Sunday, November 29, 2009

For the Love of Schmaltz

Here’s a condensed report from this past week. Thanksgiving took a different turn this year, but it’s all good. I hope you had a wonderful holiday!

- Hubs and I went to visit my father who is in a nursing home 3 hours from where we live. He wanted a cheeseburger for Thanksgiving and I was more
than happy to bring him one.

- We actually had our Thanksgiving yesterday and it was wonderful.

- I made, I think, four…yes FOUR batches of stuffing in the past 6 days. One for a potluck at my work, one for hubs’ potluck at work, uhhhh…and I think two more batches since then; it all is just a blur.

- I almost had a huge FAIL for the stuffing I made for a Stuffed Turkey Breast Roulade recipe by accidentally adding cumin seed instead of rosemary. It turned out pretty good, but different.

- Sarah Palin came to my town last week and signed autographs for her new book… this video makes me want to move to Canada.


- SJ is making Bacon Fat Infused Bourbon. I’ve always wanted to try this, so I am living vicariously through her bravery.


Oh, and I made the most amazing, perfect, silky-smooth, wonderfully rich turkey gravy and I owe it all to chicken schmaltz! About a month or so ago, I finally rendered some chicken fat I had slowly squirreled away in the freezer over the past year. When I thought there was enough, I melted it down, refrigerated it, and patiently waited. So, on the day-of-all-days (for us), I made a roux with about 3 tablespoon’s worth of the schmaltz and flour, added homemade chicken stock, roasted turkey drippings, and TA-DAAA, magic! I AM the Gravy Queen!

It was a beauty to behold indeed. Hubs and I are savoring every delicious drop of that gravy all week! Tomorrow, it’s back to the slow, painful death that is my day-to-day job BUT our lemon tree is finally ready for harvesting and I am making marmalade till I drop!

Have a good week!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Green Onions

Well, I was going to start this week’s post with a voyeuristic peek into my life-long obsession with salsa, but then I made Elise’s (Simply Recipes) Apple Walnut Gorgonzola Turnovers, and was sure I had found Nirvana.

But what’s better than Nirvana you might ask? Could there be anything better than hot, applely pockets filled with melted gorgonzola, thyme, honey, and toasted walnuts?

Why, yes. Yes there is.

Last night, hubs and I went to a “Jazz in the Gardens” festival that is held every fall at a local botanical gardens. We’ve been going to this concert for about 5 years now, and it’s more of an adult, evening picnic sort-of-thing than a festival. Concert goers bring their own food and drinks (alcohol is allowed) and get to spread out on the beautiful grass with blankets and candles. It’s very romantic and lots of fun.

So, every year we look forward to choosing the right food and wine for that particular evening. Well, this year I happened to make sort of an antipasta spread with cheeses and olives and fruit. I tried a new recipe and the warning that came with said recipe claimed the following:

WARNING: These are very addictive and you will find yourself unable to eat just one!”

And I must say, if there ever was a warning to put on a recipe, this is the most spot-on that I’ve ever seen. I TRIPLED this recipe and we couldn’t keep our hands off it!

My friends, I give you Nirvana:

Antipasta Marinated Mushrooms
Recipe Source: The Cooking Forum

1 pound of brown or white mushrooms, or a mix of both
4 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil, or more if needed
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of red onions or shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)

Wash mushrooms well and remove stems. Boil mushrooms in salted water for about 10 minutes, drain and let cool. While mushrooms cool, combine all other ingredients in a jar, close the lid and shake until it's all combined. Add mushrooms, close lid and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the fridge at least 10 minutes before planning on serving it.

Note: The olive oil may get hard on the fridge, you can void that by adding some vegetable oil to the marinade , or just shaking the jar every once in a while.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

How to Use a Pressure Cooker: Lima Bean Soup

Now that the weather has cooled off.


Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I’m in Florida, remember? It might have slipped down into the 70’s today, but that’s because there is a hurricane out in the Gulf of Mexico. This IS cool for us!

