Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Using a Pressure Cooker on a Wood Cookstove

When I worked as a local banker, my boss was a lady from Carson, Iowa, who is a lot of fun to visit with.  We enjoyed talking about food and cooking, and I'll never forget her telling me that she resisted getting a microwave oven for a long, long time when they became popular in the late 70s and early 80s.  As I remember, she finally caved under a great deal of pressure from her mother-in-law, but only used the microwave to reheat leftovers.

"I didn't need a microwave," she insisted, "because I have a pressure cooker.  I can cook things fast in it, which is why I call pressure cookers 'the poor man's microwave.'"

Microwaves are now standard equipment in the modern kitchen, but Instant Pots seem to be the current rage in countertop kitchen appliances, and one of their features is the ability to cook things quickly by using pressure. However, this is certainly not new technology; what is new about an Instant Pot are its safety features, automation, and some of its versatility.

Those of us who are cooking on a woodburning cookstove aren't exactly known for being the cooks who are taking advantage of the latest technological advances, though, are we?  That said, a carefully used pressure cooker can help us speed things up a little when we feel like it and add some variety to our cooking.  This was the case on Monday of this week when I had been out with a friend on a photography romp all afternoon and had nothing planned for supper when I returned home after 4:30.

I dug around in the freezer and found a package of country pork ribs.  I put them in the microwave to defrost a little (only because they had been packaged with waxed paper between them and I couldn't get it free) and brought my smallest pressure cooker up from its basement abode.  This pressure cooker was given to me by my aunt who had received it from one of my great-great aunts who had bought it sometime in the 1940s.  It came to me with its original instruction booklet which includes several recipes--what a blessing!

When cooking with one of these pans, the first step is usually to establish the pressure.  For the wood cookstove cook, this means that you are going to start the cooking process with the pan directly over the firebox.  You can see in the picture below that for what I was going to do I also put the rack in the bottom and added about a 1/2 inch of water.

Next, I inserted a small old Pyrex pan (I think it was the precursor to the Visions Cookware line) that I got from Nancy's grandmother.  Into that I put my three small pork ribs, which were still pretty frozen in the middle.

Over the ribs I poured barbecue sauce, which I made out of homemade ketchup and some barbecue sauce concentrate from Watkins.  In hindsight, I should have seasoned the meat more before putting the barbecue sauce on it because it was plenty bland.

I then put the lid on the pan, set the weight on the petcock to ten pounds of pressure, and moved the pan to the hottest lid over the firebox and began waiting for the weight to jiggle.

The jiggling began in a surprisingly short time, and then "the dance" commenced.  "The dance" is my tongue-in-cheek term for the movement of cooking vessels across the wood cookstove cooktop to adjust their cooking temperature.  High heat is right over the firebox, and lower heats are further away.  Instead of adjusting a dial, pushing a button, or tracing your finger over a fancy touch response induction range, you slide the pots and pans to the area of the cooktop which has the desired heat.

In a weighted-gauge pressure cooker, once the appropriate pressure has been reached (as announced by the jiggling weight), the heat needs to be reduced so that the weight jiggles a minimum of three to four times per minute but does not jiggle constantly.  You can see in the picture above that I wasn't stoking a raging fire, so I didn't have to move the pressure cooker too far away from the firebox in order to maintain the correct number of jiggles per minute.

A quick word about safety: I wouldn't recommend leaving a pressure cooker unattended for long periods of time on any cooking device, not just a wood cookstove.  The occasional short absence from the kitchen should be fine, however.

I'm sure the meat was cooked much earlier, but because I was busy with other things and because I knew that this cheap cut of meat would be made more tender by a longer cooking time, I let these cook for an hour, and then stuck a thermometer in them to be absolutely positive.

I don't know why I felt the need for the thermometer on Monday.  I think it was due to the fact that it was resting above the warming oven from a different project.  Usually, I would just have cut one open to make sure there was no longer any pink in the center.

The ribs were done, were fork tender, and we enjoyed them.

I should try using the pressure pan for more foods; usually I just use it for meats.  One of my favorite things to cook in it is tongue.  Let me know if you're interested in seeing that process!  Also let me know whether you use a pressure pan, and if so, what you cook in it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Cooking Acorn Squash in the Wood Cookstove

We've been cooking with wood almost exclusively since turning off the electric water heater on September 21st.  The only exceptions have been a frozen pizza which I baked in the electric oven in the basement, and cakes and rolls were baked in the propane oven for our baked-goods-for-sale day last Thursday.  The wood cookstove oven was in use simultaneously that day, though, as there was such a large amount of baking to be done.  Now, I just need to get caught up with blogging!

One of the common themes among my posts about cooking on a wood cookstove is that I like to use it for foods that have long cooking times. Acorn squash is one of those foods that is particularly well suited to long cooking in a wood cookstove, and we had a large crop of them this year--all of which were volunteer!

A fraction of the acorn squash that grew in our garden this year.

Of course, there are as many ways to prepare acorn squash as there are cooks who do so, but I'm going to just show you what I do.

In the pictures below, I'm going to prepare two different sets of squash to be cooked at the same time: one set for eating, and one set for use in making other dishes.

Starting at least a couple hours before I want to have the squash ready to eat, I build my fire so that I will have a moderate oven--between 325º and 350ºF.

The next step is to wash the outside of the squashes thoroughly and cut them in half from side to side.

Then, using a strong metal spoon with a fairly sharp edge, I scoop out the seeds and pulp.

Next, I arrange the halves cut side up in glass or ceramic baking dishes.

Into those I am planning on eating right away, I place maybe a tablespoon of brown sugar in the cavity where the pulp was.  Then, I put around a teaspoon of salted butter on top of the brown sugar.  For the squash that I'm going to use for other things, I omitted the butter and brown sugar.

Without covering, put them in the oven to bake.  Baking time will depend on the size and ripeness of the squash, but I've never had a time when they took less than an hour and a half, and I've never seen them get too done.

I put the pan of squash that would be for our supper
in the oven first so that they would be ready in time.

Later, I moved the first pan of squash to the top rack and put the pan of squash
to be cooked for later applications on the bottom one.

When you can insert a fork in the fleshy part and it feels soft, remove them from the oven.

Now, I don't care for the stringy texture of acorn squash, so this is what I do to prevent having to deal with it.  Pour the brown sugar/butter syrup into the blender, cut them in halves again and use the same spoon that you took the seeds out with to scrape the flesh away from the peel.

Put the flesh into the blender and blend it with the brown sugar/butter syrup until it is all smooth.  If it is too dry, you can add any number of things; maple syrup, cream, and butter come to mind, but I just added some boiling water from the teakettle.

The squash pulp in the blender.  You don't have to have a
blender as cool as a vintage Osterizer Imperial handed
down to me from my grandmother, but it helps make it
more fun!

Once it is completely blended, you could put it into a slightly greased casserole dish and pop it in the oven if it has cooled off too much, but it was more than sufficient to slide this small bit into the warming oven while I finished the preparations for the rest of the meal.

Below is a picture of what the final product looks like on the plate.  You don't have to tell me how ugly it is; Nancy has already taken care of that job.  She said it looked like baby food.  She's right; however, when I look at it, the first thing that comes to mind is the 1970s gold insulated drapes that my mom and both of my grandmothers had hanging in our living rooms when I was little.

Acorn squash tastes much better than drapes, though.  When prepared this way, I serve it instead of a potato.  Except for the fish, each of the foods here was raised on our farm.  I love meals like that!

Use the comments section below to tell me how you like acorn squash cooked.  Bon appetit!