Monthly Archives: January 2012

Pressure Cooking Part 2

Cranberry Bean Quinoa Salad

I gave the pressure cooker another whirl last night and it went well, so I thought I’d share what I had learned since my first crack at it.

1. Don’t rely on the manual. Especially if your manual is badly translated from Spanish, folks, get a real cookbook. It also didn’t help that the manual only had recipes for meat in them. Beans are different. On the recommendation of Amazon and many reviewers, I got the Lorna Sass book and it looks to be fabulous. More vegetarian meals than I will ever make, and a great deal of variety as well. Stews, soups, grains, vegetables and oh yes, also beans. She also talks in length about the intricacies of pressure cooking, which was really helpful to learn that …

2. If your second generation pressure cooker (the non-jiggle top ones) is making noise, the heat is probably too high. Turns out once you get that puppy up to pressure, you can turn that heat down. A lot, in fact, around 3. The pressure got up fairly quickly, within a couple of minutes, so then I turned the heat down and cooked the beans for 7 minutes which brings me to my next point …

3. If you’re just starting out, cook towards the low end of the time range. My beans were a LITTLE overcooked, so next time I’ll go with 5 minutes (the low end of the range given) instead of splitting the difference. Like Lorna says, you can always let them simmer a little longer if you need to. (Another source says you can always pressure it back up and cook them longer so take your pick.)

4. If you’re gone with the low end of the time range, let the pressure fall naturally. OK I learned this one earlier when I released the pressure and steam went everywhere, leaving puddles on my floor. (Seriously.) Just be patient. It will drop. Release the valve. It might spit a bit, but then you easily open the lid and you should have perfect beans. (Or whatever you cooked.) Remind yourself that without the pressure cooker, you’d only be 15 minutes in and you would otherwise have anywhere from another 30 minutes to over an hour.

My reward for continuing to refine my pressure cooker techniques was a delicious cranberry bean quinoa salad. Now I didn’t have black quinoa and my quinoa didn’t take 40 minutes to cook either but otherwise, I didn’t change much in this recipe. It was damn good folks! And it was ready in 20 minutes. (Seriously, 20 minutes.)4. And don’t be afraid! All those stories of food on the ceiling and blowing up your kitchen are apparently first generation pressure cookers. The only scary thing now is you can’t see inside the pressure cooker to see how it’s going. Turns out that’s what the “trial and error” means. It’s sort of like the old days of developing negatives, where you had to put the film cartridge and the film developing canister in a black bag, stick your hands in it and manage to empty the cartridge, feed the film onto a reel and put it in the canister. Anyone remember that? How many pieces of film did you not quite get on the reel? Like I tell my daughter, the P word is so important. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.


The Pressure is On

So far, we are loving the vegetarian thing, but we hadn’t bothered to go pressure cooker yet. We just used canned beans most of the time and dried beans if I was willing to be really really patient.

If you’re like me, you just assumed that those dried beans lasted forever. Guess what. They don’t! Eventually they get to the point where they will never absorb water, they will never soften up and you will never be able to eat those suckers. So, I tossed those kidney beans that expired two years ago, then waited forever for the black beans to soften and cook. In fact, that was the tipping point — it took so long that the beans were eaten the next day.

Magefesa Practika Plus

The magic pot

A search for pressure cooking beans took me to this site, the Vegan Coach, which is terrific! One post and I was sold. I had to have the Magefesa. Several of the reviews warned about the manual. Apparently, the Magefesa is made in Spain, so the manual translation was supposed to be terrible. So, I bought the pressure cooking vegetarian cookbook recommended by several of the reviewers.

The cooker came within several days. The cookbook, I hope will show up on Monday. (Update: I got it and it looks absolutely amazing and extremely helpful.) And the manual? I should have been so lucky to have a bad translation. It was entirely in Spanish!

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait for the cookbook. First, there was an English manual on the Magefesa USA site. And second, the Vegan Coach had fabulous, clear instructions on how to cook beans.

Leery of the “trial and error” that had been warned in the reviews, I put in 6 cups of water to my 2 cups of beans, sealed the lid and heated that puppy up. It only took a couple of minutes for the pressure indicator to pop up. I set the timer for 10 minutes and didn’t panic from the wheeze the pot made as it did its thing. Then, I removed it from the heat and made a mistake: I released the pressure. Don’t do this! First, it turns out that the beans still cook while you wait for the pressure to release, which meant my beans weren’t really cooked. Second, it blew steam all over the place. I had to wipe down the counters and mop the floor! So, I sealed the lid again, got the pressure back up, cooked for another 2 minutes and then turned the pressure down to the low setting. Less than 10 minutes later, the pressure indicator was down and the beans were ready! Even with the cooking them twice, the beans were still done before the brown rice.


