Tag Archives: Food

Pressure!!

I celebrated a birthday recently, and my hubby got me this shiny Fagor Pressure cooker. (Okay, so it’s a different kind of “shiny” than some ladies like to get, but I did ask for this!) We’ve all heard stories about exploding pressure cookers and canners, and I don’t know many people who own them or use them on a regular basis. After doing some research, I picked out this Fagor Futuro 6 Quart Pressure Cooker and put it on my wish list. I also asked for a traditional, omnivore-based, cook book to get a feel for how to use the thing. It only took me about half an hour of reading to realize that it is not exactly rocket science to use, and I was ordering a couple of specific Vegan oriented cookbooks for more help.

My mom didn’t use one because she was afraid of them–and, with good reason. Miss Vickie’s Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes starts with an in-depth history of pressure cookers and exactly why there are a couple of generations of Americans who have missed out on this fabulous cooking tool. Basically, pre-WWII pressure cookers were reliable and used in almost every American kitchen. During the war, they became highly prized items and not easily available as most metal was being turned into airplanes and weapons rather than cookers. After the war, a huge glut of cookers hit the market as weapons manufacturers sought to create something more appropriate for the post-war American market. It is these post-war cookers that were manufactured in haste and without due diligence that created exploding and unreliable cookware. Bad designs and poor manufacturing together made a couple of generations wary of the whole process and pretty much killed the market for them in in the states.

In Europe, however, there was no such glut on the market, and the pressure cooker has been in consistent use. And for good reason. They save time and energy. The moral of the story is to not trust a pressure cooker you don’t buy yourself unless you absolutely know the source of manufacture and quality. Making sure you follow the basic safety rules clearly laid out in every cookbook and that comes with the cooker should ensure safe cooking.

My first project was to find something super easy to try out. I picked beets. What is better than cooked beets? Cooked beets in 15 minutes! Okay, maybe you don’t like cooked beets, but for people who cook them regularly, you know it takes a good 45 minutes to an hour with regular stove top methods. In case you missed my guest blog post at Full Circle Farms,click here for a delicious beet salad recipe.

So, maybe beets don’t float your boat. I get that, and if you read the blog post I linked you to above, you’ll see I didn’t always like them either. But, I had this new toy, and I wasn’t about to just stop with a few beets and call it a day. Along with the salad, I decided to try my hand at a recipe on the DVD demo that came with the cooker–a risotto. I thought I followed the directions to the letter, but it turns out there are some things to learn when it comes to using a pressure cooker. As you can see with this photo to the left, there was some sticking going on with the risotto. I wasn’t about to admit defeat so much as try to figure out why it didn’t come out just like it had in the video. The risotto off the top of the messed up parts tasted fine, though, so we still had dinner in…uhm…eight minutes? Or something close to it anyway. It turns out that I needed to reduce the heat even lower on the cooker once it had reached pressure. I let it stay up too high and sticking ensued.

So, here’s the thing that I find magical about pressure cooking. It takes so little time to cook things that it is almost hard to believe. Each time I close the lid and turn on the timer, I have this sense that there is no way all the food I just closed in there can really be ready to eat. And, yet, over the course of the last couple of weeks, I have made steel cut oats in five minutes, Thai sticky rice in seven, Christmas Lima beans in eight, and Adzuki beans in eight. I haven’t used it every meal, so that’s all I have right now, but I see a whole lot of experimenting coming my way.

(For my Vegan friends, I highly recommend The New Fast Food: The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in Less than 30 MInutes and Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. Both books have quick charts on pressure cooking a huge variety of grains and beans as well as veggies. They both have plenty of recipes to try out and lots of advice on transferring tried and true recipes to the pressure cooker.)

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Running Off to Join the Circus? Yes, yes I am!

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows I have a little bit of a “thing” for food. Obsession might be going overboard, but not by far. The family was out for brunch last week at The Harvest Vine, and we noticed the flyer for the Kitchen Circus up in the window. I had a vague recollection about Chef Thierry talking about it on KUOW a couple of weeks ago, but things I hear when I am driving largely get lost between where I am and my garage. It wasn’t until Tuesday that I remembered to look at the details, buoyed by my rather cherubic and positive ten year old cheering me into action.

