Friday, January 31, 2014

Zesty Chicken Salad

Concluding a week of all chicken recipes, here's a zesty chicken salad that's easy to whip up for a light lunch or dinner.

Zesty Chicken Salad

3 servings

2 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 lb. chicken breast cutlets
1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 celery stalks, diced
1 apple (such as pink lady), cored and diced
1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup raisins
2 tbsp. fresh mint, chopped
Juice from 1/2 lemon (about 2 tbsp.)
1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 cups arugula leaves

1. Heat olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Pat chicken breasts dry with paper towels and place in pan. Season with dill, garlic powder, salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook about 10 minutes, flipping the cutlets after 5 minutes, until cooked through and browned. Set aside to cool then chop into 1/2-inch cubes.

2. Combine the celery, apple, walnuts, raisins and mint in a large bowl. Whisk together the lemon juice, yogurt, honey and dijon mustard. Add to the salad and stir to evenly coat the ingredients. Serve salad over arugula leaves.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Soba Lo Mein with Chicken

Soba Lo Mein with Chicken

I make stir-fry for dinner fairly often. Usually it's a version of Kung Pao Chicken served with brown rice, but since I'd made risotto the previous night, I thought I'd try serving it with noodles.

I knew what I wanted to do with the dish, which was sauté a bunch of vegetables and chicken with a savory garlic-ginger sauce and serve it with noodles, in this case soba noodles, since that's what the grocery store had. What I didn't know was what the most accurate name for the dish would be. I learned that the key difference between chow mein and lo mein is that in chow mein the noodles are fried and in lo mein they aren't, so I went with the latter. I couldn't call it yakisoba, since the noodles in that dish are fried (according to Wikipedia, it is thus a variant of chow mein).

Soba Lo Mein with Chicken

Step 1:
1 12-oz. package soba noodles

Step 2:
1 lb. chicken breast cutlets, diced
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. low sodium tamari
1 tbsp. dry sherry
2 tsp. sugar
Pinch of red pepper flakes

Step 3:
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 sweet onion, diced
2 ribs of celery, sliced thinly on a diagonal
1 orange bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin julienne strips

Step 4:
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. minced ginger
1 tbsp. minced garlic

Step 5:
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tbsp. low sodium tamari
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. dry sherry
3 tsp. dark sesame oil

Optional garnishes:
1/2 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
Chopped scallions
Sriracha (Thai-style hot sauce)

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add noodles and cook according to package directions (the noodles I made cooked in 4 minutes). Drain noodles and set aside while completing other steps.

2. Add chicken to large bowl. Combine other Step 2 ingredients in a small bowl, pour over chicken, stir to coat and set aside during Step 3.

3. Heat canola oil in a large, steep-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and stir-fry until tender, about 5 minutes. Add bell pepper and carrot and stir fry another 5 minutes. Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.

4. Heat canola in skillet. Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry about a minute. Add chicken with marinade and sauté until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from pan.

5. Combine all Step 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Add to pan and cook a couple minutes to thicken. Reduce heat to medium. Return cooked vegetables and meat to pan, stirring to combine with sauce. Serve topped with chopped peanuts and scallions and, for kick, a squirt of sriracha.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Garlicky Chicken Thighs with Lemon-Anchovy Sauce

Garlicky Chicken Thighs with Lemon-Anchovy Sauce

Everyone should have a good, simple chicken recipe in their repertoire. The kind of dish you can make on a weeknight in a short time with a few ingredients you probably already have on hand.

I've made other versions of a dish like this: chicken parts sautéed and served in a flavorful sauce of garlic and something acidic, which could be wine, vinegar or lemon juice. None of them are as good as this dish. Melissa Clark has perfected the simple chicken sauté. Honestly. This is another good example of her smart, simple cooking, which I have become a major fan of.

The anchovies, apparent in the top photo, dissolve and are no longer noticeable in the bottom photo.
The sauce is really amazing, a pungent mix of garlic, anchovies and capers with a pinch of red hot pepper flakes for some heat. Anchovy haters should know that the little fishies dissolve in the sauce as they cook. So not only do you not taste them, you don't see them either. Yet the briney meatiness they impart is absolutely essential to what makes this dish really sing.

Some crusty bread is perfect for soaking up the sauce. Don't forget to wipe the pan clean with it.

Garlicky Chicken Thighs with Lemon-Anchovy Sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark, New York Times

1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (4 to 5 thighs)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 anchovy fillets (I recommend buying the kind that are packed in jars), rinsed and patted dry
2 tbsp. drained capers, patted dry
Dash of red hot chili pepper flakes
1 lemon, halved
Fresh chopped parsley, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Set the chicken thighs on a plate and season with salt and pepper.

3. Mince one of the garlic cloves. Set it aside and smash the others.

4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and let rest while you prepare the anchovy-garlic oil. Mince one of the garlic cloves and set it aside for later. In a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the 5 smashed whole garlic cloves, the anchovies, capers and chile. Let cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the anchovies, until the garlic browns around the edges and the anchovies dissolve, 3 to 5 minutes.

5. Add the chicken thighs and cook until nicely browned on one side, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip the thighs, place the pan in the oven and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

6. When chicken is done, transfer thighs to a plate. Place skillet back on the stove over medium heat be careful, as the pan handle will be hot), add minced garlic and the juice of one lemon half. Cook for about 30 seconds, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Return chicken to the pan and cook it in the sauce for another 30 seconds or so.

7. Transfer everything to a serving platter. Squeeze the remaining lemon half over the chicken and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chicken Fried Rice

Chicken fried rice

Chris loves rice dishes, so fried rice was almost guaranteed to go over well (it did thankfully). This is a pretty simple take on the dish, a staple of Chinese restaurants. You can use white or brown rice or a combination, as I did here. To make this a quick week-night dish,  cook the rice ahead of time (I did it the day before).

Chicken Fried Rice

1 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tbsp. soy sauce
3 tbsp. dry sherry
1 tbsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. canola oil (vegetable or peanut oil would work too)
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
3/4 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 tbsp. minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 tbsp. minced ginger (about 1 inch of peeled ginger root)
3 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. dark sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Sesame seeds

1. Whisk together soy sauce, sherry and cornstarch. Combine chicken and soy sauce mixture in a medium-size bowl, stirring to coat chicken. Set aside to marinate a few minutes.

