Posts Tagged Pressure cooker
The kitchen is an island, but it is not a deserted island. The first settlers’ houses were erected in the 1600′s. The kitchen was central to life then and it remains so today. It was the place where men, women and children gathered by the stove, which served both as cooking implement and heater. It is where large steel tubs were filled with hot water, directly from the same stove, for the weekly or monthly bath depending on availability of water and soap. This was a great privilege.
I imagine the early kitchens busy with activity from mothers chopping the ingredients for soups and stews and other soul-warming foods for their large families and fathers bringing in the wood to keep the fire going, the newly slaughtered hen for the Sunday meal or a new chair to accommodate the growing family, built over time in a corner of the wood shed.
There were no pressure cookers or pea shellers or blenders. Preparing a meal was a long process, one that began in the ground and progressed step by step through dedicated manual labor, but I suspect that on many occasions, and sometimes even in spite of scarcity and limited means, the results were not any less aromatic and appealing and impressive than today’s fancy dishes. Cooking is a form of expression. Coupled with the resourcefulness that was necessary under such conditions, it had to produce beautiful and delicious feasts.
The recipes we find in cookbooks exist because of this. Each recipe is a testament to all that was accomplished and overcome in the name of sustainability, perseverance and ingenuity. And our modern kitchens and appliances are a testament also, a variation on the theme. New tools; same goal: To feed, to feast, to gather, to warm the heart and to taste life fully.
Thus to this day we associate the kitchen with a place for gathering. Children come home from school, drop their bags on a kitchen chair and reach in the fridge for a refreshing, home-made juice or smoothie. It is often at the kitchen table that parents have the deepest talks about life with their children, it is where we discuss and resolve conflict, where we plan vacations, where we console each other at times of loss and where we gather to celebrate and overcome.
Of all the rooms in a house, the kitchen is where most of our education takes place. This is where we talk over a meal and learn what matters to our siblings, our parents and community. Even as we think we are only chatting about this and that, venting even, we gather information, learn values, develop opinions, an understanding of the world, an idea about what we might become. All of this whether there is food on the table at the time or not. The kitchen nourishes thanks to all its tools and appliances and in spite of them.
As children, we pull pots and pans from cabinets right unto the floor and return them, helter skelter, fascinated by the shiny surfaces and the extraordinary noise. No other room in the house offers such entertainment. A bit later, we sit for hours watching a parent, a babysitter, a favorite aunt or grand-parent grind meat in the contraption that is momentarily secured to the edge of the counter for that purpose. We listen as they explain how the food dehydrator works, we ask to turn the handle of the apple peeler. If allowed to do so, we lose ourselves in the motion, fascinated by the cleverness of the tool. Just one more apple. What if we tried a pear?
At those times, as children, when we are allowed to handle the mesmerizing arsenal of the kitchen, we suddenly know what it feels like to be included, to have the trust of others, to be creative, to transform fruits and vegetables into something else. We probably grasp something even more subtle at that time: That true nourishment is about more than food and that it demands labor, the sort of labor that goes without saying; the sort of labor that enhances the experience of life itself, somehow.
We cannot explain this now anymore than we can as a child, but we know that something more than just nourishment is lost the moment we stop making our own food. This is why, I think, we will never stop completely. Making and sharing food is as vital as love. Sharing recipes is like sharing hope and handing down essential food preparation implements to children is like giving them life insurance.
Images speak. They speak of times past, of progress, creativity and the transformation of ideas. The goal and basic concepts are timeless. Often, it is only new materials and technologies that affect the shape of a tool or appliance. The mechanism, or the motion that is required to obtain a specific result, remains the same through time. In many cases, it is timeless.
We find clever ways to reduce the weight of equipment and the steps required to accomplish a task. Perhaps there is only a single question, one asked decade after decade, use after use: “How can we simplify this?” Then, once evolution takes its course and an object becomes obsolete, we call it vintage and turn it into a collector’s item or give it a new life, because we cannot help but seek to create something new.
Is there a point where a tool or appliance reaches its optimal expression? Generation after generation, we adopt new household appliances and rave about their new modern design, the ease of use, the clever new functions and so on. This is it, we think. We are amazed by the “clumsiness” of some older versions. But for those who lived at the time their version arrived on the market, it was a true innovation. Every version is an innovation.
Perhaps the main difference in this progression, today, is that question again, “How can we simplify this?” We have reached a time in history when many of the devices we use truly do not require improvement. Instead, it is manufacturing methods and material availability that dictate the next step. Also, our perception of design changes as we become more acutely interested in our impact on the environment. What will we think of next?
The period between Thanksgiving and the New Year may be the single longest stretch in the year when we repeatedly indulge in food. It is the perfect time to talk about leftovers.
