Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Making yogurt

When I first got an Instant Pot, I was sort of skeptical of its ability to make yogurt. Not that I doubted that it could—I just wasn’t sure of the point. Yogurt is easy to buy, and it’s not a processed food.

But the New York Times recently ran a story on the wonders of yogurt making, and I got curious to try it. Particularly as I hadn’t used the Instant Pot in a while.

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The New York Times emphasized the importance of using very fresh, great-tasting milk as the base. And here’s where being Canadian is problematic, because we have supply management. And supply management means that basically all of our milk (and butter) is uniformly the same bland product. (Why is food so great in France? In part, because they have better butter!)

I won’t turn this into a treatise into supply management, but… The only milk I could think of that actually claimed to be different in some way was Eby Manor’s Golden Guernsey Milk. And it was produced right in my home town, which I hoped meant it was pretty fresh.

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Golden Guernsey milk comes in glass bottle

Could I taste the difference? Actually, as I never drink milk on its own (that is, not in cereal or a smoothie or something), I figured I’d never be able to tell anyway. Now I’m thinking I should have done a taste test between it and whatever “normal” milk I had on hand. Next time, I guess.

The only other ingredient—since I couldn’t find yogurt starter—was a yogurt with “active cultures” to act as the starter. So yes, to make yogurt, you generally have to buy a tub of yogurt, of which you’ll use only 2 Tablespoons.

The elapsed time for making yogurt is quite lengthy (basically it’s an all-day thing), but the working time is short and the process is easy. Sterilize the milk; let it cool to room temperature; whisk in the yogurt; cover the Instant Pot and let it run on the Yogurt cycle for 8 hours. Cool, then chill the result.

So this makes plain yogurt. And how good can plain yogurt be, right? But actually: pretty damn good! Like, it’s still plain yogurt, but I’ve never had such a nice tasting and beautifully textured plain yogurt. Of course, this would be the freshest yogurt I’ve ever had, so I suppose that’s part of it.

I was asked if it’s possible to make Greek yogurt; yes it is, by straining the yogurt first. You could also make flavored yogurts, but I don’t really see the point; with plain, you can produce whatever flavor you want by adding fruit or flavorings. (Think you’ll find that not much sugar is necessary.)

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say you should buy an Instant Pot just to make yogurt (as apparently some people do), if you have one anyway, you might want to try this functionality.


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Dinner in an instant (pot)

An Instant Pot is a Canadian-manufactured pressure cooker whose claim to fame is that it can also be used as a slow cooker, steamer, saute pan,  and yogurt maker (!). It’s been a hot seller, and already available in baffling variety of models, with a great number of supporting cookbooks and web resources.

I at first wasn’t interested in the device, as it was described as a handy one-pot option for people who don’t like to cook. I got more intrigued with the reports of the speed which you could cook certain things—baked beans, brown rice, whole squash. Maybe it would allow me to cook those types of dishes and foods more often.


I used some birthday money to take the plunge. This required first doing some research into the varieties of models available to figure out what I wanted. I thought that maybe I would want to make yogurt some day (?), so I’d go to at least the Duo model, instead of Lux. But I didn’t really see the need to be able to control the thing with a phone app (!), so I wouldn’t spring for the “Smart”.

I then tasked Jean with figuring out where to buy the Duo from. We ended up getting it at Best Buy: The 6-quart Duo Plus.

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There’s a bit of a learning curve to this thing. I did read the manual, and some web resources, but Jean and I were still fumbling our way through the first recipe we tried, honey-garlic chicken. Like, first we had to sauté, and we missed that we were supposed to wait until the indicator said Warm before adding the food. Then it was on to pressure cooking, and it took a few tries to get how to set the cooking time, and how to tell when it was actually cooking. And then we had to decide on a technique for “releasing” the pressure cooker five minutes after it was done.

So all in all, this supposed 30-minute recipe took over an hour. It was, however, absolutely delicious.

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And did kind of look like this. Photo courtesy the Diethood blog.

