Friday, January 29, 2010

Cold Weather Pressure Cooking

Pressure cooking or cooking under pressure? Could she keep the kitchen ceiling free of her Yankee Pot roast?

My first memory of a pressure cooker harkens back to childhood when our family lived in Alaska. My Mom expanded the culinary horizons for our family cranking out jams, jellies, pickles, canned veggies. She even canned what seemed to be oceans of salmon. I seriously do not remember too much about the experience except for the hiss of the Pressure cooker steam & the caution we used when it was in operation. It was a large affair which held several quart jars & a pressure gauge on the top which led me to believe I would surely never have need for something so complicated when I was an adult.

I was well into married life when I found out that pressure cookers could save time & had many more uses beyond home canning. When my husband bought me a pressure cooker I was excited & more than a little cautious. I heard tales from my husband's Grandmother & Aunt of exploding pressure cookers & was told of kitchen disasters that made the women of the family fall silent. I seriously wondered if they were challenging me or guessing I would become too overwhelmed to use my new cooker. I wondered what if anything I could make with such a frightening kitchen instrument? I had visions of food exploding from the steam vent or an entire roast blown to bits on my kitchen ceiling. I discussed pressure cooking with my mother & soon realized I could certainly handle the challenge. After all the first commercial pressure cooker in the U.S. made a debut at the New York World's Fair in 1939, it was made by National Presto Industries. I had a Presto Pressure cooker, how difficult could it be? I eventually found the meats I prepared were more tender while the time I could spend cooking was reduced. I ultimately became a fan of cooking "under pressure". While I still use my pressure cooker for steaming the perfect artichokes or the yearly Corned Beef Roast on Saint Patricks Day, truth be told it does sit collecting dust much of the time. I felt challenged this week to make an entire meal with my pressure cooker. I craved French Onion Soup when the latest Mid Winter storm blew across the United States. I also thought I could get my husband to try a new rice pudding recipe as well (he is not a big fan of rice pudding). I found a recipe by Giada de Laurentis for Chocolate Rice Pudding. While Giada's is a stove top version & mine uses different Chocolate, it was a great starting point from which I could come up with the Pressure Cooked Mexican Chocolate Rice Pudding.

Pressure Cooked Mexican Chocolate Rice Pudding
2 cups whole milk + 1/4 cup reserved for later
1 cup water
1 cup Arborio rice
2/3 cup raw sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest (from 1 tangerine)
1 teaspoon vanilla, Mexican La Vincedora vanilla
1/2 of 1 3.1 oz round Mexican Chocolate, either Ibarra or Abuelita brand**
1/2 - 4 oz Special Dark Hershey's Baking Bar, melted
1 egg, beaten

Melt butter in cooker and pour rice in and stir rice to cover totally with butter.
Add the sugar, 2 cups of milk, water & ground Mexican chocolate which has been finely ground. (see below) Put cover onto the pressure cooker, keep at medium heat.
Pressure cook for 8 minutes at 15 p.s.i. Don't begin timing the 8 minutes until the cooker is fully up to pressure and constantly emitting a gentle stream of steam. Please check Pressure cooker directions & or refer to Pressure Cooker Safety

In a small bowl mix 1 egg with 1/4 cup whole milk and 1 t vanilla.
Temper egg mixture by adding a bit of the hot rice mixture and stirring. Repeat several times at least. Then mix the egg mixture into the pot and cook (uncovered) until it just begins to bubble a bit.
Stir the orange zest into the mixture. Add the melted Hershey's baking chocolate and stir until well blended. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Spoon the rice pudding into serving bowls. This is delicious served warm or cover and refrigerate for 2 1/2 to 3 hours and up to 1 day ahead. Maybe garnished with whipped cream or fresh orange zest.

I actually use a coffee grinder to grind my Mexican chocolate into a fine powder for this Rice Pudding.

**Break 1/2 of the hard round Mexican chocolate & break apart with a large knife, then put into food processor/grinder & blend the chocolate into a fine powder. This type of Mexican Chocolate is found in a octagonal or round cardboard box in Latin grocery stores. It is hard & comes in individual round cakes.

Surely everyone has a favorite restaurant they order French Onion at or a much loved recipe but even this soup can be improved upon in the Pressure Cooker. This French Onion soup has Fresh Ginger & Herbes de Provence, Pressure cooking cuts work & time down to less than 30 minutes for a bowl of one of our family favorite soups.

Pressure Cooked French Onion Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups thinly sliced Spanish Onions
2 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon fresh grated Ginger
1/2 cup dry sherry
5 cups beef stock or broth
sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese
Sliced Baguette rounds toasted, 2 per bowl

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes. Add herbes de provence, ginger, dry sherry, and 2 cups of stock.

