Thursday, May 28, 2015

Steel Cut Oats Taste Test

Steel cut oatmeal
For years my husband insisted that we should only buy McCann’s Irish Oatmeal, but I generally bought whatever steel cut oats were available and just refilled the McCann’s tin with them. I honestly didn’t think one brand of steel cut oats could possibly be that different from another. I was wrong. But it turns out, so was my husband. 

Recently I got a sample of Flahavan’s Irish Oatmeal. The company has been around for over 200 years and is still family owned. They grow and mill their oats in Ireland. They claim their unique milling—kilning their oats with outer shells, a kind of malting process—helps to retain natural texture and golden color and yields a very creamy taste. The oats tasted great, but were they better than any other steel cut oats? The only way to know for sure was to do a blind taste test. 

So we tasted four different brands of steel cut oats: Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats, McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal, Flahavan’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal and Country Choice Organic Steel Cut Oats. I cooked each according to the package instructions. They all looked about the same, but the flavor, texture and creaminess were different for each one. We tasted them without any flavorings or toppings. I don't know if you'd notice the subtle differences unless you were trying them side by side. But there were two clear winners amongst the four.
McCann's Irish Oatmeal
McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal while possibly the most well-known brand was the least liked of the steel cut oats. The flavor tasted off, even though the oats were cooked with the same water, they had a slight chemical like aftertaste. They also didn't achieve the same creamy texture of the other brands.

Flahavan's Irish Oatmeal
Flahavan’s Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal was the number one choice and clear winner when compared with the others. It had the richest flavor and the creamiest texture while still maintaining the chewiness of the oats. The oats had more natural sweetness, even without any sugar added. 

Bob's Red Mill Steel Cut Oats
Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats were good, creamy, a solid second choice. They were the only oats that required cooking with a lid. That may be why they cooked a little bit quicker than the other brands. They were also the only gluten free labeled oats. 

Country Choice Steel Cut Oats
Country Choice Organic Steel Cut Oats, the only organic brand in the test was the third choice. Despite being toasted, the oats were a bit bland. They weren't bad, but not great either.

Now that you know which oats to cook, you'll need to know how to cook them and eat them. Steel cut oats need to be cooked low and slow, and with some salt. Depending upon how you like your oats, you’ll want to cook them for 20-30 minutes. You can also soak them the night before serving them, which will shorten cooking time.

Top your oats with anything you like but popular toppings at my house include butter, milk, brown sugar and raisins.

A word about quick cooking steel cut oats, they can be quite tasty and certainly are convenient, but you won't get the same texture of the long cooking oats. 

Disclaimer: Although I received samples of Flavahan's, the other oats I purchased and the tasting was done blind. I was not compensated monetarily for writing this or any other post on Cooking with Amy. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

California Roll Tartine Recipe

After completing some recipes for a client recently I was looking for something to do with leftover fake crab, and it occurred to me that the most common way to use it was in a California Roll. But I gave it a twist making a California Roll Tartine instead, using toasted whole grain bread, topped with sliced avocado, unrolled "crab legs" and thin slices of cucumber. If you like a California Roll, you can be pretty sure you're going to like the sandwich too. 

According to one of my favorite food history resources, The Food Timeline, two different Japanese sushi chefs coming out Los Angeles in the early 1970's are credited for having invented the California Roll, an Americanized sushi that quickly became very popular. The sushi roll sometimes uses real crab but more often uses fake crab, made from surimi. The roll was invented around the same time imitation crab was produced and patented. 

This was the first time I ever bought a package of crab sticks. Call it imitation crab, fake crab, surimi, or whatever you like, it's a product made from the Alaskan fish pollock, and is commonly used in things like sushi, chirashi or salads. It doesn't contain much crab if any at all, and truth be told it doesn't really taste like crab, but it is inexpensive and convenient and I actually like the way it tastes. It comes in sticks, but you can unroll them into thin sheets that can easily go in a sandwich or you can shred them to make a seafood salad. 

The combination of avocado, cucumber and crab or fake crab is so tried and true, I think you could use it other ways as well--piled on crackers, or stacked in appetizer style kabobs, maybe even rolled into rice paper, like a summer roll. If you prefer a more traditional sandwich with two slices of bread, you could make a heartier fake crab salad sandwich filling by shredding the crab sticks and mixing it with mayonnaise. As a tartine or open faced sandwich it makes a nice lunch but would also be a lovely thing to serve for afternoon tea. 

