Pressure Cooker Prep: Kale, Chicken and Bean Soup

The love affair with my pressure cooker continues. Once familiarity is gained with cooking times for a few grains, legumes, hearty greens and/or cuts of meat, toss away the cookbook and get moving. Most beans, if soaked/hydrated a few hours ahead cook in 6-8 minutes on high (high on a pressure cooker is about 15 psi, low is about 10 psi) or about 10-12 minutes if unsoaked. Brown rice takes at least 12 minutes, but has a huge window for error, 15-20 minutes and it still won't be too soft. We've been enjoying brown rice bowls recently: brown rice topped with sauteed veggies/meat/sauce. Meats do well in a slow cooker, but I still prefer a long low temp braise for fatty cuts. Once in a while I'll cook a small chunk of pork shoulder in about 30 minutes with star anise, cinnamon and cardamon - this gives some meat and a great broth to use for pho in short order.

Last night I thought of 3 ingredients that would cook in about the same amount of time: unsoaked navy beans, chopped kale (the bagged stuff) and trimmed and cubed chicken thighs (breasts overcook and nearly disintegrate in a slow cooker).  I tossed everything in the pot with a few slivers of garlic, some olive oil, a little pork fat (because it's lent), s&p and a quart of water and locked it down on high for 12 minutes.  Boom, soup!  I topped it with a squirt of olive oil and reggiano.

My pressure cooker based on @TestKitchen's  rec, a Faygor 8 qt (amazn link).


granola bars

There are a trillion recipes online and another trillion on the shelves of the supermarket.  This prep is barely mine, I tweaked @CookingLight's cranberry pistachio granola bar.  Their's had great ingredients but fell apart when cooled and cut,  really crumbly. So here's my modifiication.

What separates this bar from others?
1. It doesn't taste like most shitty bars of sweetened rolled oats.
2. The raw quinoa adds a crunchy textural component.
3. They hold together in a bar, but aren't too firm.
4. The pistachios are pretty awesome, don't use a substitute for them.
5. Using the fresh ground peanuts as peanut butter, this is pretty unprocessed, but doesn't taste like a raw bar.

Dry ingredients:
rolled oats 100 g (1C)
quinoa 140 g (3/4 C)
raisins 100 g
pistachios, salted roasted 80 g (1/2 C)
unsweetened coconut 30 g (1/3 C)
flax seed 25 g (2 T)

Gloppy ingredients:
peanut butter, ground in store 150 g
honey 150 g
nutella 20 g

Warm up the gloppy ingredients in a sauce pan until pretty hot and add to dry ingredients.  Mix.  Add to parchment lined 11" x 7"  pan, press lightly to fill pan, bake at 350F for 25 minutes.  Let cool at least an hour in the pan.  Remove from pan, cut into bars slowly with a serrated edge knife - they are still kind of soft, so go slow.  Let the bars sit out on the counter - away from dogs - about a day, they'll firm up.


pinto bean and basmati rice chips

Not sure why I've been dabbling in gluten free territory lately, I think it's the different set of physical and rheological properties that intrigues me about the building blocks involved.

Today's adventure is a snack food.  The snack food literature (and there most definitely is a great deal of food science dedicated to the snack) has many wheat free snacks.  When beans are used, the snack almost always involves a fraction of rice.  This observation coupled with my bean-only experiments resulting in crackers that are too delicate, leads me to believe gelatinous over-cooked rice helps bind things together.

My most recent "chip" is a 1:1 mix of beans and rice with some added fat, salt and spice and baked.  I've only made these a couple times and frankly may not do it again.  They're a lot of work.  I was more interested in watching the transformation of the beans and rice than I was in making anything novel or economical.  And, after this, you won't flinch when you pay $4 for a bag of chips.  Formation of the chip and baking was the most laborious part of the prep - this is where a continuous process and different equipment would be required for production.

Pinto beans (1/2 C, 100 g), basmati rice (1/2 C, 100 g), lard (24 g), salt (10 g), cumin (2T) and water (1 L) was charged to an 8 qt pressure cooker and cooked on high (ca. 15 psi) for 30 minutes.  This leaves just enough water so no scorching happens and the overcooked rice and beans don't have to be removed from the water.

 Then the hot mixture is pureed with an immersion blender.  No sliced fingers!

