Sunday, June 29, 2008

Chicken à la King

I get lots of emails about pressure cookery. Questions about using frozen ingredients keep popping up, and everyone wants to know the secret of transforming frozen meats into a flavorful meal that will not only smell delicious, but look appetizing too.

The short answer is, YES, you can really cook frozen meats, although I wouldn't recommend tossing a frozen clump of meat into the pressure cooker as a matter of routine. I know, when its crunch time, busy people sometimes run out of both time and options when it comes to getting dinner on the table. I have written a comprehensive article on the website, Help! It's Frozen, which demystifies the use of frozen meats.

Today, I want to focus on a recipe for cooking frozen chicken breasts so they don't end up looking so blanched and unappetizing. The fact is, frozen meats cook up bland and tasteless without browning, so how can we add aroma, flavor and visual appeal to frozen chicken?

A suitable recipe should lots of flavor enhancing ingredients like aromatic herbs and vegetables. A colorful and well seasoned sauce, or plenty of other bright, contrasting ingredients that will make the dish look more visually appealing. While we're at it, lets make this a casserole style meal so there's less clean up work. Sounds good to me!

That's a tall order, but I have just the thing, lets use my version of an old fashioned, classic dish, Chicken à la King. Okay, lets get started... and don't forget to click of the photos here to see the BIG picture.

I'm going to use a recipe that incorporates the PIP method for the peas in a modified version of the Tiered cooking technique. These are some of the Advanced pressure cooking techniques that take advantage of the new features found in today's modern pressure cookers.

The chopped celery, bell peppers, onions and rice are stirred into a blend of hot EVOO and margarine in the pressure cooker. Stir the mixture until grains are coated and look translucent. Click the photo to see what I mean.

The recipe calls for frozen peas because they will cook slower than thawed peas and so retain their bright color. For the same reason, I'm using a Pyrex bowl because glass and ceramic dishes heat slower, but retain heat longer, than metal inserts. See this chart on my website for the Quick Guide To Heat Conduction Properties. 

These poor, icy peas look rather sad, but don't worry, they will still plump up all nice and pretty at the end. Normally the peas cook in just 3 minutes and they use the Cold Water Release to stay bright and fresh looking, so we really need to slow down the cooking process for them.

You see I'm also covering the bowl with a sheet of foil to protect the peas from direct exposure to the super heated steam. Again, the whole purpose is to delay the cooking time for the peas so they fit in with the other recipe ingredients. Otherwise, they would over-cook, loose their color, shape and texture in the 7 minutes required to cook the pearl rice. 

All the ingredients are in the pressure cooker now, and the bowl of frozen peas is safely nestled right on top of it all. Here we go; after 7 minutes of cooking and the natural release, the rice and chicken are tender, and the peas are still tender, plump and brilliantly green.

Now isn't that a pretty dish, the blanched chicken is a perfect match to the white rice and the bright colored veggies!

Miss Vickie's Chicken à la King

But its not just looks that count, is it? As soon as the lid is removed, you can smell the wonderful aroma coming from the herbs, peppers and onions. The rice has absorbed the flavoring liquids and the meat is tender and juicy, and just infused with flavor from the wine and stock. When the brilliantly colored peas and pimentos are added, we've got a dish that tastes and smells just as good as it looks. Now you know the secret to transforming tasteless, frozen chicken into a delicious, main course meal.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon margarine
4 fresh or frozen skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 1/2 pearl rice, or any short grain variety
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 (2 ounce) jar pimentos, diced
1/2 cup sliced white mushrooms, either fresh button or dried ivory Portobello
1 (10 ounce) can cream of chicken or mushroom soup
2 cups frozen peas
1 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup white wine
1 (16 ounce) can chicken stock
1 cup water

Combine all ingredients except peas and the pimentos in the pressure cooker. Stir to mix. Put the frozen peas in a ceramic or glass bowl and cover securely with a sheet of aluminum foil. Center the bowl on top of the other ingredients in the pressure cooker. Lock the lid in place. Bring to 15psi over high heat, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to stabilize and maintain that pressure. Cook 7 minutes. Remove from heat and use the natural release method before opening the lid.