2. Heat 1 tbsp. oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. Add onion, bell pepper and carrot and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add peas and cook another 2 minutes. Remove cooked vegetables from pan.

3. Add 1 tbsp. oil to pan. Add chicken with marindate and sauté until lightly browned and cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Remove chicken from pan.

4. Add remaining 1 tbsp. oil to pan. Add garlic and ginger and sauté about 1 minute. Add cooked rice and stir to break up and mix with the oil. Make a well in the middle of the pan. Add the egg and stir to scramble. Once it solidifies, mix together with the rice. Add cooked chicken and vegetables. Add 2 tbsp. soy sauce, 2 tbsp. sherry and 1 tsp. sesame oil. Stir to combine all ingredients and cook about 2 minutes to warm through. Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve topped with sesame seeds.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Winter Chicken Salad Sandwich

Chicken salad, typically mixed with onion, celery, herbs and mayo, makes a great summer meal whether topping a mix of fresh greens or sandwiched between two slices of hearty bread. With a different combination of flavors, it can make the transition to colder weather too.

I gave this salad a smoky-woodsy profile with a little smoked paprika and some maple syrup. Greek yogurt, instead of mayo, keeps it lighter. Although I accidentally omitted the celery, I didn't miss it. It would certainly be welcome, as would a teaspoon or so of chopped fresh rosemary or sage.

I served this between two toasted slices of Dave's Killer Bread, an amazing whole-grain loaf made in a Milwaukie, Oregon bakery. Sadly, the bakery's owner had a serious run-in with the law recently (in the neighborhood I grew up in, actually). Hopefully he can get back on his feet and the incident won't tarnish the brand, as this is truly delicious bread.

Winter Chicken Salad Sandwich

Makes 3 servings

1 1/2 cups chopped roasted chicken
3 scallions, white and green parts finely chopped
1/3 cup pecans, chopped
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 tbsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. seasoned salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
6 slices toasted whole grain bread (would also be good served over peppery arugula)

Combine all ingredients except bread in a large bowl and stir to combine. Serve between bread slices as a sandwich or over greens as a salad.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Rotini with Blue Cheese, Squash and Sage

Rotini with Blue Cheese, Squash and Sage

Do you love macaroni & cheese? I do. I've featured five versions of it: traditional, smoky, modernist, truffled and "MaCorny." It's a dish with a lot of potential for variety.

Certainly Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord are aware of its potential. Their cookbook, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, is dedicated to the subject, featuring a range of macaroni & cheese recipes including pasta salads, stovetop and hearty varieties, even dessert versions of mac & cheese. I was fortunate to get a copy for Christmas last year, and it was high time I made something from it.

Blue cheese isn't for everyone, but I love it. Even from a young age, blue cheese was my favorite salad dressing. I love its pungent, tangy creaminess. So I was attracted to the Melt recipe Roaring Forties with Honey-Roasted Delicata Squash, Sage Butter and Rotini.

Given their interest in cheese, the cookbook provides brand-specific recommendations for cheeses to use in the recipe. This could be frustrating if you chose to follow the recipe exactly. However, they also give suggestions for alternative cheeses, and I have no qualms about making further substitutions.

Roaring Forties is a prized Australian blue cheese, known for its nutty flavor and smooth texture. Whole Foods didn't have it the day I was shopping, so I instead opted for Extra Creamy Gorgonzola Cremaficato Igor, which I chose because it promised to be creamy and is supposed to be good for sauces.

In addition to swapping cheeses, I also substituted relatively more rare delicata squash for the more common butternut variety. I also stirred the blue cheese into the pasta as soon as it finished cooking so its warmth would melt the cheese, a move I figure is appropriate, given the title of the book, although not specifically suggested by the recipe.

Rotini with Blue Cheese, Squash and Sage
Adapted from Roaring Forties with Honey-Roasted Delicata Squash, Sage Butter and Rotini from Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh sage
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. honey
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 lb. rotini pasta (some brands call this fusilli--you want the corkscrew shape that isn't a tube)
10 oz. blue or gorgonzola cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
7 oz. pecans, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add sage, salt and honey and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add the squash and stir to coat squash with the butter mixture. Transfer squash and butter mixture to a 9 x 9 baking dish. Bake until the squash is soft and starting to brown around the edges, about 50 minutes, stirring halfway through.

2. Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain. Immediately add the blue cheese and stir to combine and melt as it's mixed with the hot pasta.

3. While the pasta cooks, toast pecans over medium-low heat in a medium frying pan until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add to pasta.

4. Combine the roasted squash with the pasta and stir to combine. Serve in shallow bowls.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and Dumplings

My resolution to use my cookbooks more doesn't just apply to new ones. I want to dig deeper into some of my old favorites too. And there's no old favorite with a warmer place in my heart than The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

The New Basics Cookbook
You can tell by how worn the cover is that I've gotten some good use out of The New Basics Cookbook.

When I was first getting into cooking as a high school student 20 years ago, this was the first cookbook I got to know well and it's influenced my cooking ever since. I was drawn to its Italian-leaning recipes, its emphasis on fresh ingredients and copious amounts of extra-virgin olive oil--all things I've embraced for many years. I've already shared recipes inspired by the cookbook that I've made for many years, such as Pasta Primavera and Grilled Chicken Fajitas. I'm also very fond of the book's recipes for pizza, pasta with quick-cooked tomato sauce and chicken brochettes.

It's a great cookbook for comfort food, which is why I thumbed through it recently hoping to find a good winter chicken dish. The first recipe in the "which came first" chapter (dedicated to poultry and eggs) is Chicken and Dumplings, which was just what I was looking for. We used to have this occasionally when I was a kid, although not this specific recipe.

I made a few changes to the dish. Rosso and Lukins call for pouring off the vegetable oil after browning the chicken. Since I was using boneless-skinless thighs, there wasn't a lot of excess fat, so I decided to keep it in the pot rather than discard all that good flavor. I also used the fat to brown the vegetables. Finally, I made the dumplings in the food processor, which makes them turn green, not a bad thing, but if you want them more beige with green flecks, you should mix the dough by hand.

