Friday, 27 February 2009
We got into smoker cooking a little over a year ago when we bought a Traeger Professional Grill. We've used it lots and love it. It's definitely a different form of cooking that takes some practice, but once you've got some of the basics down, the end product is fantastic.
The one thing about smoker cooking is that you have to plan ahead It's not the kind of thing where at 6:00 p.m. you decide you want a smoked meal and it's ready by 7:00 (there are some options, such as smoked pizza, but that's another blog).
The bird I had in hand was an 8 lb organic chicken (pretty much a small turkey). At 12:30 p.m. I prepared the chicken by first butterflying it, or spatchcocked as they would say in Britain, which is my preferred term. I cut the bird down the middle of the back and flopped it open. Normally you would remove the back, but given my hurry (lame excuse) I opted not to, as it wouldn't affect the end product apart from appearance - so perhaps this was a semi-spatchcocked bird? I rubbed a sweet dry rub all over the breast side of the bird and let it sit for 15 minutes to get tacky. The dry rub was a Traeger rub that came with our grill and is fantastic, so I don't have the recipe, but I think I may have recently found one that might be comparable and will report back sometime in the future if it's as good.
While I prepared the bird, my husband prepared the smoker (no stereotypes here!). He filled the bin with a mix of Cherry and Alder pellets. The pellets are the fuel that the Traeger smoker uses. The cherry and alder options are a lighter smoke which I find works best with poultry as stronger smokes are too overpowering. He turned the temperature setting to 450F* and let it heat up for 15 minutes. We then turned the temperature setting to 250F and slipped the semi-spatchcocked bird onto the grill.
This is the nice part of smoking. Once the meat is on there's relatively little work to do, if any. In the case of the extra-large organic chicken, the only relative work over the next 5.5 hours was to spritz it with apple juice every 45 minutes to help it remain moist. This is key, as the first time I did a chicken on the smoker, I simply let it cook low and slow and it got very dry.
The end product was amazing. Incredible taste. Not too smoky. Juicy, but not in an icky chicken way. And the rub added incredible flavour - even the crispy skin which sometimes grosses me out was delicious.
*One of the best things about the Traeger Grills is that that they can heat up to a high temperature and can have a temperature gauge that provides specific temperature information beyond low and high. If you ever consider one, I highly recommend this option.
Monday, 23 February 2009
Apart from the obvious benefit of making food faster, the pressure cooker purports to provide energy savings through reduced cooking time. I'm sure in the 1950s and 1960s when pressure cookers first debuted, "being green" wasn't the big sell. But with the current economic times, it makes you think twice, if not more. And I have to admit, that when I went to grab a pot to make some vegetable curry, I decided to give the pressure cooker a try for this dish as it would be faster for a weeknight, and it seemed silly to have the natural gas cooktop going for an hour or so when I didn't have to.
The latest Jamie Oliver cookbook release in England is his "Ministry of Food" cookbook - as far as I know it hasn't hit the North American market yet. The basic premise is to teach people how to cook by providing some basic recipes and encouraging people to "pass it on" to help others to "eat, and live, better". Although noble, it's not exactly why I bought the book . It was the interesting mix of relatively easy, fast recipes - perfect for a weeknight I figured. And the chapter that really intrigued me was the curry one as it provided short-cuts using Patak's prepared curries, as well as recipes to make curries yourself.
Again, being a weeknight I wanted to opt for a fast recipe and decided to try one of the curry options. I happened to have Patak's Tikka Masala in my pantry (a rare occurrence as I generally am not a buyer of a lot of prepared foods, but Costco had this deal on I couldn't refuse), but my dilemma was that I wanted a vegetarian dish, and not the Chicken Tikka Masala recipe in the book. In a mix and match effort, I decided to use the ingredients from the book's Vegetable Jalfrezi recipe, but substitute the Tikka Masala sauce. Surely, that would work.
I've provided the modified recipe below, so I won't go into the details. Basically I prepared the ingredients in the pressure cooker according to the recipe instructions up to the point where it needs to simmer. From there I put the lid on, brought it up to high pressure (15 psi) and let it cook for 15 minutes. Take that global warming!
