Lime Rice: Instant Pot & Stove top editions

Lime rice is a great side dish for any Mexican styled dinner. We eat it a lot at our house, plus I’ve used it in some rice based casseroles.

I’ve included cooking instructions for both the Instant Pot, seeing as they are everywhere these days and a stove top edition for those of you who haven’t jumped onto the IP bandwagon. The stove top edition is done in the Central Asian style of cooking rice — lots of water and drained after cooking. If you prefer to use another method, have at it. Most of the flavouring agents are added to the already cooked rice, so it makes no difference.

“1789” by miikkahoo is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Lime Rice: Stove top edition

Course: Side Dishes

Cuisine: Mexican

Main Ingredient: Rice

Prep Time: 5 min

Cook Time: 20 min

Total Time: 25 min

Yield: Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups basmati rice or long-grain white rice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice or juice from one fresh lime
  • 1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or juice from half fresh lemon
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro optional

Directions

  1. Wash the basmati rice in a couple of changes of water to remove much of the excess surface starch. There is no need to do this if you are using parboiled or converted (Uncle Ben’s type) rice.
  2. Using a large pot, bring 8 cups or so of water to a boil. Add rice, salt, and the bay leaf. Stir and allow it to return to a boil. Cook uncovered for 12 minutes or until the rice is tender to the taste. It should be soft to the teeth but not mushy.
  3. Remove bay leaf. Strain the rice in a mesh strainer and rinse with hot water. Transfer to a large bowl.
  4. Add lime zest and juice, lemon juice, and cilantro (if using). Salt to taste.
  5. Mix well and serve.

Instant pot edition to follow

Thanks for reading. Keep cooking; we’ll talk later


Seafood Pasta Sauce

I’m lucky to live in one of the most seafood rich markets in the world. We grow the best lobster, and the best mussels money can buy (Sorry, Belgium). With these blessings on our doorstep, you can bet our cooks have come up with some great ways of enjoying it. This seafood pasta sauce is great served as the filling on a simple lasagna or a penne bake. A sauce like this can instantly elevates a simple plate of plain cooked spaghetti to a full-fledged feast.

Seafood Pasta Sauce

Course: Kitchen Basics

Yield: 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 shallot finely minced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 Tbs all-purpose flour or favourite GF substitute
  • 14 tsp salt
  • 18 tsp pepper
  • 18 tsp nutmeg
  • 14 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 12 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 34 cup milk (any fat percentage)
  • 14 cup heavy cream 35% fat or your market equivalent
  • 14 cup grated cheese Cheddar, Gruyere, Swiss etc
  • 12 cup cooked lobster cubed
  • 12 cup cooked shrimp diced
  • 12 cup seared scallops diced
  • 1 fresh lemon, juiced or 2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice
  • chopped parsley for garnish – optional

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.
  2. When the frothing has subsided, add shallots and cook lightly until soft.
  3. Add mushrooms and continue to cook until the mushrooms release their moisture.
  4. Sprinkle flour over top the cooked vegetables and stir, allowing the flour to cook slightly and combine with the butter.
  5. Add the broth and stir, followed by milk. Stir well while the sauce thickens. Do not boil. Remove from heat once the sauce has thickened.
  6. Add cream and stir.
  7. Add the seasonings – salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne (or hot pepper flakes) and stir.
  8. Add the cooked seafood and stir gently enough to mix. Add lemon juice.
  9. Taste and adjust seasonings as required.
  10. When serving, reheat until hot over medium heat. Will keep in the fridge for 2 days.

Keep cooking and we’ll talk later.

Kate


Basic stir fry sauce

Compared to the price of the ingredients, bottled stir fry sauce is frightfully expensive. This is a basic recipe that works well with meat or vegetarian stir fries. Use it like you would the bottled versions. It can also be made ahead to help save time on those busy week nights.

