Friday, January 31, 2014

Low Maintenance Artichokes (video)

YouTube Link: Trimming and Roasting Artichokes
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel

Carciofi alla Giudia (Jewish artichokes) -- just the name of this dish was fascinating to me.  Who knew Jews cooked artichokes?  I grew up in a Jewish household and couldn't think of one green vegetable that was revered enough to be considered a "dish."  But that's Eastern European Jews.  There were so many Jewish cuisines I was completely unaware of.  As you can imaging, I couldn't leave Rome without tasting Carciofi alla Giudia.  Unlike their gray insipid cousins that people usually get out of cans in the US, artichokes in Rome were a revelation.  They were deep-fried to gorgeous crispness opening up like a rose in hot oil.  The moment I got back to Boston (this was 10 years ago, by the way), I got some artichokes, trimmed them, put them in acidulated water, and then tried to deep fry them.  Kids, don't try that at home.  I was lucky I didn't burn the house down.  Putting wet things into hot oil is not a good idea.

I stayed far away from artichokes for years.  It was Amy Glaze's post that finally got me to try them again. She is both an amazing chef and writer.  Her use of serrated knife to trim them is much more efficient than kitchen shears.  I was feeling brave that day and decided to ditch acidulated water.  Who cares if they look ugly?  I tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper; and pan roasted them to deep golden brown.  It was as close as I could get to Carciofi alla Giudia without the mess of deep frying.  They were so delicious that I now buy artichokes almost weekly to make this dish.  As delicious as they are out of the pan, they are even better the next day after the flavors had a chance to mingle.  Unfortunately, I rarely have enough will power to make them last till next day.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How to Use a Stovetop Pressure Cooker (Video)

I made a 2014 resolution: to buy a pressure cooker and find out for myself what the hype is about.  I bought Fagor Duo 8 quart stovetop pressure cooker.  It's Cook's Illustrated "best buy" option that sells for about $100, making it very affordable compared to other brands (Kuhn Rikon, Fissler, etc).

I can't stop using it.  Pressure cooking is fantastic, not just because it's fast, but because it produces absolutely the best beans.  But this road to pressure cooking bliss was not without some bumps.  My first pressure cooker was slightly defective.  It took me a few weeks to figure out why it was cooking so inconsistently.  Eventually, I got it to work just fine, but in the meantime, Wayfair, the helpful retailer that sold it to me on Amazon sent me another one for free.  The second one worked perfectly and it helped me solve the problem with my first one.  It seems from Amazon reviews that I am not the only person with pressure problems, so I decided to make a video showing how to use Fagor Duo, and how to deal with its little quirks.

YouTube Link: How to Use a Pressure Cooker
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel


Do I have to make any adjustments to use a pressure cooker on an electric stove?
Yes.  On an electric stove, you can't drop the heat quickly from high to low.  To simulate that, heat up your pressure cooker over high heat on one burner, and then move it to another burner that you preheated to medium-low heat.

Every time I turn the heat down, my pressure indicator drops.  What should I do?
Make sure you are not turning down the heat too soon.  Only turn it down if these three conditions are met: 
  1. the steam is escaping from the knob area 
  2. the pressure indicator came up 
  3. the handles clenched tightly
If all three conditions were met and the pressure indicator still falls, your heat might be too low.  Turn up the heat back to high until all three conditions are met, and then turn it back down to low, but not quite as low as you tried the first time. 

Is it ok for the water to drip from the handle?
It's normal for the water to drip from the handle while the pressure is building and before the handles clenched.  Once full pressure is reached, wipe the remaining water under the handle and see what happens. If the water continues to drip, the seal might not be tight enough.

How much should I pamper my gasket?
I’ll be honest with you -- I don’t pamper my gasket too much and it seems fine. Definitely don’t put it in the dishwasher, but I let it air dry instead of towel dry and almost never oil it. If it does crack, Fagor replacement gaskets are cheap. If you have Kuhn Rikon, you might want to be more careful since their gaskets are pricey.

