10 Tips, Hacks, and Tricks for Tasty Plant-Based Cooking

Culinary secrets exist, and they can elevate your cooking from good to give-me-seconds. Dinner may never be the same after you start adding a tablespoon of smooth peanut butter to your chili, a splash of soy sauce to your tomato sauce, or a touch of vinegar to soups and stews.

When it comes to improving the taste, texture, and flavor profile of your meatless dishes or recreating plant-based versions of animal-based ingredients, it’s all about knowing the right techniques. Maybe your tofu Buffalo wings didn’t come out crispy because you forgot to press the tofu, or your kale not as tender because you didn’t massage the leaves. Sure, these suggestions may seem minor, but they can dramatically affect the outcome of a recipe.

As we are all doing more home cooking, take a look at the list below and see how you can incorporate these cooking hacks into your next Meatless Monday meal.

Add a Spoonful of Peanut Butter to Chili

It might sound crazy, but the secret to many award-winning chili recipes is a heaping amount of smooth, creamy peanut butter. The subtle hint of sweet paired with the peanut’s inherent nuttiness is enough to balance out the spice and acid of vegetarian chili.

Press Tofu for Crispy “Wings”

Removing the moisture from tofu allows it to get nice and crispy, an important step if you’re baking, pan frying, or cooking up Jamaican jerk tofu tacos. To properly press tofu, line a plate with paper towels or clean kitchen towel and place the block of tofu on top. Place another layer of paper towel on the tofu block and apply something heavy — book, cutting board, pan — on top. Let it “press” for at least 20 minutes, replace the paper towels and let it rest for another 10 minutes for extra an extra chewy meaty texture.

Massage Kale for Tender Salads

Kale needs some TLC to become, well, tender. To break down the tough fibers, rip the leaves off the rib (or stem), add to a bowl, coat with some olive oil, and knead them (as if you would bread dough) for around four minutes. Add them to a Mediterranean salad for a quick weeknight meal.

Blend Cauliflower for an All-Purpose “Cream” Sauce

Add richness, depth, and creaminess to any dish with this magic, all-purpose cauliflower sauce. To make this simple sauce, boil cauliflower spears until tender. While boiling, sauté sliced garlic in olive oil until fragrant. Drain the cauliflower and scrape all of the garlic-infused oil into a blender and blend until smooth.

Refrigerate Coconut Milk for Easy Whipped Cream

Simple, easy, and decadent, refrigerating a can of coconut milk overnight results in a thick and creamy whipped topping for desserts, waffles, or coffee. Add some vanilla extract and powdered sugar for some extra flavor and sweetness.

Freeze Bananas for Nice Cream

The best kept secret that every plant-based eater knows about, frozen banana soft serve will change the way you think about dessert. Simply peel a few bananas, throw them in the freezer, and blend them up with some frozen fruit the next day. Maybe add a splash of lemon juice, nut butter, or a sprinkle of maple syrup if so inclined.

Use Avocado in Place of Butter

With a one-to-one ratio, you can use avocado to replace butter in most baked goods and desserts. And while avocado won’t impart a noticeable flavor, you can also avoid butter by using a non-dairy butter substitute (also a one-to-one ratio).

Make Your Own Plant Parmesan “Cheese”

Parmesan elevates anything from pastas and risottos to soup and roasted vegetables. Recreate the sharp umami flavor of Parmesan with a combination of nutritional yeast, walnuts (or cashews), salt, and garlic powder. Give the mixture a couple of pulses in the food processor and you’re good to go.

Customize a Creamy Tofu Herb Dip

Tofu comes in all different types and textures. Blend soft silken tofu together with salt and fresh herbs — basil, parsley, chive, cilantro, rosemary — for a quick and easy dip for crudité. Add some avocado or a splash of citrus to round out the flavor.

Finish Cooking Pasta in Sauce for a Creamier Consistency

Contrary to the instructions on the box, pasta should actually be slightly underdone when you drain it. After draining, immediately toss the pasta into the simmering sauce for another two minutes. This helps the pasta absorb the sauce, but it also releases the starch within the pasta, giving the sauce a creamier consistency.

