Lookin’ Good

Portable photo lightbox for Christmas! So what if it violates our “no appliances” gifting rule. Now I can make anything look this glamorous! Thanks dad!

Except maybe not this

But we can try.

Shooting attractive pictures food, let’s face it, is a challenge. So much food hath an unfortunate brown-ness. And if not brown, then tan. Or taupe. Beige. Toast. Chestnut. So much of it looks homely. I needed the extra beauty, the loving caress of a light box today when I prepared and shot tofu skin. Like so many things, its qualities lie beneath the skin.

Soak it in water, cut it up, stir-fry it like tofu. It’s chewy and chicken-like, without the tofu aftertaste. I had it a few weeks ago on the superb weekend buffet at Golden Coast. (But don’t go on weekdays — different cook, no one home.)

I made mine with mushrooms and cashews. Does it look as good as it tastes? Uh, yes? I’ll keep working with the camera AND the tofu skin.

Pressure Cooker. Risotto. Two ideas you didn’t expect to see together

As a younger food writer, my chirpy demeanor was geared toward reassuring everyone that they could cook everything. I know it’s not true now. Some people just aren’t ever going to cook some things. In that spirit, I’ll just be honest with you — this posting isn’t for everyone. It involves a pressure cooker. Even the word scares me. All those bits on it scare me. The loose thing that wobbles scares me. How many pots do you know of that have a diagram this complicated?

    Pressure cooking has the same hint of danger as grilling, but is way less predictable. It seems like everyone’s mama/aunt/granny once exploded a pressure cooker and nearly lost an eye and they liketa never got the grape jam/corned beef/whatever off the ceiling.

My friend John moved away and left me his pressure cooker. It sat in the cabinet for two years.
However, I am a person who rides a bike through the park in the winter without a headlamp, so I know that everything is a calculated risk, and at least pressure cooking is done in the house, with the lights on.

    My first pressure cooker encounter was chick peas, since they never seem to cook to a tender texture in a regular pot on the stovetop. Twelve minutes later, the softest, butteriest chick peas I had ever eaten. Next, kidney beans. Twelve minutes to red beans and rice bliss.

A cookbook I’m editing is very pro-pressure cooker. It included this recipe for pressure cooker risotto, which called out to me. I’ve gotten all zen about cooking in my advancing years — when you’re ready for a recipe, it finds you. That’s what this one did.

Pressure Cooker (Butternut squash and wild mushroom) Risotto

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup arborio rice

1/2 cup white wine

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 to 3 cups cubed butternut squash and sliced wild mushrooms, or other vegetables like sugar snaps or broccoli

2 1/2 cups simmering chicken or vegetable broth

Freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan or aged Gouda cheese, optionalMelt the butter and add the olive oil. Saute the garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the rice. Saute for a minute or two. Add the wine and lemon juice and mix well. Add all the liquid and stir to mix well. Lock on the lid and top with the pressure regulator. Bring to a boil. When the pressure regulator begins to rock back and forth steadily, start timing. Cook for 8 minutes. Remove from heat and run water over the bottom of the pressure cooker until you hear the lock open. Remove the lid and stir, as the rice will be concentrated in the center, and the liquid at the edges. Add cheese at this point, or after the risotto is ladled into bowls, or skip it altogether. Makes 4 servings.

Cold weather + credit card bills= bean soup

When Big Fella and I were young marrieds, we ate bean soup for dinner at least four times a month because it was cheap. Which is why it took me so long to realize I don’t like it. It invariably disappoints. Either it’s watery, or strongly beany tasting, or bland. Or if the mixture includes a lot of meat for flavor, the soup is greasy or salty. I quit making it and quit ordering it in restaurants.

But food writer John Thorne opened my eyes. Thorne, food fetishist and author of the serious food newsletter Simple Cooking, spends all his time thinking deep thoughts about food.

He didn’t like bean soup either, but he untangled the threads of his dislike and discovered he’d been using the wrong approach. The object of soup, he observed, is not to flavor water.

I must have read Stone Soup too often, because my soups always started with a pot of water, plus onions, meat and seasonings, and always turned out bland.

Thorne’s is different. The object is to cook down the beans until they’re velvety soft, then to saute a whole lot of vegetables until they’re sweet, mellow and slightly caramelized.  When you have a flavorful foundation built, then you add the liquid.

It’s the best bean soup recipe I’ve found. I like everything about it, including the fact that it can mostly be done in a Crock Pot.

No-name butter bean soup
I’ve also tried dry pinto beans and they work just as well. Bring 1 cup of dried limas or butter beans to a boil in a generous amount of water. Let stand 1 hour, drain, and cover with 3 cups fresh cold water. Cook until meltingly tender. (Which is possible in only 12 minutes if you use a pressure cooker.) (I’m just sayin.)

Meanwhile, chop 4 ounces ham, 4 big carrots and an onion. Cut the carrots fairly thin. Saute over low heat until onion is browned at the edges, then continue sauteeing until the color of the carrots deepens and the onions are somewhat caramelized.

Add a minced garlic clove, a little black pepper, salt and red pepper to taste and a pinch of thyme. Cook 2 or 3 more minutes or until garlic is translucent. Stir in the reserved butter beans and their cooking liquid and heat to simmering. Add 2 cups of milk and heat to steaming. Turn heat as low as possible and simmer 15 minutes before serving.

What A World, What A World

What we ate in Florida, speakable and unspeakable.

Want to start with the unspeakable? feh and double feh


Enough of the bad and the ugly — no offense to people who love offal — I love ya, you nutbuckets. But for me, I love me a grouper sammich, especially waterside.

With a pickle.

And on our way out of town, a quick meal of Spanish Bean Soup, chicken croquettes and a Cuban sandwich at the flagship of Ibero-Cuban Food.