Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Amazing Electric Instant Pot
New Pressure Cooker Technology
No-Stir Risotto In Five Minutes!

If I could only own one pot, this Instant Pot would be it!

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Boy, Have Pressure Cookers Changed
I have an old pressure cooker that's been in my closet for about 20 years. You know the kind - the one that has steam shooting out of it and makes constant clanging noises. The one that sounds like it's going to explode any minute and shower your kitchen ceiling with its entire contents! I've used it twice. 

So when I went to an Instant Pot pressure cooker demonstration given by the Veggie Queen several years ago, I still was a little reluctant. After all, I kind of enjoy stirring, tasting, simmering, adjusting spices, and all the fun stuff that goes along with cooking. But recently my girlfriend Margarite bought one and raved so much about it that I caved in and got one. After all, I love trying new kitchen toys. (Although I'm talking mostly about the pressure cooker feature in this post, this electric pot also slow cooks, sautés, makes yogurt, and more.)

Control Freaks Beware
I must say this pressure cooker takes some getting used to. It has a big sturdy lid and once it turns to close, you can't open it while its at high pressure. And it's totally silent (no clanging) so you hardly know that it's cooking.

But here's the catch. Because you can't open it while it's under pressure, you give up total control. You have to trust that the pressure cooker gods are doing everything just right. It can be unnerving, especially when you don't read the instructions!

I hate reading instructions so I didn't know that once the pressure cooker tells you it's finished, and makes a cute little beep, you are supposed to turn it off and then wait for the pressure to release gradually. 

My first attempt with using this pot was making black bean soup. I didn't turn it off when it beeped so the pot remained at pressure forever. I sat there and watched it as our dinner hour flew past. Panic set in. Why wasn't the pressure going down? When are we going to eat dinner? Have these beans turned to complete mush? Why can't I open my damn pot?

Doug finally read the directions and we turned off the pot. The pressure gradually released, we carefully opened the pot (with the steam pointed away from us) and there was our soup. I added too much water and the soup kind of looked like sewage. It's not that black bean soup looks that great anyway (especially when it's too watery). So my first test completely failed. Besides the failed soup, I learned something that I kind of already knew about myself - that I am a complete CONTROL FREAK and that I can't even turn over control to a pot!

Luckily I wasn't discouraged and tried again. Since then, almost everything I've cooked has come out amazing!

Lessons Learned
1. Read the instructions. It's not that the pot is too complicated, but there are a few critical things you need to know.

2. When you use a pressure cooker, you need to know how long it will take to make your recipe. Start with a good cook book for basic times and once you've got a few things down, experiment with your own recipes. I started out with Jill Nussinow's New Fast Food cookbook. It's an excellent reference for how long it takes to cook grains and beans and exactly how much liquid to use. It's got some great vegan recipes in it and it's helped me get started with this wonderful new pot.

3. Keep a notebook. If your oatmeal came out a bit too thick, make a note to add a bit more water next time. If your veggies came out too soft, make a note to cut down the cooking time. Figure out which recipes let you release the steam quickly and which ones have to release the pressure gradually. You'll find these notes will help you develop a set of instructions so that all of your favorite recipes will come out perfectly! 

4. You have to experiment. Not everything will come out great at first but when you perfect a few recipes, you'll wonder how you ever cooked without this pot.

Things I Love to Make in my Instant Pot
In the future I will start blogging some of my pressure cooker recipes, but for now, I'd just like to tell you what dishes are great to make in this pot.

I bet every Italian who owns this pot uses it to make stuffed artichokes. Artichokes are so tough that you have to steam them for a long time. You have to keep adding water while they are cooking and by the time they are soft enough to eat, their leaves are falling off into the pot. This pot is nice and big and artichokes some out beautifully.

Stuffed artichokes

This pot makes the creamiest oatmeal I've ever eaten. I'm actually not as big a fan of oatmeal as my husband but since we started making it in this pot (with vanilla, cranberries, cinnamon, almond milk, and a pinch of salt), I want to eat it every morning!

Creamy oatmeal

Stuffed bell peppers are another dish that's hard to make because the peppers usually have to be pre-boiled so everything bakes uniformly. With the pressure cooker, you don't have to do that and in just a few minutes, you have beautifully cooked stuffed peppers.