Source: Meatless Monday

Your Chicken Is No Longer Pink. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Safe to Eat.

wrote . . . . . . . . .

As we wait out this pandemic, chances are you’re at home, cooking. Perhaps you’ve baked a million loaves of bread and your sourdough starter is overflowing. If Google Trends is any indication of what comes next, after “banana bread” and “pancakes,” people are seeking “chicken recipes.”

Chicken is America’s most popular meat. But undercooked chicken, when contaminated, is also a leading source of food-borne illness. So how do you avoid giving yourself and your isolation-mates food poisoning?

Many people, including Solveig Langsrud, a scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research, assume chicken follows a simple rule-of-thumb: Pink chicken turned white means “done.” It’s similar to how we cook other meats.

“Consumers can see that if you have a hamburger, and it turns from red to brown, it’s approximately around the temperature where the meat becomes safe,” said Dr. Langsrud.

But was this true? Did it line up with temperature recommendations?

As scientific literature offered no clear answer to her questions, Dr. Langsrud and her colleagues have identified common problems with recommendations and practices for cooking chicken safely at home. In a study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE, they showed that home cooks often follow intuition and color, disregarding temperature recommendations. Intuition and color sometimes aren’t enough to ensure safety. These can be alleviated with a few expert tips.

To study how cooks at home follow safety recommendations, researchers filmed 75 households in five European countries. From a random but nonrepresentative sample, they also conducted an online survey of nearly 4,000 households in the same countries that say they cook chicken.

Worried that chicken would dry out, most home cooks determined doneness by color and texture inside the meat, they found. Few bothered with thermometers, claiming they took too much time, were too complicated to use, didn’t fit in the chicken or weren’t necessary (although easy-to-use thermometers are inexpensive and widely available).

In additional lab experiments, the scientists injected raw chicken breast fillets with a cocktail of campylobacter and salmonella. These bacteria are common contaminants of chicken, and cause millions of sicknesses, thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths each year in the United States. They cooked the breasts on a commercial grill plate until they reached core temperatures ranging from 122 to 158 Fahrenheit (the World Health Organization’s minimum temperature for safe chicken), and they discovered something surprising.

At 158 degrees, but not lower, bacteria inside the chickens’ cores was reduced to safe levels, and when cut open its flesh appeared dull and fibrous, not glossy like raw chicken. But meat began changing from pink to white far below this threshold, and most color change occurred below 131 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes, the chicken’s core would be safely cooked, but unsafe levels of bacteria still lingered on surfaces that hadn’t touched the grill plate.

Many people think chicken is safe before it is, Dr. Langsrud said. Her advice?

You can check the core for fading pinkness, dulling glossiness and more apparent fibers, all signs of degrading proteins and cooking meat. But those alone won’t bring you safety.

You’re really better off buying a thermometer. Ask a salesperson how it works and where to measure temperature, said Bruno Goussault, a scientist and chef specializing in precise-temperature cooking at the Culinary Research and Education Academy in Paris and Washington, D.C. Dr. Goussault was not involved in the study.

Use it to “follow the temperature,” he said, by measuring often. Temperature still increases in the meat’s core after it is removed from a heat source. Depending on thickness, a chicken breast’s core temperature, for example, may increase 41 degrees Fahrenheit in the 10 minutes after it is removed from heat.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s guidelines for cooking chicken at home suggest a minimum core temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. But using the same recommended temperature for legs and breasts can result in Thanksgiving turkey effect — dry breast and juicy drumsticks — because white meat cooks at lower temperatures than dark.

Americans still should respect these guidelines, says Dr. Goussault, but that doesn’t mean we must settle for dry chicken. He prefers a sous-vide method that involves vacuum sealing and cooking in a water bath at exact temperatures to consistently arrive at beautiful, juicy and pathogen-free chicken. But you don’t need to be a sous-vide master.

Try buying and cooking breasts and legs separately, Dr. Goussault said. Bring the breast’s core to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, he said, and the leg to between 168.8 and 172.4 Fahrenheit.

