Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cooking Under Pressure

No, I'm not a contestant on a cooking based reality show. But I was using my pressure cooker to help me make dinner last night and I started thinking about this kitchen gadget. Yes, to me it is a gadget, simply a time-saving gadget. I bought this electronic gizmo almost a year ago and have used it a handful of times. Because I don't use it that often, each time I have to relearn how to use it and a couple of times I started out incorrectly so it ended up being more of a hassle than a help. No saving time on those nights. Last night I got it right though (finally!). Which was good because using it was just the first step in the Easy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas recipe I was making. Easy it was, after having all the ingredients assembled. I hate those recipes that say prep time is 10 minutes but call for cooked chicken. Unless you have leftover cooked chicken on hand, prep time is NOT 10 minutes. This is where my pressure cooker comes in handy. You can put frozen chicken in and about 15 minutes later, you have cooked chicken, ready to shred. And depending on the liquid that you add in with it, you could have flavored, cooked chicken, ready to shred.

Of course, I don't like chicken cooked this way normally, but if I need it for a recipe like Easy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas the cleanup is a whole lot easier than sauteing chicken on the stove. When you cook chicken in the pressure cooker, it comes out similar to poached chicken and poaching is a cooking method that I have never been crazy about. I don't go in for poached eggs despite the whole cache of Eggs Benedict. When I was in culinary school, we of course had to learn poaching. Poaching is not boiling! While I am not crazy about poaching, boiling would be much worse. The trick with poaching is keeping the poaching liquid at 170F. One thing that I thought poached very well was salmon and I have in fact made a poached salmon that was superbly flavored, all due to the poaching liquid. This is a recipe I made only once, years ago, and I still remember that meal. That's a good recipe. But I digress, back to pressure cooking.

My Grandmother used her old fashioned, stove-top pressure cooker all the time to make simple things like potatoes or carrots. To her, it was just like any other pot, it just had that wobbly thing on top. I've always been scared of those kind of pressure cookers. Maybe from the horror stories I've heard of how you have to be careful or you'll get a horrible steam burn. The new, electronic ones are made with all sorts of safety features so you can't get hurt - if it's under pressure, you can't open the lid, etc.

When I'm not using my pressure cooker to cook up chicken to shred for a casserole or tacos, I'm using it as a super fast crock pot. I love my crock pot and use it more than the pressure cooker, but if it's 4:30 in the afternoon and you want to eat the same day, you have to go for the pressure cooker. Just throw everything in, still frozen even, turn the lid on, and in about 15 - 20 minutes you have dinner. And like the crock pot, once it's going you can do other stuff. Of course, make sure it is going before walking away and coming back 15 minutes later to find you didn't have it set up correctly and you are still at square one (this has happened to me more than once).

I bought my pressure cooker on impulse, it wasn't a thought out or researched purchase. But it has broadened my cooking options. And I have a cookbook that has bread machine, crock pot, pressure cooker, and clay pot recipes in it. Hmmm, maybe I need a clay pot. Any opinions on clay pot cooking out there, please let me know what you think of that cooking method.

Here are two very different but both tasty recipes from my collection.

Easy Chicken & Cheese Enchiladas (cut from the newspaper)
Prep: 10 minutes Bake 40 minutes Makes 6 servings

1 can (10 3/4 oz) Condensed cream of chicken soup (I use Campbell's 98% Fat Free)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup salsa
2 tsp. chili powder
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
6 - 6" flour tortillas
1 small tomato chopped
1 green onion sliced

1. Stir the soup, sour cream, salsa, and chili powder in a medium bowl.

2. Stir one cup of the soup mixture above, the chicken, and cheese in a large bowl.

3. Divide the chicken mixture among the tortillas. Roll the tortillas and place them seam side up in a shallow baking dish. Pour the remaining soup mixture over the filled tortillas.

4. Cover and bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until the enchiladas are hot and bubbling. Top with the tomato and onion.

I increased almost all the ingredients and also added a can of corn and a can of pinto beans to the chicken mixture. I ended up with 12 tortillas which was plenty for a couple of meals for two people plus some leftovers for lunch.

