January 28, 2012

Juicing it

Last week I told you all about my new pressure cooker.  This week, I am excited to share another new kitchen appliance and one of the best holiday gifts I received this year.  A juicer.  

To be honest, I never thought I fit the juicer profile. You know the type... super healthy, makes their own yogurt, snacks on seaweed.  While I may be a dietitian, and homemade yogurt sounds delicious right now, I just hadn't considered going down that path.  Until last summer.  

Before I moved to Denver, I stayed with one of my best friends in the Bay Area.  She had just come back from a yoga retreat in Costa Rica and a week full of freshly made juice.
She was hooked.  She got me hooked.  

Thanks to my wonderful host, I awoke every morning to a glass of juice.  Apples, carrots, beets, lemons, oranges, celery, ginger. A farmer's market in every glass.  


Captain McBlack did a great job of remembering my oohs and ahhs about the juice and my claims about how great I felt after 2 weeks of a daily dose.  So, come the holidays, I found one wrapped with my name on it.  Let the juicing begin!

By reading the juicing book I received as a companion gift (and then perusing many juicing blogs), I learned a few tricks to enhance the flavor and nutrient content of the juice.  For example, adding beet greens (which are actually pink), is similar to adding the beet itself.  

Not only does it provide a wonderfully earthy, bold flavor but it also adds a beautiful magenta color.  

I like to drink my juice out of my happy glasses.  It makes me happy.

No two juices are ever quite the same, but so far every creation has been delicious.

I'm excited to see where this new addiction leads...


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January 22, 2012

Cooking Under Pressure

I love getting new kitchen gadgets.  My Amazon wish list is full of cooking toys, but usually they are small items such as a new peeler, or paring knife.  {I recently purchased a set of 3 Swissmar peelers, and they are incredible!  I de-fuzzed a kiwi with zero wasted flesh, which is crucial seeing as those things are so small to begin with. And don't get me started on my colorful Kuhn Rikon market knives}. Anyhow...

Now that I have a larger kitchen (and a basement pantry, woohoo!) I decided I had the space to buy a new appliance.  I love the concept of slow simmered soups, stews and sauces but lets be real, who has time for that?  Not me.  At least not until this pressure cooker came into my life.

The concept of pressure cooking can be credited to a French physicist back in 1679, but at the time it was only seen as experimental.  It took until 1919 for the first patent to be granted, and the appliance finally gained popularity among housewives at the World Trade Fair in New York in 1939.

How does it work?  By sealing the vessel and not allowing air or liquid to escape, the pressure inside increases as it heats.  As the pressure increases, so does the boiling point of water thus allowing the liquid inside to rise to a much higher temperature.  A higher temperature means food cooks faster.  A lot faster from my recent experiences.  

My first attempted recipe was beef stew.  I've never made beef stew in my life.  In fact, I have only eaten it a handful of times but somehow this seemed like the right choice for my new pressure cooker.  I started by coating the beef with flour and browning it.  There is a browning feature on the cooker, essentially turning the pot into a giant frying pan, and I've quickly learned that this is a must.  Some meats need a sear on the outside to bring out the flavors, and doing it all in the same pot couldn't be easier. 

Next, I prepped veggies- onion, celery, and carrots.  

I set aside the beef, and cooked the veggies using the browning mode as well.  Onions are always better after a little sauteeing. 

Next I added the liquid.  Pressure cooking absolutely requires liquid, but be aware that none of it evaporates so what you start with, you end with.  In this case, I used red wine diluted with a small amount of water.

Lastly, I added back the seared beef and some cut potatoes.

I set the timer for 13 minutes.  Just 13 minutes to cook stew?  To cook potatoes? I was skeptical but since that was the recommendation, I found some faith and closed the lid.  

Thirteen minutes later, here is what I saw.  It was cooked and I was shocked.  I realized at this point that I started with too much liquid (nobody gave me the warning that just passed along), so I got out the corn starch and thickened 'er up.  

Served with a crusty bread and a bold red wine, this meal was perfect for a cold winter's night.  

 Since my first attempt was such a success (if I do say so myself), I decided to see what other day long recipes I could cook in lighting speed.  Next up was a Bolognese sauce.  Bolognese refers to a meat based sauce originating in Bologna, Italy.  I don't like eating too much red meat, so I substituted the customary ground beef with ground turkey.  Shhhh, don't tell Captain McBlack.  

