The Ultimate in Slow Cooking:  Meet the Instant Pot

I received a new gadget for my birthday.  Actually, this unit is beyond any gadget previously known to man. For some, the latest Instant Pot could represent a state-of-the-art crockpot. To others it’s a digital pressure cooker, or a reliable rice cooker, a steamer, or a sauté pan.  In fact, it does all of that and much more—with precision and ease.

No, I’m not being paid to review or promote the Instant Pot, I am just another huge advocate of its approach to sustainable and healthy cooking.  My 5-quart pot uses only 900 watts of electricity.  In comparison, if you’ve analyze other appliances in your kitchen, you know that a toaster can easily burn up 1800 watts.

In the Instant Pot’s many digital cooking applications the real turning point for me was the realization that I could brown or sauté vegetables or meats before launching into slow cook or other modes.  I have shared a number of wonderful slow cook recipes here, and my sole reservation to crockpot cooking has been that without the browning of meats and vegetables dishes can become one-dimensional.  The luxury of combining the browning step into the slow cook method opens up all sorts of possibilities previously unavailable in most models.

On the pressure cooking side, I was relieved at the fail-safe measures built into the system.  Following simple directions, even the quick method of releasing steam is safe and near foolproof.  Now, I often use the very fast pressure cooking method as a highly convenient option, without angst or intimidation.

For the tiny kitchen, the Instant Pot is paramount to having an entire stove top and a fleet of pots and pans available for daily cooking needs. It can be used to simply simmer or boil as you would on the stove.  The heavy duty stainless steel liner is easy to clean, and it is of course dishwasher safe.

One of my first attempts at tackling the Instant Pot was to prepare a lovely barley risotto of sorts. In this case the barley was pre-cooked, allowing for an easy 1 hour slow cook. Delicious on its own, it became the backdrop for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.

Barley Risotto with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Spring Garlic Scapes

Ingredients
2 slices bacon, chop
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, peel and mince
6 oz. cremini mushrooms, clean, slice
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh sage
1-1/2 cups cooked pearl barley
½ cup tender green garlic scapes/shoots, or green onion, chop
2 cups beef broth, approximate
½ cup baby tomatoes, slice in half
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh parsley, chop
Accompaniment:  ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese, optional

Directions

  1. Heat the pot to sauté medium, brown the bacon in a drizzle of olive oil and remove.
  2. Add the shallot and cook to soften, then add the herbs and stir until aromatic. Add a portion of the beef broth, stir to deglaze the bottom the pan and loosen any surface bits.
  3. Add the barley and the remaining broth, stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer. Reduce to slow cook medium and cook covered for an hour, until the barley is creamy and thick.
  4. Add the garlic scapes or green onion, baby tomatoes, cook an additional 15 minutes to heat.  Stir in fresh parsley, the reserved bacon, and serve.  Pass the parmesan cheese.  Serves 4

Note: to pre-cook barley, allow 1:3 ratio barley to liquid. Bring to a boil, cover and cook 35 minutes.

Advertisements

Oregon’s Willamette Valley named Wine Region of the Year

willamette-valley-vine

Courtesy Travel Oregon

More awards come to the Willamette Valley!

Industry leader Wine Enthusiast magazine recently named Oregon’s Willamette Valley as their 2016 Wine Region of the Year.  Home to 530 wineries and nearly 20,000 planted acres, much acclaim can be attributed to Oregon’s world class pinot noirs.

Rivaling regions of Champagne, Sonoma, and Provence, these international honors were awarded for “the outstanding quality of its wines, the resulting international recognition and the tectonic shifts in wine investments have engendered.”

Read Full article here.

A Lovely Bunch of Radishes, Part 3

Yes, this is Part 3 of an impromptu radish series.  It all started with the discovery of the incredible Easter Egg radishes at my local grocery store.

Now I’m onto sprouting own crop of radish seeds. Sprouts day 1Since radishes are one of the fastest growing vegetables, I theorize they must be candidates for fast sprouting. Besides, their peppery bite makes them one of the current darlings of the sprout world. With all the rumbles of their healthful virtues, I’m ready to have my own supply of radish sprouts on hand for summer salads, blended drinks, and more.

