Moroccan Lamb Tajine

I discover pressure cooking — and love the results.

Yesterday, experimented with a cooking technique that rocked my culinary world: pressure cooking.

The Instant Pot

For years, I thought the only way to get a nice, rich stew with fork-tender pieces of meat was to slow cook it for five or more hours, often in a crock pot. With cool autumn weather coming on, I started thinking about new recipes for hearty stews — comfort food after a long day outdoors hiking or doing yard work. Trouble was, I’d sacrificed my old crock pot — which had to be at least 25 years old — to beeswax processing duties and it was no longer fit to make a meal. I’d done this on purpose to force me to buy a new one with modern features and the time had arrived.

Of course, I’d also been thinking about something to make it easier for me to make yogurt. And I’d been told over and over by friends that I needed a rice cooker. I’d already gotten an ice cream maker. With my mixer, toaster, food processor, and similarly sized appliances, the pantry shelf I’d dedicated to countertop appliance storage was quickly filling up. The ice cream maker and bread machine were already stored in the garage because I didn’t expect to use them very often. I didn’t want any more appliances than I needed. (And, as usual, I use the word “need” very loosely here.)

Instant Pot
The Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Programmable Pressure Cooker.

So I was pretty interested in the Instant Pot I found on Amazon.com. This single device offered seven functions:

  • pressure cooker
  • slow cooker
  • rice cooker
  • sauté/browning
  • yogurt maker
  • steamer
  • warmer

My experience with the computer world taught me one thing: if any piece of software or device claims to do multiple, only slightly related things, it won’t do any of them well. Think about integrated software like Microsoft Works. Word processor, spreadsheet, database all in one package. But none of those pieces were powerful enough for a serious user.

I figured how good could this be? I kept looking.

But I kept coming back to the Instant Pot. With a 4+ rating from 3,960 customer reviews, it had to be good. I started reading reviews.

And I was sold. I bought one last week.

The Recipes

I won’t go into details about the Instant Pot — after all, this is not a product review. I’ll just say that it seems to be well designed and easy to use. I like the stainless steel pot. It’s a good size that fits nicely on my kitchen island when in use and on the shelf in my pantry when not in use.

The Instant Pot comes with two books: an instruction manual in multiple languages and a recipe book in English and what looks like Chinese. Why Chinese? Well, not only is this made in China (like the rest of the merchandise sold in this country), but many of the recipes have an Asian flair. Apparently, devices like this are popular in Asia.

I needed a recipe for its inaugural use, so it made sense to take a recipe from the recipe booklet. These were written specifically for this device and instructions tell you exactly which buttons to push. For example, you start by sautéing onions and browning meat using the sauté feature. Then you seal it up and switch to pressure cooking with that feature. The instructions tell you which buttons to push, thus giving you a use tutorial. It was great to be able to cook the entire meal in one dishwasher-safe pot.

Anyway, here’s the recipe without the Instant Pot-specific instructions; if you have a pressure cooker, you can probably make this at home in yours.

Ingredients:

  • 2-1/2 to 3 pounds of lamb shoulder, cut into pieces. Lamb is not a big seller here in Washington state and I was fortunate enough to be at the supermarket when several packages of lamb were marked 50% off for quick sale. I bought 3 racks of lamb and a boneless leg of lamb that day, saving about $30, and popped them all in my chest freezer. Yesterday, I pulled out that leg of lamb, defrosted it, and cut it into pieces for this recipe.
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed. I got lazy and used about a teaspoon of garlic powder.
  • 2 onions, roughly sliced
  • 10 oz prunes, or a mix of dry apricots and raisins. I used the prunes. I actually like prunes.
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup vegetable stock. I used water plus 1-1/2 tablespoons of Better than Bouillion. (Next time, I’ll reduce this to 1/2 cup total liquid.)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 tbsp honey. I used honey from my own bees, of course.
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 1/2 oz almonds, toasted
  • sesame seeds

Instructions:

  1. Mix the cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil to make a paste. Spread the paste over the meat and set aside.
  2. Put the prunes in a bowl and add enough boiling water to cover. Cover and set aside.
  3. Heat a pan and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onions. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes.
  4. Remove the onions and set aside.
  5. Add meat to pan and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the vegetable broth and deglaze the pan, scraping all browned bits into the sauce.
  7. Put the meat, broth, onions, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick into a pressure cooker. Seal and cook for 35 minutes.
  8. At the end of the cooking cycle, allow pressure to release on its own. That could take up to 20 minutes. Open the cooker when safe.
  9. Add drained, rinsed prunes and honey.
  10. Reduce the liquid by simmering, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.
  11. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and sesame seeds and serve.

