29 December 2011

Product Review - Presto Aluminum Pressure Cooker

Pressure Cooker

I kept putting this review off because I was scared by my pressure cooker. You see, Wayfair.com gave me the opportunity to review a product. I decided to use the opportunity to be somewhat practical instead of ordering a neato appliance like a Belgian waffle iron. Finally, after much thought I decided on a Presto 8 Quart Aluminum Pressure Cooker. When it arrived I assembled the handles and stared at its shininess before putting it in the box and leaving it alone.

The good part of a pressure cooker is that foods can be cooked in half the time it normally takes. How? The ingredients are placed in the cooker, or in a bowl placed on a rack in the cooker. The lid is latched on and the cooker heats up. As the heat rises, pressure builds up inside and the lid is locked. The pressure regulator, a knob placed on the vent pipe, gently rocks back and forth to let you know the proper amount of steam is escaping. Because of the built up pressure, the food cooks quicker. Also, this method of cooking preserves the nutrients of the food you're cooking. Win-win.

What I found to be scary about this particular model is, how do I know if it's cooking at the correct temperature? What exactly is a "gentle rocking"? What if I lower the heat too much and it stops rocking? The only way to figure it out was to try it, which we did on Christmas. We wanted a wild rice pilaf that normally takes an hour to cook, but would take just 25 minutes in the pressure cooker.

Pressure Cooker

Rice has to be cooked in a covered bowl inside the cooker. Why? The manual says that since rice tends to foam when it cooks it has a tendency to clog the vent hole. Fortunately, I have a medium size metal bowl that fit nicely inside. This model comes with a rack, so I put the rack on the bottom and poured two cups of water inside, which is to keep the cooker from drying out and burning.

Pressure Cooker
Pressure Cooker
Pressure Cooker

The vegetables (onions, carrots, mushrooms, celery and garlic) are cooked in a separate skillet, then mixed with the rice, chicken broth, and white wine. Stir it once, then cover tightly with foil and place inside the cooker.

Pressure Cooker

Here is the lid. See the hole on the handle? That's where the air vent cover. The lock pin is on the bottom handle, and it locks when the pressure builds inside the cooker. Once it locks, you can't open it until the pressure is reduced. More on that in a bit.

On top of the lid is the vent pipe, where the regulator is placed. If it rocks too vigorously, excess steam is released and the food might scorch because the liquid evaporates too quickly.

Pressure Cooker

I see the temperature knob is on 7 in the background, so in this picture I had started to reduce the heat. You need to remain nearby so that you can gradually lower the heat enough to maintain a gentle rocking. If it stops rocking, you'll need to raise it. Unlike a slow cooker, a pressure cooker does require a bit of attention. Also, make sure you set a timer.

After the timer buzzes, the pressure needs to be reduced. Depending on what you're making there are two ways to do it. One, you can "manually" reduce it by running cold water on top of the cooker. Two, you let the cooker reduce pressure itself by removing it from the heat. Once the lock drops, you can open the lid. However, don't lock the lid back on to keep the food warm... Because the lock might rise again and you'll have to wait until it drops.

Yeah.

Anyway, the latter method adds another 10-20 minutes onto the cooking time, so it almost equaled cooking the rice in a pot on the stove, though I kind of liked cooking it in the pressure cooker. The rice came out moist and it was cooked through. I'm going to enjoy cooking with the pressure cooker and will try to turn it into a series on here.



For the technical side.

This cooker is sold for $44.69 on Wayfair.com. It's aluminum, so it's not as expensive as a stainless steel model. Stainless steel is actually preferable because it's less likely to get warped and distributes heat better, but for the average person (like myself) an aluminum model works just fine. Just don't turn the heat up to high when you're first bringing it up to pressure and it'll be okay.

I chose the 8-quart size because I can cook larger batches of food at a time. A 4-6 quart would be best if you're single or are cooking for two, three, or even four. I wanted the option of being able to cook large batches for leftovers. The smaller the cooker, the less it costs.

There are electric models and models with a different regulating system on top, but for now I think I'm satisfied with the way this one works. As I continue using it, I'll be able to provide a more in depth review, so stay tuned.

