Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Canned Whole Cherries #Canbassador

I love cherries. When I was a kid, they were undoubtedly my favorite fruit. Apples and bananas were okay, but cherries were awesome.

So, when the Northwest Cherries Canbassador Program asked me if I wanted some (a lot!) of cherries, of course I said yes.

What I didn't know about cherries was how easy they are to can. Apparently cherries sit up and the tree and they say, "Hey, being in a jar would be awesome. We should make sure that we're like the perfect acidity so we can go into jars and into a hot water bath and be pretty round things in jars forever."

Or something like that.

Because when I started looking up recipes for canning whole cherries, I found out that you can use pretty much anything for the canning liquid. You don't have to add a ridiculous amount of sugar. You don't have to add lemon juice or vinegar. You can put them in fruit juice, sugar syrup, or even plain old water. Just plain water. Let that sink in.

Oh, and that's not the end of it. You can hot-pack or raw-pack and just adjust the time in the canner.

I was ... totally surprised.

And pleased. Because it's hot as Hades here and thinking too hard makes me sweat. So I liked the idea that I couldn't mess this up, no matter what I did. And YOU can't mess this up no matter what you do.


So, pit the cherries. For each quart of cherries, you'll need about 1/2 cup of liquid. But you know what - if you're off by a little, you can just add some extra boiling water since we're not worrying about acid levels.

Then figure out how much liquid you'll need. (Math ensues.)

Figure out what liquid you're using. I used a light sugar syrup (1 part sugar to 4 parts water by volume), plus a vanilla bean pod for each quart jar.

Then decide if you want to hot-pack or raw-pack.

Read up on safe canning procedures. Make sure your jars and lids are clean and hot and have everything ready to go.

For hot pack, put the liquid in a saucepan along with the cherries and bring to a boil, then put the cherries and liquid in the jars.  For the raw pack, put the pitted cherries in the jar and heat the liquid separately, then pour the liquid over the cherries. Make sure there's no excess air in the jar and the liquid is to about 1/2 inch of the top.

Process according to this chart. Or seriously, check that page for way more information about canning cherries than you can imagine.

So ... what's this stuff good for? Yeah, pretty much anything you like. They're good over ice cream, French toast, or in cocktails. The liquid is flavorful, so don't leave that behind. They'd probably be good in smoothies, too. Since I went with a really light syrup, they'd be good in recipes, too, and wouldn't add a mad amount of sugar.

So good. So simple. The hardest part is pitting the cherries, but even that isn't hard.

Hint: if you only have a quart of cherries and you're going to use them right away, you could do this without the water bath and just refrigerate the jar. Heat to a boil, maybe a few seconds more, then throw them in a jar. When they've cooled a bit, toss them in the fridge.

I received cherries at no cost to me from the folks at Northwest Cherries. Otherwise I would have been buying them. Because ... cherries.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp scampi. What's not to love? Butter, garlic, seafood ... yum!

For some reason, I don't make it very often, but when I saw a recipe in Gumbo Love by Lucy Buffet, I had to give it a try.

Of course, I switched up a few things. Fresh shrimp really doesn't exist here, but I buy it frozen when it looks good. I happened to have a bag of cooked, peeled shrimp in the freezer, so I used that. The recipe actually called for raw shrimp, but I knew I could make it work.

Gumbo Love is another one of the books that's getting passed around in the group I belong to. I also made a pound cake from the book that I thought was almost perfect. The texture was good - which is really amazing up here at high altitude - but I thought it was just slightly too sweet for my taste. But that's okay. I'll probably made it again and adjust the sugar level down and see if the texture remains the same.

I also made a black bean and corn salad from the book. Most of the time, I just toss things together for a salad like that, but this time I (mostly) followed the recipe.

The scampi, though ... I really need to keep this recipe. Thus, a blog post.

Shrimp Scampi
Adapted from Gumbo Love by Lucy Buffet

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp (The book specifies wild-caught gulf shrimp, but here in Colorado, sometimes you take what you can get. I used cooked frozen peeled shrimp.)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (I used onion instead.)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I just eyeballed it when I shook it on.)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided (I just eyeballed it.)
2 cups white rice, for serving (I use rice that had been cooked with saffron, so it was yellow.)