Interestingly, such a wide array of information is available regarding leftovers that researching this article felt like sitting at a table where a feast is served without end, one dish replacing another before the first is ever empty. I felt like a fact glutton. Thus it is my turn to set the table, so to speak, and present such facts, but trimmed down… Leftovers, by definition, should be simple.
This is true for the cook, especially. Is it not said, “Cook once, eat twice?” Leftovers save energy, money and time and they reduce waste (I said waste, not waist). Leftovers save money not only by providing extra meals for pennies, but also because preparing large amounts of food at once requires relatively less energy than preparing several individual meals. In addition to this, a large volume of leftovers in your freezer acts like ice packs and contributes to higher cooling efficiency.
Leftovers do not have to be the outcome only when you have had company. Whenever possible, make it a habit to prepare larger batches of food than what you need for a single meal. For instance, you could plan one pressure cooker recipe a week. You could also pre-chop extra vegetables to use in a soup or grind extra nuts to use later on salads, in yogurt or sprinkled on desserts.
There are additional benefits to this approach. If you use the grain mill once for a large batch, as opposed to every time you need ground nuts or grains, then you only have to take it apart and clean it once. Same goes for the sauce maker, juicer, pressure cooker or any other appliance you need for a particular recipe. This will cut your work down considerably and make you feel quite efficient. It is especially true for electric counter-top appliances since not all parts can go in the dishwasher. Doesn’t this sound like an easy-going plan already? I say, “Cook once, eat trice, clean once.”
I came across a very instructive article about food consumption (September 2011) on a no less interesting Blog named Len Penzo Dot Com. The title reads, “Culinary Odds & Ends: How Eating Leftovers Saves Me $1400 Annually.” The author notes that he has a teenage son who can make it rather difficult to keep a full fridge.
“A few years ago,” he explains, “I did a painfully detailed study of my grocery expenses and discovered that the price of our home-cooked meals came to roughly $2.09 per person per meal… the cost per meal would have been much more if my family had tossed the leftovers in the trash instead of eating them.”
The self-imposed study revealed that by eating leftovers the author and his family were able to secure an extra meal every week as well as five to six breakfasts and lunches for their famished (just kidding) teenage son. Surely, he did not mind one bit. “My family saved roughly $1400 last year by consuming our leftovers. Not bad, huh?” concludes the article.
Portion sizes in restaurants are often more than twice the serving size recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture. This is not because their kitchen appliances and cookware are larger, but it does provide a clue to answer the question, “Why do we love leftovers?
Set aside all other considerations such as frugal living, waste reduction and time-saving and let me present my theory: We love leftovers because we need a sense of abundance. Leftovers send a clear and tasty message to our voracious instinct. They signal, “There is enough. In fact, there is more than enough. Feast, my friend, feast again and again!”
In its beginnings, “Boxing Day” was, partially at least, all about leftovers. On that day, in the 18th century, the wealthy “boxed” leftover pastries and foods from their Holiday feasts to donate to their servants as a token of appreciation for their work. Some were donated to the poor as well, via the Church. This tradition clearly signals real abundance, to the point of waste. It is good to know that all did not in fact go to waste, but one must wonder about food safety standards at the time.
We are not the only ones who love leftovers. Micro-organisms know what’s good for them too. Yes, even creatures with microscopic brains, or hardly any brain at all, know a good next-day feast when they see one; only what is next-day for you is actually next-moment for them. They’ll beat you to the spoils every time if you do not take simple precautions and bacteria is, well, the least of their concerns. Quick guidelines can save the day.
Do you ever eat pizza in the morning that was left out on the counter from the night before? Do you not know the “danger zone”? Food that is allowed to sit at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees for two hours or longer have been raided by a microscopic army the likes of which you do not want to observe under the microscope after eating a good meal. You cannot tell if food is safe just by looking, smelling or tasting it. Apply the 2-hour rule.
To ensure leftover food safety, cool food quickly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. For large pots of food, you can speed up the cooling process by placing the pot in a sink full of ice-water and stirring the food occasionally. Refrigerate promptly, in air-tight containers.
Now, back to enjoying our leftovers. Some dishes are actually better the next day. Of all leftovers, besides Holiday dishes, lasagna is the most reheated dish. Gourmet Chef and cookbook editor Sara Newberry agrees, “On the first night lasagna always seems too liquid-y…after one night in the fridge it’s always better.”
What about pie? If pizza is good for breakfast, why not pie? Good, wholesome, homemade pie that contains real fruit is closer to being a meal than most desserts. Here is what I recommend: a sliver after dinner, to satisfy the sweet tooth, and a more generous, re-heated portion for breakfast, to get a head start on your daily fruit consumption.
Finally, I hereby declare the sandwich to be the perfect leftover medium. It provides the right components for a hearty meal consisting of vegetables, protein and fiber. I dare say a sandwich is perfect food, and leftovers provide the perfect ingredients to make it so.
What are your outrageous leftover cravings and secrets? Or are you a leftovers basher? Granny loves you anyway.