Salmon a la Michael (from MasterCook cooking software package)
Serves 4

4 - 8 oz fresh salmon fillets
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley sprigs
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 oranges, quartered
1 whole lemon, quartered
1 whole lime, quartered
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 gallons water
12 egg yolks
1 pound clarified butter, at 120 degrees
1 pinch salt, to taste
1/8 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest

1. Prepare the Citrus Court Stock --

In a large pot, lightly saute onion, carrot, and celery. Add water, bay leaf, parsley, oranges, lemon, and lime. Bring to a boil, simmer for 25 minutes and strain. Put strained stock in pan large enough to hold salmon fillets. Keep liquid simmering.

2. Prepare the Orange Hollandaise --

Whip the egg yolks with orange juice until light and frothy.
The butter must be clarified and at 120 degrees for the next step.
Slowly add butter while constantly whipping the egg mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Note: I've always made Hollandaise over a hot water bath so if you are comfortable making Hollandaise I would use whatever method you are familiar with.)

3. Poaching the Salmon --

Place the 4 salmon fillets in the simmering Citrus Court Stock. Salmon must be poached for 8 - 10 minutes. Remove from the stock and coat with the Orange Hollandaise.

Garnish with orange zest and serve.

I don't think I made Hollandaise sauce when I made this salmon. It's not a particularly favorite sauce of mine (another reason for not being so thrilled with Eggs Benedict.) I don't remember how I served it, just that the flavor of the salmon from being poached in the citrus stock was fabulous. And to be honest, a Hollandaise sauce would complement that very well, but I don't care for it well enough to make it.

Monday, October 13, 2008


In continuing my showcase of Hollywood's greatest stars and this month particularly, horror film stars, let us learn a little more about Bela Lugosi.

Best known for his role of Dracula, Bela actually began his acting career far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Bela was born Be'la Ferenc Dezso Blasko in Lugos, Austrian-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania) in 1882. He began his stage career in 1901 and became the number one ranked actor in Hungary. It was at this time that he changed his name to Lugosi. He toured with the National Theater of Budapest and was well known for his versatility. With the onset of WWI, he volunteered to fight for his country, even though actors were exempt from military service. It was after his military service that he first began appearing in films and he was also active in the actor's union. With the change of the regime during the Hungarian Revolution, he was forced to flee to Germany where he made a few films before coming to America.

In America, he pursued his acting career in the theater with a Hungarian stock company since he did not speak English. In his first English speaking role he learned all his lines phonetically, and received rave reviews. He continued working both theater and film through the twenties and received his big break when he played the part of the Count in the Broadway production of Dracula in 1927.

When Universal Studios was looking to cast the film version of Dracula, they wanted Lon Cheney to play Dracula. His death forced them to look for a replacement and they settled on Lugosi who made the part his own. Dracula (1931) was the first talking horror movie. It launched Lugosi as a star in the horror genre. He went on to appear in several horror movies, a few of which include Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), White Zombie (1932), Island of the Lost Souls (1933), The Black Cat (1934), Mark of the Vampire (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Devil Bat (1940), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), The Return of the Vampire (1944), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1949), and posthumously in Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).

With his role of Dracula, Lugosi personified evil and defined our image of the vampire. This was not a grotesque, misshapen monster, but an aristocratic, sophisticated one. An interesting fact is that Lugosi did not wear fangs in this original portrayal of the Count. Lugosi became so associated with the part that he was not able to break out of the horror genre, despite his obvious ability to play other roles. Lugosi died in 1956 and was even buried wearing the Dracula cape (this was at the request of his wife and son). While viewing the body, it is said that fellow Hungarian actor Peter Lorre quipped to Vincent Price "Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart, just in case?"

Enjoy this tribute to Bela Lugosi and his work.

To see my post on Lon Cheney, click here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gettysburg - Fields of Courage

If you've never been to Gettysburg Battlefield, you really need to go. Every American should go and take the time to drive around the now quiet fields, and learn some of the personal stories of those brave men who met there, three days in July 1863. I had never been to Gettysburg, despite my living within a four hour or less drive for most of my life. But that all changed this September when we took a trip to Central PA to enjoy some of the beautiful fall weather and take a trip back in history.

