Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Under the Pressure Cooker

About a week ago I bought my first pressure cooker.

I remember my mom using one every now and then. I didn't know enough to be scared of them back then, but as I began to realize how they worked, I was able to imagine the intense atmospheric pressure building inside a metal pot and how it could go off like a bomb, scattering shrapnel every which way, after it first took off your head.

Since their main advantage is that they cook things fast, I figured I had enough time to be safe and cook things slow.

But I am the curious sort when it comes to cooking tools and gadgets. So when I saw this 6 liter T Fal pressure cooker in great shape at the thrift store, I thought I'd give it a whirl.

The first thing I had to do was to figure out how to use it. God Bless the Internet! I found 2 important, nay, essential items there. One was the complete owners manual with 8 recipes. The other thing I found out from Miss Vickie's official pressure cooking site was that T Fal cookers are considered "overpriced and under-pressured." The overpriced part I didn't worry about, since mine was definitely not overpriced (about $10), but the under-pressured part meant that I wouldn't be able to use regular pressure cooker recipes without a little time conversion on my part. T Fal operates at 13 psi, while the standard is 15 psi. I finally found the fine print on that, which was to add about 20 percent more cooking time.

Since I sort of figured my main goal was to see if I would even like to own one of these things, I could put up with the lower pressure while I checked out the process. And there is also that secret satisfaction you get when you land an "overpriced" item on the cheap!

Now, back to the recipes, those 8 recipes. T Fal is made in France or some European place where they don't use sensible measurements like cups and teaspoons and such. They use grams and liters and some strange thing called "dessertspoonfulls." Ok, I didn't flunk math, and I'm pretty good on common sense estimating, so I can get through that metric stuff. But you'd think more of the recipes would be practical and enticing. Here they are:

Vegetable Soup: 4 potatoes, 2 leeks, 5 carrots, 2 turnips, 1.5 l (2 1/2 pt) of water, salt and pepper, 3 dessertspoonfuls of fresh cream (optional).

Basically, you cut them up, put them in the pot, pressure cook it, then stir in the cream. But really, turnips and leeks? Actually, I like leeks, but in America, you'd expect to pull an onion out and use it.

Citrus Cod Parcels: 4 cod fillet steaks each weighing 150 g, 1 grapefruit, 1 orange, the juice of 1 lime, 2 tomatoes, 1 onion, 2 chopped shallots, 60 g (2 oz) butter, 1 glass of dry white wine
(125 ml/4 1/2 fl oz), a few leaves of fresh tarragon, salt and pepper.

Here, they want you to use 4 sheets of aluminum foil to make 4 packets of these ingredients and then cook them in the optional steamer basket. (which I don't have) And aren't shallots basically another type of onion?

Roast Pork: 1 kg (2 1/4 lb) of boned pork rib roast or loin (keep the bones), 2 carrots cut into thick slices, 3 cloves of garlic, 2 onions (chopped), 1 sprig of thyme and 1 bayleaf, 3 tablespoon oil, 2 glasses of white wine (250 ml/9 fl oz), 1 dessertspoonful of sugar,salt and pepper.

I do like the frequent references to white wine, but there is a confusing part here. In the directions, they have you "Brown the roast and the crushed bones in the oil in the pressure cooker." Crushed bones? Do I take a meat mallet and crush them myself? Do I wrap them in brown paper and put them behind my rear tire and run over them a couple times? (remind me to explain how I dispatched a crippled baby rabbit sometime).

Chef's special boiled beef and vegetables: 1.2 kg of beef (silverside or brisket), 800 g (1 3/4 lb) of old potatoes, 1/2 a lemon, 1 onion spiked with 3 cloves,3 carrots, 3 leeks, 3 turnips, 1 stick of celery, 1/2 a celeriac, 1 clove of garlic, 1 bunch of fresh mixed herbs, 4 dessertspoonfuls of Port gherkins, cooking salt, salt and pepper.

First off, Americans do not refer to "boiled beef" in a menu selection. It sounds bland, tough, and entirely too British. But, it is the "Chef's Special," so it might be appetizing.

And next, what the heck is a "silverside?" Obviously something that European cows have evolved separately.

"Old potatoes." Too late; I threw them out. They were starting to leak and stink.

Leeks and turnips again, but this time we'll add something called celeriac, which I don't even know how to pronounce. But I think I've seen it in the produce section. Or was that a fennel bulb?

And now the biggest mystery: Port Gherkins. I know what Port is. I know what Gherkins are, little dill pickles. So I'd guess that means pickles brined with Port. But how do you get a desserspoonfull of them?

Ratatouille: 5 courgettes cut into slices, 4 aubergines cut into cubes, 4 large tomatoes (peeled and
cut into segments), 2 diced red peppers, 1 green pepper cut into strips, 2 large chopped onions, 3 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed, 1 sprig of fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf,1 sprig of rosemary, 1 small bunch of fresh basil, 1/2 a bundle of fresh coriander, 6 dessertspoonfuls of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Thanks to the movie, we all know how to say "Ratatouille," even if we still don't know how to spell it.

OK, I know what aubergines are, but what the heck are courgettes? For this, I have to go to wikipedia, and I find out they are... zucchini! Although I enjoy the word zucchini, I think courgette has a ring to it and I may adopt it for awhile and see who I can impress.

Caramelised three apple compote: 4 Braeburn apples, 4 Granny Smith apples, 4 Coxes Orange apples, 100 g (4 oz) of pine nuts, 60 g (2 oz) of butter, 100 g (4 oz) of brown sugar, 2 pinches of ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence, 1 pinch of ground ginger.