The best part about the Instant Pot is that all of the cooking steps can be done in the same pot. No moving ingredients from one cooking vessel to another when switching from sauté to pressure cook to sauté. So at the end of all this, there’s just one pot to clean and the countertop stays remarkably neat.

The Big Surprise

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting anything special. After all, I’d only cooked the meat for a total of 45 minutes. How tender could it possibly be?

The answer: very tender. The meat was moist but tender enough to break up with a fork. And it was absolutely delicious. I served it over a mixture of rice and quinoa.

So, as you can imagine, I’m thrilled with pressure cooking as an alternative to the all-day crock pot routine. Look at the facts: the pressure cooker enabled me to cook a good, hearty stew that was both tender and tasty, in less than an hour. Who wouldn’t be thrilled?

Got a pressure-cooker recipe to share? Leave a comment on this post so we can all see and try it.

Making Ice Cream

Sinfully good.

Years and years ago, I had an Oster Kitchen Center. This was basically an electric mixer base that I could put a mixer, blender, food processor, and other attachments on. I really liked this thing, but decided to get all new appliances — Kitchenmaid, in fact — when I moved to Arizona in 1997. To say that Kitchenaid has disappointed me is an understatement. I really wish Oster would produce an updated version of that old Kitchen Center; I’d buy one.

One of the attachments I had for the Oster was an ice cream maker. It was the usual device: inner bowl fits into outer container that you fill with ice and salt. The whole thing sat on the base with a paddle inside and a cover on top. You turn on the motor and it turns the paddle while the ice chills down the ice cream mix you’ve put in the inner bowl.

Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker
The Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Ice Cream Maker.

When I switched to Kitchenaid, I never replaced the ice cream maker. Until about a week ago. That’s when I bought a Cuisinart ICE-30BC Pure Indulgence 2-Quart Automatic Frozen Yogurt, Sorbet, and Ice Cream Maker. It’s a small countertop device that I store on a shelf in my garage. Instead of having a double bowl and having to deal with ice and salt, it has a single bowl that I keep in my chest freezer until ready to use. The liquid inside supercools and chills down the ice cream when I set the whole thing up and get it running. It claims to make ice cream in 25-45 minutes and I can confirm that it does.

Of course, it’s not the ice cream maker equipment that makes amazing ice cream. It the recipe for the ice cream that goes inside it. I found that recipe in July, when someone linked to an article titled “The Master Ice Cream Recipe” on the New York Times website. That recipe uses ingredients I can stand behind: real milk and cream, sugar, and egg yolks. A table below the base recipe offers flavoring options with additional instructions.

Kirk and I took the ice cream maker on its inaugural run last week. I made a simple vanilla ice cream, cheating a bit by using vanilla extract for the favor. (I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep vanilla beans around my home.) Along the way, I showed Kirk how to separate eggs without an egg separator. And because the eggs were from my chickens, the resulting ice cream was almost golden in color.

The flavor and texture were great, even though I probably should have kept it in the ice cream maker another 10 minutes or so. (Note to self: use timer.) Kirk liked it with the strawberry rhubarb jam he cooks up on demand with rhubarb from his garden, but although I love that mixture on pancakes, I preferred this ice cream plain.

Home made ice cream
Home made vanilla ice cream topped with home made strawberry rhubarb jam.

Cherry Ice Cream
Home made cherry ice cream, made with eggs from my chickens and cherries I picked. (Have I mentioned lately how much I love living in orchard country?)

Yesterday, I whipped up a batch of cherry ice cream using the last few pounds of cherries I’d gleaned from client orchards. I followed the instructions in the Times recipe, but I skipped the step that blends the cooked cherries into a puree. I thought whole cherries would be more interesting. This morning, when I put the chilled ice cream mix into the ice cream maker, those cherries got a bit hung up on the mixing paddle. I froze it longer than the vanilla ice cream, scooped it into my dedicated ice cream freezing container, and put it in the freezer.

