Pressure Cooker Farro ‘Risotto’ with Golden Beets and Feta

Faux Farro Risotto

Last summer, both N and I realized that not all beets are the same.  While we’re not fans of red beets (too sweet), their golden cousins are milder and just perfect for our fussy palates.

I recently discovered that the local supermarket sells organic golden beets for under $2 a bunch.  I’m not one to wax poetic about vegetables, but these are gorgeous specimens.  So much so that when they first caught my eye I bought them simply because they were so pretty.

I then had to figure out what to do with them.

So I broke out the pressure cooker, and came up with this super easy, super tasty faux risotto (Fisotto? Farro-sotto?).  Farro is my new favorite grain in the pressure cooker, as it comes out so much softer and creamier than on the stove top.  Throw in some of your aunt’s – OK, my aunt’s – homemade feta, and you’ve got a gourmet level dinner that takes very little effort.

Note: If you don’t have a pressure cooker (poor you), the beets and farro can be cooked on the stove top.

Farro-sotto with Golden Beets and Feta
Serves 4-6

One bunch organic golden beets, beet greens removed and set aside and beets washed and trimmed
1 cup dry farro
4 ½ cups water or broth
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
½ – ¾ cup feta cheese, crumbled
Salt & pepper, to taste

Beets: If cooking in pressure cooker, place beets in pressure cooker with a minimum of ½ cup water, and set the time and pressure according to manufacturer’s instructions.   If roasting, preheat oven to 350.  Wrap beets in foil. Bake for 45 minutes.  Once cooked, wait until cool and remove skin.  Grate beets and set aside (Can be done ahead of time).

Farro: If cooking in pressure cooker, place farro, water and 1 tbsp of olive oil in cooker, and set time and pressure according to manufacturer’s instructions.  (Note: I set farro at high pressure for 22 minutes and let the pressure release naturally for a softer consistency.  Your mileage may vary).

Wash, trim and chop the beet greens.  In a large pan over medium heat, add remaining olive oil.  Once heated through, add beet greens and sauté until wilted, 3-5 minutes.  Add grated beets, stir to coat a minute or two.  Add cooked farro and feta cheese; stir until cheese is melted through.  Season to taste and serve.

Glory Bowl Dressing

Spinach salad with glory bowl dressingThe one tangible souvenir that I brought back from Canada during our recent backcountry ski vacation was a cookbook.  The Whitewater Café Cookbook, to be precise.  Whitewater is a ski area just outside Nelson, and we were strongly encouraged by our Calgarian comrades to stop there for lunch on our way back to the U.S.  I should note that these Canadians are die-hard skiers, yet they were recommending that we stop by a ski resort not to ski, but to eat.  That is a telling sign.

The Whitewater Café is not your run of the mill ski resort restaurant.  It offers an incredibly varied and large menu for its size, featuring dishes that go beyond the greasy burgers and fries that are commonplace. Think bison burgers,  homemade soups and a ton of tempting baked goods. The cookbook includes signature recipes like samosas (which someone made while we were at Powder Creek and I’m still dreaming about), granola bars, and the Glory Bowl, a rice and tofu bowl with the most addictive dressing.

I’ve become a fan of nutritional yeast of late, so the dressing for the latter was particularly interesting.  But instead of going to the effort of cooking rice and tofu, I decided to riff on it with a salad.  We’ve been home a little less than a month, and I’ve made this salad in some variation at least once a week.  The dressing is that good!

In parsing the ingredients, it appears to be a version of the peanut sauce I use on noodles, albeit with less peanut butter and more nutritional yeast.  The original recipe does call for tahini, but as that’s not something I keep on hand, I subbed out peanut butter and added a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil, and it works just fine.

Glory Bowl Salad (Adapted from the Whitewater Café Cookbook)

5 oz spinach leaves, washed
½ cup grated carrots
½ cup grated cooked beet
Optional– ½ cup each diced cucumber, diced red pepper, blanched and chopped broccoli
¼ cup toasted and crumbled pistachios or pumpkin seeds (optional)
¼ cup feta, crumbled (optional)
Glory Bowl dressing to taste

Glory Bowl Dressing
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Braggs or soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider or rice vinegar
½ cup nutritional yeast
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 cup vegetable or canola oil

Blend all ingredients except oil in food processor.  Add oil in a fine stream through the top of the food processor until emulsified.

Cooking under pressure

Electric pressure cooker lidA pressure cooker is one of those kitchen appliances I thought could be useful, but it was never an item on my wish list. To me it seemed complicated and vaguely dangerous.  Weren’t the older pressure cookers noisy and prone to explosions?  Didn’t they require you to monitor them closely to prevent too much pressure from building?

So when I received an electric pressure cooker for Christmas this year, I was both intrigued and a bit worried.  Sure, these new fangled ones are pretty much idiot proof, but I’ve been known to test that theory.

