Tag Archives: Gluten-Free

Pressure cooker tomato sauce

Hello, I’m back! I took another little break from blogging, since life doesn’t seem to slow down these days. In the space of about six months, between the two of us, Sam and I have tackled new health issues, avalanches of work, and some pretty heavy family stuff. Oh, and there’s that wedding we’re planning. (60 days to go. Holy mackerel.)

I may write more about all this at some point–we’re still in the thick of it now. But in the meantime, I have a recipe to share. It combines two things that have recently shaken up how I cook and eat–for better and for worse.

First, the fun one. I have officially become an Instant Pot fanatic. We bought the six-quart model on Black Friday sale, and it’s now a fixture on our kitchen counter. Having an electric pressure cooker has converted me to the religion of the set-it-and-forget-it meal. I can toss a mishmash of ingredients in the Instant Pot, seal it up, and go back about my business. In an hour or so–less if I’m in a hurry, more if I’m not–there’s a piping-hot meal waiting for guests, or a batch of something versatile to portion and freeze.

I love this thing so much. So far I’ve used it for soup, stew, chili, rice, pasta sauce, two or three kinds of broth, and I don’t even know what else. Pressure cookers can safely cook meat even if it’s frozen solid, so I can pull a pack of chicken thighs out of the freezer at 6 PM and be eating them by 7 PM. And for hard-boiled eggs, this machine is basically unbeatable. (My new egg-boiling method, after much experimenting: 1 cup of water, steamer basket, 4 minutes at low pressure, 5 minutes natural release, ice bath. Easiest-peeling, creamiest-yolked eggs I’ve ever had.)

instant pot

Instant Pot, hard at work on my (messy) kitchen counter

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Smoky tea-braised lentils

In a world of coffee drinkers, Sam and I are tea fanatics. Our cupboards are bursting with tins and boxes, strainers and saucers. We drink black tea in the morning, green tea after dinner, and herbal tea late at night. We even have one of those fancy tea kettles that heats water to different temperatures for different types of tea.

I love cooking with tea–and with one tea in particular–almost as much as drinking it. Lapsang souchong tea is dried over wood fires, giving it a distinctive smoky flavor. Add some leaves or a bag to a pot of soup broth, and you’ve got something deeper and huskier than any non-meat broth I know. My new favorite trick? Cooking black lentils–sometimes called beluga lentils, because they resemble caviar when cooked–in a cauldron of smoky tea, tomatoes, and spices.

The recipe I adapted this from called for simmering everything together at once–lentils, tomatoes, the works. I’ve tried that, and don’t recommend it; the acid in the tomatoes keeps the lentils from softening. Instead, I use the method from my grandmother’s bean and tomato soup. In that recipe, you start simmering the legumes on their own, cook up a saucy tomato mix in a separate pan, then bring everything together towards the end of the cooking time. I added a handful of greens, too, which wilted down and made the whole dish more substantive.

At first taste, you might assume there’s meat in these lentils. It’s a nifty little trick, brought about by the marriage of smoky tea and glutamate-rich tomatoes. You could easily serve this as a standalone vegan meal–I have, and my omnivorous dinner guests loved it. If you eat eggs, these lentils are incredible with a poached or soft-boiled egg on top. And as with so many soups and stews, the flavor gets even better after some time in the fridge or freezer.

smoky tea lentils

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Impromptu beef borscht

I don’t like beets. I never cook with them. But somehow, a few weeks ago, two little beets made their way into my kitchen. They needed using, and there’s only one way I will willingly eat beets. This was a job for borscht.

My first encounters with Russian beet borscht came during my summer abroad in St. Petersburg. Despite the constant sunlight of the White Nights, it was chilly and cloudy for most of the summer, and sometimes rain came lashing in off the Gulf of Finland. For this California girl, the weather was a bit of a trial. I had borscht a few times that summer, and even as I struggled with the beets, I was grateful for a warm bowl of soup on a not-warm day.

Toward the end of the summer, I ran into a woman I knew from home, who was in St. Petersburg visiting her mother. On my last evening in Russia, I had dinner in their home. It was one of the memorable meals of my life, just hours of talking and talking and eating good food. There was borscht, of course, and I was surprised that I genuinely enjoyed it. Maybe it was the company, or maybe it was that particular batch of soup. Whatever it was, I’ve had a lingering fondness for borscht ever since.

Here’s a rough recipe for the borscht I made recently with those two little beets. I disguised the beets by boiling and then blending them, so they fade right into the broth with a whisper of color and sweetness. With chunks of carrot, cabbage, and slow-cooked beef, this hit the same spot for me as a nice hearty minestrone. If you’re a beet-hater like me, give this a try.

beef-borscht

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Candied citrus peels

Just under the wire before Christmas, here’s an edible gift idea: candied citrus peels. Start them tonight, and they’ll be ready by Saturday.

I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s probably my greatest kitchen love-hate relationship. On the one hand, candied citrus peels are incredibly delicious, a real show-offy gift, and a great way to use up food scraps. On the other hand, making them is labor-intensive. Not difficult or complicated–just a lot of f’n work.

That said, this is the kind of elaborate kitchen project that even a rank newbie can take on. All you need is a sharp knife, a pot or two, a lot of water and some sugar, and a place to set your peels to dry. Beyond that, what matters isn’t skill so much–it’s patience.

Below is a long, elaborate explanation of how I do this. The short version is: peel yourself some citrus and cut the peels into pieces. Blanch the peels in boiling water a few times. Simmer the peels in simple syrup for about an hour. Lay the peels out to dry for a day or two. Coat the dried peels in sugar or chocolate. Done.