In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.

While the oil is heating, season the shrimp with just a little of the salt and pepper. Add the shrimp to the skillet and saute for 3 minutes, then remove the shrimp and set aside. (Since my shrimp were pre-cooked, I skipped all of this.

Add the butter to the skillet and allow it to melt, but be careful that it doesn't burn. Add the shallot and garlic (here's where I added salt and pepper) and saute until they start to caramelize.

Add the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any gooey bits stuck to the pan and stirring them into the wine. Add the lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and the remaining salt and pepper. Cook for a minute or two, or until the liquid has reduced by a third.

Return the shrimp to the pan (here's where mine entered for the first time) and cook until the shrimp is cooked through (or warmed through, if they're precooked).

Turn off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of the parsley, and stir well.

Serve the shrimp over the rice and garnish with the remaining parsley.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Addictive Salted Caramel-Stuffed Chocolate Cookies

If you've read this blog at all, you probably know that I belong to a group where we mail cookbooks around in a round-robin style. When I got Half Baked Harvest, I kind of skipped past all the harvesting and landed on these cookies.
Oh. My. Heck.

These are insane. They're best when slightly warm so the caramel is a little soft, but if you make them and let them cool - because eating a whole batch would be kind of crazy - you can still have that soft. center. Just pop them in the microwave for a few seconds before serving to get that soft caramel center.

I made a few other recipes from the book, but this is the one I decided to share on the blog. I don't like to share more than one recipe from a book, although most publishers are fine with up to three recipes without special permission.

This one, though, was worth saving, publishing, and making again.

Addictive Salted Caramel-Stuffed Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Half-Baked Harvest by Tieghan Gerard

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used black cocoa)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
24 to 48 milk chocolate caramels (I used Dove candies that were available for Easter. Dark chocolate caramels would also be nice, and a little less sweet.)
Flaky sea salt, for topping

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan, combine the butter, bittersweet chocolate, and chocolate chips. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until fully melted and combined. The chocolate will be thick. Remove the pan from the heat and let the chocolate cool slightly. Note: if you're comfortable melting chocolate in your microwave, you can do that here. Melt in short bursts and stir in between. 

In a small bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together on high until light and fluffy, which should take 2-3 minutes. Add the vanilla and the melted chocolate, and beat for 1 or 2 minutes more, until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Note: I did this in my stand mixer, using the paddle. 

Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and kosher salt. Beat until fully combined and smooth, about 3 minutes. The batter should be thick but pourable - don't worry, it will turn into cookie dough. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight. Note: I left mine in the fridge longer, with no ill effect. You just don't want to forget it in there for too long.

Scoop out a scant 2 tablespoons of dough and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Flatten the dough into small disks, about 2 inches in diameter - you can grease your hands with a little oil if this gets messy.

Place a caramel in the center. Scoop out a rounded teaspoon of dough and flatten it into a disk. Place this disk on top of the caramel, pinching the layers of dough together.

Note: I followed the instructions for forming the cookies for the first batch I made, then changed gears and did it in a way that made more sense to me. So feel free to improvise. You want the caramel neatly enclosed by the dough, with the top a little thinner, and you want the cookie somewhat flat. It will spread a little during cooking, but its nice to give it a little help.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, just until set on the edges. Remove from the oven and sprinkle each cookie with a little flaky salt. Note: in the second batch, I added salt before baking - it seemed easier, and the salt stuck a little better.

Let cool at least 5 minutes on the baking sheet before serving, or place them on a rack to cool completely and rewarm later.

And ... here's a little tease ...

This cake is also from Half Baked Harvest. It's a three-layer chocolate cake filled with chocolate fudge that is drizzled with caramel sauce. It's frosted with caramel frosting, and then drizzled with more caramel. This is NOT an everyday cake that you'd make for a family dinner, but if you want a showstopper for a party or event, this is it.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Better Than Store Bought Ranch Dip from The Weekday Lunches and Breakfasts Cookbook

A bottle of dressing. So un-photogenic.
Sometimes I am such a dork. I saw this recipe for ranch DIP and made it and wondered why it was so thick because in my head I was making ranch DRESSING.