Cooked in no time at all

So, what did I do with my beans? I chopped up an onion and a green pepper and a couple of cloves of garlic. (BTW, I bought this ceramic garlic grater spoon? It’s amazing.) I sauteed that in a little olive oil along with a small shake of crushed red pepper, a good teaspoon or two of Adobo, the same amount of cumin and a fair amount of oregano. (Sorry, I rarely measure spices, lazy.) Once the onions were translucent, I added two peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes. A minute or two later, I tossed in the beans, along with the rest of the jar of pizza sauce leftover from earlier in the week and a few tablespoons of green salsa sitting in the fridge. That was it. By then the rice was done.

I served that along with some cornbread I made from the Smith Mills in Anderson. (Regional folks: you can buy at select Ingles.) I confess I didn’t have buttermilk or even cow’s milk at all, so I used almond milk. Was it ideal? Nah, but everyone ate it with gusto anyway. It just wasn’t as pretty as it could have been. I did do the usual swapping out half the oil with applesauce that I usually do with quick breads and everyone liked that too.

I can’t wait to get my cookbook and see what else I can make in my new magic pot! Now I have a pot to make things super slow and a pot to make things super fast. And I can’t wait to use the far healthier and much cheaper dried beans as well.

Book Review: Food Rules

A break from the books suggested for me to read one that I bought myself: Food Rules by food journalist Michael Pollan.

But this isn’t just any Food Rules: this is the special one, illustrated by Maira Kalman, who is the acclaimed designer/artist/writer. This meant that if I was to claim I loved design, claim I loved food that I simply had to buy this book. Otherwise, I’d have to turn in my design license. Or my spatula.

I bought this because it is, of course, beautifully designed. It too looks to be set in Bodoni, along with a really pretty, throwback sans serif font and Maira Kalman’s own hand-written font. I will confess, I’m not crazy about the bold italic used in some of heads, but I can live with it as it’s sparingly used. I do wish they’d used the beautiful sans serif font for the numbers. Plus, I swear there were some extra spaces here and there in the text, so either they left some odd ones here and there or their kerning is just off. The pictures are big and pretty and colorful and make you wish to get to cooking or shopping in a farmer’s market. The painting of the Cheeto is so odd, I wasn’t sure what it was until I read the description in the text.

This nice thing, with the large stack of books on my nightstand (and on my shelf, well shelves), this is a super-short book. If you’ve done possibly too much reading about food, such as I, you can feel somewhat smug about many of the rules that you do know as well as the ones you might be following. It’s a nice compilation of basic sound advice about eating well, without denying yourself (unless you consider eating processed food to be the height of food.) If your New Year’s resolution was to “get healthy”, then I highly recommend that you buy this and follow it. Use this as the basis by which you make decisions on changing your lifestyle, at least when it comes to the “eat right” part of the equation. If you follow these recommendations, you won’t eat at fast food restaurants (rules #22 and 23), you won’t drink sodas (rules #4 and 38 and 40 and 50 and 51) and you will cook more (rule #82). You’ll learn to love food.

With 84 rules, you might think it will take a while to plow through this or adapt this into your lifestyle, but they are very simple concepts and more like guidelines than hard and fast rules. In fact, rule #84 was “break the rules once in a while.”

I’ll add that I agree with my friend Leah McGrath about shopping the perimeter. I shop at Ingles, which is a great little store. The perimeter of my store would fill my cart with: fruits and veggies (good), donuts and cookies from the deli, meats, both raw and processed (and I no longer eat meat, but maybe the fish), and dairy (which I eat sparingly). Left out are the canned veggies and beans, the nuts, the grains, the rices and the spices. So … let’s instead say “avoid buying your food in a box.”

So, if you’re looking to make that big change in your life, I’d say start here. There are so many diets and books and blogs and products out there that just confuse us. And there’s boxes and boxes of food out there trying to convince you that it will give you that health that you’re trying to find. Like the rules say, some of the healthiest foods are hiding behind those products with larger ad budgets: don’t let the beans or grains or parsnips and turnips get lost behind the already prepared “healthy” foods. As the book says (and I promise, this is as cute as the writing gets): “don’t take the silence of the yams  as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about your health.”

If you’re already there, it’s still a fun book to have on your shelf. And we can all make improvements, right?

SO! Grade: A. Design: A- (Sorry, just not crazy about that bold italic font…)

Tortilla Soup, Moosewood Style with a Christine twist

This post is for my friend AMANDA, who decided she just might want to go vegetarian. This is a big leap for her, since I remember her eating chicken nuggets to get through teaching a Jazzercise class. Kudos to her for being able to teach and eat that greasy processed junk, but she’s not doing that anymore!

I sent her a bunch of links, but instead she’s just reading my blog. Wow! Huge compliment! I’m actually quite thrilled to have another reader, which means I probably have about 10 now. Thanks to all 10 of you.

