Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pressure Cooker v. Slow Cooker: Steel Cut Oats Edition

Now, obviously, you don't really need either of these things to make steel cut oats. They cook perfectly fine, albeit slowly, on the stove top. But because it does take so long, I thought I'd try using both the pressure cooker and the slow cooker to see which turned out better. My verdict: pressure cooker. Using the pressure cooker, my oatmeal came out basically the same as if I had cooked it over the stove. The only downside to the pressure cooker (besides the fact that it's scary) is that it doesn't actually save you that much time. Between getting it up to pressure, cooking the oats, and then letting it depressurize, I think it took ~30 minutes. Traditional cooking methods take ~45 minutes, although it also requires a lot more stirring. I made a large batch the night before I wanted to eat it, and then refrigerated it. I had leftovers throughout the week, but I didn't get that fresh off the stove taste on the first day, since even pressure cooking in the morning takes too much time. With the slow cooker, on the other hand, you can put your oats in before bed and then have them ready when you wake up. Unfortunately, they didn't really cook properly. There was a weird layer of what we decided was starch, and the texture was really rubbery. When reheating throughout the week, I had to add a lot more liquid than with the pressure cooked oats. There was also something off about the taste. I would have to say that with steel cut oats, pressure cooking is the way to go.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Wonder of Cocktails

Cocktails are amazing.

Beer is great, but once you have tried most of the beers available in the stores and local breweries, and maybe even brewed some of your own, what are you supposed to do?  Beer is made in such large batches that the variety of beers just can't be that high.

Wines are lovely, but they're so unpredictable.  Even if you only buy wines made from one or two varietals, there can be a lot of surprises.  Pinot Noir for example, could have a huge variety of flavors and textures (is it thin and watery, or a bit thicker?) and I still can't quite figure out how to know what to expect before opening a bottle.  This is quite unsatisfying if you're into having control!

Cocktails, on the other hand, put you in the driver's seat.  With a modest investment in liquors and liqueurs, you can get mixing and make a wondrous assortment of beverages.  Best of all, you can always make something new and interesting, and you get to be creative too!  On the practical side, even cocktails that have expensive ingredients don't cost more than $3 each at home, compared with $10 to $15 at high-end cocktail bars.

Emily and I have been having a love affair with cocktails over the past few years.  These are a couple of recipes that we enjoyed this week.  The first recipe came from The PDT Cocktail Book and is pretty simple:

212
2 ounces tequila (I like anejo tequila the best)
1 ounce Aperol liqueur
2 ounces freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice
Shake ingredients over ice and serve with an ice cube and an orange slice.



I've been liking tequila a lot lately, and this drink was fantastic!  If you haven't tried a good aged (anejo) tequila, you should definitely give it a shot.  We have this one right now and I think it is great.

The second cocktail recipe uses orgeat, which is essentially sweetened almond milk with orange and almond flavoring.  There are lots of complicated recipes for orgeat that begin with whole almonds.  However, after making our own almond milk a few times, we decided that it was a waste of time and money.  Commercial almond milks are good and they are cheap.  I found a very recipe orgeat recipe that started with commerical almond milk, and it turned out great.

As far as I know, this drink is my own invention, but someone has probably already made this somewhere, right?  Either way, here is the recipe:

Tropical Almond Foamer
2.5 ounces pineapple-infused rum (recipe below)
1 ounce pink grapefruit juice
0.5 ounces orgeat (recipe here)
1 coupe or other small glass, rim coated in cinnamon and sugar
Shake ingredients over ice until chilled and frothy.  

The foamy texture of this drink was a pleasant surprise.  Lots of cocktails have a texture like this, but they get it from adding raw eggs (yolks, whites, or whole eggs).  Apparently commercial almond milk contains a few different thickeners that stabilize the frothy texture.  This drink tastes tropical and a bit fall-like, thanks to the cinnamon sugar rim.



Pineapple-infused rum
large jar (we use canning jars in 1 and 2-quart sizes)
1 pineapple, peeled and sliced into pieces
mild rum (we used Bacardi silver, which is inexpensive and not very flavorful)
Put pineapple pieces into jar.  Add rum until the jar is full.  Store in a refrigerator or basement for a few weeks.
NOTE - if you are allergic to pineapple like I am, you should make this.  Pineapple contains protease enzymes which destroy the proteins in some people's mouths (like mine) and cause them discomfort after eating pineapple.  After soaking in the rum for a while, the protease enzymes in the pineapple pieces are destroyed and you can eat the pineapple freely!  But, take it easy, because the pineapple is now alcoholic and will actually get you a little tipsy if you get carried away with it...


I hope this post inspires you to mix up something fun.  Happy Weekend!
Joe

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Banana Bread at High Altitude

As promised, here is a post on baking at high altitude. Baking, unlike most cooking, is chemistry. You have to get the proportions right, and there's not much room for error. Ideally, you'd do everything by weight, but if you use measuring cups you have to level them off with a knife. There's also not much room for improvisation, and many people don't like that aspect of baking. I do, because if you get everything right, you know what you're going to get. I don't make my own recipes, but it's easy to follow the ones that I use. Since the air pressure is lower at high altitude, the chemical processes that occur are affected, so there are certain changes you have to make. I use the King Arthur Flour Guide, and just go with the changes they advise. I've not had a problem. My only caveat would be that with cookies, just use the lowest cooking time listed, and then check in. Remember, you can always cook things for longer, but you can't uncook them.