And remember: Chicken surfaces need love too. Unless the inside of a chicken was contaminated during processing, the outside is where you’ll find most bacteria. Boiling it, or searing it uniformly, will ensure heat kills all surface bacteria.

If you really want to safely gauge temperature for a whole chicken, insert a pop-up thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh before roasting it, Dr. Goussault suggests. By the time the probe pops, the breasts will have long cooked. They will likely be dry and far from his standards of culinary perfection. But you’ll be sure to, as Dr. Goussault says in French, “dormir sur ses deux oreilles,” or, figuratively, “sleep peacefully.”

Source: The New York Times

The Secret to the Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg

Wayt Gibbs wrote . . . . . . . . .

A perfect soft-boiled egg is a thing of beauty: a yolk with the texture of sweet condensed milk surrounded by a white that is tender but not runny. But for generations, great cooks have differed on how to achieve this state of perfection reliably.

Some authorities say you should drop a whole egg into boiling water for about three minutes — a bit longer if the egg is extra-large — and then gently peel away the shell. That can leave the yolk too runny, however. And when the egg is peeled, it’s all too easy to tear the tender white into a mess.

The legendary Julia Child advocated a six-minute boil (for large eggs starting at room temperature, or a minute longer if chilled), followed by a rinse with cold water before and also during peeling. That certainly works for the white, but often overcooks the center.

The French food scientist Hervé This argued some years ago that temperature, not time, is all that matters to the egg—cook it to 65 °C / 149 °F, and the result will be heavenly no matter how long it sits in the water. Or so it was thought. For a while, the “65°C egg” was all the rage at high-end restaurants.

But more recent research by the food chemist Cesar Vega , an editor and coauthor of the 2012 book The Kitchen as Laboratory, conclusively showed that both time and temperature matter. Moreover, the white and the yolk contain different blends of proteins, so the white gels at a higher temperature and a different rate than the yolk does. Vega’s rigorous experiments have armed scientifically inclined chefs with the information they need to cook eggs to whatever texture they like.

When the chefs in our research kitchen make soft-boiled eggs, they use a four step process that involves a blowtorch or liquid nitrogen. Here is a simpler version better suited to the home kitchen. You’ll need a pot of boiling water, a bowl of ice water, a temperature-controlled water bath, and, if you plan on peeling the eggs, a toaster oven.

The first step is to set the egg whites quickly by submerging them completely in a pot of rapidly boiling water for three minutes and 30 seconds, 15-30 seconds less if you like the whites quite loose, as our research chefs do, or 15—30 seconds longer if you prefer the whites fully set. When the time is up, plunge the eggs into the ice water to cool them completely.

Next, cook the yolks to a syrup-like thickness by submerging the eggs in a 64 °C / 147 °F water bath for 35 minutes; it’s important that the water temperature doesn’t change more than a degree or two during cooking. Dry the eggs thoroughly with paper towels. They are now ready to place in egg holders, top, and eat with a spoon. (If you have a Dremel or similar handheld rotary tool, use a thin grinder bit to top the eggs like a pro.)

Alternatively, you can make the eggs easier to peel by drying the shells in a toaster oven. Use a medium-dark toaster setting, and let the eggs heat for two to three minutes to make the shell hot and brittle. It will then readily flake away to reveal a flawless white beneath. Remember to remove the thin skin around the white if it doesn’t come off with the shell.

You can make these eggs in advance and later reheat them in a 60 °C / 140 °F bath for 30 minutes.

By adjusting the temperature of the cooking bath or the time the eggs are in it, you can achieve all kinds of delicious results and reproduce them flawlessly time after time. Prefer a yolk that is more like honey? Let the egg sit in a 65 °C bath for 45 minutes. For a runnier center, try our recipe for Liquid Center Eggs.

Or try cooking them in a 72 °C / 162 °F bath for 35 minutes (you can skip the boiling step). The yolk will then set just firmly enough that you can peel away the white to obtain a perfect yellow sphere, which makes a striking garnish or dumpling-like addition to a soup.

It’s remarkable how advances in science and precision cooking have given new life to this versatile food.

