It was a good kitchen friend….

Krups rice cooker IMG_3796I’m sure that you’ve gathered from my posts that I really like my Krups multifunction pot: rice cooker, steamer, slow cooker, and even a bit of sous vide thrown in. It was a good kitchen friend…and I hope to pass it on to someone who will care for it as much as I did since it’s still in good working condition.

Some time ago a friend loaned me his “extra” pressure cooker, and I like it a lot. I kept thinking that as much as I used beans that it would be useful for me to have a pressure cooker–not just because of the beans, but because it would be a good way to do summer cooking when I don’t want to tax the air conditioning; however, I just never got around to adding another thing to the kitchen. I even decided which I would buy when I did add it. A Fagor that could be used with an induction unit. As a proficient procrastinator, I just never got around to buy the pressure cooker. Now I’m glad that I didn’t.

I did add the DASH yogurt maker (yes, homemade is better) to my batterie de cuisine and I’m glad that I did, but that, too, is going to a new home where it will be appreciated.  Are you wondering yet what is going on in my kitchen?

 

You’ve probably guessed–the Instant Pot has invaded my kitchen. I’ve now had it for eleven days (as of 01 October 2017). It did not linger in the box. It was unpacked and used the day after it arrived. So far it has been used at least once a day every day that it has been here.

This wasn’t a spur of the moment purchase. I did a lot of research before I decided to purchase one, and a lot more before I decided which one I wanted to buy. I read a lot of reviews, perused a lot of recipes, checked out the Facebook Instant Pot Community, and went so far as reading America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated reviews of the multifunction cookers which were pretty damning)–but I bought it anyway because I think that once I “get a feel” for how it works it will be a great kitchen appliance.

I’ve made my lamb and garbanzo bean stew in it, cooked my steel-cut oatmeal in it, made soup, and a number of other things already. Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve in terms of seasonings, but I find it really pretty intuitive (although I did let my OCD show and read the manual). So far I’m pleased with this new addition to my kitchen. It would appear that a few other single-use appliances will need to find new homes–even the egg cooker.

My morning breakfast quandary of food versus functionality has been solved. I think that one of the most pleasurable things since cool weather has finally arrived here is my morning bowl of steel-cut oatmeal. Frankie, the cat, has steadfastly refused to cook it. I’m often working before I’m ready to cook. Now the Instant Pot has taken over that job. Using the “pot-in-pot” technique (which was one idea that helped persuade me that I needed the Instant Pot) I can put breakfast on before I go to bed, and it’s hot and ready to eat when I’ve finished my first round of cafe latte.

Another plus for me was that the Instant Pot has a stainless steel liner (so you can saute right in the pot)’. The Krupps multifunction pot to which I am bidding farewell had a nonstick liner so required some care in using it. (Yes, I’ll give the stainless steel inner pot due respect to that it doesn’t get scratched up, too–because that’s just the way good cookware should be treated.)

So–at this point, despite its yeoman’s service in my kitchen for quite a number of years, this is a requiem for that useful appliance–and hope to find it a good home and I’ll be embarking on more cooking adventures with the Instant Pot.

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P.S.  It remains in my kitchen for the sole purpose of taking the mashed potatoes to our Thanksgiving Day gathering since it does that better than the Instant Pot–it’s a bit lighter and easier to tote around.

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Pork confit

 

Cool weather inspires cooking! Something warm and cozy–confit as a “pantry” staple for a starting point for multiple dishes. With the weather a bit up in the air I decided to make something that would give me lots of possibilities even if Matthew decides to visit.

Confit was originally made as a method of preserving meat–often duck or goose, but it’s a method that can be applied to other meats, fish, and seafood–e.g. tuna which I love for summer salads and cold meals but it’s a great starting place for cool-weather meals too. The traditional method is to poach meat in fat (oil) at low temperatures which yields meat that is intense in flavor, and absolutely luscious in texture. If you’re wondering, it’s NOT greasy! The Science of Cooking addresses many of the questions often asked about confit.

