Instant Pot vs Breville Multi-Cooker vs my bank account

Since we still live a kitchenless existence I am always looking for ways to “cook up” without having to use the induction hot plate and filling the apartment with lingering food smell = something I despise. I have 2 slow cookers, a Breville toaster oven, an Anova immersion heater for sous vide, a rice cooker, the aforementioned induction hot plate and an electric kettle. So when Louis Anderman started going on about the Breville Multi-Cooker I was all ears. He had turned me on to the Anova – I used to sous vide in a rustic hodgepodge way (that yielded excellent results.) Louis also has the vacuum chamber sealer thing which makes me jealous AF. But I also have limited counter space so another gadget had better be really good.

The thing about the slow cooker is that browning is difficult to achieve. I’ve preheated the crock and been able to brown onions and such but it’s vaguely irritating. So I order the Breville from Sur la Table at the whopping cost of $280. It is also ENORMOUS so it sat unopened for about a month while I tried to justify its addition to the pantheon. At some point $280 back in the bank seemed the better part of valor so I took it back.

Fast forward to September. We’ve been doing an Indian Veg sort of diet and I am making dals and other bean dishes daily. All of the blogs for Indian cuisine have pressure instructions and I soon came to understand that cooking Indian daily makes a pressure cooker essential. I felt stupid about the Breville for about 15 minutes and then I discovered the Instant Pot.

To reel it back for a moment – I have always been deathly afraid of pressure cookers. My mom had a stovetop one with the whistle and the little bell and I can remember the drama around using it to make the occasional Osso Buco. It was sort of like having an unexploded landmine laying around. Tales of hideous steam burns and general fear of mutilation accompanied the mere concept of pressure cooking. Assuming that they are way safer than in the ‘70s and now come in electric, after the requisite internet research I went for the Instant Pot which I ordered from Amazon for a mere $89 with free shipping. $179 less than the Breville.

I LOVE this thing. It cooks potatoes to a silkiness for aloo gobi I have rarely experienced even in a restaurant. I’ve made dal makini, mixed lentils and chana dal – lightning fast. And now that I get the functions I’ve gone off book and finessed the manual settings. I did potatoes for 6, released pressure and added cauliflower and sautéed both in ghee then added a little water and pressure cooked it 3 minutes more.  It worked perfectly. I’ve sautéed at high heat. I even made rasmalai using the Pot to make the syrup and poach the dumplings.

Today I thought that a white bean with bacon soup sounded good (Indian Veg be damned.) I wanted to test the Pot in the field so I considered starting the whole thing from dry but opted to soak the beans for most of the day. Then once we got home I bet Frank that I could make the soup by the time he got out of the shower. So:

1lb Great Northern beans soaked

1 large can of chopped tomatoes

1 onion chopped

Couple cloves of garlic

Chipotle pepper flakes (nice and smokey)

Bay leaf, celery salt, sea salt

1/2lb smokey bacon – diced

Put it all in the Pot. Add water to the top of the veg. Set pressure high for 25 minutes.

Since I was racing Frank I only let it sit for 10 minutes to get things simmered down and then I did a quick release. It was a very nice looking soup – a little thin perhaps but the beans were perfect, the bacon unctuous, the seasoning sufficient. I think that long-cooked soups are more complex taste-wise. But for a hearty soup in 45 minutes (he likes long showers) it can’t be beaten. Next time I think I’ll smoosh the beans some and reduce it a bit.

UPDATE 10/20: Today the soup has thickened up nicely and tastes as good as versions I’ve made in the slow cooker. And it tastes very much like the Campbell’s bean with bacon soup I had as a kid. Next up – Progresso lentil soup.

lunga di napoli

this is the offspring of the insane squash plant that is taking over the garden. a nice little winter squash you say?

italian pumpkins are similar to butternut squash and are good for making pumpkin fillings for pasta and gnocchi. i’m not a big pasta maker what with the wheatless-ness and all we eat corn pasta (like many italians apparently. the incidence of celiac in italy is one of the highest in the world. which should tell us something about the influence of wheat….)

even though it has been 95 degrees in los angeles, frank and i have been hankering for bolognese. so i made some.  the last batch of corn pasta i ordered from italy (la veneziane) but yesterday i found corn penne at trader joe’s so we’ll try that.

bolognese sauce

marcella hazan is the strictest cook i have ever encountered. that said, i am certain there are as many bolognese sauces as there are italians. i understand that emelia-romagna tried to codify the recipe some time ago AOC-style  but while sticking to the basic tenets i see space for some improv.  my brittle copy of THE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKBOOK is usually my fallback when i want to do something by the numbers but in this case i have melded marcella with a recipe i once found in SAVEUR  years ago in which mario batali and a posse of foodies ate their way through italy (bliss.) his recipe was for spinach lasagna. i made it once and it was stellar.

