Category Archives: Kitchen Tool Talk

The Return of the Practical Cook

Gentle readers, it’s good to see you again. After a rather long hiatus that included an unanticipated kitchen remodel and an evolving set of household eaters, it’s time to put knife to chopping board and fingers to keyboard again.

I experienced a major flooding event this past summer–a cold water connection, the braided steel that leads into a sink, burst while we were on vacation. It is every homeowner’s nightmare, and led to a six month absence and took things down to the studs in over 80% of the house.

But from chaos comes innovation, and forced change can be good change, and that’s where this story starts. I had to pack up my whole kitchen and leave within 3 days. I had some choices to make about putting things back just the same or making changes. And how was I going to cook without my beloved grill in a rental kitchen half the size?

There will be more stories about what one should take in such circumstances, and lots on renovating kitchens, but today is about food and my new love, the Instant Pot. I held out, thought it was faddish, turned a deaf ear to the wonders. Then the Black Friday sales pitches started and I caved.

Much like the Return of the Jedi, in this case the Instant Pot was my light saber. I remembered that I could cook. I remembered that I could make legit food from scratch. And I remembered that if I wrote it down, I could refer back to it later. (Many of my cookbooks suffered water damage, and I used this very blog to access recipes during my time of kitchen separation.)

This won’t become the definitive Instant Pot site, and I can’t promise you’ll even like the recipes. But Gentle Reader, this one is for me. So join along if you so choose, and I’ll get back to business in the kitchen.

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The Practical Cook Vegetarian Instant Pot Jambalaya

Tools Used: Instant Pot 6 Quart Duo

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
pinch of Mexican oregano
20 oz package of mixed bean soup, cajun style (I used Hurst beans for this, readily available in most grocery stores)
1 cup or so cooked, leftover rice (never waste that 3rd carton of rice from the cheap Chinese place down the street, put it in the freezer now and thank me later)
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Salt and Pepper

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Method:

  1. Plug in your Instant Pot and make sure you have the lid ready and set up for Sealing.
  2. Using the Sauté function, heat the oil in the steel insert pot and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Crumble the pinch of Mexican oregano on tops and stir. Sauté for a few minutes until the veggies are softened slightly.
  3. While the veggies are sautéing, rinse the dried beans and set aside the seasoning packet.
  4. When the veggies are softened, add the rinsed beans and 7 1/2 cups of water to the Instant Pot, stir to mix. Hit cancel, put the lid on and lock it, and using Manual Pressure Cook, set the IP for 30 minutes on high.
  5. Take this new-found time that you are cooking for your family to read a book, write a blog post, do a crossword puzzle. I won’t tell. Yell out from the kitchen how hard you are working, take a selfie with your IP, live life.
  6. When the time is up, use the Quick Release method to release pressure, please don’t burn yourself.
  7. Remove the lid, add the tomato sauce, the spice packet, and the cooked rice. Stir and adjust seasonings as needed. If it’s too soupy, keep stirring and let the beans and rice absorb some liquid. You can always add more rice or water to adjust, but don’t react too fast before the dish finds its balance (Zen jambalaya).
  8. Using silicone mits or hot pads, remove the pot from the cooker, and check seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you need meat, you can serve with cooked chicken, sausage, etc. There are some veggie versions that would work as well, but we went straight hot sauce and let the good times roll.

Until next time, would love to hear what you’ve been cooking!

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Kitchen Tool Talk: 3 More of My Favorite Things, Digital Edition

Gentle Readers, what a long strange week it has been. There is so much going on, it’s easy to forget things. More and more I rely on my digital brain (it takes many forms, including the popular cloud version) to organize my kitchen life. Pictures have become a way of taking notes for me, from where I park in the airport to which kind of lotion to buy.

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In honor of what may seem like a dependency on devices and the cloud, here are 3 More of my Favorite Things:

1. My phone. It’s a camera, and my means of recording the steps in cooking a recipe, the shot in the restaurant, and random grocery store finds. But it’s also my gateway to remembering my grocery list and what I put on the weekly menus. Yes, I have to look myself up sometimes. Incredibly convenient.

I love bacon this much. And coffee isn't half bad either.

I love bacon this much. And coffee isn’t half bad either.

2. My iPad. A larger form factor, this serves a different purpose in the kitchen. Tablets sit nicely in cookbook holders, and they’re ideal for looking up recipes without squinting. Safely ensconced in a protective cover, I get far less powdered sugar and bacon grease on the tablet than the phone. Bonus!

My New Sous Chef: the iPad.

My New Sous Chef: the iPad.

3. YouTube. A video can be worth well over a thousand words. I plan to get back into the business. Just the other night, as I destroyed my beloved jar opener attempting to loosen a particularly tricky salsa lid, I thought back to a vintage piece I did on 3 ways to open a jar. I went through two of them to free the salsa. Thank you digital brain.