Chicken and Dumplings
Adapted from a recipe in The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 stalks of celery, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
2 leeks, white and light green part
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small 1/2-inch cubes (I substituted butter for shortening)
1/3 cup whole milk, or more as needed
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Pat chicken dry. Combine paprika, seasoned salt and pepper in a small bowl and rub mixture onto the chicken.

2. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven or deep-sided sauté pan. Add chicken and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken from pan. Add celery, carrots, leeks and onion and sauté until they start to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Return chicken to the pot, add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover pot and reduce heat to simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.

3. While the chicken simmers, make the dumplings: combine the flour, baking powder and pepper in a food processor and pulse to combine. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture looks sandy. Add the parsley and milk and process until the dough comes together in a ball (add more milk if necessary). Turn dough out onto a floured work surface kneed it a few times. Cut the dough into 12 pieces.

4. Drop the dough pieces into the broth and cover the pot again. Continue cooking at a simmer until the dumplings are puffed and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Serve chicken and dumplings with broth in shallow bowls topped with a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Feed: January 22, 2014

The cold weather has me interested in soup, a recurring theme in this week's Feed selections. Above: West African Peanut Soup.
The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

New York Times: “A Change in the Kitchen,” by Julia Moskin.
Quick, name a woman chef. Wasn’t that hard, was it? Alice Waters, Michelle Bernstein, April Bloomfield, Nancy Silverton, Stephanie Izard, Alexandra Guarnaschelli, Anita Lo, Carla Hall and Gabrielle Hamilton might be among the names that easily roll off your tongue. A generation ago, you’d probably have said “Julia Child” and the conversation would have been over. However Child, dear as she was, was not a restaurant chef like the other women I listed. And it’s a sign of the sea change in the professional kitchen--a once exclusive male enclave in which women have made substantial inroads. Moskin writes about the implications of this change for women in the industry, while also noting where there’s still a ways to go.

New York Times: “Breaking Free From Winter’s Hold With a Lemony Escarole Soup,” by Melissa Clark.
As I sit in my living room writing it’s snowing outside. And I wish I had a warm bowl of Clark’s Lemony Egg Soup with Escarole, a simple, heavenly sounding concoction based on a Greek avgolemono.

Washington Post: “Soup secrets: Could the pros help me make a bowl of something restaurant-worthy?” by Jane Black.
I’ve been thinking recently that I’d like to make a really good carrot soup. Jane Black to the rescue! In addition to offering a recipe for her “killer” Carrot-Curry Soup, she recounts her time in culinary school years ago where she attempted to make consommé.

101 Cookbooks: “Immunity Soup Recipe,” by Heidi Swanson.
Feeling under the weather? Swanson’s potent broth made with a generous amount of white pepper, ginger and garlic is guaranteed to open your sinuses. The Asian-inspired soup also includes tofu and mushrooms and other seasonal accents (like corn in summer).

Washington Post: “Dumpling party marks Korean New Year with hundreds of mandu and dozens of eaters,” by Cathy Barrow.
The approach of the lunar New Year, celebrated in many Asian countries, it’s a good time to brush up on dumpling skills. Barrow chronicles how one household turns the occasion into a large party: Dumplingfest. 

Bon Appétit: “How to Eat Cheese Fondue the Proper Swiss/French Way,” by Ann Mah.
Cheese fondue is one of my very favorite things, but I didn’t realize, until reading Mah’s article, that I might be breaking fondue’s rule of etiquette when I eat it (thankfully, I’ve never enjoyed the dish in front of someone from France or Switzerland).

CNN Eatocracy: “7 greatest fats - ranked!,” by Josh Ozersky.
I love a good food list, and I’ve never seen anyone rank the best fats, which is a genius idea. Of course butter is #1 (and I totally agree), but what else made the cut? I won't spoil it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Celery, Fennel and Pear Salad with Pecorino and Pecans

This is the salad I made from the cookbook Franny's Simple Seasonal Italian that accompanied the Spaghetti with Chickpeas I wrote about yesterday. The original recipe calls for walnuts, but I substituted pecans since that's what I had on hand.

Celery leaves are the herb ends of celery stalks. If you buy celery hearts they are generally cut off ahead of time, so buy the longer celery to get them still attached.

Celery, Fennel and Pear Salad with Pecorino and Pecans
Adapted from a recipe in Franny's Simple Seasonal Italian by Andrew Feinberg, Francine Stephens and Melissa Clark

3/4 cup pecans
2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed, quartered lengthwise, cored and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick pieces (about 1 cup)
2 to 3 celery stalks, cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch thick pieces
2 tbsp. roughly chopped celery leaves
1 bosc pear, quartered, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch thick pieces
Juice from 1 lemon
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pecorino cheese for shaving

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread pecans on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Toast until fragrant and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Allow to cool and then roughly chop.

2. Combine the fennel, celery, celery leaves, pear and toasted pecans in a large bowl. Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, pour over salad and toss to combine. Serve topped with shaved pecorino cheese.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Spaghetti with Chickpeas

Spaghetti with Chickpeas

In addition to using my pressure cooker more, I set another cooking-related New Year's resolution this year: use my cookbooks more.

Like a lot of avid home cooks, I have a nice, varied collection of cookbooks ranging from all-purpose favorites like The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, which was my first favorite cookbook, to more specialized works like Melt by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord, which focuses exclusively on macaroni and cheese.

Yet, when I get an idea to make something specific, I generally turn to Google to find a recipe while my cookbooks remain sadly underutilized. So I set a goal to make something new from one of my cookbooks at least once a month.

Franny's Simple Seasonal Italian

That resolution found me thumbing through Franny's Simple Seasonal Italian by Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens, owners of the celebrated Franny's in Brooklyn, with an assist from New York Times food writer Melissa Clark and a foreword by Alice Waters. This was one of last year's most acclaimed new cookbooks. It covers a lot of ground from starters and salads through pasta, pizza and dessert. There's even cocktails.