1/2 butter 1/2 olive oil

one medium onion – finely chopped

2 carrots –  finely chopped

1 stalk of celery –  finely chopped

pancetta and/or ground pork

veal “stew meat” – minced (not too small)

whole milk

white wine

whole or crushed tomatoes

tomato paste


dash of cayenne

whole nutmeg

saute the vegetables in butter and olive oil. season with salt and pepper and and a dash of cayenne which to me nicely offsets the sweetness of the sauce. add the pancetta and/or pork and the veal. when the meat begins to cook (but don’t let it brown) add a cup of milk or so. cook  this down until it has mostly evaporated. add a cup of wine or so and do the same. grate and add nutmeg (i like quite a bit so i use about one and a half nutmegs.) add tomatoes (with juice) and tomato paste to make it a light red color. cook over low heat while you preheat the oven to about 300 degrees. rather than slave over the hot pot for 5 hours, i put the whole pot in the oven, uncovered, and leave it there. it should barely simmer. check it occasionally to make sure it isn’t bubbling too hard or browning on top. i left mine in while we went to dinner and it was a bit brown and crusty on top. i could have scraped it off – underneath was amazing, sort of gelatinous bolognese sauce. but i mixed it in.

tonight i will get some fresh ricotta and throw it in with the penne, sauce and a good amount of reggiano. buon gusto.

yardgyal extra spicy

UPDATE: i have achieved fizziness. the plastic bottle expanded and was hard as a rock. i bunged it in to fridge #2 and in a few hours opened it up – fizzy, slightly boozy, delicious. i would like to know what the alcohol content is. the process seems wildly complex. investigating.

the ginger beer smells and tastes fantastic but it is not fizzy whatsoever. i am a bit confused about open fermentation vs closed fermentation. for some reason i thought that the ginger brew in the open crock would get all fizzy and boozy but no. what i am coming to understand is that to achieve CO2 and alcohol you need a closed vessel along with the sugar and wild yeast. this is called in beer-making circles “bottle refermentation” or “bottle conditioning.”

i’ve decanted a portion of the brew into a 3 liter plastic bottle (the contents of which had been generic tonic water  – i know – THE HORROR – poured it down the sink – how did it even get into the house??? whatever.) and have closed it tightly and stashed it in a dark corner. the plastic bottle technique seems much safer at this stage than the bail-top glass bottles i bought last week. who knew that this soda-making was so dangerous with the fizzing and the exploding in one’s face and whatnot. i also topped up the original brew with more ginger bug, a bit of fresh water (it was overly sweet, i have adjusted the amount of sugar in the recipe below) more lime, more black pepper and cardamom, some chunks of ginger and…. a dried habanero pepper from last years crop.

with this foray into beverage-making, frank and i have been discussing the idea of habanero soda. it will be the next project once i get more ginger bug going. i have to admit i have been considering boughten yeast. cheating, i know. i guess the ginger bug just needs to be stronger… yeastier.

i’m thinking of calling the ginger beer “yardgirl” as an homage to my jamaican roots (mon.) the derivation of yardie is all very sociological but in essence it refers to the housing projects in the kingston ghetto of trenchtown where people had nothing better to do than hang out in the courtyard. chav with more flavor. “yardwife” was also considered and discarded. seemed too much like “fishwife.” i picture a label sporting a big-bottomed girl in poom poom shorts: a bit r. crumb, a bit russ meyer, a bit bettie page as a dancehall queen. frank’s tattoo artist friend is contemplating drawing it for me.

dude had some serious mother issues.

i’ve also thought up a name for frank’s yet to be created beer: “silverlake peckerwood ale.” i nearly fell over laughing. oh come on, have a sense of humor. if i can be  a jamaican yardie in poom poom shorts, frank can be a peckerwood.*  this is actually how we plan to dress for our wedding.