For my small test batch, I’m using organic seeds designed for sprouting, rather than an off-the-shelf garden variety.  Who knows what chemicals may have been used in their processing?

The good news is that in only four days I have successfully grown my own lush, green, ready to eat radish sprouts. Sprouts day 4  Here’s a handy review:

  1. Rinse about 3 tablespoons of seeds and let them soak in water for 4 to 6 hours.
  2. Drain the seeds, rinse and drain again, and place in a quart sized sprouting jar. If not available, use a 3-4 cup mason jar with a double layer of cheese cloth covering the top and held in place with the lid’s band portion.  This will allow for circulation.  Store in a cool semi-lit area such as a cabinet or pantry.
  3. Rinse and drain 2-3 times per day until well sprouted. On day 3 or 4, move to indirect sunlight and allow chlorophyll to form and green up nicely.

That’s all there is to it.  In only four days you, too, can enjoy a lovely bunch of radish sprouts!

 

 

 

 

A Prelude to St. Paddy’s Day: Sauerkraut Stew

Every now and then I crave sauerkraut, and it doesn’t have to be an artisan-style fermented quality; good old Steinfeld’s pickled cabbage is just fine with me.  Perhaps it’s a strange and sudden precursor to St. Paddy’s Day, but I need my cabbage.  The corned beef will just have to wait.

Sauerkraut stew (640x480)

Root Vegetables with Mixed Sausage Stew with Sauerkraut

When this happened on a recent rainy day, I looked around to see what might work without a dash to the market. I always seem to have sausage odds and ends in the freezer, random unused portions from other projects.  Lucky me, I came up with a nice sized link of kielbasa and a couple of bratwursts.

While the sausage defrosted, I heated up the Le Creuset pot and quickly sautéed an onion and a clove of garlic.  In went a chopped carrot, a turnip, and some creamer potatoes, halved.  The sausages were cut into chunks and tossed into the pot to pick up a little color.  Once that happened, I added a cup or so of beef stock to deglaze the pot and create a broth.

For seasoning I dug out my jar of dried juniper berries that had shifted to an obscure corner of the spice cabinet from lack of use. There’s nothing like it, and it’s precisely for times like this that I am so happy for juniper berries.  I do a quick sniff test and grab a few and drop them into the pot—love their resin-ish smell.  A little rosemary, a bay leaf, and a few grinds of black pepper are added to the mix.

I rinsed and drained the sauerkraut.  It’s not something I do without thinking twice, because it seems such a waste.  But in this case, there’s a lot going on and it’s just as well to knock it down a notch. Into the pot it goes and it is all brought to a simmer; then it’s covered with a lid and left to simmer for 30 minutes.

Clearly this amalgamation is not totally Irish, but it is doesn’t matter.  It does the trick and incredibly, and there’s more good news.  Once the flavors blend overnight, the sauerkraut mellows a bit, and it is even better.

Root Vegetables and Mixed Sausage Stew with Sauerkraut

Ingredients
2 tsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed and in slivers
1 carrot, peeled, cut into chunks
1 turnip, peeled, cut into chunks
9 oz. creamer potatoes, cut in half if large
12 oz. kielbasa sausage, cut into chunks
8 oz. bratwurst, cut into chunks
1-2 cups beef stock, as needed
6-8 juniper berries
1 tsp. fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground pepper
16 oz. sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

Directions

In a heavy pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. When aromatic, add the carrot, turnip, potatoes and toss well.  Increase heat to medium high, add the sausages and lightly brown to take on color.

Deglaze with beef stock, add the seasonings, and the drained sauerkraut.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover for 30 minutes.  Adjust seasoning and serve in bowls.  Serves 4.