Such a dork.

But I digress.

A while back, I got and reviewed The Weeknight Dinner Cookbook by Mary Younkin and I loved it. The recipes were creative, but easy. I literally could make a really good dinner in a short time.

Yeah, I work from home and in theory I could start cooking at noon if I wanted to, but when I get wrapped up in work, I often don't think about dinner until hungry happens.

So when I realized that Mary had another cookbook coming (The Weekday Lunches and Breakfasts Cookbook), I pre-ordered it on Amazon because I couldn't wait to get my grubby paws on it. And then I got another copy from the publisher to review. Oh well. I have plans for that second copy, no problem.

My usual lunches are either leftovers from a previous dinner, or I'll make something simple, like a sandwich. So the idea of a cookbook devoted to lunches wasn't entirely in my wheelhouse. Except that pretty much anything that's deemed a lunch meal (or even a breakfast) is perfectly acceptable for me any time of the day.

Tortilla Eggs with a side of pickled spicy vegetables.
I dived into the cookbook and came up with Tortilla Eggs, which is basically an egg cooked on a tortilla with some cheese and ... well, yum. I made it a couple times because it was so freaking simple and so satisfying.

But then I saw the ranch recipe.

I love making home made salad dressings of all kinds, and I'm always looking for new variations. Can I make a little confession? I never really had ranch dressing until I was an adult. When I was growing up, we made all kinds of vinaigrettes as well as Thousand Island. At restaurants, I'd order creamy garlic. But ranch was never on the radar.

But once I tried it, I admitted it was pretty good. And home made versions are just so much better.

So, I saw ranch, thought it was a dressing, and combined the ingredients. And there it was, too thick. But I fixed that with the addition of some buttermilk that I had on hand, and it suddenly became a very tasty salad dressing.

The recipe notes that you should add the dill to taste, and I think that's a good caution. When first made, the dill wasn't very bold, but after the dressing had time to rest, the dill flavor came forward a bit more. It wasn't bad at all, and of course it depends on how you're serving it. And I guess it depends on how fresh your dried dill is. So anyway, you might want to start with a bit less and you can always add a bit more.

Better Than Store Bought Ranch Dip
From The Weekday Lunches and Breakfasts Cookbook by Mary Younkin

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dried dill weed, adjust to taste
3/4 teaspoon dried parsley
3/4 teaspoon dried chives
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon finely ground pepper, adjust to taste
1/2 to 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or plain white vinegar

Whisk all of the ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

The flavors will intensify after the dried herbs hydrate, so it's a good idea to make this in advance.

Note: to turn this into a dressing like I did, just add buttermilk or even plain milk until it's the consistency you like.

I got a copy of this book from the publisher at no cost, but also bought my own. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Street Corn Pizza #AbramsDinnerParty

So, here's the deal. This past cookbook season, Abrams has been sending me free cookbooks that have recently been published. Yup, free. Nada cost. It's good to be a blogger.

One of the books in the giant pile of wonder is What's Gaby Cooking by Gaby Dalkin. The theme of the book is Everyday California Food, so you know what to expect, right? Lots of fresh ingredients.

So, as I was browsing through the book, I started inserting bookmarks in all the recipes I wanted to make. Here, there, more and more. But the one recipe I kept going back to was the Street Corn Pizza. Unfortunately, I went a little off the rails when I made it, adding (gasp) zucchini. And cooking it on a tortilla instead of actual pizza dough.

I mean, hey, you can customize your pizza when you order it somewhere. If I went a little mad in my execution, you can forgive me, right? Plus, I made this before fresh corn was looking good, so I think I can cut myself some slack for the changes.


The original recipe needs to be made, because it sure as heck seems to be the best way to make street corn. Have you seen that stuff? It looks amazing in photos, but it's near impossible to eat neatly. This pizza has all the flavors, and no mess!

