Monday, 19 October 2020

Rice Cooker Meals

Introduction

There are so many ‘Instant Pots’ and “Rice Cookers’ and ‘Eco Pots’ out there nowadays, and most of them are quite economical on energy use, produce ideal cooking conditions, and can be used for trouble-free meal preparation. If you have an available power socket, you can produce a meal.


There are a few gotchas, of course. With the exception of Instant Pots, most of these cookers have just one simple program, and that is to boil the contents until water evaporates and the temperature then rises (because no more water to keep it under 100C) to around 110C - 120C for most of them. That happens naturally because while ever there’s still water on the bottom of the cooking vessel, water boils at 100C and so the temperature CAN’T go any higher. Once the water is all boiled away, the temperature rises, and at some point - usually set at the factory - the unit kicks into ‘Keep Warm’ mode. 

A quick Glossary

of these versatile cooking utensils might be in order here.

First Principles - Crock Pots (Slow Cookers)

These kinds of cookers are members of a class of electrical cooking pots whose roots go all the way back to Vilna Village, Vilnius, Lithuania, in the late 1800s - 1900s. Because the Jewish faith requires a good Jewish person performs no operating of devices on Shabat, (for a range of reasons) they would take the next day’s one pot meal to the local bakery ovens in a heavy crock that would hold the residual heat of the oven to slowly cook overnight and thus require no operating anything, just pick it up, wrap it in cloth to insulate it and have a cooked warm meal ready to go.


A gentleman and prolific inventor by name of Irving Nachumsohn in Chicago in the 1900s had learned of that Jewish innovation and thought how perfect this method of making the cholent was for Chicago’s summer heat. He developed the device, filed patent #2,187,888 in 1936 and was granted it in 1940. It for unknown reasons took him over ten years to start producing the slow cooker, but in the 1950s we saw the first commercial ‘Crockettes’ hit the selves of stores and a new era of cooking began. -- https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/brief-history-crock-pot-180973643/


The original Crockette had a ceramic, stoneware, or pottery based inner pot, and as its popularity rose, it begat a slew of new cooking devices. It had an insulated outer body that the inner liner pots were placed (or sometimes permanently fixed) in, a good solid lid to prevent heat loss, and generally had two or three settings only. They can be used for literally hundreds of recipes, from cakes and desserts to meatloaf and stews and soups, to caramelising onions. 


The great appeal of the crock pot, in the start of "dual income families" times, was that you could place the ingredients in it in the morning, come back in the afternoon - and have a hot meal ready to go. 

Rice Cookers

The slow cooker was joined in December 1956 by the first commercially-produced domestic automatic rice cooker, made by Toshiba Corporation. All their successors have pretty much used similar basic construction ever since, and can take between 20 and 60 minutes to cook a pot of rice. The advantages are that they produce consistent results and need a minimum of attention to do so. The disadvantages are that these results can include consistently burning the bottom layer of rice, consistently drying out the cooked rice rather quickly with some models with poorly fitted lids, and similar little niggles.


By 1965 most of these bugs were eliminated in newer and improved models, and these days you can get a perfect 2litre capacity rice cooker for $13 AUD, under a tenner in the UK or USA (making them cheaper than conventional stovetop saucepans) and inventive cooks began developing one pot simple meals.  -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_cooker


And look - Asian people, to whom rice was a staple dish and something households prided themselves for, took up the rice cookers in great quantity because once you worked out how to prevent those issues (stirring the rice briefly with a plastic spatula, using a tea towel to keep the heat and steam in, and so forth) they DID produce a consistent good quality food.

Eco Pots

Most ‘eco pots’ are basically a smaller version of a rice cooker with a capacity of 0.6 - 1.9litres. They can perform much the same functions but for a much smaller quantity of food.

Instant Pots

It took a forty year hiatus (ca 2006) for Canada to patent the next innovation, the Instant Pot. -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant_Pot


The first model was recalled for electrical issues, but by 2013 I’d been able to buy a device based on the IP and made in China (which is my nice way of saying "ripped off"...) for only $60AUD at a then common chain of warehouse outlet stores (Sam's) and despite quite heavy use it is still working well today, and newer replacement models can still be found for under $160AUD for a generic unit with ALL the program features +++ then some.


‘Instant Pots’ (‘IPs’) became a phenomenon around the early to mid 2010s and have been universally accepted as a Good Thing by most people who’ve used them. Like all three of the devices I’m compiling this list of, they have an insulated body which includes the safety switch, heating element, a thermostat, and a separate spun metal inner pot which is what the food cooks in. Inner pots vary but most are spun aluminium and feature a non-stick liner inside. They have a lid with a vent and a pressure relief, and a pressure seal, all of which have to be kept scrupulously clean and free of food deposits for the IP to function properly.


They have far more functions than a simple rice cooker because they include a program selector and are a pressure cooker as well as a traditional sort of electric boiler. Most can also fry or braise ingredients, be set to start at a particular time of day and run a specified program then keep things warm - they’re a good all-round tool to have, in other words.  You can use them like a slow cooker, pressure cooker, electric saucepan/pot, for braising as pointed out - and many have a program to cook rice, too.