Don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with a history lesson with dates and regiment positions. And neither did the CD set and field book we purchased to act as our guide. It took us along the National Park auto tour stops (with just a few diversions and adjustments) and we thoroughly enjoyed this audio tour at our own pace. The National Park brochure says to allow 3 to 4 hours for following the auto tour. We completed it over a day and a half, but we do have a baby who at 11 months probably slowed us down a little, although I doubt we would have completed it too much faster if it was just us adults. There are also numerous bus tours with licensed guides if you prefer to let someone else do the driving. This might be advisable in the busy summer months when the streets get rather crowded. You can also hire a licensed guide for your individual party. I'm not sure if they drive or if you drive, but this would be worth it if you are really interested in learning detailed stories and facts about the three day battle. These guides are extremely knowledgeable, they have to be, they have to pass numerous written and oral exams in order to become licensed. The tours are not limited to car or bus. I saw walking tours and tours by horseback advertised as well. There is a tour for everyone.

The Pennsylvania Memorial

Even if you are not on a tour, you will know when you are driving through the battlefield grounds because there are monuments and markers everywhere. The first of these was placed in 1878 on Little Round Top, marking the spot where Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent was mortally wounded. The placing of memorials by both northern and southern entities continued even in recent times with the Tennessee State Memorial not being completed until 1982. There are many regimental memorials from the northern states, however the southern states decided to create one memorial from each state to honor the sacrifice of their soldiers. This decision was made in part due to the lack of funds from the south but there was also some degree of opposition from the northern veterans in the early years after the war. In the early nineteen hundreds the park service erected 'without praise and without censure', the history of the Army of the Potomac (the north) and the Army of Northern Virginia (the south). These markers and tablets of bronze and granite equally represent both sides of the battle, unlike the regimental monuments.

The Eternal Light Peace Memorial, was dedicated at the seventy-fifth anniversary of the battle by President FDR, 'to the spirit of the valiant men, with no division of sides, who here, such a long time ago, made the supreme sacrifice for a cause so dear to them'. This memorial, with it's inscription 'Peace Eternal in a Nation United', is very moving and was just one of many stops where I could barely keep control of my emotions. I suppose it is possible to take in the scenic rural vistas of Gettysburg in a completely carefree manner, but not for me. There were several times where I felt uncomfortable taking pictures, knowing the horrific fighting and deaths which occurred right where I was standing. When stopped at The Wheatfield, the site of more than 4,000 dead and wounded, I could literally feel the spirits of the dead, making it hard for me to breath. And when at the site of the Union line, looking across the open ground in the direction that Pickett's Charge came from on the final day of fighting, I could only think of the courage of all those that fought and how they all deserved to be honored.

The Eternal Light Peace Memorial

This was the bloodiest battle North America has ever seen with 51,000 dead, wounded, or captured. Four months after it was over, President Lincoln attended the dedication of the National Cemetery there, and gave the famed Gettysburg Address, a part of which I quote here.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. "

Gettysburg National Cemetery

This small piece of Pennsylvanian land is indeed hallowed ground. I know I felt it with every step I took there. I don't mean to sound like I was gloomy on this trip, I really enjoyed our time in Gettysburg, learning a bit of history, being in the out of doors, enjoying the scenic rural vistas, even getting in some geocaching and letterboxing. But there was always the shadow of the men, real people, brought to life through letters, first hand accounts, and photographs, hanging in the air, reminding me of the reality of Gettysburg and helping define what Gettysburg means to me. If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be 'Courage'.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lon Chaney - Master of Makeup

October is the start of the Holiday season for me. October has, of course, Halloween, followed in the following months those other great holidays of Thanksgiving and finally, Christmas. One of the great October traditions in our house is to watch old horror films all throughout the month, culminating in a marathon session the weekend closest to Halloween. And I do mean old films, no Nightmare on Elm Street for me, I've never seen it. I like the black and white originals, not the special effect laden remakes. To celebrate this I thought I would highlight some of the great horror stars of the past throughout the month (and perhaps beyond), starting in the silent era with Lon Chaney.