Street Corn Pizza
From What's Gaby Cooking by Gaby Dalkin

All purpose flour
Nope, this isn't the pizza you will end up with if you
make the recipe. But this was definitely inspired by the
recipe here. Mostly the corn. The corn and the cheese.
Yeah, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!
1 pound fresh pizza dough
1/2 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated cotija or parmesan cheese
1 cup roasted or sauteed corn
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh cilantro
Lime wedges
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Likely flour a rimless baking sheet or pizza peel. (I prefer using cornmeal, but flour works, too.)

On a clean, floured surface, shape the dough into 3 medium rounds. Let the dough sit for 5 minutes, then re-form it to make sure it's as big as you'd like it to be. Place the dough on the prepared baking sheet or pizza peel.

Spread the olive over the top of each pizza and sprinkle with the garlic. Top the pizzas with the mozzarella, almost all of the cotija (reserve a little for garnish), and the corn. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the pizzas to the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted and the crust is golden brown.

Remove from the oven, season with salt and pepper, and top with the chili powder and cilantro. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes and the remaining cotija cheese, and serve with lime wedges to squeeze on top.

So anyway ...

I think this is a pretty good representation of the recipes you'll find in the book. Tasty, fresh, not to hard, but not the basics, either. Now I just need to work my way through the other eight recipes I have marked. As soon as peppers are on sale, there are some marinated peppers I want to try, and maybe for lunch soon there will be the green rice burrito bowl. Because anything in a bowl is fun.

In case you missed it up top, I got this book for free as a participant in the Abrams Dinner Party.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Pork Chops in a Dijon Pan Sauce from Weeknight Cooking with Your Instant Pot

When I found out that Kristy Bernardo, who blogs at The Wicked Noodle, had written a cookbook featuring recipes for the Instant Pot, I put it right in my Amazon cart.

The book, not the Instant Pot.

As soon as the book arrived, I pawed through it, looking for recipes I could make right away. Without going to the store.

You see, the title of the book is Weeknight Cooking with your Instant Pot, so I assumed the recipes would be doable without a whole lot of shopping. And ... I was right.

The first recipe I made was sesame chicken, since I happened to have some chicken thighs on hand. It was freaking delicious and really simple. Definitely something that could be made any old night after a busy day.

I made the sesame chicken in my pressure cooker while I had rice in my rice cooker, and dinner was done with so little effort it was ridiculous. It would have taken more effort to pick up a phone and call for delivery.

This is the ideal meal for those days when I've not planned well and it's half-past hungry and there are no leftovers waiting for me. Because that happens around here way too often.

The great thing is that not only is the recipe fast and easy, but it's also a really nice meal. Not like graham crackers and peanut butter, which is what often happens when I haven't planned well.

The second time I made this recipe, I cooked some frozen broccoli (a freezer staple around here) to go with it. A perfect meal, really.

If you like spicy food, an easy adjustment here would be to have fun with red pepper flakes or a sliced jalapeno, or even a squirt of your favorite hot sauce.

The second recipe I made from the book was Pork Chops in a Dijon Pan Sauce. The sauce was totally awesome and completely the star of the dish. Not something I would have thought about, myself. Although I'm a huge fan of mustard, I don't think about cooking with it very often.

But ... I wasn't thrilled with my choice of pork chops. No matter how you cook them, pork chops can be a little finicky. Instant Pots (and other electric pressure cooker brands) cook so quickly that every minute of cooking is a big deal, so the wrong cut of pork can end up overcooked in the blink of an eye. I kind of blame the pig. Or perhaps the pork producers, who are raising leaner pigs than the ones from years ago.

Of course, some folks prefer their pork chops very well done. So there's that, too.

But I liked the sauce so much, I decided I had to make the recipe again, this time changing the type of chop. The second time, I used pork shoulder steaks, which work much better for braising or slow cooking, which also means they're more forgiving of overcooking. So I figured they'd be perfect for pressure cooking.

And to be honest, I like pork shoulder steaks more than other types of chops, anyway.

Meanwhile, I fiddled with the recipe a bit, adding onions and potatoes to the pot, so it was pretty much a whole meal. Okay, a salad or green vegetable would have been nice, too. But it was a good meat-and-potatoes recipe.

This one is definitely a keeper.