They can have a capacity from 6litres to around 12litres, and as with any pot for the kitchen they need to be around the right size - too big for the size of meals you generally make and the food will cook or burn in a thin layer on the bottom, and it’s recommended that you NEVER - EVER - exceed the safe capacity of the IP you have. In pressure cooker mode, going over or under the limits can result in explosion, injury, or worse.


That said, they’re a very safe device and have a multitude of uses, I’ve used mine to make soups of all kinds, stews, one pot meals, cook silverside perfectly, make a larger than usual quantity of rice or pasta for parties, and slow caramelise onions.


The capabilities and limitations of your IP are pretty much laid out in the instruction manual. My IP, for example, has a series of eight ‘basic recipes’ that I can adjust for length of time / weight of main ingredient etc, and is very easy to use, but doesn’t include a ‘braise’ setting but by using one of the programmed settings and adding fats and vegetables I can get it to braise. You need to experiment a little bit.

Generally

Most of these devices (at least all those with removable inner pots) have a spring-loaded thermostat in the centre of what is in effect just an electric hotplate. Until the inner pot presses down with enough weight in it to depress the spring loaded thermostat, it will either only run at ‘keep warm’ heat, or in many cases not run the hotplate at all. This is done to prevent the device from causing fires if it’s accidentally left on. 


Most inner liners  for rice cookers, eco pots, and IPs these days are made from pressed or spun aluminium with a non-stick coating inside, and they generally have their capacity measurement stamped into the metal in this case.


Less commonly, they can have stainless steel inner pots, which may or may not have capacity markings stamped in them,


For crockpots, earthenware is still the most common inner pot material, and some are permanently fixed into the insulated body, which creates issue with washing-up because you mustn’t submerge the electrical bits (i.e. the whole outer body) or get them wet so for preference a removable inner pot is important.

Example Recipes

The white one was from an opp shop, the black one bought in a market-

place but also in good used condition. Soon as I had two pots,
the first thing I did was to cook rich curry prawns and rice for 
us. Despite these Eco Pots being around 700 - 800ml the meal
was more than enough for two, and left enough for a snack the
next day. That photo above was taken while I cooked this meal.

Principles again

You have at your disposal a cooker that proceeds at high heat until all water has evaporated from the food in the inner pot, then automatically reduces its setting to a lower ‘keep warm’ temperature.


You can control how much cooking time your rice gets by how much water you place in the bowl. You know that (for example) rice absorbs an equal volume of water and needs to cook for a certain amount of time in order to be the perfect cooked texture, so you need to add more water to ensure that the cooker stays at high heat for the required amount of time. 


For most of these devices, they are recommended to never fill them to more than half the total volume, and that’s generally also the safety limit for the device.


Other than the rice cooker, most of these recipes call for no more complicated equipment than a bowl or plate to serve the meal on, a kitchen knife, and a plastic rice spoon, spatula or chopsticks. 


Asian cup measures are different to European (Metric), Imperial British, and US cup measures: 


Asian cups are 180ml capacity,
1 legal U.S. cup = 240 milliliters

1 customary U.S. cup = 236.59 milliliters

1 imperial cup = 284.13 milliliters

1 metric cup = 250 milliliters


Of course, rice cookers use Asian rice cup measures and most recipes use either US ar metric cup measures… 


Understanding that, here’s how to use most rice cookers to cook the perfect rice.

Actually Cooking - Rice . . .

In most rice cookers, twice the volume of water to one volume of rice is about right, maybe minus about a quarter of a volume. 


So - for a 0.9litre eco pot, you can safely put two 180ml cups of rice with ~~270-300ml (approximately one and three quarters as much water) for a total volume in the pot of 450-480ml, which is almost exactly half the volume. Perfect.)

Other Things, Other Tips

BIG tips for rice cookers etc, and a few ‘watch-it’s’ - (there are a lot of things you can do with a rice or eco cooker, but also a few things you have to - watch it! . . . )


For a start, sautee or light frying is sort of possible. The thermostats aren’t instantaneous on the cheaper rice cookers ane eco pots, so they hit 100C and the temperature keeps on rising for a little bit, then the hotplate stays that warm for a few minutes longer. It’s enough to lightly fry ingredients that are chopped small.


And then there’s the second tip - size IS important. Don’t let anyone con you about this. A whole cylinder of carrot will be underdone when your other ingredients are mush. Shredded carrots will be mush before the rice is cooked. Small diced pieces of meat will be perfectly cooked, 2cm cubes will be raw inside. You generally have only about 20 - 40 minutes of cooking time. 


Timing is everything else. I put meats and things that need frying in, put the cooker on high setting (with lid if necessary to provide enough weight to allow it to work) and then come back to it to check doneness, then put in the carbohydrate (rice or pasta, generally) and added ingredients in stages from there on so they are all cooked right. 

Now to the watchits. 

Firstly many of the cheaper rice cookers have cheaper non-stick. It figures, right? And the thing with cheaper non-stick is that it may not be designed to operate at any temperatures higher than boiling water. Check that in the instruction manual, search for information about your cooker online, and then decide if you want to push it into frying temperatures. Or just take the risk that your food will have traces of weird chemicals infused into it. 


