After my introduction to sous vide –  in which I explained what sous vide means, its history, how it works and the advantages and disadvantages of this cooking technique – I was planning to share a clever, inventive recipe with you… something to show off the cheffy possibilities… something unusual and impressive.

I’ve been admiring lots of wonderful sous vide recipes online. Delicious ideas by fellow bloggers include Dom’s fennel risotto, Jan’s pork belly with honey and apple cider glaze, Mardi’s caramelized bananas with coconut gel and snow, Helen’s rhubarb compoteJeanne’s 20 hour oxtail stew, and Luiz’ Tamago Onsen. I’ve also found much to tempt via Google and Pinterest, such as 48 hour Momofuku short ribs, 36 hour chashu pork belly, olive oil poached salmonpeach bread pudding with sweet tea rum sauce, duck fat fried potatoes, white chocolate rum caramel bananas and salmon confit in elderflower oil.

But after all that, I decided to talk to you about sous vide steak!

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supermarket sirloin medallions

I have always loved steak and we often cook it at home, varying the cut depending on our mood and what’s on offer, though most commonly settling on rib eye. We were happy enough with our technique – oil (and season) the steak not the pan, heat the pan until it’s properly hot, add the steaks and don’t move them at all until it’s time to flip them over, cook the second side, remove from the pan and rest for several minutes while making the sauce – but it wasn’t unusual for us to cook the steak a little more or less than we’d intended; the finger test is helpful but still a little tricky to call. And then I read that using a sous vide machine to cook steak should make it impossible to over or undercook, so steak was an obvious candidate for one of our first experiments.

And we discovered that cooking steaks accurately is ridiculously easy this way!

We have now cooked several steaks in our Sous Vide Supreme, including sirloin medallions (on offer at the local supermarket), rump and some fabulous grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye steaks from Provenance Butcher. Each time, we’ve been thrilled with the perfect cooking, even texture and excellent flavour – even less expensive steaks (that haven’t been dry-aged for a long period or aren’t from rare breed animals) taste intensely beefy. The wagyu rib eye in particular really benefited from the gradual melting of the marbling into the surrounding meat.

Recipes list cooking times anywhere between 1 and 6 hours for steak; however, we find 1.5 to 2 hours is plenty of time for the meat to cook through, for steaks up to 3 cm thick. We like our steaks medium rare, so we sous vide them at 56.5 °C (133.5 °F); I found this chart very useful in selecting the right temperature.

Be prepared for the steaks to look rather unappealing when you take them out of the sous vide machine – a rather pallid pinky-grey; the caramelised flavours and dark brown colour that most of us appreciate on a steak are created by the Maillard reaction, for which one needs higher temperatures. For this reason, we briefly sear the steaks after they come out of the sous vide machine.

How To Sous Vide Steak (Medium Rare)

Ingredients
Steaks of your choice
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Method

  • Pre-heat sous vide machine to 56.5 °C (133.5 °F).
  • Very lightly season the steaks and vacuum seal into bags.
  • Submerge steaks fully and leave to cook for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • Before finishing the steaks, cook your vegetables and your sauce, so that they’re pretty much ready to serve.
  • Preheat heavy-based pan to scorching hot and very lightly oil.
  • Remove steaks from the bags.
  • When pan is really scorching hot, briefly fry the steaks on both sides to sear – only for about half a minute on each side as you don’t want the heat to penetrate too far into the steak and change its perfect texture
  • Assemble all your elements and serve.

Note: The steaks can remain in the sous vide for quite a lot longer than the required cooking time – the beauty of sous vide is that they will not overcook, since the internal temperature will not rise above the temperature of the water bath. That said, I have read that leaving steak in the sous vide for a very long time can result in the meat becoming mushy, usually in reference to cooking times of 15 hours or more.

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Grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye from Provenance Butcher

One of the questions I’ve been asked, by friends who know I’m experimenting with the Sous Vide Supreme, is whether we’ve found it worthwhile using it just to cook steaks, given that we’d previously cooked them happily enough in a frying pan. I asked myself the same question before I started using it, because it’s quite a bulky piece of kit and it really needs to justify itself, given how much storage space it takes up. In fact, we have found it quick and straightforward to fill with water, set the temperature, seal food into bags and submerge to cook, so it’s not felt like a chore to use it at all. When we’re done, it’s easy to empty into the bath, leave aside to dry and put away again. Of the equipment we own, it’s our deep fat fryer that we use more rarely because filling (and emptying) the oil is far more of a faff. That’s been a good benchmark for us to use for assessing how we feel about the Sous Vide Supreme.

What do you think? Do you have a Sous Vide Supreme? Or have you considered buying one? Do you think you’d get enough use from it? Would it be a white elephant or kitchen hero? I’d love to know your thoughts, and for those of you that have one, please let me know your favourite sous vide recipes and techniques. (For fellow Pinterest users, here’s my Pinterest Sous Vide board).

 

Kavey Eats received a SousVide Supreme and vacuum sealer in exchange for sharing my experiences using the equipment.
The sample of Grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye was courtesy of Provenance Butcher.

 

Friends of mine have recommended Spanish brand Lékué to me before; they are fans of its innovative silicone cookware. The range includes steaming, baking and storage containers, including a large selection for microwave cooks and cake makers and decorators.

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Lékué images

The item that intrigued me most was the Lékué Bread Maker, a flexible silicone bowl that can be used from start to finish of the bread making process – mix and knead the dough in the bowl, let it rise, knock it back, let it rise again and then pop the whole thing into the oven to bake.