I hadn’t realized the deadline was only a couple of days away, so I got onto facebook and did a search for Kitchen Circus. Voila, the rules and how to apply were all right on the screen before me. I filled in the paperwork and was told to get my video application in by midnight, Friday.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly have a ton of experience putting together audition videos. Once again, my ten year old came to my aid with our little flip video camera. He held it while I managed to string together a few sentences that seemed coherent. The directions said to include showing me cooking in my kitchen. So,we filmed me cooking a regular weeknight dinner. I roasted some cherry tomatoes in the oven with garlic, tossed those with some pasta and added a ton of arugula. Only a little bit ended up on the floor as I tossed it in the pan. Unfortunately, even with cutting, the video was too long.

The next day, I put moviemaker to use and edited out all the cooking bits, put a voice over on the time lapse I made for this blog post, put it all together with my talking and sent it off. Moviemaker is a pain to work with, probably made more so by the fact I had never used it before.

I made it past the first level and into the group of 18 contestants that were invited to Rover’s for “live auditions.” The email that I got letting me know I had made it, came with some basic instructions about what to wear (no patterns?!?). Then, I googled “what to wear on television.” Big mistake. I went into a clothing panic. Anyone who pays attention to such things can probably guess why. There is nothing but prints, black and white, and more prints in my closet. I spent half the day yesterday with a personal shopper at Nordstrom’s looking for a blouse or a shirt or dress without any prints–preferably in a pastel, v-neck or low cut (well, I had to have some of ‘me’ in the clothing) that didn’t just look like a potato sack. We finally settled on a lovely emerald green silk blouse with awesome jeans after deciding that pastels, no matter how ‘perfect’ they are on camera, would simply never work for me. (Besides, have you ever found a pastel anything in Seattle in September?)

Today, I managed to get myself dressed (without getting food, make-up or drink on the new blouse), out the door, and across the bridge in plenty of time for my audition at Rover’s.

The other thing they said in the email is “Be prepared to answer questions from Chef while preparing some food (his choice).” This sort of had me wondering. Would I walk into a professional kitchen and be asked to…I don’t know…saute something? They couldn’t really expect me as a home cook to walk in and whip up a beurre blanc off the top of my head, could they? I had mentioned a preference for baking, would they ask me to prove it by whipping up a souffle?

I was having more than a little flutter of nerves as I approached the restaurant until I saw someone leaving with a smile on her face. I called out to her, “Are you here for the Kitchen Circus?” She nodded and said, “Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Good luck!” Enough to make my nerves dissipate and send me inside with a smile on my face ready to see what would happen next.

I was met by kind people who ushered me in for paperwork, head-shots, mini-interviews and chats before the actual audition with Chef Thierry. I was pleasantly surprised that I had done the task he wanted to see many hundreds of times before. The only difference was I had a mike on my collar, a camera pointed at me, and one of Seattle’s most renowned chefs asking me how I would prepare salmon for 45 people–to be plated and served all at once. “Sure,” I assure him, “I can handle that.” Why not? It will be fun! It’ll be a circus of fun.

If you want to be a judge by dining during the circus, click this link and like the page on Facebook to get updates for when tickets go on sale. (Open reservations begin October 3rd.) They are offering special advance VIP reservations for various prices ($300, $500 and more) up until the public seating opens. These VIP seats include behind the scenes look in the kitchen and meeting the contestants and can be made by calling Rover’s with the code VIP-KC.

Update: I didn’t make it to the final nine, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. 🙂 C’est la vie! I can’t say I’m terribly disappointed. A little bummed, perhaps, but the fact that I actually got it together to send in a video and then made the auditions had me buzzing happily.

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Leftovers

I’m not a huge fan of leftovers. I think it comes down to the fact that, with three older brothers, we simply didn’t have them very often. Anything not eaten wasn’t eaten for a reason, usually the “yuck” factor. I recall having leftover spaghetti, but my mom would cut up hotdogs, mix them in and make a baked casserole out of it.

As a food professional, she also had exacting standards about how long anything stayed in the refrigerator. Things didn’t sit around gathering mold. It wasn’t until the last year or so that I have become comfortable with the notion of leftovers let alone actually eating them.

And, it’s been in the last couple of months that I’ve been able to open someone else’s leftovers (usually Bill’s, not just anybody’s) and eat them. Last night, I went to my writing group and didn’t share dinner at Spicy Talk, the new Chinese restaurant in Redmond. Everyone else went for dinner and brought back several small packages of leftovers. I decided to give them a try for lunch, and wasn’t at all grossed out by opening up “someone else’s food.” I know–it’s a strange food hang-up, but I’m getting over it. It might have had something to do with the fact that I love Dan-Dan noodles. My lips are still buzzin’.