Next one is just common sense. NEVER stick metal, ceramic, or hard materials into the inner pot to stir things. Most come supplied with a plastic spoon, and a silicon spatula is cheaper than buying a new rice cooker. With plastic items and pushing the higher temperatures, be aware that most plastics and silicons aren’t designed to frying or oven temperatures and use them safely. 


Never eat directly from the inner pot, you’ll definitely scratch it. Don’t think you can do better than everyone else in the world, a bowl to wash is a small price to pay for the awesome quick meal.

More Tips

The best stirring implements are actually cheap disposable wooden chopsticks. Also, if you have the kind that are joined Siamese-twin-style, leave them together for a slightly larger stirring surface. You can get them with every tub of chinese take-away so you needn’t look too far for them. I have a few sets that I wash and dry between uses and one set’s been in use for six months. 


As a bonus, you can add paste or dry ingredients on them and have some idea of how much you’re adding. The part where they’re joined can hold a half teaspoonful easily in that last solid 1.5 - 2cm section, the points can hold a quarter teaspoon roughly depending how far up the chopsticks you’ve filled. 


Also of course you can just use two normal wooden chopsticks held together if you don’t want to common eco-system-cide by re-using a few single use chopstick pairs a year. . . 

Serving

To access the meal, either spoon it out with the plastic spoon they provide or use a silicon implement. With the smaller eco cooker, I’ve found that a great looking presentation is to use a tea towel or oven mitt, put a plate / bowl upside down over the pot and then turn them both over then give the eco inner a tap with your hand and generally the whole meal drop onto the plate and will sit in a molded shape. 


So there you have it. Some meals have just gone from a huge pile of implements and utensils to a rice cooker, a knife, a bowl or two, and some chopsticks. 

Some Recipes

Must be time for a few recipes… 


Rice, pasta such as macaroni, and noodles such as fine egg noodles or ramen, have been a stock food for many of us and are always good standbys. And because a) ramen has always been associated with penniless students, really primitive cooking facilities in dorm rooms, and half-inebriated snacking after a hard night out, I’m going to make the recipes a bit like that, just cheap and quick and easy enough to get one’s hands on.


I’ve tried the ones as written and declare that they’re tasty and filling. I’ve also tried hundreds of variations on them over time, using a small milk saucepan before I discovered my rice cooker and eco pot, so you can easily adapt these to an army surplus nesting cooking set if you need to, or go large and make the recipe in a bigger pot and multiply the ingredients for a family dinner.


I also like chopsticks because they’re a cooking utensil, a measuring utensil, AND an eating utensil - what more do you need? 


These recipes are presented as inline ingredients recipes, that is, there’s no separate ingredients list so read them through before diving in, to make sure you have everything. I’ll use the Asian rice cup as standard (180ml) because there’s generally one included with your rice cooker or eco pot. I’ll also use the good old rule of thumb ‘double chopstick’ measures for most everything else. 


These recipes are really basic, you can embellish them or alter them, mainly it’s the techniques and some basic easy ideas for flavour combinations that work.

Spanish Chorizo Rice

Slice about 8cm of chorizo into half centimetre slices. Put a splash of olive oil in the bottom of the pot, add the chorizo slices laid flat, put the lid on and run it on high for 5 minutes or until it switches the warm setting, whichever comes first. Add 1/4 tsp of smoked paprika powder, (two chopsticks together, tip end) and  1 tsp of minced garlic (2 lots that will fit on the last cm or so of the flat end of two chopsticks) a half tsp of salt, minced chilli to desired spiciness, then tip in 1 cup of washed rice, two cups of water, put the lid back on and let it cook until the rice is almost done and the water is almost all gone, then chop up half a small brown onion , stir it in and stir everything well with the chopsticks or whatever you’re using, put the lid back on and  flick it to the keep warm setting and let stand for another 10 - 20 minutes before serving. Serve as a moulded rice meal. (See “Serving” above.)

Chicken Noodle Soup

Take a small handful of shredded leftover chicken and put it in the inner pot along with a splash of oil (sunflower, vegetable, olive - your call) a 1/4 tsp salt, half a small onion diced, a few corn kernels (the tiny sized tin is perfect for making two of these soups with so if you have two cookers you can make a yummy meal for two) and a tablespoonful of your choice of green vegetable shredded or sliced/diced thin, start the cooker on high, using the lid to make sure it’ll switch on.  Get a ‘nest’ of egg noodles (these come in big bags, generally a few dozen to the kilo, makes for some cheap meals!! Two nests broken is generally close to a full Asian cup full. and by your choice, either crunch it up or leave it whole, add to the pot, add 2 cups of water and a small (or half of a) chicken stock cube crushed fine, and close the machine and let it come to the boil (you’ll see steam escaping at a fair rate) then flick it to low, maybe add some chopped fresh or dried parsley, and let it sit with the lid on until the noodles are done to your taste. Serve in a bowl and enjoy immediately.