Thus far, we’ve found it a little tricky to mix and knead the dough inside the bowl – its flexible and lightweight nature means that an attempt to lift the sticky dough before pushing it back down ends up lifting the bowl itself. We’ll experiment with different kneading techniques to see if we can overcome this.

However, where the Bread Maker comes into its own is for rising and baking wet, sticky doughs:

The dough needn’t be disturbed after its second rise, thus avoiding the risk of knocking out some of the air. Of course, this can equally well be mitigated by transferring dough from a regular mixing bowl into the final baking container ahead of the second rise.

For baking, the bowl has an ingenious design that allows it to be very easily fastened at the top, leaving it open at each side. The shape of the Bread Maker when fastened, provides both a pleasant rounded shaping of the final loaf as well as an environment in which the bread can create steam as it cooks, which makes for a lovely crisp crust.

The instructions also mention the option of baking the bread in a microwave (and finishing with a few minutes in a regular oven to provide crispness), though we’ve not tried that yet.

Lastly, the bowl is also dishwasher proof, which may be helpful for some, though its silicone nature means it’s a doddle to clean anyway, since nothing sticks to it.

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My images

COMPETITION

Lékué have offered a Bread Maker as a competition prize for Kavey Eats readers. The prize includes delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing your favourite memory of baking or eating freshly made bread.

Entry 2 – Facebook
Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

Entry 3 – Twitter
Follow
@Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a @Lekue Bread Maker from
Kavey Eatshttp://goo.gl/LyjJ5x #KaveyEatsLekue
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 21st March 2014.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is a Lékué Bread Maker. The prize include free delivery within the UK.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Lékué.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but do not have to do so for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received a selection of sample products from Lékué.

 

Although it’s been around for many years, the technique of cooking food sous vide (under vacuum) in a carefully temperature-controlled water bath has mainly been the preserve of chefs. Professionals have long appreciated the accuracy, consistency and sheer ease of a method that allows them to do the prep and (most of) the cooking of many dishes in advance. For example, they can portion, pack and cook steaks ahead of service, leave them in the water until needed, then quickly finish in a very hot pan to create an appealing brown crust, confident that the interiors will be cooked exactly as expected.

More recently, as the line between professional and domestic kitchens blurs, home cooks are investigating sous vide too.

The History of Sous Vide Cooking

Food historians attribute the idea of cooking under vacuum to Sir Benjamin Thompson, an 18th and 19th century physicist and inventor. Although he invented many items including a double boiler, an insulated drip coffee percolator and a new design of fireplace, he never actually created a sous vide machine, but he did document the idea of cooking under vacuum back in 1799, albeit using air as the heat transfer medium rather than water.

In a related development, the French navy prompted Parisian confectioner and chef Nicolas Appert to develop an industrially viable canning process in response to their competition, launched in 1795, seeking new methods of preserving food. Appert observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seal leaked. Boiling the jars in water killed harmful bacteria and yeasts; it also created a vacuum seal that kept jars airtight and stopped recontamination. After almost 15 years of work, the process he submitted won him a substantial 12,000 francs prize. Later, the method was applied to food sealed in tin cans, hence the process became known as canning.

Modern sous vide has been around since the 1960s, when French and American engineers mastered the process of making food-grade plastic films and pouches. Ingredients could be vacuum-sealed at sufficiently high pressures to compact textures and concentrate flavours. Sealing into such plastic is sometimes referred to as cryovacking after American company Cryovac Inc.

French chef Georges Pralus made the leap to using a sous vide water bath as a cooking technique when he was asked in 1974 by 3-Michelin-starred chef Pierre Troisgros to help find a way of cooking foie gras without losing so much of its weight during cooking. The foie gras, vacuum-sealed in food-grade plastic and cooked at a consistently applied specific temperature, not only loss far less fat during cooking, but had a more even texture too. The technique spread quickly and is now a common tool of many professional chefs.

Since then, there has been much more research and documentation of the effects of different cooking temperatures and times on different foods, with particular attention to food safety and food preservation. A pioneer in the food science of sous vide cooking is Bruno Goussault who presented a study on this very topic back in 1974. He and Pralus both went on to provide professional training in the technique for top chefs from around the world.

How Does it Work and What’s the Point?

Detractors often dismiss sous vide as nothing more than boil-in-the-bag in an attempt to associate it with those dreadful ready-made dinners of decades ago. Of course, there’s more to it than that: for sous vide cooking, raw food is vacuum-sealed in the bag – the removal of air allows heat to be transferred by the water outside the bag directly to the food inside, far more efficiently than when air gets in the way. The cooking temperature is far lower than boiling; accuracy of temperature is critical. Boil-in-the-bag food has already been cooked and pasteurised (at high heat) so the consumer is simply reheating by immersing in boiling water. Sous vide cooking involves cooking in a bag, in water, but it’s definitely not boil-in-the-bag!

When cooking food in a conventional oven (or in a pan on the stove top) the usual method is to set the temperature to high (we typically bake things at about 180 C) and leave the food in the oven (or on the stove) until it reaches the required internal temperature to transform from raw to cooked. The internal temperature the food needs to reach is far less than 180 C so the risk is that leaving the food cooking too long results in a continual rise in temperature, to the extent that the food becomes dried out or burnt. Of course, it’s also possible to underestimate the time needed, and remove a large item such as a roasting joint too soon, when it’s still raw at its centre. Temperature probes can help with this, but the cook still needs to ensure that the food is taken out at just the right time. Experience makes that less hit and miss, as does a temperature probe, but it’s still not an exact science given the different size and shape and moisture content of ingredients.