Seeking a good pasta and salad combo for dinner, I made Spaghetti with Chickpeas accompanied by Celery, Fennel and Pear Salad with Pecorino.

The pasta is wonderfully simple and flavorful and something you can make in the winter. The recipe called for cooked chickpeas, which Feinberg and Stephens make with dried chickpeas, but to further simplify the dish, I used canned. Frying them in olive oil enhances their nutty flavorful, while making them a bit crisp. The anchovies really do melt away as they cook in the oil. It's pretty cool to watch.

Spaghetti with Chickpeas
Adapted from a recipe from Franny's Simple Seasonal Italian

Serves 4

1 lb. dried spaghetti
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 anchovy fillets (rinsed if packed in salt)
1/2 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Kosher salt, to taste

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions 2 minutes shy of al dente. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a Dutch oven or deep-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add chickpeas and cook without stirring until browned on one side, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant and lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add the anchovies and use a wooden spoon to mash and stir them into the oil until they dissolve, about 1 minute. Add the red chili pepper flakes and cook for another 30 seconds. Carefully add 2 tablespoons of water to the pot (it will sputter).

3. Add the spaghetti, chopped herbs and pepper to the pot and toss to combine with the chickpeas and sauce. Cook an additional 2 minutes until the spaghetti is al dente. Add lemon juice and season with salt to taste. Serve on plates or in shallow bowls.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Salmon Soba Noodle Soup

I'm finishing Winter Soup Week with this simple Asian salmon and soba noodle soup. If you're in the mood for something warm but that isn't overpowering flavor-wise, this is a nice choice.

The broth is everyone's favorite umami-rich liquid, dashi, which I've used before to poach salmon. I did something similar here except that I used the dashi as broth as well and served the fish with soba noodles, shiitake mushrooms and scallions.

Salmon Soba Noodle Soup
Note: dashi is a Japanese broth made from seaweed and bonita (dried smoked fish) flakes prized for its high concentration of glutamates a.k.a. umami.

Makes 2 large servings

6 oz. dried soba noodles
4 cups dashi (see note and recipe)
2 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp. fresh minced ginger
4 or 5 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
3 scallions, white and green parts chopped separately
3/4 lb. salmon fillet, skin removed
1 tsp. sesame oil
Black or white toasted sesame seeds

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the soba noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside (they cook fast, so I recommend waiting to cook them until just a few minutes before the fish is done).

2. Add dashi to a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the soy sauce and ginger. Add the mushrooms, the white parts of the scallions and salmon fillet and reduce heat to medium to simmer. Cook the fish to desired doneness, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the salmon and break it into bite-size pieces. Return salmon to the pot and turn off the heat. Stir in the scallion greens.

3. Divide the soba noodles into two bowls. Pour 1/2 tsp. sesame oil over noodles in each bowl. Ladle a generous portion of salmon, mushrooms and broth over the noodles. Top with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

West African Peanut Soup

West African Peanut Soup

In a recent Washington Post Weeknight Vegetarian column, Joe Yonan wrote about the recipes of Moosewood, an Ithaca, New York restaurant known for its vegetarian cooking.

At first blush, peanuts in soup may seem strange, but they give this creamy, pureed soup a wonderful depth of flavor. Peanuts are a legume after all, albeit one we generally eat roasted.

Due to some poor planning on my part, I further simplified the ingredients of this recipe by omitting the one celery rib and garnish of chopped cilantro (I just didn't have them on hand). Certainly, go ahead and add them, but it was still delicious as is. I added the garnish of chopped peanuts.

West African Peanut Soup
Adapted from a recipe in The Washington Post as adapted from Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Favorites by the Moosewood Collective

1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
Salt, to taste
1 tbsp. peeled, minced fresh ginger root
1 1/2 tsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce, plus more to taste
12 ounces sweet potatoes, peeled, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups tomato juice, preferably low-sodium
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 scallion, white and green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices
2-3 tbsp. coarsely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts

1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add onion (and celery if using) and salt and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the ginger and hot sauce and then add the potatoes and water. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the tomato juice and peanut butter. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup (or alternatively, transfer the soup in batches to a blender to puree). Serve in bowls topped with a sprinkle of chopped scallions and peanuts.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Feed: January 15, 2014

Mushroom-bacon risotto
Mushroom-Bacon Risotto. What more risotto recipes? Check out the Wall Street Journal story below.

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

Thrillist: "10 Little-Known Historical Facts About American Chinese Food," by Adam Lapetina.
In case you haven't heard, the Chinese food you generally get at Chinese restaurants in the U.S. isn't authentic. It's an Americanized version of the cuisine adapted to the tastes and availability of ingredients of this country. It's also been around along time now, having developed its own history, which Lapetina wonderfully describes in this article. The U.S. has a long history of adapting foreign cuisine to suit our tastes, hence things like New York- and Chicago-style pizza and Tex-Mex (fajitas!).

Table Matters: "Cold Fusion - Westernized Korean food: the next experiment in Asian fusion," by Shelby Vittek.
By now, everyone knows the Korean taco (which I enjoy frequently from TaKorean), but isn't it time for other dishes to get a Korean makeover? Vittek reports on a Korean cooking class whose last assignment was just that: put a Korean spin on a classic western dish. The results like Bulgogi Cheesesteak and Korean Spaghetti Bolognese sound perfect. Plus, I love the quote from the Drexel University Hospital and Tourism program director declaring Korean cuisine "the next big thing," since I declared as much in my In/Out for 2014 list a couple weeks ago.

Washington Post: "Superfoods in play: We challenge chefs to design recipes using nutritious ingredients," by Bonnie S. Benwick.
This is the first in a series of articles where the Post gets local chefs to come up with healthful dishes for home cooks featuring ingredients from the Post's list of "superfoods." Old Angler's Inn Chef Nick Palermo tackles the challenge first, coming up with recipes for turkey and avocado (his Pan-Seared Pork Chops With Roasted Avocado, Broccoli and Sherry Vinaigrette sounds amazing).