Since then I’ve also tried:

  • Adapting my Mom’s baked bean recipe to the Instant Pot
  • Making roast potatoes with rosemary
  • Steaming basmati rice
  • A momo meatballs with cilantro chutney recipe
  • Cooking whole beets
  • Making pina colada rice pudding

And so far I’ve learned:

Mentally add in a 10 to 20 minutes preheat time to each recipe

Long-grain rice in 4 minutes? Baked beans in 40? Well, not quite. Because recipes will tell you how long to saute or pressure cook something, and how long to let it sit before releasing, but will never estimate the preheating time—perhaps because it can vary with the model or how hot it got in the previous phase. So in addition to prep and cook time, you have to consider that preheat time.

It’s not always faster

Baked beans, chicken with bones, brown rice, beets—even with the preheating, all of these were definitely faster in the Instant Pot than they would have been in the oven or stove top. But for long-grain white rice…? About the same. And, you have to make a lot of rice at once, which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to limit carbs.

It doesn’t do crispy

It’s been terrific at producing tender meat, creamy rice pudding, and flavorful and tender baked beans. But in roast potatoes, I prefer more crispness than you get cooking them this way (though I still might do it again if I were low on time).


What I’m most eager to try next is a macaroni and cheese recipe (from a book) and a chicken adobo. I’m looking forward to trying risotto (which I’m too lazy to make the traditional way) and seeing how it does with whole squash.

Oh, and I guess one of these times I’ll have to try making my own yogurt (!).

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Case where the Instant Pot definitely beats the alternative (from https://www.motherearthnews.com/)


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Three days of socializing

We had someone over for dinner last Thursday, a not-that-common event that we did memorialize in photos. However, he did bring flowers—some lovely orchids—and Jean used those to experiment with close-up photography.

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As the main course, I made Garlicky Lamb Chops. This recipe (follow the link) is so simple and fast, but turns out so well: You just dip the chops in a mix of fresh rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper, then pan-fry them in olive oil.

One of the sides was Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts & Dates, though I used raisins instead. Fortunately, our guest liked Brussels sprouts; not everyone does. This turned out well also; these do well roasted, and adding raisins, walnuts, red wine vinegar, and honey produces a tasty results.

I also roasted some potatoes—I just winged that “recipe”.

Dessert was Cherry Fool, and I can’t find the recipe online, even though it came from LCBO magazine. Basically cherries in whipped cream with icing sugar and almond extract, though. And I used mixed berries that included cherries instead of just cherries.

Friday we were supposed to go see TransCanada Highwaymen with some friends, and I was really looking forward to it. This is a group made up of Chris Murphy of Sloan, Stephen Page of Barenaked Ladies, Craig Northey of The Odds, and Moe Berg of Pursuit of Happiness. They were to do songs by all of those bands, while regaling us with tales of life as semi-famous Canadian rock star. Doesn’t that sound great?

I’m sure it would have been. Unfortunately, Northey broke his ankle playing hockey about a week before the show, which then got cancelled. (Though as I keep telling people, I don’t know why he couldn’t still sit down to play guitar and sing.)

We decided to go out anyway and revisit TWH Social, present home of a former favourite chef. We’d found the place a bit loud on previous visits, but it didn’t as bad this time, at least for the first part of the evening. And I was very happy with my food.

Not enough drink to hide the fact that he's eyeing my squid!

Squid with tomatoes and roast potatoes, a speciality of this chef

Sweet Lamb Chop with a plate in the foreground

Grilled lamb chops with sweet potato and mushroom saute

So yes, that’s lamb two days in a row for me.

Jean started with a Caprese salad, then had the gnocchi with sage butter and chicken broth. This was a different gnocchi recipe than what the chef had made at the previous restaurant, and Jean didn’t think it was an improvement.

Saturday we got our live music fix. Other friends had invited us to go see Whitehorse, a band neither Jean and I were familiar with before getting tickets. But I had been listening to them since, and they are pretty good.

Before the show, Centre in the Square offered a $30 three-course dinner in the Member’s Lounge, catered by Borealis Restaurant. We decided to do that, and it was great. First was a kale Caesar, then a paella, then—I forget what dessert was. All good, though, and we also enjoyed the drink list (among us, we sampled orange wine, Pinot Noir, champagne cocktail, Scotch), though it was more premium-priced than the food.

The show was done in “On Stage” format, meaning that the whole audience, and the band, and a bar, were up on the very large Centre in Square stage, instead of the usual “band on stage, audience in theatre seats”. It was pretty cool.

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Ready to rock!

