Friday, December 7, 2012

Paleo Pressure Cooker Beef & Sausage Stew & Product Review: Cuisinart CPC-600 1000-Watt 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker


It's stew night in the Green Organic household :)

Feeding a Paleo family can be challenging, but we try to make it easier by shopping smart and planning meals ahead of time.  One of the best things we've invested in, in recent years, is a deep freezer, to take advantage of sales on meat.  It's also a great place to store bulk packages of our Paleo baking supplies, like coconut and almond flour.  Buying in bulk and freezing is definitely important for staying on budget.  We regularly stroll the meat section for sales, and stock up on whole chickens, and tougher cuts, like pork shoulders and beef roasts, then break up bulk packages, and freeze them for later use.  But what to do with all those big, tough cuts that need long, slow, moist cooking, when you're a busy family with two working parents?

I used to rely on my slow cooker/crock pot for things like stews and braises, but the results were never to my husband's liking; coming out overly mushy most of the time.  Then there was the concern with leaving a cooking appliance on all day while we weren't home.  That meant we could only slow-cook on the weekends, and had to turn to faster-cooking, more expensive cuts of meat during the week.  Lucky for us, there was a solution: an electric counter-top pressure cooker.


Growing up, my Chinese parents always had a stove-top pressure cooker pot around for making traditional soups; one of those old-fashioned, super heavy pots, that would hiss and spew the whole time they cooked, which always rather intimidated me.  Thankfully, pressure cookers have come a long way since, with new automated functions and safety features built in.  After further research, and finding out just how fast these things can cook, I was ready to dive in.  It's hard to believe it's been a year and a half since we first got our Cuisinart electric pressure cooker.  Between making bone broths, simmering stews, and braising meats until they're fork-tender and delicious, we use our pressure cooker at least once, if not twice every week!  A friend followed suit and purchased the same model, which she uses to make homemade apple sauce for her kids.  It's proven to be a very handy cooking device!

So just how fast does a pressure cooker cook?  First, factor in the built-in browning feature of this counter-top model.  I couldn't do that with my old crock pot!  That saves having to heat up and brown meats in a separate pan, and the transferring of the meat to the cooking vessel.  Who doesn't love less mess to clean up?  Then it's a matter of calculating the cooking time for your dish:

  • Bone broths (3.5 lbs bones and meat): 90 minutes
  • Pork half picnic shoulder (4 lbs): 90 minutes
  • Beef stew (sirloin, chuck, 2 lbs): 30 minutes
  • Corned beef brisket (2 lbs): 30 minutes
  • Whole chicken: 30 minutes
  • Chicken thighs (2 lbs): 20 minutes
  • Soups: 20 minutes
  • Vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc): 5 minutes

I love that when I open the pot, all the meat and vegetables are still intact!  The meat is tender, but hasn't separated and displaced itself from the bones, and the veggies retain their shape.  I regularly toss in whole garlic cloves in my pressure cooker, and even though they're completely soft, they're still whole at the end of cooking.  Definitely no more mushy mystery meat for us!  Pressure cookers also use less liquid, and retain a lot of moisture when cooking.  That's something to keep in mind, if you're converting any old slow cooker recipes.  You can also get away with less seasoning, as the pressure actually helps infuse the food as it cooks.  Be sure to read the manual that comes with your pressure cooker to guide you along.

As an added bonus, the pressure cooker has no problems tackling frozen meat.  My husband and my daughter both love corned beef brisket, which I regularly buy already brined and seasoned. Those can go straight from the deep freezer into the pressure cooker, frozen to done in 40 minutes, and with no thawing.  Very convenient on work nights, freeing up my hands, and giving us plenty of time to settle in and get the side dishes going, and have the entree done in very little time.

This Cuisinart model is very easy to operate, with just three buttons: Menu, Temperature, and Start.  For pressurized cooking, there are two simple options: low and high.  Low is what I use when I've got the pot filled to the maximum (2/3 full for all pressure cookers), which is usually when I'm making bone broth.  High pressure is for all other times, like when cooking meats.  The menu button cycles through Low Pressure, High Pressure,then various decreasing increments of heating the cooking pot itself (Browning, Sauté, Simmer), and finally, a very handy, automatic Keep Warm stage.  As I mentioned, I love the browning feature, and the non-stick insert makes cooking and cleaning up very simple.  The lid locks on very securely, and there's no need to second-guess if it's on right.  A little red indicator/safety valve pops up along the top of the lid, to let you know when the pot has fully pressurized.  There's also very little noise, compared to my parents' old stove-top pressure cooker pot.  That was a pleasant surprise.  I also like the silicone gasket that fits under the lid.  It's very secure, easy to put on and remove, and much less hassle than the old-fashioned rubber gaskets my parents always fought with.  All in all, this pressure cooker has a very simple design, and it's very easy to use.  If you can operate a crock pot, you can operate a pressure cooker.  It's definitely paid for itself in shortened cooking time, and being able to use those cheaper, tougher cuts of meat on more of a regular basis.

Tonight, we're enjoying a hearty Beef & Sausage Stew, Paleo-style, from our pressure cooker.  Stews are such a convenient way to feed lots of veggies to the family, and use up what you might have in the fridge.   Frozen vegetables work great in this dish, too; just wait until the end of cooking to add those in.  The base for this stew is just simply a package of frozen squash purée, adding some extra vitamins, sweetness, and body, and also making it Autoimmune Protocol-friendly, for those who don't eat tomatoes.  This, of course, can also be prepared on the stove-top in a dutch oven, or slow cooker, cooking low and slow, until your meat and veggies are tender.  Just be sure to add a little more liquid, if you're using something other than a pressure cooker.