Washington Post: "Gin goes dark: At what point does aging render it unrecognizable?," by M. Carrie Allan. In yet another fine example of how Spirits columnist Carrie Allan and I tend to be on the same booze wavelength: one day after I buy my first bottle of barrel-aged gin, she's written an article about it. Her article raises the interesting question about whether aging gins in this manner makes them lose their "ginniness,"a term attributed to Beefeater master distiller Desmond Payne.

Wall Street Journal: "Doing Right by Risotto," by Aleksandra Crapanzano.
Risotto is a dish I absolutely adore. Crapanzano's article on the Italian rice dish includes four interesting and varied recipes and some great tidbits, like that a lot of Italians skip the long stirring and make their risotto in a pressure cooker (which I've tried, it worked great).

Los Angeles Times: "Butter consumption in U.S. hits 40-year high," by David Pierson.
Counterintuitively, Pierson writes that "America's health fixation has been a boon for butter." Why, you ask? Because consumers seeking natural alternatives to hydrogenated vegetable products are more and more using the creamy, fatty spread for their cooking. Seriously, does anyone eat margarine anymore? Other than a vegan variety, I haven't had it in decades.

Saveur: "Asian Noodle Soups."
Since I declared this Winter Soup Week, here's a gallery of Asian noodle soups and recipes from Saveur. I'll have my own coming later this week.

Huffington Post: "International Foods That Are Hard To Find, From Fish Sperm To Duck Embryos," by Alison Spiegel.
"To each his own," you might conclude, after perusing this gallery of hard-to-find (in the U.S., at least) foods, some of which sound, well, kind of nasty.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup

A simple soup consisting of a meat, a bean and a green works so well in winter. It comes together pretty fast too: this one takes just over a half hour to have ready. You could even speed it up a bit by using chicken or vegetable broth. I used water, so that the flavors of the ingredients made its own broth, but I also added additional simmering time for this.

This kind of soup is extremely versatile. Start with mirepoix (that's the fancy French term for onion, celery and carrots, also known as sofrito in Spanish). Add a meat (or not if you want to make a vegetarian soup). Add seasonings, beans of any type and liquid. And lastly, add the greens. Since they generally cook faster, the greens go in last. I used red kale for this recipe and simmered the kale for about 15 minutes. If using a different green, you may need to adjust: collard or mustard greens would take longer, while spinach cooks much faster.

I finished this soup with a little white balsamic vinegar to add a slight acid note that nicely balances the soups' savory vegetable flavors. You could also use lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.

Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 lb. Italian chicken sausage, removed from casings
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. dried thyme
6 cups water
15 oz. can white beans (I used great northern, but navy or cannellini beans would also work)
1 bunch kale (I used red kale because that's what the grocery store had), ribs removed, leaves cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
Grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the vegetables have softened and starting to brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Add the sausage and continue cooking until the sausage has browned, breaking up it with a wooden spoon as it cooks.

2. Add the bay leaf, oregano, thyme, water and beans. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Add kale, increase heat to medium, and simmer another 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the white balsamic vinegar. Serve in bowls topped with grated parmesan.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Soup Week

Is there a more ideal food to prepare in winter than a warm bowl of soup? It's a wonderful way to turn canned and dried ingredients into something delicious during the time of year when fresh produce is scarcest. It can warm you up when it's cold outside. It's easy to share, perfect for leftovers and, when making family recipes, even brings back memories.

This week, I'll be sharing a collection of new soup recipes for winter, like Sweet Potato and Pear Soup, which is up today. [Update: later in the week, I shared recipes for Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup, West African Peanut Soup and Salmon Soba Noodle Soup.]

What makes a winter soup? Well, soups that rely on fresh summer produce like corn and tomatoes are out. And cold soups aren't very wintery either. But after that, I think most soups would be welcome during the cold months.

Bean or legume soups are a particular favorite of mine. Black beans are my favorite, such as the Basic Black Bean Soup or Black Bean and Butternut Squash Soup. One of the best soups I've ever had is this Smoky Pinto Bean, Red Wine and Bacon Soup. While fresh pea soup may reign in the spring, in winter Split Pea Soup with Ham is a delicious classic. Navy Bean Soup with Kielbasa and Homemade Vegetable Stock is a versatile way to make interesting bean soup.

Soups, or rather stews, can turn tough cuts of meat into something delicious, like this wonderful Beef Stew in Red Wine Sauce. A good Lentil Stew is a winter must as well.

Winter and year-round vegetables makes wonderful soups, many of which are vegetarian. Butternut squash, especially pureed gives soup great body, like in this Smoky Butternut Squash and Apple SoupFrench Onion Soup is a particularly good way to warm up on a cold day. Parsnip-Carrot Soup with Tahini and Roasted Chickpeas is perfect if you love hummus. Apple-Fennel Soup with Beans and Sausage pulls together a lot of interesting flavors. Carrot-Sweet Potato Soup with Bacon or Sweet Potato Soup with bacon and Chives both use ingredients you can generally find year-round.

Lastly, noodle soups rule in winter, such as Asian style soups like Chicken Miso Ramen and Chicken-Udon Soup, or the Italian favorite, Pasta e Fagioli.

Sweet Potato and Pear Soup

Fall and winter vegetables lend themselves to pureed soups so well. I suppose because they're orange, sweet potatoes and butternut squash feel interchangeable to me in many recipes. Like the Smoky Butternut squash and Apple Soup I made recently, this pairs sweet potato with pear. It's a pretty simple soup that comes together in under an hour. For a nice smoky-spicy kick, sprinkle it with Tabasco's chipotle hot sauce.

Sweet Potato and Pear Soup

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into thin (less than 1/4-inch thick) slices
2 pears, peeled, cored and diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
Salt (or seasoned salt), to taste
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth (may substitute vegetable broth)
Greek yogurt (nonfat or low-fat)
1/4 cup fresh chopped chives
Chipotle hot sauce (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add sweet potatoes, pears, garlic and ginger, season with salt, and sauté mixture for about 5 minutes until aromatic and the potatoes start to soften around the edges.

