Birds of a Feather

Dear readers: please be advised that some may find this post objectionable as it skirts the very edgy topic of guns. No, I’m not writing about the latest gun-related tragedy nor is it a rant on gun control.  I’m just waxing nostalgic, because guns have not always been defined by mayhem and murder.

I grew up in the mid-part of the 20th century when guns were a big part of our existence. My dad was a marksman, an avid hunter, and was very proud of his gun collection and the many trophies that surrounded us.  We belonged to a gun club where we regularly took turns at target practice and skeet shooting.  He saw to it that I had my own .22 rifle and later a .410 shotgun; I learned how to care for them, to use them responsibly, and I became a pretty good shot. It never occurred to me that they could be used for violence against another person. At our house, guns were a form of recreation and largely related to delicious food—our freezer was well stocked with bear, deer, quail, pheasant and whatever else was fair game that year.

My mom was an excellent cook and prided herself in knowing how to best prepare whatever game came through the door. Those meals were highly anticipated events and deeply appreciated by everyone.  As I think about it now, one of my particular favorites was her Pheasant Cacciatore.

Since pheasant can be quite lean, she would soak the pheasant ahead in an herb and red wine marinade to moisten, tenderize, and remove any potential gaminess. Sometimes she would start with a bit of bacon and then brown off the pheasant.  She’d proceed to develop a hearty sauce with plenty of mushrooms, onions, carrot, tomatoes and capers—perhaps she’d throw in a little green pepper, celery, or olives.  I suspect she’d combine the pheasant and all the trimmings in a heavy covered pot and gently braise it in a moderately slow oven.

The recipe has long since been lost, but that’s my best recollection.  I recently reflected on those fabulous meals while preparing my easy mid-week Chicken Cacciatore.

It is made effortlessly with this Instant Pot treatment, yet it is a distant second to my mom’s ‘classic’ version.  When nearly done, mine became a one-pot meal with the addition of a few handfuls of penne pasta!  Still, with those flavors and few favorite pieces of plumb chicken, you really can’t go wrong.

Chicken Cacciatore, PC

Although this is presented in Instant Pot format, directions are included for standard stove top preparation, too. If using dry penne pasta on final, more liquid maybe required.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 to 6 chicken thighs (bone-in)
1 onion, slice
1 carrot, chop
2 ribs celery, chop
1 pasilla pepper, seed and chop
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, mince
½ teaspoon thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ pound mushrooms, trim and slice
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken stock, water or other liquid
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons capers
2 cups approximate, dry penne pasta
Garnish:  ½ cup parsley and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. If using an Instant Pot, set it medium Sauté, and heat 2 tbsp. oil. Pat the chicken dry, season with salt and pepper, and place in the hot pot. Brown 4-5 minutes per side and remove to a holding plate. Pour off excess fat.
  2. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the carrot, celery, pepper, the fennel, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes, and cook 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pot. Stir to loosen the fond in bottom of pan with the liquid released from the mushrooms. Increase to medium if necessary, cook 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Stir in 1 cup chicken stock or water, the tomatoes and the capers.
  5. Return the chicken to the pot, nestle the pieces into the tomato mixture to barely cover them and bring to a simmer.
  6. Lock the lid, set pot to high Pressure for 12 minutes. (If using standard stovetop preparation, cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is tender.) When time is up, turn off the pot, disconnect, and let rest 10 minutes. Carefully release any remaining pressure and open.
  7. There should be enough liquid in the pot to also cook the penne pasta. Set the pot to medium Sauté and bring back to a simmer.  Add 1 handful of pasta per serving (about 2 cups) and simmer for 10 minutes, until al dente.  Adjust seasoning and dust with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese.  Serves 4

In Your Dreams…

For those looking for a gooey chocolate dessert, here a sure fix that you can have on the table in less than 30 minutes, courtesy of the multi-cooker.

It goes by many aliases: Chocolate Lava Cake, Better than Sex Chocolate Cake, and others.  What they have in common is an inordinate amount of chocolate and butter held together with eggs and maybe a bit of binder. In other words, they have a cake-like exterior and an ooey-gooey center.

You could call this particular variation ‘conservative’.  It has a fair amount of firm, moist cake available to support the ooze that flows forth once cut into—rather than a total collapse swept up in a thick hot chocolate flood.

Although… describing it does sound pretty scintillating.

My point, this as a small, rich cake with warm ganache hidden within, rather than deftly draped over the exterior.  It is ‘suitable for all occasions’.

Either way, it’s a chocolate lover’s dream come true.