Remove the bowl of peas and drain off any water. Remove the chicken breasts to a cutting board and cut into bite sized pieces. Return the chicken pieces and the peas to the pressure cooker, add the diced pimentos, gently folding them into the rice mixture. Serve immediately.


Tuna à la King is as easy as replacing the chicken with a 12 1/2-ounce can of water packed tuna.

Turkey à la King is a really good way to use leftover turkey.

Shrimp, Crab or Lobster à la King, substitute about 1/3 pound frozen seafood chunks for the chicken.

So... was this information helpful to you?

Any questions on this recipe, or the different pressure cooking techniques I used?

Please add your comments... I'd really appreciate feedback from those who try this recipe. Let me know what you think, so I can determine if I might need to tweak the recipe a little bit.

Can you see where the techniques I used here might be useful with some of your own recipes?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Savory, Herbed Three Grain Pilaf

 In my new cookbook, I use many different kinds of pressure cooking techniques that were well known in our grandma's day when nearly every household used a pressure cooker. Most of today's pressure cooker users don't know about these more advanced techniques, so I'm going to show you how to get the maximum use out of your modern pressure cooker by cooking two separate PIP recipes using the tiered cooking technique.

The first recipe is a full flavored, Savory, Herbed Three Grain Pilaf, a dish that compliments many meat entrees. So for the purposes of demonstrating the tiered cooking technique, I'm also cooking a separate dish of lentils for lunch the next day, to be used in Lentil and Arugula Salad, a very versatile recipe that works well as lunch or a light supper to beat the summertime heat.

What You'll Need

You'll note that I'm using one of the horrid, bent wire 'trivets' supplied by Fagor, a singularly useless item for most purposes, but here's one way where it actually does work well. Lay the wire trivet inside the bottom pan, or place a cooking rack over the top of it, to support the upper pan.

The bottom PIP insert pan is from Kuhn-Rikon, it has a handy wire bail to lift it out of the pressure cooker, and little punched out feet on the bottom so there is no need for a cooking rack. You will need to use a rack beneath your pan if it has a flat bottom. Without a bail, its necessary to utilize a foil Helper Handle to get your pan out of the cooker. For the top pan, any kind of small, inexpensive Stainless Steel bowl will work. The one I use here is available at Wal-Mart, Target and such.


This delicious recipe has an irresistible nutty flavor that is great by itself or served as a side dish with poultry, pork, and beef. Even better, there's no tedious chopping, so if you're looking for minimal effort food after a long day, this is it.

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon bouillon powder
2 tablespoons wild rice
1/4 cup long grain brown rice
1/4 cup pearl barley
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine

Pour 1 cup water into the pressure cooker. Place all the ingredients in an insert pan. To cook as a combination see the directions below, to proceed as a separate dish: Lock the lid in place. Bring to 15psi over high heat, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to stabilize and maintain that pressure. Cook 16 minutes. Remove from heat and use the natural release method before opening the lid. Fluff grains with a fork, they should be tender and most of the liquid absorbed.
Cook's Note: I used that Better than Bouillon, a flavor enhancer that comes in several varieties (In my supermarket, I have seen beef, chicken, mushroom, and vegetable varieties.) According to the Superior Touch website there are also turkey, lobster, ham, chili, clam and organic, plus low sodium versions are available. One teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon base mixed with water yields the same as an 8 oz can of broth, but its much more flavorful, and its just as convenient as ordinary bouillon cubes. It is a bit salty, so I suggest holding off adding any additional salt until you've actually tasted the finished dish. This is a very tasty and convenient product that makes for a no-brainer method of preparing quick and easy dishes, so do give it a try.