Asian Style Pork and Rice

Add a splash of peanut oil, some fine diced brown onion and garlic, and some fine diced pork (5mm cubes) up to three tablespoonfuls. You can use leftover cooked pork, or just dice up some meat scraps and remnants left from preparing another meal. Usual procedure, allow to come to temperature and fry, then remove the lid so the hotplate stops. Add half a cup of rice and a cup and a bit of water, put the lid back and switch to high setting, allow to cook for 15 minutes, ten check the rice, which should still be a little bit grainy in the middle. Dice a stem and leaf of pak choy or similar, add a few drops of sesame oil, 2 tsp soya sauce, a few drops of fish sauce if you like, and put the lid back and let it stand on warm setting for another 10 - 20 minutes until the rice is to your liking. Serve however you like. You can also make this with two nests of broken egg noodles. 

Corned Beef

Similar to the above recipe, make everything but the pork, and add a crushed beef stock cube, and maybe vary vegetables as suits you. While that’s cooking, get a tin of corned beef (the drier and more solid it is, the better) and cut two 1.5cm thick slices, then cut those in half lengthways and each strip into four cubes, place them at the bottom of your serving bowl, then upend the pot on top of that. Let stand for another few minutes and enjoy.


Yep you could do this with fried Spam cubes or similar but don’t fry the corned beef as it’ll fall apart - take this on trust - and look unappetising. 

The Kitchen Sink

When I cook, anything that isn’t plated for that meal gets the freezer. So I’ll quite often have several (re-usable of course) storage baggies or tubs. These little silicon things with ziplock and cliplock seals respectively are just the best - a large one holds washed raw vegetable ‘scraps’ -  things like celery crowns / roots, trimmings off root vegetables, cabbage hearts etc - for making soups and stocks each time I accumulate enough. Slices of leftover roast pork, that chicken drumstick that was left on the serving platter, half a cup of minced (ground) beef that was surplus to the meatballs recipe that time. I estimate that I have between 2 to 4 kilos of such odds and ends left from time to time. And when I do, I raid some of those ingredients for a Kitchen Sink Noodles breakfast.


You literally need only a tablespoon’s worth of each ingredient, broken from the rest of bits, one or two nests of noodles, two cups of water, and a few condiments. One of my favourites involves a few spoonfuls of small-diced roast pork (including the fat and skin) a few shreds of some leftover roast chicken, a fish ball cut into eight, some cabbage / leafy green, and a LOAD of different condiments like a chilli-garlic paste, Indian garlic pickle, sriracha, ketchup manis, fish sauce, sesame oil, peanut oil, a stock cube - pretty much to your taste - and then cook the ingredients in the two cups of water until it starts boiling, then open, add a nest (or two) of noodles, close up again and let cook for five more minutes, then serve. 


Watch-it: When ‘liberating’ a small quantity of an ingredient from a larger quantity, take care not to introduce contamination to the rest, I find that if I store those ingredients in layers as thin as possible, it’s generally easy to snap a small quantity of while it’s still in the freezer pouch. DO NOT thaw the whole pouch just to get a tablespoonful of it. 


ProTip: Remember I mentioned minced meat? I put that in the pouch then roll it into a thin (less than 5mm thick) sheet inside the pouch, and use several pouches if there’s to much for the one alone. Similarly I slice leftover raw or cooked vegetables into thinner slices and use more pouches if I have to. As a bonus, those thin flat packs take up little space in the freezer compared to the old take-away or freezer tubs. I write what it is and the date I froze it on the pouch and a smidgen of methylated spirits in a piece of paper towel cleans the writing off when washing the pouches for re-use. 


ProTip: Most discount and $2 stores these days have these silicon ziplock pouches. I just bought one or two each time I has a spare couple of bucks and now have around twenty of them in various sizes. 


If I store something larger (such as a litre of concentrated home-made chicken stock) I still use the rectangular storage containers, also anything awkward shaped or chunky that I don’t want to flatten or slice thinner. Those ingredients are just not for eco pot mini-meals. . .  On a positive note, when I cook for my wife and myself, I have to hand a dozen or more ready meals that just need heating and maybe some carbohydrate (pasta, potatoes, etc) for saving time, and enough frozen meats, ingredients, and (shamed to say but we all have our weaknesses) frozen commercial pasta meals and meat pies etc, to 

Variations

You can make purely vegetable bowls with rice or noodles in the same way, also I’ve used TSP (Textures Soy Protein) to make vegetarian versions for friends, you can use macaroni and once it’s cooked add some diced ham, grated cheddar or some similar cheese, a dollop of cream and let it sit and it makes creditable mac and cheese. 


When making the Spanish style, add a teaspoonful of tomato paste for a richer flavour, or make a recipe using egg noodles (or macaroni) a few tablespoons of minced (ground) beef or some other meat and half a cup of store bought bolognese sauce spooned over just before serving. 


I’ve made Mexican/Spanish style rices and pastas using every meat imaginable, just adding spices, tomato, fresh vegetables, peppers, as the Spanish Chorizo recipe above. By changing the flavour profiles to tomato, basil, garlic, and parmesan, you can make passably and unmistakeably Italian flavoured meals. 


Beans. You can add tinned or precooked beans (baked beans, red kidney beans, black beans, etc) but dried beans can’t be cooked in a rice cooker in any reasonable time so I recommend those tiny tins, they’re easy to store, one tin can generally be used for one or two meals, and they add much-needed protein and nutrients to a meal. 