Molten Chocolate Cakes, Multi-Cooker

Ingredients
½ cup butter
3 eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup flour
Pinch salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Accompaniments:  powdered sugar, ice cream or sweetened whipped cream

Instructions

  1. Prepare 5 quart multi-cooker or larger:  pour 1 cup water into bottom of cooker.  Place a metallic trivet or steamer insert in bottom.
  2. Place the butter in a medium microwaveable bowl and partially melt the butter on 60% power. Brush the ramekins with a coating of the butter.  Add the chocolate chips and continue to heat for 1-2 minutes. Stir every 20 seconds until mixture is melted and smooth.
  3. Sift the powdered sugar over the chocolate and whisk to blend.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Add the vanilla.
  5. Sift half of the flour plus a pinch of salt over the top of the mixture and fold in with a spatula.  Add the remainder of the flour and fold in just until blended.
  6. Divide the batter evenly among the 4 ramekins and place them on the trivet or steamer basket.
  7. Seal the lid and set to High Pressure for 9 minutes, with steam release knob to sealing position.
  8. When done, do a Quick Release and carefully release pressure.  When float valve is down open the lid and carefully remove the hot ramekins.  Cool briefly.
  9. To serve: invert the cakes and place bottom side up onto individual plates.  Serve warm with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, ice cream, or sweetened whipped cream and any other desired garnishes.  Yield:  4 cakes.

Quick and Painless: Hard Cooked Eggs

Posting another blog on how to hard cook an egg does seem a little silly. We have covered that territory before, and by now, most of us know how to boil an egg.  It is more than  dropping an egg into simmering water and cooking until done.

Anyone who really appreciates a well prepared hard cooked egg likely has their own preferences, too.  I am partial to an egg with a slightly soft yolk without a green rim from oxidation; a firm, but not rubbery white; and equally important, a shell that peels easily.

A few years ago when my daughter presented me with an electric egg cooker I could not see its merit. I did not need another gadget; a saucepan and a little water works just fine.  It took me a while, but I finally warmed to it for her sake, and I still appreciate its precision and convenience.

Friends rant about how foolproof the Instant Pot is for hard cooking eggs.  Well,  fine, I have my egg cooker. Of course, that all changed the day I needed more hard cooked eggs than my tiny egg cooker could hold.  Besides,  I reasoned, who wants the angst of fretting over a carton of eggs that refuse to peel?

It may have something to do with the pressurized process of the Instant Pot, but the eggs peel like magic!  It is fast. Within five minutes the eggs are done, without any exploding eggs or unnecessary drama.  Give it an additional 3-4  minutes for natural pressure release, a fast flip of the valve for quick release of any remaining pressure, and into a cool bath they go—ready and waiting for a quick and painless peel.  Sweet!

For the record, here is one more solution for hard cooked eggs.

Hard Cooked Eggs

Made easy, via the Instant Pot

Ingredients
1 to 12 large eggs, cold from fridge, or as many as will fit comfortably in one layer
1 cup water

Instructions

  1. Pour 1 cup water into the Instant Pot liner. Insert a raised rack and place eggs in pot.
  2. Seal lid and set steam valve to Pressure; set Pressure function to High, and set timer for 5 minutes.
  3. When complete, let Pressure Release naturally for 3 minutes, then set the steam valve to Vent and resume with Quick Release.
  4. Cool the eggs in cold water. If desired, chill further in refrigerator.

 

Potstickers Galore

Not long ago, I came across a small bamboo stacked steamer in an Asian market that looked to be the right fit for my 5-quart Instant Pot.  It’s quite charming sitting in my tiny kitchen, but more than that, eyeing it caused my mouth to water—as visions of  steamed dumplings danced in my head.

When I spotted Martin Yan’s potsticker recipe I knew I had the perfect excuse to pull everything together and start cooking.  Although I tailored this for my Instant Pot and steamer set-up, any steamer, wok or large  pan with a lid or foil to seal will do the trick.

The process is very much like making wontons. Martin incorporates Napa cabbage, ground pork or turkey, and dried black mushrooms in his filling. I’ve made a few adjustments, like adding an egg white for binder and extra moisture plus a bit of hoisin and mushroom soy sauce instead of oyster sauce. Instructions follow for Instant Pot as well as Martin Yan’s browning/steaming in a 12” sauté pan.

This makes plenty of potstickers!

I ended up making batches two days in a row—smartly pacing self to avoid eating all potstickers in sight.  So many did I have, there was an Asian salad event and more to freeze for a later soup.

Potstickers

Inspired by Martin Yan’s Potstickers.

