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my trip to crazytown

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Recipe: sous vide carnitas

The end of last week was complete Crazytown. As the trial headed toward closing arguments, a winter storm warning materialized into a Big Ass Storm in the mountains. We were supposed to get 3 to 7 inches of snow overnight, which I thought would be fine for me to get down the canyon to report for jury duty. Instead, we woke to 10 inches of snow, and by the time I left the house, another 4 inches had fallen in two hours and was coming down heavily. I gave myself an extra hour, but it turned out that I probably should have stayed at home. Spring and fall snow storms can be particularly tricky because there is that added component of water due to moderate temperatures.


2 feet of snow in 19 hours



Once I reached the narrows (a narrow and steep section of the canyon, notoriously dangerous when conditions are slick) I passed two trucks that had spun out on their way up. Visibility and traction were poor so that no one was traveling faster than 15 mph. There was nowhere to turn around safely, so I continued. Then I passed another truck that had gotten stuck in the snow. That’s when my Subaru began to slide where the road is canted and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It was a slow, but unnerving lateral movement toward the guard rail which keeps drivers from plunging into the rushing creek below. Subie came to a gentle stop against the two feet of snow between the car and the rail, but I was stuck. The young woman in the stuck truck ran over to help dig me out and after thirty minutes of failed attempts, I was finally able to get unstuck thanks to her pushing the car out. [If that young woman ever reads this, I owe you a bottle of wine, a cake, a fancy home-cooked meal, and my deepest gratitude.] All the while it was nuking snow, cars were slip-sliding everywhere, and I knew it would be impossible to drive home in those conditions. Heading down to Boulder was my safest option as there is no cell reception in the canyon.

I was 20 minutes late getting to court, and I knew I was holding up the trial. I ran through security in tears – a little traumatized, a lot upset – but I made it and we got underway. We lost power a half dozen times in court while the storm wreaked havoc all around. At the end of closing arguments, I found out that I was one of the two alternate jurors and that I could go home. A big part of me felt great relief, but I also felt sad that I wasn’t going to finish this journey with my fellow jurors (it was a terrific group of people), and then I felt annoyance that I drove through that shit show in the canyon to find out that I didn’t have to be in court. By the time I left the courthouse, it was snowing lightly in Boulder and Jeremy texted that the snow had let up at home. Aha! A window in the storm! But the canyon was closed because of a jack-knifed semi in the narrows. So I waited with a handful of others for 30 minutes next to the police car at the closure point until the road was cleared for travel. Despite the additional 12-18 inches of snow that had fallen since I drove down that morning, the roads were in far better shape with plows actively working the canyon. Once I got home, I just wanted to lie still and let Neva lick my ears and hair.


the morning after the storm

jeremy clears the deck while neva is neva



We are now in Crested Butte, de-winterizing the house and cleaning up all of the broken branches and repairing drip system components that were hammered by this winter’s 325 inches of snow. It’s quiet here. That’s shoulder season in a resort town. Folks flock to the desert to mountain bike while the trails slowly thaw out around town. Restaurants are either closed or operating on reduced hours. I like the quiet. I like the quiet.

the view east from monarch pass

glacier lilies starting to bloom

neva being an extra good and sweet girl on her hike



After a stressful day or event like my ride down the canyon, most folks could use a drink. I certainly felt like I could have used a drink – except I don’t drink. But you know what relaxes and soothes me better than a glass of whiskey? Tacos. Specifically, carnitas tacos. Some of us seek comfort in food rather than drink, and I happen to be one of those who prefers savory over sweet comfort food. I always order the carnitas tacos at a taco joint as my litmus test. It’s not that I know anything about how carnitas ought to be, I just know what I like.

pork shoulder, onion, orange, bay leaves, garlic, cinnamon, kosher salt

slice the pork into 2-inch thick slabs

prepped ingredients



Imagine my excitement when I happened upon a reference to sous vide carnitas and followed the link to The Food Lab. You bet I wanted to try it. I wanted to see if sous vide could give me flavorful carnitas that were also tender and moist.

squeeze the orange quarters over the pork

sprinkle with kosher salt

toss it all together



**Jump for more butter**

technique: sous vide tempering chocolate

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Technique: sous vide tempering chocolate

Spring in Colorado is that lovely fickle season that throws it all at you – snow, rain, sun, fog, hail. That means flexibility is key to getting outside for some adventure and exercise. In our house, we keep four bins of gear at the ready in our living room. During winter months, the bins are: resort skiing, backcountry skiing/touring, skate skiing, classic skiing. In summer, the bin contents are swapped out for hiking, biking, trail running, and paddling gear. But spring means it’s all a slightly organized mess, a mish mash of late skiing and early running gear co-mingling in a way that mimics the snow and the trails in the backcountry right now.


jeremy skiing in rocky mountain national park

it wasn’t great snow, but right now we’ll just take any snow

après ski visit to trail ridge road

riding in boulder with a nice view of the flatirons

no matter the weather, neva always gets her fetch session



I had planned to get this post up some time Monday after reporting for jury duty in the morning, but against many odds, I was selected for a 2-week trial. Yay?! I’ve been called for jury duty once before about 16 years ago and got selected for a trial then, too. And while I am always hoping to NOT be selected for a jury (somehow I’m batting 0), I will say that it is something many citizens should experience at least once to see the workings, the flaws, and the positive aspects at a local level. Not to mention, the jury selection process alone gives one a rare cross-sectional glimpse into our community. You learn things about people. And if we can’t relate to people, then where does that leave us?

