Freekeh to the rescue

Mujadara is a delicious mid-Eastern specialty typically made with rice and lentils and topped with caramelized onions. My mouth was watering thinking about this plus spoonfuls of Raita (here), a yogurt topping seasoned with cumin, green onion, cilantro, and such.

It wasn’t until I began pulling out the lentils and rice that I realized I was completely out of rice! How does that happen?  I debated a run to the store but spotted a bag of cracked freekeh.

cracked freekeh

Well, I reasoned, freekeh is certainly nutritious, it has a lovely nutty flavor and a chewy bite… It might actually be good with lentils.  Why not give it try?

I had the Instant Pot ready to go, so I proceeded pretty much as usual in making mujadara, by first caramelizing the onions and then set them aside. Yum.  I quickly sautéed the aromatics: cumin, allspice, and smoked paprika, added garlic and a dollop of the onions. The freekeh and lentils were tossed in next with water and such, and the pot was set to Hi Pressure for 11 minutes.

Once complete, I decided to let the pot rest with a 7-minute quick release.  I carefully opened the lid, relieved to see that both the lentils and freekeh were cooked. It was a little soupy but it set up as it sat in the pot. I had forgotten to add lemon rind, so I stirred in a spoonful of preserved lemon, which perked it up nicely.

Freekeh and Lentil Mujadara

The very exotic mujadara was ready and waiting when dinner was served 30 minutes later—along with caramelized onions, raita, and more lemon.

I could have stopped there; it needed nothing more. I buckled and added a little tomato for fresh color… and pita bread.

Freekeh & Lentil Mujadara

Ingredients
1 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, thin sliced lengthwise
½ tsp cumin, ¼ tsp allspice, ½ tsp hot smoked paprika or to taste
1 clove garlic, mash and sliver
1 cup cracked freekeh
½ cup brown lentils
2½ cups water
½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tsp grated lemon rind or preserved lemon

Instructions

  1. To prepare the caramelized onion, set Instant Pot to Sauté Medium, melt the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When bubbling, add the sliced onion, a dash of salt and pepper, and stir often with flat a spatula until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Reduce heat to Sauté Low, drizzle in a little olive oil to coat bottom. Add the spices, stirring until aromatic. Stir the garlic into the spice mixture for a minute and then a spoonful of the caramelized onions.
  3. Add the lentils and freekeh, then the water. Increase heat to Sauté High; stir in salt, pepper, bay leaf, and lemon. Seal pot, reset to Hi Pressure for 10-11 minutes. When complete, let stand 7 minutes and carefully release pressure. Open the lid, stir in preserved lemon  if using. It thickens as it sets.
  4. Serve with caramelized onion, fresh lemon, and homemade raita. Serves 4

fast, fresh, & homemade

I needed ricotta cheese for Thanksgiving and decided to make my own in the Instant Pot.  It’s not complicated, and you can certainly make ricotta in a pot on the stove.  But if you have an Instant Pot,  you simply set the Yogurt button and let the pot do the rest. In about 30 minutes the milk reaches a boil at a controlled pace, thus reducing the risk of scorching the bottom of the pot.

In another 30 minutes you have fresh, homemade ricotta.

fresh ricotta cheese

If you make lasagna or other ricotta-based dishes, then you can appreciate a flavorful well-constructed ricotta—it makes a difference. That’s why I’ve come around to using whole milk ricotta.  For the same reasons, it’s wise to look for milk that is not ultra-pasteurized.

Ricotta curds are made by adding acid to the milk, either lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid.  In my opinion, vinegar is a bit harsh and its flavor may be detectable in the cheese. Citric acid is reliable, but harder to find. I prefer lemon juice because it is convenient, mild, and the curds seem less chewy.

Once the milk has reached between 180° and 185°F the lemon juice is added to the pot and gently stirred to assimilate into the milk. Curds will begin to form; when the milk has visibly separated, let the curds set 15 to 20 minutes. Then, it’s time to drain them. I use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds to a colander lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters.  Let them drain 15 to 20 minutes and then move the curds to a bowl to use right away or into a storage container to chill up to 5 days.