Ingredients
40 round potsticker or wonton wrappers
2 tablespoons cooking oil
water
CB’s Spicy Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons  sriracha sauce or chile paste
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Filling
4 dried Shiitake mushrooms
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage (approx.)
2 tablespoons green onion, chop
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound ground pork or ground turkey
1 clove garlic, mince
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Directions

  1. Make spicy dipping sauce: in a small bowl, combine ingredients and set aside.
  2. Soak mushrooms: In a bowl, soak mushrooms in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Discard stems and coarsely chop caps.
  3. Salt cabbage: In a bowl, combine Napa cabbage and salt, toss well and set aside until cabbage wilts, about for 5 minutes. Squeeze out and discard excess water.
  4. For filling: combine mushrooms and cabbage with remaining filling ingredients in a bowl; mix well.
  5. To shape potstickers: moisten the edges of the round wrapper and place a teaspoonful of filling in center. Pull up, flatten bottom, and pleat edges with some filling showing. Or, lightly fold in half, then press the outer edges inward to create a 4-pronged star on top. Keep remaining wrappers covered with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying. Repeat until filling is used or set aside half and make as needed.
  6. To steam in Instant Pot: line 2 steamer baskets with cabbage leaves or parchment paper.  Set in baskets without touching. In bottom of Instant Pot add about 2 cups water.  Place bamboo steamer on wire rack and cover with bamboo lid or seal top with foil. Cover tightly, close vents, steam for 6 minutes and use quick release.  Repeat as desired.  Yield: about 40 potstickers.

Variations:
To fully cook in skillet:  heat 10-12” skillet over medium high until hot.  Add 1 tablespoons oil to coat bottom of pan.  Add about 10 potstickers, flat side down and cook until bottom are golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Add 1/3 cup water, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water is absorbed, 4-5 minutes. Remove and serve with spicy dipping sauce.
To reheat/brown the bottoms:  if desired, heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoons oil to cover bottom of pan, add a layer of cooked potstickers and cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add a couple of spoonfuls of water in pan to create steam, cover and cook briefly until warmed through and water is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve with spicy dipping sauce.

Cabbage Rolls Made Easy

My thoughts automatically turn to my new Instant Pot these days.  Often it is to re-visit old favorites like stuffed cabbage rolls, and tinker with how to best incorporate them into my new cooking repertoire.

This stuffed cabbage recipe was shared many years ago by a good Polish friend, who received it from his mother.  Since he was not a cook, he was so appreciative when I would prepare his beloved Goblaki, it was always reason for a party.

Golabki

When the mood strikes, I still make stuffed cabbage rolls for their homey, sweet/sour qualities. They are even better reheated the next day.  There are a few steps, but none are complicated.  I actually find the repetition of filling and shaping the rolls very relaxing—I like to think of it as a form of meditation.

Here, the slow cooker steps in to deliver all the classic aromas and flavors and cooks in about the same oven time.  There is little mess. The blanching of the leaves is done in the same cooking pot. My current version cuts back on the ground beef and contains part turkey, which doesn’t seem to make a difference in overall taste.

Enjoy the rolls with Barley-Mushroom Risotto, a perfect companion.  Here’s to you, Joe!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, aka Golabki

Ingredients
1        large head cabbage
Filling
3/4     pound ground beef
3/4     pound ground turkey
1/3     cup raw converted rice
1/2     cup onion, dice
1/2     cup celery, dice
1         clove garlic, crush
1         teaspoon salt, to taste
1/2     teaspoon pepper, to taste
Sauce
1       28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2    teaspoon dried dill, plus more for the pot
salt and red pepper flakes, to taste
1        tablespoons brown sugar, approximate
2        tablespoons cider vinegar
1/3    cup raisins (optional)

Directions

  1. To blanch the cabbage leaves:  gently separate the cabbage leaves and rinse well.  Layer leaves in pressure cooker. Set pressure element to Low, and steam the leaves for 1 minute with fast release.  Carefully remove and place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  Drain on toweling and set aside.
  2. Place a few unusable leaves in the bottom of the pot, add a bit of available sliced onion, add a light sprinkling of dill, salt and pepper.
  3. To make cabbage rolls:  combine filling items.  Place a heaping tablespoonful of stuffing at largest end of leaf, roll and fold sides in.  Repeat.
  4. For assembly:  combine sauce ingredients and spoon 1/3 of the sauce into bottom of pot.  Place a layer of rolls close together, seam side down, into the pot. Top with another 1/3 of sauce.  Add another layer of rolls and finish with remaining sauce.
  5. Set slow cooker to Medium setting for approximately 2-1/2 hours.  Note: begin on medium setting, cook for 1-1/2 hours. and check.  If not simmering at this point, increase to High for the additional hour.  Can also be cooked on Low setting for 6 hours or longer.  Yield: about 12 rolls.

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.