With cool weather here I decided to opt for my favorite meat–pork–and to try a slightly different method of achieving the end results. This inspiration sprang from finding country-style spare ribs on special at my local Harris Teeter market. Since the weather wasn’t quite cool enough for me to want to have the oven on for hours, I decided to use the my multi-function pot in slow-cooking mode to make pork confit.

packaged pork from the meat counter in the supermarket

Since country-style spare ribs have a lot of fat on them I decided that I didn’t need to submerge them in oil–the fat would render from them as they cooked in the slow-cooker. From experiments when I was trying to do monk fish sous vide, I knew that the slow-cooker mode would keep the temperature at 185ºF. Most confit recipes suggest temperatures between about 190ºF and 200ºF. I thought 185ºF would be workable (especially since the confit will be refrigerated after cooking) but will be covered with the rendered pork fat.

I took my country-style spare ribs and salted them liberally over night–e.g. “dry brine”, then rinsed, and patted them dry. Because of the fattiness of this cut, I added only a couple s tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of the cooker and packed in the meat. I didn’t add seasoning other than the previous salting so I have a flavorful (but kind of “blank” canvas) to build other dishes. I set the cooker for eight hours and went on to do other things–like hive inspections.

The liquid which (intensely flavored broth/gelatin) was separated from the fat that was rendered and will ultimately make its way into soup or as “au jus” with the confit. The meat is now tucked away in the fridge sealed in the fat. Since this was originally a method of preserving meat, now with the addition of refrigeration, there is a long shelf-life if you separate the broth/gelatin liquid from the fat and then “seal” the meat in the fat. Old method, but useful in modern cooking.

This cooking method works with any meat–a favorite in this household is confit made with chicken (especially leg quarters or thighs). I think that this fall as “turkey” season rolls around I will try to find thighs to cook this way. It might improve my attitude toward turkey given the flavor and texture changes that result from the confit process.

The result? Absolutely as good as if I had done it in the oven though requiring less added fat than I would have added for that method.  Enough fat rendered to submerge the meat about three-quarters of the way up the sides. Even without additional seasonings the meat is luscious immediately after cooking–pure unadulterated pork flavor.

What’s on the menu for supper? Well, I’m thinking cabbage steak (done under the broiler) with pork confit that has been quickly reheated and browned (also under the broiler) but with the tahini sauce replaced with the juice from the confit process.

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Krups rice cooker IMG_3796

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Steamed eggs?

Browsing through my email cooking subscriptions, I found an article that made me think of my egg cooker–one of my favorite small kitchen appliances is my egg cooker–yes, it’s a single-use appliance, but it’s worth the bit of space it takes up because it gets used often–to hard cook eggs that I want to have around for snacks and salads, to soft cook in the shell for breakfast, or to poach. It is so much easier than “boiling” in a pot of water; it eliminates cracked eggs, with funny alien looking growths. I can’t screw up the timing. Even in my minimally functional morning state, I can do the simple task of measuring some water in a Maveriick egg cooker IMG_3799specially marked cup to cook my egg. The buzz (truly obnoxious) when the eggs are done takes care of overcooking issues.

This is an inexpensive (under $20 even today and as you can see, well-used, Maverick) egg cooker–no fuzzy logic, nothing complicated. It’s just physics in operation. The eggs are cooked by steaming. There is an on-off switch, but otherwise, absolutely no controls to fuss with–except the cup to measure the water. (The cup also has a piercing gadget built right into the bottom of the cup so you don’t have to look for a thumb tack or push pin. So, you’re wondering why steam cooking eggs is better? A more tender egg white and a smoother yolk that is much appreciated by egg aficionados.

If you don’t have an egg cooker but would like to try steaming your eggs here is a link to an article from Bon Appetite on steaming eggs. You do have to watch the time with this method, but it would let you see the difference with steaming (which may lead to the purchase of an egg cooker); however, I not about to give up some other cooking methods like carefully scrambling in butter, poached in olive oil (video), or in Spanish potato omelette.

(Cook’s note: It would seem that the Maverick egg cooker has gotten more expensive, and a fancy version comes looking like a white hen; perusing Amazon.com for egg cookers, I see that there are still some basic cookers still available in that price range; given how happy with my Dash yoghurt maker, were I looking for a basic, inexpensive egg cooker I’d likely try theirs or the Better Chef.)

 

 

Homemade skyr

41ktixxzjwl-_sx425_I finally got a yogurt maker. I didn’t go for the Cuisinart with all the bells and whistles–just opted for the Dash which seems to do the basics.  I didn’t order hot pink, but that’s what I got; I can deal with that–I’m not going to be sitting around contemplating it–so long as it works–and it does do what it’s supposed to. I got the “Greek” because it has a strainer with it and it does bulk yogurt instead of little itty, bitty jars.

