Showing posts with label cook. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cook. Show all posts

Oct 1, 2018

Tips & Tools: How to make Pumpkin Puree in a Pressure Cooker

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It's officially October and therefore pumpkin time! Making homemade pumpkin puree could not be easier than this simple method using an Indian-style pressure cooker. Perfect for use in all your favorite pumpkin recipes!



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Not happening in Nepal!

I live in Nepal so canned pumpkin is rarely (if ever) available at the market. I once saw a can of Libby's for sale at a shop in Kathmandu years ago for about $7USD. Yikes! I used to make my own pumpkin puree when I lived in the US by cooking the Halloween jack-o-lantern every year. So a few years back I decided to try making homemade pumpkin puree here in Nepal.

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Nepali pumpkin or farsi
First, I had to find a suitable pumpkin. Everything from turban squashes to bottle gourds can be called a "pumpkin" in Nepal. The predominantly green, volleyball-sized squash you see above is the closest thing I've found here to what we call a pumpkin in the US. This unique variety never develops a completely orange shell like most American pumpkins. It remains green when fully ripe and keeps amazingly well through the intense heat and humidity of the Monsoon season. They start showing up at markets around late September. I've tried growing American-style sugar pumpkins here in my garden and all they do is rot. The interior flesh of this Nepali pumpkin or farsi is bright orange and slightly sweet just like American pie pumpkins! Nepalis like to stir-fry the shoots of the vine as well as eat the farsi flesh curried or stewed.


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The workhorse of the Indian kitchen
Now how to cook the pumpkin? The gourmet hipsters insist you need to roast the pumpkin in an oven for hours for the best flavor. I only have a little electric toaster oven and an intermittent electricity supply so that wouldn't work. A quick internet search revealed that the quickest way to cook a pumpkin was in an electric pressure cooker called an "Instant Pot." Hmmm..... Why not use my old-fashioned Indian-style pressure cooker that works atop a gas stove instead? I tried it and it worked a treat! A mere ten minutes and I had cooked the pumpkin! I whizzed the cooked pumpkin through the mixie et voila! I had this gorgeousness:

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Homemade pumpkin puree
Homemade pumpkin puree does differ from commercially canned pumpkin in taste, texture, and appearance. The texture is less dense and more like applesauce, the flavor is fresher, and the color is brighter. In savory pumpkin dishes like soup, ravioli filling, and pasta the homemade puree is superior with its fresh, slightly herbaceous notes and smoother texture. In baked goods, we tend to disguise the pumpkin flavor with spices and sugar so texture becomes more important than taste. Homemade pumpkin puree is definitely thinner in consistency than commercially canned pumpkin. I've made cakes, bread, cookies, ice cream, pies, custard, and fudge with homemade pumpkin puree. I really haven't found much difference in baking with homemade versus canned pumpkin. The color of baked products is typically lighter using fresh pumpkin puree. The difference in texture seems to only affect pies. In my famed Pumpkin Custard Pie recipe using commercially canned pumpkin resulted in a firmer filling but the homemade puree made for a velvety filling much brighter in flavor.
Pumpkin recipes will follow. For now, though, let’s get the basic process down. You can start pureeing pumpkin today!

Ingredients:
1 pumpkin, deseeded, destemmed, and cut into 2-3 inch pieces (do not remove the skin as it is easier to remove after cooking)

Here's what to do:
1) Place enough water in the pressure cooker to cover the bottom by at least 1/4 of an inch. (I'm using a 5-liter pressure cooker so I used about 1/2 cup or water.) Place the chunks of pumpkin in the pressure cooker until it is about 3/4 full. If you have a larger pumpkin you may have to cook it in multiple bathes.

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2) Seal pressure cooker and place on stove over high heat. Allow pressure cooker to whistle once then remove from heat. (It usually takes about 10 minutes for my pressure cooker to whistle no matter what I am cooking.)

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3) Let pressure cooker cool for about 10 minutes and then unseal the lid. The pumpkin will be completely cooked. Allow pumpkin pieces to cool further until safe to handle.

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4) Using a spoon or knife scoop or cut pumpkin flesh away from the skin. Place pumpkin flesh in mixie or blender.

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5) Puree in mixie or blender until smooth.