It was a good show. Opening act Begonia had a lovely voice and an entertaining manner, a combination that reminded me of Jann Arden (or Adele).

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Begonia

And Whitehorse did some of their best-known songs (I assume they were? At least, at this point I recognized a number of them), reminisced about the early support given them by Waterloo, and talked of causes important to them, like supporting sex trade workers.

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Whitehorse are a husband and wife team, this night supported by a band

They also threw in a couple of covers. One was of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”, in tribute to Malcolm Young. Another was of Neil Young’s “Ohio”.

(Should have zoomed in a lot earlier than I did on the video. Not used to this taking videos at concerts thing.)

Then on Sunday, we were total hermits.


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Chocolate chip walnut cookie recipe

In an effort to reduce—though most definitely not eliminate—carbohydrate intake, I’ve been experimenting with using stevia in desserts. It generally works well in custards and puddings, though you have to be OK with the slight anise flavor the stevia lends. Baking is trickier—one brownie recipe ended up too dry. But this chocolate chip cookie recipe worked out really well.

I started with a recipe from a Nutrition Action Newsletter, so it wasn’t my idea to use whole wheat flour and non-hydrogenated margarine. (I’m sure butter would work fine for those avoiding margarine.) It was the sugars I adapted.

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¾ cup non-hydrogenated tub margarine
  • Baking stevia equivalent to ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar *
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup Stevia chocolate chips (I used Krisda brand)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts

* I believe some sugar is necessary to avoid overly dry cookies

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the margarine, baking stevia, and sugar and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until all the flour is combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts with a mixing spoon until incorporated.

Drop the dough, one teaspoonful at a time, onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are just browned. Remove from the sheet to cool, Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

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Guess it would be more normal to have a picture of plate full of cookies, but this is all we have left!

These cookies were really good—no need to grade them on a curve. And of course they’re not exactly a health food, but a treat. Just one that happens to have a bit of fiber, low sat fat, and somewhat fewer carbohydrates.


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Things more Christmas-y

As my seasonal gift to you all, I will set aside the “political update” blog post I’ve been puttering away at and instead write about things more Christmas-y.

Though in the same province, my home town is far from where I live now. (Even Canadians get surprised at how far apart two cities in the same province can be.) Though we try to get there for Christmas, that’s normally the extent of the winter travelling to the north.

This year, however, we were lured there a mere two weeks before Christmas by Jean’s Mom celebrating her 90th birthday. She’s doing rather well!

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Gosh, I think I took this photo. Yay, me.

Also occurring around the same date were my Dad and my brother’s birthdays, so while at it, we celebrated those as well.

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The combined ages of the two birthday boys

A snowstorm in the southern part of the province delayed our arrival back home (by plane) til the next morning, but it was a nice visit.

Being away for an extra December weekend meant condensing the amount of Christmas cooking I did, both in terms of time and quantity. (It also meant even more online gift shopping than usual.) This past Saturday I made my single tourtière, using a recipe that is now traditional to me, though not to the rest of my family. I was unable to find the ground bison that I usually combine with the ground chicken, so I tried lamb instead.

The distinctly lamb-y smell of it made me worried while preparing the dish, but in the end, it really didn’t overwhelm everything. And the crust turned out quite remarkably flaky and delicious.

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Tastes better than it looks!

Sunday was when Jean and I celebrated “our” Christmas. I decided to roast a duck, not having done that in a while. I’m amazed by how many people are totally intimidated by the idea, when it’s really the same principle as cooking a chicken: stuff  the bird if you want, then put it in a roasting pan in the oven at 350 or so until it reaches 165 F. Only real difference is where a rack in the roasting pan might be optional with chicken, you really want to use one with duck, because so many fat drips out of it. You don’t want your bird floating in it.

For the duck, I consulted a Jamie Oliver recipe that involved stuffing it with ginger, rhubarb, and sage, then serving it with a broth / red wine (didn’t have masala) sauce and crisped sage on top. As sides, I made roasted Brussels sprouts with apple while Jean handled the mashed potatoes. It made for a delicious combination of food in the end.

Duck, Brussel Sproutss, and Mashed Potatoes!

Serving it with 2010 Chateau-neuf-du-pape didn’t hurt, either

For dessert I cobbled together a nice-looking tray (if I do say so myself) of items mostly not made by me:

Desert Tray

As tasty as it looks!