How do you bring technology into your kitchen? Post a comment, send a tweet. I am here. Promise. Only a little virtualized.

Send your kitchen tools, actual questions, and random cheers to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Meeting Smitten Kitchen: A Cookbook Review of Sorts

Gentle Readers, what could be more fun than spending an afternoon talking about food and books? No, really, what possibly could be more fun than that? Last week, I got to introduce Smitten Kitchen author and blogger Extraordinaire, Deb Perelman, as part of McIntyre’s Books ongoing series of food and book events.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Aptly named The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Deb’s printed work includes full bleed photos of her delicious food and the same engaging voice you know and love. Bonus: we got to taste recipes from the book prepared by the staff @FearringtongNC.

The tasting menu from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The tasting menu from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The kale salad was an absolute favorite of mine, as was the brown butter Rice Krispie treat. Don’t judge, my tastes are diverse. And seriously, this is a run not walk moment. They are not your mama’s treats. I really appreciate Deb’s commitment to the notion of home cooking, and learning by doing. Shy of burning the house down, you can always order pizza. The point is to try.

Kale salad with mushroom tart.

Kale salad with mushroom tart.

The cookbook itself is a lovely, lovingly-crafted number, with heft enough to be an excellent choice for cooks from beginner to more experienced. The joy is in the reading of it.

Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treat!

Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treat!

Peanut butter cookie with chocolate and a chocolate silk pie.

Peanut butter cookie with chocolate and a chocolate silk pie.

 

So special thanks to Keebe Fitch and Katharine Walton for inviting me to participate, and thanks to Deb for continuing to share your food journey with us. Extra extra bonus: I finally got to meet @DurhamFoodie in person after a number of near-misses!

Great to meet Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame!

Great to meet Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame!

What have you tried from the Smitten Kitchen? Share your comments below!

Send questions, quips, and confessions to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Coming up Sunday, Weekly Menus!

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Kitchen Tool Talk: More of My Favorite Things, Kitchen Shears

Gentle Readers, though The Practical Cook has covered this territory before, some kitchen tools are versatile enough to warrant another mention. I deeply love my kitchen shears, in spite of, or perhaps because of their inherent ability to cut through anything. Here are three applications for which I’ve used my trusty J.A. Henckels shears in recent days.

Kitchen Shears make short work of flower stems.

Kitchen Shears make short work of flower stems.

Kitchen Shears, Wondertool:

1. Trimming Flowers. Cutting those woody stems at an angle is not a job for the faint of heart or the dull of blade. And the results are so lovely.

Rosemary for the win!

Rosemary for the win!

2. Cutting Herbs. After doing no small amount of damage to my ever-expanding rosemary bush by breaking of a stem or two, I’ve taken to using scissors. Much better results. Most recently in this fantastic pasta dish.

Herby pasta with tomatoes. A summer delight!

Herby pasta with tomatoes. A summer delight!

3. Sizing Parchment Paper. Biscuits are happier on parchment paper, and I’m happier when the paper doesn’t hang over the edge and become a fiery cinder .

Light golden-brown biscuits!

Light golden-brown biscuits!

Because I limit the use of the shears to all things kitchen, I keep them clean, sharp, and well away from small, unsupervised hands. I’m not ready for the American Dolls to sport Mohawks, even if NASA has made them fashionable. How do you use your kitchen shears? Post a comment below, or Tweet!

Send your witty rejoinders, actual questions, and kitchen dilemmas to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Up next, Simply Squash. Winter meets summer.

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Product Review: 5 Wines Under $10 from Trader Joe’s

Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook’s love of Trader Joe’s is well-documented. And nowhere is that affection more well placed than in the wine aisle. For anyone who truly feels there is nothing drinkable under a certain price range, avert your eyes. For everyone else, whose palate is less discerning, pocketbook is less fat, or concern is with quantity over quality (for a party, not advocating a bacchanal here), this blog is for you.

Hello Pink Drink: Rose Cremant for the Win!

Hello Pink Drink: Rose Cremant for the Win!

Special thanks to Waldorf for the selections. Now back to disagreeing with you.

5 Wines Under $10 from Trader Joe’s

First, make sure you enlist people to help you when you decide to take on such a wine tasting project. It got a little dicey halfway through. Having had some truly great wines lately, I could taste the difference, but more than one of these I would go back for and drink happily.

Blason Rose Cremant: 90% Pinot noir and 10% gamay, made like champagne. My personal favorite. It’s pink, bubbly, and festive. Slightly over $10 but worth it. It is girly, but do not be afraid. It is not overly sweet. If you must make it sweeter, slice up a few strawberries or add a scant few blueberries and call it a day.

Blason Rose Cremant from Trader Joe's

Blason Rose Cremant from Trader Joe’s

Michel Leon Gewürztraminer: French wine, German grape, light and fruity; sweet and grapey, pairs well with salty food, wonderful summer wine.