How do I convert normal cooking time to pressure cooking time?
It depends on the recipe, but I find that 15 minutes under pressure (5 on heat plus 10 off heat) is usually equal to 1 hour of gentle simmer without pressure.  

How do you choose which release method to use?
The faster you release pressure, the more violently the food will boil inside the pot, which is not advisable for delicate foods like beans that can break up.  Most of the time I use a combination of natural and automatic release.  In other words, I let the pot sit off heat for a specific duration (for example, 10 minutes), then release steam with a knob and open.  The reason I am timing how long the pot is off the heat is that if the pot is left to its own devices, the amount of time it will take to depressurize depends greatly on how much food is in the pot.  This means that if you are doubling your recipe, it can easily take much longer for the pot to depressurize and the contents will overcook.  The reason you have to time things so precisely is that 10 minutes off the heat in a pressure cooker are roughly like 40 minutes of regular cooking.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Squid and Chickpea Stew

Battered and deep-fried is how most Americans first encounter squid, and that's a shame. Squid can be so much more than a vehicle for batter. No, it does not taste like chicken. If that's the most important quality for you in proteins, you might not get along with squid. It has its own unique flavor that is slightly sweet. Cooking squid takes surprising no skill as long as you understand a simple principle: it can either be cooked in 30 seconds or 2 hours. The 30 second method is lovely on tiny baby squid, but that's rarely what you'll get in the US. That's where the 2 hour method comes in. It can turn any squid meltingly tender and produce a sauce so rich, you'd think there was a pig's foot involved.

You can make this recipe in a large heavy oven safe pot, like a dutch oven, or in a pressure cooker. If using a pot, preheat the oven to 250F.

Cook 1 large diced onion in 2 Tbsp olive oil with a generous pinch of salt on med-low heat stirring occasionally until soft and golden (8-10 minutes).

Add 4 minced garlic cloves, 2 tsp fresh minced thyme and and cook stirring until aromatic, about 1 minute.
Add 28 oz canned diced tomatoes and 1/2 cup dry white wine.

Cook over high heat until the sauce thickens, 10-20 minutes.
Measure 1/4 tsp saffron threads.
Crumble saffron and add 1 Tbsp of water.  Add to the pot with tomatoes.
Measure 1 tsp pimenton (Spanish Smoked Paprika) and add to the pot with tomatoes.

Add 3 cups cooked chickpeas and 1.5 cup their cooking liquid.  You can use canned chickpeas that are drained plus 1.5 cups water (not liquid from the can).
Cut 3/4 Lb squid hoods into 1/2 inch rings.
Prepare 3/4 Lb squid tentacles by cutting very long tentacles into 3 inch long pieces and split big tentacles pieces in half.
Add the squid and 1 bay leaf to the pot and stir well. Bring to a simmer. Cover the pot. Place in the oven for 2 hours if using a dutch oven. Or bring to high pressure (15 psi) in a pressure cooker, reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. Take pressure cooker off heat and let sit for exactly 10 minutes. Release steam and open. The squid should be very tender. The dish can be made up to this point a day or two ahead and then reheated over medium-low heat. Before serving, warm up, take off heat, and stir in 3 Tbsp butter.
To make the garlic herb topping, use a microplane zester to zest 1 lemon and grate 1 garlic clove.  Squeeze 1/2 tsp lemon juice.  Mince parsley and mint (you should have about 2 Tbsp of each).
In a small bowl, combine lemon zest, juice, garlic, parsley, mint, 1 tsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir well.

Toast bread in a skillet with olive oil or butter, then rub with a whole garlic clove all over.
Serve the squid stew in bowls, sprinkled with herb topping, drizzled with olive oil and accompanied by garlic toast.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Rancho Gordo Beans

Is $8/Lb too much to pay for a bag of dry beans? I used to think so a year ago. I don't any more.

