Monday, March 6, 2017

Sous Vide, anyone? My experience with the Anova Precision Cooker

Right before Christmas, I treated myself to a new kitchen gadget - the Anova Precision Cooker. It was on sale, and I was intrigued by the concept of sous vide cooking. I love spending time in the kitchen and trying out new techniques, so I just had to splurge on this contraption. Plus - I didn't know a single person who cooked suis vide, so I wanted to be an early adopter, and kick some ass in the culinary department. I knew my loved ones were skeptical that meat could be cooked in a plastic bag sitting in warm water... but after reading the Anova blog and seeing so many pics of perfectly cooked steak, I just had to try.

So - you may be asking, what is sous vide cooking? Well, sous vide is French for "under vacuum" and it is a method of cooking in which food is placed in a plastic pouch and then placed in a water bath for quite a long time. It can be vacuum sealed, but that's not a necessity. I did splurge and buy fancy bags on Amazon that are specific to suis vide cooking. They are free of harmful chemicals and food safe for heating. They are not vacuum sealed bags, but that's OK. I just need to make sure that all of the meat is submerged under water, which means getting the air out of the bag manually. 

I made my first roast while at home for Christmas. My mom donated the first hunk of beef - a nice top sirloin roast. I cooked the roast for 27 hours! I like to think of this method of cooking as similar to a slow cooker... but rather than providing direct heat from the bottom of the cooker, the Anova swirls the water around, and it is kept at a precise temperature. Sous vide cooking is generally done at a lower temperature than other cooking methods. For instance, I did my first roast at 131 F. It's not very hot, you can easily put your hand in the water. The roast came out super tender and perfectly medium rare. I've also tried 134 F and 137 F... personally, I like my meat bloody, and so 131 F was amazing. However, if I am cooking for guests who may be queasy about bloody beef, I try and go for a little closer to medium (137 F). 

Now - when the meat is cooking, it doesn't look that great. But - there's a searing step at the end, and once the meat is browned - it looks awesome. 

One thing I love about sous vide cooking is that I just need to set it and forget it. I can throw a roast in a plastic bag... add some spices or marinade, seal the bag, hang it over the side of any pot, put in on my counter, set the Anova for the temperature I want, and then leave it alone till the next night when I pop it out, sear it quick, use the juices to make gravy, and BAM, dinner is done!

You can use almost anything as a container! A pot, a cooler... a giant bowl. As long as it is deep enough to submerge the meat, you are good to go. And I usually set my pot on the counter, with a towel underneath. If you have stone counters, be careful. You may want to place on the stove top, or on a thick cutting board. 

You can leave the pot open and exposed, but to be really careful and avoid water loss, you can cover the pot loosely with a towel. I notice that water does evaporate overnight, but nothing too drastic.

With sous vide cooking, you can ensure perfect "doneness" every single time. Placing food in a water bath, set at an exact temperature, avoids overcooking, because the food cannot get hotter than the bath. This was a food science "knowledge bomb" that took me awhile to wrap my head around. So - let's say that 131 F is the temp that makes food perfectly medium rare. The way that suis vide works, is that whether you leave the roast in for 8 hours or 28 hours, as long as the temperature is set at 131 F, it can never go beyond medium rare. It will come out perfectly medium rare, from one end to the other. The only thing that changes over time is the texture. I cooked my first roast 27 hours, which was probably too long. It was still perfectly medium rare, but the texture was extremely soft. It just fell apart. It almost lost its meat consistency. The nice thing though, is that if you leave your food in the water bath for only an hour or two 
extra,  it's not a big deal. It's a very stress free type of cooking. 

Here are some pics that show the difference between sous vide cooking and traditional cooking, from the Anova website:

With sous vide cooking - perfectly even! 

With traditional cooking - there are gradients

Check out the difference! The sous vide method looks so much better! 

Due to the fact that sous vide temperatures are much lower than for conventional cooking, the result is much higher succulence: at these lower temperatures, cell walls do not burst. With cheap roasts, tough collagen in connective tissue can be hydrolysed into gelatin, without heating the meat’s proteins high enough that they denature. This keeps the meat moist! I definitely noticed that all of my roasts were very tender, almost "melt in your mouth." Another bonus over conventional cooking is the consistency of the beef, from edge to edge. When a steak is grilled, there are temperature gradients in the meat. Food cooks from the outside in, which means the outer layers are hotter than the centre. Most traditionally cooked foods have a bulls-eye pattern. Perfectly cooked in the very centre, and increasingly overcooked as you move to the edge. I love the idea of perfectly cooked meat, from edge to edge!