Source: Mordernist Cuisine

Read also at Serious Eats:

The Food Lab’s Guide to Slow-Cooked, Sous Vide-Style Eggs . . . . .

How to Substitute Flours

Erin Jeanne McDowel wrote . . . . . . . . .

Baking is a science, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make substitutions. With some guidance, you’ll be able to substitute different flours into a single recipe. But you’ll just want to keep a few things in mind, notably protein content and the moisture. This guide is by no means comprehensive — it may not answer your questions about oat flour — but consider it a starting off point to help you understand what you’re working with.

Tips for Successful Substitutions

Use a flour with a similar protein content. Protein content affects a baked good’s final texture and crumb: Treats made with higher-protein flours tend to be denser, while those made with lower-protein flours are lighter and softer.

Here are some common flours and their protein contents:

Whole-wheat: 14 percent

White whole-wheat: 13 percent

Bread: 12 to 13 percent

Spelt: 12 to 13 percent

All-purpose: 11 to 12 percent

Whole-wheat pastry: 9 to 11 percent

Pastry: 8 to 9 percent

Cake: 6 to 8 percent

Substitute by weight whenever possible. If measuring by volume, carefully scooping the flour into the measuring cup, overfilling it, then leveling it off will yield a more accurate measure.

If substituting a flour with a higher protein content (a “stronger” flour) or lower protein content (a “softer” flour), know that the moisture of the dough or batter will most likely be affected. When a stronger flour is substituted in, it’s at risk of being too dry. Similarly, if a softer flour is used, it’s at risk of being slightly too wet. If it’s dry, add 1 teaspoon water at a time and combine. If it’s too wet, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of flour at a time until you reach your desired texture.

Substitutions by Flour Type

Whole-Wheat Flour

Whole-wheat flour has the highest protein content on our list. For that reason, when substituting it for all-purpose, use 50 percent whole-wheat, and 50 percent of another flour, preferably all-purpose, pastry flour or spelt, to avoid a dense result. If you want to use only whole wheat, you’ll need to add more water.

Bread Flour

At 12- to 13-percent protein content, bread flour is stronger than all-purpose flour, but it can generally be substituted for all-purpose, and vice versa. However, it’s important to remember that bread flour’s increased protein could result in a dough or batter that’s dry, so you may need to add water. Make sure not to overmix: Its higher protein content can also lead to a tougher result if not mixed in gently.

All-Purpose Flour

You can use all-purpose flour in place of bread flour, but all-purpose’s lower protein content means it may yield a slightly wetter dough or batter. Use all-purpose in conjunction with whole-grain flours to help reduce the overall protein content in the recipe — for example, a half whole-wheat and half all-purpose mix to avoid dense muffins. And a note: Gluten-free all-purpose flour blends perform similarly to regular all-purpose, and can generally be substituted one-to-one. These blends are great in everything from cookies to quick breads to scones, so if you can’t get all-purpose flour, it’s worth picking up a bag of a gluten-free blend, if it’s available.

Spelt Flour

With a protein content of 12- to 13-percent, spelt is closest to all-purpose in protein content, making it a delicious (and whole grain!) substitute that can easily be swapped cup for cup. Keep an eye on the consistency of the final dough or batter: It may be dry and need more moisture.

Pastry Flour

Pastry flour is a softer flour that substitutes well for all-purpose in any recipe where tenderness is the goal, like muffins, quick breads and cakes. If you can find it, whole-wheat pastry flour is an even better swap for all-purpose. Similarly, you can also use all-purpose flour in a recipe that calls for pastry flour.

Cake Flour

With the lowest protein content of this group, cake flour is best used for cakes. However, it can also be used successfully in other soft baked goods, like biscuits, scones or even cookies. For every 1 cup/130 grams of all-purpose flour, substitute 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/145 grams cake flour. To make your own cake flour substitute, sift together 3/4 cup/95 grams all-purpose flour with 3 tablespoons cornstarch. This is equivalent to 1 cup/115 grams cake flour.

Source: The New York Times

What a Pressure Cooker Does Best

Tim Chin wrote . . . . . . . . .

