Monday, April 3, 2017

So This Post Was Inevitable . . .

It's Lent, which means no meat or dairy, which means pasta, among other things. And once I experimented with cooking pasta in its sauce, and then I got a pressure cooker, well, you can guess the next step: pressure cooker pasta in sauce.

Sorry, I was hungry and forgot to take pictures. Next time.

First off: yes, it works. I used Kroger whole grain pasta; a can of diced tomatoes; some seasonings; a little wine (because it was a weekend, and I'm trying to use up the last of a box); and a little water.

Of course I had made a few attempts already that had gone wrong, so here's what worked. In the stovetop, I added pasta, diced tomatoes, seasonings (in that order) and then filled up the cooker with wine and water until the level of the liquid was almost to the top of the pasta.

I turned on the electric burner, set the cooker on it, and let the liquid reach a fast simmer, stirring all the while. When the liquid reached a fast simmer, I put on the lid. Once the cooker had reached full pressure I let it go about a minute and turned off the heat and walked away, leaving the cooker on the burner.

When the lid unlocked, I had perfectly-cooked pasta in sauce. Total burner time: 6 minutes.
This may not seem like much of a big deal, but with summer coming, you don't want to heat up the house, so instead of waiting for a pot of water to boil, and then cooking pasta for another 8 minutes, and cooking sauce in a separate pan, you'll be reducing your cooling bills significantly. And while this method may not be any faster (you still need the cool-down time), it's a lot less hands-on.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Perfect Pressure Cooker Potatoes

Okay, I think I've nailed it. It took me three tries to get the recipe perfect but I'm thrilled.

  1. Slice small potatoes in half lengthways (for maximum surface area). Heat a little olive oil to shimmering in the pressure cooker and add garlic and black pepper. Place potatoes cut side down and brown.
  2. When browned, flip potatoes over (skin side down). Add rosemary or italian seasoning, and for one pound of potatoes, a half cup of water. Put the lid on the pressure cooker.
  3. Wait until the rocker begins to rock, then turn heat down until the rocker slows. Set your kitchen timer for three minutes.
  4. When timer dings, remove pot from heat and release pressure. Place potatoes in serving dish and salt to taste.

The mouth-watering result:

Sorry for the weird bluish tint—there's something weird going on with my cell phone camera. As you can see, these came out beautifully!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Experiments in Pressure Cooking

I finally got brave enough to order and use this pressure cooker from Presto. Following the recommendations from America's Test Kitchen, I got a stovetop model in stainless steel (for the far-off day when I get an induction cooktop).

So far, I've cooked pasta, potatoes, and lentils in the cooker. With those experiments, I'm ready for a few recommendations.

  • Don't accidentally knock off that little part in the center unless you want steam shooting up 8 feet in the air.
  • If you're using a pressure cooker to save energy or time, it's best used for things that take a long cooking time rather than a shorter cooking time. There may be other reasons to cook Brussels sprouts in a pressure cooker, but you won't save time. Think pot roasts, stews, soups, stocks, etc.
  • Experiment with small amounts of food and short cooking times first. 
  • Read a bunch of blogs and other people's advice, but remember, Your Mileage May Vary.
  • Read the instruction book.
  • Read the instruction book. (This bears repeating.)
  • Don't believe everything you read.
If you want pasta in the pressure cooker, you need to put in much less liquid than you would for cooking pasta in sauce, because, remember, almost all the liquid gets retained and goes into the pasta. You'll still probably need to drain some out.

Potatoes came out great. I used potatoes that were 1-2 inches in diameter, cooked perfectly in eight minutes (but there was a little too much liquid left in the pressure cooker at halfway up the potatoes, as originally advised. I tried browning the potatoes in a little olive oil first; I don't think I let them brown long enough the first time. There's a little bit of discoloration on the bottom of the pressure cooker from that, but hey, in my kitchen, stuff gets used.

I let lentils cool naturally and I think they were well beyond overcooked at 3 minutes. Also they were a little watery, but then I used soaked lentils instead of bone-dry ones.

I'll keep everyone updated as I try more things after the holidays!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Easier Pasta

Being that I'm always busy, I'm always looking for ways to make my life easier. And I've certainly found the solution to easier pasta!

Great cooks will have you boil the pasta in several quarts of water, reserve a cup of the pasta liquid, drain the pasta, add the sauce, add the reserved pasta liquid, and then serve. But, emboldened by my previous experiments with cooking pasta in sauce, I decided that all of that was too much work! Instead, try this method:

Heat the sauce to just below an energetic simmer. Add the pasta, and enough warm water to within an inch of the pasta (for al dente), or level or slightly above the level of the pasta for softer pasta. Stir the pasta several times during the first few minutes. If the sauce/water level is below the pasta, cover. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and give it maybe a minute or two longer than you would traditionally boil the pasta. Test, then remove the pot from heat and let sit a few minutes.