Paleo Pressure Cooker Beef & Sausage Stew

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:


2 lbs beef (sirloin, chuck, etc), cubed
1 lb bulk Italian pork sausage
1 package frozen squash purée (12-ounce) (can substitute for 1 can of tomatoes)
2 onions, diced
5 carrots, peeled and diced
3 ribs celery, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen cut leaf spinach
1 cup water or bone broth/stock
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp Real Salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Set pressure cooker on "browning" mode.
  2. Add sausage, and cook until some of the fat has rendered.
  3. Add the beef and continue to brown the meat.
  4. Add onions and celery, and allow to sweat.
  5. Mix in water, carrots, and remaining spices and herbs.
  6. Distribute the stew ingredients evenly in the pot.  Set block of frozen squash purée on top (does not have to be fully submerged).
  7. Lock on the lid, set for low-pressure, and set timer for 30 minutes.
  8. After 30 minutes, let pressure fall naturally.
  9. Remove the lid and set back on "browning" mode, to bring back to a gentle boil.
  10. Add frozen peas and spinach, and cook through.
  11. Season with fresh ground black pepper to taste.

This stew makes for great leftovers, too.  Remember that non-stick, removable insert?  It's so handy to lift that out of the pressure cooker, and set into a sink of ice water, to quickly cool leftovers to prep for the fridge.  This is one of our top favorite kitchen must-haves.  Hope you'll consider picking one up for yourself or a loved one :)

Faye

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paleo Apple Cider Donut Holes


Seasons greetings, everyone!

It's that beautiful time of year again.  Our family is certainly getting into the Christmas spirit here, breaking out the decorations, and enjoying some holiday baking together.  We're delighted with all the amazing, gluten-free Paleo recipes that are being shared, and hope to try as many as we can!


Last week, I shared with you a review of our newest toy: a Nostalgia Electrics Cake Pop and Donut Hole Maker. This really is a nifty little kitchen gadget, that turns out amazingly good baked treats that are totally Paleo-compliant, with virtually no mess, in very little time, and without the need to fire up the oven.  For those still shopping, this would make a great gift for under $25, for anybody who loves to cook. Aside from sweet treats, I managed to create this very easy and tasty recipe for savory Sweet Potato Mini Crab Cakes.  They turned out wonderfully, and will definitely be on the regular recipe rotation in our household.  I couldn't believe how fast the cake pop maker turned these out; taking only seven minutes to completely cook through to light, fluffy, golden-brown deliciousness.  I wish I had picked up one of these machines sooner!


Once again, I have to thank Lea over at PaleoSpirit.com for inspiring this whole cake pop/donut hole adventure, with her recipe for Paleo Apple Cider Donuts.  Lea has an actual mini donut maker, but her recipe worked perfectly in our cake pop maker, too.  We have a couple takes on Lea's recipe now.  The first couple times I made these, I didn't have any apple cider in the house, so I substituted the same amount in orange juice.  That transformed the recipe into wonderful, moist, little orange spice cakes, and I highly recommend giving that version a try, too.

Here's now our cake pop/donut hole version of Lea's original recipe, which my daughter also helped decorate for the holidays.  Not to worry if you don't have a cake pop maker or donut machine: a fan from Facebook has successfully made this recipe in her mini muffin pan, baked at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.  I've also included our recipe for the optional glaze, which is easily made corn- and dairy-free, by making your own homemade powdered sugar, and substituting coconut oil for butter.  Simply combine a cup of granulated cane sugar in your food processor with a tablespoon of arrowroot starch, and pulse, to make a good Paleo substitute for powdered sugar. Kids of course love any kind of sprinkles and decorations (not exactly Paleo, but more for the presentation and fun-factor).  Still, my favorite was topping these off with cinnamon and sugar.  That really helped the flavors shine through.  Experiment and be creative!


Paleo Apple Cider Donut Holes

Makes 12 large cake pops/donut holes

Ingredients:

For the cake pops:

  • 2 eggs (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider (room temperature)
  • 2 tbsp raw honey
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice blend
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp Real Salt
  • *optional decorating sprinkles and candy toppings

For the optional cinnamon sugar coating:

  • 1/2 cup granulated organic cane sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon

For the glaze:

  • 2 tbsp grassfed butter/coconut oil/ghee (softened and spreadable)
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp water

Directions:

  1. Preheat donut hole maker. (Alternate: bake in mini muffin pan/donut pan in the oven at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes)
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, coconut oil, and honey. 
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the coconut flour, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and salt, breaking up any lumps.
  4. Mix dry ingredients into the wet. 
  5. Add apple cider, and stir until evenly combined.
  6. Using a cookie dough scoop or small ice cream scoop, fill a heaping mound of batter into the compartments of the donut hole maker.
  7. Close the lid, careful to latch tightly, and set your timer for four minutes.
  8. As the machine is very hot, using oven mitts, carefully pick up the donut hole maker and flip it over onto its front side, onto a heat-safe surface.  This is the secret to having nice, uniform, evenly round and browned results.
  9. After four minutes, unplug the donut hole maker, and flip it back over onto its back.  Let it continue to cook for three more minutes.  There is enough residual heat to continue the cooking process, without over-browning the outside edges.
  10. After three minutes, carefully open the machine, and transfer the donut holes to a cooling rack.  Allow to cool fully before attempting to frost and decorate.
  11. While donut holes are cooling, prepare the glaze and toppings.
  12. To make the glaze, in a small bowl, combine butter/coconut oil/ghee with powdered sugar, incorporating half a tablespoon of powdered sugar at a time, mixing thoroughly.
  13. Add water incrementally, to form a smooth, slightly runny paste.
  14. Dip cooled donut holes in glaze and decorate with sprinkles and/or cinnamon-sugar blend.
Our first batch of these holiday donut holes turned out great, and we can't wait to make more to share with our friends and family.  We certainly hope you will, too!

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Faye

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