Let the mixture cool completely, it'll be stiff and disgusting looking.

Place 3 ice cream scoops of the glop on a parchment paper, ca. 11" square.

Place a piece of plastic over the lumps and squash with a pan to a 6-7" disc.  It squashes easily.

Squashed.  The plastic will pull off easily IF the mixture is completely cooled.

Peel off the plastic and repeat on the other two lumps.

Score the discs with a pizza cutter and place the parchment and glop onto a sheet pan and bake at 350 about 30 minutes - there's a lot of water in this mush, that's why the long bake time.

They'll look tan to brown when done.  Pull them off the parchment and when cool, break them apart along the lines you made with the pizza cutter.



fries, french fries

I've watched Heston Blumenthal's Triple-Cooked Chips many times.  I actually went through the arduous process once and it works well.  However, there are limits on the amount of time one has to live.  These take a very long time to prepare.

The method calls for a step where the potato is boiled until the surface is rough and it is just about to fall apart.  Then, the tedious task of drying out the flesh is required prior to deep frying (twice).  This is achieved by a brief period of freezing.  
When a potato is fully baked and sliced - the surface appears similar to the boiled potato, only it's very dry - bone dry.  If a good fry requires a fully cooked and dry potato flesh, this starting point looks better.  I baked a few russets at 425F for an hour (the hour includes oven warm up time).  They cooled overnight and then they were sliced into fry pieces.
Baked and sliced into fry shapes.

These were deep fried in canola oil at 350-375 until crisp.  Done.  I need to play with the deep fry temps in order to build a good crust without them getting too dark.  These fries were the best I've ever made.
Sprinkled with coarse salt and cracked pepper.  Very crisp.  I wish I photographed the profile, the crust was nice.


How I came to Know the Value of the Pressure Cooker

Sometime back I was obsessing over humidity in my oven while baking.  Having read about these steam injection deck ovens, I got an itch to try baking with steam.  Not an ice cube on the floor of the oven steam, I wanted a ca. 10-20 psi intermittent blast applied in early stages of baking.

Off to the thrift store, I found a cheap pressure cooker.  First I removed all safety exhaust ports from it, tapped some new threads and affixed a few pieces of pipe, a copper tubing outlet and a gauge.

Voila.  I had fun with this thing.  I did pump my oven with steam while baking baguettes but obtained a most terrible crumb in the resulting bread.  It's too painful a series of experiments to discuss here.  What I learned adds to my growing body of experience that it's pretty challenging to bake a loaf a day in a conventional oven.  Big professional ovens filled to capacity are likely to win when it comes to bread.  But, it was a fun few days of attempts.

Then, I tried using my contraption in our new sucky winter climate. I thought if I pumped steam into sub zero temps, I could create a snow machine.  This didn't work either.

Then, even though it had no safety ports, I tried something crazy - standing over it the entire time and moderating the pressure manually - I tried beans in it.  Soaked garbanzo beans cooked in a light brine at about 10 psi for30 minutes cooked to a consistency I've not experienced in a can.  Not soft, but more done than the can and more done than I've been able to achieve by slow simmering.  I then tried other beans, e.g., toor dal for sambar,  red kidneys, a pork butt(!), etc. etc.  This thing is amazing!  Why am I so late to the party?

I spent some time with America's Test Kitchen watching their pressure cooker video and bought a safe one, the Faygor Duo.  I can't wait to explore legumes and stews in a way I never have before.


grain free pizza - part 1 (in a series)

I don't know who started the cauliflower substitute for a pizza crust, but I find it a bad choice on every level imaginable.  It's like making tofu into a hotdog shape.  It's wrong.  Stop doing it.

Continuing on my burning bridge theme, I'm skeptical of the 1/8th of the planet who are now gluten free.  I am however sensitive to a friend who can't eat grain  AT ALL!  He doesn't have a shocking or dangerous reaction to it, but he can't have it.  How am *I* supposed to express appreciation to a friend who doesn't eat grain?  

So, I've been thinking about a grain free alternative for pizza for a long time.  What persistently comes to mind is a potato skin as the foundation of toppings to substitute for a dough derived from wheat flour.  It's starchy for sure, the papery skin sounded great as a bottom layer and hopefully the scant residual potato would cook soft - maybe like the bloomed interior of a wheat flour dough?  