* frank can trace his cracker lineage from the 17th century. “As early as the 1760s, this term was in use by the upper class planters in the British North American colonies to refer to Scots-Irish and English settlers in the south, most of whom were descendants of English bond servants. A letter to the Earl of Dartmouth reads: “I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.” – wikipedia (which is always right.)


ginger bug aka the exterminator

here’s the pitch:

ok so it’s 2039 and the world is ruled by humans set upon exterminating what remains of a robot race. they are  controlled by a sort of sentient global defense system, earthnet. and like, one of earthnet’s human minions is sent to kill the mother of a girl who will eventually leads a resistence movement against the humans and destroy earthnet. at the same time a robot assassin is sent from the future to protect the woman and her unborn daughter. it’s called THE EXTERMINATOR. whaddaya think?

it’s not that i thought i was the only person interested in food, or blogging for that matter, but as they say, there is no story that hasn’t been already told.

with sandor’s book back in service, i’ve taken to reading it like a nightstand novel and became intrigued by the section on fermented beverages. frank bought a beer-making kit at whole paycheck as a part of our post-apocalyptic sustenance program. he hasn’t ventured into it as of yet but he’ll get there now that the pantry isn’t housing every pickle on the planet. at bäco mercat they have a bunch of great cocktails (not to mention the food which is amazing) that use a shrub. let’s just say i had no idea what that was until reading sander’s book. i also read about ginger bug: the base for lacto-fermented ginger beer. long story short: i made the ginger bug (which consists of ginger, sugar and water left to ferment) and it was fizzing and frothing away nicely until yesterday when i added some more ginger and sugar and somehow killed it. it stopped frothing and only has a light, sort of pathetic fizz about it.

with the festival of yeasts i have come to love all of my starters and cultures like pets. i feed them and shake them and decant them into clean jars when they get icky. but i seem to have killed or at least deactivated the ginger bug. so i turned to the interwebs and found that everyone and their mother is making ginger bugs, roots beers, fermented sodas, fermented everything, and generally living the post-apocalyptic sustenance program. there are oodles of  blogs concerning wild fermentation, home bread-making, cheese-making and general housewifery (which doesn’t mean they are all written by women by any means.) many of them are cute, a few of them highly irritating and twee. i really have no desire to be highly irritating and/or twee but i am afraid i am falling into a very specific category: the person-with-far-too-much-time-on-their-hands. i do have a bit of a twist with the movies and such but i really don’t want to become a sort of dog-lady of the interwebs.

i feel like every girl in eastern los angeles has got some sort of ferment going. or home farm. or loom or something. probably in venice too. the rest of the city is a hideous hive of slick consumerism, velvet-roped nightclubs and chain food. frank has a funny joke:

q: how many hipsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

a: it’s a really obscure number and you probably haven’t heard of it.

this amuses me to no end for some reason. when i was a kid i always thought that a “hipster” was a person who liked jazz. a sort of bohemian, quintessentially cool and kind of classic in a miles davis meets the ramones, PORTRAIT OF JASON sort of way. wrong again marge. todays hipster is a post-post-modern creation, an aggregator, a co-optor,  a skinny-pants-with-a-low-crotch-wearing/chloe sevigny-looking ironic scourge upon humanity. they live in silverlake, echo park or downtown (guilty); they wear horn-rimmed glasses (x2 guilty ’cause frank has them too) they drive vintage cars, drink vintage drinks and are “locovores” (guilty on all counts.) thing is, both frank and i have been all of these things and more for YEARS (yes years, as in decades.) so what do we call ourselves? hipsters? i think not. we are un-definable, un-marketable to, un-catagorizable. we are generation x.

ginger beer

the juice of the ginger bug

ginger – a lot, sliced

peel of two limes

2 cardamom pods

2 cloves

2 peppercorns



make a ginger bug. try not to kill it. for a gallon of beverage, boil a half gallon of water. add the sugar (about 3 cups for a gallon) ginger, peel and spices. let it cool until tepid. pour it into a gallon jar or crock. top off with cool water. strain the bug into the jar, retaining the ginger (add water and start another.) give it a stir and cover with cheesecloth and set in the pantry. i want to see how alcoholic i can get it – a dark and stormy in a bottle. stay tuned for adventures in carbonation.

