Friday, February 16, 2018

Blasphemous Chili - cooked in an electric pressure cooker!

When I was growing up, the only chili was chili mac. There was no Texas chili or Cincinnati chili.

Chili was ground beef, beans, and elbow mac in a tomato-y sauce. That's what my mom made, and that's what was served in the school cafeteria.

It was the only chili that existed in my universe.

It was the first "meal" that I cooked for the family, when I was trying to earn a Girl Scout badge. I waffled between chili and spaghetti, but chili seemed more complicated, so that's what I chose. Oyster crackers might have been involved, and I might have made a salad. Dinner was served.

My mother cried. Because it was the first meal she made for my dad when they were newlyweds. Which is completely ridiculous, because they were Polish and living in the midwest, where chili was not a big deal.

Polish cuisine is not known for spicy foods, although they do love their black pepper. But spicy peppers? Nah, those didn't exist. And midwest food wasn't particularly spicy at that time, either. We had plenty of bell peppers, but jalapenos were unknown in my neighborhood.

But she made chili mac for my dad, and I made chili mac for a badge.

I was a little disappointed that it was so simple. It took some time to make because she simmered the beans and meat for quite a while. But it was very very simple to assemble. You know, with canned kidney beans in the starring role.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that most chili didn't include the mac. And then my head nearly exploded when I found out about chili without beans! Whoa, nellie! And then (drumroll please), green chili was a whole new world of wonder.

Although my taste buds have grown up and I like spicy foods now, I still like the comfort foods of my childhood, and that includes (gasp!) Chili Mac.

Sorry about the weird kitchen lighting!
So, when I bought a pressure cooker cookbook put out by the folks at America's Test Kitchen, I decided to give the chili mac a try.

Although I've been using a pressure cooker for a long time, pasta is not something that I tend to cook in there. Pasta cooks fast enough. Why do I need to pressure cook it?

But still, I figured it would be a good test of the book, and the pressure cooker (I'm testing a new one.) So I plunged right in.

Unlike my mom's recipe, this didn't have beans. But it did have corn. And it's spicier than what mom made. I'd have to say that although it had the same comfort factor, it felt a little ... more modern. The corn, you know. Not what mom used.

Overall, I really liked this, and I certainly can't argue with the one-pot ease. The pasta was a little more cooked than I would have preferred, but it wasn't totally dead, and it was still fine when I reheated. So it wasn't overcooked. And ... since pressure cookers are not identical, some adjustments in cooking time are to be expected.

The flavor was good. Just enough spice so I wasn't tempted to add hot peppers, but not overly spicy. Of course, that can be controlled by adjusting the chili powder and the spice level of the canned peppers, so you can make it more or less hot to suit your own taste.

Other things can be easily adjusted, too. Add more onions, or different meats, or even add (gasp! puff! gasp!) some beans.

In any case, I'm keeping this as part of my lazy cooking repertoire, when I want something comforting and easy, and I don't want spaghetti.

Tex Mex Chili Mac
Recipe from America's Test Kitchen Pressure Cooker Perfection
I made this in an electric pressure cooker, so that's the instructions I'm including.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine (I left mine a little larger than fine)
1 green pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I cut mine a little smaller)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
2 cups water
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce (I had 2 8-ounce cans, so mine had just a little more)
8 ounces (2 cups by volume) elbow macaroni
1 cup frozen corn
1 4.5 ounce can chopped green chiles (these are available in mild, medium, and hot, so you can control the heat)
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper
4 ounces shredded cheese, for serving

Heat the oil in your pressure cooker until it's shimmering. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until softened, stirring as needed.

Add the garlic, chili powder, and cayenne and cook for another 30 seconds.

Stir in the ground beef. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until you no longer see any pink.

Add the water, tomato sauce, and macaroni.

Put the lid on the pressure cooker and make sure the vent is closed.

Pressure cook on high pressure for 5 minutes, then quick-release the pressure. (I'm going to try 4 minutes next time, to see if I like the texture of the pasta better. If it's not quite done, I can always cook a little longer after the pressure is released.) Remove the lid.

Stir in the corn and chiles and simmer until the corn is tender and the pasta is cooked to your liking. Taste for seasoning and add salt and/or pepper as desired.

Serve with a sprinkle of grated cheese. I've also been known to stir in a little sour cream or yogurt, as well.

Check out the book here:


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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Thai Steak Salad

Seems kind of crazy to have a recipe for salad, but I'd say that this is really more about the dressing. It's not like anything I've made before, that's for sure.

The recipe is adapted from The Better than Takeout Thai Cookbook by Danette St. Onge. I'll have to admit that I've never actually had Thai takeout, but there was a local Thai restaurant I used to go to - but that was mostly curries. I don't think I ever had a salad there.

This all started when I had half of a New York strip steak left over. I considered making steak tacos, which is pretty much what I do any time I have leftover steak.

But then I started thumbing through the cookbook that I just got from cookbook club I belong to (we all buy a different book, and then all the books get passed around so everyone gets a chance to cook from all the books) and I saw the steak salad. It seemed perfect.