Lentil and Arugula Salad

This is an easy dish with many possibilities. If you can't find arugula in your supermarket, substitute curly endive, escarole, radicchio, spinach or any combination that appeals to your taste.

1/4 cup lentils
1 1/2 cups water
Place in a small stainless steel bowl. Pour 1 cup water into the pressure cooker. To cook as the featured combination, position a trivet in the bottom pan and stack the bowl of lentils on top. Lock the lid in place. Bring to 15psi over high heat, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to stabilize and maintain that pressure. Cook 16 minutes. Remove from heat and use the natural release method before opening the lid. Drain the lentils, add the prepared homemade or bottled vinaigrette salad dressing and marinade them in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day, ahead of the serving time.

2 cups sliced cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped red onion
2 cups torn Arugula or other salad greens
1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Prepared homemade or bottled vinaigrette salad dressing
In a large salad bowl, combine the greens, tomatoes, onions, lentils and cheese. Add the vinaigrette and toss gently. Taste and adjust the seasonings before serving.

Add a small amount of leftover cooked meat, ham, poultry or shellfish for a main course.
Add chopped hard salami, pepperoni or prosciutto, some sliced olives and marinated artichoke hearts for an antipasto style salad.

When you think about all the interesting possibilities, I hope you'll try both the PIP (Pan In Pot) and the Tiered Cooking Techniques. You'll find detailed instructions on these, and much, much more in my new cookbook, Miss Vickie's Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes. See my website for more information about other cooking methods and all the different techniques used in pressure cookery.

Does this give you ideas about how you can incorporate the Tiered Cooking technique into your own recipes? What combinations can you put together?

I'd like to get your feedback on my new recipes to see if there's anything that I need to adjust. Please, post your comments and let me know if you try these recipes, won't you?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nutritional Egg Custard

Well, if you've missed me, here's the thing... My appendix ruptured, I had some post-op problems and was hospitalized until just a few days ago. I am finally home and slowly recuperating, but still weak as can be, so this is just a short post.

I've been restricted to a liquid diet for nearly two weeks now -- now there's a boring meal -- but truthfully, I'm not up to anything else. Fortunately the freezer is well supplied with broth and stock, so at least I have a welcomed change from fruit juice and Jello.

In a couple of days I'll move on to "soft foods", so I thought I share my first planned meal, an easily digested, protein rich, Nutritional Egg Custard. This particular recipe was handed down from my grandmother who worked as a practical nurse after WWII, and she prepared this simple food for her patients.

As a young child, I remember helping her feed this plain custard to my ailing grandfather, a victim of Mustard Gas in WWI. Fifty years later I made it for my own father who was suffering with terminal cancer. For any of my readers who are caregivers, you may want to try this recipe if the ingredients are suitable for your loved one. This is also an excellent food for fussy or teething babies, and sick kids as well. It's well tolerated by most people with a tender mouth following dental work or braces, and those who have an upset tummy or digestion problems.

Nutritional Egg Custard
The silky texture and mild taste of this custard provides a simple, easily digested, eggy lusciousness. With only a trace of vanilla and minimum of sugar, a spoonful of this custard will slide easily across the tongue and not disturb a sensitive tummy.

2 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients until smoothly blended. Pour into individual ramekins and cover tightly with foil. Pour 1/2 water in the pressure cooker and place a steamer tray on the bottom. Arrange the filled ramekins in the tray, stacking a second layer as needed. Lock the lid in place. Bring to 15psi over high heat, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to stabilize and maintain that pressure. Cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat and use the natural release method before opening the lid. The custard may be served warn, but for the best taste and consistancy, refrigerate for several hours or until the custard is well chilled and firmly set.

While this recipe is not sweet enough to really be called a dessert, you can easily make it so by using more sugar. Depending on the sweetness desired, use 1/2 to 2/3 cup white or brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla to make this into a real old-fashioned custard dessert. You can also include additional flavors like real maple syrup or molasses, and spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. Some of those little chocolate sprinkles on top wouldn't hurt...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pork Chops and Baked Potatoes with Salsa Sauce

Costco. I love it... I hate it; don't you?