kitchen aid

the oven is kaput . she will not start. she beeps forlornly at me, patently ignoring my need to bake the loaf of all-rye, whole grain, essene-style sourdough bread that i just invented because these freaking starters are beginning to drive me insane.

sander’s book is almost fully dry, if a bit… puffy. the freezer schtick worked. as expected he had sage advice on sourdough starters which in essence is: don’t freak out, they just need to be fed regularly and discard more than you think you need to discard before feeding. he does a bit of the measuring and weighing but nothing extreme. i think of the prospectors heading west during the california gold rush and cannot imagine that they spent time weighing and measuring and marking their mason jars with tape. the starter probably lived in a can in some hairy old codger’s spare boot in a cool spot in a filthy wagon. so i’m not overly fussed.

a bit of research reveals that the famous san francisco sourdough DOES stem from the gold rush era and that boudin bakery can trace its starter back to 1849. sourdough has been a form of leaven since the dawn of time – or at least the dawn of bread. in france pain au levain has been made by the poilâne family since 1932. (another fine example of a family craft business.) rye bread has traditionally been leavened by sourdough because rye lacks sufficient gluten and the acidic nature of the starter does something or another to do with amylase that allows the dough to gel and therefore rise more effectively.

the whole thing started with the idea of adding sprouted rye berries to the eventual rye loaves for which i was making all of this @#&%@ starter. having gone through a raw phase that involved much sprouting and fermenting and dehydrating (way too much. four days to create a meal…. hmmmm. hey! no.) i am familiar with sprouting grains. so i soaked and sprouted a mass of rye berries. lovely. this is when the starters began to look a bit peaked. so i gave them a big fat feeding in preparation for using them…. and then the oven went down. so the rye sprouted a bit more than i actually intended. remembering my raw days and… rawing… classes, (at OHI in lemon grove, ca – perilously close to san diego) i decided to make rejuvelac, a probiotic beverage made by adding water to rye (or wheat) sprouts and letting it ferment for a few days. it is apparently quite good for you but somewhat nasty tasting however it is…. essentially a starter.

i decided to add rejuvelac to one of the starters for giggles. et voila, it went berserk. so now i have two starters going, one rejuvelac-based and one conventional one. oh and the one in the fridge made of the leavings from maintaining the other starters. the house is a fiesta of yeasts.

while waiting for the kitchenaid oven repair guy who is conveniently scheduled to come between 1 and 5PM today i decided to just make a bloody bread, in a quasi-essene (look it up) style. which is to say, i ground up the sprouted rye berries with rejuvelac. then i created a dry mix of 1 cup rye flour with 1/2 cup flaxseed meal, 2 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt, one teaspoon of xanthan gum and two teaspoons of tapioca flour (the latter two for stretchiness in the absence of the tons of gluten from wheat.) into the wet i dumped half of the rejuvelac starter from the fridge (after warming it up) a glob of barley malt, some soaked golden flaxseeds (for more gooey-ness.), a bit more salt and i chickened out an added a packet of yeast. mixing it by hand and adding rye flour as needed it became decidedly… stretchy! and it is proofing really nicely! huzzah.

an all-rye, mostly sourdough, whole grain, essene style dough

i’m thinking it can proof for a couple of hours and then i can form and rest the dough and maybe even shape the loaves by which time the oven will be fixed and we will have bread for dinner. if not i will have to make it into crackers and dehydrate the fucker. stay tuned.

the bread came out well. i like the nutty chewiness of the rye berries. it is truly a peasant bread of the old world – one slice is pretty much a meal. frank has asked for a non-grainy one – more like the rye bread of his childhood. i’ll indulge him. meanwhile here are the first loaves:

a meal in a slice


an update on the rye bread mission. i made two plain rye loaves a few days ago and they got the frank’s-childhood-seal-of-approval: moist, dark-crusted, pale grey… it too is really good. and all without a recipe. i am pretty psyched.

i love anything that comes in a tube

we had ham and rye sandwiches last night after we got back from the la cienega gallery scrum. and luckily the german mustard arrived last week. all is right in the world.