Lon Chaney was born in 1883 to deaf mute parents. He became skilled in the art of pantomime in order to communicate with them. In 1905 he married a singer, Cleva Creighton, and they had a son, Creighton (aka Lon Chaney Jr.), the next year. At this time they lived in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. By 1910 they had moved to West Coast and were divorced in 1914.

In 1913 he began working for Universal Studios. In 1915 he remarries and young Creighton comes to lives with him. In 1918, after over a hundred films, he leaves Universal because they refuse to give him a raise.

His first big break comes in 1919, when he plays a villain in Riddle Gwane. He began working at Universal again and was receiving more parts. After this he played a cripple in The Miracle Man (1919), which proved a great success for him.

He started to appear in many films which required elaborate makeup and contortions of his body, makeup which he designed himself. In The Penalty (1920), he wore a leather harness, binding his feet to his thighs and walking on his knees, to portray a legless criminal. His costume and makeup for his role of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) included a hump and harness which twisted his body in the pain of the character. On top of this 50 - 70 pounds of equipment he wore a skin tight rubber suit covered with animal hair. This was clearly getting into the mind AND the body of the character. His elaborate and painful makeup continued with his role in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), but it also secured him film immortality. Who is not horrified at the moment his mask is removed and his horribly disfigured face revealed.

In the later part of the twenties he did many films with MGM Studios including The Unknown (1927), with Joan Crawford. He did not want to make the transition to the talkie films, and made only one, which was also his final film, The Unholy Three (1930). He died at the age of 47, in August of 1930, of a throat hemorrhage.

Enjoy this video tribute the "The Man of A Thousand Faces".

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Happy 250th Birthday Pittsburgh!

Pittsburgh's 250th birthday celebration kicks off this Saturday, October 4th and will be continued for the next two months. There will be all sorts of activities at Point State Park and on Pittsburgh's North Shore, including a Flotilla Cruise on the rivers, the Fort Pitt Museum Historical Experience, live music, fireworks, and much more. You can find all the details at theImagine Pittsburgh 250 website.

Birthdays are a great time to remember beginnings and so I will share with you the story of the birth of a great city and it's name. In November of 1758 the British attacked the French Fort Duquesne, which the French burned before they abandoned it. It was in this vicinity that the British constructed Fort Pitt, named for William Pitt, the British prime minister. The surrounding settlement was referred to as Pittsborough. I also found references which say it was referred to as Pittsbourgh. At any rate, the current spelling of Pittsburgh is found on a survey map made for the Penn family in 1769. This spelling was used in the official charter of the city in 1816, although printing errors on official copies have the name listed as Pittsburg - sans h. In 1891 the United States Board on Geographic Names was standardizing place names and the spelling of Pittsburg was used for the next twenty years. Stubborn Pittsburghers refused to make the change and the h was restored in 1911.

As an aside, on my recent trip to Central PA, I was noticing many towns with the -burg suffix and wondered of the origin. -borough is the English variant, -burgh is the Scottish, and -burg is German.

Fort Pitt was situated at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, forming the Ohio River. These are the three rivers of Pittsburgh and one of the reasons control of this area was important to the French and British.

In 1762 a coal seam was discovered. Many communities sprang up around coal mines in the Pittsburgh area. The age of industry began in earnest around 1812 with iron, rope and boat manufacturing. Pittsburgh's iron factories supplied the Union army during the Civil War with warships, armor plate, and other materials. After the war, glass factories flourished. In 1873, Andrew Carnegie opened his first steel mill and in 1888, ALCOA began producing a new metal - aluminum. In the 1980's, Pittsburgh had to redefine itself with the loss of the steel industry. Health care and high technology replaced the old steel industry. Today, Pittsburgh is still surviving and going strong. So help celebrate the past 250 years.

The John Heinz History Center is a great place to learn about the history, ethnicity and industry of Pittsburgh.