2. Add cumin, cinnamon, smoked paprika and chicken broth. Increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes until the sweet potatoes are soft. Puree mixture using an immersion blender or transfer in batches to puree in a blender. Serve in shallow bowls topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt, a sprinkle of chives and, if desired, a few squirts of smoky hot sauce.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Pressure Cooker Chicken Paprikash

Now that I've covered the basics of pressure cooking and shared a number of recipes, it's time to try something original. My pressure cooker (and I suspect most others) include a chart of recommended cooking times for most ingredients. Using that information, plus guidance on a minimum amount of liquid needed, can allow you invent your own recipes for making something delicious in the pressure cooker.

You can use the pressure cooker like any other pot on the stove to first brown meats and vegetables as shown above. Below, the paprikash just after it's finished pressure cooking.

I've always wanted to try chicken paprikash, a traditional Hungarian stew of chicken, vegetables and paprika, which seems perfect for a pressure cooker. I came up with this recipe after consulting a number of recipes I found online. Here, I've dredged the chicken in flour before browning it, which also helps thicken the sauce.

Hungarian sweet paprika

I kept the spice mix pretty simple to just focus on paprika. A word on that: there are lots of varieties of paprika available now. For this dish, I recommend a traditional sweet Hungarian paprika. I definitely wouldn't use a hot paprika and, as much as I like it, smoked paprika doesn't seem right for this dish either.

I served my paprikash over roasted spaghetti squash. Egg noodles or mashed potatoes would be good as well.

Pressure Cooker Chicken Paprikash

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 lb. boneless-skinless chicken thighs
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, cored, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp. Hungarian sweet paprika
3/4 cup dry white wine (I used sauvignon blanc)
2 tbsp. tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/3 cup fresh chopped parsley

1.  Add olive oil to the pressure cooker and heat over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Put the flour in a shallow bowl and dredge the chicken thighs in the flour. Brown the chicken in the hot oil in batches (probably 3 or 4), cooking about 2 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate.

2. Add onion, red pepper and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and starting to brown. Add the paprika and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the wine and tomato paste and season with salt and pepper.

3. Return the chicken to the pot. Lock the lid into place and continue cooking over medium-high heat until high pressure is achieved. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes at high pressure, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain high pressure.

4. Depressurize the pressure cooker by place it in the sink and running cold water over the lid. Once pressure is released, carefully remove the lid so that any remaining steam is released away from you. Stir in the yogurt. Serve the paprikash in shallow bowls topped with fresh chopped parsley.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pressure Cooker Barbecue Spareribs

Pressure cooker barbecue spareribs

One of the greatest uses of the pressure cooker is to quickly tenderize cuts of meat. Spareribs can roast in the oven for hours. In a pressure cooker, they're nice and tender in less than a half hour.

To make this recipe as simple as possible, I used a store-bought barbecue sauce for this recipe. I selected a good one: Stubb's Hickory Bourbon.

As I mentioned on Monday, I did have an instance of my pressure cooker not coming up to pressure as expected, possibly either because a valve was clogged or the lid wasn't on right. It happened when I made this dish. Because of that, it boiled for a long time before I fixed the problem and got it cooking under high pressure. So when I made this, I only cooked it under pressure for 15 minutes. But I think 20 minutes is probably more reasonable if you're doing this right.

That's the amount of time in the source recipe for pork loin ribs (better known in the U.S. as "baby back ribs") from the Pressure Cooker Cookbook that I used to inform this dish. I changed the dish in a few ways by substituting spareribs, browning the meat first and changing the sauce a little.

I served these ribs with truffled mac & cheese and simply prepared collard greens.

Pressure Cooker Barbecue Spareribs
Based on Pork Loin Ribs with Barbecue Sauce from The Pressure Cooker Cookbook by Laura Washburn

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 lb. pork spareribs, cut into sections with 2 to 4 ribs
1 cup barbecue sauce, plus additional for basting and serving (I used Stubb's Hickory Bourbon)
1 cup water
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. seasoned salt (or to taste)
3-4 scallions, greens sliced on a diagonal

1. Heat vegetable oil in the pressure cooker pot over medium-high heat. Brown spareribs in batches, about 2 minutes per side. Set ribs aside as they are browned.

2. Add the barbecue sauce, water, honey and seasoned salt to the pot. Place the ribs in the pot, turning to coat with the sauce. Lock the lid into place and cook over medium-high heat until high pressure is reached. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook at high pressure for 20 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain pressure. Use a quick-release method (using a release valve or the cold-water method) to quickly depressurize the pressure cooker. Carefully remove the lid to vent any remaining steam away from you.

3. Preheat oven broiler with oven rack about 7 inches from the broiler. Remove the ribs from the pressure cooker and transfer to a baking sheet with the meatier side facing up (you might want to line it with aluminum foil). Brush the rib racks with additional barbecue sauce. Broil for about 3-5 minutes to brown the tops (watch to prevent burning). Serve topped with a few scallion slices and with some additional sauce on the side.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Feed: January 8, 2014

Italian Sausage and Lentil Stew, photo by Judy G (Source: Just Garnished)

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

Washington Post: “Lentils, beyond soups and stews: Have you ever had them like this?,” by Joe Yonan.
With the temperatures in D.C. positively Arctic this week, we’re in need for some hot comfort food. So Yonan’s story on this ancient and versatile legume is perfectly timed. In addition to a number of great recipes (Tacos with Spicy-Smoky Lentils sound amazing), he includes a guide to common varieties and their best uses.

Los Angeles Times: “How to build a vegetable soup -- with a dozen recipes to get you started,” by Russ Parsons.
If the lentils haven’t convinced you it’s team for a steaming bowl of vegetables, this story by Parsons all about building good, simple vegetables soups will have you rooting through the fridge to see what you can concoct with what’s on hand. I like his suggestion to add a little acidity as a finishing touch. I’m getting hungry just looking at the Chickpea and Noodle Soup with Persian Herbs.

Just Garnished: “Italian Sausage and Lentil Stew,” by Judy G.
From Judy G, a food blogger I often chat with during Monday night #FoodieChats, here’s another great idea for a winter lentil stew, this one using Italian sausage, spinach and a personal favorite canned item: fire-roasted diced tomatoes.

New York Times: “Your 2014 Resolution: Drink Adventurously,” by Eric Asimov.
The New York Times’ wine writer rounds up an interesting assortment of 20 winter wines under $20, complete with infographic.