Pork Chops in a Dijon Pan Sauce
Adapted from Weeknight Cooking with your Instant Pot by Kristy Bernardo

2 pounds bone-in pork chops (I used two pork shoulder chops, but didn't weigh them)
1 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil (I just eyeballed it here)
(I added 4 smallish red potatoes, quartered)
(I added 1 onion, cut in a large dice)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup chopped parsley (mine was sad and wilty, so I skipped it)

Season the chops with salt and pepper. Press saute to preheat your Instant Pot (I actually used another brand of pressure cooker).

When the word HOT appears on the display, add the olive oil, then brown the chops on both sides. You'll probably need to do this in batches. It will take 3-4 minutes per side. Remove the chops and set them aside.

At this point, I added the onion and potato and cooked them until the onions were soft. The potatoes are kind of a wild card here. Bigger potatoes will need to be cut, while smaller ones should be left whole. It might take some trial and error to figure out exactly what size potatoes you need to be perfectly done at the same time as the meat.

Add the wine and stir to deglaze the pot. Allow the wine to reduce slightly, about two minutes. Add the chicken broth, then return the chops to the pot, along with any juices.

Close and lock the lid. Set it to high pressure for 6 minutes, making sure the vent knob is set to sealing.

When the time is up, allow the pot to release pressure naturally for 10 minutes, then release the remaining pressure manually.

Remove the chops from the pot and tent them with foil to keep them warm.

(If you have potatoes in that pot, test them for doneness. If they seem really soft, remove them from the pot, so they don't fall apart with more cooking.)

Press the saute button and allow the sauce to reduce by half, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the Dijon. Add the butter two pieces at a time, stirring constantly until they are incorporated. This creates an emulsified sauce which is thick and luxurious.

Taste the sauce and add more salt or pepper, if desired.

Return the chops to the pot and toss them in the sauce to coat them and re-warm them if necessary.

Sprinkle parsley over the top as a garnish, if your parsley isn't all sad and wilty like mine was.

What's next?

I'm planning on making a stuffed pepper soup, which is kind of brilliant. Less fuss than making actual stuffed peppers, but the flavors are all there.

After that, maybe lemon risotto with peas, or perhaps one of the pasta dishes. Then again, there are also side dish recipes and desserts. Or maybe I'll go back to that sesame chicken, because it was brilliant.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Some Green Sauce #AbramsDinnerParty

So, I was browsing through my most recent acquisition from #AbramsDinnerParty (where I get free cookbooks) and I ran across a recipe for a green sauce that's supposed to be much like That Green Sauce sold by the HEB food stores.

Wait, let me back up a bit.

The cookbook is The Austin Cookbook by Paula Forbes. It's all about recipes "from deep in the heart of Texas," so of course I expected a lot of beef, and some Tex-Mex. But when I saw that sauce recipe ... I kind of swooned.

You see, a while back, someone sent me a jar of That Green Sauce, and I put it on everything until the jar was empty. And then I kind of whimpered because that sauce isn't available here. Waaaah!

So I was pretty excited to see that recipe. And I was stunned to see how easy it is. Apparently this type of sauce is pretty popular around Austin, and the one sold by HEB is just one of many versions of that type of green sauce. But ... the HEB version was the first one of its kind that I tried, so it's the one that I wanted to find a recipe for.

Now that I've made it, I have a feeling I'll be making it again.

With variations. Many variations. Because now that I know how it's made, I can adjust the heat, add spices or herbs, and just generally mess around with the recipe. I might even order some of That Green Sauce so I can do some taste tests and see how close I can get to the original.

And now you can make it, too!

The Green Sauce

Adapted from The Austin Cookbook by Paula Forbes

Store-bought green salsa or Salsa Macha Verde (recipe follows)
Vegetable oil
Yeah, that's it. Just two ingredients.

Puree the salsa in a food processor or blender until it's almost completely smooth, then start slowly drizzling vegetable oil into the salsa while the processor is running.

You'll add about one cup of oil for the Salsa Macha Verde, which made just about a pint of salsa.

Continue adding the oil until you have a creamy but runny sauce - it should not be as thick as mayonnaise. And it will thicken just a little when you refrigerate it. Not a lot, but a little.

And there ya go. The oil makes the sauce creamy, which is why a lot of people think it has avocado in it.