Pressure cookers are powerhouses of culinary innovation. Though they have a rich history and relatively straightforward scientific explanation, confusion about how they work and what they’re good for abounds. I’ve already answered the question of how pressure cookers work, including how they’re designed, the important safety features included in newer models, and the intimate relationship between pressure and temperature. The long and short of it is that pressure cookers allow you cook your food at higher temperatures, which in turn speeds up your cooking.

But a pressure cooker isn’t just a tool for cooking things faster. In fact, the high temperature and high pressure inside a sealed pressure cooker are ideally suited for a number of culinary applications. Let’s break it down.

Extract Gelatin and Flavor for the Best Stocks Ever

The pressure cooker is the MVP of making stocks. Take Daniel’s pressure cooker chicken stock, for example. Making chicken stock on your stovetop requires at least a couple of hours of careful simmering. With a pressure cooker, you can have a richer, more intense stock in under an hour.

There are two reasons for this. First, the higher temperature extracts flavor from meat and vegetables quickly. Second, since collagen in the presence of water begins breaking down into gelatin starting at temperatures as low as 160°F (70°C)—and accelerates as temperature increases—the high temperature in a pressure cooker converts the collagen in connective tissues to gelatin in a flash. Gelatin is the key to a rich stock with a thicker body and velvety texture.

There’s another advantage to cooking stock in a pressure cooker: Because you’re cooking the chicken stock at high pressure, the contents never really come to a boil, so the cooking is gentle. (The contents never boil as long as (a) you don’t allow a pressure cooker to over-pressurize and vent, and (b) you don’t employ the quick-release method to depressurize the pot.) This stillness produces a clearer, cleaner stock, one that resembles consommé, where an egg raft is used to separate out the denatured proteins and impurities that typically make stock cloudy when agitated or mixed.

Tenderize Tough Cuts of Meat on the Fly

That same collagen-rendering heat is what makes the process for Kenji’s recipe for pressure cooker pork chile verde so simple and fast. The tough pork shoulder meat becomes meltingly tender in just 45 minutes, as opposed to the hours it would take to get it tender with simmering. The same principle can be applied to cooking other tough cuts like beef chuck, pork belly, or even oxtails.

Cooking Rice, Grains, and Beans

Rice is finicky, and it takes a while to cook. The grains have to absorb water, and heat is required to break down starches to soften those grains. If you don’t want mush, you have to pay close attention to the ratio of water to rice, regulate heat, and account for evaporation, depending on the cooking vessel. A pressure cooker removes many of those variables and speeds up the process considerably. For instance, Kenji’s pressure cooker mushroom risotto only takes five minutes to cook the rice to a perfect al dente, compared to the 45-plus minutes it takes following a more conventional method. And, because there’s no evaporation, you can dial in the amount of cooking liquid (and you can use far less), resulting in a consistent texture, every time. There’s virtually no guessing and no eyeballing involved. Finally, the absence of any agitation in the pressure cooker provides a gentle, still cooking medium for the rice, which helps to keep individual grains intact and separate.

The same principle applies to other grains as well, although the payoff isn’t as dramatic. For instance, wheat berries take a notoriously long time to cook using conventional methods—upwards of an hour and a half on the stovetop. Some sources say that a pressure cooker cuts that time by more than fifty percent, to 40 minutes. Barley can go from 50 minutes to less than twenty, and farro can be cooked in less than eight minutes. The catch? Daniel found that using a pressure cooker on whole grains like farro, wheat berries, and whole-grain spelt did cut down on cooking time. But after factoring in the time it takes to pressurize and depressurize a pressure cooker, he found you only really save about 10 minutes compared to a more conventional method.

Grains not your thing? A pressure cooker slaps with beans and legumes, too. Kenji’s quick and easy pressure cooker black beans recipe cuts the cooking time from three hours to 40 minutes—no pre-soaking and no baking soda required.

For both grains and beans, one disadvantage to pressure cooking is that there’s no way to monitor the contents once things are cooking. You can’t just quickly open up the pot without depressurizing and re-pressurizing again. Instead, cooks must rely on recommended cooking times. If foods don’t cook in the recommended time, you’ll have to bring the pot back up to full pressure to keep cooking.