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“C” is for Cookie

A pretty standard pool at Holiday Inn.

Growing up a Navy brat has its disadvantages. One of them being that my dad was never stationed close to Montana where his and my mother’s families lived. Most of my aunts and uncles lived in Montana, and all our family reunions have been in Montana. As a consequence, our family vacations involved getting into the car and driving to…you got it…Montana. We’d drive at a determined clip that would require the least number of pit-stops and hotel stays. And, we always, always, always, stayed at a “Holiday Inn.” The smell of chlorinated indoor pools conjure up summer in a big way for me.

Once in Montana, we divided our time between my mom’s family and my dad’s family. Dad’s folks lived in Billings and Mom’s lived in a place most people have never heard of, a tiny town called Roberts that is close to Red Lodge. I know there was some intermixing of families, but I can’t recall them all that clearly. This post, however, was urged by a summertime craving that has kicked in big time for me. And I know it’s related to my Herbert family visits in Roberts.

My grandma owned and operated the Robert’s cafe. It was a homey place with a long counter lined with red leather and chrome stools that seated my generation in one fell swoop–there are thirteen of us. (If you are family and happen to read this, correct me if I’m wrong!) Across from the stools were several booths made of fir, I think, and thin barely bottom-relieving cushions. Were there dear antlers on the end of the booths as coat hooks? I can’t remember, but they wouldn’t have been out of place.

The kitchen was straight back from the front door, and there was an open sort of extra space to the right and behind the main counter wall that was used for family meals and storage. I don’t know where my parents slept, and I think my brothers slept in the garage. I do, however, remember where I slept. And this brings me to my craving.

My grandma was a down-home cook. I have her recipes compiled in a book and they go something like this:

“Chocolate Cream Pie”
Make a vanilla custard. Add 3-4 tablespoons cocoa.

Plain and simple...rolled and flattened. No rolling pins or fancy shapes.

She didn’t need to be told how to make a vanilla custard, she just did it. Her food was simple and unencumbered by capers, truffles or exotic spices. She had a daily special which came with a dessert. The dessert was ice cream and a cookie, your choice of vanilla or chocolate ice cream and your choice of cookie. She may have had a greater repertoire of cookies than I recall, but I only remember two kinds–chocolate chip and sugar.

When I was younger, I slept in the room off of the kitchen in a crib. I slept in that damn thing until I got too big and had to sleep with my knees up to my chest. I think I might have been eight or nine before I began sleeping somewhere else on our visits. Right above the crib was a shelf. On the shelf were several green (red? green and red?) coffee cans filled with…you got it…cookies! The secret to why I wasn’t so upset at being crammed into that crib was the perks that came with the spot. An unlimited supply of cookies just feet above me.

My grandma didn’t just bake a dozen or so cookies at a time, either. In my memory there were always thousands of cookies, but I’m sure it was more like ‘several dozen.’ The chocolate chip cookies were good,but they were not my favorite. It wasn’t hard to stand up in the crib, reach into a coffee can filled with cookies and snatch a couple. Or a dozen. I don’t know how many cookies I snitched as a child, but I probably didn’t fool my grandma. She never called me on it, but I do remember getting to help her make a few batches during our visits. The craving that seems to sweep down on me every year is for the sugar cookies. And, it always seems to come in the summer time. Like, right NOW. It’s linked with memories and nostalgia, but it is always sugar cookie time in the summer for me.

Cookie presses. My mom had one with four hearts in a circle.

Her recipe was simple. No rolling on the counter and using cutters for this busy woman. The dough is made, made into little balls, and then flattened. I can’t remember if she used a glass to press them flat. My mom had a set of cookie stamps that she used to make them, and I’ve since purchased a set of my own. Whether they are plain flat or intricately patterned, they taste the same.

Oh, and since you’re going to ask anyway:
Grandma Herbert’s Sugar Cookies

1 Cup Margarine
1 Cup Shortening
1 Cup granulated sugar
1 Cup powdered sugar

Cream the above.

Beat in:
3 tsp vanilla
1tsp salt
2 beaten eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

Roll into 1″ balls and flatten with glass or cookie press dipped in sugar.
Bake at 375 degrees F until done. Makes a lot.

We’re having a reunion next year…in Montana. I’ll be bringing some cookies.