Needless to say, the sauce will taste like your salsa, except creamier and perhaps a little milder.

Salsa Macha Verde
Adapted from The Austin Cookbook by Paula Forbes

6 large jalapenos
2 garlic cloves
Juice of 1 large lime

Grill, roast, or toast the jalapenos until you have grill marks or they've acquired some black spots (I used a roti grill). Remove the stems and put the jalapenos in a food processor or blender.

Add the garlic, a couple pinches of salt, 1 tablespoon of water, and the lime juice. Process or blend until it's as smooth as you like.

Now just carry on to make THE GREEN SAUCE.

Note: Since I used my Vitamix blender, the jalapeno seeds were blended to smithereens ... and this also helped to make the sauce rather spicy. If you prefer a less spicy version, remove the seeds - some or all - along with the inside ribs. This will help to make the sauce less spicy.

Another recipe that I thought was interesting - and that wasn't at all Tex-Mex - was the mustard and brown sugar crusted steak that was first cooked, then rubbed with a butter and mustard mixture, and then sprinkled with brown sugar, and then broiled to get the sugar caramelized. I've never had a steak quite like it. And then I made another one just like it the next day.

I'll just leave this here for you.

In case my statement at the top wasn't totally clear, I got this cookbook for free from the publisher.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Cream of Mushroom Soup (Pressure cooker or not)

Okay, you don't need to cook this in the pressure cooker - it's perfectly fine on the stove, simmering in a pot, but the pressure cooker speeds up the process of getting the soup tasting more like mushrooms and less like mushrooms floating in chicken stock.

The pinch of salt here is to help the vegetables release their moisture. Don't add too much, particularly if your stock has salt in it. I don't add salt to my homemade stock, but store-bought can be salty, depending on the brand.

The wine is also optional if you don't happen to have any on hand, but it does add a little something extra. Sherry is particularly nice, but a white wine would be fine, too. Red could work, but I'm not sure what it would do to the color of the soup.

You don't actually need the Better than Bouillon, but it adds more mushroom flavor to the soup. If you omit it, there's no need to add a substitute. Just carry on.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 shallot diced
1 pound crimini or button mushrooms (or your favorite), cleaned and sliced
Tiny pinch of salt
Generous grinds of black pepper
1/4 cup wine (white is nice; sherry is awesome)
1 tablespoon Better than Bouillon mushroom stock (optional)
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (home made is best, but packaged is fine)
Leaves from 1 sprig of thyme
1 cup heavy cream

Melt the butter in the electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot or other brand), then add the shallots, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the shallots are soft.

Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring as needed, until they're soft and they've given up liquid and they're simmering.

Add the wine and mushroom stock and continue cooking until most of the liquid is gone, stirring as needed.

Add the vegetable stock and thyme and give the soup a stir. Put the lid on and switch to high pressure. Set the timer for 15 minutes. When the time is up, release the pressure. Stir in the cream, taste for seasoning, and add more salt or pepper, if desired. Serve hot.

Note: The leftovers will separate into layers of stock and cream, but don't fret. Just stir it, and it will come back together, just like it was before.

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:


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.

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.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Toasted Milk in your Instant Pot (or other electric pressure cooker)

There was more ... but I used it!
A bunch of people in a group I'm in were talking about a recipe on Serious Eats for toasted cream, and it got me curious. I wanted to try it right away, but I didn't have any heavy cream in the house.

And since I had just gone shopping, I wasn't planning another shopping excursion soon.

See, I'm trying to cut back on shopping. For a lot of reasons. None of which matter here.

So there I was, with this recipe nagging at me, and I had no heavy cream.

But I had plenty of milk.

Since I have way to many kitchen gadgets, I had both options for toasting the milk - either sous vide for 24 hours or pressure cooked for 2 hours.

Having the patience of a gnat, I opted for the pressure cooked version.

There are two other options. Either with baking soda or without. The baking soda increases the browning of the milk. I decided to add the baking soda, to get the maximum effect.

Just in case the recipe didn't work, I cooked just one cup instead of a pint. I mean, milk isn't expensive, but I still didn't want to waste any.