Stuffed Peppers

I think pressure cookers were invented to cook beans. It not only cuts down the time dramatically, it seems to prevent the beans from splitting. The New Fast Food cookbook has helpful tables on how long different beans take to cook (as well as other foods.) Here are perfectly cooked garbanzo beans.

Garbanzo beans - soft and creamy inside with skins intact.

How would you like to make risotto without constantly stirring it? And how would you like to do that in just a fraction of the time? I roasted some chanterelles in the oven, made the risotto in the Instant Pot in 5 minutes, stirred in the chanterelles and had PERFECT risotto!

Chanterelle mushroom risotto

Stainless Steel Cooking Pot
Another big plus is that the cooking pot is stainless - not teflon like my rice maker. Now that I can make rice in this pot, I no longer need a separate rice cooker. 

Great Pot for a College Student
If I could only have one pot, this would be the one. It's electric so you don't even need a stove - just an electric outlet. It would be a great pot for a college student since it does almost anything and you can make a lot of one-pot meals in it. 

I guess you can tell that I'm excited about my new Instant Pot. I bought mine on Amazon for $135. I have a lot of experimenting to do to learn all of its capabilities and I'll be sharing my pressure cooker adventures with you soon!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Shredded Kale And Quinoa Salad With Red Grapes, Bell Pepper, And Sunflower Seeds
Vegan and Gluten Free

Adding quinoa to a kale salad turns it into a meal!

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Inspired at the Airport
My daughter and I just spent a lovely four days in Sedona. Besides the beautiful red rocks and relaxing spa treatments, we were blown away with the food. One restaurant was better than the other. So when we got to the Phoenix airport to go home, we were kind of bummed that our last meal would probably be terrible. I mean, when's the last time you had a good meal at an airport?

We were pretty shocked when we walked into Chelseas Kitchen in Terminal 4. The restaurant itself was large and beautiful and the food was definitely NOT what you would expect at an airport (unless you are in the International Terminal in SFO.)

Chelseas Kitchen at the Phoenix Airport

The dish that inspired me the most was their kale salad (they were kind enough to make one without the parmesan cheese). It was mixed with quinoa, bell pepper, juicy red grapes, and sunflower seeds. To me the red grapes were the best and most surprising ingredient. I never thought of throwing a grape into a kale salad and their sweetness just made the flavors explode. And any time you add a grain, such as quinoa or rice, to a salad, it turns the dish into a hearty meal.

When I got home, I immediately tried to replicate it and I think I did it. They use more oil than I do but since I need to knock off a few pounds from the vacation, I cut down on the dressing.

So here it is, my dairy-free, gluten-free version of Chelseas Kitchen's "Shredded Kale & Quinoa Salad. I honestly think it's now my FAVORITE kale salad recipe. You should try it!

                *                           *                            *

Shredded Kale and Quinoa Salad 
Vegan and Gluten Free
[makes 4 meal-size or 6 side salads]

1 cup dry quinoa
4 packed cups thinly sliced raw kale
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon cold-pressed hemp oil*
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, small diced
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
* If you don't have hemp oil, just use two tablespoons of olive oil instead of one.

To prepare quinoa: Rinse quinoa in cold water. 

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Stir in quinoa, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is cooked, about 18 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool a bit.

(To cook your quinoa in a pressure cooker, cook for 5 minutes with 1 1/4 cups of water.)

While the quinoa is cooking and cooling, place the kale in a large bowl with the lemon and oil and mix thoroughly. Set aside for 20 minutes to "marinate."

Marinating the kale in lemon and oil makes it tender.

Add the quinoa and the remaining ingredients to the kale. Mix thoroughly and serve.

Per meal-sized serving (4): 326 calories, 12 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 796 mg omega-3 and 5,038 mg omega-3 fatty acids, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 g protein, 48 g carbohydrates, 6 g dietary fiber, and 575 mg sodium.

Per side salad (6): 217 calories, 8 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 530 mg omega-3 and 3,358 mg omega-3 fatty acids, 0 mg cholesterol, 7 g protein, 32 g carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, and 383 mg sodium.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Easy-To-Make Pickled Jalapeño Slices
Refrigerate Or Can - Make Them This Weekend!

