A virtual tour of the world

Many of us are in lockdown–or under stay-at-home orders. Same here, but I still have my Kindle and internet access. So I gave in to my weakness for cookbooks–as usual (especially with the lower prices for e-books).

Long a fan of Christopher Kimball through Cook’s magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, and America’s Test Kitchen, I’ve followed to Milk Street. I’ve always been successful with recipes from those sources (although sometimes finding things a little under-seasoned for my tastes).

I’m also a lover of my Instant Pot, although I’ve yet to use the slow cooker function on it. Always on the lookout for recipes (at least for inspiration if not the religious following of them), I was happy to discover this book on my “recommended” list. Awesome to see both the pressure function and the slow cooker function covered in one book. (Maybe I’ll get around to trying the slow cooker function sometime–someday.)

What better thing to do when you’re forced to stay at home than cook something. My first venture was determined by foraging in the refrigerator and the freezer, so it’s not exactly like the recipe, but enough to get a feel for the book, and to have a queue of bookmarked recipes to follow for my vicarious travels.

The “Spicy Collard Greens with Tomatoes and Peanuts” (a version of muriwo unedovi) was up for trial with the caveat that I was not going to the grocery store and that I was definitely in need of some green stuff. The freezer yielded frozen collard greens, and there were canned tomatoes in the pantry. The recipe called for chunky peanut butter, but my pantry gave up only a jar of creamy–so I had to do without the crunch. Whole habanero chilies also weren’t lurking in the fridge, so I had to sub in a serrano chile pepper lurking in the crisper. Overall very favorable result for not making a grocery run. Since I’m cooking only for me, I did halve the recipe and everything worked well–not too much in my category of “leftovers”.

In the queue for trying whilst I’m hiding at home is the German-inspired “Braised Red Cabbage with Apples” (one apple lurking in the fridge along with the cabbage), and the “Lentils and Bulgur with Caramelized Onions” which is a riff on my beloved mujaddara (only with bulgur instead of rice).

Food fraud?

I’ve been reading about “fake” food or fraud.  What’s in the package may not be what’s claimed on that catchy label.  Olive oil?  Yes, so I have a favorite specialty shop where I buy my olive oil (Bull City Olive Oil that I’m sure I’ve mentioned before).  But tomatoes?  Hadn’t crossed my mind until my email from Taste appeared in my inbox with an article on that:  The Fake Rolex of Canned Foods.  It’s definitely worth reading since I’d guess that we all have canned tomatoes living in our kitchen cabinets.

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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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The freezer jumble

I use lots of frozen vegetables since it makes cooking single servings much easier without having to waste produce. Then there are the soups that come out in large quantities so some goes into the freezer for later.  I do use zipper-lock freezer bags and store things flat, try to label everything, but it still seems that a jumble results eventually no matter how good my intentions.

Then there comes the yearly clean-out-the-freezer adventure. I have a bottom freezer on my refrigerator and a chest freezer (without any bells and whistles) on my back porch. I try to synchronize the cleaning process so that I don’t have to haul out the humongous cooler while I’m doing it. The chest freezer has to be defrosted which means it’s a warm-weather task.

My email from the Kitchn had an article that was very timely as the yearly troll of the chest freezer is imminent:  “The Best Freezer Organizing Hacks on the Internet” and I discovered the category of “freezer intelligence” that includes information on packaging and what can (and can’t) be frozen.

Even though I’m doing some things right, there were some trucs that I’d not (and probably would not) have thought of.  Some of these ideas just might help me avoid the avalanche from the under-refrigerator freezer and with organizing the chest freezer as well.

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Recipe for a dreary day

There are pros and cons of working freelance; however, one of the good things about it is that you can declare a “mental health” day when needed (within reason). Since I’m having a hiatus (but expecting incoming work so I know that I can’t do it again for a while, I’ve declared today a “duvet day: a mental health day in advance.

It’s not actually raining–merely drizzling so the patter of rain on the roof is missing, but it’s a duvet day!

Duvet Day

Ingredients

Take one chilly, dreary, drizzly, or rainy day and add as needed

  • One duvet
  • One cat (or more) or dog (or more)
  • Several good books of various genres  (hardcopy or digital, or both)*
  • PocketJuice for uninterrupted reader or tablet use**
  • Music to taste

Add sporadically throughout the day as required:

  • Tea (Harney & Sons) and toast***
  • More tea or herbal tea
  • Grilled cheese sandwich with soup of choice–chicken or tomato perhaps…. (sorry, not Campbell’s)****
  • Additional warm beverage as needed
  • Popcorn  (with truffle salt)*****
  • More books, as needed
  • Good bread, cheese, fruit, and wine for supper
  • Hot chocolate  (with a dollop of Jabberwock or Krupnikas), repeat as needed

Preparation

Combine as needed in desired quantities. A son gôut!