I started by browning the onions and ground turkey.  

Then I added some veggies and diced tomatoes.  

Meanwhile,  I cooked up some linguine. 

By the time the pasta was ready, so was the sauce.

Can't forget the parmesan cheese. 

How easy was that?  From prep to eating within 30 minutes.  

Now that I had two great dishes under by belt, I had to try making soup.  I absolutely love making chicken soup from scratch, but it is a full day commitment. Lately, that just hasn't been possible but this pressure cooker is changing everything!  I followed same technique I use when I make soup the traditional way, but each step was a fraction of the time.  

I started with the usual cast of characters (carrot, onions and celery) and added dill.  Most people see dill as an unusual ingredient to add to chicken soup, but this is how my grandmothers made it and so this is how it shall be.  Besides, it adds a wonderful complimentary flavor.  

There was no pre-cooking this time.  I simply layered the vegetables and chicken, seasoned and covered with water.  

Twelve minutes later, the soup was cooked but not done.    

I removed the veggies and chicken from the pot and pulled the meat off the bones. At this point, it was so juicy and tender it simply fell off.   

I cut a fresh batch of vegetables and dill and added it back to the broth with some noodles.  

 Since we weren't in a rush to eat I used the slow cooking setting instead of pressure cooking the soup to completion.  The seal prevents evaporation, so during the few hours that I let it simmer the flavors had time to combine without any loss of liquid.  It my opinion, that is a huge advantage versus cooking on the stove.   

 The soup was a hit, and knowing that it can be done so quickly means that I can make it more frequently.  I'll eat this over canned soup any day.  

 After the ease of these three pressure cooked meals, I am wondering how I ever lived without my pressure cooker.  I prefer to eat dishes that were prepared from scratch, and this will allow me to vastly expand my repertoire, with no pressure (ha, ha, pardon the pun).  

Hmmm...didn't I hear you could make desserts in this thing too?

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January 04, 2012

And there go the holidays...

As fast as they came, they were gone.
I'm talking about The Holidays. That time of year when the more sparkles the better.

The more lights the merrier.

And the more presents, the cheerier.  

And what holiday would be complete without a feast?!?  I can't think of any.  We invited the family over and set the table for those naughty or nice.  

As a recovered vegetarian, I don't have a lot of experience with cooking turkeys but if ever there was a time to try one, this was it.  I made a bed of apples, carrots, onions and dill to roast the turkey on.  

And then I gave it a bottle of wine.  I figured the turkey deserved to have a little fun too.  

I rubbed it down with salt, pepper and various secret herbs.  

Four and half hours later, the turkey was pulled from the oven, golden and crisp.

The results?  Juicy and full of flavor.  No disrespect to the turkey roasters out there, but it really wasn't that difficult.  

Add some mashed potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce and steamed broccoli and you have yourself a traditional holiday meal.  I'd love to show you the brisket and latkes that were served alongside but they were consumed faster than I could photograph them.  And besides, sometimes you need to put down the camera and just enjoy the moment.  (I hope that last line isn't quoted back to me next time I make Captain McBlack wait to eat while my shutter is clicking away).

The Holidays are the only time of year when peppermint is not only appropriate, but encouraged.  Every dessert, drink and candy is dripping with it.  I happily jumped on the train and decided to try making my own candy.  

It was as easy as melting chocolate into a mold, adding crushed candy canes and letting it solidify.  

I took it one step further and made white chocolate peppermint bark.  Easy to do with impressive results- what more could you ask for?

After the cooking, the entertaining and the unwrapping of gifts it was time to unwind and enjoy the last few days of 2011.  We spent a relaxing afternoon 27 stories above downtown Denver, watching the sun set over the Rocky Mountains. 

Even though the thermometer was well below freezing, we chose drinks with fruity island flavors and day-dreamt about sunny vacations on the beach.    

Which isn't to say our current locale wasn't enjoyable.

The sun set,

the city lights brightened the sky,

and the last day of the year came to a close.  

2011 may have been filled with life changes, but it was smothered in love, happiness and plenty of good eats.  My plans for 2012?  To continue living the food life.  

On New Year's morning, I felt it appropriate to drink out of my favorite mug and start the year out with the perfect piece of advice.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined. 

Happy 2012!

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