Food & Wine: “Brussels Sprouts with Prosciutto and Juniper,” by April Bloomfield.
Juniper berries are a wonderful vessel for woodsy flavors. I’ve used them in cocktails, like the wintery Walk in the Woods with smoked whiskey. Here, The Spotted Pig Chef April Bloomfield has used them to flavor pan-roasted Brussels sprouts, which sounds like a marvelous idea.

Wall Street Journal: "Romancing the Scone,” by Gail Monaghan. 
Monaghan offers a tasty ode to the popular British tea treat, along with a “foolproof’ recipe.

Thrillist: “The Historical Timeline of the Mcdonald's Menu,” by Dan Gentile.
It’s amazing that when I was born, McDonalds’ menu had only 6 or 7 items, as compared to the 26 there are today (not counting variations). Gentile has visually documented the evolution and expansion of the popular fast-food chain’s offerings.

CNN Eatocracy: “Best and worst food trends of 2013,” by Kate Krader.
Looking back at last year, Krader examines the best (cronuts) and worst (ramen burgers) of last year’s food trends.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pressure Cooker Mole Chicken Chili

Mole Chicken Chili

Soups and stews are among the easiest recipes to make in a pressure cooker. Start by sautéing the vegetables and perhaps browning the meats, add liquid and seasonings and bring to pressure. Pretty simple.

This Mole Chicken Chili recipe from America's Test Kitchen's cookbook Pressure Cooker Perfection appealed to me for several reasons: 1) I love chili (I shared a week's worth of chili recipes last October), 2) I've always wanted to make a mole recipe and 3) I get to use my pressure cooker to make  a good dinner in just over an hour.

This might not be a traditional mole, but the flavor is definitely there. The Test Kitchen's goal was to approximate the flavor of mole with pantry staples substituting for the lengthy list of ingredients in a traditional mole. That, combined with the simplicity of preparation, makes for a great recipe for pressure cooker novices.

This recipe calls for canned chipotles in adobo sauce. One can will contain a lot more chiles than you need for this recipe (they are very spicy). I like to divide the rest up until small ziplock bags and freeze them for use in other recipes.

A word of caution about this recipe: the sauce is very thick, so if you cook this at too hot a temperature while under pressure, it can stick and burn to the bottom of the pan (speaking from experience here). That's not to say it's not worth making--even if you have some burn-on mess to deal with. Just wanted to warn you.

Mole Chicken Chili
Adapted from a recipe in Pressure Cooker Perfection by America's Test Kitchen

3 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. chili powder
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (about 1 chile)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
4 lb. boneless-skinless chicken thighs (the recipe calls for bone-in thighs without skin, but that can be hard to find and the boneless ones are easier to deal with)
1 onion, halved and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, stemmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

1. Heat 2 tbsp. of oil in the pressure cooker pot over medium heat. Add chili powder, cocoa, garlic, chipotle, cinnamon and cloves and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, raisins and peanut butter and stir to combine with a wooden spoon, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Simmer for 5 minutes. Puree mixture with an immersion blender until smooth, about 30 seconds (or alternatively transfer mixture to a blender and puree then return to the pot).

2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining tbsp. of oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Once the sauce has simmered, add the onion to the pot.

3. Add the chicken to the pot with the pureed sauce and onions. Lock the lid into place and bring to high pressure over medium-high heat. When the pot reaches high pressure, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 25 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain high pressure.

4. Remove pot from heat and release pressure quickly using the quick-release valve (I wouldn't recommend the cold-water release for this recipe, since you need to continue cooking after releasing pressure). Once pressure is released, carefully remove the lid directing any remaining steam away from you. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board or bowl and shred meat. Meanwhile, bring the sauce in the pot to a simmer over medium heat. Add the red pepper and cook until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chicken back to the pot and stir to combine. Serve in bowls topped with fresh cilantro.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Under Pressure

One of my New Year's resolutions is to use my pressure cooker more. I got it last spring and was so excited about all its potential. I made a wonderful spring risotto and then...nothing else. This year I will do better.

This week is pressure cooker week. Kicking it off today is an equipment post on what you should know about pressure cookers with a focus on my model, the Fagor Duo 10-Quart. There's also a recipe for Pressure-Cooked Quinoa Salad with Cauliflower. Later in the week I'll follow with recipes for Chicken Mole Chili, Barbecue Spareribs and Chicken Paprikash.

Many of those sounds like recipes that could take all afternoon to produce, but with a pressure cooker, most of them are manageable even on a weeknight.

Some good resources for pressure cooking:
  • Pressure Cooker Perfection. Published last year by America's Test Kitchen, this collects many of their pressure cooker recipes with additional good content about pressure cookers and how they work.
  • The Pressure Cooker Cookbook by Laura Washburn. Another good cookbook of recipes tailored to pressure cookers.
  • Modernist Cuisine at Home by Nathan Myhrvold. Not a pressure cooker cookbook per se, but this adventurous cooking text includes quite a few recipes for which a pressure cooker is essential.
  • Miss Vickie's Pressure Cooker Recipes. A great web-based source of recipes and other pressure cooker information.
  • ePressure I have a stovetop pressure cooker, so the recipes I'm featuring this week are based on that. However, if you're interested in the electric alternative, here's a site with a lot of great information and recipes.

Equipment: Pressure Cooker

Fagor Duo 10-Quart Pressure Cooker

As a child, I loved kitchen equipment. My mother kept many of the small gadgets without sharp edges in a low drawer so I could play with them. An old crank-style egg beater held particular fascination; I also loved the pastry wheel with its zig-zag fluted edge.

But there was one item in the kitchen that was less the source of fascination and more that of terror: the pressure cooker. Ours was like a large-ish aluminum saucepan with a tightly fitted lid that had a little pressure indicator on the side of the lid and a valve on top that a "jiggler" fitted over. When it was cooking, the thing made a lot of noise and that jiggler danced like crazy. Nothing bad ever happened (thankfully), but compared to the other typical methods of cooking via roasting, sautéing or boiling, it seemed to me a strange way to cook.