Of all the commercial yogurts I’ve tried, the Icelandic Products Skyr is my favorite. I looked at the cultures used in that: Streptococcus thermophilus Icelandicus™ and Lactobacillus bulgaricus bifidobacterium. These are noted as heirloom cultures. Since this is my favorite store-bought yogurt I decided to use that as my starter culture.

Most of the recipes that I found for skyr called for rennet but that’s not listed as in ingredient in the Icelandic Products skyr, so I’m not using it. The ingredients did say skim milk but since I’m still working on the Always Hungry? plan, which calls for whole milk products, I made mine with whole milk.

I used 8 hours 30 minutes for my first batch. The texture after straining was great but for my taste, it needs to be just a bit more tart so I’ll try using 10 hours next time. Perhaps after I get off the Always Hungry? program, I’ll try skim milk and see how that works.

I’ve used the whey that was strained off to thin the consistency of the power shake just a bit instead of pouring it down the drain since I’m adding whey protein powder to the shakes. Though it’s a bit richer tasting than most commercial yogurts, it seems to work fine in all the uses called for in the meal plan.Certainly much cheaper than buying Greek yogurt–and I know exactly what is in it.

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Kitchen disaster. . .

. . . but a happy, tasty ending.

Cat looking into refrigeratorI’m feeling a cold draft–very cold draft–around my ankles!

I know I’m not dreaming though it’s the middle of the night or somewhere in the wee hours of the morning–I’ve come to the kitchen (without turning on the light) to get a drink of water. . . .

Cold draft? Really, really cold draft–on my ankles.

Reality gradually seeps into consciousness:  I’m standing in front of the refrigerator–which has a bottom freezer, which I have stuffed pretty full.. . .

Light on. Obviously I’ve stuffed the freezer a little too full or something has fallen out of place. The freezer door is very slightly ajar. Even in my rather sleep-befuddled state, brain clicked on. Several epithets which should not be printed. Open freezer door and palpate the front packages: kale, butternut frozen onions, kalesquash, chopped onions. Soft, but not obviously completely thawed, but destined to turn into a huge clump of re-frozen vegetables.The only meat even close was a game hen which was still hard as a rock.

I closed the freezer door and checked that it shut completely, and tightly. Back to bed, knowing that I would have to do something with those veggies in the morning. (The ice cream was far enough back and in a corner that it was still hard or I guess I’d have been compelled to eat it right then and there–hmmmmm, should I go do a careful check on the ice cream?)

Morning after: I’ve got work that that to be done NOW so spending a bunch of time in the kitchen or skulking through cookbooks isn’t on my agenda. It’s time for some improvisation: take chopped onions, chopped kale and cubed butternut squash. . . .add some bratwursts that are in the fridge. Add a portion of mixed grains (brown basmati rice, red rice, barley, rye berries) and one multipurpose rice cooker.

I’m sure you’re not surprised that I’d resort to the rice cooker, given all the other things I have it to cook. Once you understand the physics of its function, it’s really easy to make it do what you want. So here we go again with the rice cooker.

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Kale, butternut squash with bratwurst

Cook’s note: first this is not a recipe–it’s an improvisational happening. Secondly, it’s recommended that you deliberately thaw the vegetables in the refrigerator or on the counter instead of the method described here if you wish to have them unfrozen. You can put frozen vegetables in the rice cooker without thawing unless you have a great big blob of frozen stuff. You can adjust the proportions of kale, onions, and squash as desired.

Ingredients

  • one standard-sized package chopped kale, thawed
  • one standard-sized package chopped onions, thawed
  • one standard-sized package butternut squash, cubed
  • 4 fresh bratwursts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2-1/2 cups water (or amount called for in the cooking instructions of your grain)
  • dash of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of oregano or herb of choice

Preparation

  • add olive oil to rice cooker bowl
  • add thawed onions and let sauté briefly
  • push the onions to the sides of the rice cooker
  • lay fresh sausages in a single layer and then redistribute the onions evenly over the bottom and partly over the sausages; they will brown lightly on the side in contact with the bottom of the rice cooker bowl
  • add 1 cup of grains
  • add kale and distribute evenly over grain and sausages
  • add red pepper flakes and herbs
  • add scant 2 cups of water; your rice cooker may need more or less, adjust as needed
  • close rice cooker and leave until it switches to “warm” function
  • stir contents (grains should be a bit underdone)
  • add remaining water
  • add butternut squash on top of greens, grain, and sausages
  • close rice cooker and leave until it switches to “warm” function a second time
  • check doneness of grain; if needed add a bit more water and wait again
  • when grains are cooked as you like them, serve!