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*J. J. Salkeld is good–Lake country, non-bloody mysteries.

** external battery pack if you’re going digital. Large, heavy (as these devices go, usually used only for travel) but supplies a day’s worth of reading and keeping up with Facebook on a tablet,

***Coffee not applicable; get-up-and-go beverage not useful; favorite tea or herbal infusion

**** Progresso Hearty Tomato is easily turned into cream of tomato with just a dollop of heavy cream as you heat, but don’t let it boil

*****from Bull City Olive Oil (yummy, especially if a little olive oil is used to pop the corn)

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Eggs, egg salad, etc

It’s amazing what you find whilst skulking about on the internet. The latest “odd” thing was a novel method of making lots of hard-cooked eggs at one time: in the oven.  It sounds simple–I may have to try it just to see if the texture is as good as reported.

But one thing leads to another–I guess that’s why it’s called browsing. On a chilly, rainy day with a big mug of not cocoa in hand, it’s not possible to simply check one link, so this one relating to cooking eggs lead me to a link on pickled eggs and other eggy links, including “All About Eggs” which covers eggs other than chicken, as well as information about color and size, and printed stuff on the carton, just in case you want to know about cage free or natural.

 

6-Pack-Chicken-EggsEggs (and milk) seem to be among the necessities in my kitchen. Whether working–or have a lazy hiatus between jobs–eggs get used in so many ways. Some of the less frequent uses include deviled eggs and pickled eggs. If I’m in a mad rush to meet a deadline an egg (or two) are easy to turn into a quick meal in so many ways. Omelettes, scrambled, poached, egg salad, or just added to soup or as a “dressing” for veggies.

 

Although I don’t make deviled eggs often, I do collect recipes for those occasions that call for them. Mostly deviled eggs call for mayonnaise. I’ve got no problem using mayo in them but I like some options for flavoring.  Following the Food52 link lead me to a recipe calling for yoghurt which sounds kind of interesting (though it does include some mayo).

I almost always have mayonnaise in the fridge–but a recent reluctance to venture out in the rain to go to the grocery store left me without mayo and a need for some quick egg salad, which like deviled eggs seems to almost always call for mayo.  I had the onion and celery, and capers so I decided to “wing” it: chopped up my eggs, and carefully, bit by bit while tasting added Arbequina extra-virgin olive oil (again from Bull City Olive Oil–love that place) that is a medium intensity but still rather delicate, and then just (again by taste) a bit of apple cider vinegar, and finished with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Definitely not southern-style egg salad, but very good. It’s likely that I’ll do it again even if there is mayo in the fridge. (I did eventually find an egg salad recipe using olive oil.)

That little experiment got me looking for other recipes for egg salad made without mayonnaise–some recipes that I found just use mustard (I do sometimes put some mustard in egg salad), others used Greek yoghurt (though I don’t “do” non-fat–and I use Skyr as starter for my homemade). Another recipe that I found interesting was one using avocado for the “fat” part of the egg salad–so intriguing that I may have to try that when next I have a ripe avocado on hand. And then, the delightful post from Food52 on “How to Make Egg Salad Without a Recipe” which I think will elicit a smile (at least) if you’re an egg salad fan. If you want to really take your egg salad to another level, take a look at “Mediterranean Egg Salad” or “Egg Salad: The True Breakfast of Champions“.

Why my foray into egg salads? Well, hot weather is approaching, and I know I’ll be looking for more meals involving minimal heat–and I really like eggs, but always looking for new ways to use them–maybe even graved eggs!

Wondering about other things to do with eggs? Try here.  A son gôut!

from wikipedia

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Pesto variations

I get the impression that lots of people think “pesto” means what we consider “traditional” basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan.and/or pecorino romano blended in olive oil. The name really refers to the method of preparation–pounding or crushing using mortar and pestle.

With the convenience of a blender or food processor you don’t have to do the laborious pounding so this is an easy, no-cook sauce–right up there with gremolata  or persillade to at zip and zing to summer (or winter) dishes. It’s also a way to preserve some summer bounty into the winter when you want to resurrect a bit of summer–when you have an excess of summer herbs, make it, and freeze it.

As hot summer weather looms, pesto of various sorts is great for use in lighter meals–pasta, bean or legume salads, and with summer vegetables. Bon Appetit just posted recipes for different kinds of pesto–with recipes: 22 Pesto Recipes for When You Want Greens *and* Cheese might just provide some inspiration for summer meals.

Go ahead, get wild an crazy with variations on the traditional basil pesto!

A son gôut!

Spring is here?