California Roll Tartine


Whole grain peasant bread slices, toasted
Avocado, sliced, about 1/3 per sandwich
Crab sticks, rolled, about 2 per sandwich
English cucumber, thinly sliced, enough to cover the bread 


Layer or spread the avocado evenly on the toasted bread, as thick as you like. Top with the unrolled crab sticks and finish with the cucumber slices. 


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Shrubs and Shims

If you’re looking for drinks that you can make at home, ones that are more interesting than run of the mill sodas and lighter than typical cocktails, shrubs and shims are something you should check out. Shrubs are fruit and vinegar based drinks, and the basic sugar, vinegar and fruit based syrups used to make them can also be used to make soda or fresh cocktails. Shims are lighter alcohol cocktails. It’s a term dreamed up by Dinah Sanders, author of The Art of the Shim.

The thing about shrubs is that you can take the basic formula of one part sugar plus one part vinegar plus one part fruit and endlessly riff on it. Try adding aromatics or herbs, or using cucumber instead of fruit. Use the syrups in salad dressings, in popsicles or in whatever drink you can dream up. The word shrub comes from the Farsi word, sharbat, which means drinking vinegar. They were popular with early colonists in the US and on farms, where surplus fruit could be preserved with simple vinegar and sugar. 

The idea behind a shim is keeping level. In the case of drinking alcohol, it keeps you level headed. Some interesting ingredients to use in shims include vermouth, ciders, sparkling wine, coffee and tea. 

The trend towards shims or lower alcohol drinks and shrubs, has been gaining momentum for the last few years. There are two very good books for exploring them: Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times and The Art of the Shim. Online check out the shrub category on Punk Domestics as well as this recent article in the New York Times call the Modern American Shrub with recipes. For shims, check out Dinah’s blog, starting with her roundup shims post.

If you’re around this Saturday May 23rd 2015, Healdsburg Shed is hosting a Shrubs and Shims workshop where you’ll get to see demos of lots of different drinks thanks to the in-house fermentation crafter Gillian Helquist. You’ll receive a discount on purchases and an introduction to locally sourced low-alcohol bases: Sutton’s Cellars Brown Label VermouthGolden State Cider, and Jardesca. There will be snacks to go with the drinks—all low alcohol so you can drive home safely! 

Disclaimer: My thanks to Healdsburg Shed for inviting me to a media preview of this workshop. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post on Cooking with Amy. This post does include affiliate links. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Galaxy Desserts By The Numbers

Recently I got a chance to visit Galaxy Desserts, a local pastry company that is now part of Brioche Pasquier, a family-owned French brioche bakery, the largest producer in all of France. Brioche Pasquier is currently expanding tremendously and their lines of brioche breads and snacks can be found in supermarkets around the US. Galaxy is most famous for their butter croissants, which are sold frozen, ready to bake. 

Here's what I learned about Galaxy: 

52,000 square feet - Size of the factory, which they have practically outgrown

16,000 - Number of croissants produced in an hour

350 degrees - The temperature for baking the croissants

144 - Layers of pastry and butter in each croissant

50 - Percentage of croissants versus pastry produced in the factory

15-22 minutes - The time it takes to bake the croissants 

8 hours - The approximate time for the croissants to defrost and rise before baking

Almost 6 - Time it takes Galaxy to make the croissants, from start to finish

4 - Number of times Galaxy Desserts products were featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things

2 - Products featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things (croissants & molten chocolate cakes)

1 - Officially the only place you can find their extensive line of croissants, Williams-Sonoma

Now let’s take a little tour! 

Galaxy uses high quality butter from Challenge Dairy. Mmmm butter. 

Almond croissants coming off the line. 

Almond croissants wrapped and ready to go in boxes. 

This machine is very important, if I told you what it does, I might have to kill you.

The best job in the world, filling molten chocolate cakes. 

The second best job, gazing at them longingly.  

While this post is about Galaxy, there is one number I want to share with you about Brioche Pasquier. The percentage of ingredients made in France used in their products? 80. All of their products are free of preservatives, trans-fats and non-GMO

Up Next
Check out Jane's excellent post on Brioche Pasquier, the factory tour and a recipe:
Chocolate Chip Brioche French Toast on The Heritage Cook

Disclaimer: My thanks to Galaxy Desserts and Brioche Pasquier for inviting me on the tour and serving me a lovely brunch. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post on Cooking with Amy.