Monday, February 24, 2014

Pot Roast in a Pressure Cooker

I am a big fan of my pressure cooker. It will take a tough cut of meat and transform it into a delicious meal in no time. OK, it takes about an hour, but that's a lot better than 3-4 hours. And, it's no one-trick pony either. You can use it to speed up cooking of beans, brown rice, and take the stirring out of risotto. Not a bad deal.

For this recipe, brew some extra coffee in the morning. Or, you can use instant coffee. I wouldn't drink the stuff, but it works fine in a recipe! I added just a touch of honey to the original recipe because it balances the bitter notes in the coffee. You don't want it to be sweet - you get a little sweetness from the tomato paste too - so it needs just a smidgen. I also added the can of beans to stretch the meat.

Pot Roast Flavored with Coffee
(serves 6)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 ½ pounds chuck roast, in one piece
1 cup black coffee
1 3-ounce can of tomato paste
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1 cup of water
1 15-ounce can of white beans, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons honey
about 1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Season chuck roast well with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Add chuck roast and brown on all sides. Remove from cooker and set aside. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the coffee and scrape up any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the cooker. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and water. Stir to dissolve tomato paste. Add back in chuck roast. Lock top into place, bring up to pressure, reduce heat to maintain pressure, and cook for 40 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the pressure to drop until you can take the top off. Carefully remove the top - lots of steam! Put cooker back on medium heat, add beans, honey, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Remove meat from the cooker and slice or shred, removing any gristle-y parts. Serve over rice, noodles, or mashed potatoes, ladling on plenty of gravy.

Adapted from Miss Vickie's Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes by Vickie Smith, John Wiley & Sons, 2008.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mexican Cream of Corn Soup

Winter is not over. Anyone living on the east coast knows this all too well. The weather is so awful that lots of folks have been stuck inside for days. With a well-stocked pantry, you can make this soup. It's quick, done in under an hour. It's easy, mostly about opening cans. It's rich, but not really. The creamed corn thickens the soup, fooling you into thinking this is richer than it really is. It's a comforting bowl of creamy chunky tomato soup.

You can use regular canned tomatoes or Mexican tomatoes. Mexican tomatoes have roasted green chiles added, which I love. If you don't like spicy, they even make a mild version that gives you the flavor of green chile without the heat.

Mexican Cream of Corn Soup
(serves 6)

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup diced red pepper (frozen or fresh)
2 Tablespoons dried minced onions (see Note)
1 14-15 oz. can diced Mexican tomatoes (mild or medium)
1 14-16 oz. can cream-style corn
2 cups vegetable broth + ½ cup water
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup minced cilantro or parsley + more for garnish
5 oz. can evaporated whole milk
5 oz. skim milk (use evaporated milk can to measure)

Heat oil in a small soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper. Cook for a couple of minutes until red pepper softens. Add dried onions, tomatoes, cream-style corn, broth, water, oregano, black pepper, salt, and ¼ cup herbs. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add evaporated and skim milk. Heat to serving temperature but do not boil because the milk will separate (it's still edible if this happens but the soup won't be smooth). Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with more minced herbs, if desired.

Note: This is a pantry recipe so we use dried minced onion. But, if you have a bit of fresh onion, mince it and toss it in with the peppers and garlic at the start and omit the ½ cup of water.

Adapted from Mexicali Corn Soup in The Vegetarian Gourmet's Easy International Recipes by Bobbie Hinman, Surrey Books, 2001.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wilted Spinach

Looks like a lot of spinach, but really only 3 servings once it's cooked

This is the last recipe from my class last week. I hesitate to call it a recipe because it's so simple. The secret is to only wilt the spinach. It will continue to cook after you remove it from the skillet. As spinach is perfectly tasty raw in salads, you barely need to cook it. Which makes it a great vegetable for any night because it's done in a flash.

Spinach cooks down a lot. You will need 4 to 5 oz. per serving, which seems like a ridiculous amount when you see it raw, but it does the magical disappearing act when cooked.

This recipe uses a simple flavoring technique - garlic cooked in oil. Watch the garlic carefully while cooking. You want it toasted brown but not burned. Burned garlic is horribly bitter. If you burn it, you'll need to start over with new oil and garlic. We remove the garlic before tossing in the spinach. You can use the cooked garlic as garnish or discard them. 

The recipe is for 1 serving. It can be doubled, tripled, whatever you need at the time, though if you cook more than a pound of spinach, you are going to need a very large skillet! You can dump leftover cooked spinach in soup, tomato sauce, or stew but I recommend you cook only what you need at that moment. It only takes about 3 minutes. It's wonderful as a bed for our Salmon with a Potato-Scallion Crust.