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and instead of sharing a recipe, I’m sharing a technique with you. Tempering chocolate comes in handy when candymaking or creating edible decorations or dipping things like fruit or cookies. Tempered chocolate results in a more stable chocolate coating that is shiny and has a lovely snap. It is definitely more effort than simply melting chocolate, but for me, the final product is far superior. I’ve shown how I temper chocolate on a number of recipes on this blog (I use the seed method). However, once the chocolate is in temper, it’s really hard for me to maintain the tiny temperature range where it remains in temper – particularly for small batches of a pound or less. After borrowing my friend’s sous vide, I began to look into using it for tempering. I read through Kenji’s overview of chocolate tempering on The Food Lab and decided against the sous vide method. He tempers his chocolate in a sealed pouch which isn’t helpful when I want to dip a lot of things into tempered chocolate. But tempering the chocolate is not the hard part. The challenge lies in keeping the chocolate at a constant temperature so it remains in temper. That’s actually where the sous vide cooker is the perfect solution.


let’s say you want to dip some strawberries in tempered chocolate



There are basically three, maybe four kinds of chocolate: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, and caramelized white chocolate. I haven’t worked with caramelized white chocolate, but one of my clients uses it in her confections. I typically work with dark chocolate, will occasionally temper white chocolate, and very rarely milk chocolate. A warning about white chocolate: don’t use a white chocolate that contains palm kernel oil or coconut oil because it will not temper (it separates and becomes useless). You need to use proper white chocolate that has real cocoa butter, which means it’s going to cost you some money.

you will need chocolate – try to use a good quality chocolate



So let’s temper some dark chocolate using the seed method. The reason I use the seed method is because it’s the one I learned in my pastry skills course a decade ago, and I have enjoyed a high success rate using it. Melt most of your chips, féves, or chopped chocolate (reserve some for seeding) in a bowl over a water bath’s gentle heat until it reaches a nominal temperature, which you are measuring with a thermometer. Yes, use a thermometer. It’s important not to let a single drop of water (including condensation from steam) touch the chocolate because it can seize and you won’t be able to salvage it for tempering. If it does seize, don’t throw that chocolate away! You can still use it in baking and such, just not tempering. In the case of dark chocolate, I try to target 118-120°F as the maximum. Because there is some heat capacity in the body of melted chocolate and the bowl, I find when the temperature reaches 112°F, I can remove the bowl from the water bath and it will continue to rise in temperature to about 118-120°F as I set the bowl on an ice pack or in an ice bath to cool. For milk and white chocolates, your target temperature is a few degrees cooler: 116-118°F, so I would remove the chocolate from the water bath around 110°F.

place most, but not all, of your chocolate in a heatproof bowl

set the bowl over a simmering water bath

cool the chocolate on an ice pack or in an ice bath



**Jump for more butter**

something to distract us

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

Recipe: sous vide ribs

We are into our second week without Neva while she is studying hard at doggy training camp. We miss her terribly. I catch myself scrolling through puppy pictures on Instagram because I’m not sure how to deal with life without a dog, even though I know she’s coming home soon. Oh, but the truth is we are keeping ourselves entertained while Neva is at school. We figured a weekend trip to Crested Butte would be much simpler with just the humans. It’s sort of a casual drawn out celebration of our 20th anniversary. Dad instructed me to go to their place in Boulder and select any bottle of wine in his collection for us to enjoy, with the promise that they would celebrate with us this summer with “an even better bottle of wine!” I don’t really drink wine, so it’s actually a bottle of wine for jeremy. But I find it funny and sweet, because my parents are so very fond of him.


he chose this one because dad had seven more bottles of it



It was an oddly easy and strange weekend in Crested Butte. There was no new snow, but we didn’t feel like skiing groomers. Erin told me that we have become totally Coloradofied. We skated and uphill skied, worked, and celebrated a friend’s birthday. And we both found ourselves muttering “I miss little Neva,” at random times throughout the days. Of course, with the Daylight Saving time shift, we lost an hour Sunday morning. That would have been fine except 1) we wanted to wake up early to uphill ski before hitting the road to go home and 2) we stayed up late watching an episode of The Great British Baking Show. So we both felt particularly awful when my alarm went off at 5 am, but catching sunrise on the mountain was worth every bit of mental pukiness.

preparing to skin up the mountain

gorgeous views from the nordic trails

roasty toasty enough to warrant short sleeves

the fleeting surprise sunrise colors on an early morning uphill climb



I’ve been playing around with the sous vide when the mood strikes me and I have to say I just love this thing more and more. One of the first recipes I tried back in November was barbecue ribs. Kenji has a lot of great tutorials on Serious Eats, with plenty of clear explanations and options. The ribs turned out so beautifully, we had a dinner party just to serve the ribs to our friends (who also gave them the thumbs up). It’s quite simple as long as you have at least 12 hours to sous vide the ribs. I haven’t tried this on baby back ribs as I tend to prefer St. Louis-cut ribs because they’re meatier. You merely need a rack or two of ribs, a dry rub, liquid smoke, and barbecue sauce. I list my favorite dry rub and barbecue sauce recipes below, but you can substitute your favorite versions – or if you’re short on time, you can purchase them. Kenji does have a way to achieve the pink smoke ring, but I find it completely unnecessary since it’s mostly aesthetic, so I skip that step. Regardless of whether or not you want a pink smoke ring, I think it’s worth giving his entire tutorial a once over if you’re serious about your sous vide ribs. Plus, it’s always good to learn things!

start with a dry rub, liquid smoke, and a rack of ribs

peel off the papery membrane on the back of the rack

cut into 3- or 4-rib sections

coat with dry rub



**Jump for more butter**