the lion of mustards



upstate ny or, what exactly is a ramp?

we are trying to get mark ruffalo for a role in a film i am putting together. director x worked with him years ago and and sent him a note last week and casting director y has submitted to his “team” at WME but i just discovered that he lives in upstate new york, maybe 15 miles from where we had a country house when i was a kid. can i work the roscoe, ny fly fishing capital of the world connection? i am contemplating.

when i was a kid we used to go foraging in the woods near the house. wandering around in the spring near the stream across the road from the house, i would encounter these onion-y smelling grasses which i would fling away in horror: i hate raw onions. at the time i just thought they were, well, vile onion-y smelling grass but now i know that they were ramps. ramps are big (if not new) news in culinary circles these days and spring menus from momofuku to lucques are rife with ramp-oriented pickles and jams and sautés. my grandfather loved them and would send us out to pick them but i don’t remember what he would do with them. probably just eat them raw. blech.

rather embarrassingly, for years i thought that fiddlehead ferns were ramps:

garlic scapes, however, i know all about. i see mounds of them at the korean market for a short period during the spring and make a  pesto out of them with pistachios instead of pine nuts.

garlic scape pesto

garlic scapes

olive oil

shelled, toasted pistachio nuts


blend it all together. i’m wondering if pistachio OIL would be an interesting swap or addition. must try. now i am off to take gunther to the body shop. some dizzy bitch ran into him while frank was driving a few weeks ago.


i started another longterm project a few months ago when we got back from berlin: rumtopf (or rum pot.) in between movies and meetings at the berlinale, frank and i went for lunch at rogacki, the amazing deli in charlottenburg.

beyond the sausage and smoked fish porn, there are various stations where you can order food and a glass of wine as well as a cafeteria line featuring most prominently, big tranches of fried fish and three (three!!) types of potato salad. as you move along there are pickled cucumbers, “tartar sauce” (more like a dill-y quark) and an assortment of desserts. one of the desserts was a yellow pudding with a brilliant crimson sauce. the pudding turned out to be bavarian cream and the sauce was a mélange of red fruits. most interesting was the texture – decidedly seed-y, quite, in fact: gritty. i had no idea what it was until we were looking for dessert one night at diener and the brilliantly surly waitress suggested the only dessert they have: röte grütze. in a quick back and forth it was established that röte grütze is not rumtopf which is another german red fruit concoction that i learned about from a former german flame’s parents. a winter holiday delicacy, rumtopf is a crock into which all of the red fruits of summer are added along with rum and sugar. starting in the spring with strawberries and moving through the summer, raspberries, blueberries, red currants and anything else that looks good are layered into the crock and laced with rum and sugar. then it sits through the fall to be revealed in the days leading up to christmas. the boozy red syrup and fruit can be poured over ice cream and cake or as i intend: eaten deliriously with a spoon.

i made röte grütze when we got back and also took a foray into bavarian cream which is remarkably easy: gelatin-fortified creme anglaise with whipped cream folded in.  the “red grits” are comprised of raspberries, cherries, strawberries, blackberries and red currants cooked down with tapioca starch (some traditional recipes call for sago.) the “grits” are the seeds of the raspberries, blackberries and currants. i love the crunchy sensation along with the tartness of the pudding. frank hates it and keeps asking if i can make it without the grits part which is sort of not the point, but i will give it a try.

so i’ve put up a rum pot and it has been sitting since february with the occasional addition. today i added a bunch of pluots left over from last week’s csa. it already smells and looks pretty good: i tried a strawberry, it was intact, translucent, sweet and totally alcoholic. yum.


mystery clam

our new pets aka mystery clam

ok. most people do not eat their pets so it is perhaps unwise to call a bowl full of manila clams intended for a nice dish of clams and chorizo, pets. but as they sat in a bowl of salt water and purged themselves overnight, they became sort of perky and endearing. they spat water all over the fridge and later all over the counter and once in my eye. frank said he felt a bit guilty because they were so cute… and then we ate them.