Sous vide cooking takes a lot of experimentation. There are a million blogs and recipes on the internet, and everyone has a different method. Some will say minimum 130 F for medium rare, but you can go up to 139 F and still be in the medium rare range. It's hard to know what to do unless you experiment. Same thing with timing. Some recipes will say 8 hours, some 28 hours. It all depends on the cut of the beef, the size... the desired texture. In addition, some recipes say to brown the meat before placing it in the bag, some say to brown after, and some do both! I prefer to do it after cooking in the bag, so that the browning is the last step, but really, it's up to you! It is fun to try different techniques, as you get to play with food and find what's best for your unique taste buds.

Check out this perfectly medium rare roast Chad and I made! Just a slight sear at the end to brown the beef and give it flavour. 

I think this roast looks absolutely perfect! 

So far, every single batch of gravy made from the juices in the bag has been AMAZING! Below is a dinner Chad made using suis vide roast, with some rice and salad. An unusual take on a beef dinner, but absolutely delicious. 

I've also done six chicken breasts at once with the Anova, and it took less than two hours! The chicken was extremely tender and delicious. It was awesome, as I had chicken salads all week, and the tender chicken wasn't dry at all!

Anova has a great food blog with all sorts of recipes. You can do veggies, bacon, dessert, you name it!

Just remember - often there is a finishing step. For instance, with roast or chicken, a quick sear in a frying pan will improve the taste and the appearance. It must be quick though - you don't want to actually cook the food, just brown the outside and ensure the Maillard reaction takes place. The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor. It also gives food the type of appearance we are used to! Nice and brown! 

I can't wait to try sous vide lobster and fish! I bet it will be sooo tender and juicy! So far, I highly recommend this type of cooking, and I am enjoying my new device! 

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Flying Canoe Festival

The Flying Canoe Festival last weekend at Millcreek Ravine and La Cite Francophone was AMAZING! It was seriously so awesome that I went both nights! In fact, I am kicking myself for not knowing about this festival sooner in my Edmonton life. 

 As the website states, the Flying Canoe festival is a creative and interactive cultural event designed to celebrate local history and everything that is great about a long winter’s night. It is inspired by the legend of The Flying Canoe and French Canadian, First Nations and Métis traditions. This event celebrates Edmonton's beautiful Mill Creek Ravine and I definitely agree that the gorgeous landscape is on display and makes the festival feel like an outdoor adventure! As well, the lanterns from Dylan Toymaker are mindbogglingly beautiful! I want one of his lanterns so bad! In fact, when walking from the school to the ravine, individual houses even had lanterns up, which they had made at a workshop a week earlier! Talk about community spirit!!!

One other cool thing about the festival is that there are story tellers throughout the spaces, and not only do you learn about the legend of the Flying Canoe, but you can see people in canoes, and evil wolves with red eyes, stalking the canoes! The energy was electric, and even though the weather was freezing cold, if you dressed warm and stayed active, it was totally worth it! 

I also really appreciated the celebration of First Nations and Métis culture. The tepees and drumming circles were amazing, and I enjoyed not only the hauntingly beautiful singing, but the free tea and bannock too! 

My pictures of the event did not turn out, but luckily I have tons of good ones from my amazing friend Trae Duh! Thanks girlfriend! 

Here are pictures taken at the school, which was lit up wonderfully, with constantly changing colors! 

Wee! Slides! 

La Cite Francophone had live DJs outside! And so many awesome colors! 

These lanterns lit the pathway to the Millcreek ravine!  

The flying canoes! 

First Nations Camp

Millcreek Ravine, in all of its natural glory, and illuminated by Dylan Toymaker's gorgeous lanterns!

Father Winter! 

We also flew a canoe! 

The next night I attended with Chad and his son, and so we had another amazing night, this time with more children's activities.

Some of Chad's awesome shots are below. As you can see, lots of k
ids being kids and jumping in snow!

 Community lanterns!

Free horse drawn wagon rides! 

Why can't city parks always look like this?

Some good ole' fashioned dancing fun! 

Cool illuminated dresses! 

While this year's event is over - in the future, make sure to hit up this festival filled with lights, music, winter magic and more.

