Sunday, December 31, 2017

Fasting for Russian Orthodox Christians: Avocados

What can't be done with avocados? You may or may not remember that avocado toast is a thing, and it's easy to dress up that toast into something pretty enticing.

Avocado toast is easy. Toast some bread. Cut open an avocado. Spread avocado on toast.

But making it tempting can be a bit more difficult. Fortunately, there's more than a few ways to make that avocado a bit more enticing.

Add salad greens on top
Add salsa on top
Mash the avocado with lemon or lime juice, and add black pepper. Top with olives, capers, or cooked or raw vegetables.

But avocados are great for other uses, too. You can make avocados into chocolate pudding by adding cocoa powder, sugar, alternative milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. Make smoothies and add whatever fruit or vegetable strikes your fancy (I make mine with coffee for the liquid). Use avocado in place of cheese or mayonnaise, including salad dressings, and you can even make a green alfredo sauce with avocado, basil, lemon or lime juice, and a garlic clove.

In short, the avocado satisfies your craving for fats and its mild taste is versatile enough to be used in all sorts of cooking.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Fasting for Russian Orthodox Christians: Pasta in Tomato Sauce

There are times when you just want to get dinner on the table fast, and this one-pot dish will do it. I've blogged about cooking pasta in sauce before, both in a traditional pot and in the pressure cooker.

Toast black pepper and garlic powder in dry pot for about 20 seconds, until you smell the spices. Add some canned or jarred tomato product (the kind doesn't matter; you can use canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, or jarred pasta sauce). Add pasta until pasta and sauce are level. Then add enough water to raise the liquid level about 1 inch over the pasta. Stir until pasta is evenly coated and water and tomato product are thoroughly mixed, and mixture begins to simmer. Add whatever herbs you may want to use (basil, parsley, italian seasoning, etc.)

If you're doing it in the pressure cooker, add water until the level of sauce and water is even with the pasta, stir until the mixture simmers, add herbs, put on the lid, bring to pressure, cook one minute, and use the natural release method.

If you're using a pot, continue stirring occasionally until pasta absorbs the water, about 8 minutes depending on whether you're using whole-grain pasta and how tender you want it.

Correct the seasoning, stir, and serve. If you've got some leftover raw or cooked vegetables, try stirring them in. They will parcook and add some nutrition and additional flavor.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Fasting for Russian Orthodox Christians: Hot Cocoa

Fasting in the Russian Orthodox Church has its challenges, but being that I'm holding myself out as an expert, I thought I'd give it a try. There are a lot of fasting, vegan and vegetarian cookbooks and recipes out there, and those are all well and good, but unhelpful for the particular requirements of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. So I thought I'd give things a go and help out.

The problem most of us run into is the strict fast days (no animal products except honey; no oil or wine). That leaves grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Most of the fasting cookbooks use oil, but thanks to modern tastes, fasting is easier than ever!

Right now I'm drinking hot cocoa that is totally within the rules, easy, and fast. A breakfast drink that you will find comforting on chilly mornings!

Yield: 1 serving

2T cocoa powder (the type doesn't matter)
1T (adjust to taste) sugar
Coconut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, rice milk, or whatever alternative to milk you prefer (if you use the pre-sweetened kind add the sugar at the end).

Measure cocoa powder and sugar into a cup. Add a splash of alternative milk to moisten the cocoa and stir until you have a smooth paste.

For microwave: add alternative milk to fill up the cup. Stir and adjust ingredients as necessary. Heat in microwave for approximately 1 minute (microwave times vary).

For stovetop: measure out alternative milk into pot. Heat on stove until hot but not boiling. Slowly add to cup, stirring until smooth.

If you like, you can add spices to the mix, or substitute honey, maple syrup, or agave syrup for the sugar. If you're going for spices, experiment with black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, smoked paprika, fennel, star anise or anise, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, galangal or allspice.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Pressure Cooking Rice on the Induction Burner

One of my family's so-called "poverty meals" that turned out to be a favorite even in prosperous times is chili rice. Yep, rice with a can of chili and some fixings added to it.

I hadn't tried rice in the pressure cooker yet, so I decided to go all in and try the pressure cooker and the induction burner. Now, my Presto pressure cooker advises that you cook the rice in a bowl, but I didn't have a bowl big enough for two cups of cooked rice that will fit in the pot, so I decided to cook it in the pot itself.