Make your own jars of pickled jalapeño slices. It's easy!

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Harvesting my Peppers
It's been really warm for October here in Northern California and my peppers love it! I'm still harvesting pardrons and my bell peppers are finally turning red and orange. My two little jalapeño plants have quite a few peppers on them too even though I've been picking them off all summer. Since I'm headed out of town with my daughter this weekend to soak up some Vortex energy in the red rocks of Sedona, I decided to harvest the rest of my jalapeños before I leave. (Even if you don't have jalapeños in your garden, it's a great time to buy some at the farmer's market!)

My two little plants still had over a pound of jalapeños.

Two years ago I dehydrated my jalapeños and used them in chili, curry, and anything else that I wanted to spice up. 

But this year I thought I'd pickle them. Here's what I did.

                *                       *                       *

Pickled Jalapeño Slices
[makes 5 half-pint jars]

1 1/4 pounds jalapeños
2 cups filtered water
2 cups while distilled vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons pickling salt*
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon black or rainbow peppercorns
10 small cloves garlic

* You can use any salt as long as it's not iodized and doesn't have anti-caking agents. To determine how much you will need, see the Morton Salt Conversion Chart.

Clean your jars and 2-piece non-reactive lids with hot soapy water. If you are going to keep these in the refrigerator, this will be sufficient. If you are going to can the jalapeños in a hot water bath, follow the instructions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Wash your jalapeños. Wearing rubber gloves, cut them into 3/8 inch slices. Set them aside.

Bring the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and oregano to a boil, stirring until the sugar and salt completely dissolve.

Meanwhile, divide up the garlic and peppercorns into the 5 half-pint jars.

Place 2 cloves of garlic and 1/5 of the peppercorns in each jar.

When the vinegar solution comes to a boil, stir in the sliced jalapeños and turn off the heat. Make sure each slice is submerged. If you are not going to can them, let them sit in the hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. If you are going to can them, don't do this since they will already be getting heated again for 10 minutes.

Divide the jalapeño slices among the 5 jars using a funnel.Then fill each jar with the vinegar solution up to 1/4 inch to the top of the jar.

Fill the jars with sliced jalapeños and liquid.

At this point, you can screw the non-reactive lids on the jars, let them cool and pop them into the refrigerator until needed. They will last for months if unopened.

If you would like to can them, screw the two-piece non reactive tops on until secure but not too tight. Place them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Remove, let cool on a rack and make sure each top seals and "pops". Then tighten the rims a bit more.

Make sure the jars are covered with at least 1 or 2 inches of water.

Let the pickles rest for 5 days to a week before eating. Then enjoy!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Dark Chocolate Hemp Seeds by Himalania
Makes A Great Topping For Fruit Or Ice Cream

Hemp seeds and chocolate are a great combination!

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Healthy, Yummy Treat
When I saw this new product in the store, I scooped it off of the shelf as quickly as I could and couldn't wait to try it. You know I'm a big hemp seed fan - to date I've got over a dozen posts on them. And who doesn't love dark chocolate?

Hemp seeds are one of the best sources of highly digestible protein. And they contain all of the essential amino acids making them a "complete" protein. 

Hemp seeds also contain a good amount of omega-3 fatty acid with the perfect balance of omega-6. These fatty acids are important for the nervous system to function, for brain development, healthy skin, and a healthy heart and immune system. They also contain Stearidonic Acid (SDA) and Gamma LInolenic Acid (GLA), both of which help you utilize your omega essential fatty acids.

The best news is that American farmers are once again allowed to grow hemp thanks to a provision in the 2014 farmed bill. Because hemp is in the cannabis family (but has almost no THC and cannot make your high), the U.S drug laws prohibited the growing of hemp in the U.S. But everyone has finally come to their senses and now our farmers can tap into this very lucrative market. Canada's hemp production is bringing in almost a billion dollars a year! 

Although they look like papaya seeds, these papaya cubes
are covered with dark chocolate hemp seeds!