20170307_115628

Mertensia virginicia

Here in NC it’s beginning to feel a lot like spring! The maple outside my house is well into bloom; on my deck there are Virginia bluebells or cowslip (Mertensia virginica) blooming, and other green shoots (including the sorrel) are starting to peek out of the ground.

The birds are acting like it’s springtime, too; the Pine, and the Yellow-rumped Warblers that suddenly appeared (just in time for the Great Backyard Bird Count) seem to have disappeared as quickly as they appeared, and as I write I’m listening to a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk calling close by . Other harbingers of spring, catalogs from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Brushy MountainBailey Bee Supply, and Dadent, have arrived, too (and I’ve ordered my package of bees to restart by beekeeping career).

I’ve been happily indexing with the doors and windows open on some days (like today) when the temperature rose into the 70s, and my cooking thoughts have turned to more spring-y things–like shad roe, fresh garden peas, and asparagus–instead of things like pot roast, chicken and dumplings that are so comforting in cold, winter weather. That was until I looked at the weather forecast this morning while I was imbibing my morning quota of caffeine. On my second cup of café au lait, doing my Facebook catch-up, I spotted a post from a friend about possible snow on Sunday–that’s right on 12 March 2017–after days of warm weather and blooming flowers!

Ever on the lookout for “fake” news these days, I pulled up the Weather Channel, and WRAL for local forecasts–sure enough–after daytime temperatures of 70 to 75ºF until Friday the forecast highs plummet to mid-40 to 50ºF for the weekend–and freezing (to below freezing) nighttime lows for the weekend and Monday. Yes, there were those cute little snowflakes in the graphics with the raindrops!  Here’s hoping that whatever we get, it’s not one of the infamous “ice storms” with freezing rain and all its complications.

That shifted my cooking thoughts in a rather abrupt manner: one last fling of winter food before we get to the kind of weather that makes me cringe at the thought of things like beef stew, pot roast, or beef and barley stew just because it hot and humid.

9780393081084Those specific things came to mind because I’ve just been reading  The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J.Kenji Lopez-Alt. Yes, food science with attached recipes (and experiments to demonstrate his points)–a good book to get you started with cooking by understanding the science (without too much science detail to bore you).

Considering that my freezer is already pretty well stocked with pot roast to get me through the damp, drizzly spring weather, I decided that wasn’t my option for my last winter cooking fling.

(So you’re asking why I’m doing one last bit of winter cooking instead of just pulling some pot roast out of the freezer? Well,  for me, part of the satisfaction of winter cooking is all about the the aroma of whatever is cooking in the oven (that’s also helping make the kitchen warm and cozy). It’s not all about putting stuff in the freezer for later although that’s good–it’s about the immediate experience, too. That’s what I mean by “comfort food”!).

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I’ve decided that I’ll try the recipe for Beef and Barley Stew. This may be the first time that I’ve ever used a recipe for it but this one looks interesting, and maybe, an improvement on my usual throw-together version. So–from The Food Lab (Kindle location 3875), here’s what I’m going to try (though I’ll adjust the quantities since it’s to serve only me–and the cat). The recipes in this book are very easy to follow–instructions complete, and the science explained before the recipe, thought it’s easy reading and not so tedious as some food science can be. The recipe below is a good example of what’s in this book.

Beef and Barley Stew

from The Food Lab (Kindle location 3875-3896)

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds boneless beef short ribs, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, split in half lengthwise and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium stalks celery, split in half lengthwise, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large onion, finely diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced or grated on a Microplane [grater/zester] (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 cups homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock
  • one 14-1/2 ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups loosely packed roughly torn kale leaves

Preparation/assembly

  1. Toss the short ribs in a large bowl with salt and pepper to coat. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over high heat until smoking. Add the beef and cook without moving it, until well browned on first side, about 5 minutes. Stir and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 10 minutes total; reduce heat if necessary to keep from scorching. Return the meat to the bowl and set aside.
  2. Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add carrots, celery, and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the Marmite, soy sauce, garlic, and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the stock and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes, barley, and bay leaves, then return the beef to the pot, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce to the lowest possible heat and cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef is completely tender and the barley is cooked through, about 2 hours.
  4. Stir in the kale and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, or, for best flavor, cool and refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 5 days before reheating and serving.

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Why did I decide to try this recipe? Well, in a word, umami. Good food is all about flavor–and I’m investigating an ingredient that I’ve never tried before: Marmite. I’ve read that it’s a love-or-hate thing with Marmite, but it’s supposed to enhance umami. I don’t think I’ll hate it–after all I’m not going to eat it straight, and I do use anchovies and nam pla (fish sauce) so why not try this one?