Also you can make mild flavoured meals using a mostly clear soup and Japanese soba noodles broken to size, garnished with all sorts before serving. 


I’ve also made just a nest of egg noodles in two to three cups or water with a stock cube, then added meat and vegetable leftovers from dinner to make a healthy and filling morning tea or lunch soup. (See The Kitchen Sink above.)


The most important thing to know is the different flavour profiles or different world cuisines. Asian cooking has a particular set of spice combinations, Thai is a different set, Indian, Italian, Greek, German, Dutch, Mexican, each State of the USA has a particular set of specialty flavours - once you’ve read a few recipes you’re pretty well equipped to ‘fake’ your noodles, pasta, or rice flavour profile. 


I may write up flavour profiles as a separate post sometime. Stay tuned. . . 


The next most important thing is to understand how the rice or eco cooker works, and work with it. Cheap easy and nourishing meals are easy to make, and while the cooking time may be an hour, your time preparing and stirring need only be fifteen minutes. 


In conclusion, let me say that when I make one of these meals as a savoury breakfast, I find I don’t feel hungry again until late afternoon, and if I have this as a work lunch, I can almost skip dinner in favour of a light salad - there may only be a small quantity of different ingredients but add a few of those to half a cup of rice or two nests of noodles and  it cooks up to around half a kilo (one pound) of a meal. 



Friday, 18 May 2018

Winter Warmer Pumpkin Soup

NAME: _Pumpkin Winter

INGREDIENTS/UTENSILS:
1 medium blue/Kent pumpkin around 2 kg
1 medium carrot
1/2 tsp red paprika powder
2 tsp curry powder divided
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1+1/2 tsp garlic powder divided
1 tsp raw sugar
3 tsp salt divided
3 tsp chicken stock powder divided
4 tbsp olive oil divided
100g butter
1 - 2 litre water
All teaspoon measurements are flat

METHOD:
Chop pumpkin in half top to bottom, scoop out the innards with a tablespoon or similar, set aside. Cut one or two 1cm wide rings from the widest part of each half, trim off skin, and cut each ring into quarters. Lay out on baking paper in a shallow tray and brush with about half the olive oil. Set aside.

Cut remaining pumpkin into about 2-3cm chunks, trim off skin. Slice the carrot into slivers with a peeler, or julienne or fine dice - this needs to cook completely. Put the butter into a saucepan large enough to hold the pumpkin and water, add the pumpkin pieces and carrot, salt, and about half a cup of water. put on medium heat.

Make up two powders, as follows:
Roasting: 1 tsp curry powder 1 tsp garlic powder 1/2 tsp cumin powder 1 tsp raw sugar 1 tsp salt
Seeds: 1 tsp red paprika 1/2 tsp garlic powder 1 tsp chicken stock powder 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp curry powder

Add more water to the soup if it begins to dry out, up to 0.5 litres, return to simmer. Add 1 tsp salt 1/2 tsp curry powder 2 tsp chicken stock powder. Keep topping the water up as you do other things.You're aiming to have a creamy soup which can just form peaks after all solids are creamed/blended.

Shake the roasting powder together, sprinkle over the pumpkin segments on the roasting tray and place in oven at 230C. Save any remaining roasting powder after dusting all the pieces.

Separate the pumpkin seeds from the pulp, discard the pulp, wash the seeds under hot running water in a strainer, then dry between tea towel or paper towel. Place remaining olive oil in a small frying pan, heat, and add the pumpkin seeds, keep stirring until a few pumpkin seeds begin to pop or brown. (This point varies between varieties, Kent has small seeds that popped, larger seeded varieties tend not to pop.) Place the strainer over the pan to stop seeds jumping out, turn off the heat, let sit for a few minutes then strain the seeds out, save or discard the oil as you normally would.

Check the roasted pumpkin is starting to brown, (usually 20 - 40 minutes depending on your oven) and take from the oven when it does, set aside to cool slightly. Dust the toasted pumpkin seeds with the seeds powder, mix remaining powder with the roasting powder, and put up to one tsp of this powder into the soup. Blend soup with a stick blender if any large chunks still remain, by now the soup should have been simmering between 30 minutes and a hour while all the other processing was taking place, allow blended soup to simmer for another five minutes. Soup should be a little bit thicker than creamy, almost form peaks.

SERVING:
Serve the soup in a deeper bowl, place a few segments or roasted pumpkin upright around one edge of the bowl, lining about 1/3 to 1/2 the way round, sprinkle a spoonful of toasted pumpkin seeds around the opposite edge. Serve with buttered crusty bread, and a spoonful of cream if desired.

NOTES:
It's been almost a year since the last recipe, slack Ted! But this soup is soooo worth doing all the steps and making the pumpkin into three different forms. Using the two powders as an additional flavouring to the soup ties everything together.

The carrot makes the colour deep and rich without messing up the taste any. It looks fantastic and warm with the palisades of roast pumpkin around the edge of the bowl and the seeds sprinkled over the surface, just looking at it will make you feel toasty warm.