These days, pressure cookers are different. Advancements in their design have made them easier to use, quieter (no more noisy jiggler) and, most importantly, safer. Multiple safety features are built into today's cookers to release pressure safely in the event of excess pressure build up. Because today's models vent less steam while cooking, they require less liquid for recipes and cook even faster.

Equipment features and safety

Let's take a closer look at my model, the Fagor Duo 10 quart stainless steel pressure cooker. I got this model last year, with an eye to get the 8-quart size. At the time, Amazon was sold out of 8-quarts, so I opted for the 10-quart over the 6-quart, since a larger pressure cooker will provide more versatility: you can cook a small amount in a large cooker, but you can't cook a large amount in a small one. (An additional benefit of the 10-quart model is that you can use it for canning, although I have yet to try this.)

This model comes highly recommended. America's Test Kitchen rated it a highly recommended "best buy," second only to a Fissler Vitaquick model that costs $170 more.  No surprise then that the Fagor Duo is the model pictured throughout America's Test Kitchen's Pressure Cooker Perfection cookbook.

The controls are located on the lid. The dial at the top is the operating valve, which can be set to low (8 psi) or high (15 psi) pressure. It also has a steam release position (more on that in a bit) and a position to unlock and remove the valve for cleaning. The little round yellow circle is the pressure indicator. When the pot is under pressure, this pops up. When it's up, you can't open the pressure cooker. When it's down, there's no pressure in the cooker, and it can be opened. The large yellow switch is the pressure lock, which must be in the lock position for pressure to build up. The marking to the left of the handle helps align the lid when putting it on the pot.

As shown here in the top photo, the lid and pot rim are designed to interlock for a tight fit, with a silicone gasket under the lid to create an air-tight seal. As shown in the bottom photo, the gasket is removable. Be sure to get it really clean. Over time, especially if you use your pressure cooker a lot, the gasket can wear out and should be replaced.

Two other items of interest under the lid: the safety valve, which is the round piece close to the handle and is the under-lid counterpart to the pressure indicator. In the event of excess pressure buildup, steam will escape through this valve. The smaller metal round piece next to the safety valve is the underneath side of the operating valve. Be sure this is clean and free of food particles. Steam escapes through this valve during cooking.

The last item of note on the lid is this cutout on the side which exposes some of the silicone gasket. This is the safety vent. In the event of a high-pressure buildup, steam will escape from here, and in the event of a serious pressure buildup, the gasket will actually push through the hole or tear (obviously if this happens, it needs to be replaced). Because some cooking liquid may also squirt out if this is activated, be sure this vent is pointed away from you while using the pressure cooker.

These various vents and valves are designed to release pressure in the event of a buildup to prevent the device from exploding. These measures aren't foolproof though, and it is important to follow the safety guidelines when operating a pressure cooker, such as making sure the safety components are clean and free of debris, not overfilling the pot, paying attention to signals that indicate pressure may be building up too much and never, never, never leaving the pressure cooker unattended. For more useful safety information, see Miss Vickie's post.

Equipment use

With the lid off, the pressure cooker pot is just that--a pot. A lot of recipes begin with normal stovetop cooking in the pot to brown meats and vegetables before the actual pressure cooking. Once that's done and all the ingredients are added, including an adequate amount of liquid, the lid is put on and locked into place to build pressure. Although the Fagor instructions say to heat the pot over high heat to build pressure, I always use medium-high heat, since this temperature is sufficient and, because I have an electric stove, it doesn't take as long for the burner to transition to lower heat once pressure is achieved.

Once sufficient pressure is achieved, the pressure indicator will pop up. At this point, you should reduce the heat to medium-low. This is probably the trickiest aspect of pressure-cooker use: getting the pressure temperature right. You're aiming to maintain pressure. You don't want the temperature too high or you will build up excess pressure that will release out the safety valve and safety vent, which I've done a couple times. You also don't want the temperature too low, or the pressure will drop (i.e. the pressure indicator will go down). I think it takes experience to get this right. There should be a little bit of steam coming out of the operating valve while the cooker is pressurized. If that goes away, it may be a sign your temperature is too low. Likewise, if a lot of steam is coming out around the handle, it's probably a sign the temperature is too high. Generally, right before you reach pressurization, there will be quite a bit of steam coming out, but once you reach pressure, there is very little steam.

I have had one instance of the device not coming up to pressure as expected. It should reach pressure relatively quickly--like within 5 to 10 minutes cooking at medium-high, especially if you've already been browning ingredients in the pot and it's already warm. In my case, it was on the stove for about 20-25 minutes and lots of steam was coming out, but the pressure indicator never popped up. I turned the burner off. Turned the operating valve to release steam, then removed the lid. I checked the operating valve and the emergency valve--the latter seemed to be a little sticky, so perhaps that was the problem. It's also possible the lid wasn't on quite right. After checking and cleaning those pieces, I replaced the lid and turned the stove back up. It achieved pressure really fast--like in a couple minutes--and I was back in operation.

Once you've cooked the ingredients at pressure for the specified period of time, there are three methods to release pressure:

  1. Natural release. This is the easiest: just remove the pot from the stove and allow pressure to drop as it cools down. It takes the longest though--about 15 minutes. So I've never used this method.
  2. Automatic release. Turn the operating valve to the steam release setting. Be careful with this, as steam will shoot out of the operating valve for a couple minutes. This method is useful if you are going to continue cooking with the pot after releasing pressure, such as reducing the cooking liquid for a sauce. 
  3. Cold water release. This is the fastest method. Remove the pot from the stove and set it in the sink (be sure the sink is clean and empty). Run cold water over the lid until pressure is released. There's an audible hiss as the pressure is released. Be sure the water drains as you do this, as you don't want to immerse the pot in cold water. If you're done cooking, you'll probably want to use this method. It's also the best for vegetables that might overcook if you use one of the longer release methods.

Be careful when opening the lid even after pressure is released, since there will still be hot steam in the pot.

There's a fair amount to know about using a pressure cooker, but once you've done it a few times, you'll get the hang of it. Ready to try a recipe? Pressure-Cooked Quinoa Salad with Cauliflower is an easy place to start.