Holiday Cooking Simplified

In our previous blog post, I gave you directions to cook and puree your own pumpkin for baking pies and other holiday goodies. Using your Vacmaster®, you can get a lot of your holiday cooking work done ahead of time, allowing you to spend more time with family and friends.

  • After pureeing your cooked pumpkin, portion it out and vacuum package.  After flattening the bags, place in the freezer to thaw out and use as needed all through the holidays.
  • Have you ever tried REAL cranberry sauce instead of that canned gel stuff?  If you haven’t and you don’t care for cranberry sauce, you just might change your mind after making your own.  It’s simple!  Just place a 12 ounce bag of whole cranberries in a sauce pan.  Add 2/3 cup of white sugar, 1/3 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of orange juice.  Cook cranberries over low heat until they pop.  Cool your cranberry sauce to room temperature (it will thicken as it cools) and vacuum package using your Vacmaster®.  Place in the freezer for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals!  Another task crossed off the list ahead of time!
  • Cooking and mashing potatoes is a pain on the holiday but using your Vacmaster® can help.  Just finish this task ahead of the day of your dinner and season as you like.  Cool to room temperature and vacuum package.  One difference here – make within 3-4 days of the holiday dinner and refrigerate.  Frozen mashed potatoes tend to be sort of watery and lose much of their fluffy texture.

There are many more ideas to put your Vacmaster® to good use in saving time this holiday season.  Do you have favorites you can share?

The “Everything Pumpkin” Time of Year

The fall is here and of course, you can’t go anywhere that sells food without seeing something made from pumpkin. It used to be mostly pumpkin pie but all that’s changed as pumpkin mania has spread everywhere. Bagels, cupcakes and fancy coffees are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve even seen chili made with pumpkin rather than tomato sauce! Maybe I’ll try that one soon!

If you’re making your own pumpkin products, you cannot go wrong with fresh, home made puree from pie pumpkins. These pumpkins differ from the ones you’re probably used to – the jack ‘o lantern type pumpkins. Pie pumpkins are much smaller and they have a sweeter taste with a less stringy, more tender texture. It’s really a snap to have fresh puree to use in your recipes rather than the canned stuff which may not really be pumpkin. Most canned pumpkin producers use a type of gourd or squash that’s cheaper and more readily available than pie pumpkins.

To start off, remove the pumpkin’s stem and split the pumpkin in half from top to bottom. Scoop out the seeds and stringy insides (save these!). Place your two pumpkin halves, cut side down, into a glass baking dish and add about 1/2 cup of water. You can bake in the oven until tender but to save time, I prefer the microwave. Just cover the dish with plastic food wrap and microwave for approximately 20 minutes.

When your pumpkin is soft, scoop out all of the flesh and discard the shell. Place the flesh into a dish and use a hand blender to puree it. You can also use a food processor or regular blender. Just be careful not to over-puree your pumpkin. When finished, the puree will be thinner than what you’re used to in a can but don’t be concerned. Most recipes can be adjusted if need be and recipes calling specifically for fresh pumpkin puree will take this into account. If you want to reduce the amount of liquid in your puree, strain overnight in the refrigerator through a coffee filter.

As most pie recipes will use approximately three cups of pumpkin puree, I recommend vacuum packaging your puree in quantities of three cups each. Flatten the bags once done so that they will lay flat and take up less room in your freezer. They will also thaw out more quickly.

Here’s a great pumpkin pie recipe that specifically uses fresh puree rather than the canned variety. You’ll find it to be a much more flavorful pie, along with being fluffier and light. Check our YouTube Channel for a video on how to go about cooking pie pumpkins for this recipe (www.youtube.com/aryvacmaster) as outlined in this blog.

Pumpkin pie

Ingredients:

3 cups fresh pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cans evaporated milk (18 oz)

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cook a pie pumpkin according to directions to make pumpkin puree.

Mix all ingredients together in large bowl with mixer or hand blender.

Place pie crust in an 8 or 9 inch pie pan using your own or pre-made.

Fill crust with pumpkin mixture to within a quarter inch of the top.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and continue baking for 45-60 minutes.

A table knife inserted into the middle comes out clean when done.

Cool slightly; serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

VACMASTER TIPS: This recipe will create a lighter, fluffier pie. For a more dense pie, reduce to 3 eggs and only one 12 oz can of evaporated milk. You may want to consider covering the edge of the crust with foil to prevent burning. The pie may be vacuum packaged and stored in the freezer for up to a year or more. Be sure to freeze first then vacuum package to prevent crushing the pie. Re-heat in oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes after thawed.