I’m not dissatisfied with my usual beef and barley stew or soup (which does contain most of the ingredients here except for tomatoes and Marmite), but I’m feeling adventurous–my ever-present curiosity about ingredients that I haven’t tried rears its head.

However, I’m thinking of one modification here–depending on my work schedule for Sunday. If an anticipated manuscript arrives for indexing, ending my hiatus of goofing off and spending quality time with the cat–meaning I’ll actually be working–the 2-hour cooking may take place in a slow (275 ºF) oven–with the lid slightly ajar as suggested in this recipe since it reduces the watching necessary with stove-top cooking; it’s usually my preferred method because it eliminates the possibility that I’ll get involved and not give the pot proper attention; nothing worse that a scorched pot to clean up–not to mention ruining good food!

There’s one other deviation that I’ll use with this recipe–because I’m only cooking for one and bunches of greens tend to be a bit overwhelming (read just too damn much of even a good thing), I’ll be getting my kale out of a freezer package (my usual  Stahlbush Island Farms chopped curly kale) so that I don’t have to deal with the excess. Since I’ve got a few “winter” veggies in the crisper that need to be used I’m planning  different vegetable sides for the week–something with rutabaga, and kohlrabi.

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Another lamb and garbanzo bean stew

Yesterday was the day for a trip to the supermarket–as usual dictated not by coupons but by me being low enough on milk that I was not going to be able to make enough caffè latte to get me awake and doing what I needed to do today. As usual, I didn’t go with preconceived notions of what I might bring home to cook.

I got my milk and eggs–just not possible to be out of eggs, but I was–and did my usual troll past the butcher counter. I found a manager’s special that was simply too good to pass up: lamb stew meat at a great price. Since my agenda today was mostly minor chores I thought I’d have time to cook, so I came home with lamb stew meat and actually remembered to soak (in brine) the garbanzo beans last night. You’re probably thinking so what?

Well, it’s fall and that makes me want to cook hearty stuff and lamb stew just seemed to be a really good idea: economical, tasty, some to go in the freezer for quick meals, and some to eat now. Unfortunately, the weather is not really cooperating–my thermometer is showing 82ºF right now–but at least it’s cooler in the evenings now so stew is not completely amiss. Still, so what?  Right?

Well, as I started my morning caffeination by browsing Facebook I was informed that I had memories from two years ago. Now I’m still not convinced the FB really cares about my memories, but the top item on the list was my post about making–yep!–lamb and garbanzo bean stew in the oven. Well, same today: it’s unseasonably warm again, but not too humid, and it’s sunny and breezy today so it’s oven rather than slow-cooker version this time. Since I did forget to soak the Romertopf  ahead of time, I just pulled out the Dutch oven instead.

I did look for recipes last night but didn’t really find anything inspiring, so today’s lamb stew was a “kitchen happening”–let’s just see what turns out. That two-year-ago lamb stew was an oven version of a slow cooker recipe. This year, given the weather I decided that I’d (again) do oven braising. (The slow-cooker version was good, but no way as good as the one done in the oven.)  I haven’t looked back to see what went with that version–all I really remember is that I used canned beans that time.

Oven-braised lamb and garbanzo stew (2016)

Ingredients

(I’m not giving much in the way of measurements here since this was a “kitchen happening”)

  • Lamb stew meat (about 3 pounds with some bones included)
  • Garbanzo beans (brined over-night)
  • Lots of onions (cheated and used frozen chopped ones)
  • Bay leaves–2 large
  • Salt about 1-1/2 teaspoons, give or take–will taste later
  • French thyme (dried)
  • Marjoram (dried)
  • Garlic powder (Oops–not a single head of garlic in the house!)
  • One 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes–drat, out of fire-roasted ones.
  • Smoked Spanish paprika
  • Olive oil as needed for browning lamb

Preparation

  • Brown stew meat (bones included; they will make good stock as the beans and lamb cook ).The bones are big enough to get out easily when the stew is done. Add to Dutch oven.
  • Saute onions until just golden, and add to Dutch oven with meat, beans, and tomatoes
  • Deglaze skillet with water and add to braising pot
  • Add  salt, herbs, and spices.
  • Bring to a simmer on the stove-top
  • Place in a 185ºF oven  and cook until beans and meat are tender–about 3 hours.

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Here I was, again, making this lovely stew in unseasonably warm weather but still cool enough to use the oven rather than the slow-cooker. Cooking my own garbanzo beans was well worth the thought and bit of effort that it took to soak them. Brining them seems to make them cook much more quickly. Leaving the bones in with the meat really gave a lot of lamb flavor–worth the effort of taking them out after the meat was done.

I love this combination of lamb and garbanzo beans–it seems that I’ve used different seasonings almost every time this “happens” in my kitchen, but it’s good every time! No recipe needed just season as you like…a son gôut!