great aroma which will give the lobster-sauce a stunning taste.

Dice the onions with a sharp knife.

Now melt some butter in a medium-sized pot and add the onions as well as the rosemary and slowly glaze them.

Cut the leek and the carrots.

Now add the leek, the onions and everything that was left from the lobster and slightly fry them.

Add some dry white wine and bring to the boil. Please don’t use the cheapest wine you can get. Using a good quality wine has quite some effect on the flavour. As Tagliatelle are an Italian dish, I decided to use an Italian wine here.
The wine should cover the ingredients completely, so you can be generous with this.

When it starts boiling, add approx. 2cl of dry Martini.

Then add approx. two tablespoons of Tomato puree.

Bring to the boil, then slowly let it simmer at a very low temperature for approx. two hours. It mustn’t boil anymore, just slighty simmer.

Now use a blender to turn this into a nice creamy paste. Don’t remove the shells! As they got quite brittle in the oven, they will crack up easily under the blender. This will release all the aroma left in the shells.

Now strain this sauce with a strainer. 

Pour the strained sauce into a clean pot and let simmer while you prepare the noodles.

To prepare the noodles, put the flour, the eggs, the olive oil and the squid ink into a bowl.

Now work them until you get a nice, black dough.

I use a machine for this. Keep it running for at least 30 minutes at low speed. I actually keep it running for approx. an hour to make sure the dough is really well worked through.
If it’s too dry, add a little bit of water. But really only a little bit. Half a teaspoon is the measure I normally take here. If you use more, it will be too wet and will get sticky, meaning that your noodles will stick together when you cook them, turning them into one big blob instead of nice al-dente-noodles.

The dough should be quite hard and mustn’t be sticky when you stop working it.
Then place the dough into a bowl and cut it into eight equally sized chunks.
This is for two persons, i.e. 200g of flour and 2 eggs. If you used more, you should also have more chunks.
This is because each chunk will form one batch of noodles. If the chunks are too big, the noodles will become too long and you can’t handle them in the noodle-machine.
Also, another important hint. Don’t cover them with flour to prevent them from sticking. When boiling the noodles, the flower will turn into a sticky, slimy mass. Rather, make sure that the dough is as dry as possible without falling apart, then the noodles won’t stick even without being covered in flour.

Now roll them in the noodle-maker, starting from 0 (thick) to 6 (thin).
Forst of all, flatten the chunks as much as possible, as otherwise they won’t go through the roller properly-
You roll them step by step. Start rolling at 0, continue with 1, 2, 3… until 6.

Finally, run them through the Tagliatelle-cutter.

Store the noodles while you continue with the sauce.

Now add some cream to the sauce and stir thoroughly.

Use a milk-frother to get the sauce nice and frothy.

Put the meat into a frying pan and fry until it’s got a nicely fried surface.
(sorry, I don’t have a photo here).

Now bring the water to the boil. Add the salt and wait a minute or two for the salt do dissolve.
Add the noodles to the boiling water.
Leave them in the water for exactly 50 seconds. Use a stopwatch. This is crucial if you want your noodles to be al dente. If you leave them in the water a few seconds longer, they become soft and slimy.
If you take them out too early, they will be very hard and difficult to chew.

Pour the water through a sieve.

To serve, first put the sauce onto a deep noodle-plate.
Then add the noodles and finally place the fried lobster-meat on top of them.

Enjoy!

Ultrasonic Cleaner: Great for Emulsions

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Some time ago I read an interesting news-article about the growing number of companies using ultrasound in industrial food-production.
It seems as though power ultrasound (>5W/cm2) can change the cell-structure of organic matter, releasing very intensive flavours and improving stability of foods.
So I thought “Well, why don’t I try this?”.
I checked eBay and found a cheap ultrasonic cleaner with a heating-function (max. 80 Degrees Celsius).
This one actually uses a GN 1/4-container, as if it were made for use in the kitchen.
Obviously, it’s far weaker than those powerful industrial units but I thought it would be worth a try.
A professional Ultrasonic Homogeniser is really expensive (in the upper four digits), so I didn’t expect too much from my little Ultrasonic Cleaner.
But hey, I was pleasantly surprised.
After some experimenting I found it totally useless for any flavour improvements but I didn’t really expect this. It just isn’t powerful enough.
It’s great for creating emulsions though. Stuff that normally takes a lot of effort to mix properly, e.g. Mayonnaise, which is an “Oil-in-Water” emulsion.
Under normal circumstances, mixing a ‘real’ Mayonnaise using only egg, olive oil and lemon juice plus a little salt and pepper will take ages until it’s properly and evenly mixed.
Doing this in the Ultrasonic Cleaner is much faster and achieves a very even result without any oil swimming on top, etc.
Obviously, you still need to know what you’re doing and you can’t just throw in all the stuff at the same time but if you take the same approach as though you were preparing a Mayonnaise the normal way, you’ll be done much quicker.
And if you aren’t happy with the ultrasonic cleaner for cooking, you can still use it for cleaning your glasses or jewelry . 🙂

If you want more information on how the professionals do it, this link might be interesting:
HIELSCHER  Ultrasonic Homogeniser for Culinary Application


Plating Tools

To prepare a nice looking plate you need a basic set of tools.