But not before tasting a big spoonful. Delicious!

Although the Times recipe requires some cooking, the ice cream maker came with recipes that don’t. I will eventually try some of them. I suspect they’ll turn ice cream making into a 1-hour activity instead of one that requires at least 4 hours for the mix to cool down after cooking and another 45 minutes to churn. That means it’s something you could easily do with your kids on a rainy day. Or dinner guests, while you’re munching appetizers before the meal.

The best thing about all this? I control exactly what goes into every batch I make. And although it isn’t that much cheaper to make than the premium ice cream I prefer, there’s a certain amount of self-satisfaction when you get to enjoy something you made from scratch.

Beer Bread

More than just a good way to get rid of beer you don’t like.

There’s a restaurant in Wenatchee, near where I live, called McGlinn’s. It’s a casual dining place with a pretty big menu and lots of beer. Although it’s not one of my favorite places, it’s pretty popular with most of the locals and I’ll usually say yes if one of my friends suggest it.

Beer Bread
A recent loaf of beer bread, cooling on a wire rack.

One of the things on their menu is beer bread. A fellow pilot from Utah was raving about it when I spoke to him and I’ve had it. But I told him what I thought: my beer bread was better.

I got a chance to prove it last week. He hosted a steak cookout at his cherry drying base for all the pilots working with me this summer. I promised to bring along a fresh loaf of my beer bread and didn’t disappoint. He agreed that it was great — but I can’t recall whether he admitted it was better than McGlinn’s.

Anyway, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1 12-oz bottle of beer or ale*
  • 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

* A note about the beer. I usually use whatever I have around that I don’t like to drink — which is pretty much any beer. These days, with friends stopping by all the time, I have a lot of different beer around. I’ve been making this bread with Coors Light leftover from a party, which no one seems to like. I don’t really like it as much as when it’s made with a darker brew. Guinness is probably my favorite for this. I tried Pyramid IPA the other day and it wasn’t bad.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter (or grease) a large loaf pan.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together all dry ingredients. I usually skip the caraway seeds because (1) I don’t like them and (2) I seldom have them around.
  4. While stirring, add the beer. The batter should be very thick.
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
  6. Pour the melted butter over the batter.
  7. Bake until done, about 50 minutes. The crust should be golden brown and crispy.

I like to serve it hot. It also makes great french toast.

Orange Yogurt Scones

Real scones, real easy to make.

Every once in a while I fall in love with a specific kind of food and want to eat various versions of it all the time. (As you might imagine, eventually I get sick of that kind of food and move on to something else.) For the last six or eight months or so, scones have been high on my list. I think it started with a few instances of really good scones bought at a coffee shop. From there, it became a sort of goal to try scones in various other places, looking for “the best” scone.

Plated Scone
Here’s one of the scones I made yesterday, served up with some apricot preserve. (Orange marmalade would have been better.)

When I unpacked most of my kitchen equipment and put it away in my new kitchen, I began baking again. And because my cookbooks were still packed, I relied on the Internet to find recipes — knowing the whole time that one of my cookbooks contained my very favorite scone recipe. After a few disappointing muffin-like concoctions, I finally dug out the cookbook with the scone recipe, Sunset Recipe Annual, 1997 Edition. This was a cookbook I got from my mother way back then. It has two recipes that I turned to over and over; this is one of them.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter or margarine. I used butter.
  • 1 6-oz container of orange or lemon flavored yogurt (about 1/3 cup).
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel.
  • 1/4 cup orange juice

Instructions:

Here’s how I made it for a Sunday brunch at a friend’s house yesterday:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Oil a 12 x 15 inch pan. I used spray oil, which I rubbed into a nonstick pizza pan.
  3. Combine flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. I did this in my food processor.
  4. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles crumbs. This is very easy (and quick) in a food processor. (Indeed, I think food processors were made for making scones and pie crust.)
  5. In a separate bowl, combine yogurt (I used pomegranate because I didn’t have any orange or lemon), orange peel (which I didn’t use), and orange juice.
  6. Add the yogurt mixture to the flour mixture and stir until evenly moistened. This is where the total amount of yogurt matters. The Chobani that I used comes in 5.3 oz containers — not 6 oz. So I added more orange juice to make sure I had enough moisture. And no, I didn’t do this in the food processor.
  7. Mound the dough on the prepared pan and then use your hands to pat it into a 9-inch round. The cookbook suggests flouring your hands, but I didn’t need to. I’m thinking my mix might not have been moist enough.
  8. Use a large knife to cut down through the dough to make eight wedges but don’t separate them. All you’re doing is scoring the dough so the scones break apart easily later.
  9. Sprinkle the remaining sugar on the dough.
  10. Bake about 25 minutes, until scones are golden brown.
  11. Cut or break into wedges and serve hot or warm.

Baked Scones
Here’s what my scones looked like, right out of the oven.

I’m pretty sure that you can modify this in a variety of ways to make different flavors. Next time, I’ll get the orange yogurt and grated orange peel to make it the way I used to years ago.

“Street Style” Breakfast Taco

Quick and easy hot breakfast for one (or two).

I go through phases with my breakfast choices. Although I don’t mind yogurt with granola or fruit or even cold cereal with milk and fruit, I do enjoy a hot breakfast. The trick is coming up with something that’s relatively healthy and quick and easy to make.

Preferably something that uses eggs. My chickens make five per day, on average, and they accumulate quickly.

That’s how I came up with the idea for a breakfast taco. I’m talking about a so-called “street style” taco that uses a soft corn tortilla — not crunchy “gringo Mexican” taco shells — with the ingredient tucked inside. Fold it, pick it up, and enjoy.

Here’s my recipe for one.

Ingredients

  • Breakfast Taco IngredientsSmall amount of oil or cooking spray. I usually use olive oil spray to keep the fat down a bit.
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion or sliced scallions. About once a week I chop up an onion and store it in an airtight container in my fridge. This keeps chopped onion close at hand. Some folks use frozen chopped onion and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Sliced scallions work, too, and have the benefit of cooking faster. The taste is milder, though.
  • 1 large egg.
  • 2 tablespoons shredded cheese. I use a Mexican blend, but you can use any kind you like.
  • 1 taco-size corn tortilla. Get the real thing if you can, in the Mexican food area of your supermarket or, better yet, in an Hispanic food market. I buy them 10 in a bag and keep them in the fridge or freezer. (Just noticed that these are “hand made style” — whatever the hell that means. That’s what happens when you shop without your glasses.) I’m pretty sure my tortilla press is around here somewhere; I might actually make them from scratch one of these days.

If you’re one of those people who likes salsa on your tacos, get some of that, too. I’m not a fan of salsa on anything other than chips so I don’t use it.

Instructions

  1. In a small skillet over medium heat, heat the oil or cooking spray.
  2. Add the onions or scallions and cook until softened and just starting to brown at the edges.
  3. Cooking EggGather the onions or scallions into the middle of the pan and drop an egg on them. You might want to use this opportunity to break the yolk so it cooks. I don’t scramble my eggs before cooking, but you could if you want to. Just make sure the egg stays together in the middle of the pan so it doesn’t get larger than the tortilla.
  4. When the egg has cooked on the bottom, lower the heat and flip it.
  5. Immediately sprinkle the cheese on the egg and lay the tortilla on top.
  6. Cook until the egg is done the way you like it — over easy? over medium? — and then flip it again so the tortilla is on the bottom.
  7. Cook until the tortilla has heated through and the cheese is melted.
  8. Remove to a plate, spoon on salsa (if desired), and fold in half.

Enjoy!

I used to wait until after flipping the egg to break the yolk. That kept the yolk in the middle. Now I break it right away. I also use a pot cover to speed up the cooking process.

You can make two or three of these at once if you have a larger skillet or a griddle.

Is this a healthy meal? Well, I don’t think it’s unhealthy. After all, it uses a minimum of added fat and has fresh ingredients such as onions and eggs. Minimizing processed foods is one way to keep your diet healthy — who knows that’s in those “hand made style” tortillas I bought? The way I see it, it’s a lot healthier than breakfast pastries or sugar-filled cereals.

How to make it better? That should be obvious: skip the oil/spray and sauté the onions/scallions with some chopped bacon. Now we’re talking.