Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Cooking Vegetables In Your Instant Pot

Learning to cook vegetables in an Instant Pot can take patience.

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A Quick Status of the Fires
In my last post, we were in the middle of the worst fires California has ever experienced. We are safe now and the fire danger is pretty much over. The air, once filled with ash and smoke, is clearing. And although we are now returning to our normal lives, there are thousands of people in the area whose homes burned to the ground. The community is rallying in many ways, as communities do when tragedies happen. 

First responders have been elevated to gods here in Sonoma county. We ran into three fire fighters in a restaurant last night who finally got a chance to have a meal. We tried to pay for their meals but the waitress smiled and said that someone had beaten us to it. I would guess that wine country firefighters will never have to pay for another meal in their lives!

So thanks for all of your concern, notes, and well wishes. There are many ways to support those affected by the fire. The Redwood Credit Union North Bay Fire Relief Fund is a good one as 100% of donations go directly to the fire victims. Here are some other ways to help the victims. 

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Are you an Instant Pot Junkie?
You bought an Instant Pot and now you want to cook every meal in it. But to be honest, some things are trickier to cook than others. Especially things that are time sensitive. Without the ability to easily sample during cooking, you can sometimes overcook your food. Certain vegetables can easily turn to mush if they are cooked too long and a few bad experiences can frustrate a new Instant Pot owner but with a little practice and good note taking, you'll come to prefer the results from cooking vegetables in your Instant Pot.

Things that Effect Cooking Time
It's very difficult to just give you specific times for cooking each vegetable because there are many factors that can influence the cooking time. Here are a few of them.

#1 - As in conventional cooking, how you prepare your vegetables will affect their cooking time. If a vegetable takes very little cooking time, slice them uniformly and a bit thicker to be safe. 

#2 - Vegetables that come out of your garden are generally more tender than the ones that are bought at the store. Those usually have been picked days (or more) earlier and shipped to the market. In many cases, like kale for example, store bought veggies might take longer to cook.

#3 - Filling your Instant Pot with lots of vegetables could also lead to over cooking because a fuller pot will take longer to come to pressure. This extra time can contribute to over cooking.

#4 - You can adjust the pressure from high to low. Low pressure will cook slower.

#5 - You can cook directly in the pot or cook vegetables on the rack with the water not touching the bottom of the vegetables. Directly in the pot cooks faster.

#6 - Every pot may vary a bit in temp, etc. 

Cooking Times
The most helpful book I have on cooking times is Jill Nussinow's, The New Fast Food. She has nice tables for cooking various vegetables, grains, and beans. I have literally worn out these pages of her book. Many of the times are in small ranges because they will vary based on the things I've listed above. You can make notes on these tables and eventually you will have perfect cooking times for your favorite vegetables. 
The Quick Cookers
Quick cooking vegetables can cook as quickly as a minute on low pressure, even less. Asparagus, broccoli, halved or small Brussels sprouts, cauliflower florets, chard or spinach, corn kernels, garden green beans, diced new potatoes, and zucchini are quick cookers. 

Moderate Cookers
These can take 2 or 3 minutes and include vegetables like sliced beets, whole Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, collards, eggplant, green beans, kale, mushrooms, onions, parsnip, peppers, sliced or diced potatoes, sweet potatoes, diced turnips, and diced winter squash.

Long Cookers
Some vegetables can take a long time. Whole beets, steamed artichokes, or large potatoes can take 20 minutes or more. Stuffed artichokes can take 30 to 40 minutes.

Tip for Quick or Moderate Cooking Vegetables
I usually cook everything at high pressure, except for the quick cookers, directly in the pot. I start at the LOWEST suggested cooking time. When it's done, I immediately hit the off button and release the pressure. As soon as the pressure comes down, I quickly remove the cover. After testing the vegetables with a fork, if they are not done, I just set the cover back on and let them sit another minute in the pot to cook a bit longer. I do not add minutes to the cooking time unless they are as hard as a rock. In that case, I secure the lid and set it on manual for another minute.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

We Are Fine But So Many Are Not
California Wine Country Fires

The view from our back porch Monday morning.

Thanks for your concern
Monday morning I was lazily resting in bed when our neighbor called to warn us about the fire. One might have walked past the window thinking it was a beautiful red sunrise but instead the mountains behind our vineyard were ablaze from one end of the horizon to the other. Santa Rosa, a mere 7 miles away, was burning and 50 to 60 mile per hour gusts of wind were blowing in our direction. It turns out this was only one of the many fires across Sonoma county that simultaneously erupted in the early hours. 