27 December 2011

Christmas Dinner Done Differently

Chicken Stuffed with Figs and Leeks

Christmas dinner was a little different this year. Instead of a turkey or ham, my mom wanted to try stuffed chicken breasts. They're fancy with the stuffed filling, and the only real work to prepare them consists of butterflying and pounding split chicken breasts, rolling the chicken up, and securing the rolls with cooking twine.

Chicken Stuffed with Figs and Leeks
Chicken Stuffed with Figs and Leeks

We started off by preparing a fig and leek filling. Oh Nuts had sent me some figs, so I figured this was a perfect opportunity to finally use them. They were soft, especially for being dried figs, and reconstituted nicely in heated orange juice. Finely chopped leeks, a bit of salt, and white wine were mixed in.

Chicken Stuffed with Figs and Leeks

The key to keep the chicken from falling apart is to secure the roll with cooking twine. I've used toothpicks before, but it's not as good. Mom had the idea to drape the excess skin on top to keep the chicken breasts moist and develop a crispy crust.

Chicken Stuffed with Figs and Leeks

For flavoring, I coarsely ground dried rosemary with kosher salt, red clay sea salt, and pepper. I sprinkled the mixture underneath the skin (as well as rubbing the chicken with butter) and on top. The last chicken roll was placed in a parchment pouch. I've never cooked a chicken like this before, but it came out incredibly moist.

Chicken Stuffed with Figs and Leeks

Once the chicken is cooked, we let it rest, covered, so that the juices won't ooze out when sliced.

Christmas Dinner

The stuffed chicken tasted great and the figgy-leek filling was very tasty. It made for a great change of pace to turkey and didn't require much prep time or post feast clean up.

Along with the chicken, we had rice pilaf cooked in a pressure cooker (post to come), roasted Yukon gold potatoes, homemade bread rolls, and homemade cranberry sauce.

What did you guys have for Christmas dinner?

19 December 2011

Chex Party Mix-Exchange Giveaway Winner

I'm two hours late in putting this up. Oops. Finally, the winner has been selected by process of a random number generator. The lucky person who gets to celebrate with Chex cereal is:
JC, 16 December, 2011 13:47

http://twitter.com/#!/tcarolinep/status/147749087318515712


Congrats, JC! Since you included your email in another comment, I'll be contacting you for your shipping info.

Thank you to everyone who entered!

Also, I'm lame because I really haven't blogged about anything Christmasy. I'm not really going to apologize because I just haven't been in the mood for cookies. Oops, again. I have been running though, but I haven't felt like talking about that either. You've heard this before, right? You've probably also heard me say I'm going to make a concerted effort to talk about it more, since that's what my blog is about. We'll see. I guess I just don't like to talk about running much.

Fail.

16 December 2011

Giveaway Winner!

For those of you who entered the BonJour Cafe Latte Frother, the winner has been chosen by process of a random number generator. The lucky winner is:
Laurel, 14 December, 2011 16:48

Let's face it: lattes are just better with foam. :)


Congrats, Laurel! Please email me at christinaATrunningfoodieDOTcom so I can collect your info.

Thanks to everyone who entered. If you'd like to enter another giveaway, head on over to the Chex cereal prize pack giveaway.

15 December 2011

MyBlogSpark: Host A Chex Party Mix-Change - Recipes+Giveaway

**Giveaway is closed**

Chex Mix Cookie Swap Recipes+Giveaway

MyBlogSpark and Chex Cereal want to liven up your holiday cookie exchange by giving you tips on how to host a Chex Party Mix-Change. To help give you some ideas, I was given a variety of Chex Cereal, cute red and green take out boxes, and a $20 Visa gift card to purchase additional ingredients and packaging supplies. The premise was to host a party and show you guys how to create different Chex cereal treats for a holiday exchange, but that didn't quite work out so I made a few recipes myself.

Chex Mix Cookie Swap Recipes+Giveaway

Although cookies are sweet, no one can resist a savory Chex mix. This recipe for Easy Cheddar Chex Mix is simple to make and uses a cheddar cheese packet from a box of macaroni & cheese (the noodles can be added to soup or something). The flavor is boosted with garlic powder, dried mustard, and a pinch of cayenne pepper for heat. It tastes really amazing.