I love salad. I really do. Sometimes I'll make salad as a snack.

I didn't have all of the ingredients this recipe called for, and I added a bit more tomato and scallion than the recipe called for, but don't we all fiddle with recipes? Anyway, the part that fascinated me was the dressing. I'd never thought of adding fish sauce. And there was no oil.

While this recipe is for a steak salad, I think it would be pretty amazing for a salad with shrimp or chicken or pretty much anything else you happen to put on salad.

One thing I really liked about this recipe was that it made a relatively small amount of dressing. I've seen recipes in cookbooks that made a quart ... that's good for a week. Since this is so simple, there's no reason to make a lot, unless you're feeding a lot of people.

When I made this, I cut back on the dressing, since I just had that little half-steak instead of a whole pound of beef, and it was just about perfect for a single salad. The dressing is so flavorful, you really don't need a lot.

Grilled Steak Salad (Yum Nuea Yang)
Adapted from The Better than Takeout Thai Cookbook by Danette St. Onge

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground roasted chili powder (there's a recipe for this in the cookbook, but you could substitute your favorite chili powder, sharp paprika, or even a few drops of hot sauce, to taste)
1 teaspoon palm sugar or granulated sugar (or to taste)
(If your scallions and shallots are strong, I'd suggest tossing them into the dressing right away. The acid will take away some of the bite.)

For the salad:
1 pound thin flank steak, strip, hanger, or flap steak (I used a leftover piece of strip steak)
4 tablespoons thinly sliced shallot (I skipped this and added more scallion)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1 medium tomato, cut into wedges
4 tablespoons mint leaves, coarsely chopped

To make the dressing:
Stir all the ingredients together and set aside. I'd suggest giving it a little taste to make sure the lime isn't too strong, since limes can differ a lot. Add more sugar if you think it needs it.

To make the salad:
Grill the steak on a grill pan, outdoor grill, or in a hot cast iron skillet to get a nice crust and cook it to your preferred temperature. Let it rest for a few minutes before slicing across the grain into thin, bite-sized strips. (If you happen to have a leftover steak like I did, just toss it in a skillet to warm it. Leftover chicken, pre-cooked shrimp, or anything else you happen to like would work well, too.)

Toss the steak, dressing, and remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Serve this warm on a bed of your favorite lettuce.
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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Quick Pickled Vegetables in your Instant Pot (or other electric pressure cooker)

In today's edition of What crazy thing is Donna cooking? we have some quick-pickled vegetables courtesy of a new cookbook that showed up at my door.

The book is called How To Instant Pot, so obviously it's taking advantage of that particular brand of cooker, but these recipes should work for pretty much any electric pressure cooker. There might be some differences in terms of what buttons the cooker might have, but that's also true among the Instant Pot cookers.

So, yeah, it's a cookbook specifically for electric pressure cookers.

The first thing I tried from this book was risotto. Which was kind of silly because I've made risotto a bazillion ways already, so there was nothing to be surprised about here. Risotto cooked in a pressure cooker is good, but it's not as good as other methods where stirring is involved.

So ... I decided to give the pickled vegetables a try. Pressure cooking makes sense to jump-start the pickling process. And it sure as heck was quick.

The recipe called for either carrots or cucumbers or both, but I didn't have any cucumbers and I didn't have enough carrots. So I started rummaging in the crisper and pulled out a cauliflower. I figured it would work, since cauliflower is about as dense as carrots, and it tastes good pickled.

The process worked, so I'm pretty sure I'll do this again, but I think I'll adjust the tartness. For eating as a snack, these were pretty tart (yeah, I'm weird - I eat pickles as a snack) so next time I'll try a ratio of 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 water or even 1/4 vinegar to 3/4 water.

Also, this basic recipe could be tweaked a zillion ways, by adding some hot peppers or chili flakes, or by adding some garlic, turmeric, or even some herbs.

But that's the great thing about quick pickles. Since these aren't meant to be canned, you can mix and match flavors in a whole lot of different ways, and still get a good result. You know, to your taste.

I'm actually thinking I might use this technique to make a spicy pickled cauliflower recipe that I'm quite fond of.

Quick Pickled Vegetables
Adapted from How to Instant Pot by Daniel Shumski
Makes about 1 quart

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt or pickling salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch pieces (I cut mine a little smaller) or a combination of vegetables you like

Place the vinegar, water, sugar, peppercorns, and mustard seeds in the inner pot of the pressure cooker and stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the vegetables and stir.

Put the lid on the pot and lock it. Set the vent to closed. Set the pressure to high, and set the timer for 1 minute. Yup, that's it. Just one minute.

When the cooking is done (a bit more than a minute, since it takes time to get to pressure), turn the vent knob to release the steam and when the pressure has been released, remove the lid. Transfer the vegetables and liquid to whatever container you're going to use. Mine fit well into a 1-quart canning jar.

Allow the vegetables to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled. The flavor will continue to develop over the next few days, but you can use these as soon as they're cool.

I received this cookbook from the publisher at no cost to me.
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