But is this just another version of stuffed potato skins?  Then the horrible images of Applebees frozen & reheated potato skins came stampeding into my memory bludgeoning my hopes of a satisfying creation.  But I forged on.  Like many foods I think about, this involves few ingredients and process.  I decided to jump in with a quickie today.  Here's my first shot:

 These were baked in a 425F oven for 1h 20 minutes.

Split open, observe how well separated the skin is from the flesh.  The skin is crisp, the flesh is extremely tender.  Without even a sprinkle of salt, the potato is sublime.  Shocking how tough it is to get a good baked potato.

I scraped the potato out using a spoon.  Tough to tell from the photo, but there is very little potato left and the crispy skins, on cooling, became supple enough to work with.

I smushed the skin to the size of approximately an English muffin pizza.  This size element is a serious limitation unless I find a way to patch several skins together into one pizza shell.  The tomato sauce is just some raw tomato with herbs, off the shelf, nothing big.

 I had no mozzarella on hand so I used parmesan and finished it with a squirt of olive oil.  The two mini pies were placed on parchment.

Into a 425F oven until melty and bubbly on top.  I found the taste of the base surprisingly good.  I need to try again with a bigger potato, maybe patch some skins together, better quality tomato and mozzarella, fresh basil on top, etc.  This is special.  Stay tuned for updates.


good thoughts on a cold day

No grill should go unused because it's cold out.

unstick lid from bottom, mini minion start
no peeking
6 hrs later, dinner


Bread 2013, a few new methods

These are a few new practices I've adopted when preparing our daily bread.  It's my usual sloppy post because this is just a quick pause to share some notes with you and I'm back at it...

1. I keep dough in the fridge almost always now - a finished dough - not a starter.  A starter is some combination of flour and water and yeast (native or added) that ages over time.  When it's time to bake, some of the starter is built into a dough with additional flour and water, proofed and baked.  Instead of this, I have an entire dough with salt and all in the fridge waiting to go in the oven after a proof.  When I want to bake, I pull off enough for a loaf, leave the rest and add another glob of full dough to it for future use.  This mixture eventually incorporates very old dough with new.  I like this method, I get the advantage of some long term flavor development with some spontaneity to accommodate a busy schedule.  Sometimes I even pull off a few meatball sized lumps for a few flatbreads for Frankie's lunch.  

2. Ascorbic acid/vitamin C addition to the flour.  This might make some turn and never read this blog again - if you do, go to hell.  Ascorbic acid has been used in industrial production for a long time, but it's tricky to use on a kitchen scale.  It gives big volume to bread by stabilizing the proofed loaf and allows it to still have good oven spring.  I like this for a light crispy baguette as much as I like it for a big grain sandwich loaf (see below).  I use it in a concentration of about 100 ppm which is achieved by adding 1/8 of a teaspoon (too small to weigh with an inexpensive scale) added to 2.2 kg (5 lb bag) and mixed in a container by shaking it for a long time.  For the chemophobic, ascorbic acid, in this amount is identical to the vitamin C squeezed from a quarter lemon.  The solid stuff is easier to use in a dry mixture.  This addition requires an alteration of the baking method - see #3.

3. Baking under cover.  I now bake loaves on top of a parchment-lined air bake sheet and covered with an inverted baking pan.  No steaming and no preheating (although using a preheated oven is fine).  From what I've read, the inverted pan enables the surface to bake in the presence of steam emitted from the loaf itself which enables a caramelization of the surface prior to it drying out and becoming crisp.  This resolves many observations in the past whereby I'd observe vastly different results when baking a 1 kg loaf versus 3 kg of rolls.  The the volume of the oven relative to the mass of the dough matters.  By reducing the dough's environment to a volume similar to that of the loaf, results become more reproducible.

I'm using these tips on all my loaves and I'm ecstatic.  The only trick is to find an inverted pan that has a volume similar to that of the finished loaf.  If it's too big, in the limit, you're essentially baking one loaf in a huge oven.  This part will take some trial and error.  Below is a spent grain bread I'll be using for Frankie's sandwiches.  It's a straight dough (mix up everything together, 1 rise, a rest, an hour or so proof).  

