Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Adventures in Pressure Cooking Pasta - Pennette w Rapini and Sun Dried Tomatoes

One of the most surprising things I have discovered since getting an Instant Pot is how well it does pasta. Because you cook the pasta right in the pot with the sauce, you are not wasting litres of water, it cooks in half the time and the flavours are much more infused and intense, which means I can get away with less and I always like to get away with less when I can. 

                                                            Lobster Mac and Cheese

                                                            Smoky Mac and Cheese

Sometimes, I don't want a heavy pasta full of sausage or cheese and , to be honest, I prefer pasta napped in olive oil and maybe a splash of chicken stock.

This, then, is the ten minute dinner that I can throw together with a handful of leftover this and that and look like a rockstar. Only 1 slice of bacon, a handful of leftover cooked kale and two olives in the fridge? As long as you keep lots of pasta and chicken stock in your pantry, you are about to shock and amaze.

Over the last few weeks I have made a variation on this basic pasta at least five or six times. I have used pancetta in place of bacon, I have used all manner of hearty pasta (I don't like the way spaghetti cooks when pressure cooked and it's too easy to overcook it so just skip it) from rigatoni to cavatappi. I have thrown in leftover cooked greens like this garlicky rapini, frozen peas, frozen shrimp, some cubed, raw chicken, fennel, cured olives, leeks instead of onion - this is basically a blank canvas that you can suit to your taste if you remember the formula:

1) 1/2 lb of dried pasta (this, tiny penne took four minutes and the heartier rigatoni takes 6 minutes. If in doubt, start with 4 minutes at high pressure and if it's a bit undercooked, you can add a splash more stock, hit saute and simmer for another minute or two)

2) 2 cups liquid (usually chicken stock in my case but you can sub in a bit of white wine in there to make up the 2 cups)

3)some aromatics sautéed in good olive oil (garlic, onion, bacon, pancetta etc)

4) whatever vegetables strike your fancy (great way to use up a handful of leftover cooked veg)

5) some sort of protein if you desire - cooked meat or fish should be added after the pressure cooking and left in there for a few minutes to heat up. Same with delicate things like raw shrimp - pressure cooking for 4-6 will turn them into erasers so just stir them in after the pressure cooking is done, put the lid back on for a few minutes and they will be perfect.

The most important ratio to remember is:
 2 cups liquid to every 1/2 lb of dried pasta. This will result in cooked pasta with just enough liquid left to serve as a light, olive oily sauce. 

In the coming weeks I will share some other combos that have worked well for us.

 Pressure Cooker Pennette w Rapini and Sun Dried Tomatoes

serves 2-3

1 slice double smoked bacon, chopped
1/2 small onion, sliced
1 tbls chopped sun dried tomatoes
1 clove garlic, grated on a rasp or minced
1/2 lb pennette
2 cups chicken stock
about 1 cup leftover rapini cooked in olive oil and garlic (you can throw in any leftover green, some peas etc)

freshly grated parmesan, freshly ground black pepper to serve

Hit sauté and when the pot is hot, add in the bacon and cook until it starts to brown. Throw in the onion and continue to cook until the onion softens and just barely starts to brown. At that point, add in the sun dried tomatoes and the garlic and cook for another minute, stirring before adding in the pasta and the chicken stock. Hit manual and program the pressure cooker for 4 minutes on high pressure (if you use full size penne cook for 6 minutes)
When the time is up, do a quick release and remove the lid. Add in the rapini or other leftover green vegetable, stir well and then replace the lid and let it sit for a minute.

Now, open it up and serve the pasta with some freshly grated parmesan and lots of black pepper.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Go Home Charros, You're Drunk!

I love me some Mexican style, soupy beans but I can never decide between Charros (named after the Mexican cowboys of Norther Mexico) and Frijoles Borrachos (literally translates to drunken beans), which are almost the same thing except for the addition of beer. Both versions are also wildly popular in Texas and New Mexico and because I can't choose which dish I like better I just mashed both recipes together to come up with this.

I am not sure that this is 100% authentic and I know that you can ask ten Mexican grandmas for their recipe and you will get ten different answers so I still sleep well at night. You can serve these as a side dish, over rice for dinner, with fried eggs for the best hangover breakfast you will ever have or add more chicken stock and turn them into soup.

I don't make these all that often because if done on the stove top, this dish takes hours to cook if you are using dried beans but this coming Saturday, I am cooking up a Mexican Feast at The Kingston Social for our inaugural Supper Club and so a big pot of spicy beans had to happen. As fate would have it, someone online said that they just made charros in their pressure cooker with great results and that inspired me to do the same, get out my notebook and do some adapting.