The sucre à crème in the forefront was my doing (sugar, sugar, and cream: with a little butter, because why not). But the rum balls were a (homemade) gift. And the ginger cookies were President’s Choice. All rounded out with some foil-wrapped chocolates.

Happy holidays, everyone.


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Tomatoes

No idea why, but this year the garden produced the biggest tomatoes ever. They’re gorgeous and taste as good as they look.

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One day’s haul

I’ve had good tomato years before, but never at this size.

Yesterday’s lunch was built around this ingredient. It was based on a recipe from the Nutrition Action Newsletter, but switched up the greens and pumped up the protein.

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Photo by Kate Sherwood

  • 1.5 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1.5 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Kernels from 1/2 ear of corn
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped
  • 2 Tbs fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 cup mixed baby greens
  • 1 – 2 Tbs roasted unsalted sesame seeds
  • 1 – 2 Tbs crumbed goat cheese
  1. In a salad bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, salt.
  2. Gently toss in the corn, tomatoes, avocado, basil, and greens.
  3. Top with sesame seeds and goat cheese.

Serves: 1

The basil was also from the garden, the corn—though not grown by me—was also Ontario fresh. Definitely worth using high-quality balsamic and olive oil for this.

Oh my God, so good.

 

 


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Welcome 2016 dinner

I vaguely wanted to do our New Year’s gourmet-ish, cooking together dinner again this year, but I was completely uninspired as to what to make.

But I had the week off before Christmas and New Year’s, and I had three-month trial subscription to Texture (formerly Next Issue) magazine app, with its multiple food magazines. So I decided to go through those virtual pages for ideas.

I hit pay dirt almost right away, in a Food and Wine magazine from December 2015. They had recipes for all these different theme parties. But instead of sticking with one theme, I picked and choosed among different ones. Preferred criteria were that they sound good, of course, but not require me to run all over town looking for obscure ingredients. And not having us slaving in the kitchen all day.

The one course not covered by this one Food and Wine issue was dessert. And I wasn’t finding much inspiration in other magazines, either. But that weekend’s Globe and Mail happened to feature a New Year’s Eve menu for two people—including a cake that made just two servings! We had a winner.

We did this on January 2. We started working around 4:00, and were dining by about 6:30.

Theoretically first up (really, most everything was ready at the same time) were marinated olives with oranges, which, at Jean’s suggestion, were served with almonds and walnuts.

Olive Apetizer

This involved frying up some garlic, orange zest, and hot pepper, to which olives were added. Then everything marinated in orange juice. So pretty simple.

I don’t how much that treatment enhanced the olives? But I was pleased to find that the Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc we’d selected went nicely with them.

The main course was a smoky mussel stew. For this one, potatoes and Brussels sprouts were roasted, while fresh mussels cooked in a mix of white wine, butter, shallots, and herbs. The mussels were then removed from the broth, and cream added. Everything then came together: potatoes, Brussels sprouts, mussels (shelled), with the addition of smoked mussels.

Smoked Mussel Stew!

This isn’t the prettiest dish ever, but it was some good! The slight smoky with the creamy and the butter and the roast veg… Even the fact that we had to use frozen Brussels sprouts (fresh unavailable!) couldn’t wreck this. Yum.

The side dish was brown basmati rice with coconut and turmeric; basically, rice cooked in coconut mik with turmeric and salt. And served with mint on top. It was fine, but nothing outstanding. Rice does turns a nice yellow colour, though.

The wine we had with was an Ontario Gewurtz. Great wine; not sure if it was the best possible match, however.

The salad was spinach with orange and goat wine, with a red wine vinaigrette. I wasn’t able to find blood oranges, so Jean suggested adding cranberries to make the pictures prettier. 🙂

Goat Cheese and Orange Salad

The dessert, finally, was a gâteau Basque. You make it a bit like a pie crust, mixing together flour, egg, sugar, and butter, then forming it into a disk and putting it in the fridge. When ready to bake later, you roll it out to cake pan size.

Gateaux Basque with Warm Cream!

It was served with a simple cream sauce of whipping cream, sherry, and sugar, and topped with raspberries.

It was yummy, yummy this. As was the sparkling Moscato D’Asti we had with. Though supposedly only two servings, we had enough left to enjoy the next day, also.

Happy start to 2016.