Because you don't lose water (much) during pressure cooking, you don't need much to begin with. Since I was a child, I've always used the formula 2 parts of liquid per one part of rice. But with the pressure cooker, you need only 1 1/4 cups of liquid per one cup of rice (kind of).

I toasted the rice for a while, then added the liquid. I stirred for a bit until the dish reached a simmer, then locked the lid, set it on 212F while the water came up to a boil, then set it on 248F to come up to pressure.

Now here was my problem: I can either set the burner at 212F, which is not enough to jiggle the rocker, or at 248F, which is violently jiggling the rocker. So I tried to compromise, and alternated every minute or so between 212 and 248. Then the phone rang when it was set at 248, and, well . . . a few minutes later I noticed that the noise from the rocker had ceased. The formula I had said to set the timer for 18 minutes but it still said 6 minutes to go.

So I turned off the burner, waited for the lid to release, and held my breath to see what had happened.  (That's the part I hate about pressure cooking--not being able to see what is going on!) The rice turned out beautifully, and here is the finished dish:

Gorgeous, right?

And the moral of the story is: do your homework, but remember at some point you're going to have to improvise!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Omelets, Cast Iron, and the Induction Burner

With the Nativity fast coming up, it's time to clean out the fridge. I had a dozen eggs laughing at me, so I decided to try omelets in the cast iron skillet on my induction burner.

I decided first to try the traditional method of cooking in a hot pan (well, 284F). That worked fine, but then I remembered reading that eggs cook at 160F. My induction burner has 140F and 176F, so I tried 176F (low and slow, like for tough meat).

Note: When I make omelets, I add lots of salty ingredients to the filling, so I don't add them to the eggs.

The low and slow method produced eggs that were just as good as the hot pan, plus I got the chance to try flipping the omelet (which worked great, thanks to the nonstick qualities of well-seasoned cast iron). The eggs flipped out the pan without sticking (I couldn't blow them out because I had three eggs in the pan). Additionally, I got the eggs done without being too browned on the bottom (just a tiny bit for the Maillard effect).

If you don't want to try flipping, put a lid on the cast-iron pan.

Next I'm going to heat the pan and see how evenly it heats on induction with my laser thermometer. I don't know what the results will be, but that's the fun of science!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Pressure Cooker + Induction Burner, part 2

So we had a cold day here and I happened to look at the weather forecast in time, and I had a pound of black beans on hand, so I decided to make black bean soup. I soaked the beans for approximately 24 hours (draining the bean soaking liquid into my garden) and then added the soaked beans to the pressure cooker, added water and spices to the level of the beans, which made it just to the halfway mark on my 4-quart Presto pressure cooker, and put it on the induction burner to heat at 212 degrees. After four minutes it was simmering, so I increased the heat to 284 degrees and put on the lid. It took about seven minutes to come up to pressure, then I reduced the heat to 248 degrees and set the timer for four minutes.

And here's the result:

Yep, perfectly cooked, tender beans. I have the feeling I'm going to be doing a lot more of this this winter!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Pressure Cooker + Induction Burner

So those of you who have been following my adventures in pressure cooking know that I have tried pasta in sauce to great effect. Well, last week I acquired an induction burner, so you know I had to try this out!

First off, let me say that the dish turned out exactly as I intended. I had read about pressure cookers and induction burners earlier, so I chopped mushrooms and opened the jar of sauce (okay, I was in a hurry to get dinner done). I added oil and turned the burner on. In 15 seconds the oil was hot, and I sauteed the mushrooms. That took about a minute.

Then I turned off the burner to add sauce, pasta, water, and wine. I stirred the pasta for a bit until it was all coated with the sauce, then turned the burner on to 248 degrees F and let it go until the sauce was bubbling, stirring all the while. When the sauce started to simmer (about a minute) I popped on the lid and turned the burner to 284F. The pot took about four minutes to come up to pressure, and then I turned off the burner and waited.

At the end I stirred in some leftover kale salad and here is the result:

Well, it was good enough that I'm eating the leftovers for breakfast!

So, a point: the food gets hot really fast, so have your prep all done first. If you don't, be prepared to turn off the burner and wait. I always used the heating the pot time to do my prep, but there isn't any heating the pot time.

Also, I just used the minimum heat necessary to get the pressure. Anything more is overkill. Many of us start the pan off screaming hot and then turn down the heat. Instead, set the temperature on your induction burner to just enough to bring the pot to pressure. After all, the food needs time to cook; especially with foods that have to absorb liquid, give it that little extra time.

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.