Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Do you need an Instant Pot? And here's some soup.

The Instant Pot sure as heck has become popular these days. But do you really need one?

First, let's clarify a bit. Instant Pot is a brand name. And it's a brilliant brand name. Who wouldn't want instant food?

The Instant Pot that most people talk about is an electric pressure cooker. There were electric pressure cookers on the market long before the Instant Pot arrived. But for some reason, the Instant Pot folks made an old appliance popular.

Because there were stovetop pressure cookers long before there were electric ones. Your grandmother might have even had one.

Now, the company has branched out and they're making other cooking devices as well. But we're not going to talk about them, okay?

The Instant Pots have a bunch of different buttons for poultry, meat, yogurt ... a newer model has a button for cooking eggs. Those buttons are all shortcuts for foods that people cook a lot. But you don't really need those buttons. I seldom use them. Instead, I use the slow cook mode, the pressure cooking mode, and the saute mode. Then I set my own time.

Easy peasy.

But do you really need one?

Maybe.

First, pressure cooking is not magic. Some people try to use the Instant Pot for everything, and then they end up with some recipes that don't turn out well, or they take just as long to cook as they would in the oven or on the stove.

You don't need a pressure cooker for foods that cook quickly. Like fish. And a chicken cooked in a pressure cooker isn't going to have a lovely brown crisp skin, like you'd get if you roasted it.

But it's great for cooking things that take a long time, like tough cuts of meat or dried beans. One of my favorite things to pressure cook is corned beef. It turns out tender and juicy. Never dry or stringy. It's great for making pot roast and beef stew in a fraction of the time it would take on the stove.

Since I work from home, I usually don't find myself in that position where I have a short time to cook something before dinner. So, I'm less interested in that sort of 30-minute hurry-up cooking than I am in making things that turn out better in a pressure cooker.

Besides tough cuts of meat, I love making cheesecakes in it. And it makes a wonderful rice pudding.

Sometimes, though, speed can be a plus. Like this soup I made. I started with a rotisserie chicken carcass, used the Instant Pot's slow cooker feature to make a broth, then I strained that and added some sliced carrots and diced onions. I let that cook on slow cooker mode while I went out to run some errands.

When I got home, the vegetables were almost cooked, but not quite. But I was getting hungry. So I set the Instant Pot for pressure cooking mode for 2 minutes. Just a guess on the time, but it was a good guess.

I added a can of corn, a small can of tomato puree, and some leftover rice and peas that I had in the fridge. After it was all mixed, I gave it a taste. Then I added salt, pepper, and lime juice.

So, yeah, sometimes it's good for speeding up cooking a little bit.

But do you need an actual Instant Pot, or will any brand do?

Tough call there.

Instant Pot has popularized the concept, and they've got an active online presence as well as a Facebook group. But there are other Facebook groups that talk about electric pressure cookers made by any brand. And some of the electric pressure cookers out there are made by companies that have a longer track record in the market than Instant Pot.

So ... do you need an electric pressure cooker?

Maybe.  I love mine and I use it often. Only you know if you'll want to use an electric pressure cooker, though.

Does it have to be an Instant Pot? Not really, but so far I love mine, and I've put away my previous one that was another brand. If you're thinking about buying an Instant Pot, keep in mind that they've been coming out with new models pretty regularly. So be sure you shop around to make sure you look at all those options.

One other thing that can make your pressure cooking more successful is a good cookbook. I happen to like The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book, but there are others. Make sure the book covers electric pressure cookers, though. The timing and methods are different than when you're using a stovetop model.


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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Will it Bread Machine? Rich bread with eggs and milk

I'll confess. I use my bread machine a lot more than most folks would imagine.

As much as I love the process of making bread, I don't always have time, and there are days when there are so many other things going on in the kitchen that there's just no way to find an unused swath of kitchen counter space to make the process pleasant.

I have a few basic recipes that I know will work, and I even wrote some recipes a bread machine (this Gourmia bread machine), so I'm comfortable with creating recipes. But the one thing I learned from my long association with bread machines is that not every traditional bread recipe will work in a bread machine.

But sometimes I throw caution to the wind, like with this recipe from a cookbook. Once again I'm making recipes from a cookbook that's being passed around in a cookbook group I belong to. The book is Small Victories by Julia Turshen.


The recipe, as written was for raspberry jam buns, but the last thing I needed was a batch of sweet buns. There were variations (called spin-offs in the book) for cinnamon rolls, garlic buns, herb goat cheese buns, monkey bread, salami or prosciutto bread, and buttery dinner rolls.