Fresh Ricotta Cheese

Ingredients
6 cups whole milk, not ultra-pasteurized
1 tsp salt (optional)
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
supplies: digital thermometer, spatula, slotted spoon, colander with bowl, cheesecloth

Instructions

  1. Set multi-cooker or Instant Pot to Yogurt; press Adjust and select Boil. Pour in milk, add salt and stir with a flat spatula to keep from scorching on bottom.  Bring to simmering boil (180-185°F), about 30 minutes. If more time is needed, reset pot to Sauté Hi to reach temperature.
  2. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice, and gently stir to combine and form curds. Cover, and let stand undisturbed to set curds, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile line a colander with 2 layers or fine cheesecloth or a clean dish towel and set it over a bowl.  Once curds have rested, skim all the curds into the colander, leaving the whey behind for other purposes (it’s highly nutritious).  Let the curds drain 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how dry you prefer it.
  4. The ricotta is ready to use or transfer it to a covered container and store refrigerated up to 5 days.  Makes 2 cups.

Happiness is…

I’ve been practicing with the new mortar and pestle making spice blends and ended up spending time tinkering with Indian garlic/ginger pastes and blends. Which lead me back to my old favorite Tandoori Chicken.

But that is not where I ended up. My focus was on Chicken Tikka Masala, which begins with chicken pieces marinated in a spicy yogurt blend. They are frequently skewered for easy searing in the famed tandoori oven. These morsels are then added to a creamy curried tomato sauce.

It seemed to me that the old Tandoori Chicken yogurt marinade would suffice nicely.   I wanted to keep this simple, seriously.  I would eliminate the grilling portion and pan sear the chicken pieces, since there is so much going on here.

I’d been thinking about this for several days. Yesterday I prepped boneless skinless thighs and cut them into large bite-size strips for fast cooking. The yogurt marinade is straight forward.  Many recipes include yellow and red food dye which just doesn’t work for me. I sometimes opt for turmeric and red chilies, but mostly there is plenty of garlic and ginger supported by cumin, coriander and such.

On this occasion, Happiness is… bashing a garlic and ginger spice blend in the mortar and pestle in the blink of an eye.

Today I pulled out the Instant Pot and got going.  First I knocked out a batch of basmati rice, which only takes 6 minutes.  Then, another Happiness Experience: more garlic and ginger bashed with spices for the Masala Sauce.

Turns out, the marinated chicken sautés up nicely when the Instant Pot is cranked up as hot as it will go. The yogurt firms up and all the spices help in the browning process. This all needs to be done in small batches for successful searing… then set aside for the Masala sauce.

In the same pot, an onion sauté starts things off, its moisture releases the browned bits in the pan. The spice paste is added next and stirred until aromatic. So fresh is this past, it literally blooms in the pan. The tomato base is then added and it simmers briefly to bring the flavors together. After 10 minutes I pull out the immersion blender to puree any odd chunks but keep a little texture.

A cream layer is added to round out the sauce and tame it just a bit. Finally, the tandoori  chicken pieces are dropped in for a brief simmer—only long enough to finish cooking them—but still retain their unique tandoori flavor and not lose it to the sauce.

Served over basmati rice, this makes one heck of a dish. A little homemade cranberry ginger chutney spooned on the side sends it right over the top.

Today, Happiness is… two recipes: Chicken Tandoori (not previously posted, clearly an oversight) and Chicken Tikka Masala (incomplete without it).

Chicken Tandoori

Ingredients

2 pounds chicken thighs/legs, skin optional
Yogurt Marinade
3 cloves garlic, mash & mince
2 Tbsp ginger, grate
1 tsp each turmeric, coriander, cumin, salt
1 Tbsp paprika + ½ tsp cayenne
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp oil for brushing grill and chicken

