Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spiral Sliced Ham Steam Roasted in the Pressure Cooker

When I tell people about how quick and easy it is to cook all kinds of foods in today's modern pressure cookers, a ham -- gammon to my friends across the sea -- is probably not something they've ever thought about, and certainly not a spiral cut ham. Those who have tried to pressure cook a ham, most likely drowned it in water, boiled it to death, and then proudly served that rubbery ham at dinner. Eeek!

Let me show you a better way

The Steam Roasting method is an excellent way to cook meats in the dry, superheated steam of the modern pressure cooker with their precision pressure valves. Yes, I said 'dry'. When foods are elevated above a minimum amount of water, the steam is actually very dry so the surface of the food stays drier too. The meat looks more like it was cooked in the oven when you Steam Roast rather than boiling it.

For this recipe I'm using a 4lb. fully cooked spiral cut ham, this cut of ham that is very popular and readily available in every supermarket. The directions say to cook in the oven for 18 minutes per pound at 325°F., or about 1 hour and 12 minutes, but by using the pressure cooker, I'm going to cut that down to -- wait for it! -- just 14 minutes! Why, you ask in amazement... how is this miracle possible?

Well, it really very simple. If you look closely at any spiral cut ham, you'll see that it's not a solid piece of meat like a whole ham, but just a stack of thin slices of ham that are barely held together by a minimal attachment to the hambone. So essentially, we are only cooking a bunch of thin ham slices until they are heated all the way through to the bone in the middle... minutes, yes?

Place the ham cut side down in a steamer basket to make it easier to lift it out of the cooker. Most pressure cookers come with such accessories, but if you don't have one, then just use the foil Helper Handles under the ham instead.

I brushed on a little sweet/hot mustard over the surface of my ham to help keep the edges moist. Try some natural fruit preserves made without added sugar -- blackberry mixed with hot mustard is really good -- but any sort of glaze adds a nice flavor and appearance. If you like to use jams, honey, maple syrup or molasses, remember that the heat will just make the sugars melt and run off. The trick then, is to wait until the ham comes out of the pressure cooker and then brush on your sugary glazes and pop it under the broiler for a few minutes. This way you you can keep basting as the sugars caramelize.

Ready for more?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Potatoes are an Irish staple,  sometimes referred to as “Irish Ice Cream". With St. Patrick's Day just around the corner, what could be better than a recipe for that most iconic of Irish food, colcannon. I thought I'd show you a great way to try kale with a different twist on this traditional potato and cabbage dish from the Emerald Isle. Kale is related to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collards and Brussels sprouts, so if you like any of those veggies, you will love the milder taste of kale.

To most people, kale, or "farmers cabbage" as my grandma called it, is just an ornamental decoration seen in supermarket display cases, or the useless plate garnish that we toss aside at restaurants. With its ruffled, deep green leaves, kale is a pretty vegetable, but it also has a tender texture and a delicate, mild and slightly sweet taste. It’s a great way to introduce greens to your dinner table.

Colcannon is traditional peasant fare of cabbage mixed in roughly smashed potatoes with lots of butter, salt, and pepper. Intended to be hearty and filling, this is cheap food and it's easy to make and also very tasty too, but my recipe substitutes shredded kale for ordinary cabbage, giving the potatoes a wonderfully festive and speckled green appearance.

There are many varieties of kale, so you'll find it available throughout the year. Before cooking, do a thoroughly good job in washing each leaf in a sink of cool running water to remove any sand, dirt or little hitchhikers that may have hidden in the leaves. Sort the frilly leaves and discard any parts that are yellow, limp or bruised. Here, I use kitchen scissors to cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Both the leaves and the stems can be eaten, so I'll freeze the stem parts for another day.

This dish has enough personality to stand up to all kinds of personal touches, so don't hesitate to make it your own by adding sour cream, sautéed leeks, onions, chives, or bits of leftover ham, sausage or bacon. Here's how I did it:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Grandma's Sweet Buttermilk Cornbread in a Pressure Cooker

There are hundreds of different cornbread recipes, and each family has their own cherished version, so you've probably been baking cornbread for years. Me too!