Although the dish was tasty, I did confirm something I had been suspecting about pressure cooking. You don’t necessarily have to add as much liquid as a recipe states. You definitely need a minimum of 1/2 cup liquid so that the pot can create the necessary steam and reach pressure, but I find that you may not need as much as indicated. My theory is that when a recipe, such as the non pressure cooker tikka masala one calls for 45 minutes of simmering, there is evaporation happening throughout that time. When you are pressure cooking with a lid, there is minimal steam loss. Hence was the case with the tikka masala, I added the full amount of liquids the recipe called for, and although tasty, a bit more watery than I would prefer. In the recipe below I've removed some of the liquid in the hopes of a better outcome.
Vegetable Tikka Masala
In the spirit of Jamie Oliver's "pass it on" request - here is my modified recipe using a pressure cooker.
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 dried red chile, ground
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
A small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 cauliflower, cut into florets
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 jar Patak's Tikka Masala curry paste
1/2 cup water
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the pressure cooker pot to medium-high heat. Add the oil and butter to melt. Add the onions, chile, ginger, garlic and coriander and cook until softened - 5-10 minutes. Add the peppers, carrots, tomatoes, chickpeas, curry paste, water and vinegar. Stir to coat. Put the lid on and bring to pressure. Reduce the heat. Cook for 15 minutes under pressure and let the pressure drop on its own (an extra 10 minutes). Serve over cooked basmati rice.
Saturday, 21 February 2009
Of course, because my first few tries turned out to be so easy I was quite confident to venture into an easy black bean and corn chile. The great thing about chile, or at least non-purist chile, is that you don't have to follow the recipe to the letter and can throw in stuff you are trying to use up - although when making a black bean and corn chile it does seem appropriate to at least include black beans and corn.
Right in the cooker I browned a pound of ground beef. I added some diced onion and sauteed until softened. From there I added canned tomatoes, tomato soup, black beans, corn, chile powder, cumin and oregano. I put the lid on and waited for the pressure to rise.
I continued to wait for the pressure to rise.
Steam was coming out by the handle, but I remembered that my instruction book said this happens to help regulate the pressure. So I waited some more. After all this was the most full pot I had attempted so far, surely it was to take longer for the pressure to rise.
I continued to wait, and steam continued to come out.
After a good 20-25 minutes, I figured, this couldn’t be right (who knew!). So I released any pressure inside using the quick-release setting, which confirmed there was no pressure as nothing came out. I removed the lid and my chile was bubbling madly. I checked the bottom of my lid and it turns out the plastic sealing ring was kinda bent out of shape. The problem. It wasn't obvious as the lid closed as usual.
My chile did survive - although there was a nasty, burned patch at the bottom of the pot from being on heat without being stirred.
I'm not including the recipe as I'm sure you have your own. But I did want to document some lessons learned from this pressure cooker mishap.
-They recommend to always check the sealing ring for particles or wear before using the pressure cooker, but also check to ensure that it is well positioned within the lid.
-If it's taking too long to heat up, check what's happening sooner than later.
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Chicken cooked under pressure - hence stressed out chicken - is the second dish I decided to try using the pressure cooker.
Now this was an interesting experience. I've had Chicken Cacciatore before and it was indeed delicious. It also was one of those dishes that tastes better on the second day so that the meat gets yummily infused with the sauce. So could the pressure cooker compete.
I'm generally a bit of a freak when first trying a new recipe to try to do things exactly according to the directions. Even if I think there's a better way, I view this as a sort of scientific way of ensuring a a control group before introducing variables. However, when I saw the recipe before me, a Company's Coming Appliance Cooking recipe (specific for a pressure cooker), I had to start modifying as some it just didn't seem right . I wasn't keen on adding a green pepper and I just couldn't bring myself to use garlic powder instead of the real thing (when I get to smoker cooking though, you'll see that garlic powder does have a place in the world, but that's another blog).
First I browned 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, right in the cooker with a bit of oil. Then added a sliced onion and some fresh mushrooms sliced. Again, I departed from the recipe here as it said to mix the next 11 ingredients in a bowl and then add - I figure that pressure cooking has the advantage of being a one bowl type of meal, why dirty more dishes than necessary! So I added white wine (another departure instead of apple juice, because really, isn't a person more apt to have wine on hand vs. fruit juice), dried oregano, dried basil, sugar, salt, pepper, and 2 cloves garlic finely chopped. Another omission was some water as they say you need a minimum of 1/2 cup liquid for pressure cooking and I had more than enough already, and I wanted a thicker, not runny sauce. I secured the lid, brought up to pressure on high heat, and cooked 5 minutes. Instead of releasing the pressure I let it drop on its own which took about 10 minutes. Done!