Basic stir fry sauce

Course: Kitchen basics

Cuisine: Asian

Ingredients

  • 23 cup soy sauce low sodiium
  • 12 cup chicken broth low sodium
  • 13 cup rice wine or rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar or honey
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a Mason jar with a lid and shake to blend. When the stir fry vegetables are as done as you want, push them to the side of the pan/wok. Pour the stir fry into the pan and let it thicken. This will only take a minute or so. Take the pan/wok off the heat. Pull the stir fry ingredients through the sauce and serve.
  2. Alternative directions — put all the ingredients in a medium-size saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat. Stir frequently until the mixture comes to a boil.. Whisk to ensure it remains smooth while it thickens. It can be refrigerated for a week.

Keep cooking and we’ll talk later.

Kate


How to get your sear on

“sear” by michelle@TNS is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of electric pressure cookers and slow cookers. I think they’re an amazing help for busy cooks who want to provide quality meals for themselves and their families. I love how they relatively straightforward to use and that they let people take advantage of some of the cheaper cuts of meats. They’re really useful for making soups, or stews and I used them almost exclusively to cook beans.

What I don’t like is they have been used to advance this idea that all ingredients can be dumped into the cooker and voila, you walk away. No, no, no, no, no. This “dump and go” technique cheats the cook and diminishes the meal by not maximizing the flavour that was available but not utilized.

What on earth am I babbling about? I’m talking about the art of searing — particularly meat, but I’m going to expand it a little by including vegetables. And to help my gentle readers to understand the importance of this oft forgotten step, I’m going to geek out with a little cooking chemistry.

The Millard reaction.

Would you grill a nice steak or would you boil it? For most of us, this is no brainer. Part of what makes a steak delicious is that brown crust on the exterior. Regardless of the level of doneness we want in the interior of our steak (rare, medium or ruined), few people would give up that complex explosion of tastes on the exterior. That bit of tasty is brought to you by the Maillard reaction, named after the French scientist who investigated the chemistry in the early 1900s.

Simply put, the Maillard reaction takes place on the surface of proteins when they are heated. The amino acids and naturally occurring sugars combine and as they continue to heat, the newly formed molecules break apart and recombine. When you’re searing your steak, literally thousands of chemical reactions are taking place, adding colour, texture and most importantly, flavour to the food. This can be replicated in a chemistry lab (that’s what food additives often are) but not as easily as it’s done in your frying pan.

There’s three things to remember when searing meat. One, the pan has to be hot and the oil needs to be hot. Two, sear in small batches, please. The pan can’t be crowded. And third, water will retard the Maillard reaction.

Drying the meat makes all the difference

The first step to ensuring you get a good sear on your meat is to surface dry the meat with a kitchen towel or paper towel. Pat it gently to absorb the surface moisture and this will allow the meat to sear as soon as it hits the pan. If you wish to season the meat with salt and pepper before cooking it, do this after drying the meat.

The second step of a successful sear is a HOT pan. Which pan, you ask? You want something that is heavy enough to hold the heat. Many recipes will call for a pan with a non-stick coating. Not needed, for reasons I’ll go into shortly. What you do need is a pan that can take the heat, which can compromise a non-stick coating. My preference is my standby cast iron frying pan. It’s well seasoned after years of use and proper care. While I’m an ardent fan of the Instant Pot, and the manufacturer has a “saute” function for browning, it doesn’t do the trick for searing, in my opinion. One, it’s not heavy enough to hold heat. Secondly, compared to a frying pan, the liner is narrow and tall. This just traps moisture coming out of the meat and results in it steaming the meat as opposed to searing.

Small batches; hot pan

The Maillard reaction takes place between 280 and 330 degrees F (140-165C). I put the cast iron frying pan on a high burner and allow it to heat up. After that pan is hot, add about 1 Tbsp of oil (something with a reasonably high smoking point) and turn the heat down to medium high. When the oil shimmers but before it starts smoking, add the surface dried meat in small amounts. If the pan is overcrowded, you’ll get the situation where the meat steams instead of searing. You will probably have to do a few batches in order to do up enough for a stew. The goal here is not to cook the meat through. You’re looking to only brown the exterior of the meat.