Instructions

  1. Place chicken in zip lock bag.
  2. Marinade:  Make garlic-ginger paste in mortar and pestle, add the spices and blend well.  Combine blend with the lemon juice and yogurt.  Pour over the chicken, marinate up to 24 hours.
  3. To grill: brush grill and chicken with oil, cook over hot coals, 4 minutes per side, turning as needed until seared and blistered, about 30 minutes. (Internal temperature 160-165°F.)  Makes 4 servings.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Ingredients
1 recipe marinated Tandoori Chicken: boneless pieces cut into strips, room temperature
Masala Sauce
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 onion, chop
3 cloves garlic, mash & mince
2 tsp ginger, grate
1 tsp each cumin, coriander, turmeric, red chile flakes, and salt
14 ounces crushed tomatoes
8 ounces tomato sauce
¾-1 cup cream, full-fat coconut milk, or evaporated milk
2 tsp garam masala (optional)

Instructions

  1. Sear chicken: heat large pot to medium high with 2 Tbsp oil (multicooker: Sauté/Hi). Sear chicken 3 minutes per side in batches, don’t overcrowd. Remove to holding plate.
  2. For Sauce: reduce heat to medium-high (multicooker: Saute/Medium). Add onion, sauté to soften while scraping up browned bits in pan.  Make garlic-ginger paste in mortar and pestle, add the spices and blend together.  Stir the blend into the pot until aromatic, 2-3 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat, add tomato products, thin with water if quite thick, simmer 10 minutes. Puree if desired.
  4. Stir in the cream, garam masala, and chicken, simmer 10-15 minutes.  Adjust seasoning and serve with basmati rice, sprinkle with cilantro. Serves 4-6.

Berries, as in Wheat

Lately I’ve been reading up on wheat berries and have learned I need and want these powerhouses in my morning muesli and more…

According to Livestrong.com, “Wheat berries are rich in vitamins B1 and B3; and the minerals magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese and selenium.” What that means is they are valuable to overall body care, i.e., nervous system metabolism, blood pressure, cardiovascular and blood formation, bones, you name it.

wheat berries grain

There are different types of wheat berries, too: hard and soft berries, which grow at different times of the year and serve different purposes. Lest we get too far into the weeds, suffice to say, I settled on hard or red wheat berries.

Since wheat berries can take 60 minutes or longer on the stove top, I knew this was a job for the Instant Pot. With the pot loaded and ready to go, I’ve learned it’s much faster to bring it all to a boil before proceeding. It’s then a simple matter of setting the timer to 35 minutes with a 10 minute natural release and walking away. It’s sooo nice to let the pressure cooker work its magic and return to a generous 3 cups of plump chewy kernels.

Med wheat berry plate

In that amount of time I was able to establish a plan for my Mediterranean wheat berry salad. I channeled my pending tiny summer garden, still on the horizon—one with the usual crop of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green onions, plenty of flowers and herbs. Ahhh, I can’t wait!

Altogether the vegetables’ earthy flavors harmonize and blend well with the hearty wheat berry kernels while accents of Kalamata olives, feta or paneer cheese, and lemon do their part to brighten and shine. The salad holds incredibly well and is equally good chilled or at room temperature. It’s an ideal side for grilling and outdoor dining.

Mediterranean Wheat Berry Salad

  • 1½ cups cooked wheat berries
  • ¾ cup garbanzo beans, rinse & drain
  • ½ cup baby tomatoes, halve
  • ½ cucumber, seed, chop
  • ⅓ cup mixed baby peppers, seed, chop
  • ½ cup parsley, chop
  • ⅓ cup green onions, chop
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crush, mince
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Accompaniments: Fresh spinach leaves, Kalamata olives, feta or paneer cheese, parsley, lemon slices

For dressing, combine lemon juice, evoo, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl, adjust seasoning it should be lemony.

For salad, place the wheat berries through green onions in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss. Drizzle half the dressing over the salad and toss to lightly coat, add more as needed.

Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Adjust seasoning, add dressing as needed. Serve chilled or room temperature. To serve, pile on a spinach lined plate, garnish with olives, parsley and squeeze lemon juice over the top. Serves 4 or more.

Variations: substitute 1-1/2 cup prepared couscous or bulgur wheat. Add 2 Tbsp or more mint, finely chopped and/or 1 tsp grated lemon. To the dressing add 1/8 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes.

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.