Cover and bring to high pressure over high heat. Lower the heat to stabilize the pressure. Cook for 6 minutes. Remove from the heat. Let the pressure release or drop by using the quick release method. Make certain you review Pressure Cooker Safety methods before cooking with a pressure cooker
Unlock and remove the pressure cooker cover.
Add the remaining 3 cups of stock and bring to a simmer. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Ladle the soup into heatproof bowls. Float 2 baguette rounds on top of soup and sprinkle with the grated cheese.
6 servings

For anyone new or newly returning to Pressure Cooking I recommend Gina Steer's "The Pressure Cooker Cookbook", very good selection of recipes & techniques.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Leisure time & a big bowl of Spicy warmth!

He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul's estate.
~Henry David Thoreau

When asked in recent weeks "where I have gone", I could only respond that I had taken time off. The move from Mexico home & subsequent moves of "our life", people & animals had about worn me out. I felt I needed to take the Holidays off to recuperate & regroup. I spend the past few weeks & months getting back into the groove as well as slowing down to enjoy life. We had a slow holiday spent at home with our daughters & enjoyed what is most important. We cooked, relaxed & recharged our spirits. Of course that means Spicy foods at the Texas to Mexico household. If we don't take time to enjoy the everyday we may miss the small but important things around us.

My daughter & I recently enjoyed a day at Austin's Chinatown Shopping Center where we explored the exotic & impressive array of foods at the M.T. Supermarket. Our family enjoys the spicy array of foods & cuisines available at the market. In the past I loaded up a suitcase & hauled spices & teas back to Mexico from this wonderful grocery store. We have long enjoyed the Thai Coconut Soup we find at our favorite local restaurants. My daughter shared a recipe she enjoys & she even helped me locate the elusive Red Curry paste on our trip to the Asian market. This recipe can take more or less heat which is derived from the Curry Paste so use sparingly & taste frequently. I was under the assumption as I made my first pot of this soup that if a little was good more would be great! It was a wonderful but fiery & fierce bowl of soup.

Spicy Thai Chicken & Coconut Soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 to 2 stalks lemon grass, outer sheath removed, bottom 3 inches trimmed and minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 to 3 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
6 cups homemade or canned chicken stock
3 tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 (14-ounce) cans unsweetened coconut milk
1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 12 ounces), cut into 1 by 1/4-inch strips
1 (15-ounce) can straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed
4 oz. of shitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
lime wedges to garnish & squeeze juice over soup.
• Salt
• 1/2 cup loosely packed whole fresh cilantro leaves
• 3 scallions, greens only, sliced
Heat the oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the lemon grass, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds.
Add 1/2 cup chicken stock to the pot and stir to dissolve the curry paste. Add the remaining stock, fish sauce, and sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer to blend flavors, about 20 minutes.
Stir in the coconut milk, chicken, mushrooms, and lime juice. Bring back to a simmer (do not boil as this will cause the coconut milk to curdle) and cook until the stock is hot and the chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, garnishing each bowl with cilanto, scallions & a lime wedge.

Each Christmas eve our family dines on Tamales & either Chili or some similar kin in the Tex-Mex culinary family. This past Christmas Eve we had Chili & Tamales from Juarez Mexican Bakery. The local Round Rock restaurant & bakery known for the long lines of customers patiently waiting for dozens of savory Juarez Tamales. The owner of Juarez is from Guanajuato, Mexico & so much of the true "Sabor de Mexico" is what keeps locals coming back again & again for the food at Juarez.
My favorite Chili recipe is the Lady Bird Johnson Pedernales River Chili. I use the basic recipe & kick it up a tiny bit with a few extra chili peppers. (somehow I am certain LBJ would have approved of this bit of heat!) This recipe is one of the most widely circulated Chili recipes thanks to her husband's great love of the official "state food" of Texas. Lyndon Baines Johnson was once said: "Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing. One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is to have a bowl of Red. There is simply nothing better." Texans are as unapologetic about our foods as our politicians, having said that; this my favorite bowl of Texas Red!

Pedernales River Chili

4 pounds coarsely ground beef (chili-grind, ask butcher if there is none available)
1 large chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 teaspoons chili powder
2 (16-ounce) cans tomatoes
Salt to taste
2 cups hot water
In a large frying pan, brown meat with onion and garlic until meat is lightly browned; transfer ingredients to a large kettle cast-iron Dutch oven.
Add oregano, cumin, chili powder, tomatoes, salt,**2 Soaked, seeded & skinned Chili Anchos and hot water. Bring just to a boil; lower heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 1 hour. Remove from heat. Skim off grease and serve.
Serves 12.
**These are the flat wrinkly Dried Chili Peppers found in the Latin section of most grocery stores. They have to be soaked in hot water 20 minutes then remove seeds, stems & scrape the pulp from the inside of the skin. The dark mahogany color adds a rich color as well as a deep rich flavor. If you are partial to heat you might add Chili Petin peppers threaded onto a toothpick so they can be removed later before serving your bowl of Red!

Our family garnishes this Texas favorite with diced onion & the occasional sprinkling of cheese....of course for the not so faint of heart there is always the liberal toss of locally grown Chili Petins also known as Chili Pequin or Bird Peppers. This native chili is one plant which seemed to thrive in my garden the Summer of 2009. **Take note fellow Texans this plant is beyond hearty if it could survive our drought & lack of rainfall.