And in effect, it only took about an hour to make three different pumpkin dishes that just go together. There'll be leftover roast pumpkin pieces and seeds to snack on.

My wife took pictures of her bowl, if I can wheedle a picture out of her I'll add it to this post later...

ENJOY!

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Quick Infusing Oils and Fats.

NAME: _Spiced / Infused Oils

This is a longish post that only covers the subject in a general way. You can find precise recipes online if you want them, or do as I've done and sacrificed the occasional cup of oil or butter in the name of experimentation... There are several warnings, not because the processes are dangerous, but because sometimes it's better to have things pointed out and explained in advance rather than learning a painful lesson in retrospect...


INGREDIENTS/UTENSILS:
(See NOTES.)
Cooking oil, butter, lard, dripping, etc
Salt / Pepper / Spice(s) of choice

SOME SUGGESTED COMBINATIONS:
(Note: Generally aim for around four - six tablespoons of flavouring per cup of oil, plus a teaspoon of salt if you're adding salt. Quantities mentioned below are for flavouring one cup of oil.)
- Plain Chilli Oil - 2tbsp chilli, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tbsp garlic (optional)
- French Chilli oil - 2tbsp chilli, 2tbsp smoked chilli, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tbsp garlic
- Paprika oil - 3 tbsp paprika, 1 tsp salt
- Spanish paprika oil - 2 tbsp paprika, 2 tbsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tbsp garlic (optional)
- lemon infused oil - 2 - 3 tbsp lemon or lime, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tbsp garlic (optional), 1 tsp turmeric (optional)
- chimichurri style - 2 tbsp parsley powdered, 1 tbsp coriander leaves/roots powdered, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tbsp paprika, 1/2 tbsp garlic
- dill oil - 4 tbsp powdered dill, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp lemon (optional)
- sweet butter - 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp clove, 1/2tsp nutmeg infused into butter

You get the idea - there are a lot of flavour combinations and I've only scratched the surface, listed the ones I make most often. You can even use curry spice powder to infuse an oil with if you want, or Five Spice, or pretty much any combination.


METHOD:
Set some water simmering in a large saucepan, put in a canning mat or old tea towel or something to keep the inner bowl from rattling against the bottom of the saucepan, and in a smaller bowl or saucepan, put your infusion oil and the ingredients, then put that in the simmering water.

You don't want water to get into your oil, but you want the water deep enough to heat all the way up the inner vessel. I find that a four cup Pyrex glass jug is heavy enough to sit on the canning mat and not float up, and plenty big enough to hold a cup or two of oil. My preference is to put the jug into the water while it's still empty, give it time to heat up, and then put the oil and herbs into it. I generally try to fix it so the jug is about three quarters submerged but not yet floating.

Wait for the infusion to get as hot as possible. Generally, you can check the temperature of the oil with a dial or electronic probe type thermometer, or just wait for 20 - 30 minutes to be sure. You want to stir the brew a few times, then let your nose tell you when the maximum aroma is present.


Don't be tempted to directly heat the oil over a burner, use a bowl in a water bath. The reason is that if there's ANY moisture in the herbs and spices and the oil surrounding that moisture gets above the boiling point of water, there will be pockets of steam under the oil which will literally explode hot oil all over you and your kitchen. You may think you can catch the temperature before things get to that stage but there's all sorts of reasons you can fail. A water bath prevents the temperature from getting higher than 100C. Seriously. Don't do it... 


Once that time is past, set the inner container aside and allow the flavourings to settle and the oil to cool, this takes around an hour to two hours I've generally found. Then gently decant the oil for use, and even filter the last of it through a coffee drip filter if you like.

Don't throw away the "sediment" and the little bit of fat it's suspended in, see "SERVING" for some suggested uses.

Also, yes - you CAN use green fresh herbs but because they aren't concentrated, you'll have to use four to ten times as much, and even then, because it's being done at low temperatures, it would take hours for the flavours to infuse and the moisture to evaporate and leave you with a clear oil without a serous amount of sludge at the bottom. You're better off to dehydrate these things, which removes the clouding issue, the slow infusion issue, and results in a powder that can be up to ten times as strongly flavoured as the fresh herb. Save fresh herb processing for when you want to freeze fresh herbs and prevent them oxidising.


In preserving fresh herbs you may want to go to a little extra trouble with preparing them, such as a good rinse in water and vinegar, because once you seal those herbs in a solid fat, you're creating an anaerobic environment in which many bacteria will die, but some known bad guys can flourish if you're not ultra-careful. ALWAYS freeze these fat / herb combinations and if you take any out for use, either use it all or throw the remainder out within a sensible timeframe. (Check out "botulism" if you want any further incentive to do good...)


For solid fats, keep the inner container with your infused fat in a bowl of  warm water and let that cool for the hour or two, (this allows the fat stay liquid for longer and gives the solids more time to settle) then let it set and scrape out clear fat until you hit solids.


SERVING:
These infusions are really versatile and useful. I generally make them for dressing a dish, e.g. paprika oil for drizzling over couscous or rice, for example; Dill oil for drizzling over boiled whole potatoes; Lemon oil for poached or baked fish; And so on. I've drizzled curry oil over fattoush, chimichurri oil over steaks and rissoles. The French serve garlic & chilli oil alongside pizza so that you can drizzle your pizza with extra flavour.

