Pressure-Cooker Polenta

I bought an Instant Pot multicooker on Cyber Monday. It’s a combination pressure cooker-slow cooker-rice cooker, yogurt maker and steamer and I’ve been using it, in some cases, to make foods I have never attempted before. One of the special features of a pressure cooker is that flavors are literally pushed into foods, so they come our tender and very tasty.

I recently made polenta for the first time. Polenta is coarse-grained, ground dried corn that you mix with liquids and other ingredients and usually have to cook for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring constantly to prevent lumps, in order to rehydrate and flavor the corn. With the pressure cooker, it’s done in 15 minutes and the agitation of the liquid caused by the pressure eliminates the need for stirring.

So I started with a polenta recipe I had cut out of a magazine years ago. When it was done, the texture was good, but the flavor wasn’t quite where I wanted it, so I added a little more seasoning and some white balsamic vinegar to give it some spark. It was great.

polenta-roasted chicken-salad
I served the polenta with roast chicken and a simple green salad.

Fresh Corn Polenta

5 cups chicken broth or stock
1 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. Penzeys Mural of Flavor or other all-purpose seasoning
2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 3 large ears)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar, or to taste

Heat the broth or stock to simmering on the stovetop or in the microwave; this will make the dish come to presure more quickly.

Place the broth, polentaq, salt, sugar and seasoning in the Instant Pot liner. Close the lid and make sure the release valve is set to Pressure, then press the Manual button and change the time to 12 minutes by pressing the minus button.

When the beeper sounds, allow the cooker to release pressure naturally for 15 minutes, then release the pressure valve and remove the lid. Stir in the corn and mascarpone till cheese is melted. Add 1 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper or vinegar if needed.

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Making Brown Turkey Stock in Advance ~ Recipe Revisited

I first discovered the idea of making turkey stock in advance of a major holiday six years ago and blogged about it here. Since then, I’ve learned much more about developing flavor and simplifying the procedure, so I’m revising and re-posting the recipe. You can go ahead and make your gravy in advance, too, if you want, or make it while the turkey is resting. But having this great stock already on hand will simplify things on the big day, as well as make your food more delicious.

Adding herbs to stockI learned from this experience that a great stock is absolutely key to a great turkey gravy, turkey soup, turkey stuffing – whatever turkey recipe your heart desires. Oh. My. God, it’s amazing. And it’s easier than you might think. It’s time-consuming, but mostly hands-off, so it really is a cinch to make.

There are two kinds of stock you can choose to make: white stock, where the bones, vegetables, etc., are simmered in water but not browned first, and brown stock, where you roast the bones and vegetables before simmering them. Which to choose is a matter of taste and what you want to achieve with the end result. I prefer the roasty toasty caramelized flavors of the brown stock, so this is the recipe I use. You can also follow this recipe to make stock from the turkey carcass after the big meal, and from the carcass of a roasted chicken as well.

One of the most important ingredients in a great brown stock is the fond, or browned bits, that gets stuck to the bottom of a roasting pan. These are full of flavor from the Maillard reaction – proteins and sugars in meats and vegetables caramelize with the oven’s heat and create thousands of savory flavor compounds. You want to scrape all this up and include it in your stock. It’s very, very important that you do not let this go down the drain. Plus, using it in your stock makes the pan easier to clean! Win, win!

Make-Ahead Brown Turkey Stock

Makes about 3 quarts

Don’t add salt or pepper until you are ready to use the stock. If you add it in the beginning, as the stock simmers and reduces, it can become unpalatably salty.

1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 pounds turkey bones, wings or necks
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
2 onions, coarsely chopped
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
2 cups dry white wine
1 gallon cold water
12 sprigs fresh thyme
12 stems fresh parsley (reserve leaves for another recipe)
3 bay leaves

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle oil around roasting pan. Place turkey parts, carrots, celery, onions, and garlic in roasting pan and toss well to coat with oil. Roast, stirring occasionally, until well browned, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Transfer contents of roasting pan to stock pot or Dutch oven. Place the roasting pan over two burners on medium-high heat. Add the wine to the roasting pan and use a wooden spatula to stir and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Watch as the liquid turns a deep brown with savory goodness. Add the liquid and all the browned bits to the stock pot.

Add remaining broth and herbs to the pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, just so small bubbles break the surface, for about four hours.

Use tongs and a spider or slotted spoon to remove large pieces from the pot. Pour stock through a fine-mesh strainer into another pot (at least 3 quarts), cover with a lid, and refrigerate until fat congeals, at least 2 hours. Discard solids.

Using soup spoon, skim fat and reserve. You can use this to make your gravy now and freeze it, or reserve for another use.

Raw ingredients

Roasted ingredients

Adding herbs

Finished stock

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Urban Farming: Planting fall garlic

Last summer and this fall, I missed having my blog to refer to regarding which varieties of flowers, herbs and vegetables I planted last spring, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to keep a record here of my activities.