If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can follow all of the directions right up until I tell you to close the lid and bring the pot up to pressure and just simmer it away for a couple of hours, which also results in amazing beans but you will have to keep an eye on it and add liquid from time to time. In a pressure cooker, there is no evaporation so you use less liquid which means less beer in the beans and more in my frosty mug!

Drunken Charros

serves 10-12 as a side dish

1 lb dried pinto beans
1/2 lb double smoked bacon
1/2 lb Mexican Chorizo (raw, Mexican chorizo sausage, not the dried Spanish chorizo)
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
1 large jalapeños , seeded and finely chopped (more to taste if you want it really spicy)
2 tbls cumin
1 tbls Mexican oregano
1 tbls crushed epazote
2 bay leaves
1 tsp kosher salt
2 canned chipotle chilis in adobo, minced
2 cups Mexican beer like Dos Equis or another lager
3 cups chicken stock
1 can rotel (if you can't get rotel - not available in Canada) use fire roasted tomatoes and about 1/4 cup of pico de gallo like Goya)

Hit sauté on your pressure cooker and when the pan is hot, throw in the bacon and fry until it starts to brown. At that point, remove the chorizo meat from the casing and add that in. Continue to fry a few more minutes until the meat is cooked and then add in the onion. Saute for another 5 minutes until the onion is softened, add in the jalapeños, garlic, cumin, oregano, epazote and cook for one more minute. Now add in the bay leaves, salt, chipotle chilis, beer, chicken stock and rotel and give it all a good stir.

Close up the lid and hit 45 minutes on manual at high pressure. When the time is up, let it NPR (at least ten minutes and then be careful releasing the steam because beans can cause a mess if you release the pressure too soon). Check your beans and if they are not really soft, close it back up and program it for another five minutes, NPR for ten minutes and check again and continue to cook in five minute increments until the beans are nice and soft.

When they are fully cooked to your liking, hit saute and simmer the beans for another five minutes or so. To serve, scatter the top with freshly chopped cilantro

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Smoky Mac and Cheese in the Instant Pot

Last week I attended The Grate Canadian Cheese Cook Off - Mac and Cheese edition, hosted by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. We got to watch as four Canadian chefs went head to head in an attempt to woo the judges with their unique, elevated interpretations of this classic comfort food.

Top Chef Canada alumni and popular Calgary caterer,  Nicole Gomes, made a really interesting Apple Beer Mac and Cheese that was only narrowly edged out as my favourite by the Smoky Cauli-power Mac & Cheese whipped up by defending champion,Chef Andrew Farrell, Chef de Cuisine at Halifax restaurant, 2 Doors Down. He took top honours in 2014 with his Crispy Greens Mac & Cheese and he looked reluctant to give up his crown.

Chef Thompson Tran ( BC's The Wooden Boat) took the best name with his Cod You Believe It's Shmoked Mac n' Cheese but it was ultimately Toronto's own Chef Alexandra Feswick (The Drake) who stole the trophy out from under Chef Farrell's nose with her Nutty Home Style Mac & Cheese.

Lobster Mac and Cheese 
All four of the entries were rich, creamy, cheesy and delicious and left me obsessed all weekend so nobody was really all that surprised when I cranked this beauty out on Sunday night. Because I am still all about my pressure cooker and I had such great luck with my Lobster Mac and Cheese I have only been making it with the Instant Pot ever since. This time, I skipped the lobster and used mainly smoked gouda with a bit of parmesan and old cheddar for good measure. Double Smoked Bacon, smoky gouda and a bit of beer in place of water.... all the food groups were represented.

Now that I know that we can have a rich, creamy mac and cheese on the table in about as much time as it takes to make Kraft Dinner, this has become a weeknight staple. I make the crispy topping and keep it in the fridge and use the leftovers on pasta throughout the week and it's not like I have ever eaten the leftovers with a spoon or anything. That would be crazy.