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Despite the ridiculous circumstances that gave rise to this recipe, it was very tasty, and I’m sure some version of it will be made again. The combination of kale with the butternut squash was delightful. The combination of grains gives some interesting texture and flavor to the dish.

A son goût!

cat on kitchen counter

Refrigerator and freezer use

Admittedly we need a stove in the kitchen, but we also need the refrigerator–and it’s probably the appliance that we misuse most often. When I stop and think about the times that I’ve had to clean out the refrigerator because something got “lost” back there and made its presence known in a rather aromatic way, I know I need to work on this problem–yes, I’m writing this because I have to clean out the fridge again. . . .

We don’t usually stop to think about the micro-environments inside. I know that I often just open the door and plop something in without much thought to where it would keep best.

Just recently I found a series of articles on the kitchn on using and maintaining the refrigerator for best performance.  I thought I’d share these–I know that I do misuse mine–and I suspect (hope) I’m not alone.

Of course, then there is the freezer which can be wonderful, or a trap cooking intentions. Again, I’m facing the necessity of cleaning out the freezer after the recent kitchen disaster which was directly attributable to me just opening the freezer door and chucking stuff in–I think I need to stop and think about why I’m putting something in the freezer, and make a huge effort at organization.

This is a list of main articles–within each, there are links to other useful tips for managing the cold spots in the kitchen. Now,  off to the kitchen to attack the fridge!

Cat in fridge

Too much convenience?

Mueller's Pot-Sized PastaI was striding purposefully down the aisle of my local Harris Teeter when a package caught my eye–and brought me to a screeching halt–pot-sized spaghetti? This is something that you buy?  You don’t just take the regular spaghetti and break it, assuming that you’re not going to just put it into the water slowly, letting it soften until it’s all in the water?

Pot-sized angel hair?

Pot-sized thin spaghetti?

Pot-sized linguine?  Really? I was amazed, or maybe stupefied, or maybe the only thing that really covers my reaction was what I understand the British expression–gobsmacked–to mean!  Are we so far from “home cooking” that we can’t even deal with pasta unless it’s pot-sized. As you can tell this catapulted me right onto my soapbox, or maybe even onto my high horse (which every you prefer). Has having pot-sized pasta brought down the price of my plain spaghetti that’s too long to fit in the pot unless I stand there and lower it slowly into the water? Not being a marketer, or an economist, merely a consumer, I really doubt that  it has. (Besides, I think this would be too short to twirl effectively to wrap it around my fork.) Not something I’m likely to buy (even though I do sometimes buy other Mueller’s pastas.

jar of mixed rice and grainsI went past the pasta display because I was on my way to something of a convenience nature for me: one of the packages of grain mixes. Those don’t leave me gaping.  They are very useful for single-serving cooking.  My latest is an HT Traders mix of basmati brown rice, red rice, with barley and rye berries. That’s my idea of convenience–I don’t have to buy the standard package of each of those grains: that would be about 1-3/4 pounds of basmati rice, and who knows how much red rice and rye berries. I most likely would not use that mix if I had to buy each of those separately–unless I could buy each from bulk supplies.

That kind of convenience I can get my mind around. I do have packages of barley, oats, but even the dried things don’t have unlimited shelf-life. They don’t  spoil–in other words they are not perishable. If you store them carefully in glass jars with good seals, they should not get buggy, but keep them long enough and they won’t hydrate as well, taking longer to cook. For some dried goods like beans, you may get to the point where they will never soften appropriately.

Of course, there’s also the issue of storage space–for those of us without the luxury of a large pantry with miles of shelf space, but who do like variety this is a great alternative. It has another benefit: it’s compatible with the rice cooker.  I’m happy to more of the “esoteric” grains show up in my local supermarket–they are cheaper than if I were to go to a specialty shop, not to mention just closer to home.

mixed grains