 A straight dough made from unbleached white flour with ascorbic acid as described above 350 g, spent grain from brewing 50g, water 240 g, Fleischmann's fast yeast 4 g, salt 6 g, vegetable oil 12 g, sugar 5 g.  Rise a couple hours (didn't use the fridge on this one), squish down and let rest, form into a loaf and let proof for an hour.  Dock it (docking is the 3 slashes).

This proofed loaf is covered and ready for baking. For this ca. 600 g loaf I used an aluminum roaster lid I found at a thrift store, it measures 12" x 8" x 4.5" high.  This size is good for a ca. 600 g chubby baguette (batard).  This incidentally is also what I use to cover the loaf during the proof.

The proofed loaf covered with the roasting pan lid is placed in a cold oven, set for 425F and 35 minutes, during the covered baking, it won't burn, it's protected for a long time from overcooking.  After the 35 minutes, remove the cover and let bake an additional 10 minutes uncovered.  The loaf will finish browning and become crisp (depending on the recipe, this example is enriched, it's not a crackly loaf).
That 's it.

In order of importance:
1. The first trick is for convenience, I like having dough ready all the time.  I like to bake a mini loaf frequently for dinner or a couple pitas in the morning, it's perfect for that.

2. The second trick is for fanatics.  Vit C is making big grain, lean, enriched doughs into a loaf texture I've sought for a long time, it might not be what everyone wants.  I'm not sure what the upper limit is, but 100 ppm, the concentration described, is on the high side as described by food science people, but it's working for me and I'm not suffering too much guilt over it.

3. What I'm most intrigued about is the inverted baking.  It takes lean and enriched breads to an entirely new level.  It's a method taken from many sources including: a. Lahey's kneadless recipe but without using a scalding hot cast iron pan and  b. from a much older steam pan called a Baparoma which enables encapsulation of steam during baking.  This simple sheet pan and inverted lid is better, cheaper and standard kitchen equipment.

There is no perfect loaf of bread.  If you asked me once a day for the last 20 years "How's baking going?" I'd answer that I will have *it* any day now.  So, take these methods with that in mind.  The perfect loaf will never be, if it did, life might not be as good as it is.


breakfast rolls, 42 grams each

Just a small preview before a year-end bread in review.  A major focus of my bread baking is about scale and  the adaptation of larger recipes for a small family, 2/3 of which needs to pay close attention to portion control.  These little rolls also exemplify baking on a busy schedule.  Being in work by 6:30 with a hot nugget of fresh bread to go is pretty cool.

These are made from an enriched dough:
unbleached white (Montana Sapphire) 300 g
water 180 g
sugar 5 g
salt 5 g
ascorbic acid (vitamin C,* pinch, more on this later)
soybean oil 15 g
Fleischmann's fast yeast (3 g/1 teaspoon)
... mixed, kneaded and refrigerated in a plastic bag for a few hours.  I removed 250 g of the dough, rounded it in 50 gram mini boules covered with an inverted roasting pan lid and allowed it to proof on the deck table overnight ca. 35F/10 hours.

The next morning, the baking sheet,  proofed rolls and inverted baking pan lid was placed in a cold oven set to 425F (not preheated) and let em go for 35 minutes while I got ready to go.  At the end of the cycle, I removed the lid and them bake an additional 5 minutes.

*Vitamin C (unequivocally identical to ascorbic acid) at ppm levels has been a crutch for bakers for years.  I'll have more on this in a later post. I believe it affords a greater range of textures and taste.


stir fry

The other night we joined @feedmybeast and family for dinner at Lucky Dragon and I got pushed over the edge.  I've wanted to try high temp wok cooking for a while but was a little intimidated by cooking at such high temps.  Those woks fired by high pressure propane cookers look pretty intense, I figured I might just incinerate dinner.

Forging ahead with my recent experience of briquette-fueled searing, I went to Crestview Market and got my cheap steel wok, steel spatula (perfectly contoured to the wok) and got to work.  I washed it and baked it in the oven for a few hours.  Far from seasoned, I had to start somewhere.  I decided on veggie and pork fried rice.  Simple seasoning: pork marinated in soy, sesame oil, Sriracha, ginger and garlic, veggies chopped, a couple eggs and cold cooked basmati rice all ready for sequential frying - in that order. To the outdoors!