You can probably count on one hand the number of product reviews I've done since I started this blog 9 year ago? Food products these days pop up faster than mushrooms after a rain shower, and just like mushrooms, majority of what comes up is not edible. Stumbling on Rancho Gordo in this age of food product bombardment is like stumbling on a chanterelle treasure trove -- it makes your heart pound with delight at the rarity of the event and all the delicious possibilities it promises.
I don't accept free products of any kind. There is no disclaimer in the end of this post that the beans were free, but opinions are all my own. Neither am I writing this post after trying Rancho Gordo for the first time. I have spent over $50 on Rancho Gordo bean and these beans were worth every penny (except for 1 bag, but nothing is perfect).

My obsession with these beans started about 6 months ago. I desperately needed white beans for a class, and Whole Foods was out of all dry white beans. I stopped by Formaggio's in Cambridge and saw Rancho Gordo beans. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I closed my eyes to the $8 price tag and bought a bag. All I was hoping for was that they would soften before the class was over and would cook evenly. I got all that, but I also got character I've never seen in a bean before. It was like drinking a Burgundy Premier Cru after living on Charles Shaw.

The availability of Rancho Gordo beans in Boston is unpredictable. Few stores carry them and those that do offer only a couple of varieties. I checked Rancho Gordo web site and sure enough they sold their beans on-line. Most stores sell Rancho Gordo brand for $8/Lb and on-line they are $6/Lb with a $12 flat shipping fee. Ordering 6 bags makes on-line beans the same prices as store bought, but with 10 times the varieties to choose from. Unfortunately most varieties were unfamiliar, and my go-to cannellini were unavailable. I got on the waiting list for them, but after a few months never heard back. Curiosity finally got the better of me and I ordered 6 bags of beans with names I've never heard before.

It only took me 1 month to cook them all. I didn't expect to go through them so quickly, but each variety was an eye opening experience and I got addicted to always having a pot of beans in my fridge.

Yellow Indian Woman
My favorite variety so far. These small caramel colored beans have unobtrusive skin that gets very tender, but doesn't burst. The flavor is lightly sweet and reminiscent of fudge. Texture is very creamy. Great in everything.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 5 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure

Rio Zape
Everything is bold and large about these beans. They are big, they are dark, they are a mouthful that is almost aggressive and slightly tannic. Steve Sando, the owner of Ranch Gordo describes them as tasting of coffee and chocolate. When I first read his descriptions of the beans, I thought they were the kind of romantic BS people write about wine -- "sunset on the beach with notes of hay." But after I tried 6 varieties, I was floored by how accurate these descriptions were -- coffee and chocolate indeed. These beans are very thick skinned and need a lot of cooking to make the skins tender. Luckily they don't burst easily and can withstand prolonged cooking. Would be great in a chili or with braised short-ribs.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 8 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure

Similar to rio zape, but a bit smaller and lighter in color. As an experiment, I froze some after cooking (drained and placed in a single layer in a zip lock bag). Other varieties might freeze well too, but that's the only one I tried freezing. They withstood it exceptionally well and even got better since the skins get softer. Borlotti were great in a soup, and with braised sturdy greens (like kale and chard).

In their raw state, these beans are slightly green, but after cooking they turn beige. The texture and flavor are like cannellini without any bursting problems. The skin is thin and unobtrusive, but holds together beautifully. Texture is rich and silky. An extremely versatile bean.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 6 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure

Brown tepary
Very small bean with a few surprises: it tastes like chestnuts, and inspite of its diminutive size, took longer to cook than most beans (more like chickpea timing instead of cannellini). These are very sturdy beans that don’t easily turn mushy. The skins are thin, but resilient, so don’t be afraid to give them all the necessary time to get tender. To show off their unique flavor, I cooked them with sugar and vanilla bean and pureed with milk, cream, and butter to make a sweet filling for cream puffs inspired by Japanese red bean paste. Leftovers were fantastic spread on toast for breakfast.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 10 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure

Large Lima
I didn’t get along with this one. Most of the skins burst during the soak, and the beans turned out watery after cooking. This happened to me with other brands of Large Lima before. Maybe it’s just not my kind of bean.