I served this over a fresh fettuccine I made. It was delicious. The chicken was super tender and had very good flavour. The sauce was a nice thick texture (if I had kept the water I think it would have been too runny). I wasn't diligent in taking photos of the cacciatore making, but did get some of the pasta prep. After rolling and cutting my pasta I hang it on wooden dowels to dry. Then it's easy work slipping it into bowling water for cooking.
Thursday, 12 February 2009
I would like to say it was a whim, a throwback to some sort of 60's romanticized vision, but I actually put more thought into it than that. It actually all started before Christmas. I don't even remember the exact circumstances under which I determined that this was the latest kitchen gadget that I needed. The latest thing that would allow me to foray into new cooking challenges and learnings. But for some reason I fell to pressure cooker on the brain. Back to the whim thing, I actually even purchased one. A Lagostina 6 quart. After I brought my purchase home, the analytical part of my brain kicked in and I figured I better do some research. Good plan!
After some online research I found out that the Lagostina is only 8 psi and that one should aim for 15 psi. Further such features as a quick release valve were recommended, a second psi setting (8 psi) for more delicate foods were also in order. Options such as steamer pans and trivets should also be considered. As for brands, Fagor appeared to be consistently recommended. So my search began. Unfortunately my search was deferred for several weeks because of overseas Christmas travel to see family (the details of which I'd love to go into, but that would really be another blog altogether).
So this brings us to just a couple of weeks ago. I did some looking around while on travels in New England after Christmas, but wasn't finding the size/brand/combo I wanted. So I finally took the plunge as I could wait no longer through cookware.com and ordered the Fagor Duo (an excellent site with an A minus Better Business Bureau rating - I highly recommend it) and in just a few days there it was at my backdoor.
After further web research, and reading up on my new toy, and watching the accompanying dvd, I felt prepared to put it to the test. Alas, what to cook though. I had flagged many recipes I was interested to try, but couldn't settle on one. I decided to let my refrigerator do the selecting, and it was the soon to perish leeks that won. I opted for a Leek and Potato Potage (aka soup).
First you sauté 2 diced leeks on the cooktop right in the pressure cooker. Of course the leeks must be properly prepared first - icky outer leaves removed, dark green tops removed, and a good rinse to ensure no dirt.
Sauté them in a bit of butter until soft. Add 3-4 medium sized potatoes that are peeled and sliced. Chuck in 4 cups of chicken broth. And you're ready to put the pressure on.
Following pressure cooker pot instructions put the lid on. Turn the heat up a bit so that the soup heats up and pressure is created in the pot (I'm using the 15 psi setting on this one). Your pot should have a way to notify you when its reached pressure. Mine has a little yellow pin that pops up.
This makes a small batch - enough for 3 or 4 servings. But it was a fantastic way to start.
A positive pressure cooking experience.
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
I like to cook. I am not a chef. I consider myself somewhat of a foodie, but not a snobby foodie. I like to taste unique beautifully prepared foods, but I also find comfort in some of those wacky recipes from decades gone by that would be considered less than posh, and snubbed by many a gourmand.
I also like kitchen gadgets - another characteristic that some foodies consider appalling. For example we should not resort to utilizing a cuisinart to chop, and stick with a good cutting board and chef's knives. For me, its more of a mood thing. Sometimes I like the detail of chopping a lovely onion perfectly by hand, but other times I get great satisfaction out of the speed of the cuisinart.
Finally, I love to experiment with different forms of cooking beyond cooktops, ovens, and grills. Be it trite trends like cooking stones, or convenient appliances like slow cookers, for me its all fun. For this blog, my intent is to focus on two, quite different methods: smoking and pressure cooking. Hence, smoke under pressure.
So there it is. My premise. But, all that said, even though this is my intended focus, I still may from time to time chat about other gadgets, kitchen appliances, recipes or miscellaneous food stuff.
So there it is . . .
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