Evenly cooked, perfect texture, every time

“This technique might be the biggest advance in cooking since the gas oven.” – Time Magazine, December, 2010

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be able to cook all of your food evenly and have it turn out perfectly every time? Sadly, most of our traditional cooking methods use high heat and, if you don’t watch closely, you can easily screw up a lot of expensive groceries! The idea behind sous vide cooking has been around for hundreds of years in the early civilizations in China, south Pacific islands and Mexico. Modern sous vide cooking with vacuum packaging dates back to the 1960′s in Switzerland where hospital kitchens used it to sterilize and preserve food. Fun, huh? In the 1970′s, a French chef began experimenting with the technique as a way to reduce shrinkage of foie gras. It is now used by many restaurants as a cooking method for steaks, chicken and pork, along with many types of vegetables. It is also used as a storage procedure because sous vide cooked food will keep several days longer than raw food.

Pretty fancy word, that sous vide! You can probably tell it’s a French term but the meaning is simple – “under vacuum”. Sous vide is the process of cooking food packaged in vacuum sealed bags in low temperature water baths. While most of our traditional methods of cooking don’t allow for even doneness throughout the food, sous vide, if the water temperature is closely regulated, will ensure improved texture, flavor and uniform doneness. And by cooking under vacuum, foods retain their original size, appearance and nutritional values. Water temperatures are regulated using a thermostat-controlled water oven or with an immersion circulator attached to a large container that holds the water and keeps it at a constant temperature. The key here is to keep the water at the exact temperature that would be considered “done” for the meat or other foods you’re cooking. As an example, 130 degrees F is considered “done” for a medium rare steak. By submerging a vacuum packaged steak in 135 degree water for an hour or two, the steak will cook to a perfect, even medium rare 130 degrees. It obviously cannot go any higher than that so you don’t ever run the risk of your steak being tough and overcooked. In fact, you could leave it in this bath for several hours and it will never overcook. When you’re cooking meat such as a steak, when it’s to its done temperature, simply remove it from the bag and place it on a very hot grill or frying pan to give the outer surface some color (30 seconds per side) and it’s ready to serve – perfectly cooked! Additionally, you can cook multiple steaks to the desired doneness and refrigerate while still vacuumed. The food will keep for several days. Then they can be quickly grilled or fried for some color and reheating later. It couldn’t get much easier, right? It’s pretty apparent, then, why it would benefit restaurants to use this method. They can cook and hold a bunch of steaks at various temperatures of doneness and when an order comes in, they simply open a bag and drop on the grill for a few seconds on each side and you have a steak that could not be cooked more perfectly.

So to review a bit – why would you want a sous vide water oven or an immersion circulator in your kitchen?

  • Food loses less nutritional content compared to traditional cooking methods.
  • Working with low cooking temperatures requires less additional fat to be added.
  • Naturally-enhanced food flavors means less salt and fewer spices, reducing the overall sodium content.
  • Food cannot be over-cooked or dried out due to the low and precise cooking temperatures.
  • Tough meats are tenderized and cooked perfectly, even at medium rare.
  • Compressing foods under vacuum creates a more dense food with a smooth and pleasing texture.
  • Consistent results are easily achieved each time food is prepared.
  • Meals can be prepared in single proportions and stored safely for future use.

Today’s home cooks are fortunate in that the equipment needed to prepare food sous vide is available in smaller sizes and at less cost than what commercial kitchens would use. First, a quality vacuum packaging machine is required. We recommend a chamber machine because of the ability to vacuum package foods with liquids, including the meat juices. Our VP line of chamber vacuum packaging machines are the perfect companion for sous vide cooking. Second, a way to monitor and regulate water temperatures is required. Several companies manufacture and sell water ovens, many of which, however, have small capacities. Coming next month, VacMaster will have available our new SV1 Immersion Circulator to make sous vide cooking a breeze. It can be used with any water container that is large enough to hold between 12 and 30 quarts of water. Look for it on our website in late September or early October.

A Note on Bags: VacMaster’s chamber pouches use a BPA-free material and are perfect for low temperature recipes or high heat rethermalization. The pouch design ensures a thorough seal that prevents water or air from migrating back into the pouch. A strong seal ensures accurate cooking times, longer shelf life and prevents dehydration and freezer burn.

Blanching Fresh Veggies to Freeze

It’s summer and while gardens and farmers markets across the country are full of fresh and tasty vegetables, it’s sure to come to an end soon. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying them – not if you have a vacuum packaging system from VacMaster! Freezing veggies to enjoy during the winter is a great way to preserve that summer freshness year ’round.