I packaged it in a cute Christmas tin I bought from the craft store, though you can find nice tins at the dollar store, too. For gift giving, the latter would be the economical choice and what I'd do if I packaged cookies in tins. Lining the tins in plastic wrap and wax paper keep the cereal secure and doesn't mess up the tin. Fold the excess paper on top before closing with a lid.

Chex Mix Cookie Swap Recipes+Giveaway

If you're serving the treats at a party, mini cupcake liners are the perfect way to portion out servings that are easy to hold and munch on. That's what I did with the White Chocolate & Peppermint Chex. It's made similarly to the favorite puppy chow, only instead of chocolate and peanut butter I just melted white chocolate chips. It's flavored with peppermint extract and made a little more festive with green and red nonpareil sprinkles. The sprinkles show up underneath the confectioners' sugar coating, looking like Christmas lights covered with snow! It's delicious and addictive.

Chex Mix Cookie Swap Recipes+Giveaway

Finally, we have Chocolate Caramel Cinnamon Chex. It's the most complicated recipe of the three, but it's also one of the best. The crunchy caramel-chocolate coating is made similarly to the coating for caramel corn. I adapted it from a recipe I found over at AllRecipes.com. Instead of using just regular Chex cereal, I used some of the Cinnamon Chex to give it even more flavor.

To giveaway, you can fill holiday baggies with the cooled caramel chex and package it in festive takeout containers.



Giveaway Details
prizepack


If you would like to host your own Chex Party Mix-Change (for what will most likely be for New Year's... Yeah, I suck), here's how you can win the neato prize pack consisting of five boxes of Chex cereal, a featured recipe booklet, takeout boxes, and a $20 Visa gift card.

1. Leave a comment on my blog telling me what your favorite Chex cereal creation is.

2. Tweet about this giveaway, including a link to this post and @runningfoodie. Leave a second comment to let me know.

The giveaway ends Monday, the 19th, at 12 noon. U.S. residents only, please. My apologies to my out of country readers, but it's the rules from the company.

Good luck!

14 December 2011

Wayfair.Com Giveaway: BonJour Cafe Latte Frother

**Giveaway Closed**


It's my birthday today, and on this day I'd like to show my appreciation to my readers by giving you the chance to win a gift. The generous folks at Wayfair.Com have given me the opportunity not just to review a product, but to host a giveaway for my readers as well! While I typically only host giveaways for products I have tried first, I figure you can't go wrong with a basic milk frother.

milkfrother

The product that's being given away is the BonJour Cafe Latte Frother in Gray. What's so great about a milk frother and why do I think you need one? No one needs a milk frother, but it's a fun tool to have and it's not something you'd typically get for yourself. I use a milk plunger to create foam for coffee, hot chocolate, and other drinks of that nature. I enjoy doing it because it takes an ordinary hot drink and makes it something special. Isn't that partly why we enjoy lattes from cafes? Now, you can make special drinks at home!

According to the website's description:
This battery-operated frother whips milk into thick foam in seconds for creating a latte, cappuccino, or macchiato. It's also handy for sauces, hot chocolate, foamy cocktails, and even scrambles eggs. The soft-touch push down button and chrome stand make this easy to use and store. Powered by 4 "AA" batteries (not included).


It's the perfect tool for creating foam quickly during holiday parties, before enjoying hot chocolate during a Christmas movie, and you can even puree sauces and small batches of soup. I hope the lucky winner will enjoy it!



You can enter up to three times for additional entries for the giveaway:

1. Comment on this post. Tell me what drink you'd like to top with milk foam.

2. Follow me on Twitter, and tweet about this giveaway, including "@runningfoodie" and a link to this post. Comment again to let me know.

3. Like Wayfair on Facebook, leaving a comment on their wall with a link to this post, letting them know you entered the giveaway from She Runs, She Eats. Comment a third time to let me know.

And that's it! Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Giveaway ends Friday at noon, when I'll pick a winner. Good luck!