When cooking sous vide, the temperature of the water bath is set according to the internal temperature required to transform the food from raw to cooked. Of course, it’s still possible to remove the food too quickly, before the heat has transferred to the centre of the food. But the converse is not a problem – leaving the food in the water bath for longer doesn’t cause it to overcook, as it cannot become any hotter than the temperature of the water itself. This can benefit the home cook as much as the professional, as it allows the cooked food to be left in the water bath until such time as other elements of the dish are ready, or diners are ready to eat.

The accuracy of temperature achievable in a water bath means that meat can be cooked at precisely the right temperature to allow tough collagen to break down into soft gelatin, whilst avoiding the higher heats that denature protein and can make it tough. Choosing the right temperature allows the cook to target their preferred finish, whether that’s rare, medium rare, medium… Additionally, all the moisture is retained in the meat as it can neither evaporate nor drain away during cooking. When cooking fish such as salmon in a frying pan, it can be hard to apply heat evenly enough that the outer edges do not dry out before the centre is done, especially as this is a fish that is so good when it’s a touch under- rather than over-cooked. Using lower temperatures makes it easy to cook salmon evenly all the way through, and also avoid the unpleasant streaks of dried white albumen that are excreted when cooking fish at higher temperatures. There is less advantage over traditional methods when cooking vegetables, however adherents appreciate the intensity of flavours that cooking sous vide achieves.

Lastly, vacuum sealing the food means it can be stored (sealed and refrigerated) for longer after cooking, protected against oxidisation.

Limitations & Food Safety

The advantage of cooking, say, a steak or joint of meat in a hot oven or pan is that the exterior develops a caramelised brown crust, as the sugars and amino acids react to high heat – the Maillard reaction, as it’s known. And we love it – a beautifully seared chop with a tender, pink interior is surely the epitome of meat cooking!

Sous vide cannot achieve this, because the entire piece of meat, from exterior through to the centre, is heated only to the temperature needed to take it to medium rare, for example. So, a sous vide steak really needs to be finished briefly in a very hot pan, to sear the exterior and give us the crusted appearance, texture and taste we yearn for.

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That’s not an issue with all ingredients – salmon fillets are beautiful served straight out of the sous vide, evenly cooked all the way through. And foie gras, the ingredient that inspired the development of the modern technique, needs only to chill in the fridge before it’s sliced, plated and served.

Another issue to keep in mind is that of food safety, particularly for those with compromised immunity. The bacteria that is commonly found in food can be categorised into three groups – pathogens (which are harmful to us), spoilage (which, as the name implies spoil the taste and texture of food but are not, on their own, harmful to us) and friendly (which confer health benefits). Pathogens such as Clostridium botulinum (which produces the deadly toxin that causes botulism), Clostridium perfringens (one of the most common causes of food poisoning), Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes are all capable of growing in a vacuum. They can be eradicated by the application of minimum temperatures for sustained periods. Of course, for some ingredients, the temperature required to achieve a desirable texture in the food is not high enough to destroy any pathogens. In this case, it’s crucial to consider the source and quality of the raw ingredients and to observe strict hygiene practices. If storing food after sous vide cooking, it’s also advisable to reduce the temperature quickly, by immersing the sealed pouch into an iced water bath. Read more from sous vide expert Douglas Baldwin, here.

Sous Vide in a Domestic Setting

There are a number of brands that sell sous vide equipment to commercial kitchens. These are generally too expensive, and potentially too bulky, to be of interest to, or in the financial reach of, home cooks. Many have resorted to jury-rigging contraptions using digital thermometers and rice or slow cookers. Some even manage with the tap, a kettle and an insulated cool box! And a few have even attempted sous vide cooking on the stove top, necessitating constant addition of hot or cold water and minor adjustments of the heat level, to maintain the required temperature.

But for home cooks with a serious interest in the technique, and the budget to afford it, appliances aimed at the domestic market are now available.

One such brand is SousVide Supreme, founded by Doctors Michael and Mary Dan Eades. They were motivated to investigate the technique after enjoying a particularly excellent pork chop served by a Las Vegas hotel’s room service team, during a visit to attend a medical conference. The nutritionist couple promote a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet and also have a background in the restaurant trade, so when they realised there was a gap in the domestic market, they resolved to jump in and launched their domestic sous vide products in 2009.

Their range includes two vacuum sealer machines, two (different sizes of) sous vide water ovens and accessories including plastic pouches and cookery books.

sousvidesupremepromopack

The SousVide Supreme Water Oven is currently available on Amazon for £354, the Vacuum Sealer is currently £99. Alternatively, a Promo Pack of water oven, vacuum sealer, basic sous vide cookery book and 50 vacuum pouches is currently £450.

Our SousVide Supreme equipment arrived shortly before Christmas and we’ve had it out a few times already since then. Thus far, Pete and I have made a foie gras terrine (our first project, in deference to the role of Georges Pralus) and we’ve cooked steak (plain) and chicken (with flavourings). We’ve been very pleased with how all three came out and we found the vacuum sealer and water oven very straightforward to use. I’ll be sharing some recipes and feedback with you going forward.

Do take note that the oven is large, and needs some strength to lift when full of water.

 

Kavey Eats received a SousVide Supreme Promo Pack in exchange for sharing four posts about SousVide Supreme and my experiences with the equipment. This is the first such post with more to follow in coming months. As usual, I will be 100% honest about my opinions, whether good or bad.

 

I am inexorably drawn to kitchen gadgets and have always had to fight my tendency to collect electrical white elephants. Of the new gadgets I’ve encountered since I started writing Kavey Eats I adored the Thermomix, the jug blender and the mandoline slicer, was pretty pleased with the deep fat fryer and the spice and nut grinder and not very impressed at all by the soup maker, to name just a few.