Himalania Dark Chocolate Covered Hemp Seeds
Two tablespoons of these chocolate covered hemp seeds provide:
160 calories 
9 g total fat
500 mg omega-3 fatty acid
1,500 mg omega-6 fatty acid
3 g high quality protein
3 g dietary fiber
17 g carbohydrates
0 mg sodium
Rich in iron, magnesium and copper

I love these over fruit or non-dairy ice cream. You can also sprinkle them on yogurt or bake them into muffins.

Chocolate covered hemp seeds over bananas and raspberries

Where to Buy
I found these at my local Whole Foods Market. But, as most everything else, you can buy them online at Amazon. If your local health food store doesn't have them, ask them to get them. They are delicious and healthy and I highly recommend them! 

They state that they are not dairy free (so they are NOT VEGAN) but I'm lactose intolerant and have had no issues with them since I only sprinkle a teaspoon or so on my fruit.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Food Allergies Can Cause Snoring

Do you or your partner snore? It could be your diet.

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Does your Partner Snore?
My husband snores a little. Not much at all, really, but enough to wake me up. Having grown up in New York City, I can sleep through road sounds, subways rolling underground, fire engines blaring, the Costanzas screaming in the next apartment, and other city noises. But now that we live in the country, it's so darn quiet that the slightest noise can wake me up. Unfortunately I don't fall back asleep very easily so quite often I'm sleep deprived.

I've tried to create more white noise to drown out his snoring. I play background records of rain and waves breaking. Our air purification machine also puts out a nice hum, but none of these things really work. I've tried ear plugs but they make me feel like I'm in a sensory deprivation chamber!

Why Sleep is Important
Chronic sleep loss can lead to a number of health problems.
* Lack of sleep lessens your ability to learn, concentrate and remember things.
* Poor sleep can alter hormones that affect our appetite and how the body processes carbohydrates, both of which can cause weight gain.
* Loss of sleep can effect your mood and cause you to be irritable and impatient.
* Sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system. Adequate sleep is needed to fight disease - from the common cold to cancer.

What Causes Snoring?
Some people snore when they have a cold or a sinus infection. Actually, anything that can block the airway can cause snoring - even large tonsils and adenoids.
Too much alcohol can also relax the throat and tongue muscles which can also cause blockage of the airway.
Overweight people have a tendency to snore because it can lead to bulky throat tissue.

Can it be Food Allergies?
For a long time I suspected that Doug's snoring was due to his diet. He eats way too much wheat. He can polish off a loaf of bread in the blink of an eye. He makes 3 small loaves of banana bread for our vacation rental guests - 1 for them and 2 for him. He eats multiple bowls of wheat flakes several times a day or polishes off an English muffin or two for a snack. We often eat cream of wheat for breakfast when it's cold out. And of course pasta is one of our favorite food groups.
Because he can eat all this and still be the thinest and fittest man I know, it was hard to suggest that he kick the wheat habit. Except that I thought it was the reason he snored!

The Big Experiment
I noticed that every time my husband consumed any wheat product, he'd either sneeze or get all stuffy. I gently suggested that he try not eating wheat for a few weeks - "stop eating wheat or I'm moving you into the guest room!". (As previously mentioned, sleep deprivation can make you bitchy.)

So for almost a month now, Doug's been gluten free.
* He switched his morning cereal to oatmeal or gluten-free flakes made from corn, rice, flax, quinoa, or amaranth.
* He now buys gluten-free English muffins (which unfortunately have the consistency of hockey pucks but they are growing on us.)
* We eat a lot of rice (especially now that we've discovered Tamaki Haiga.)
* He always asks for gluten-free soy sauce when we eat at Asian restaurants.
* We only eat Ancient Harvest pasta made from quinoa and corn or Tinkyada Brown Rice pasta.
* We make muffins and baked goods out of oat flour.

The Results
I'm happy to report that Doug has stopped snoring almost completely and I'm getting a lot more sleep. He's getting a lot more sleep too because I'm not poking him in the ribs asking him to roll over and stop snoring.

Other Allergens
A number of foods can cause allergies and lead to snoring. If this is an issue for you or your sleep-mate, you can try eliminating some or all of these common allergens. 
The following foods account for 90% of all food allergies in the United States:

* Peanuts
* Soy
* Eggs
* Wheat
* Tree nuts
* Dairy 
* Fish and Shellfish