Molds:
The most important tools are molds of different shapes and sizes.
These help keep the plate tidy. Also, when stacking ingredients, you can use ring molds to define height and structure of your plate.

Squeeze Bottle:
Another very important tool is the squeeze bottle. These come cheap and I always have around half a dozen of them in my kitchen.
You put your sauces into these bottles and apply them onto your plate at the exact spot and in the exact quantity you want them.
Also, you can use them to store a sauce for some time if you don’t need everything for the dish you are preparing at that point in time.

Plating Wedges:
You can see these at the bottom right of the picture.
Plating Wedges are used to smear sauces or other soft ingredients into a desired shape on your plate.

Tongs:
These are needed for placing garnishes or small delicate items.
Tongs come in different shapes and sizes.
I would recommend two different types:
The large 20cm precision tongs
The 20cm Sushi-tongs. These are bent as you can see in the picture. You use these to place delicate items onto your plate and there are already items around the area you are working in.

There are several other tools you can use for plating, e.g. pastry bags, brushes, shavers, etc. For a start though, you should be able to cope with the tools listed above.

Sous Vide: A Great Way to Cook

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Sous Vide, one of those terms you run across a lot nowadays, It’s kind of hyped but still seriously underrated.
I love my Sous Vide, the results are absolutely awesome.
I don’t only use it for classical Sous Vide recipes but also in many cases where a recipe requires cooking something in water.
Now, when you cook something in water and you taste the water afterwards, you’ll most probably find that the water tastes strongly of whatever you cooked, be it meat or vegetables.
In some cases this may be the desired outcome, e.g. when you prepare a chicken soup. In many cases though. the water will be poured away after cooking with all the aroma literally going down the drain.
Because what aroma is in the water was once inside what you cooked and there is no way of getting it back in.
If you ask yourself why your vegetables taste so “flat”, not at all like those you get in a good restaurant, this is the reason. But you can change that of course.
Simply by putting the vegetables into a plastic bag, creating a vacuum in the bag and sealing it, then placing it in the Sous Vide bath for a few hours at a temperature between 60 and 70 degrees.
You’ll be astonished by the difference in the aroma.
I will be publishing some Sous Vide recipes over time where I’ll explain the different techniques in more detail.

Which type of Sous Vide?
Basically, there are two types of sous Vide. One is a longish device which you just put into an existing pot, heating up the water in that pot to a given temperature and maintaining this temperature.

The other is a device like that shown in the picture at the top of this article.
It’s a complete device including a water-container.

Personally, I would always prefer the complete device. First of all, the heat comes from all sides, ensuring that there are no zones with significally different temperatures in the water.
Then it has a lid. The Sous Vide which you place into a pot doesn’t have this. As it’s attached to the side of the pot, you can’t close the lid.
For one, this means that a lot of energy is lost. Heat travels upwards and your Sous Vide will consume a lot of power if you keep it running for several hours. 
The fully encapsuled device doesn’t have this problem. The lid ensures that most of the heat stays inside, requiring far less energy to maintain the desired temperature.
Also, the lid keeps the water in. Over the long periods required for Sus Vide cooking, water will evaporate. Replacing it with water of a different temperature may have a negative effect on the cooking progress.

Pricewise, there isn’t really much difference between these two types. It’s really more a question of the space they consume when stacked away.
If you have enough space, you should really go for the full device.



Up in the Air: The Airline Trolley Humidor

I ran across these old airline trolleys the other day and decided I’d buy some. At that time I didn’t have any idea what I could do with them but I saw some potential in them.
They were quite battered and you could see they had been extensively used.
I guess that’s why they went quite cheap.

Some time later I decided I needed another humidor for our second flat in Berlin and I thought that one of these trolleys would do quite nicely.
I removed the door and gace it a thorough cleaning.
To get it airtight I used aquarium-silicone in all edges and corners. Aquarium-silicone has the great advantage that it doesn’t have this vinegar-like odor which would spoil any cigar stored inside that humidor.
The sides of the humidor were covered in white foil, the kind that is used for covering cars in foil.
I found some nice “Pan Am”-stickers which I stuck on all sides.
The door itself was stripped down completely. I sanded it and sprayed it white.

I covered the back wall with 8mm Cedro that was left over from the large humidor I had built some time ago.
I also built in some compartments for small stuff.

I then built trays to fit into the guide rails of the trolley.

If you look closely you’ll see that the side parts of the trays that run in the guide rails go further back than the actual tray itself. I did this so that air can circulate through the humidor.

When completely pushed in they will leave a nice gap to provide a sufficient airflow.

The inside of the doors is also covered in Cedro.

Finally, I reassembled the door and put “Pan Am”-stickers on here as well.

Now it looks nearly like new and is a great eyecatcher in our Berlin-apartment.

For now I have a passive moisturising system in the humidor.

Not really good, I’m looking for something else.
I found some interesting projects on the Web using either an Arduino or Raspberyy Pi to build an intelligent moisturizing system.
I guess that’s something for one of these long, dark winter evenings.

If you’re looking into buying an airline-trolley, check out this website:
Privatewing.eu