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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fast Perfect Brown Rice

Do you own a pressure cooker? Does it sit in some dark corner of your cabinets, collecting dust? Did you inherit it from your grandmother and fear that it will blow up? I have a good reason for you to break out that pressure cooker: brown rice. If you don't have a pressure cooker, consider this - you can cook perfect brown rice in about 25 minutes. I know there are plenty of folks who don't like brown rice but I'm here to tell you this is good stuff. I much prefer brown rice to white rice. Its flavor is nuttier and I like the chewy texture. You can now find basmati brown rice which is even better. White rice is just blah in comparison.

In my house, we eat more brown rice than white rice (much to my daughter's chagrin). And because of that trusty pressure cooker, I don't even have to think very far ahead to make it.

Pressure cookers are good for lots of other things too. You can go from dried beans to soft and creamy in under 30 minutes. It's great for cooking stews and soups, simulating hours of stovetop cooking. They are very popular in India, where my pressure cooker was manufactured. Why? Because they appreciate the sped-up slow-cooked convenience of the thing.

I don't suggest you use grandma's ancient pressure cooker. In the old days, pressure cookers did blow up, or so I have read. Nowadays, pressure cooker have multiple safety systems to prevent an all-out explosion. Which is a good reason to invest in a modern one. You can get a decent one for under $50. That's a pretty good deal in cookware.

This isn't really a recipe - more a method. It's a variation on a method in Lorna Sass's Cooking Under Pressure. Last night, I skipped a step - boiling the water before adding it to the rice - and it went from OK brown rice to perfect. I've provided measurements for cooking 1 1/2 cups rice (our typical batch) or 1 cup rice.

Fast Brown Rice
(makes 3 1/2 cups rice if cooking 1 1/2 cups raw rice; 2 1/4 cups if cooking 1 cup raw rice)

1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups brown rice (1 cup rice)
2 1/2 cups water (1 3/4 cups water)

Heat oil over medium heat in pressure cooker. Add rice and toss in oil until rice becomes fragrant. Do not brown. Add water. Lock on the lid and turn heat to high. When the pressure cooker reaches pressure (and how you know this will depend on the model you have; mine has a jiggle top), turn down heat to just maintain pressure and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow pressure to drop for 10 minutes. Release remaining pressure and open the top. Fluff rice with a fork and serve.

Note: You can substitute stock for water to add more flavor. You can add  1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt to the water but I never salt my rice.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Chuck roast was on sale at the market last week. I don't make pot roast often, but it is the perfect dish for cold winter nights. Chuck roast needs to be cooked a long, long time because it is run through with connective tissue. That's what makes it a great pot roast. The collagen dissolves with long moist cooking, adding to the richness of the gravy. There is some fat in chuck roast, which doesn't hurt either!

This recipe is adapted from a slow cooker recipe. Still uses a slow cooker but you can cook in in the oven if you don't have a slow cooker. A slow cooker is essentially a very low oven, that maintains a temperature between 200 degrees (low) and 300 degrees (high).

Best side dish for pot roast: mashed potatoes. I don't know why you would serve it with anything else. This recipe doesn't have carrots cooked with the meat so you'll want to serve a green vegetable along with the roast. A red wine is the best accompanying beverage. I had a glass of 2007 Santa Carolina Carmenere Reserva Estrella de Oro from Chile and it was perfect. I'm sure a robust malbec from Argentina would work just as well.

Easy Slow-Cooker Pot Roast
(serves 6 - 8)

2 tablespoons oil
2 medium onions, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
a 3 - 4 pound chuck roast
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
all purpose flour
15 to 16 ounces stewed tomatoes
1 cup water
1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft and just golden. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Remove onions and garlic and dump into the slow cooker.
2. Return skillet to stove, add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and increase heat to medium-high.
3. Season chuck roast generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle top and bottom lightly with flour.
4. Brown roast in skillet. Don't be shy; browning will improve the flavor of the pot roast. Remove roast from skillet and add to onions.
5. Add tomatoes and water to skillet, scrapping browned bits off bottom of the skillet. Once you have loosened all the bits, dump everything in the slow cooker. Add Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves.
6. Cover and cook on low for 5 - 6 hours.
7. Remove roast, set aside on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Remove bay leaves and discard.
8. Take everything left in the slow cooker and puree to make the gravy.
9. Slice the roast and smother with gravy.
10. Serve with a robust red wine!

If cooking in the oven, cook everything in a ovenproof covered casserole or dutch oven at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

 Link to PDF of Slow Cooker Pot Roast recipe

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My newest kitchen toy

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a kitchen full of stuff. I remodeled my kitchen last year with lots more storage space to hold all this stuff. You would think I have everything. Wrong!

For a long time, I have coveted a ceramic knife. What's so special about a ceramic knife? They are unbelievably sharp and hold that sharp edge much longer than metal knives. They certainly look uninspiring - well, they look like plastic! But, they are sharp - really, really sharp. So sharp that you can cut through a tomato like it's buttah.

I got a small paring knife as my first ceramic knife. Ceramic knives can hardly be considered inexpensive. Good knives are not cheap, even if they are made of steel. But ceramic knives are even more expensive than good steel knives, especially as you get into larger sizes. So, I started with a little paring knife, which still set me back $30. Larger knives run well over $100. That's a lot of clams for a knife, even in my world.

There are some drawbacks to ceramic knives. They can shatter if you drop them. You can break them if you twist them or smack them (like smashing garlic with the side of the knife). They can't be sharpened at home; you have to send them back to the manufacturer. And, did I say they are expensive? Which is why I am the only person in my house who is allowed to touch my ceramic knife.

Why would you buy one? If you are good at keeping your steel knives sharp and this includes steeling them before each use, I think spending the big bucks for ceramic knives is not a good use of your money. Most folks let their steel knives go dull, which is quite dangerous. A sharp knife cuts when you want it which means you need to use very little pressure to make your cuts. Dull knives force you to push so much harder, and then they don't go where you want, like into your finger! If you get yourself a couple of ceramic knives, it will be a long, long time before you need to get the knives sharpened. You don't need to steel it ever. The odds you will have a very sharp knife all the time are much better with a ceramic knife.

Do you really need them? You need one for the same reason I need one:  ceramic knives are way cool and your friends will be impressed when you slice through anything with what looks like a plastic knife.