I try not to go too often, and the fact that the huge warehouse store is located w-a-a-a-y over on the other side of town, keeps my trips down to about once a month. All right, truth be told, I'm a Costco addict and when the urge strikes a pack of saber-toothed tigers couldn't keep me away!

There, happy now?

Back to my trek through the hallowed aisles of the mega-giant store where I joined the milling masses of wide-eyed shoppers eager to part with cash, checks and credit cards. There I was, weaving my way past shelves that were just chock full of everything from the mundane and practical, the strange and the wonderfully bizarre. I'm on a mission, so I passed by everything with great determination not the browse... I want FOOD!

My destination is the meat section, where the mad butchers of Costco have gleefully laid out their bloody trays of raw flesh to tempt carnivores and cooks of every sort. Ah-ha! There's what I want... that huge, battalion-sized flat of extra thick, boneless, center loin pork chops. Mine... all mine!
Since many of my readers have been asking for recipes that only serve one or two portions, I decided that would be the goal of today's recipe. You can easily double the quantity or even substitute another cut of pork chops as long it is similar in thickness, which would be about 1 1/2 inches.
Okay, let's get cookin'! Here's our ingredients,
all prepped and measured -- a good thing todo so you don't leave out anything -- now we're ready to go. Oh boy, just look at those thick, yummy pork chops!
Not too complicated in the prep department, just some herbs and spices for a flavor boost, and some prepared salsa... c'mon, you can do this, so let's get cookin'!

Here's my lovely thick chops, well seasoned and nicely browned. The pile of caramelized onions and herbs that will form the base of the flavorful sauce. Oh, did I mention the flavor!

You can find out more about how to do browning and sauteing on the website.
Add all the ingredients all the ingredients exept the potatoes to the pressure cooker so the chops are nestled all comfy like in the flavorful sauce. This is a good example of how to use the Infusion Cooking method to make a rich and flavorful braise in the pressure cooker. To braise the chops the salsa, onions and the herb screate a delicious, flavorful and aromatic sauce using the Infusion Cooking method.

You can find out more about how to do all the different pressure cooking techniques used in this recipe, as well as other advanced pressure
on the website.

This recipe also uses Tiered Cooking technique, stacking several foods so they cook separately to make a complete meal that cooks in one pot with no stirring. I'm placing the cooking rack on TOP of the chops to form a platform for the potatoes because I want them steam roasted, not braised. What... you thought the rack only works on the bottom?
See how the Tiered Cooking method is used in this recipe to allow me to use two different cooking techniques at the same time and in the same pot: I'm also using Steam Roasting to bake the potatoes.

Hungry? All right, here's my plate... where's yours?

Pork Chops and Baked Potatoes with Salsa Sauce
1 T olive oil
salt and coarse ground black pepper
2 extra thick cut boneless pork chops
1/3 c chopped cilantro
1/2 c chopped onions
2 T minced garlic
1 T dried oregano
1 cup chunky salsa
4 medium potatoes
1/2 c water
Heat the oil in the pressure cooker. Rub salt and pepper into the chops and brown them on both sides. Saute the onions and garlic until soft and caramelized to a golden brown. Set aside. Add the water to the not cooker and deglaze, scraping up any stuck-on browned bits. Stir in the salsa, cilantro and oregano, and place the chops in the sauce. Place a rack or steamer tray on top of the chops and arrange the potatoes. Lock the
lid in place. Bring to 15psi over high heat, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to stabilize and maintain that pressure. Cook 12
minutes. Remove from heat and use the natural release method before opening the lid. Transfer the chops to individual serving plates. Make 2-3 cuts in each potato to open them up and spoon some of that spicy salsa sauce over the top.
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