Category Archives: Cooking

Wall Street Journal says Tri-Tip is “New Cut”

So I occasionally read articles in the Wall Street Journal.  One that caught my eye was their recent “New Steak on the Block” article for several reasons.  The first was that they quoted Gordon Ramsay, and watching Hell’s Kitchen is a guilty pleasure of mine.  And the second is that they announced the “tri-tip” cut was being rolled out to the mid-west, and called it one of the new cuts of beef.

Now, I happen to love Tri-tip, this is still one of my favorite recipes: Barbeque: Santa Maria Smoked Tri-Tip, so it’s nice to see the rest of the country getting introduced to this great cut.  The other great thing about this article is that it also shows that more restaurants are getting into the idea of sustainable living and getting the most out of every animal butchered.

Very high-end restaurants like Gramercy Tavern in New York are embracing "nose to tail" cooking, in which almost every part of an animal is eaten. These chefs like to order whole animals to control the quality and ethics of their purchase.

Each week 900 pounds, about half a cow, is delivered to Gramercy Tavern. Its challenge is making traditionally plebeian parts of the animal acceptable to dinners accustomed to ordering filet mignon, says executive chef and partner Michael Anthony.

I love the term “nose to tail” cooking.  You reduce waste, and it makes great financial sense.  And for the record, according to R.H. Tesene’s definitive book titled Santa Maria Style Barbecue, “In the 1950s, a local butcher named Bob Schutz perfected the tri-tip, which is a two to three pound triangular shaped cut off the top sirloin.”

Saving Money and the Environment By Washing Dishes

Washing dishes is a chore, sometimes they pile up.  But eventually they get done. As with any modern family, washing the dishes at our house means getting the scraps into the compost bowl and placing them into the dishwasher. Not that hard.  I tell myself that for every load of dishes we wash we’re saving about $20. It’s not a precise calculation, but here’s the rationale:

I typically think in terms of opportunity code.  We spend around $40 every time we go out to eat as a family. I guesstimate that we spend about $10 to $15 on groceries when we cook a meal at home. Add to that another $3 to $5 for water, electricity and dishwasher detergent. If you’re an accountant, you can factor in depreciation of the plates, silverware and dishwasher itself, but I prefer to keep things simple. So basically, we spend $20 for a meal at home instead of $40 at a restaurant. Voila – $20 savings.

Consider how this example can play out over a year’s time. We run the dishwasher four to five times per week.  Extrapolating out, that means we’re saving $80 a week by washing dishes at home. Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year. That’s a savings of $4,160 over the course of year.

Economics of running the dishwasher:

$20 savings per load versus not dining out
$80 saved per week at 4 loads per week
x 52 weeks
$4,160 potential savings per year

The takeaway: If your family hates doing dishes as much as ours, calculate the opportunity cost of the alternative – dining out. Once you have convinced yourself that washing dishes at home more often is better than dining out, it will give you the will to step up and wash dishes a little more frequently. That goes a long way in boosting your credibility when you assign the task to others in the household.

Cooking With A Pressure Cooker

Recently we purchased a pressure cooker.  I was actually against it at first, after all we have enough pots and pans without adding more.  Since our purchase I’ve learned a couple things and now love our little pressure cooker.  Here’s some safety tips for those of you who have also just joined the pressure cooker family.