 

 Oregon Truffle Festival

Wee doggies!  For mushroom and wine lovers, mark your calendars for the ultimate event:

Truffle Dog

The 2016 Oregon Truffle Festival
January 16 & 17: The Joriad™ 2nd Annual North American Truffle Dog Championship

January 22-24:  Newberg and the Yamhill Valley

January 29-31 Eugene and surrounding truffle and wine country

For more than a decade, the Oregon Truffle Festival has been the leading voice for a burgeoning industry, and an exciting culinary festival that sells out its popular dinners and tasting events year after year. From James Beard award winning chefs to truffle industry experts to food journalists and food enthusiasts, many renowned culinary figures participate in the Oregon Truffle Festival every year.

TruffeIt’s the only event of its kind in the country, and the foremost wintertime culinary event in the State of Oregon.As the first truffle festival in the English-speaking world, and “one of the top 5 destinations in the world for truffle lovers,” the Oregon Truffle Festival offers a culinary experience that simply cannot be found anywhere else. This is an international event that joins truffle fanciers and truffle experts from all over the world in three days of celebration, educational seminars, and hands-on experiences.

NEW IN 2016! Now in its 11th year, the Oregon Truffle Festival will expand to three weekends beginning with the Joriad™ North American Truffle Dog Championship, moving to an exploration of the terroir of Yamhill Valley truffle and wine country, and concluding with the festival’s popular Eugene weekend of events to close out the festivities. That means more events, more chefs, more education, more truffle hunting and more opportunities to celebrate Oregon’s most treasured culinary ingredient.

Source: About the Festival – Oregon Truffle Festival

 

Wild about Arugula

This summer’s early cool temperatures have morphed my small orderly garden into an unstoppable sea of arugula.  I’m not complaining the kale, chard, red leaf, and dainty mesclun blends will all survive.  The fact is, this wacky bumper crop has further inflamed my passion for the arresting arugula.

Now I can be even more selective in scrutinizing every seductive, leggy candidate competing for my next plate.  However, I’ve noticed my neighbors’ eyes are beginning to roll when plied with more generous overtures of arugula. 

It seems I’m not the only one that’s wild about arugula, though.  I have resorted to cruising the web in search of arugula tips and ideasand there are plenty of them.  My wanderings have uncovered an amazing assortment of arugula facts and tributes. 
For example, arugula is an herbaceous annual plant with tender green leaves that are smooth, sharply indented, and irregularly shaped, like those of dandelion.  Its piquant flavor is similar to water cress;  as a member of the cabbage family, it is related to watercress, mustard and radishes. Also called rocket, it is particularly popular in the south of France, Italy, and in Egypt.
It’s interesting to note that in Roman time’s arugula was grown for both its leaves and the seed. The seed, also used for flavoring oils, has been used as an aphrodisiac since first century, AD. (Cambridge World History of Food).   A typical Roman meal might include a salad of greens such as arugula, romaine, chicory, mallow and lavender, all properly finished with a ‘cheese sauce for lettuce’. 
As far as I’m concerned, arugula doesn’t need much company; just a few good companions capable of balancing its assertive nature. With this summer’s gold mine, I’ve resorted to making jars of Arugula Pesto, an amazing condiment dabbed on grilled fish or spread on a BLT sandwich.  I use my basic pesto recipe and substitute traditional basil with several cups of tender baby arugula, trimmed of any bitter stems. 

One of my current dishes features marinated cherry tomato salad combined with hot drained penne pasta, gently tossed with arugula, and topped with goat cheese or feta.  Another quick summer-in-a-bowl meal is based on pantry and fridge items: white beans, roma tomatoes, maybe some fresh cucumber, red onion or sweet pepper, kalamata olives, rosemary and arugula from the garden, all lightly finished with garlicky sherry vinaigrette.

When it comes to recognition and tributes to arugula, there’s no shortage of them on the web―and so, it seems entirely appropriate to present my personal favorites, a curious selection, each worthy of an esteemed Arugula Award.

 
Wild About Arugula Award:  Classiest Cartoon


Edward Koren has long been associated with The New Yorker magazine where he has published well over 1000 cartoons as well as many covers and illustrations. He has also contributed to many other publications, including The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, GQ, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Fortune, Vanity Fair, The Nation and The Boston Globe.