So, since Amanda is a new vegetarian, I thought I’d include this little recipe for soup. My daughter bought us this book after a trip to McClure’s, our local used book store, one day when she was with my mother. It’s a terrific book and I highly recommend getting it for good, quick vegetarian recipes. It’s really designed with the working people in mind, with shortcuts or make ahead ideas to get a good dinner on the table. It’s written by vegetarian guru Mollie Katzen: Vegetable Heaven. We’ve made a few recipes, including the Beet Pilaf, so we knew this would be good.

You make the stock out of 3.5 cups of frozen corn, a bunch of cilantro and 6 cups of water, get it boiling and then let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, put 4 red peppers with 2-3 tomatoes (take the stem off) on a baking sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes at 375. Turn every 10 minutes. Let them cool.

Chop an onion, some hot peppers of your choice and about 3 garlic cloves.

At this point, you can do what I did, which was to set the timer for the remaining boiling/roasting time and tell your family “when the timer goes off, just turn everything off” and then go work out. Go run, go Jazzercise, go for a walk, whatever. That way, the food can cool.

When you get back, heat some oil in a pan and saute the chopped stuff you put back in the fridge for about 10 minutes. While that’s going on, take the pepper stems off and dump the seeds, then pulverize that stuff with the tomatoes, along with a cup or two of the broth, in a food processor. Dump the onion mixture and the roasted mixture in the pan, add whatever seasonings you like (cumin, cayenne pepper, etc etc.) and voila! Soup! Serve with crushed tortilla chips.

That’s the end of the Katzen version. We thought it was pretty good, but it needed a little help. Also, we decided the soup needed some extending for the next night. Plus, added protein couldn’t hurt. So, I bought a can of vegetable broth and a can of black beans. I pulled out the soup and put it back on the stove, put in the broth and the rinsed beans and added half a jar of salsa that needed to be used up. BINGO, the soup was now sublime.

Enjoy with guacamole or avocado. Or, if you’re like my family, a quesadilla!

Holiday Book Series 5 of 8: V is for Vengeance

Continuing to work down my guilt over the pages of reading my family bestowed on me for the holidays. In part, because I’ve been hearing about OTHER books that I should be reading but won’t read until I tackle the gifts I have been given.

So, today I finished “V is for Vengeance”. This was an easy book to pick out for me. I’ve been reading Sue Grafton for a while now, starting with “A is for Alibi” way back in the early 90s. I’m not normally a huge mystery reader (although I also like Carl Hiaasen, even if his female characters are always a bit too smart and gorgeous, like very bright, street smart Barbies) but the cover was an allure. Oh sure, you can’t judge a book by its cover, but it certainly is an allure. The cover had a large “A” on it, in a condensed Kabel-like font and I was intrigued. It also had a nice illustration of a window on it, so I read the synopsis and it looked like a good light read, plus it was paperback, so I bought it. (Ironically, the version you would buy new today has zero cover appeal for me.) The main character, Kinsey Millhone, was a single woman in the late 80s, a PI in California with a snarky sense of humor and a quirky life and so I really enjoyed it. Her commentary on her world was a hoot and so “B is for Burglar” and “C is for Corpse” followed quickly. After those three, the covers changed to something less appealing, a little more commercial-looking, but I was no longer judging these books by their design.

Fast forward 20 years and 21 books later and we are up to V. Kinsey’s been through a lot: there have been several lovers, lots of broken bones, her home torched, her car destroyed, a missing family sneaking into her life and 20+ cases solved, among other things. Kinsey’s an oddball lady, certainly scrappy, but without that I probably wouldn’t be reading these. Once I polished off the paperbacks, I was forced into hardbacks, which meant that every other year, my mother probably had a Christmas gift to give me. (One year, she bought it for my birthday AND for Christmas.) Once we got into the hardbacks, the design of the book settled in to standard look: a large serifed letter, with a bit of emboss and shadow to give it some depth, and the title in white underneath, all on a slightly metallic deep color. This time, it’s red. Surprising, because there’s not a ton of blood in this one. The font appears to be some sort of Bodoni, which must be popular in the book world. Unlike the Mindy Kaling book, the font usage here is more consistent: Bodoni is the serif font, and there is a Helvetica Condensed used in other places. And, it’s distinctive because I associate this body copy with a Sue Grafton novel.

So, why the design is pretty much called in at this point of the game, it’s at least clean and not distracting.