Art Gallery of Alberta

After the Chinese New Years Festival, Chad and I headed to the Art Gallery of Alberta to check out some new exhibitions. I was amazed at how much things had changed since we were last there, probably about 7 months earlier when they had "The Indian Group of Seven." And, in fact, I think many of the exhibitions have changed since we were there only a couple weeks ago! Turnover is great! That means you can visit more often and never get bored :)

By far the most stunning and fantastical exhibit was The Vessel by David Altmedj. I'm pretty sure that hanging and assembling the strings would have taken the patience of a saint and a ton of time! I loved the molded body parts including hands and noses, and there were lots of stones and gems too. The way the body transformed into a moving swan was quite stunning. The exhibit was huge too! It took up an entire room, and so pictures can't really capture the entire scene. The piece looked very different depending on the angle. 

When I studied the exhibit, I could actually see what the artist was talking about in terms of energy:

“What inspired The Vessel was a movement. The movement of something that retracts a little, to gain energy just before throwing itself forward. Like a wave that draws back and swells with water and energy, and is about to crash; or the movement of an arm that is about to throw an object.” 

Photos by Chad Baba

The artwork below was interactive and collaborative. Visitors were allowed to move the strings and add new ones, to create an original mural inspired by the Vessel. 


Sadly, I did not capture the names of all of the exhibits and artists, but Chad did capture some wonderful photos. This sculpture has amazing angles:

The painting below is from Edmonton artist Paul Freeman, who is the artistic director at the Nina Haggerty. I loved the vibrant and vivid colors! The piece really popped! 

I also found a "self portrait." When I saw the painting below, it totally reminded me of myself. The blond hair and corn husk body! Even red wine stained teeth! A true Redcliff girl! Thank you Patrick Cruz for discovering my essence.  

The artist featured above and below had an enormous exhibit, which took up two huge walls and reminded me of how I used to decorate as a teenager when I covered every single inch of space in my room. I LOVED it! I am obsessed with all of the colors, and there was so much to see in each individual painting! I created a collage using some of my fave pics in the piece, and assembled it below:

Right now admission to the art gallery is less than ten bucks as there are some exhibition closures on the first floor. It's truly a nice place to visit while downtown. In addition, the art galley is always hosting cool events, such as yoga and art classes for kids. Not to mention - even the architecture of the art gallery is amazing! Appreciate art folks, it's there to be admired! 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Year of the Fire Cock!

Happy Chinese New Year Everyone!

This was my first year getting out to Chinatown and celebrating the New Year first-hand! And - in case you don't know -  2017 is the Year of the Rooster! The "Fire" Rooster in fact! And I sure did see lots of sparks :)

What I did not know about the Chinese New Year is that firecrackers are EVERYWHERE! I was imagining a parade in my head, but instead, I was able to see dragons and lions dancing around and performing rituals, and tons of firecrackers being set off in front of all of the wonderful businesses.

I was amazed at the noise! It was so exciting!!! 

                          Photo credits: Chad Baba

Not only were firecrackers being lit on long strings all over the place (often with balloons and confetti attached for extra pop and crackle), but participants were able to light little ones too! 

Here I am, about to blast-off my first firecracker! 

It's amazing how loud and scary they can be! And when the hit your shins - they hurt! 

But totally worth it! 

Chad's celebratory dance after lighting a whole strong of firecrackers! 

We were lucky enough to see a dragon dance! 

And there were lions too! They would enter the stores to bring good luck, and jump for lettuce! 

See the lettuce hanging above!

I had to use Wikipedia to find out the reason why the lions jump for lettuce!

During the Chinese New Year, lion dance troupes from the Chinese martial art schools or Chinese guild and associations will visit the houses and shops of the Chinese community to perform the traditional custom of "cai qing" (採青), literally meaning "plucking the greens", whereby the lion plucks the auspicious green vegetables like lettuce either hung on a pole or placed on a table in front of the premises. The "greens" (qing) is tied together with a "red envelope" containing money and may also include auspicious fruit like oranges. In Chinese cǎi (採, pluck) also sounds like cài (菜, meaning vegetable) and cái (财, meaning fortune). The "lion" will dance and approach the "green" and "red envelope" like a curious cat, to "eat the green" and "spit" it out but keep the "red envelope" which is the reward for the lion troupe. The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the business.
In the old days, the lettuce was hung 5 to 6 metres above ground and only a well-trained martial artist could reach the money while dancing with a heavy lion head. These events became a public challenge. A large sum of money was rewarded, and the audience expected a good show. Sometimes, if lions from multiple martial arts schools approached the lettuce at the same time, the lions are supposed to fight to decide a winner. The lions had to fight with stylistic lion moves instead of chaotic street fighting styles. The audience would judge the quality of the martial art schools according to how the lions fought. Since the schools' reputation were at stake, the fights were usually fierce but civilized. The winner lion would then use creative methods and martial art skills to reach the high-hanging reward.
It was very cool to see the lions jump up for the lettuce, and then throw the leaves around! 