Fuel: a 3.3 lb bag of Matchlight.  And to all the Matchlight haters, if this stuff is fully ignited, there's no residual fuel.  At greater than 1,000°F while glowing, if you think you're tasting lighter fluid,  you're wrong.  After this was lit,  I placed my wok holder (came with the oven) and wok atop the fire and let it warm up with the Matchlight (see action shots).

And that's it.  My pan went from an initial 800°F (using an IR thermometer) when I dumped the pork and marinade in for about a minute, removed it and then waited until the pan recovered to about 500°F before the next ingredients went in.  One veggie after another until the rice.   My only disappointment is the recovery from food being dumped out to 500°F took too long.  Next time, I'll use briquettes to start the fire and then short pieces of oak/ash to maintain a live fire the entire cook, this should make the recovery a little faster.

 Ignition and preheating.

 Each vegetable that went in got a tiny squirt of canola oil and then stir fried.  Then it was dumped into a waiting bowl.

 The final dish.  I may have added too much oil during the sequential additions and I think I fried the rice a little too long, but next time ...


the joy of searing

There are cooking methods incompatible with my desire to keep the kitchen clean.  Deep frying is one and searing, at blisteringly proper temps, is another.  They need to step outside.  Last night I wanted to sear/blacken some tilapia for fish tacos.  My usual prep is to cover both sides of the fish with salt, pepper and paprika.*  I let them sit prepped at room temp a while and preheated the pan.

I  use my grill most often as a smoker I also use it for a simple hot surface for fast searing (and flatbreads).  It's pretty simple and fast enough for a weeknight dinner.  I use a small pile (ca. 2 lbs) of Matchlight briquettes; light 'em and stick a cast iron pan on top while they light.  Vents on the bottom of the kettle should be full open no cover.  One time I place a perforated aluminum sheet on top of this flame, the ones used to cook vegetables, and it disintegrated.  Matchlight is intense.  If properly lit, there is zero detectable "lighter fluid smell," at this temp, it's impossible.

The ignition and preheating takes about 10 minutes.The surface of the cast iron according to my spiffy infrared thermometer is about 550F +/- 50F.  Then I ready my filets, squirt the surface with some oil (I used a low grade olive oil for this case, something that wouldn't flash so quickly) and toss on a couple  filets for a minute per side.  Cooked at this temperature, the food won't stick, it'll practically leap off the surface.  A couple images of the action:

When the flames die down and the coals are red hot, you're ready to cook.  No need to measure the surface temp of the pan, I just measured to put a number down for this post.

This is a couple  filets after a minute on each side.

*The paprika should not be the pathetic stuff from that little red can.  If it's from an Indian grocery store, should be fine.


roasted french lentil sprouts, good snackin'

I stumbled on something fun.  Roasted legumes are nothing new, the roasted chickpeas in Mediterranean markets are common although I find them chalky and unpleasant.  I roasted some cannellini and limas in the past (the limas are only fair).  In this version, I try lentils and take the pre-processing a step further, sprouting prior to roasting.

I've been making sprouted french lentils in hopes of putting them into a bhelpuri.  Once I had the sprouts in hand, I couldn't resist giving the tiny lentil a light low temp roast. 

French lentils were soaked for 4-8 hours, the water drained and the moist lentils allowed to sit a few days loosely covered.  Here's the sprouting after a day and after about 3 days.

click on this image, the big version is awesome!

Then I salted the moist lentil sprouts and tossed them in a roasting pan with a spritz of canola spray to roast at 300F until the sprouts shriveled and started to look like spiders.  Given their diminutive size,  I bet they burn fast.  I didn't time the roasting,  but it was only about 20-30 minutes.  After cooling, they're crunchy and tasty, not chalky and gooood.  Enjoy.

(I showed these first to Frankie.  She said when I retire I'll be a mad scientist.)


skinning tomatoes

Our ample supply of tomatoes this season came from our neighbor!!!  He wanted to grow them more than consumer them, win-win.  At the end of the season we had a huge bag of green ones.  I used a few to make a sofrito for the freezer and left the rest in a shopping bag.  A week later I noticed they were beautifully red!  I'd do anything to avoid skinning a tomato by boiling/shocking, etc. 

I'm not sure where I read about this method, so I'll just say I made it up myself and thought I'd share it with you.  Fast, no boiling, little waste. 

Cut the tomato to expose an unskinned surface, grate on a box grater, the skin stays behind.  I froze the ground insides.