In actual fact, it is idiot proof, and very easy to use.  And extremely wide ranging in its uses.  Not only does it pressure cook, but it is also a slow-cooker.  Seeing how I got rid of my inherited-from-a-roommate ‘70’s era Crock-Pot a few years ago, that versatility certainly justifies its size.

Navy beans were my first experiment, and not only did they cook in a mere 22 minutes (with no pre-soaking!), but they turned out far tastier (and softer) than any stovetop attempt.  Next up was half a bone-in turkey breast off a 20 pound bird, which took 15 minutes, followed by a turkey broth made from the other turkey parts.

The manual came with a few recipes, including rather ambitious projects like cheesecake.  I’m not sure I’ll go there just yet, but I think I’m ready to try wheat berries or something like risotto that typically takes more time than I have during the week.

Next up is finding a few good recipe books.  I hear the ones by Lorna Sass are good, but if there are other recommendations, let me know!

Rice cooker virgin

I have a confession to make.

I have never owned a rice cooker.

While I was bequeathed an electric kettle/hot pot when I left for college, a rice cooker (apparently another one of those ‘off to college’ gifts, along with extra-long sheets and a laundry basket) was a completely foreign concept.

Until now. It was an off-the-cuff comment on Gluten-Free Girl’s blog about cooking all grains in the rice cooker that encouraged me to plunk down $14 for the appliance on Amazon. I looked at it as an experiment.  If it meant fluffy quinoa, perfect rice and no-worry millet, well, that would be worth well more than what I paid.

And it did.  Tonight’s first quinoa was a success, and the oatmeal and brown rice have turned out just as perfect.

So, I’m hooked.  And curious to see what else I can cook in it.  Wheat berry salad anyone?

Lessons learned

One would think that, given my penchant and enthusiasm for cooking, I’d have more skill handling sharp knives than I do.  Unfortunately, it seems I also have an inadvertent penchant for self-mutilation while in the kitchen.

At least half my fingers boast some sort of scar resulting from cutting something, the most recent being when I nearly took off the top of my index finger using the mandolin slicer my grandmother gave me last Christmas.  To be fair, it was my fault, as I refused to use the protective plastic thingy you’re supposed to put between the hapless veggie and your hand.  It felt too unwieldy, at least until I was hopping around the kitchen trying to hold my hand above my head and keep the blood out of the onions.

Time passed, my finger eventually healed, and I recently decided to bring out the mandolin again.  With the protective hand thingy, and with a slower pace.  It’s a great little device, capable of far finer slices than anything my clumsy, now-scarred fingers can produce.  Which makes for much nicer salads, as far as I’m concerned.

So, Grams, I know you were a bit worried when you heard about the finger incident earlier this year.  It’s all good, and me & the mandolin are good buddies.  At least for now.

CSA Ambitions

Back in May, I heard talk about a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) coming to South Lake Tahoe.  I was stoked, as it was something I’d wanted to try, given the reality that I’ll never have my own garden.  So I signed us up for a half-share, figuring that with all the traveling and summer activities, this would be ample for our two person household.

I had grand plans for a CSA blog project, taking photos of the weekly pickup and posting recipes of everything I made.  I was going to be a real foodie, reveling in the quality of locally grown organic produce, and share my Alice Waters-like insights with everyone.

Yeah, well.  Let’s just say there’s a big gaping void between concept and execution, and I fell into it almost immediately.

However, in talking to Stephanie at Sacred Path Farms this week, I was reminded about my earlier ambitions, since she’d asked me about recipes.  So, while my memory may be fading, I’ve tried to document what I’ve made, including the 2 whole photos I’ve taken.  I even included a recipe at the bottom for one of the dishes I’ve made more than once.  But don’t expect much more from me on this, as it’s a long, arduous climb out of the void.

Week One

The highlight was the quinoa with strawberries, fresh salad greens & goat cheese with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.   Other meals included a terrific salad with butter lettuce and a vegan Caesar dressing (minus the nuts) that I topped with roasted radish chips, and a tempeh stir fry with the Chinese cabbage.

Week Two

More salad greens (another sexy butter lettuce) and no Nils meant salads, and finally a veggie saute with millet.  The generous bag of peaches & nectarines were used in a fruit crumble for my family, who’d come up to watch my derby bout.  However, the decadent chocolate ice cream my brother brought up easily trumped the fruit, so it sat untouched until my fruit-dessert loving boyfriend returned.

Week Three

Plums galore, chard, radishes, cabbage, chocolate mint and greens.  I know I did something involving a very easy white miso dressing (equal parts miso & oil, some rice wine vinegar, all blended), but the rest of the week was a blur.  It was hot most of the week, and after derby practice I could only rally for a sandwich a few nights – with some sun tea made with the mint.

Week Four

I used the fresh spinach and blueberries in a salad with goat cheese, bulgur and balsamic vinaigrette (sense a pattern here?), and the chard, radishes and zucchini went into a huge orzo salad.   Which we ate for 3 consecutive nights.