I considered making the dinner rolls, but still didn't want to fuss that much, so I decided to just toss all the ingredients in the machine and let 'er rip. I didn't warm the milk, as the instructions said, and the butter was straight from the refrigerator rather than at room temperature. It all went in, as is.

I used Red Star Platinum Yeast rather than regular active dry, but otherwise I used all the ingredients suggested. If you're using a different brand of active dry yeast than Red Star, you might need to soften the yeast in liquid before kneading since some of the active dry yeasts from other brands have a larger granule size that won't dissolve if it's put directly into the dough. If you use Platinum, Red Star Active Dry or any rapid or bread machine yeast, you don't need to soften the yeast before proceeding.

Bread Machine Egg and Milk Loaf
Inspired by Small Victories by Julia Turshen

3/4 cup whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons Red Star Platinum Yeast*
2 eggs
3 1/4 cups (390 grams) all purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I suggest 1 1/4 teaspoons)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss it all in the bread machine. I'd suggest cutting the butter into at least 4 pieces so it kneads into the dough easier. If you don't have Platinum yeast, that's fine - just use whatever yeast you like to use in your bread machine.

I used the basic bread setting, 2 1/2 pound loaf, and a medium crust. When I make this again, I'll use a light crust setting so the crust doesn't get quite as dark on the bottom and sides. It wasn't bad, and it wasn't burned, but is was a little darker and thicker that it needed to be.

And that's it. Set the machine, wait until it's done, and remove the loaf when it's done.
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Friday, February 10, 2017

Chicken and Mushrooms

When I got the book Stacy Lyn's Harvest Cookbook, I saw a lot of recipes I wanted to make. But, like many books that celebrate harvests, it called for a lot of fresh ingredients that aren't particularly wonderful at the grocery store in February. While I probably could have bought strawberries, I know they would have been sub-par, and that's not fair to the recipe or to the rest of the ingredients.

I paged through the book until I saw the Chicken and Mushrooms over Cheesy Grits. It sounded good, and the ingredients all made sense at this time of year. But the grits. Sigh. I adore grits, but I had just made a batch of rice with saffron. So I skipped the grits (waaaah, I love grits) and I served the chicken with the rice.

I followed the recipe pretty closely except that when I grabbed the chicken stock, it was actually turkey stock. Oops.

Oh! And I used all crimini (aka baby bella) mushrooms. I'm not fond of shitaki mushrooms enough to want to buy them. So, instead of 1/2 pound of crimini, 1/4 of button, and 1/4 pound of shitaki, I used all crimini.

The other adjustment I made was that after the chicken was done, I thought the sauce was too thin, so I removed the chicken, removed the lid, and continued cooking the rest until the sauce was reduced and it had thickened more. The instructions called for cooking it "partially covered" which is open to interpretation. I guess mine was more covered than it should have been.

I think if I make it again, I'll cook uncovered at first and cover it if I think it needs to be covered. While it didn't look like it was going to be too liquidy when I first assembled it, the mushrooms exuded a lot of liquid during cooking. But some folks might prefer more liquid, so it's not a fault with the recipe, it's just a preference.

Chicken and Mushrooms
Adapted from Stacy Lyn's Harvest Cookbook by Stacy Lyn Harris

4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots cut into 1-inch pieces (I had small carrots, so I used 4)
1 pound crimini mushrooms
1 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken stock

Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish, then coat the chicken with the flour. Save about 1 tablespoon of the flour remaining in the plate.

Put the oil in a large pot and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken and cook until brown on all sides. Remove the chicken from the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions, and cook for 2 minutes (I cooked mine a bit longer, until the onions were softened a bit). Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, then add the flour and cook for one more minute, stirring.

Add the broth, carrots, mushrooms, and rosemary. Return the chicken to the pan, along with any juices that came out of the chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil, then partially cover the pot and lower the heat so it simmers. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle and the vegetables are tender.

At this point, I removed the chicken so it wouldn't overcook, and I removed the lid and increased the heat to thicken and reduce the sauce. You might or might not need to do this.

Serve over rice, grits, or whatever you prefer.

About the book: There are a lot of recipes here that I'll try when there are more fresh fruits and vegetables in season. My one quibble about the book isn't the recipes, but the printing. It's a pretty book, no doubt, but a lot of the recipes are printed on pages that have colored, patterned backgrounds. It's certainly lovely to look at, but it makes the text harder to read. Not impossible, but not as easy to read at a glance as if the page had black ink on plain white paper.

I received the book from the publisher at no cost to me.
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