Smoky Pressure Cooker Mac and Cheese

Serves 4

300g penne
1 cup water
1 1/4 cup beer (I used Beau's Lug Tread)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsl dry mustard
1/2 tsp chili flakes

170 g smoked gouda, grated
20g freshly grated parmesan
30g old cheddar, grated
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup frozen sweet baby peas

Crispy Topping
40g double smoked bacon, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, grated
1.5 tbls butter
1 tsp freeze dried chives
1 cup panko
15 g grated parmesan

To make the Crispy Bread Topping:
fry the chopped bacon in a small pan until it starts to get crispy. At that point, add in the garlic, stir around for about 30 seconds and then add in the butter. Toss the bread crumbs in the fat , coating evenly and continue to fry the crumbs for another 3 or 4 minutes, until they get nice and brown and crispy. Grate the parmesan over the top and fold in, cooking for another 30 seconds or so. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To make the mac and cheese:
Mix your grated smoked gouda, cheddar and parmesan in a bowl.
Put the penne, the water, beer, salt, dry mustard and chili flake in the pot of your pressure cooker and cook for 5 minutes, high pressure*. When the time is up, do a quick release, hit cancel and then hit sauté. Bring the water and pasta to a simmer, add in the frozen peas and pour in the evaporated milk and milk. Simmer for about 3 minutes and then turn off the cooker. Remove the pot and start to stir in the cheeses a handful at a time, stirring constantly until it's all in and melted and creamy.

Ladle the mac and cheese out into bowl and top each bowl with a generous handful of the crispy bread topping.

*because I used a heartier pasta, the five minute timing was perfect. If you are going to use small macaroni, I would go down to 4 minutes

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Instant Pot Rotisserie Chicken Sopa de Lima

If you tell me that you throw out the carcass after you eat a rotisserie chicken, I am going to have to find you and hurt you. Grocery store rotisserie chickens are not only a life saver on a busy weeknight but they make amazing chicken stock. The chickens are all highly seasoned, nice and salty and full of flavour - I think of them as the gift that keeps on giving. Roast chicken one night, quesadillas the next and soup on night three.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Dinner for Seafood Haters - Fish and Chip Cakes with Lime Tartar Sauce, Brown Butter Scallops on Cauliflower "Risotto" and a Giveaway!


So, we all want to try to make better choices when we are buying food, right? We try to figure out which foods really need to be organic and which foods need to be, at least, certified hormone free. We are encouraged to go for a drive, meet farmers and see how their animals are raised, go to farmer's market and forge relationships with the growers and make better, informed purchases. 

Brown Butter Scallops on Cauliflower "Risotto"

I love a challenge. I was asked by MSC (the Marine Stewardship Council) to throw a little #OceanToPlate dinner for friends using MSC certified seafood and because that felt too easy, I chose to invite my friend who claims to hate seafood. To add to the challenge, she and her husband are on a restrictive diet at the moment and so they couldn't have rice, potatoes, beets, or pasta which are all my usual suspects when I am feeding them.

My First Pressure Cooker CheeseCake with ButterScotch Shortbread Crust and Raspberry Chambord Coulis

If you live in Toronto, you have probably had shortbread from Mary Macleod's at some point. Unlike most other self named companies, there really is a Mary Macleod and she started baking her famous chocolate crunch shortbread in 1981. Even after 30 years in the business, Mary, herself, still spends time in the kitchen coming up with new treats like the Butterscotch Shortbread Crumbs I used to make the crust for this cheesecake.

I was more than happy to accept a free bag of cookie crumbs to experiment with because I would happily buy them anyway. I used to live right across the street from Mary's shop on Queen St East for a few years and so I was very familiar with the product. It's not like I had ever run over there in my pjs and grabbed a few cookies to go with my morning coffee or anything.....

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Week In Yum is Back with visits to Cresta, Torteria San Cosme, Foodoes and Beast

You know, even people like me get sick of eating out all the time and need to take a break. Even when we went to NYC before Xmas, it was so nice to not feel like I had to hit all of the hottest restaurants and if I forgot to photograph what we ate, oh well. For the first time, in a long time, we just wandered, popped into any old place that looked interesting, snacked here and there and just concentrated on being in the city. I put photos on instagram and updated fun stuff that we did but it wasn't all just food, food, food.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Per La Famiglia review, Sweet Potato with Pickled Eggplant and a Giveaway to Boot!

If you are not lucky enough to have a nonna of your very own, you can soothe your inner Italian soul with Per La Famiglia, Memories and Recipes of Southern Italian Home Kitchen, the newest cookbook by Emily Richards. Part cookbook, part scrapbook, the book is full of photos, memories and family stories and as soon as my complimentary copy showed up on my doorstep, I read the whole thing, cover to cover.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Maple Leaf Foods and Gastropost Team Up For #FeedItForward

Feed Tomorrow 2015

Most people who read food blogs probably don't have to worry about having enough healthy, whole foods to eat and to feed their families. We might complain about that $8 cauliflower and wait, crankily, for the price to come back down before we start buying it again but, on the whole, while still watching for sales and clipping the odd coupon, we go about our daily business, never having to agonize over how we are going to make the food in our kitchen stretch out and last until the next payday.