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6) Store puree in an airtight container such as Ziploc bag or sealable tub in the freezer until ready for use. Plastic bags are illegal here so I use these repurposed ice cream tubs. Be sure to label the date and amount of pumpkin in each container.

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7) My little 3 kg pumpkin made about 6 cups of pumpkin puree. That's about the same as three 15 ounce cans of commercially processed pumpkin puree. I've stored homemade pumpkin puree in the freezer for up to 6 months with no change in quality. Liquid from the puree may separate when thawing but just give it a stir and it's fine.

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What sorts of pumpkin goodies are y'all baking this holiday season?
Are you going to make your own pumpkin puree or buy canned?
Tell me in the comments!

Apr 16, 2018

Tips & Tools: How to Make Perfect Fluffy Rice

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We eat rice every day, twice a day. Before I moved to South Asia I had rarely cooked rice. I had never even used a rice cooker! Googling the subject of cooking rice only revealed numerous methods with less than perfect results. So I emailed my Chinese-American university pal Eileen as to how to properly cook rice. I quickly learned that western methods of cooking rice were overly complicated and prone to failure.

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The first thing my friend recommended was to buy a rice cooker. Well, we had a rice cooker but it had no instructions and we rarely had electricity to even run the thing back then. Now that we have 20 hours of electricity a day I can concur that a rice cooker is one of the most cost-effective gadgets ever. If you cook rice on a regular basis you definitely need a rice cooker. It is the easiest and most time-saving appliance ever, just set it and forget it!

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This is the kind of rice we eat every day!

The technique my friend Eileen taught me to cook rice is the absorption method. This is the most common way to cook rice in Asia. Rather than drowning the rice in water and hoping for the best, one adds only as much as the rice needs to cook, and waits for it to absorb while cooking. -It is the simplest way to cook rice and I have found it gives the most reliable results. The method you use to cook rice also depends on the variety of rice you are using. Indians tend to use long-grain rice and use techniques to create separate grains that remain perfectly intact. The Chinese use starchier medium-grain varieties so that the rice sticks together, making it easier to pick up with chopsticks. I have cooked both a local short-grain pearl rice and long-grain Basmati rice with this absorption method with excellent results for the past 10 years!
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1/2 cup uncooked rice = 1&1/2 cups cooked rice

First, you'll want to determine how many servings of rice you wish to make. I usually estimate one and a half cups of cooked rice per adult for my Indian family then add an extra half cup just in case. Rice triples in volume when cooked so that's one-half cup per person of uncooked rice.
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ONE PART RICE TO TWO PARTS WATER
The second and most crucial part of this technique is the ratio of rice to water. All sorts of variables come into play here: the type of rice being cooked, the age of the rice, humidity levels, how well the lid fits on the pot you use, the temperature of the burner being used, altitude, what phase the moon is in (kidding) - the list goes on. Because of all these variables, this is the step that may require some trial and error. The best place to look for the proper ratio the rice is to be cooked at is the directions on the package the rice came in. (Amazingly enough, the instructions on the back of rice packages are usually correct.) If that is unavailable I usually estimate one part rice to two parts water. Sometimes we buy local rice that comes in a plain burlap sack from a village and sometimes we buy rice from the supermarket that's labeled. If the rice is really fresh (as in recently harvested) it may need a little less water to cook. Rice harvested more than a year previous generally requires more water than recently harvested rice due to decreased moisture content. Cooking rice is game of ratios, so be sure to measure carefully unless you want a bowl full of disappointment.