But there are as many uses for infused solid fats. We all know and love herb and herb & garlic butter, but imagine being able to spread curry ghee on savoury pancakes, a knob of caraway and cumin lard melting on pork sausages, or mashed potato with dressing of cinnamon & nutmeg infused butter. There are so many places to try these infused oils and fats, and they add a layer of flavour to any meal.

I've used sweet butter for serving with pumpkin scones, garlic chilli butter on savoury pastry crackers, and have brushed pans of cooked potato gnocchi with dill & cumin oil before topping with bread crumbs and / or cheese and baking that as a side dish to a meal.

In most cases I don't recommend using infused fats as the base fat to fry anything in, as the spices in most cases will burn off and taste horrible.

If I'm making garlic prawns, for example, I might use a light wipe of plain oil in the pan, add prawns and garlic and keep tossing until the prawns are done, then allow the pan to cool from sizzling hot to just hot, add garlic butter or oil, toss, garnish, and serve.

ADD COLOUR:
Use paprika to make a lovely red oil for dressings, turmeric for a yellow, chimichurri (without the paprika) for a green colour. Adjust flavours and colours to suit the meal. They can make the visual and flavour difference between a really good meal and a stupefyingly delicious and amazing looking meal.

"SEDIMENT" PASTE:
Don't forget the paste that's left... By filtering most of the oil that the solids are suspended in after decanting, you're left with an oily paste of the sediments that are generally still loaded with flavour. The paste is very nice to use as part of a wet marinade on meats and vegetables, and a range of other uses.

I've used it to coat cubed meat (along with the rest of a good marinade such as i.e. honey or sugar, salt, and vinegar or lemon) before frying and it gives a decent boost to flavours.

A good paprika or chilli paste (for example) can also have other curry spices (turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, mustard seed, etc) added to it and become a starter base for a curry. Or try oregano, thyme, or sage infused paste plus a bit more oil (or perhaps mixed into tomato paste) to coat vegetables before roasting as a side or main dish.

If you warm the paste, add some oil back to it, then season to taste, you can drizzle it over vegetables or add it to the batter for making small frypan breads (like naan or similar) or add a pat of it to the pan before frying things.

This latter use is not recommended but if you're doing a slow cool fry or confit of something it doesn't burn the flavours. If you read my thoughts about not using the infusions for frying things IN, you may be wondering why I'm okay with adding it to things and then frying those things. The answer is that only the outer layer gets hot when doing this, and due to heat getting conducted away into the food, that layer doesn't get quite as hot.  More importantly - the flavoured fats doesn't stay under intense heat for as long as it would if it was the sole frying agent and things were fried in it.

KEEPING:
I don't recommend keeping any of the oils or pastes for more than a week or two if properly sealed and refrigerated, (but see freezing below) as it's easy enough to make them on demand by dividing the quantities to whatever serving size you need. And frankly, the flavour of fresh made oil beats anything you can get commercially.

FREEZING:
This stuff will freeze, in small tubs or whatever, as mentioned in the METHOD above. I tend to have a small bag or tub full of paprika and dill product (frozen in ice cube trays and then wrapped individually in plastic wrap) another bag with chilli and curry product, and so forth. (That way I save on bags but can tell the cubes apart by colour, as each bag has only two distinctly-coloured varieties.)

FOR PRESERVING HERBS AND SPICES:
If you have fresh herbs, use as much chopped herbs as the oil or fat will hold, allow it to cool, then pour into a foil-lined tub of suitable size and freeze until solid, cut into useful sized cubes, wrap and label them and store in the freezer until needed. Great way to keep stuff like coriander leaves around all year around. Frozen like this in a properly refrigerated environment you should be able to keep these cubes for a year.


In preserving fresh herbs you may want to go to a little extra trouble with preparing them, such as a good rinse in water and vinegar, because once you seal those herbs in a solid fat, you're creating an anaerobic environment in which many bacteria will die, but some known bad guys can flourish if you're not ultra-careful. ALWAYS freeze these fat / herb combinations and if you take any out for use, either use it all or throw the remainder out within a sensible timeframe. (Check out "botulism" if you want any further incentive to do good...)



NOTES:
I saw a lovely post on another cooking group about making infused chilli oil. I realised that besides the slow cold infusion process, there's a much faster process that I use that produces the oil I need (and useful byproducts) in as little as an hour and a half if need be, but more generally two to three hours. (Of which only minutes is spent actually doing anything, the rest is waiting time.)

Many herbs and spices have flavour compounds that are fat-soluble, and oils and fats just love to attract and hang onto them. (There are whole blog pages out there devoted to fat soluble vs water soluble flavours, if you want to research.)

I mainly do this with olive oil, although I can see peanut oil, coconut oil, or any other decent vegetable oil as a carrier for the infusion. There's also nothing to stop you using butter, ghee, lard, dripping, or other solid fats for these recipes, in fact they may be more suitable carriers for the flavours. All of my recipes have usually been made with olive oil, though. Just match your flavours and fats, or try a small taste test before making a larger amount.