I have 2 questions here. What are Coxes Orange apples? Back to wikipedia, where I find, " Cox's Orange Pippin accounts for over 50% of the UK acreage of dessert apples."
Since there aren't any in America, we substitute with what we imagine them to taste like.
The other thing I worry about is that the directions explicitly say to use at least "250 ml (1/2 pint)" of liquid while pressure cooking. I don't see any water or other liquid in this one.

Mini Caramel custards: 250 ml (9 fl oz) of milk, 1/2 a vanilla pod cut in two, 3 egg yolks, 100 g (4 oz) of caster sugar, a few drops of vinegar.

I find out that caster sugar is what we call "superfine sugar."

Basque chicken: 1 whole chicken weighing 1.5 kg (3 1/4 lb), cut into pieces by your butcher or
4 chicken portions, 1 x 400g tin of peeled whole tomatoes, 1 x 400g tin of red peppers, 1 x 400g tin of green peppers, 3 chopped cloves of garlic, 3 sliced onions, 1 bunch of fresh mixed herbs, 2 glasses of white wine (250 ml/9 fl oz), 4 dessertspoonfuls of olive oil, salt and pepper.

And another thing, sometimes I use a REALLY big spoon for dessert. Especially if it's a rootbeer float.

This one sort of offends me. Maybe European women don't cut up their own chickens, but they American girls cut up their own chickens, by golly!

More white wine. OK, maybe this one will work.

So, what did I choose to inaugurate my cooker with? White rice.

The Cooking Times list showed that it should take 7 minutes. I put it all together, sealed it up and turned on the heat. I had the uncomfortable feeling that I should have a riot shield up in front of my face and torso. But I needn't have worried. I had done something wrong with the gasket and steam didn't come out the hole it was supposed to; it came out everywhere else.

I discovered that the gasket had crescents in it that had to match up with a pin. So I just salvaged the rice as well as I could.

quote at the table "Hey, this rice is nice and sticky, it is easy to eat with the chopsticks! Uh, is it supposed to be like this?"

Next try, the Three Apple caramel compote thingy. Same problem with the steam. This time I found out there is a small pin that has to go in a little hole in the gasket. Sheesh! Salvage the Three Apple Compote by stewing it.

But the next try was... SUCCESS! Yes, I cooked what could not possibly go wrong. I cooked some water. About a liter of the stuff. The little red pressure indicator popped up, although it was hard to see behind the cookie sheet I was using to shield my face and torso, the little steam dial gadget shot steam out like it was supposed to, and then I used to quick cool method of running cold water over the lid to get the pressure down and open the pot.

Voila! Hot cooked water!

Friday, May 6, 2011

When All Hell Breaks Loose

What will you do when all Hell breaks loose? Will you freak? Will you cry for your mommy? Will you follow the lemmings off the cliff? Or will you hunker down and eat whatever you have to, to survive?
I have a pretty strong survival instinct. I am good at imagining disastrous scenarios and the kits that should be prepared to experience them. I am also pretty good at improvising.

For example:
You have taken a drive out in the mountains. It's lovely, and you are thoroughly enjoying the scenery. Suddenly you realize how badly you want a cup of coffee! In fact, it becomes all you can think of, and you are even getting a little sleepy and wish you had the caffeine. No problem! Because you Are Prepared, you have stashed a few Starbucks Via packets in your console kit. Of course you have 4 stainless steel bottles of water in the back seat because you never go anywhere without a day's supply. You have a couple Sierra Cups also tucked away under the seat. Oops! No heat. No problem! Because you are also prepared to fight germs, you have a bottle of Purell in the console. You squirt a pile of Purell in one cup and light it off (you DO have matches or a lighter, right?), make up your coffee in the the other cup, and then you hold your coffee cup above the blue flame until it's hot enough.

Well, if you are the type of person who really can imagine this happening, then have I got a book for you. When All Hell Breaks Loose, by Cody Lundin.

It is totally packed full of the best ideas and practical solutions for surviving during a catastrophe. I love it how he doesn't squirm around and pretty up the words needed to get his advice across. He's not vulgar, just plain spoken in a way you can't misunderstand what he's talking about, from making emergency toilets to eating rodents. And that's where Food Adventures enters in!

Mice are Nice
(and here, I quote)
Mice can be put directly onto the coals of a fire whole... The heat from the coals will singe off the fur, but it will take some rubbing with a stick... to get off all the hair. Singed hair would make a T-bone taste awful so do a good job. If after the singeing process you think skinning is easier, be my guest. The skin will peel right off after precooking in the coals.

As the hair is being singed, the mouse will start to bloat up from the heat. Take this opportunity to scrape lightly at its abdominal cavity with something or gently tear it open with your fingers. At this time, most of the guts should begin to pop out of the opening you created. Near the end of the intestines, you will clearly see mouse t*rds headng toward the an*s. Get rid of all this stuff, but the heart, lungs, and almost everything else up near the head and middle of the body is good eating.

Once the mouse has been gutted and the hair singed, it's time to cook it on the coals. I like to cook them until they're between crispy and chewy, turning as necessary. Don't under cook them, but don't turn them into a piece of charcoal either form over cooking.

There are three bites to a mouse, the middle and rear being the best (in my opinion)... The head isn't bad, but eat it hot, as mouse brains suck when they're cold.

And I unquote.

If you read this book, you might be tempted to give up during the first 60 pages. That's where he's putting forth his philosophies on being prepared. Of course YOU don't need this; you already have that point of view, otherwise why would you be reading it? Just skim this part and you'll be rewarded with the rest of this fascinating and very practical book on being prepared for just about anything!