You don’t want to just put them into back and start sealing though. Raw vegetables contain enzymes that will, over the course of time, begin to break down the vegetables and destroy color, texture and most importantly nutrients, even while frozen. Blanching is an easy process that will stop the enzymes from doing their dirty work! It’s basically just scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a few minutes, followed by a rapid cool down in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

There are three methods to blanch vegetables: water blanching, steam blanching and microwave blanching. For our purposes here, we will not address microwave blanching as it is not as effective as the other two and studies show that some enzymes are not destroyed by microwave blanching, leaving your veggies at risk of losing nutrients, color, flavor and texture.

Water blanching involves dropping raw vegetables into a large pot of boiling water for a few minutes, followed by removal and dunking in an ice water bath for an equal amount of time. You can purchase a blancher but it really isn’t necessary as long as you have a large (2-3 gallon) pot with a lid and a basket or colander that will go down into the pot. You’ll want to use one gallon of water (or more) per pound of vegetables you’re blanching. The reason is you’ll want the water to return to a full rolling boil as quickly as possible after adding vegetables. Optimal time is one minute or less. Once the water returns to a full boil, start your timer and blanch for the appropriate amount of time. See our list below to find out how much time for many of your favorite vegetables. Once the time has elapsed, quickly remove from the boiling water and add to an ice bath. I put about two gallons of water in a large pan, along with about two pounds of ice. This will quickly cool the vegetables.

Steam blanching is recommended for some vegetables, including broccoli, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and winter squash. In this process, the vegetables are placed into a pot approximately 2-3 inches above boiling water and a tight lid is placed on the pot. Timing begins as soon as the lid is placed on the pot. Ideally, vegetables should be placed in a single layer and halfway through the steam time, move them a bit to ensure they are not sticking together. I have also used a kitchen steam cooker to accomplish the same thing. In most cases, steam blanching takes twice the amount of time as water blanching, although some more delicate vegetables will blanch sooner. Again, a quick ice water bath stops the cooking process and readies the vegetables for vacuum packaging and freezing.

It is important to note that blanch times are important. Obviously blanching for too long ruins the texture and strips nutrients from the vegetables. If you don’t blanch for long enough, the enzymes are not deactivated and deterioration will happen while frozen. Pay close attention to the recommended times in the chart below.

After ice baths, be sure to drain and pat dry as much as possible prior to vacuum packaging so that you’ll have less ice in the bags. Load VacMaster bags with amounts that best serve the needs of your family and use your VacMaster machine to vacuum package your vegetables for the freezer. Be sure to date and label. Your fresh vegetables will be tasty and full of vitamins for your family to enjoy throughout the coming winter months!

Blanched Veggies Vacuum Packaged

Vegetable Blanche Time – Water (minutes) Blanche Time – Steam (minutes)
Artichoke hearts (Globe) 7 12
Artichoke – Jerusalem 4 8
Aparagus – small stalk 2 3
Asparagus – medium stalk 3 5
Asparagus – large stalk 4 6
Beans (green, snap, wax) 3 6
Beans (lima, butter, pinto) 3 6
Beets until cooked and tinted until cooked and tinted
Broccoli florets 3 5
Brussels Sprouts – small heads 3 6
Brussels Sprouts – medium heads 4 8
Brussels Sprouts – large heads 5 10
Cabbage / Chinese Cabbage (shredded) 1 1/2 3
Carrots – small 5 8
Carrots – diced or sliced 2 4
Cauliflower florets 3 6
Celery 3 5
Corn – on the cob, small 7 12
Corn – on the cob, medium 9 14
Corn – on the cob, large 11 18
Corn – whole kernel or cream style 4 7
Eggplant 4 7
Greens, collard 3 4
Greens – all others 2 3
Kohlrabi – whole 3 6
Kohlrabi – cubes 1 2
Okra, small pods 3 5
Okra, large pods 4 7
Onions, whole 3-7 5-9
Onions, sliced rings 1/4 3/4
Peas, edible pods 2 3
Peas (field), black eyed peas 2 4
Peas (green) 1 1/2 3
Peppers, sweet – halves 3 5
Peppers, sweet – strips or rings 2 4
Potatoes – new 5 8
Pumpkin until cooked until cooked
Rutabaga 3 6
Soybeans, green 5 8
Squash, summer 3 5
Squash, winter until cooked until cooked
Sweet Potatoes until cooked until cooked
Turnips and Parsnips, cubes 2 4