Michel Leon Gewurztraminer from Trader Joe's

Michel Leon Gewurztraminer from Trader Joe’s

Reserve des Cleons Muscadet: Sweeter but not cloying, crisp and luscious, nice.

Reserve des Cleaons Muscadet from Trader Joe's

Reserve des Cleaons Muscadet from Trader Joe’s

Reves Priorat 2006 Spanish red: 40%carignan, 35% garnache, 25%syrah. This wine raised the question of whether a back-to-back tasting would render it undrinkable (as in comparing it to a high-quality Priorat). It was not my favorite, probably my least favorite of the five. However, it was a reasonable representation for what it is, a red table wine.

Reves Priorat from Trader Joe's

Reves Priorat from Trader Joe’s

Nerelo del bastardo: Sicilian red 2008. This is good with grilled food as the label suggests– the smoke tempers the sweetness. I would not drink this alone. 🙂

Nerelo del Bastardo from Trader Joe's

Nerelo del Bastardo from Trader Joe’s

What’s your go-to inexpensive wine or wine source? Share your tips and labels in the comments below. Or invite me over and I’ll help you decide if it’s good.

Send your deep thoughts, food questions, and video challenges to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Coming up Friday: More Summer Sandwiches and A Note About Hunger Relief.

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The Great Dishwasher Debate: To Rinse or Not to Rinse

Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook does not shy away from the controversial debates of the kitchen. Unless they are with her mom, at which point she picks the fight while safely located 3000 miles away. Today’s topic: is it better to rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, or can you just stack ’em and rack ’em?

Pony Plates from Anthropologie: Perfectly clean after using my method of scrape not rinse.

Pony Plates from Anthropologie: Perfectly clean after using my method of scrape not rinse.

I stand firmly in the scrape but don’t rinse category, and here’s why:

1. Its called a dishwasher. If it’s not doing the job, I am, and I’m going to fire it.

My Less Cute, but Practical, Dishwasher

My Less Cute, but Practical, Dishwasher

2. The Practical Cooks Junior can scrape but not rinse. I am called the “practical” cook for a reason.

My Staff is only so tall!

My Staff is only so tall!

3. 90% + of the dishes come out clean every time. I’m willing to play those odds for saved labor.

4. Research indicates modern dishwashers do a better job if the dishes go in slightly dirty. Fine, it’s probably research by the Palmolive Corp, but I’m standing by it.

5. Saves time in answering “are these clean or not.”

Are these clean or dirty? Secret footage taken just before I exited, stage left even.

Are these clean or dirty? Secret footage taken just before I exited, stage left even.

So there you have it. The gauntlet is tossed. Are you a pre-cleaner or a let it fly sort of dishwasher? Post a comment below, let the games begin. (And here’s hoping TPC’s Mom doesn’t change the locks on my house before I get back.)

Remember, The Practical Cook accepts culinary challenges, send yours today to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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On Friday, The Week of Salads. (It’s not just food for rabbits.)

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Kitchen Tool Talk: 3 of My Least Used Things

Gentle Readers, may the one amongst us with no useless kitchen gadgets cast the first bread machine. Today’s post is the inverse of my typical tool talk, where I espouse the joy of things I love. This is the admission that not every purchase is a winner.

Three of My Least Favorite Kitchen Gadgets: Avocado Slicer, Garlic Roaster, Egg Beaters

Three of My Least Favorite Kitchen Gadgets: Avocado Slicer, Garlic Roaster, Egg Beaters

I have cast out the dish rack, the kettle was lost and not to be replaced, and now the utility drawer is under fire. Here are three more items headed for the yard sale. Thanks to the Gentle Reader who sent this NYT article on “The Kitchen Tools You Never Needed.” I needed the article way more than the fish poacher.

These are my new kettles. They boil water AND cook food.

These are my new kettles. They boil water AND cook food.

Three of My Least Favorite Kitchen Gadgets

1. Avocado Slicer. It was a bit of a gag gift, and the thought was greatly appreciated. However, my knife and a spoon not only suffice, but do a better job.

2. Garlic Roaster. I”m a sucker for self-reflective gadgets, such as a mushroom brush shaped like a mushroom, but even the jaunty garlic atop this creation won’t save it. I pan roast garlic for speed, and I’ve used this exactly 2 times in 15 years.

3. Egg Beaters. Again, nostalgia overwhelms sense here. I have 2 whisks, which I adore, and I can use them with one hand and a minimum of cursing. Winner!

The Practical Cook confessional is now open. Post a comment and share your guilty gadgets. I won’t tell. Too many people.

Send questions, useful tools, and food challenges to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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On Friday, Chicken Chowder Recipe (What Makes It Chowder, Corn).

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