Ahem, as I was saying…now that the weather has cooled off, it’s time for some stick-to-your-ribs soups and stews. One of my most favorite kitchen gadgets to use when making heartier meals is my pressure cooker.

Back in your grandmother’s or even your mother’s time, a pressure cooker was the modern kitchen convenience gadget du jour. It was the original microwave oven. It cooked fast, used little energy, and didn’t require a lot of cooking know-how to turn out a good meal.

Unfortunately, pressure cookers have a bad rap for being unpredictable and dangerous. My husband often remarks about when his mother used to yell at him and his siblings to stay out of the kitchen when her pressure cooker was hissing away on the stovetop. She didn’t want anyone to get hurt in case the thing exploded, incapacitating a helpless bystander with molten beef stew.

Yes, pressure cookers did explode back in the day, but thanks to many years of ingenuity and manufacturing, today’s pressure cookers couldn’t be safer. Most pressure cookers have 2, 3, even up to 4 overpressure valves, o-rings, and seals that prevent even the most careless accidents from happening.

So, with that, let’s makes some soup! I use a 6 + quart Fagor Rapida pressure cooker, which is perfect for today’s dish, Lima Bean Soup. I have mentioned this soup in the past, and it’s one of my favorites.

All right, let’s have some introductions. Most pressure cookers have two pieces, a lid and a pot. My Fagor lid has an operating valve (the black knob), a pressure safety lock (the green switch), and a pressure indicator (the yellow pop-up button). So, let's get our ingredients and get cooking!

Pressure Cooker Lima Bean Soup
2-3 cups chopped, precooked ham
1 chopped onion
2-4 chopped celery stalks
3 cloves of garlic
16 oz bag of dried, large lima beans
4 cups of chicken broth
4 cups of water
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
Seasoning of choice

First, I sauté the ham till it releases a little fat, and then throw in the onions, celery, and garlic. Saute till vegetables are soft, add the beans, water, chicken broth, seasonings and most importantly, the olive oil.

Dried beans have a tendency to foam when they are cooking and the oil helps prevent that. Foaming beans are BAD and could potentially clog one of those overpressure safety valves, which at the most would make a huge amount of noise when the thing blew. No one would get hurt, but it would scare the living daylights out of you.

Once all the ingredients are in the pot, I line up the lid and close it. My Fagor has indicator lines that guide me to seal the cooker. If a seal is not made, I would know by the amount of steam escaping from below the lid. Switch the operating valve to "close".

After sealing, I lock the lid by switching the pressure safety lock from “unlock” to “lock”. Notice how the little yellow indicator button is depressed?

Turn the stovetop burner to med-high and wait for the contents of the pressure cooker to heat up. When the cooker is sufficiently heated and pressurized, the indicator button will pop up like this.

At this point, lower the heat to low and start timing. For my Lima Bean Soup, I looked for guidance in Lorna Sass’ book titled “Pressure Perfect” and set the cooking time for 30 minutes. If you are serious about trying this pressure cooker thing, get this book! It’s basically the pressure cooking bible.

Once the soup has cooked for 30 minutes on low heat, move the pressure cooker to a cool burner and let it depressurize naturally. Don’t try to rush it, don’t switch the operating valve to “open” and do what’s often called a “quick release”. Some recipes do require a “quick release” to allow for steam to escape, which makes the cooker depressurize much faster, but that’s for another recipe and time.

When sufficiently cooled, the indicator valve will pop back down again. Unlock the lid and open it AWAY from you as there will still be a lot of steam inside the cooker. You don’t want an instant Lima Bean Soup facial!

Now, it’s soup! Taste the soup and season accordingly (salt, pepper, etc.). If, for whatever reason, the beans aren’t cooked through, bring the pressure cooker back up to pressure and cook an additional 5 minutes and depressurize naturally.

See, wasn’t that easy? If I were to cook this dish “traditionally” in a pot on the stovetop, it would have taken a good hour or two (or more) in order for the beans to cook to the desired tenderness.

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