About a month ago, my friend Pam gave me three different types of garlic to try out and today, I finally got them in the ground. The larger vegetable garden we have is mostly in shade until the sun comes back around next spring, so I planted them in the new raised bed Dan built last spring. It gets lots of sun and the soil temperature today is 68°F, while the air temperature is 50.

The three types are (in order of planting – left, center, right, in the front of the bed):

  • German Extra Hardy – unique and strong taste that lingers for a while after eating. Winter-friendly and produces very large bulbs each with 4-5 cloves. Long roots give it the ability to winter over without heaving out of the ground. Strong raw flavor and a high sugar content making it one on the best for roasting.
  • Viola Francese – softneck variety grown all over SW France and NW Italy. Large purple and white cloves and excellent flavor. The bulbs are huge — 4-5 bulbs per pound. About 15 cloves per bulb.
  • Transylvanian – the famed artichoke garlic of the Dracula legends. Harvests in late spring/early summer – stores into winter. Can get quite large.
  • Clove of German Extra Hardy Garlic
    Clove of German Extra Hardy Garlic

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Photo Friday: Best of 2013

Another year has gone by and with the new year, I, like many others, try to set goals for actions and activities. There are so many things to do and learn, places to go and people to see!

One of my goals is to blog more regularly. So for my first post of 2014, I’m participating in the Photo Friday challenge. This week’s theme is Best of 2013. I looked through my archive and I like this picture of part of our Christmas tree the best.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my Christmas tree. I like a lot of color and sparkle. I’ve collected the ornaments for years; some are gifts from friends and family, some are souvenirs from trips, some Dan and I bought together. And when I open the boxes and unwrap them to put them on the tree, I’m reminded of people and places they came from and it makes me happy.

Photo Friday: Best of 2013

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The World’s Best Lasagna

Yes, it really is. If you disagree, make this one and then tell me why yours in better 😉

I’ve been perfecting this recipe since I started making it after I got married. It’s based on one in the old Betty Crocker cookbook; the cinnamon is a tip from Dan’s mother, who got it from her Italian neighbor, Mrs. Oro. The flavor gets better if you make the sauce the day before. Since there’s only two of us, I make this recipe in two 8×8-inch pans, then bake one and freeze one. Just cook a few more lasagna noodles and cut them to fit the pans with kitchen scissors.

Lasagna and salad
Lasagna and salad

I generally make it once a year, for Dan’s birthday. This year, though, he talked me into making three huge pans of it for a group of 35 teachers he and a couple of colleagues took on an overnight trip as part of a professional development class they conduct. And he’ll get another one next month for his birthday! Lucky guy 😉

I’ve never made that much sauce or lasagana before, but apparently the recipe scales well because I got a lot of compliments and a few requests for the recipe. So here it is.

The World’s Best Lasagna

1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 16-oz. can whole tomatoes
1 24-oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup Chianti
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped, divided use
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided use
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces provolone cheese, sliced
16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, divided use (reserve 4 oz.)
9 uncooked lasagna noodles

Cook and stir Italian sausage, onion, and garlic in 3-quart sauté pan until sausage is lightly browned; drain. Add tomatoes with liquid, tomato sauce, wine, ¼ cup parsley, sugar, basil and ½ tsp. salt. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until mixture is consistency of thick spaghetti sauce, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook noodles as directed on package. Reserve ½ cup of the sauce. In a medium bowl, mix ricotta cheese, ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 tbsp. parsley, cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt and oregano.

Layer ingredients in ungreased 13x9x2-inch baking dish, or two 8×8-inch baking dishes, in this order: thin layer of sauce on the bottom; 1/3 of lasagna noodles; 1/3 of ricotta cheese mixture; 1/3 of sauce; 1/3 of provolone cheese; 1/3 of mozzarella cheese; repeat for two more layers. Spoon reserved sauce on top, sprinkle with reserved mozzarella, and top that with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

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Kitchen Tip: Preserve Fresh Ginger Practically Forever

Do you use fresh ginger in your cooking? There’s nothing like its pungent flavor to perk up a stir-fry and candied ginger makes a sweet and tangy addition to quick breads and cookies. Dried ground ginger is a poor substitute; it just doesn’t have the same flavor.

How to preserve fresh gingerTo keep ginger fresh, and also make a yummy condiment, I keep it in a glass jar filled with dry sherry in the fridge. The alcohol in the sherry prevents any microbes from contaminating the ginger. I use a Microplane grater to put minced ginger in a stir-fry sauce or to garnish fried rice, and as you use the ginger, small pieces of it end up in the sherry. That flavors the sherry with yummy ginger, so you can use that in a recipe as well.

Just make sure to top off the sherry as you use it, so the ginger stays submerged. It will last practically forever.

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