But I’d not even heard of the Masha until I saw it featured on my spudtastic friend Gary’s blog, recently.

As many of you will know, using a food processer makes for horribly gluey mashed potatoes. Using a hand  blender is enormously messy and, if you can make it work for you, creates a similarly elastic puree. A potato ricer is slow and faffy but it does produce beautifully fluffy mash. An old fashioned potato masher obviously works well too, but again, takes a little time and elbow grease.

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The Masha looks a lot like a hand blender but the way it works is closer to an electric potato ricer: blunt plastic blades push the potato through holes. The fibres aren’t hacked apart so they don’t release too much starch, hence the potato doesn’t turn into gluey wallpaper paste. It doesn’t splash the content of the pan everywhere as can happen (to me) when using a hand blender. And it’s quick and very low effort.

Of course, it can be used to mash any root vegetable and I am sure it would work similarly well on anything in the squash family too. I have a soft spot for Swede and Carrot mash, which it handles easily. It can also be used to puree fruit and vegetables for young children. Here’s a link to the manufacturer’s video showing it in action.

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We probably wouldn’t have bought this gadget at this point, not because we don’t like it – we actually think it’s great – but because Pete is fit and strong and doesn’t mind spending a few minutes mashing our spuds the old-fashioned way (and because, frankly, our kitchen cupboards are actually overflowing, with boxes now sat in piles on the floor). However, we do think it’s a great tool and would be a particular boon for fluffy-mashed-veg-lovers with reduced arm strength. Retailing at around £32, we think the price is fair too.

 

COMPETITION

MPL Home is offering a Masha to one Kavey Eats reader. The prize includes free delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, telling me about your favourite meal featuring mashed vegetables.

Entry 2 – Facebook
Like the
Kavey Eats Facebook page and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

Entry 3 – Twitter
Follow
@Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a Masha from Kavey Eats and MPL Home! http://goo.gl/3HNm7A
#KaveyEatsMasha
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hashtag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 30th August 2013.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is a Masha, with free delivery within the UK.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by MPL Home.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You do not have to enter all three ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

 

Kavey Eats was sent a review sample Masha by MPL Home. All opinions are my own.

This competition is closed. The randomly selected winner was Kieran Walsh.

 

When I was approached about reviewing the shiny new Samsung Galaxy S4 phone I was a little hesitant.

I never blogged about it but twitter followers might remember how much I disliked the Nokia Lumia 800 (Windows) phone I was given to review last year. Genuinely keen to develop a fondness for it given its sleek hardware design and high end phone camera with Zeiss lens, I tried really hard but I just couldn’t get on with it at all. Nothing about it fit the way I wanted to use my phone, access my email and calendar, engage with social media… and so many aspects of navigation and app design seemed ill-conceived to me. When I went back to the official campaign team to ask for answers, most suggestions were that I adapt to the tool, rather than it to me, and one “solution” even pointed me towards an amateur hack to fool a secondary provider into thinking it was an iPhone. Colour me unimpressed. After 3 or 4 weeks, ready to jump up and down on it until it shattered into a 100 pieces, I went back to my HTC Wildfire – less fancy, less slick but with an interface and set of tools that worked far better for me.

But the Samsung Galaxy S4 struck me as a much better option, even on paper. It’s predecessor, the S3, has proved hugely popular and early reviews of the S4 suggested it would fare just as well. The upgrades from S3 to S4 sounded intriguing. And, most significantly for me, it was an Android phone, just like my HTC.

No need to change the way I work to fit the phone, this time around!

I recently replaced my damaged HTC Wildfire with an HTC Desire (and was very disappointed to discover that a model more than three full years newer than the Wildfire performed far less well, with camera functionality amongst others severely pared back). So within months, I began mulling over replacing it again and Samsung Galaxy phones were very much on my radar. The only thing making me hesitate was the price, and with a new job under my belt, I was coming around on that too.

But serendipity stepped in and Samsung got in touch asking me to review. I accepted, hopeful of a better experience.

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They arranged for me to meet British-Mauritian MasterChef winner Shelina Permalloo, and for us both to be given our new phones together. To my delight, Shelina picked Lahore Karahi in Tooting Broadway, an old favourite from when I worked around the corner for a few months and used to visit regularly with colleagues. Together, we opened our phones, already fully charged for us, and started playing with them.

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Within 24 hours, I was hooked.

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In that time, I had already found navigation familiar and instinctive for an existing Android user. I’d been wowed by the quality of the beautiful large screen and the high resolution display. Even more appealing once I replaced the cringe-worthy “Life Companion” slogan with “Kavey’s Phone”! And I was blown away by the sharpness of the camera and especially impressed at its focusing range on the macro end of the scale.

Don’t get me wrong, the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn’t perfect.

Although I’ve come to appreciate Air View (touch-free scrolling) – helpful when reading from an open website whilst cooking or eating, when my hands are too mucky to touch the phone without smearing food on it – I do wish it was available in all apps as I’d particularly like to use it whilst browsing twitter or Pinterest, whilst eating my lunch.

The Settings interface is confusing and poorly structured. The user manual is worse than useless and often the only way I can learn how to change a given setting is to Google for an article on a helpful tech blog.

The Gallery app that seemed clever at first glance is actually rather intrusive and also earned top place in my bad books by automatically creating album after album after album of hundreds of photos it pulled across from an old blog, my email accounts and even a few ancient Picasa albums. More web searching to find a way of removing all of those, as the Gallery menu and settings certainly didn’t offer any obvious way to turn this feature off. I managed it, eventually!