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This is how rice gets cleaned so there's bound to be twigs, pebbles, or bugs in it!
Third, unless you are using rice that is fortified or enriched you will have to wash it. Rinsing traditionally polished rice alters its texture when cooked. Rinsing removes the thin layer of starch from the surface of each grain and keeps the rice from sticking together thus ensuring perfectly separate grains. Long-grain rice, like Basmati, is always rinsed for this reason. This doesn't have to be an extremely thorough sort of a cleanse. I usually rinse the rice twice over the sink by submerging it in water, swirling the rice with my fingers, then pouring off the cloudy water. Submersion allows any debris like twigs, bran, or insects to float out of the rice also. I have seen recommendations on the internet to rinse rice until the drainage water runs clear- this will never happen no matter how many times you rinse the rice I assure you.
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2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline: the aromatic compound that gives bread, jasmine rice, basmati rice, pandan, popcorn, & bread flowers their characteristic scent
Fourth, you need to decide if you wish to soak the rice or not. Soaking the rice speeds up cooking which affects the flavor of the rice. By letting the rice soak for 15 to 30 minutes, you can decrease the cooking time of most rice varieties by about 20 percent.  2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline is the flavor compound in aromatic rice varieties that is responsible for their characteristic popcorn-like aroma.  2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline dissipates while cooking. The longer the rice is exposed to heat, the less of an aromatic flavor it will have. By soaking the rice and shortening the cooking time, you will get more flavorful results. Some people rinse again after soaking the rice, I do not find it necessary.

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Fifth, add a little oil, ghee, or butter to the rice and water before cooking. This is optional but it will add flavor to the rice, help keep the grains separate, and prevent dryness if the rice is left standing for more than an hour after cooking. Restaurants usually do this to keep cooked rice tasting fresher and tender longer. I usually only add a little butter or ghee for special occasions such as if we are having dinner guests. Most Indians and Nepalis do not add salt to their rice when cooking so I don't add it either.

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Sixth, cook the rice over medium heat and with the lid on. If the temperature is too high you run the risk of scorching the rice at the bottom of the pot or unevenly cooked grains. If the temperature is too low you'll get a gloopy mess of undercooked rice. Put the lid on and keep it on throughout the cooking process. I recommend only lifting the lid to check the rice after 15 minutes. Do not stir the rice while it is cooking as you risk breaking the grains, releasing more starch, and a mushy mess. You can tell that the rice is completely cooked when all the water has boiled away, there are "fish eyes" or holes in the rice, and you can hear a crackling noise rather than a bubbling noise signifying that the water has completely boiled away.

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The last and most important step: let it rest! Resting is an unskippable step. When the rice has finished cooking remove the pot from the burner and let it sit with the lid still on. Allow the rice to rest for at least 10 minutes after it's done cooking to achieve optimum texture. This rule goes for all types of rice. Keep the rice covered until you’re ready to eat. Just before serving fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. As the Indian proverb goes, grains of rice should be like brothers – close, but not stuck together.
 
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Perfection!
So there you have it: ratio, rinse, soak, flavor, cook, rest, and fluff! Follow these easy steps and you'll get perfect, fluffy, rice every time. This is it - the foolproof recipe to cook rice on the stovetop:

Ingredients:
1&1/2 C long-grain white rice
3 C water
1 tsp cooking oil, butter, or ghee (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) Measure out 1&1/2 cups rice and place into a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cooked rice expands to three times its original size so be sure to choose an adequately sized pot. 
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2) Over the sink add room-temperature water to the rice until it is covered by about an inch. Use your fingers to swirl the rice and water around the pan. Drain the cloudy water off of the rice through your hand. Discard any debris that floats to the surface. Repeat this process one to two more times. 

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3) Add 3 cups water to the rinsed rice and a teaspoonful of oil, butter, or ghee if using. For fluffier rice, the rice should be soaked for at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes prior to cooking.

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4) Cover and place the pot on a burner set on medium heat. Allow rice to cook for 15 to 20* minutes or until water has evaporated and the rice is tender. I usually check on the rice after 15 minutesYou may raise the lid occasionally to see if the water is boiling, see if the water has evaporated, or to listen for a crackling noise signifying that the last of the water has boiled away. Do not stir the rice while it is cooking.

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The little holes you see in the rice are called 'fisheyes' and signify that the rice has been cooked properly.



5) Remove pan from heat. Keep the lid on. Let rice stand, covered, for 10–15 minutes to firm up and absorb the last bit of water.

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6) Remove the lid just before serving and fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. Serve hot. This recipe makes 4&1/2 cups cooked rice.

Helpful Hints:
The same procedure can be used for a rice cooker. Instead of step 4 just place the pot in the rice cooker instead of on a stove burner.

*If cooking at altitudes over 3,000ft/1,000M increase cooking time by 5 minutes.

A special thanks to my dear friend Eileen!
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