There was a hot pan of cornbread on our supper table almost every night… except that ours might have been cooked in the pressure cooker just as often as in the oven. It's one of the recipes that didn't make it into my cookbook. Judging from all the requests I get for about cooking cakes and bread in the pressure cooker, its time to correct that.

I learned how to cook standing on a chair beside my grandmother in her big farm kitchen. As with so many of the foods she prepared, there was no written recipe and the ingredients often varied according to what she had on hand, and cornbread was no exception.

Use a large enough insert pan to allow plenty of extra
room for your cornbread to rise.

This type of quick bread is very popular throughout the United States, and if you're like me, you have lots of good memories of eating warm, buttery cornbread with the big bowl of hot soup or beans on cold winter days. Depending on where your roots are, cornbread recipes may have a mixture of flour and cornmeal or only cornmeal, many include buttermilk, and then there's white or yellow cornmeal, and bacon drippings or butter, and the endless debate about sugar.

There's serious dispute amongst cornbread connoisseurs about the origins of sweetened, cornbread… and even if such a concoction should be called cornbread or corn-cake. Self-styled experts claim that "real" Southern style cornbread has no sugar, and that it was "them dang Northerners" that adulterated the purity of genuine cornbread with the horrid addition of sugar.

The lid transforms the insert pan into a mini oven within the
pressure cooker when it is elevated above the waterline.

Now, my family has deep Southern roots, and my crotchety old kin folks were great authorities on the local lore, the quaint old customs and the odd bits of historical trivia. "Pshaw!" grandpa Gaylord said indignantly. "We always made sweet cornbread cuz we had tons of cheap sugar. North of the Mason Dixon line, they made cornbread plain 'cause they couldn't get sugar until after the Civil War."

There you have it; sweet cornbread is indeed a fine old Southern heritage recipe, and it must be true cuz my elderlies say it's so!

The lid also protects the delicately crisp crust on the cornbread
from droplets of condensation that form as the pressure cooker
cools during the Natural Release cycle.

If I remember my grade school geography lessons, I suspect that my grandpa was right. Since the pre-civil war days, sugar cane has always been a vital crop in the South. With sugar so cheap and plentiful, naturally it would have been used in great quantities in southern kitchens, but perhaps not so much in the North where it had to be imported and shipped at some considerable expense. Sugar would have become quite scarce as the war between the North and South raged on, so it's probably unlikely that it would have been a common ingredient in Yankee-style cornbread.

Back in the 50s, my grandma would often entertain us younguns with stories about the 'olden days'. She maneuvered around her kitchen like a commanding general, brandishing her big old wooden spoon as she went about tasting, stirring, and learnin' us cookin' while dispensing lessons in life along with the colorful oral history about our family roots. Her recipes reflect many favorites of Southern cuisine, and they document a long-standing -- and insane -- love affair with sugar. Anyone who's ever sampled Southern cooking knows that vast amounts of sugar is poured into everything from Sweet Tea, to sticky barbecued foods, and its even sprinkled on corn on the cob and watermelon!

Cooked without any additional zero-pressure steaming period,
my finished cornbread has nearly doubled in height,
rising high despite cooking at 15psi.

Now that I've settled the great debate about sweet cornbread, let me show you another great cooking technique for the pressure cooker: BAKING. This recipe uses the PIP (Pan In Pot) cooking method to actually bake the cornbread. I rate this recipe for Intermediate pressure cooker users. If you are already using my PIP recipes, then you'll have no problem trying this. Okay, lets get us some cornbread cookin' in that pressure cooker!
Start by pouring the cornmeal batter into a greased metal pan that will fit inside your pressure cooker. You can also cook this recipe in a silicone baking pan, but a metal pan will give the cornbread a light, delicate crust that I really like.

Let's get on with the recipe:
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