This could be the worst disaster in California's history when all is said and done and it's not the least bit done. Fires remain uncontrolled in many places. As of Wednesday morning, 90,000 acres had burned. And these weren't just acres of trees and wooded areas. These were acres full of homes and businesses - in fact 28,000 people live in these affected areas - most of whom are now in evacuation centers. There isn't enough resource to do the counting yet, but estimates say more than 3,000 homes and structures were destroyed as of Wednesday morning and fires still threaten many neighborhoods. Sixteen are confirmed dead and more than 500 people are missing. There isn't a person living in this town that doesn't know someone who has lost their home.

The blaze was so intense and the winds so strong that our house and yard are deep in embers. The largest is an entire page from a magazine that was charred - Doug found it under our back deck. He also found a burnt credit card receipt hanging from one of the vines. 

This charred magazine page flew at least 7 miles to our house.

Entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa have been destroyed like Coffey Park and Fountaingrove. Landmarks, wineries, restaurants, music venues, schools, hotels - destroyed. Doug's Kaiser hospital, my Sutter hospital - not damaged but closed. The local airport is closed because there is no electricity for the terminals. Many roads are closed.

And it's not over. I have friends minutes from active fires knowing that tonight the winds are going to pick back up.

Doug was just at the grocery store. A man, about 70, in the checkout line in front of him had just lost his home in Fountaingrove. He had 10 minutes to get out. He remarked that he was numb but said there is simply nothing you can do in that situation but get out. Seven years ago this man lost his previous home in a fire. 

We are fine and thanks for your many notes of concern. The winds have shifted and even though they are going to pick up again tonight, they are blowing the other way. So unless they shift again, we will remain fine. Masks are needed to go outside and although they may remove the toxic particles from the air, nothing can remove the blanket of sadness that hovers over our beloved wine country. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Mexican Sushi With Roasted Poblano Peppers

You can make homemade sushi with just about anything!
A great dairy and gluten free meal.

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What a month!
It's been a crazy busy month here on our farm. First we harvested 5 tons of Pinot Noir, then a little Sauvignon blanc for my private stash. We've also been harvesting lots of veggies, putting in a Zen garden, getting ready to paint the outside of our house, and enjoying visits from our son and daughter-in-law (Vaughn and Karina), as well as our daughter and her fiancé (Linda and Jim), and our nephew Cody. Later today, we look forward to a visit from my cousin Lisa and her husband Rob. On top of it all, I broke my toe last Thursday so I guess I'm going to slow down a bit whether I want to or not!

Part of our Pinot Noir harvest

Poblano Peppers
With the end of summer come lots of peppers. One of our most delicious and prolific is the poblano pepper so today we're going to mix two of our favorite cuisines - Mexican and Japanese by making sushi rolls with roasted poblano peppers and topping them with a spicy red sauce made from jalapeños and serrano peppers. 

See my post, "Make Your Own Hot Sauce" for the homemade hot sauce recipe.

Homemade hot sauce.

Sushi Rolls
Japanese sushi rolls are very versatile. You can roll just about anything in a sheet of Nori and call it a meal. Roasted vegetables are perfect, especially when paired with a creamy avocado and rice. If you enjoy fish, you can make a smoked salmon and avocado roll for breakfast instead of lox and bagels. The combinations are endless.

No need to use sushi rice as any short grain white rice can be sticky enough to be used in a roll. My favorite is Tamaki Haiga, which is white rice that still has the germ. Traditionally the rice is seasoned with rice vinegar and a bit of sugar.

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Roasted Poblano Sushi
Vegan, Gluten and Dairy Free
[makes 4 rolls]

Sushi matt

For the rice
1 cup uncooked sushi or short-grain white rice
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the sushi rolls
3 or 4 large poblano peppers
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 sheets nori
1 avocado, cut into strips
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into strips
Hot sauce to taste

Cook rice according to directions on the stove, in your rice cooker, or in your Instant Pot. Make sure the rice is rinsed well before cooking.

While the rice is cooking, clean and cook the poblano peppers. Remove seeds and cut into slices. Heat the oil in a fry pan on medium heat. Add the peppers and sauté until they blister and soften, stirring occasionally. Set aside. 

The peppers tend to splatter so cover with a cooking screen.

Prepare the rice vinegar by warming the vinegar, sugar, and salt until all is dissolved. Stir this into the cooling rice.

To make the sushi rolls, place all of your ingredients nearby.

Place a sheet of Nori on the bamboo mat. Put one fourth of the prepared rice over the Nori starting one inch from the bottom. 

Place one fourth of the peppers, avocado, and a long strip of cucumber over the rice.

Using the sushi mat, roll from the bottom up. After the bottom edge is over the filling, squeeze it gently with the mat and then roll to the top. Wet the top of the Nori and complete the roll. The moisture will seal it. 

Cut the roll with a very sharp knife into 6 to 8 equal pieces. 

Dap a bit of hot sauce of each piece or serve with a tiny bowl of hot sauce.

Enjoy with a Mexican or Japanese beer!