The process uses dried and flaked / crushed / powdered herbs and spices, fine ground salt and pepper, a gentle heat extraction, and subsequent decanting plus filtering if desired. There are generally two products, an infused / flavoured oil for use as a dressing or in cooking, and a sediment "paste" of oil and the flavouring.


Don't be tempted to directly heat the oil over a burner, use a bowl in a water bath. The reason is that if there's ANY moisture in the herbs and spices and the oil surrounding that moisture gets above the boiling point of water, there will be pockets of steam under the oil which will literally explode hot oil all over you and your kitchen. You may think you can catch the temperature before things get to that stage but there's all sorts of reasons you can fail. A water bath prevents the temperature from getting higher than 100C. Seriously. Don't do it... 


Suitable herbs spices and so forth include:
chilli, paprika, smoked chilli, smoked paprika, lemon, lime, garlic, onion, cumin, fenugreek, dill, oregano or marjoram, coriander, salt, pepper, and more.

With regard to lemon and lime, I have dehydrated slices of lemon in my pantry, and traditional Middle Eastern "loomi" dried limes, which can be pounded to powder in a mortar, I have dried lemon zest, dried herbs from the garden, plus, of course, the jars of powdered spices you can buy at the store. If you don't have the facilities to dehydrate much of this stuff, it can be found in Middle Eastern, Indian, and Continental food stores.

Salt should plain un-iodised cooking or table salts, pepper fine ground white or black depending on your tastes and what you're trying to achieve, and as free from anti-caking agents as you can get it. Or make your own from salt crystals and flakes using the pestle and mortar. Just try and be sure there won't be additives that will cloud the oil or form food for bacteria.

See the SERVING section for uses for these infusions.


ENJOY!

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Mallow Yellow

NAME: _Chicken Molahia Lasagne

I only made two layers of filling, and yes, it does go that lovely
yellow from the curry. Sorry we'd already devoured half of it... 


INGREDIENTS/UTENSILS:
250g - 500g chicken pieces, your choice dark white or both
40 - 80 fresh mallow leaves
(optional) similar volume of silver beet leaves
1 medium brown onion
3 cloves garlic
1 potato
1 carrot
1/2 cup grated pecorino
1/2 cup grated parmesan or romano
salt, pepper
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
chicken stock cube
plain flour
milk
water
olive oil
butter
7 corn tortillas

METHOD:
Wash the mallow leaves (and silver beet if using) well and set aside. Slice the chicken to 1cm square x 3cm long approximately. Chop the onion fine, chop the garlic very fine. Set each aside Grate the cheeses into separate bowls. Peel and dice the potato and carrot into 1cm dice and set aside. Chop the mallow leaves and the silverbeet leaves.

In a heavy base large saucepan place about a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, heat. When hot enough to sizzle, add the onions and fry for about 3 -5 minutes, then add the chicken, fry for another 3 - 5 minutes then add the garlic, potatoes, carrots, cumin, and curry, fry for the same amount of time again. Add the mallow and silverbeet leaves.

Crumble the chicken cube over and add about half a cup to a cup of water, reducing the heat and then let simmer very low for about 30 minutes. You want the vegetable cubes soft but not too soft. (The mallow and silverbeet will be very soft by that stage. Perfect.) Add about two tablespoons of flour made up into a paste, stir through and warm gently until it thickens. Set aside. (You want a fairly stiff consistency to prevent the filling running, but not a floury stodge.)

Prepare an ovenproof dish that's wide enough to lay the tortillas in by brushing lightly with olive oil. Lay down the first layer of tortilla. (I cut two in half and space them round and interleave to make sure and cover all the way to the edge, Maybe cut a square from a spare one if you need to cover a hole in the middle.) Add a layer of the chicken/mallow filling, then lay another layer of tortillas, and so forth, finish with a layer of tortillas.

Melt butter in another saucepan, a splash of olive oil, then add around half a cup to a cup of plain flour, stirring constantly, Add the curry powder and cumin, plus half a teaspoon of salt. Begin adding around a cupful of milk while stirring, then add water to make a very thick roux, add in the grated pecorino cheese and stir until the cheese is all melted.

Pour the mixture over the tortilla layer and bump gently to remove air bubbles, top with parmesan cheese. Bake in a 200C oven for around 45 minutes, turning if your oven has hot spots. (Mine does, so I turn at the 30 minute mark to get all edges more evenly browned.)

SERVING:
Allow to cool and set for a few minutes, then cut and serve.

NOTES:
Very forgiving recipe, I like using chicken but you could use lamb or beef, as long as you trim the fat away. Anyone that's made molahia will recognise the start or the dish as a molahia soup base. That's pretty much what this is, except for adding flour rather than stock or water.

Mallow is a weed. You can find it growing wild, we have some in our garden that we tend to. The better you care for it, the better it grows. Looks like this:

This mallow is our spindly original one. This is about a quarter of the leaves -
just cut the leaf off the stem and wash, then chop into strips for this recipe. 
You can use the seeds and the flowers as well if you want, not in this recipe though. There are other recipes out there online for the seeds / fruits / whatever they are.

ENJOY!

COUNTER

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