Pressure Caramelization: Wet Maillard Reactions

Under certain conditions, a pressure cooker can actually speed up Maillard reactions that otherwise wouldn’t happen at normal atmospheric pressure and temperature.

Maillard reactions are the cascade of small chemical reactions, catalyzed by heat, that occur between proteins (technically, the amino acids that make up proteins) and sugars, which produce new flavors, aromas, and colors. Most of the time, these reactions require heat in excess of 300°F (150°C) to happen quickly and readily. But there’s evidence that Maillard browning can happen at even lower temperatures, given enough time. Anecdotally, we see this happen when a chicken stock darkens as it cooks—and becomes even darker still as you reduce it to a demi-glace consistency over the course of a few hours, which is probably both a function of concentration and Maillard browning.

Why would you want to go to the trouble of making Maillard browning happen in a pressure cooker? In general, Maillard reactions occur alongside dehydration. In an open system (like an oven) with free evaporation, heat drives off surface moisture and allows temperatures to exceed the boiling point, which facilitates Maillard browning. Cooking in this way leads to crisping and crunching—and even burning if taken to an extreme. In a pressure cooker, there is zero evaporation, so you can have Maillard browning throughout, without drying out surfaces first. The resulting browning is also distributed more evenly throughout the food, not just on the surface.

To speed up Maillard browning in a pressure cooker, it’s often necessary to raise the pH to create a basic or alkaline environment, which increases the speed of reactions by making amino acids more reactive with sugars. In fact, “pressure-caramelization” (admittedly a bit of a misnomer, since it’s really a Maillard reaction at work, not caramelization, which is a different reaction altogether) is a technique popularized by Modernist Cuisine: By adding baking soda to a high-sugar vegetable or fruit and cooking under pressure, the food undergoes significant Maillard browning. Kenji takes advantage of this technique for his pressure caramelized onions. You still won’t get true caramelization (which is why Kenji opts for a quick post-pressure cook), but it’s a quick way to get that initial browning and flavor at a relatively lower temperature.

You can “pressure-caramelize” almost any fruit or vegetable, although don’t expect them all to be winners. Sweet potatoes and carrots work beautifully, but Daniel doesn’t really recommend pressure-cooking butternut squash, which somehow tastes like pretzels. If you’re a fan of banana bread, I highly recommend pressure-caramelizing bananas for an added layer of intense, butterscotch-like flavor.

Canning and Preservation

Let’s not forget one of the original uses for pressure cooking in general. High pressure and high temperature are ideal for forcing out unwanted oxygen and killing pesky microbial baddies when canning foods. Pressure canning is well suited for foods that are low-acid (higher than 4.6 on the pH scale), or require high heat to kill anaerobic microbes such as Clostridium botulinum. To properly do so, you should invest in a pressure canner, which features a gauge that allows you to more accurately track pressure.

If you want a more comprehensive (and wonderful) explanation of pressure canning and preservation, Christina Ward’s guide to the science of canning is all the nerding out you could ask for.

The Limit Does Not Exist

Is there anything a pressure cooker can’t do? We have yet to explore some lesser-known applications. KFC is famous for popularizing industrial pressure-fried chicken. Could you do it at home? Probably. But should you? Probably not, unless you love ruining kitchen equipment and dealing with blazing hot oil. Then there’s pressure cooked seeds: Dishes like sunflower seed “risotto” or pumpkin seed mole, which use the pressure cooker to produce otherwise unachievable textures. I’m probably missing several more techniques, but I’ll leave that to the geeks out there.

Peer Pressure

Hopefully, you’re now convinced that a pressure cooker is a useful—essential, even—tool that you should have in your kitchen. Armed with all this knowledge and pressurized power, I encourage you to cut loose and pressure-cook everything in sight. And if you’re ever in doubt, keep this in mind: If something usually takes a long time to cook, doesn’t need a ton of dry heat, and has a good amount of moisture when cooked, it’ll probably do great in a pressure cooker.

Source: Serious Eats