Here is a loaf of banana bread that I made this weekend, using the guide. It was very, very moist (mostly because I undercooked it slightly; I didn't have a toothpick to test for doneness so I went by sight).


I used a Mark Bittman recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, although I modified it slightly. His calls for coconut or other dried fruit, but whenever I see that in a recipe I mentally replace it with chocolate chips. He also calls for nuts, but Carl doesn't like them. For add-ins like nuts, chocolate chips, etc. you can add however much you'd like. I also added cinnamon. Ingredients listed have not been adjusted for altitude.

Ingredients

  • 8 Tbsps (1 stick) butter
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 0.5 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt (n.b. Despite what I said above about having to be incredibly precise or your baked goods won't come out correctly, I generally don't put as much salt in as most recipes call for. For this, I used slightly under a teaspoon)
  • 1.5 tsps baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (probably could have upped this amount, as it wasn't very cinnamon-y)
  • 0.75 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 very ripe bananas
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1.25 cups chocolate chips

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease your loaf pan.
  2. Mix together the dry ingredients. With a hand mixer, a whisk, or in the food processor, cream the butter and beat in the eggs and bananas. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients; stir just enough to combine (it’s okay if there are lumps). Gently fold in the vanilla and the chocolate chips.
  3. Pour batter into pan, and bake for 45-60 minutes. Test with a toothpick to make sure it comes out clean (although the undercooked bread was still tasty). Let cool for 10-15 minutes, and then pop it out of the pan.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Oven Thermometer

Unless you're a professional chef, you're oven is probably not properly calibrated. Rather than spend a lot of money to get that checked, you can spend $10 and get an oven thermometer. This post is brought to you by the turkey debacle from Thanksgiving, 2008, when we couldn't figure out why the turkey still wasn't finished cooking. I didn't have an oven thermometer at that time. Turns out, when I was living in Irvine, the oven in my condo ran about 50 degrees cool, which meant that if I wanted it at 350F, I'd have to set it to 400F. My oven thermometer helped me figure this out. Mine just hangs on the rack, and I can check it when I'm using the oven and adjust accordingly. Very useful.

High Altitude Cooking

Boulder is 5,430 feet above sea level, so the air is pretty thin. This means all sorts of interesting things happen. I get winded walking up the stairs, and even when it's cold out, if the sun is shining it still feels decently warm. It also means that cooking is affected, since the lower air pressure means that water boils at a lower temperature. There are also consequences for baking, which I'll discuss in a later post. Since water boils at a lower temperature, most things take longer to cook then you would expect. For things like pasta, it's pretty easy to get it right, since you can just taste it every so often. Other things, though, are not so easy. I tried to make a hard boiled egg last night. I boiled the water, put the egg in, and let it sit. Mark Bittman recommends letting it sit for 10 minutes for a perfect hard-boiled egg. Knowing that it would take longer, I kept it in for 13 minutes, and still got a not-quite hard boiled egg. So, if you ever find yourself at altitude, just keep in mind that everything will take longer than you expect it to.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Adventures in Pressure Cooking

The first time I ever encountered a pressure cooker I was in graduate school. So I was at least 22 years old. I suppose I had heard of them before, but I had no idea what they looked like, or how they really worked. I was at my grandmother's house for one of our "Monday Night Dinners," and I tried to open the lid on a pot to see what was in it. Both my grandmother and my uncle started yelling, "Don't open that!" And since then, I've been mildly afraid of the pressure cooker. Despite knowing this, my mom decided to buy me one for Christmas. Monday night, we forgot to soak beans overnight to put in the slow cooker (a Hannukkah present which I'm sure will be discussed). I decided to soak them during the day, and then use the pressure cooker. I read all about how to use the pressure cooker on the internet, and read the directions that came with the pressure cooker thoroughly. That was a bit difficult, since they were poorly translated from German (Keep non-adults and persons away from the pressure cooker). I also have an electric stove, so according to the internet, you have to get it up to pressure on one cooktop on high and then transfer it to another on low, since electric stoves don't change temperature easily (electric stoves are the worst). From start to finish, the whole process took about 30 minutes (not including the soaking). It took a few minutes to get up to pressure, then I kept it on the heat for ~10 minutes, and then 10-15 minutes for it to decompress. The results were pretty good, but I don't think they were consistent. Most of the beans were soft, although there a were a few that I thought were on the firm side. Maybe a few more minutes on heat? Other things to try in the future: steel cut oats and risotto.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Stir-Fry Chicken and Long Beans

This is a quick, easy, delicious recipe from my childhood friend's mother.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground chicken (ground chicken is sometimes difficult to find; you can ask the butcher to grind it for you)
  • lots of garlic
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 bunch long beans, diced (make sure that they're not sad and limp looking. If you have an Asian grocery store nearby, they probably have good bunches)
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves primarily, chopped (I don't care for cilantro, so I usually leave it out if I make it myself)
  • lime juice (1-2 limes)
  • nampla (fish sauce) to taste

Chop onion, red pepper, and garlic. Stir fry until soft. Add ground chicken. Cook until no longer pink. Add the diced long beans. Cook about 1-2 minutes until soft. Add cilantro, lime juice, and nampla.

Serve over rice.