Allow the meat to just sit in the pan for a few minutes. If you try to move or flip the meat and it’s stuck to the bottom, let it sit a while longer. When the meat is seared and brown, it will automatically release from the surface of the frying pan. That’s why a non-stick coating pan is not required, and seriously, high heat really encourages that coating to break down more rapidly. Those pans are expensive enough without doing anything to reduce their lifespan.

Toss those onions into the hot pan and let them soften

Once all your meat is browned, add any of the aromatics and other root vegetables to the pan. Onions, garlic and other ingredients produce a better flavour if you take the time to soften and brown them before adding to your main stew pot. The oil in the frying pan helps extract the oil-soluble flavour compounds. The liquid in the stew will take care of the water soluble compounds. Technically speaking, the browning of the onions etc is not the Maillard reaction. Carmelization, which is what happens to the onions as they brown, is based on chemical reactions happening to sugar as it is heated. The Maillard reaction is reserved to amino acids in proteins.

In this case, the liquid in my dish was a can of diced tomatoes

Finally, you’ll want to de-glaze your frying pan. The little brown crunchy bits stuck to the bottom of the frying pan are full-on flavour bombs. To release this yumminess into your dish, take a small amount of whatever cooking liquid the recipe calls for and pour it into the still hot pan. Liquids usually used for de-glazing are wine, stock or just plain water. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up those bit and pour it into man dish.

So there you have it. The major takeaway here is to maximize flavour in your dishes, take the time to brown the meat and aromatics. Keep the meat dry, use a hot pan and a small amount of oil. It really does take that crockpot stew to the next level.


Kitchen basics: Taco seasoning

I can’t help but shake my head at the price for commercial seasoning mixes. In addition to being heavily laden with salt and/or sugar, they also create a lot of garbage waste with the packaging.

Here’s a remedy that let’s you control the amount of salt as well as coming in a reusable package! Use it freely for chilis, tacos, burritos or anywhere else you might be looking for a little kick. And if there’s a seasoning you don’t like, just omit it.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Course: Kitchen basics

Cuisine: Mexican

Prep Time: 5 min

Total Time: 5 min

Yield: 1.5 cups

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons chili powder
  • 4 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder ( optional)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoon dried minced onion or 1 tsp onion powder (not salt)
  • 2 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoon corn starch (optional)

Directions

  1. Add all the spices to a mason jar. Close and shake until fully combined.
  2. 2 Tablespoons of the mix is equivalent to 1 package of commercial seasoning

How to press tofu

There’s a basic all-purpose tofu marinade at the bottom of this page.

Remove the tofu from its packaging and drain any remaining liquid from it.

Fold a kitchen towel to make a medium sized rectangle. Line with a folded paper towel. Set the tofu on the top third of the towel . Wrap the top of the tofu block with the kitchen towel by folding the bottom 2/3s up and over the tofu block.

Set a small cutting board on top of the tofu. Weight it down with something heavy, like a 28-ounce can of tomatoes or a cast iron frying pan. Allow the tofu block to press for 15 to 30 minutes.

Remove the weight and drain off the excess liquid. Pat the tofu dry with more towels. Slice the pressed tofu into cubes, thick rectangles, or sticks, according to how you plan to use it.

The tofu will now be able to accept a marinade or is ready for a starch coating.

A good all-purpose tofu marinade

Course: Kitchen basics

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pkg Extra Firm Tofu – drained and pressed
  • 3 Tbsp Rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp Maple syrup
  • 3 Tbsp Tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp Soy sauce or Tamari
  • 1.5 Tbsp garlic/ginger paste or 2 cloves garlic, 1 Tbsp minced ginger.

Directions

  1. Cut the drained and pressed tofu into the shape you want.
  2. Mix all remaining ingredients in a bowl. Add tofu and mix gently. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours. Food safety: uncooked tofu must be refrigerated.
  3. Cook as called for in your recipe. If grilling, use the leftover marinade to brush onto the tofu burgers, kebabs, etc.