13 December 2011

Gingerbread House '11

Gingerbread House 2011

This is it. The house this year took about a week to put together and included a lot of sugar, flour, and candy. The design of the house wasn't as intricate on the outside, but the inside is full of character, like a second floor in both the side buildings, a leg lamb, nativity scene, children's bedroom, and a spiral staircase. I sucked at taking pictures this year, unfortunately. I still have good ones to show you, so take a look.

Gingerbread House 2011
Gingerbread House 2011
Gingerbread House 2011

To begin, stencil cut outs are traced on a sheet of rolled out gingerbread dough, then baked until crisp. After the pieces have cooled, the shapes are lined with royal icing and flooded with thinned royal icing. Finally, they're dusted with sanding sugar for a sparkly effect.

We ran into a snafu with the gingerbread this year, though. Although it baked up and cooled to a crisp, the pieces softened the next day. This was the same dough we used last year so it's not like we changed anything. Many things could have been the culprit, like not rolling the dough out thinly enough, baking the pieces long enough, or more humidity in the air. The most unfortunate part is that we realized the pieces would hold after we had iced many of them. In the end, we found a different gingerbread recipe that bakes up into a thin cracker-like, but still edible, cookie. Problem solved. It was easier to make, too.

Gingerbread House 2011

Construction went together easily and we didn't have any trouble with the new pieces staying in place. Here is the front entrance. The door is surrounded with stained glass, and on the inside is a gingerbread Christmas tree and hand-painted chocolate candy presents and toys.

Gingerbread House 2011

Here is one of the second floors, featuring a pretzel bed with candy toys. The floor is lined with fruit leather.

Gingerbread House 2011

Directly below that is the nativity scene, with baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by Mary, Joseph, and a little lamb.

Gingerbread House 2011

On top of the pizzelle roof is a festive fondant snowman.

Gingerbread House 2011

On the other side of the house, the fondant man is falling over the balcony after he dropped the second fondant snowman. Poor Frosty.

Gingerbread House 2011

Fondant woman looks on in concern.

Here are a few stats:

The entire house is edible, right down to the chocolate pieces and fondant figures. The only piece that isn't edible is the board.

I ate less than 1 cup total candy while constructing this house. I didn't measure it but I know I didn't eat much because when I do, I usually get nauseous.

One week to build. We worked mostly in the evenings. We rushed to put it together at the very end, though we managed not to make any shortcuts.

Rolling out the new batch of gingerbread dough was a workout. Thankfully, the 20" tapered bamboo rolling pin I got last year came in handy. Really. Unlike a traditional rolling pin with handles, you can't seamlessly roll around the entire piece of dough, and these sheets of dough were huge. The weight pressure is evenly distributed and my arms were spared any horrific pain.

They say chocolate gets everywhere when you're making chocolates. Well, so does confectioners' sugar. On the floor, on your hands, in your hair (I'm assuming, as I didn't wash my hands after they came in contact), counters, etc. It was like a crack house!

Okay, I exaggerate.

The house was put on display at The College Football Hall of Fame, along with all the other houses submitted by festive bakers, to be gazed upon by visitors. Judging took place last weekend, and we took home 1st place again! The prize pack was pretty good, consisting of chocolate candies from the Chocolate Cafe, gift certificates to local stores and restaurants, and tickets to a holiday-themed symphony event put on by the local symphony. Fun times.

Have you guys built a house this year? I would love to see them if you did, so link to your posts in the comment section and let me know what your favorite part of building a house is.



If you enjoyed reading this, please help us win another contest for last year's house over at the Global Gingerbread Contest. Vote for the Provo Family. Thanks!

06 December 2011

Upcoming Wayfair.com Review

Hey guys! Sorry for the lack of gingerbread updates, but things got pretty intense and down to the wire. We got it finished and brought it over to the College Football Hall of Fame, where it awaits the judges. I'll get those posts up soon.

In the meantime, Wayfair.com contacted me about a possible review. Wayfair used to be CSN Stores, though they recently changed. Their quality and quantity of merchandise has not changed, as they continue to be a one stop shopping experience with products ranging from kitchen appliances, kitchen rugs, furniture, and more.

I have an idea of what I'll select to review. It'll make for a great new series of posts, especially for those of you who find cooking to take too long. It's not a new method, but it's a method I'm new to and hopefully it'll be beneficial to some of you.

Can't wait to share it!

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