As for the book itself, the stories have gotten a little more complex as we’ve worked our way down the alphabet. I think I remember reading that Grafton was a TV script writer and the first book was written with her soon to be ex-husband as inspiration for the sociopath. She also vowed she would never sell the rights to this character, because she didn’t like to think about what they would do to Kinsey. Plus, I think she knew it would kill people in the industry that they could never have her. Still, the early books read as though they might just be well-crafted TV serials. Everything is fairly tidy at the end. Around G, she starts to branch out a bit, giving the stories more depth and complexity. It also doesn’t hurt that at this point, Kinsey’s surroundings are fairly well established. Oh sure, her friends come and go, as do lovers, but the landlord, the local tavern and tavern owner, the running, the fast food, even the VW bug are all standard backdrops for the story we are going to read.

Still, I do miss some of the lightheartedness that characterized the earlier books. I used to laugh out loud at some of the descriptions, but the series took a darker turn. Kinsey seems a little more hardened, a little more serious than she did in the early days.

This one is also a solid story, although it didn’t grab me early on as did some of the others. There seem to be some disconnected threads early on in the book and when they connect, you aren’t necessarily that surprised. It feels like you knew the pieces would fit together. The shoplifting angle is one I never realized could go so deep, so I enjoyed that aspect of it. And there’s plenty of vengeance to go on here: lots of people feel a need to get back at those that have done them wrong. Even in the end, Kinsey gets her own kind of vengeance, or at least the book ends with that direction.

Maybe 22 books in, I’m feeling like Kinsey is in a slight rut. Or maybe I’ve just gotten to know her too well. Still, I do enjoy these books, just not with the same excitement that I once did. Will I read the last four? Yes, even if I didn’t get them for Christmas gifts.

Design grade: B. Book grade: B+

Vegetarian New Year’s

When I was growing up, the daughter of New Englanders in South Carolina, I never ate the traditional New Year’s meal. Heck, I’d never even heard of it. I know that sounds ridiculous and I have no idea how that happened, but I really knew nothing of it until I met my husband. He insisted that we eat it and I hated it. HATED it. I wasn’t a big fan of collard greens, I didn’t have much use for black-eyed peas and the pork? Forget it! The only part of the meal I might have liked was the cornbread and he didn’t grow up eating that part.

So we would try to get creative with it. For example, I attempted to make wontons last year, which was OK, except he was gone all day working on his car with a friend and got home insanely late, so all we both remember was how mad I was at him. Well, I remember it being stupid hard to make them too.

This year, he was baffled how we would make the traditional meal for two vegetarians and one omnivore. How could you make those dishes and NOT include the meat flavoring?

Piece of cake, actually. I started from this site. From here, for you non-Southerners, you can see the black-eyed peas are luck (Keith thinks they are supposed to resemble coins), the collards are cash and the cornbread represents community. Why that is the case I have no idea. Maybe because when you grow corn, you end up with a community of crows? Whatever the reason, I’m happy to have it with the meal.

The cornbread was first. I didn’t make it the way they specified here because I had been sent a package of cornbread mix from one of my tasting boxes at Foodzie. Foodzie is very cool and every month I get samples of stuff from around the country. Salted caramels, chocolate florentines, and lots of sweets, but stuff like farro or flavored salts or … cornbread mix! So, I used that. It is the Nitty Gritty Grain Company of Vermont and I followed the recipe, with the exception of using 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of applesauce instead of 4 tablespoons of oil. You know that trick, right? When baking quick breads? What? You DON’T? Use it. It cuts the oil in half and makes a really moist bread. (By the way, there’s also a few spots locally to get fresh cornmeal, including Haygood Mills in Pickens and Smith Brothers in Anderson.)

The hopping john was next. I soaked the peas this morning, since if you soak them too long, that is when they get you gassy. They start to turn into sugars or the like, so you’re best not to soak them TOO long. Then, I mostly followed the recipe you see here, except I didn’t use a Sazon package. Believe it or not, we have these, but if I’m cooking, I don’t use them. The main reason for this is the first ingredient listed is MSG. So, I just used fresh garlic and a fair amount of cumin and coriander, which are also listed on the Sazon packets. And, since I used brown rice, I simmered the beans for 40 minutes, then added the rice and simmered for another 40. Keith called these “edible” which he swears is a compliment because he says he hates black eyed peas otherwise. Plus, he gets irked when I use brown rice but he’s starting to grouse about it less and less.

Lastly, I made the collards. In this case, I didn’t follow the recipe whatsoever. Instead, I chopped up the greens (tossing the stalks), put them in boiling water with another huge clove of minced garlic and boiled for about 7 minutes. I then drained them and added red wine vinegar, a drizzle of good olive oil and dill weed, along with salt. The family approved.

The pork, although we didn’t eat any, was a huge chop covered in Corky’s dry rub and then grilled for 8 minutes a side, flipping every 4 minutes. He swears this is his favorite dry rub.

And! Bonus! Dinner is also ready for tomorrow. The pork is all gone, but he says he has leftover ham to eat as well.

OK, I’ll get back to book reviewing soon enough. Got distracted by work and well, some of these books have gotten longer too.