Saturday, June 21, 2008

Why did that take so long part2: Immersion Blender.

I met a new foodie friend, and when I told her, "OK, you have to get a pressure cooker, really it will change your life" She said to me, "OK, but do you have an immersion blender? No? Well you have to get one, because it will change you life." In Part 2 of, Why Did That Take So Long? Scott and Linda get an immersion blender. The immersion blender is one of those hand-held "stalk" blenders that look a little like the paint mixer that professional painters use. So far we've discovered three main uses, and they are big.

1) Many soups need to be blended or pureed at the end. Often the recipe says, puree in batches in a blender or food processor. We've done this several times, and after a while we just gave up unless the recipe looked too good to pass up. The problem is that you're ladling hot soup into the food processor, which doesn't hold that much before the soup goes above the blade shaft and starts to ooze out underneath the bowl. There are always spills and it takes many batches to get a good Puree. The Blender holds more and doesn't ooze, but instead, it can blow the lid off and spew hot soup (usually in some intense color) in all directions. Drum-roll..... enter the immersion blender. Right in the cooking pot you insert the blender to the bottom and turn it on. Because of the way the blades rotate, the blender pulls itself to the bottom, where it purees. If there are chunky ingredients you can slowly raise and lower the blender to get the bigger chunks. There is so much more control that you can do the thing where you puree say 1/3 or 1/2 the soup, to leave the integrity of the ingredients, while building a rich broth with the puree. Now we're talking, and a whole new set of great recipes are open to us.   This post will be followed by the cooking gadget 1-2 punch "Saturday Morning Black Bean Soup" cooked in the pressure cooker, and then 1/3 pureed with the immersion blender. Awesome.

2) Vinaigrettes: Many sound great, but to get a really nice emulsification you want to blend in the food processor or blender. Overkill for just a little vinaigrette. Most immersion blenders come with a beaker shaped cup that works perfectly for making vinaigrettes and dressings/marinades. Clean-up is simple and the results are excellent.

3) Smoothies. The beaker for ours (we got the red KitchenAid pictured here) is large enough to make smoothies for two. We usually make them out of frozen fruit, yogurt, milk and sometimes some protein shake powder. The ability to raise and lower the blender blades in the tumbler makes the process much more predictable than in a blender. My only caveat is that the blades are rather thin, so if I'm going to use ice in the smoothy, I think I'll crack it a little bit, rather than smashing the blades down on an intact ice-cube.

The stalk clicks off of the motor assembly and can be dishwasher washed, or easily hand cleaned (much easier than either a food processor bowl and blade, or the blender). Ours came with a food processor bowl that is allegedly good for small batches of salsa etc and I bet that's true, we just haven't tried it.

DRI-Moment: get an immersion blender!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Cauliflower Gratin

1 large cauliflower head

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon garlic
2 anchovy fillets
3 green onions, white and green parts (these add color but could also use chopped leek or shallot)
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
We added Kale that had been steamed in the pressure cooker, and then thinly sliced. Excellent.

3/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup with a Microplane ribbon grater)
Salt & pepper to taste

STEAM CAULIFLOWER: Put steamer onto boil. Trim cauliflower (remove the leaves, cut a deep V into the core and remove it) and cut into small florets (bite-size is good). Add to steamer and cover, cook about 7 minutes or until a knife inserted into a thick stem releases easily. (The cauliflower won't really 'cook' any more, just reheat, so make sure it's the texture you like.) Remove from heat and uncover to cool a bit. Transfer to a baking dish.

SAUCE: In a large skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmery on MEDIUM. Add garlic and anchovy, use a spatula to mash the anchovy into small bits, then let cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Add the green onion, stir well to coat with fat, cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, adjust heat to create a fast simmer and cook down a bit. Add the cream and cook down a bit, watching temperature carefully to avoid scorching. Pour hot sauce over cauliflower. (Or ... combine the cauliflower and sauce in a separate large bowl before transferring to the baking dish, it might help coat the florets with sauce.)

TOPPING: Mix the topping ingredients, spread evenly over cauliflower just before serving.

BAKE: Bake at 400F for 20 - 25 minutes if done right away, while cauliflower is still hot. If baking from room temperature, I'd allow 30 - 40 minutes.

CREAMY CAULIFLOWER GRATIN Steam lg cauliflower, in florets. Sauce, 1T olive oil, 1T garlic, 2 anchovies, 3 green onions; add 1c broth, cook down, 1c cream, cook down, pour over cauliflower. Top w ¾ c whole wheat crumbs, 2oz Parmesan, 1T butter, S&P. WW10=2 VV06

Food & Wine, November 2001