Week Five

The radishes & greens are going into a salad for the picnic at Lake Tahoe’s Shakespeare with the same vegan Caesar dressing.  The chard & dried morels will go great with gnocchi and sausage after whatever big mountain bike adventures we do this weekend. And the blueberries will be savored with the remaining decadent chocolate ice cream gelatogasm.

Quinoa with strawberries, fresh salad greens & goat cheese with a simple balsamic vinaigrette

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water (boiled in a kettle if you can)

1 bunch/bag fresh greens, washed

1 1/2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled & quartered

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

3 Tbsp. toasted slivered almonds (optional)

3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

Rinse quinoa according to instructions. I like to toast the quinoa for a few minutes before adding the boiling water, then simmer, covered, for approximately 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

To make the dressing, place vinegar in large bowl, then drizzle oil in slowly, whisking until the dressing is emulsified.  Season to taste.  Toss in greens, strawberries, quinoa and cheese, and serve.  Serve with almonds on top if desired.

Farmers Market Abundance

Swiss Chard & Millet with Grilled Spring OnionsUp here in the mountains, we don’t have year-round farmers markets like our brethren in the lower altitudes (as a friend on Facebook reminded me last week).  Our local purveyors, including the only health food store in South Lake Tahoe, handily located next to my office, and the larger supermarket chains, do have a reasonable selection of organic, seasonal produce.  So we’re not exactly forced to suffer through a winter of cabbage and squash.

However, when June arrives and the hardiest of vendors appear at the first farmers market in South Lake Tahoe, it’s a hopeful sign of good food to come.

Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve tried to keep to seasonal organic produce the past year.  As I have a black thumb and am unable to grow anything other than weeds, I convinced Nils that we sign up for South Shore’s first CSA.  That won’t begin until mid-month, so last week I foraged among the few vendors who showed up, and came away with succulently violet fat spring onions, beautiful Swiss chard and plump sweet peas.  The sweet peas disappeared very quickly on their own, but the onions I grilled until sweet and added them to a millet dish that contained the chard and blue cheese.  Colorful, simple and flavorful.  A perfect beginning to our summer of local eating.

Chocolate Caramel Tart

I have been eyeing this recipe in Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini cookbook for the past year, but a decided lack of creme fraiche (a key ingredient, one that I had no desire to make on my own) and trepidation about making the pate sable discouraged me from attempting it.

So when I finally located creme fraiche at the local Grocery Outlet, it became clear that I had to step it up and stop with the excuses. Luckily I had some friends ready to serve as willing and able guinea pigs, and after a full day of skiing powder, both Nils and I had ample appetite for a sinfully rich dessert.

The pastry part was probably the easiest part of the process, as it can be made in a food processor and requires no rolling (a similar recipe for said crust can be found here).  Having made chocolate ganache before, it was less daunting than the caramel layer, which involved a host of ingredients, including brown sugar, honey, creme fraiche and butter.  (Did I mention that this was NOT a low-calorie dessert?)

Overall, the three step process (crust, caramel layer and chocolate) were not difficult – just time consuming.   I didn’t plan far enough in advance and ended up making this mere hours before it was needed, so it didn’t set quite as well as it should have.

But it still tasted divine.

Who, me, an expert?

Both my mother and grandmother are extremely talented in anything related to the home crafts – cooking, sewing, knitting, etc.  While I was introduced to many of these activities as a child, I’m middling at best at most of them, with cooking being the one thing that I don’t totally suck at.  I’m merely passable there when compared to these two women, whose collective years of experience are quadruple to mine.

So today’s phone call came as a bit of a shock.  My grandmother and mother were making hummus (something I make regularly, as it and tortilla chips are staples for me & N), and called me for some advice.  While my jaw didn’t hit the floor, it came pretty darn close.  Me, an expert in hummus creation? Who knew?

I’m now a bit worried that I’ll start to see dogs and cats playing together, or some other near impossibility.

Kitchen Sink Risotto

With a bunch of seemingly random things in the fridge – mascarpone cheese, crimini mushrooms, spinach & cherry tomatoes, I figured a hearty risotto would find a way to bind them all together.  Thankfully I have ridiculous quantities of arborio rice in the cupboard (who, me, a hoarder?).

It’s been awhile since I made a proper risotto – the one where you add broth in half-cup quantities and stir it in until the liquid evaporates.  It’s hard on the wrists, especially after said wrists have had a 20 some odd mile mountain bike ride (including falling off said bike).  My initial inclination was to call it ‘carpal tunnel risotto’, but I figured that wouldn’t be very enticing.  Not that kitchen sink is any better, but at least this moniker allows for a lot of creativity.
And this particular version was creamy and flavorful – just the kind of ‘nearly autumn’ dinner that I crave this time of year.