Oddly, the Serious Eats recipe suggests using a 12-ounce canning jar, but all I had were pints and half pints. Since I wanted to leave some head space in the jar, I opted for the pint jar with 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda. Since there are only two ingredients in this recipe, it's pretty easy to scale. You'll need 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of milk (or, if you're using their recipe, cream) or 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per pint of milk, if that's easier to measure.

But, seriously, since the baking soda is optional, you could leave it out or use a tad less and it's not going to ruin anything.

The result was interesting. The color of the milk was surprising, and it also made me think that the milk would be sweet. Like caramel. But it wasn't. It just tasted more complex. Toasty.

I tried the milk in my morning coffee, and something very interesting happened. The milk tasted a whole lot richer, like I had put half-and-half in my coffee instead of whole milk.

I haven't tried the milk in anything else yet, but I have plenty of ideas.

Toasted Milk

1 or 2 cups of whole milk
1/8 teaspoon baking soda per cup of milk (optional, but recommended)

Place the milk in a pint canning jar along with the baking soda. Make sure there's some head space above the milk. Use less milk if necessary, or use two jars. Stir well to combine. Place a standard canning jar lid on, finger-tight. You don't want it completely tight, since the air needs to escape during the cooking.

Place a rack in your electric pressure cooker (like an Instant Pot or similar brand) and add about an inch of water. Or eyeball it to just below the rack.

Add the jar. Or jars. Seriously, after you try it, you're going to make this by the quart.

Put the lid on, close the vent, set the pressure to high, and cook for 2 hours.

Let the pressure release naturally, then remove the lid and carefully remove the jars. Make sure you don't set them on a cold surface, like a granite counter. I usually put them on a towel or a wooden cutting board. Let them cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

Use this like you'd use any milk - for coffee or other drinks, or for baking.

And yes, if you want it even richer, use heavy cream. For details on why this works, check out the Serious Eats explanation.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Summer Corn Soup from Healthyish #AbramsDinnerParty

Yes, I know it's not summer.

I got Healthyish by Lindsay Maitland Hunt as part of my participation in the Abrams Dinner Party, where I'm getting a bunch of cookbooks from that publisher.

When I looked through the book, the corn soup sounded really good.  And I love corn any time of the year.

Fortunately, the recipe doesn't require fresh corn (although it would probably be better with fresh summer corn), so I grabbed frozen corn and I was good to go.

This is meant to taste like Mexican street corn, with lime and chilies and cotija cheese, and that's pretty much what it was. Except it was very very smooth. Except of course the corn garnish and the cheese.

Oh, an if you're wondering why it's kind of orange, that's from the chili powder.

So there we go.

This was also super-simple to make, so it gets bonus points for that. The one glitch I had was that I didn't like the texture I got when I blended it with my stick blender, so then I transferred it to my Vitamix blender to get it smoother. Silky smooooooth.

Summer Corn Soup

Adapted from Healthyish by Lindsay Maitland Hunt

1 stick unsalted butter
2 onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoons chili powder
8 cups corn kernels from 8 cobs or the same amount frozen
2 russet potatoes (about 2 pounds) peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
8 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled
Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish (I forgot to buy this, so I skipped it. But it would be a good addition)

Heat the butter in a large pot (keep in mind you're going to be adding all that stock) over medium heat. Add the onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring often until the onions are translucent and soft.

Add the garlic, cumin. and chili powder and cook for about 30 seconds, until it's fragrant.

Reserve 1/2 cup of the corn for garnish and add the rest to the pot along with the potatoes and stock. Cover, bring to a boil. then reduce to strong simmer. Cook, stirring as needed, until the potatoes are completely soft.

Puree the soup (I suggest using a blender, but be careful when blending hot soup!) Stir in the lime juice and an additional 1/4 teaspoon salt (or salt to taste at this point, keeping in mind that the cotija cheese is salty.)

Serve the soup garnished with the cheese, cilantro, and corn kernels. Add a grind or two of pepper, too, if desired. Serve hot.

This reheats really well, so it's fine to make extra!

I get free cookbooks and swag for participating in the Abrams Dinner Party, but I am not paid to participate.