The result? A one-pot pasta dish, with the silky quality of the starch reserved, and only one dish to clean. It works with tomato sauces, pumpkin sauces, even with cheap boxed macaroni and cheese. And you don't have to attend it; just set the timer and walk away. Magic!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Smoothies--The Solution for Leftover Bits!

I was never much into smoothies, but I had a friend who was recovering from an accident stay with me, and she requested smoothies, so I started making them. That's when I discovered that I had the perfect solution to all those leftover bits of stuff from other recipes, and now smoothies are part of my regular routine. In addition to being filling, these breakfast shakes are perfect for cleaning out your pantry or refrigerator in a hurry! Those leftovers that are too small to do anything with make the greatest ingredients for smoothies.

What Can Go Into a Smoothie?

You'd be amazed!

At first, I started with the usual suspects: frozen fruit, yoghurt, a little milk, and maybe some sweetener if necessary. But then Thanksgiving came around, and I had leftover cranberry sauce, and voilĂ , my journey had begun. I dumped the cranberry sauce into the blender, along with my other smoothie ingredients, and it tasted great. So then I began experimenting with everything else in the fridge and the pantry.
That jar of wheat germ I had sitting around since 2005? Put some in a jar, pour in a little leftover coffee, and left it to soak overnight to soften the wheat germ. Great! A couple of spoons of leftover cottage cheese? Mix it with some peaches and cinnamon, and it was astonishingly good. Tofu? Into the blender with some leftover pumpkin puree and spices, a little yogurt, and a spoonful of agave syrup. Fantastic!

The Next Step

Savory Smoothies!

So now that I had my pantry starting to clear, I took a look at what was left, and thought hard about all the ingredients I had. I had already made the transition from sweet French toast to savory French toast, and from sweet cheesecake to savory cheesecake, and from sweet ice cream to savory ice cream, so clearly the next step was to take on savory smoothies.

Into my blender went leftover lasagna, a single bite of bacon, and a few spoons full of vegetables, along with some milk and yogurt to thin it out. I added a few fresh herbs from the garden, and the result was genius. Since then, my smoothies have become a part of my everyday routine, and it's easy to change them up, simply depending on whatever I have left over in the fridge or the pantry.


Yes, savory smoothies. It's really not that weird of an idea. If you need help wrapping your head around it, think of it as soup. Now think of it as cold soup. There, isn't that better? If not, well, you can always heat it up and serve it!

Monday, February 16, 2015


I realized this fact when a houseguest cooked breakfast and left me with a huge mess in the cast-iron pan he used and refused to clean it up. I couldn't understand why when he cooked, the food stuck to the pan, and when I cooked, the food released, and then I finally realized one very important thing.

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He was not allowing the pan to heat up before he dumped in the eggs!

Now in case you're not aware, cast-iron cookware can get very expensive, especially when you get into the antiques (many of my pots and pans are over seventy-five years old, and one is over a hundred years old).

A light in my brain went on, because we need to understand a little of materials science to cook food in cast-iron without having it stick.

When food hits a cold (even greased) pan, the raw food touches the pan, and there is the potential for sticking. But when food hits a hot greased pan, the moisture on the surface of the food turns to steam, forming a small barrier between the food and the fat. The steam (being at 212°F, or 100°C) starts too cook the food. Then the surface of the food cooks in the fat that forms the barrier between the food and the pan, before it ever touches the pan. As we all know, the texture of food changes when it is cooked. Therefore the food that hits a hot pan doesn't stick because only the finished (cooked) surface touches the pan.

So part of the key to having your supposedly non-stick cast-iron pans work properly is simply to allow the pan to heat up hot enough to cook the food while it is still empty.

If you're constantly having to clean up messes in your cast-iron cooking pots and pans, I think you'll find that they come out a lot cleaner if you try this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Herb Hack

So, in case anyone missed it, I got an Aerogarden from one of my neighbors when she moved, and I tried growing expensive lettuces in it and loved it, but the lettuces gave out after about four months. But my mother bought me another as a present, and inside was a herb kit, so I gave that a try and I love it, too. (What is an Aerogarden? This thing:

.) I've even reviewed it elsewhere, and yes, I love it.) But the problem is, the herbs grow much faster than just one person can eat them, so what should I do? One day when I was reorganizing my kitchen (which is growing to be my all-consuming task), I looked at a glass spice jar I was about to recycle, and . . .

I realized I could use the holes in the lid as support for herb stems! So I filled the jar with water, clipped the herbs, stuck the stems in the holes, and voilĂ ! The herbs stay fresh, and some are even rooting (and with a week of nice weather and spring around the corner, time to get my patio garden going).
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So before you throw out (or better yet, recycle) your empty spice jars, consider repurposing them to root cuttings, or to keep fresh herbs fresh. If you have a chance to pick up empty shaker jars anywhere, or even the shaker lids (contact your local Italian or pizza restaurant and ask them to save the lids from broken jars for you) to put on other jars, it's just a really handy way to keep those herbs fresh for when you want them, or want to plant them to grow even more.