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The camera was the first function to wow me when I first switched on the phone. It continues to be the one that pleases me most. In good light, it’s super sharp and as high resolution as my point and shoot camera (13 megapixels). It’s almost macro-like in how close to the subject it can still focus, which is great for food photography. All the images above, from our recent holiday in Scotland, were taken on the S4, and have been (very lightly) post-processed, same as I do for photos taken on my other cameras.

That said, it’s really not a great performer in low light, especially when there’s a strong light source also in shot, as below (which has been post-processed much more heavily to recover detail and reduce some of the noise) so won’t be as useful in restaurants as I’d hoped. It offers reasonably good control and a few useful modes including an image and sound option that lets you record 10 seconds of sound annotation after taking a picture. One control I’m missing though is flash exposure – I like to use a dialled down flash fill-in when taking portraits, and this is one area where the S4’s phone falls behind my point and shoot camera.

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I love the completely daft dual camera mode which takes simultaneous pictures with both outward and inward facing cameras, allowing you to include a little thumbnail (which you can move) of the photographer in the scene captured by the main camera. It’s gloriously kitsch, even though it needs more concentration than I can muster after a strong cocktail! Of course, the dual camera also means the S4 is great for video-enabled skype calls too, making international calls cheap if one has free wi-fi available.

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Drama Shot is another fun mode to play with – when activated, it takes a fast series of images of a moving subject and then auto-selects a few of them to create a collage. You can manually adjust the choices it’s made before saving the final image too, but it’s actually pretty good at selecting the best ones, going for ones which don’t overlap. It does struggle to pick out the moving subject if too close or too far from the phone, and sometimes only manages to take a single image instead of a series, but it’s a fun toy nonetheless.

On a more serious note, I have had a little play with the S Translator, Samsung’s nifty text and speech translation app. I’ve spoken to it in French and Japanese (the two languages I’m familiar with, to varying degrees) and the translation back into English has been good enough. Not perfect, but good enough. Likewise, the other way around from English to Japanese and French. I’ve tried the written text translation too, though not the image scan function. The main weakness for me is that it’s an online-only app whereas to use it while travelling, offline would be more cost-effective and convenient.

I’ve not really used the Smart Pause eye-control feature. The idea is that it’ll pause a video or movie automatically when it detects you looking away from it, but even with the S4’s great screen, video isn’t the kind of content I’d access via my phone. I have a tablet, laptop and PC for that.

Overall, I am delighted with the phone. It’s not perfect, as you can see from my feedback above, but it’s very very good and I love it!

PhoneSock-0865 PhoneSock-0866

Next task – finding a proper case for it instead of one of Pete’s socks!

 

Addendum: Compared to the HTC smartphones I’ve used until now, the gorilla glass screen of the S4 breaks much more easily. Although it’s certainly scratch resistant, as you’d expect from gorilla glass, the problem is that it’s also very hard and brittle, which means it is prone to shattering. A few weeks after getting the phone, I dropped it from my back pocket, in its case, from a height of less than 1.5 feet (No it didn’t fall into the loo and yes I did feel like an idiot anyway). The screen shattered very badly indeed and I actually got a glass splinter when I next typed something in using the swipe typing method. Given that the screen doesn’t extend right to the edges, but is lipped by a narrow metal band, and was further protected by a (cheap) case this was an enormous surprise.  Samsung have very kindly replaced my screen, but not commented on whether this is an inherent weakness of the S4 design.

Kavey Eats received a review Galaxy S4 phone from Samsung.

 

safaricookiesMattGibson1

Sometimes I see a product and fall utterly in lust with it immediately. The intensity with which I covet said product is often inversely proportional to how much I rationally need it. Indeed, a product I may use once in a blue moon can often hold far greater appeal than one which I’d likely use regularly and often, and which might actually make life easier in a significant way.

Whether or not I actually need the product in question doesn’t really matter at all. (Unless it’s really expensive, in which case sheer “sticker shock”, as our American friends describe it, drives me to accede to my rational side).

Do you remember browsing through the Innovations catalogue as a kid? I remember bookmarking a whole host of cool but unnecessary products in every edition, though we never bought any of them. Except for those luggage straps with our names woven in; my dad did buy some of those…

These days, it’s sites such as Lakeland, Not On The High Street, Culture Label, HowKapow, Firebox and Suck UK which fulfil that function, full of things that make me Gollum-like in my need to own them. They’re good sites for finding gifts too.

SafariCookieCutters-0482

When I first saw these 3D Safari Cookie Cutters I think I might just have clapped my hands with glee, a cliché of delight if ever I performed one. But they were out of stock with no date given for when they might be on sale again, so they were relegated to the dusty depths of my bookmark folders. After an indeterminate period, by which time my fever for the cutters had finally abated to manageable levels, Suck UK obtained more stock and kindly agreed to send me review samples of the full set.

SafariCookieCutters-0491 SafariCookieCutters-0494

Not realising that a recipe was included within, I sourced another recipe for plain sugar biscuits from the web, though I’ll try the one they provided next time. My vanilla sugar cookie recipe was delicious, holding it’s shape but with a pleasant chew to it too.

Mostly, the process was pretty straightforward with the exception of cutting out the baby hippo’s legs which were so small we couldn’t easily push the dough out of the cutters. Perhaps we’ll oil the cutters before we use them next time, or I might just miss out the baby hippo as it was far less cute than I anticipated!

SafariCookieCutters-0495

As instructed, we let the dough rest before rolling and let the cut cookies rest in the fridge before baking. The pieces held their shapes pretty well and we were able to assemble all of them except one, the baby giraffe, which just wouldn’t support itself properly. The legs were a touch wobbly on a a number of them, especially the mummy giraffe but they stood unaided in the end.