Wilted Spinach
(serves 1, costs 75¢ )

1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil
1 small clove of garlic, cut in half
4 oz. raw spinach

Heat up a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and garlic. Cook the garlic until a toasty brown all over but be careful not to burn it. It will only take a minute. Remove the garlic (reserve for garnish if you like garlic a lot or discard if you don't). Add in the spinach and toss in oil. Cook for about 1 minute until some of it starts to wilt. Season lightly with salt. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Molten Chocolate Cake

There are many versions of this incredibly rich, yet easy dessert. This version is from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of the most accomplished chefs on the planet. You may not be able to afford to eat at many of his restaurants, but you can make this. It has only four ingredients, so if you want it do be as wonderful as it can be, spring for high-quality bittersweet chocolate, which is not the same as semisweet chocolate (semisweet is too sweet). Look for chocolate with 62%-72% cacao. It won't be cheap, but it's worth it. This is one sumptuous Valentine's Day dessert!

You will need 4 ramekins or small glass dishes or cups. They should be big enough to hold 4 oz. of liquid. You can even use 7-8 oz. cans  (such as for tunafish or bamboo shoots), but they must be washed very well to remove any odor.

Molten Chocolate Cake
(serves 4, costs - really, isn't your honey worth it?)

1 stick unsalted butter plus a little more for greasing the ramekins
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate ( ⅔ cup chocolate chips)
2 whole large eggs
2 large egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour plus a little more for flouring the ramekins

Butter the dishes making sure to cover the inside completely. Add a spoonful of flour and shake it around to cover all the butter. Tap out any excess. Set aside.

Place a medium saucepan on medium heat and bring about 1" of water to just a simmer. Once the water gets hot, reduce the heat to low. Place the stick of butter and the chocolate in a medium bowl and place over the simmering water to melt them. While they are melting, beat together the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in a bowl. You can do this by hand but it goes much faster if you have an electric mixer. Beat until the mixture becomes light yellow and thick. Remove the melted chocolate/butter from the heat. Beat just to combine. Pour in the egg mixture and beat until the color is uniform. Add in the 2 teaspoons of flour and mix just to combine. Divide the batter among the 4 dishes and smooth the top. At this point, you can refrigerate them for a few hours. Remove them from the fridge an hour before baking so they can warm up.

When ready to eat them, preheat oven to 450°F. Place the dishes on a small rimmed cookie sheet (makes getting them in and out of the oven a lot easier). Bake for 8 minutes. The edges will be set but the center will still be soft. Remove from the oven. With hot mitts, carefully lift up a dish and invert onto a plate*. Repeat with remaining cakes. Remove the dish from the first cake you inverted (careful! it's hot). If your dishes were well-greased, it will fall right out. Repeat with the rest. Serve immediately, maybe with a dollop of whipped cream or with some rich vanilla ice cream.

* It's easy if you know how - with a hot mitt, pick up the dish by holding onto the top edges. With another hot mitt in your other hand, place the dish on that hand. Take a plate and place it, upside-down, on top of the dish. Flip the whole thing over.

Recipe adapted from Jean-Georges Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman, Broadway Books, 1998.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Another Dip: Roasted Red Pepper & Walnuts

This is one of my favorite dips. It's a bit unusual and it is rather addictive. You'll be roasting red peppers just so you enjoy this dip on everything. Pomegranate molasses is reduced pomegranate juice. If you can't find it, you can use more lemon juice but it's definitely tastier with the molasses for its sweet and tangy flavor. You can find it in Middle Eastern markets, and supermarkets with a good selection of ethnic foods. You can use it to make this pomegranate vinaigrette, delicious on main dish salads featuring grilled meats.

Roasted Red Pepper & Walnut Dip (Muhamara)
(makes 1 ½ cups)

3 red bell peppers, roasted - find out how, peeled and seeded
¾ cup chopped walnuts plus a little more for garnish, toasted and cooled
¼ cup fine dry bread crumbs or wheat cracker crumbs
½ Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses (or more lemon juice)
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
a pinch of sugar (or more if you are using just lemon juice)
1 Tablespoon olive oil plus more for garnish
a few drops of hot sauce

Grind up the walnuts, crumbs, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, cumin, salt, and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Pat the red peppers dry, chop roughly and add to the food processor. Process until smooth and creamy. With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. If it is really thick, add a Tablespoon or so of water. Season with hot sauce and more salt, if needed. Garnish with additional olive and some toasted chopped walnuts, if you want to pretty it up. Serve with wedges of pita bread, pita chips, or crackers.

The flavor improves as it sits, so make it a day or a few hours ahead for the best flavor.