I encourage everyone to check out the Chinese New Year festivities at some point! They are a "BLAST!" 

And make sure to eat some dumplings and noodles afterward, as we did! You know, for luck! The dumplings at Urban China were outstanding! 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fortune Falls from Catalyst Theatre

Hi everyone and happy 2017!

Photo Credit: David Cooper

Wowzers, I have lots of stuff to catch up on. I took a giant blog break for Christmas, and I also had a laptop breakdown, followed by purchasing a new laptop... then a return of that laptop, and then another new laptop! You can now consider me a laptop expert (HAHA), with a million things to talk about.

I'll start with the most timely item - the latest show from Catalyst Theatre (in partnership with the Citadel), called Fortune Falls. Now, I will admit that I entered this show not knowing very much about Catalyst Theatre. I lucked out last year by discovering the Citadel in its 50th season, and every show was epic. As for Catalyst Theatre, I had never seen one of their productions. However, someone I knew wrote me before Christmas and asked if I would consider donating to them, in order to support their (last) play Vigilante on a cross-Canada tour. While I missed Vigilante in the theatre, I think the idea of a made-in-Edmonton play going all the way to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa is pretty sweet. I love Edmonton, I love theatre, and so I thought it was a cool cause to support. 

In fact, I encourage everyone to throw some bucks to the arts. I was surprised to learn that ticket sales don't actually cover the costs of putting on a show. Our local artists bust their backs just to bring us amazing entertainment. And while they deserve to get rich doing it, the reality is that it's a labour of love involving a lot of fundraising! So whatever you enjoy - dance, opera, the symphony - give them some love ($$$) back! 

After learning about Catalyst and donating, one of the perks was attending the premiere of Fortune Falls. I was intrigued with the description of it:
A synthpop musical set to the beat of a revolutionary spirit..Fortune Falls is the allegorical tale of the rise, fall and reinvention of a prosperous town, once home to the world’s largest candy factory. One shocking day the factory is closed, leaving one lonely man to guard the abandoned factory and a community to contemplate endings and new beginnings. 

Photo Credits: David Cooper

I have to say - the premise of the show reminds me of many events happening in the world today. Just recently, driving home for Christmas, I went past the Sheerness Coal Mine, and I could not help but think about how the surrounding town of Hanna will be negatively impacted by the phasing out of coal. Similarly, in Ontario and the US, the auto sector has been hit hard by globalization and the outsourcing of labour. It's a fact of life that economies shift and employment changes... but for the folks caught up in the transition, for the people who lose their jobs and see their property values decline - it is tough. 

Fortune Falls is an aptly named town. They were fortunate when the Mercey Chocolate factory provided good jobs to the townsfolk... but that fortune "fell" with the closing of the factory. Don't expect an uplifting play... it's sort of depressing... but sometimes it's refreshing to see a show that highlights the realities people are facing. It is still whimsical and exciting... just a bit sad. It even tugged on my nostalgia heart-strings, conjuring thoughts of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Tim Burton. 

What stuck out the most to me was the excellent music! I would buy the soundtrack! All of the tunes were spunky and modern sounding, and I was even singing a few after I left the Citadel! C'mon Catalyst - release a Fortune Falls soundtrack for your next fundraiser!!!!

Photo Credit: David Cooper

Another stand-out for me was the costumes. They looked cool! A bit tattered... a bit fanciful... totally hip for today's world...just super-unique and perfect for the young characters. I watched a YouTube video featuring Costume Designer Megan Koshka, and it was interesting to learn about all of the work and creativity that went into the costumes! 

Photo Credits: David Cooper

I enjoyed the show, as it made me think (and sing!), Now I wish super hard I would have seen Vigilante. Don't risk FOMO... get out and see Fortune Falls! It is playing until February 5, 2017. You can still get tickets