SafariCookieCutters-0532 SafariCookieCutters-0534SafariCookieCutters-0536 SafariCookieCutters-0541

Aren’t they magnificent?!

Of course, not only did the cookies enchant all of us (we made them during a self-catering holiday in Islay with friends), they were deliciously tasty too and it was a daft but fun pleasure to ask “who ate the baby hippo?” and “I’m munching the elephant ears right now!”

Artistic types could probably ice these and make them really roar (or grunt) but we thought they were lovely as they were.

I think they’d be a great gift for children who enjoy baking (and may encourage those who don’t) or could be a fun idea for a themed birthday party.

 

If you order them on Suck UK, you can’t specify a particular animal though they will send different animals if you order more than one. They suggest ordering on Firebox (which I assume is a sister site) if you wish to choose a specific animal. The sets are £7.50 / £7.99 from the two sites, respectively, plus delivery.

Suck UK also sell similar dinosaur 3D cookie cutters.

 

Kavey Eats received review samples of the 3D Safari Cookie Cutters from Suck UK.
Thanks to Matt Gibson for the additional image, used at the start of the post.

Mar 152013
 

As anyone who read my post about Glazed Vanilla Bean Doughnuts will be aware, we were recently sent a Judge Cookware Multi Basket Deep Fat Fryer to review and I had a list as long as my arm of recipes to try!

In an era that’s obsessed with healthy eating for longevity, in which media tells us one more food group to avoid after another, and where fried foods are often dismissed as “dirty” it seems that the deep fat fryer, or chip pan, has lost much of it’s former allure. But whilst oven chips have become ubiquitous, baked doughnuts, samosas and battered fish simply don’t compare to the real (fried) deal! Of course, fried chips are better than the oven version too.

So far we’ve made those lovely vanilla doughnuts, fried some firm silken tofu which we’ve served with tinned pineapple and sweet and sour sauce, enjoyed southern fried chicken with chips, chips again, and lastly, fish and chips in a thick beer batter.

Still on the list are pakoras, tempura prawns and aubergine, potato and other vegetable crisps, onion rings, sesame prawn toasts, samosas and so much more…

FishNChips-4862 FishNChips-4867

We’re finding the fryer pretty straightforward to use.

  • It comes with a large basket and two single baskets, but we’ve used the large one for everything so far. The baskets feel very flimsy but seem to be fine in use.
  • The thermostat makes it easy to heat the oil to the required temperature for different recipes. The range is 130 to 190 C.
  • The oil heats up pretty fast, and the indicator light makes it clear when it’s reached temperature. There’s also a light to show when the unit is switched on, which should help those worried about leaving the unit on by accident.
  • The lid has a filter built into it, described as a lifetime filter. Certainly, the only thing that escapes through it is steam so the kitchen doesn’t get too smelly. There’s also a window in the lid which lets you see the colour of the food as it cooks but I find it easier to flip the lid open and get a proper look. The hinge design isn’t ideal as the lid doesn’t rest at a fully vertical position when open, but it’s manageable.
  • The fryer takes about 2.5 litres of oil to fill.
  • Probably the main negative is that the only concession to emptying the fryer are two very faint grooves at the corner, which are described as a “pouring channel”. Lifting the entire fryer, when full, and pouring the oil away from that corner, is a challenge. And the oil tank doesn’t come out for cleaning like many models at the same or lower price point, which is a real shame.
  • Because of that, we’ve fallen into a pattern thus far of filling with clean oil and then using four or five times over a week or two until the oil is ready to throw away. The idea is to then put the fryer away for a good few weeks, otherwise we’ll be eating fried food way too often!

By the way, don’t pour used oil down the sink or it will clog up your drains. Pour it back into an empty bottle and drop it off at your local recycling centre, where they can deal with it properly.

VanillaDoughnuts-1926 VanillaDoughnuts-1928
FriedTofu-4996 FriedTofu-5000
FishNChips-4878 FishNChips-4880

Everything has cooked evenly and pretty quickly too. It’s not been overly greasy, though that’s more a factor of choosing good recipes and cooking at the correct temperatures, I think.

Overall, we’re happy with the fryer.

If you have any great deep fried recipes to recommend, please let me know in the comments. Thank you!

 

The Judge Multi Basket Deep Fat Fryer is currently listed on Amazon for £62.95.
RRP is £125 but most retailers that stock this unit sell it at around the same price.

Kavey Eats was sent a review unit from Judge Cookware.

 

I don’t order bottled water in restaurants. We are fortunate enough to live in a country with safe, clean and reasonably plentiful drinking water. It strikes me as crazy to pay (financially and environmentally) to drink bottled water instead.

There’s an argument for those who prefer carbonated, in which case buying fizzy bottled water is no different to buying any other soft drink. But personally, I prefer still, so I always ask for tap. Often, it’s the lower end restaurants that get sniffy about it, never the posh ones.

I have occasionally bought bottled water when out and about. It’s a rare thing, as I’m conscious of the cost not to mention the litter.

We live in such a disposable culture. Now that a lot more packaging is labelled recyclable, people seem think there’s no environmental impact to throwing it away. But of course, even when something can be recycled, there’s a huge energy and resource cost to create the original item, to collect and sort the used item and to recycle it into something else. And, for various reasons, probably not least of which is that our recycling efforts are still rather half-hearted, 75% of post-consumer plastic waste in the UK is sent to landfill.

Pink Hydros Bottle

Recently I came across the Hydros Filtering Water Bottle. Instead of buying water, carry a Hydros bottle with you. You can either fill it at home, or if you’d rather not carry the weight around, fill it on the go. More and more restaurants and cafes are willing to fill reusable water bottles for free.