April 30, 2014 update -- tried more varieties

Good Mother Stallard
It looked like a cooking disaster at first, but turned out to be a sensational bean that was good in everything from stew to salad.  After 20 hours of soaking, many were still small and hard.  They took a long time to cook, but eventually, almost all of them got soft, plump, and very creamy.  Only a few burst and a few remained slightly chalky.  After sitting in the fridge overnight, the texture evened out and they were all good. I used them in a salad with sardines and in a lamb stew.  I think I actually prefer them to borlotti because of their thinner skins. A bit of the pretty speckling stayed on even after cooking.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 10 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure

Eye of the Goat
This one had many attributes similar to good mother stallard, but I prefer good mother stallard.

Yellow Eye
This one produced a very starchy broth (because some beans started to burst by the time all the beans were cooked).  Good for very rustic applications like thick and creamy soups and stews and baked beans.  

Ayocote Blanco
Very large slightly flat white beans that are dense and creamy. Somewhat thick skins, but very resilient and these beans don't burst easily.  Not the best bean for a salad, but fantastic in a stew (I used them in a mushroom stew that was addictive).  This is a bean with a huge personality.  I am sure it would be lovely with meat, but it might be a shame to obscure it.  About the same cooking time as chickpeas (about 2 hrs).
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 10 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure

July 18, 2014 update -- tried more varieties

Small, light brown, creamy.  Similar to Yellow Indian Woman, but more savory than sweet.  Cooks very evenly.  Similar in flavor to Mayacoba, but I prefer the slightly bigger size of Mayacoba.

Nov 11, 2014 update -- tried more varieties

Alubia Blanca
Small, white, creamy.  Similar to Navy, but better.  Cooks very evenly.  Perfect for salads and soups.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 5 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure

Jan 2, 2015 update -- tried more varieties

Royal Corona
Finally -- a giant bean that doesn't fall apart the way big limas do.  These cook for a very very long time.  Without a pressure cooker, it took me 3-4 hours to get them to be creamy.  Luckily, the skins don't burst.  Outstanding in everything from salads to soups and stews.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 17 min, 15 min off heat, release pressure

March 10, 2015 update -- tried more varieties

Midnight Black
Excellent black bean that cooks very evenly, holds the shape perfectly, and gets completely creamy.  Could be good in everything from soups to salads.  My only issue with this one is its mild flavor.  I prefer the beans with more personality.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 10 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure

May 19, 2015 update -- tried more varieties

Classic Cassoulet
I am in love. Big, perfectly creamy with no bursting, and cooks more evenly than any bean I know. Good hot, good cold, good in everything.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 8 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure

Jan 5, 2016 update -- tried more varieties

Ayacote Morado
At first I was frustrated with this bean: thick skinned, cooks forever, and not evenly.  But after sitting in the fridge overnight (after cooking), it turned around.  Big, bold, meaty flavor.  Would be excellent in chili.  I did remove a few beans that burst by the time the rest of them were done.  Next time, I'll go through them after soaking and remove ones that are still hard to speed up cooking and reduce unevenness.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 10 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure (mine needed even more cooking after that, but I am not sure how that would convert to pressure cooking times)

Jan 30, 2016 update -- tried more varieties

Excellent flavor, but didn't hydrate evenly at all.  After an overnight soak about 10% were rock hard.  I separated those and cooked them separately.  They took twice as long.  If everything would be cooked in one pot, it would be a very uneven pot.  Wouldn't buy again.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 5 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure 

Apr 8, 2016 update -- tried more varieties

Domingo Rojo
Small, but meaty, with excellent flavor.  Outstanding in "rice and beans" and in stews.  Would make a killer vegetarian chili.  Didn't hydrate evenly, but cooked perfectly.  After an overnight soak about 80% were rock hard and small.  I didn't remove any beans after the soak.  Took a very long time to cook, but not a single bean burst.
Pressure cooking notes for 15 psi (high pressure): 10 min, 10 min off heat, release pressure