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Dissecting the Cherimoya

The most recent issue of Fine Food came with a Cherimoya Lime sorbet that looked too good to pass up.   We first encountered this fruit about a year ago.  We bought one, brought it home, cut it up and immediately spit it out.  It turns out that the Cherimoya is one of those fruits you have to “learn about” to enjoy.  A friend of ours explained how it had to get brown and soft before you eat it.  We bought another one a month or two ago and waited diligently for the hard bitter interior to ripen and soften into the creamy sweet yumminess that is “Cherimoya.”

The turned out interior.

When we saw the sorbet recipe, I knew I wanted to make it.  Not finding any cherimoyas at the local regular stores, I found myself near an Uwajimaya and wandered in.  Ignoring the hefty per pound price, I bought what I needed for the sorbet and took it home.  They were already store-ripened.    When I got them home, I made the sugar syrup and set it aside and set to work scooping out the pulp of the fruit.  Three pounds of the little globes produced about what I needed for the recipe.  After the first piece was cut up, I figured out a little trick to make it easier to handle.  Cut the fruit into quarters or eighths.  Then, fold it back against itself like you do when you’ve cut a mango into blocks.  The individual seed pods separate like magic giving your finger’s easy squeezing access to push the seeds out.  Pop the skin back into it’s original shape, and you can scoop out the sweet creamy interior easy-peasy.

All served up.

The recipe calls for three cups pulp, one cup sugar syrup, a couple tablespoons fresh lime juice and a teaspoon of lime peel.  Once those are all pulverized and blended in the food processor, the mixture is set to chill until ready to churn.  I used my old fashioned electric ice cream maker complete with ice and salt because the batch was too big for my little freezer style maker.  Half an hour under the beater, and I had a thick creamy looking sorbet.  I let my mixture sit overnight, so it turned a sort of funky pinkish brown color.  Everyone agreed, though…the final product was worth the little effort it took to make.

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All Hail the Orach!

I’d never heard of it until a few years ago either.  If it weren’t for my avid gardener husband, I’d probably still be munching away on store-bought red-leaf lettuce indifferent to my plight.  Orach, simply put, is a different sort of salad green.  It’s a cross between spinach and arugula to my taste buds.

We discovered it at Monticello in a cute little white package of seeds in the store. Bill bought it because it was marketed as Thomas Jefferson’s favorite salad green.   He planted some the next season and it’s been in our garden ever since.  We happen to have been growing Green Orach, though other varieties exist.  We had meandered around the outside of Monticello because the tour inside had a very long line and we had a young Eli in hand.  We feared for the precious things inside the famed building and how they would fare at the hands of a grumpy child.

We spent our time there outside and in the shop contemplating the obvious dichotomies Jefferson’s life must have held.  I don’t really want to get too philosophical here.  The fact that the store did not even sell “The Jefferson Bible” rather irked me.  But, hey, we were there to have fun and look at the gardens.

And boy…are they tidy and organized!  Ours is not nearly so extensive.  Of course we don’t have to feed so many people either.  One of the things that strikes me now as I do some research into the gardens at Monticello is the variety.   We are kidding ourselves if we think our modern supermarkets have “variety.”  With the help of heirloom seed companies, our lettuce patch has a real variety of lettuces that you won’t find at Whole Foods, let alone a Safeway.

In 1819 Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that … as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet.” His 1,000-foot-long kitchen garden terrace was an experimental laboratory where he cultivated seventy different species and 250 varieties of vegetables. Although he loved fine fancy fruit, the ornamental “pet trees” that graced his mountaintop home, and a variety of flowers, the vegetable garden, because of its sublime posture overlooking the rolling Piedmont Virginia countryside and its dramatic scale and scope, was Jefferson’s chief horticultural achievement at Monticello.

Did you read that?  250 varieties of vegetables.  I’m betting Americans are generally hard-pressed to even name 250 varieties of veggies let alone say they’ve tasted them.   The FDA suggests Americans eat two and a half cups of veggies every day.  It’s easy to do when you have a variety of tasty greens.  If you don’t grow them yourself, though, you are stuck with what’s carried by your local store and farmer’s markets.

Last night we had a salad made with orach and arugula from the garden.  I tossed it in a simple dressing made with walnut oil, champagne vinegar, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  We added our own spoonfuls of avocado and mango for a strikingly colorful salad.  Two varieties of lettuce and two fruits.  It was pretty to look at and tasty to eat.  The picture shows our orach and arugula moments before being tossed for dinner.  Mmmmm…

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