Made from Tritan plastic (BPA free) it has a filter embedded with an anti-microbial, to stop the build-up of bacteria which can be a problem when reusing some bottles. The filters are replaceable and last for about 150 uses. Oh and, best of all, it’s dishwasher friendly.

I like that you can fill from the top or through the side opening, which allows you to fill from a low or awkward tap – it’s a little slower but it works fine. The water passes through the filter into the bottle fairly quickly. Just make sure you close the bottle properly though, as a leaking bottle in your bag definitely won’t put a smile on your face!

The bottles aren’t cheap at £24.95 each. Replacement filters cost £7.94 each or £19.94 for three. However, given the price of bottled water, this doesn’t represent all that many bottles. When you factor in the environmental benefits, it makes the decision easier.

Another pleasing aspect to buying a Hydros bottle is that the company contribute about 60 pence / $1 from each bottle sale to “sustainable water infastructure projects”. They remind us that one in seven people around the world – that’s over a billion people – don’t have access to clean, safe water. They currently partner with Engineers Without Borders to fund rural water projects such as Project Gundom in Cameroon. Visit their website to read their mission statement, criteria for choosing projects and Project Gundom.

 

Other reusable bottles on the market include Give Me Tap (£12 for a metal bottle, no filter), LifeBottle (£12 for a BPA-free stainless steel bottle, no filter), Camelbak Groove (Approx £25 for a plastic bottle with integrated filter), Ohyo (£4.99 for a collapsible plastic bottle, no filter), Brita Fill & Go (£14.99 for a BPA-free plastic bottle with integrated filter), H2Onya Bottle (£8.50-£10.50 depending on size for a stainless steel bottle, no filter), Bobble Bottles (£8.99-£12.99 depending on size, for a BPA-free plastic bottle with integrated filter), Klean Kanteen Wide (£13.50-£26 for a BPA-free stainless steel bottle, no filter included, but compatible with standard filters), Aladdin Papillon (Approx £10 for a plastic bottle, made from recycled material, no filter), Aladdin Aveo (£9for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter). Contigo Autoseal Madison (£Approx £15 for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter), Kor Delta Hydration Vessel (Approx £20 for a plastic bottle, no filter) and Nalgene On The Fly (£Approx £13 for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter).

 

Kavey Eats received a review sample Hydros Filtering Water Bottle.

 

When you think of foods that benefit from deep frying, what springs to mind?

For me, the list was long…

Fried chicken, battered fish, proper chips, pakoras, tempura, tortilla chips, sesame prawn toasts, whitebait, crisps – not just potato but courgette, parsnip and beetroot, fried tofu, onion rings, samosas, calamari, gulab jamon, even deep fried mars bars…

VanillaDoughnuts-1926 VanillaDoughnuts-1930

But before all those came doughnuts! So when we were sent a Judge Cookware Multi Basket deep fat fryer to review (coming soon), the very first thing we made just had to be doughnuts.

Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

VanillaDoughnuts-1881 VanillaDoughnuts-1879

With a pile of cookery books also awaiting review, we flicked through Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever and chose her Glazed Vanilla Bean Doughnuts recipe to try.

Published by Quirk Books, a young American publishing company based in Philadelphia, Pure Vanilla has been written primarily for the US market, which means you’ll need to make a little effort to translate aspects of the recipes. Fahrenheit cooking temperatures and cup measurements are easy as conversion charts are handily provided inside the back cover. You’ll also need to parse ingredients such as all-purpose flour, confectioners’ sugar, heavy cream and sticks of butter, but in the era of Google, that’s not too onerous.

Often, single ingredient cookery books can be a little too gimmicky, adding the chosen ingredient to recipes in which it doesn’t really belong or contribute much just to shoe-horn them into the book. But I really like the kind of recipes Sever has included in her collection – I’m drawn to Light, Crisp Vanilla Waffles, Vanilla Cloud Cake, Tres Leches Cake, Vanilla Snaps, Vanilla Biscotti, Vanilla Bean Marshmallows and Vanilla Mojito, amongst others.

There are some weaknesses with the book too:  the index is truly appalling – it lists over a third of the recipes under “vanilla”, which is surely a given in every single recipe in the book and should have been excluded!

Not all recipes have accompanying photographs, which is a shame as those which do instantly appeal more strongly.

The recipe we made was straightforward to follow and came out beautifully. The colour of our finished doughnuts appeared a touch dark, and we worried we’d overcooked them but they were perfect in both taste and texture, with a light and fluffy interior and a perfectly judged vanilla flavour – it came through clearly, made a definite contribution but didn’t overwhelm.

As we made half the amounts given, I’m sharing the amounts we used rather than those in the original recipe.

 

Glazed Vanilla Bean Doughnuts

Makes 6 doughnuts

Ingredients
For the doughnuts:
1.5 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 tablespoons (30 ml) warm water
3 heaped teaspoons granulated sugar, divided
120 ml whole fat milk, at room temperature
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract (not essence)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 egg yolks
30 grams unsalted butter
225 grams plain flour, plus a little extra for kneading
0.5 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil, for frying
For the glaze:
100 grams icing sugar
1 tablespoon whole fat milk
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Note: Vanilla bean paste is a thick paste full of actual vanilla seeds and is a great alternative to scraping a real vanilla pod. I used Nielsen-Massey’s paste, which I think is excellent. If you can’t find this product, either use the seeds from a quarter of a vanilla pod or an extra teaspoon of extract instead.