 

Wild about Arugula Award:  Sexiest Photo and Recipe

For full appreciation, visit Use Real Butter

Jen’s photos and recipe of Arugula Salad with Figs and Prosciutto are to die for, but she emphatically decries any copying of her work, which she refers to ‘assholery’.  Hope I’m not breaking any laws with my faint praise.   

 

Wild about Arugula Award:  Irreverent Food and Culture, Nonfiction
United States of Arugula by David Kamp

United States of Arugula, by David Kamp

David Kamp has carved out a dual career in “proper” journalism and humor writing: like Calvin Trillin’s, only far less respected and lucrative. His work appears in Vanity Fair, GQ, and the New York Times, among other publications.

 

Wild about Arugula Award:  Awkward Political Moments

Uh Oh… Whole Foods and Arugula, both missing in Iowa

Obama’s “Arugula Moment,” from 2008 presidential campaign. 


How Green is my Valley… or Dash and Dine

You could argue I live in a valley.   The McKenzie River courses through the mountains outside my window and leaves behind a narrow fertile swath of land I now call home.  Just around the corner, an organic farm has a roadside stand frequented by locals and travelers looking for fresh produce on their way over the mountain.  Small farms and ranches dot the landscape. There are pick your own blue berries, holly and Christmas trees sites, and even a lavender farm started up not too long ago. 
Up early this morning and full of energy, I decide to pass on breakfast before my walk.  As I head out, my neighbor Len is puttering in his yard, watering his plants.
 “Morning!” he says, and drops his hose. He walks over to my herb garden and points out the cute bright red baby strawberries, ripe for the plucking.  We share our tiny crops with each other, and I snag a few for us both.  So French, adorable, and candy-like.
“There are more baby tomatoes,” he advises and hands me a couple which I drop into my shorts pocket.  “Green beans are ready; don’t forget to grab some since I won’t eat them.” It took me several conversations with Len to realize he has no teeth.   
“Great!  I’ll be over after my walk.”  I’m already thinking of a tempting recipe for Green Beans and Salsa I’ve wanted to try.    We chat a bit longer and catch up on the latest gossip.  He mentions one of his buddies wants to walk with me but can’t keep up.  I share that I walk to get my heart rate up, and his pal would rather talk than walk.  It’s time to press on.
This is my first walk since returning from my ten day trip to Texas, and my senses are already approaching overload.  I cut through the tall trees and head toward the path along the property. Normally I would hardly catch the aromatic scent of pine; but now, the perfume is so intense, I can feel it in my throat.  How could I not notice that? 
At the property line, this year’s crop of blackberry vines are drooping dangerously low – weighted down from the extreme mass of fat berries.  I stop in awe; so irresistible, I snag a few for sampling.  Sweet, warm and juicy! This calls for another taste.  I pull off another handful to savor.
I walk along the canal which flows out of the fish hatchery up river from us.  Colorful flowers are abundant on both sides of the levee:  tall stately thistles bloom amid Queen Anne’s lace, yellow daisies, and purple wildflowers.  The hazelnut trees to one side are looking good.  Judging from their husks, it won’t be long before they will be ready for picking.
One of my neighbors is standing on the bank, casting his rod into the canal.  He waves and tells me he has caught several cut throats already this morning.  This is all about catch-and-release, so I heartily congratulate him.  I’d rather hear about a trout with a sore mouth than in someone’s frying pan. 
 Up ahead, noisy crows are perched atop a row of blueberry bushes neatly planted along the organic farm’s fence line. Worthy of investigation, I move closer and note the bushes are loaded with plump, blue globes of goodness.  Clearly, an informational taste is in order, since these are my first of the season.  OMG!  These must be the best ever!  I join the crows and have at it. 
As I slowly get back on the trail, gingerly cupping another handful of berries, I am reminded of my own words uttered earlier to Len. What was that about heart rate, and fast walking?  I’m not even a quarter of the way through my walk!  I’m way behind!  
The good news is that I’m not late for breakfast.