clams and chorizo

manila clams

spanish chorizo – diced

white beans

tomato paste

onion, garlic

white wine

olive oil

smoked paprika

cilantro and parsley

very al dente pasta (i used corn penne because that is what we had)

make a sofrito with the onions, garlic, tomato paste and olive oil. add the chorizo, white beans and more smoked paprika as necessary. cook it down and adjust seasonings. deglaze with wine, then add the pasta and a bit of its cooking liquid and amalgamate, allowing the pasta to further cook in the sauce. drain and add the clams, turning the whole scenario over and over as the clams open. remove any unopened clams, drizzle with olive oil, throw over the parsley and cilantro and serve immediately.

curds and whey

“it’s really good but it took three days to make,” opines frank from his post on the sofa blogging on HIS website. he has something like 1000 hits and 47 whole followers on twitter. i have six. one of whom is frank.

i explain that the whole dealie here is that i am making food that takes time to achieve in an effort to a) prove that good things are worth waiting for and b) distract myself from the hideous waiting game that seems to be the life of the hollywood producer. we had excellent indian food in a mini-mall in temple city with malcolm last week, so i was inspired to make paneer.

paneer is the fresh white cheese that comes prepared with spinach (saag paneer) or green peas (mattar paneer) among other veg. it is shockingly easy to make and while one is at it one can make chena which is a finer-grained version of paneer used to make sweets, specifically rasgulas, rasmalai and chum chums: essentially cheese dumplings soaked in cardamom and rose-flavored syrup or half and half. yum… syrup. i’ve eaten half of them.

take a gallon of whole milk and bring it close to the boil. add about 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice, stir and turn off the heat. in 15 minutes or so the milk curds will separate from the whey. strain it into a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth. save the whey. or don’t. i have two liters of whey sitting here. i thought i was being housewifely but who can handle that much whey? i’m giving it to the roses. hang the cheesecloth wrapped curds over a bowl for a couple of hours or overnight. i took about 1/3 out to make chena and pressed the rest into a disk and weighted it down between two cutting boards overnight. et voila: paneer. really only two days prep. frank decides it looks like tofu and begins to take umbrage but i explain that it is cheese and therefore acceptable for human consumption.

i’m thinking dal mahkini and saag paneer with rice pilaf for brunch tomorrow and korean bbq on monday. i wanted to do a clams and chorizo thing this weekend but there is so much $@#$%!^* food in the fridge (and in the pantry and on the shelves and on every available surface in the kitchen) that the clams will have to wait.

saag paneer

cubed paneer

spinach – a lot


garlic/ginger puree


garam masala


cumin seeds – fried in ghee or toasted


heavy cream

lemon juice

steam the spinach if only to get it down to a manageable volume. brown the paneer in ghee and set aside. it will probably stick, but will loosen up after it sits for a few. sauté the onions, garlic and ginger in ghee. add cayenne and garam masala, salt it and cook it down. when it looks correct add the paneer and the spinach. i use kitchen shears to cut the spinach up right in the pan. some like it pureed but i wanted to try for more texture. mix and fry and taste for seasoning. add salt and pepper. add heavy cream and cook it down some more. add toasted or fried cumin seeds and amalgamate. the cream will thicken, the flavors will take a second to meld. finish with a dash of lemon juice. i think it’s better the next day.



kimchi-making time

facebook cracks me up. i spent all morning “live posting” on the face – sharing my kimchi-making fun with my 170 friends. how much more fun would it have been to have simply invited the 4 or 5 who were paying attention to come over and hang out while i did my thing?

so starting at about 10:30 i dove into the kimchi situation. yesterday was all about prep: washing and salting. i did salt for quite a bit longer than most of the recipes i checked out suggested, leaving the three elements (radish, cucumber and napa cabbage) to salt overnight. i rinsed each once before i went to bed but they were still plenty salty and giving water this morning.

i decided to make three different kimchis: pogi baechu – a “white” kimchi with only jalapeños for spice; oi-sobagi – cucumbers stuffed with daikon and scallions in a red chili paste; and chonggak – young radishes and their greens in a fish-sauce-based red chili paste.

the most interesting element is a “paste” made from glutinous rice and water (or brine in some cases.) this is what binds the spice mixture and make it stick nicely to the veg. i used the hand blender in lieu of mincing because i was feeling shortcut-y.

now they ferment. the cucumbers for the least amount of time, the radish for the most (i’m guessing.) then it will be banchan time!