VanillaDoughnuts-1889

Method

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together yeast, warm water and one teaspoon of the granulated sugar. Leave to stand until it foams, about 5 minutes.
  • Using the paddle attachment on the mixer, at low speed, mix in the remaining granulated sugar, milk, vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, egg yolks and butter.
  • Add the flour and salt and mix for a further 3 minutes, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
  • Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand, briefly, dusting with flour if you need to.

VanillaDoughnuts-1899

  • Place in a large bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume. Ours took a couple of hours; you can also leave in the fridge to rise more slowly overnight).

VanillaDoughnuts-1901

  • Turn the dough out onto baking parchment and divide into 6 equal portions.

VanillaDoughnuts-1904 VanillaDoughnuts-1907

  • Roll into balls, flatten and cut a whole out from the centre of each one. We used an icing nozzle, as we didn’t have a suitably small cookie cutter. We also combined the dough from the four holes into two small round doughnuts.

VanillaDoughnuts-1909 VanillaDoughnuts-1914

  • Cover with a clean cloth and allow to rise for 30 to 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
  • Make the glaze by whisking together the icing sugar, milk, salt and vanilla bean paste.

VanillaDoughnuts-1920

  • Heat oil to about 180 C and fry doughnuts, in batches, until golden brown – about 2-3 minutes per side. Sever warns against turning too often, as this can result in greasy doughnuts.

VanillaDoughnuts-1923

  • Transfer to paper towels to drain.
  • Spoon the glaze over the doughnuts whilst they are still warm, so it melts and trickles down the sides.

VanillaDoughnuts-1928

 

With thanks to Quirk Books for the review copy of Pure Vanilla and to Judge Cookware for the multi basket deep fat fryer.

 

“YOU CAN’T USE THAT GRINDER FOR SPICES!

MY COFFEE WILL TASTE OF CURRY!” *

That desperate wail will be familiar to any of you who share your house with a coffee lover.

We used to have an old blender with a spice grinder attachment but it wasn’t very good so we threw it out years ago. We now have a burr grinder that Pete uses for his precious coffee beans (and occasionally, for grinding his home grown wheat).

It is not to be used for spices.

Even running a bagful of rice through afterwards doesn’t entirely remove the taint of spices, so I’m told. And masala coffee just doesn’t appeal, apparently, though I’m sure it’s the next big thing.

Time to look for a second grinder then, one of the bladed variety, to use for grinding spices, chopping nuts and anything else verboten. There are many models on the market, but I ruled most out. Some specify that they can be used for dry ingredients only, whereas I like the idea of being able to make somewhat sloppy spice pastes including ginger, garlic, lemon grass and even onion. Others are just too difficult to clean. Some have been reviewed by other customers as being too fiddly to use or having poor build quality and hence poor durability.

After spending a frankly ridiculous number of hours on internet research, the model at the top of my list was the Cuisinart Electric Spice and Nut Grinder (SG20U), RRP £50. Luckily for me, Cuisinart have really connected with bloggers over the last few years, so I was able to obtain a review sample.

Why did I want this particular grinder?

Firstly, I have a bit of a thing for brushed stainless steel. The shiny chrome look leaves me cold but brushed metal… oh yes!

But actually, that’s not the main reason. (Obviously). What I really like is that this grinder comes with two (decent sized) detachable bowls, each provided with an airtight lid so freshly ground contents can be stored in the bowls. And – this is the best bit – they’re not only easy to clean, they are dishwasher safe!

Having two bowls means, if you don’t already have a hallowed coffee grinder, you can set one bowl aside for coffee and use the other for everything else. Or if you make a spice paste and only use half, you can leave the rest in the fridge for a few days, without losing use of your grinder.

Cuisinart-4825 Cuisinart-4829Cuisinart-4832 Cuisinart-4834
Cuisinart-4836 Cuisinart-4842
Cuisinart-4831 GaramMasalaLambLoinChops-4846
CuisinartGrinder-4847 CuisinartGrinder-4848 CuisinartGrinder-4849CuisinartGrinder-4857 CuisinartGrinder-4859CuisinartGrinder-4861 CuisinartGrinder-4877

 

Review

It’s very easy to assemble. The bowl clicks in easily and the clear lid pops over that. I was worried I wouldn’t like the push down operation, having used and disliked a different make and model of that style, but actually it was very easy – press down to grind, release to stop.

For fine grinding of small volumes of spices, the grind is a little uneven, even if you continue to grind for longer. This is because the centrifugal action throws the light fragments up the sides of the bowl. Whether or not this is an issue depends on how fine and even you want the finished powder to be. When I made garam masala, I chose to sieve the powder with a tea strainer to remove larger fragments but I could have left them in – they were small enough not to be an issue.

The same goes for coffee – you’ll need to use a higher volume of coffee as the larger fragments won’t extract as effectively.

Where it comes into its own is for making spice pastes such as the Thai-inspired red curry paste we concocted. Lemongrass, onion, garlic, ginger, whole cumin seeds, powdered spices, soy sauce, dried chillis were quickly and effectively pulverised into a paste.

After being washed in the dishwasher, we couldn’t even tell which bowl had been used for coffee and which for the ground spices and spice paste, so there’s no danger of previous ingredients tainting the next.

For spices and pastes, this grinder is a great choice. I’ve not yet used it for nuts. It’s simple to use, feels robust and the two bowls with storage lids make so much sense.

For coffee drinkers, I’d suggest investing in a burr grinder so you can better control the exact size of the grind and ensure that the whole batch is evenly ground too.

 

Kavey Eats received an Electric Spice and Nut Grinder courtesy of Cuisinart.

* Actual words were more ferocious and peppered with choice expletives!

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