I usually save citrus peels in the freezer and make a big batch of candy every few months. Every time, about 24 hours into the process, I wonder why I got myself into this. Then I take a nibble, and remember: oh, yeah. It’s because candied citrus peels are amazing.

candied grapefruit peel sugared

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Chili in a pumpkin

God, what a year. I wish I could share some neat, precisely turned summary of everything that’s happened since I last blogged here in April. My head is a stew pot these days, full to the brim with this and that, and I’ve been trying to simmer it all together into a coherent something for months now.

On a personal scale, things have taken a happy turn towards domesticity. Sam and I got engaged in March and courthouse-married in September. We’re planning a big family-and-friends wedding for next summer (don’t ask how that’s going). We bought a townhouse–I still can’t quite believe we bought a townhouse–and moved in at the beginning of November. And we adopted a cat, who as I type this is draped full-length across my lap, purring his glossy black head off.

Meanwhile, of course, the world around us swerved in a scary direction. Our personal happiness has been complicated by fear, anger, frustration, and sadness. I was mostly holding it together until the night of the US elections, but the result of the presidential race cracked me wide open. I’ve made my political opinions clear on this blog before, and what happened on November 8th was the worst of a worst-case scenario. It also exposed some fraying ends in my mental health that I’d been trying to ignore for a while. Like many people, I suspect, I’ve spent the past month and a half relying on a mix of therapy and home-grown self-care to keep afloat.

As usual for me, the home-grown self-care includes lots of cooking in our new kitchen. The weekend after the election, we invited friends over and fed them lasagna. I’ve been batch cooking and freezing lots of kitchen-sink stuff–soups, stews, and casseroles. And I got fancy one night and baked some chili in a pumpkin, a warming seasonal treat for Sam and me. This isn’t going to resolve the topsy-turviness of the world, but it’s nourishing, absorbing, and even kind of fun–just what I need these days.

chili-in-a-pumpkin

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Pantry tuna and bean salad

This recipe is brought to you by cabin fever. For the past few weeks, I’ve been without a car during the workday, and my beloved bicycle has developed persistent brake problems. That leaves me relying on (slow, infrequent) public transit to get around, which turns grocery shopping from a quick errand into a multi-hour production. True to form, I’ve reacted by holing up hermit-style instead, working long hours and making a lot of pantry meals.

This tasty little salad is one I keep coming back to. It’s based on a mix of fresh and shelf-stable ingredients I always have around: olive oil, canned tuna, canned beans, a lemon or some vinegar, an onion or a couple scallions, dried herbs, dijon mustard, and capers. You soak the alliums in seasoned lemon juice, whisk in the oil to make a dressing, and then toss in the tuna, beans, and capers. The combination of flaky fish, firm beans and spiky, pungent dressing is so much tastier than something this easy and quick has any right to be. And it’s pretty darn cheap, too.

I make this slightly differently every time, based on what’s around and what needs using. I like chickpeas, but Sam prefers white beans, so we usually have both on hand–the salad is great with either. We try to keep fresh lemons in the fridge, but I’ve also used white wine vinegar and even tarragon vinegar to great effect. The recipe below is just a template; I can imagine so many ways to vary this and fancy it up. Use shallot or chives instead of onion or scallions. Add finely diced celery or chard stems for crunch. Use oil-packed tuna and include its oil in the dressing. Use a fancier vinegar, like champagne or white balsamic. Use fresh herbs instead of dried, adding them in at the end to keep their flavor perky.

The only real requirement here is refrigerating the salad for a little while before serving it, so the flavors can meld and the beans and tuna can soak up the salty-sour-oniony dressing. Just an hour in the fridge makes a huge difference; a few hours is ideal; overnight is fine. As far as serving, you could plop the salad on top of greens or pile it inside lettuce leaves. You could eat it open-faced on toast or a bagel, or make a sandwich with it. Honestly, I usually just grab a fork and eat straight from the bowl.

tuna bean salad

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Three-bean pumpkin chili

This chili started with a not-so-spectacular sugar pumpkin. It arrived in our CSA, cute as a button, and I could tell as soon as I picked it up that it wasn’t a winner. It felt light for its size, and a good pumpkin should feel heavy. When I roasted and pureed it, my instincts were confirmed: the flesh was starchy rather than sweet, and the pumpkin flavor was muted. I’d been planning to make pie, but I knew at first taste it’d be a dud.

Still, the puree had some of the lovely earthiness I expect from freshly roasted pumpkin. What about a savory use? I’d been to the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival a couple weeks before and tried pumpkin chili for the first time. For something sold out of a concession tent in a styrofoam bowl, it was pretty good–the pumpkin made a nice match for the beany warmth of the chili. But I wished with every spoonful that it was spicier, gutsier, more like my favorite bean chili. So when I found myself with a batch of boring pumpkin puree, I decided to try marrying the two chilis.

If it’s possible, I think I like this version even better than the original I based it on. The pumpkin gives the whole thing some backbone, adding sweetness and depth to balance the intense smoky heat. It also helps thicken the chili, creating a rich gravy-like sauce. The chili is ready after as little as an hour of simmering, but if you have the time, let it go for closer to three hours–the long simmer really takes the flavor from good to glorious. The whole thing is wonderfully rib-sticking, perfect for chilly nights like the ones we’ve been having in the Bay Area recently.

This is fabulous with any kind of pumpkin, homemade or canned. I know I’m not the only one to end up with a bland roasted pumpkin, and this is the perfect use for less-than-stellar puree. I ended up adding a bit of sugar at the end to compensate for the lack of sweetness in my pumpkin; this is totally a taste-and-adjust situation. Or you could just use canned puree, which provides plenty of sweetness and makes this a meal you could whip up from the pantry.

pumpkin chili

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