Pressure Cooker Safety Tips

  • Before and after cooking, check your equipment.
    • Always check the rubber gasket (the ring of rubber that lines the lid of the cooker) to make sure it isn’t dried out or cracked. Some manufacturers recommend replacing the gasket annually, depending on how often you use your cooker. You might want to order an extra to keep on hand in case you discover yours is ripped just as you’re starting a recipe. Also check to make sure that there is no dried food on the rim of the pot, which could break the seal.
    • Check the lid for cracks, and make sure the vent is open and clean. Check the handles: A loose handle screw could spell disaster when moving a hot pressure cooker. Even new pressure cookers can have problems, so don’t make assumptions based on its age.
    • Clean the cooker properly. Remove the gasket and wash it separately, along with the lid and the pot. Clean the valve with a wooden toothpick, making sure it moves freely and isn’t stuck. Store the cooker with the lid upside down on the pot, rather than locked in place.
  • Don’t buy a pressure cooker at a flea market or auction.
    • Bargain pressure cookers or older models might have cracked lids or gaskets that don’t fit properly.
  • Follow the instruction manual.
    • Read the instructions several times before diving into a recipe.
  • Measure liquids precisely.
    • This is critical to increase the cooker’s pressure. Follow a recipe to make sure the amount of liquid is correct.
    • Don’t overfill the pressure cooker.
    • Careful measuring is a must.  For most foods, don’t fill the pressure cooker more than two-thirds full, to avoid the potential of food blocking the vents. Foods like beans and grains, which tend to swell as they cook, should only fill about half of the cooker.
    • Frothy foods can block the steam valves and the pressure-release vents on your pressure cooker. Foods that froth include pasta, rhubarb, split peas, oatmeal, applesauce and cranberries. When cooking these foods, follow a trusted recipe and make sure the quantity in the pot is well below the recommended maximum-fill line.
  • Release the pressure safely.
    • You can release pressure either by just removing the cooker from the heat and letting it sit until the pressure goes down (natural release), running cold water over the lid of the closed pan (cold water release) or using the pot’s steam release valve to expel the steam (quick release). Make sure to protect your hands with pot holders as you’re handing the cooker, and if you’re using the quick release method, be sure that your face, hands and body are away from the steam vent. When you open the cooker after the steam has been released, hot steam will still escape from the pan, so as you open the pan, tip the lid away from you and hold it over the pan so that the hot condensation doesn’t drip onto you. Each pressure cooker operates differently, so consult your instruction manual.
    • When you open the pressure cooker, plenty of steam will escape. Have dry pot holders on hand—if the holder is wet, you may burn your hand. Open the pan with the lid facing away from you. Don’t let condensation drip on you.
  • Use enough liquid.
    • A pressure cooker needs liquid to create the steam that cooks the food. A good recipe will take this into account, but if you’re creating your own, you’ll need at least 1/2 cup of water or other liquid. If the steam doesn’t seem to be building with this amount, open the cooker (releasing any steam first) and add a little more until you reach pressure.
  • Don’t pressure fry.
    • Yes, the "Colonel" did it, but you shouldn’t. Using more than a tiny amount of oil in your pressure cooker can be very dangerous and could melt the gasket and other parts.

Barbeque Cooking Tips

Once again we’re gearing up for Sumer, and that means it is Barbeque season. Basically barbeque is special technique that is used to add great taste to beef, pork, chicken, or even vegetables.  Cooking barbeque style means cooking on low heat or using the smoke from chunks of wood that gives the food a great flavor.  Barbeque cooking is not very hard to do, you just need to follow a couples instructions and tips for perfect Barbeque. 

Some people have very particular methods or myths (See MythBusting Backyard Barbeque Myths for some of these ).

I’ve always been a great fan of Tri-Tip, here’s one of my favorite recipes: Barbeque: Santa Maria Smoked Tri-Tip

However, if you’re looking for some good tips to make your Barbeque experience fun, healthy and tasty, here’s a few things to remember this summer:

General tips regarding barbeque:

  • Barbeque should be cooked on slow heat, this is what helps break down to collagen.
  • Make sure that grill that you will use is clean.
  • When using a coal barbeque, the coals are ready when surface of coals are grey and all the flames are gone.
  • Keep a spray water bottle near you as you can use it in case of flare-ups.
  • Plan your barbeque cooking, keep everything on hand for frequently uses.
  • If you marinate, do so for 30 minutes right before you put it on the grill.
  • A good basting brush makes for awesome barbeque cooking.

If you follow these tips, you will be a Barbeque god this Summer and enjoy the thrill of the grill.

Barbeque–Grilling Fruit

This may sound a bit strange, but grilled fruit can be amazing and a great way to use some of the extra grilling surface on your barbeque!  Especially great during the summer months when it can be a great accompaniment to your grilled meats.  Bananas, peach halves, slices of pineapple – you can grill almost any fruit big enough not to fall through the grates and will stand up to the heat of the grill.

Consider the fruits you like with various other foods when deciding which fruits to pair with which meat, fish, or poultry. For instance, apples are great with pork or chicken; peaches and nectarines are nice with lighter fish; pineapple can stand up to beef yet it’s also good with pork. Most fruits work well with lamb.

Always begin with a clean grill. This is never more important than when grilling fruit, which is more delicate than other foods and picks up the residual flavors of onions, garlic, meat, or fish.

To clean your grill, heat the gas grill for 15 minutes on high and use a long-handled wire brush to clean any residue from the grill. Before grilling, build a medium-high fire or heat the gas grill to medium-high. Fruit needs good heat but not overpowering heat.

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Fruit cooks in two to four minutes, turning once or twice, depending on the size of the fruit and the number of exposed cut surfaces. Large chunks may require a little longer, so plan accordingly.  If you’re going to use a marinade with the fruit, remember that you don’t want to brush on a marinade in which raw meat or poultry has soaked over grilling food, so reserve some marinade or make a finishing sauce for last-minute brushing.

You can also try sprinkling the cut surfaces of the fruit with a little sugar before putting it on the grill. The raw sugar coating will caramelize faster than the sugars already present in the fruit, ensuring a perfect golden color and deep caramelized flavor without overcooking the fruit.

Bananas can be grilled directly in their skin until it blackens and then grilled to caramelize.

Pineapples are wonderful grilled as rings or cut into chunks and skewered. Other fruits do best skewered or wrapped in foil.

Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for two days.