To conclude this birthday post on Pittsburgh, here are some famous firsts which occurred in Pittsburgh. These are from
  • First Heart, Liver, Kidney Transplant - December 3, 1989
    The first simultaneous heart, liver and kidney transplant was done at Presbyterian-University Hospital.
  • The First Internet Emoticon - 1982
    The Smiley :-) was the first Internet emoticon, created by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Scott Fahlman.
  • First Robotics Institute - 1979
    The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University was established to conduct basic and applied research in robotics technologies relevant to industrial and societal tasks.
  • First Mr Yuk Sticker - 1971
    Mr Yuk was created at the Poison Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh after research indicated that the skull and crossbones previously used to identify poisons had little meaning to children who equate the symbol with exciting things like pirates and adventure.
  • First Night World Series Game - 1971
    Game 4 of the 1971 World Series was the first night game in World Series history, a series that Pittsburgh went on to win, 4 games to 3.
  • First Big Mac - 1967
    Created by Jim Delligatti at his Uniontown McDonald's, the Big Mac debuted and was test marketed in three other Pittsburgh-area McDonald's restaurants in 1967. By 1968 it was a mainstay on McDonald's menus throughout the country.
  • First Pull-Tab on Cans - 1962
    The pull-tab was developed by Alcoa and was first used by Iron City Brewery in 1962. For many years, pull-tabs were only used in this area.
  • First Retractable Dome - September 1961
    Pittsburgh's Civic Arena boasts the world's first auditorium with a retractable roof.
  • First U.S. Public Television Station - April 1, 1954
    WQED, operated by the Metropolitan Pittsburgh Educational Station, was the first community-sponsored educational television station in America.
  • First Polio Vaccine - March 26, 1953
    The polio vaccine was developed by Dr. Jonas E. Salk, a 38-year-old University of Pittsburgh researcher and professor.
  • First All-Aluminum Building - ALCOA - August 1953
    The first aluminum-faced skyscraper was the Alcoa Building, a 30-story, 410 foot structure with thin stamped aluminum panels forming the exterior walls.
  • First Zippo Lighter - 1932
    George G. Blaisdell invented the Zippo lighter in 1932 in Bradford, Pennsylvania. The name Zippo was chosen by Blaisdell because he liked the sound of the word "zipper" - which was patented around the same time in nearby Meadville, PA.
  • First Bingo Game - early 1920's
    Hugh J. Ward first came up with the concept of bingo in Pittsburgh and began running the game at carnivals in the early 1920s, taking it nationwide in 1924. He secured a copyright on the game and wrote a book of Bingo rules in 1933.
  • First U.S. Commercial Radio Station - November 2, 1920
    Dr. Frank Conrad, assistant chief engineer of Westinghouse Electric, first constructed a transmitter and installed it in a garage near his home in Wilkinsburg in 1916. The station was licensed as 8KX. At 6 p.m. on Nov. 2, 1920, 8KX became KDKA Radio and began broadcasting at 100 watts from a make-shift shack atop one of the Westinghouse manufacturing buildings in East Pittsburgh.
  • Daylight Savings Time - March 18, 1919
    A Pittsburgh city councilman during the first World War, Robert Garland devised the nation's first daylight savings plan, instituted in 1918.
  • The First Gas Station - December, 1913
    In 1913 the first automobile service station, built by Gulf Refining Company, opened in Pittsburgh at Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in East Liberty. Designed by J. H. Giesey.
  • The First Baseball Stadium in the U.S. - 1909
    In 1909 the first baseball stadium, Forbes Field, was built in Pittsburgh, followed soon by similar stadiums in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and New York.
  • First Motion Picture Theatre - 1905
    The first theater in the world devoted to the exhibition of motion pictures was the "Nickelodeon," opened by Harry Davis on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh.
  • First Banana Split - 1904
    Invented by Dr. David Strickler, a pharmacist, at Strickler's Drug Store in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
  • The First World Series - 1903
    The Boston Pilgrims defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three in baseball's first modern World Series in 1903.
  • First Ferris Wheel - 1892/1893
    Invented by Pittsburgh native and civil engineer, George Washington Gale Ferris (1859-1896), the first Ferris Wheel was in operation at the World's Fair in Chicago. It was over 264 feet high and was capable of carrying more than 2,000 passengers at a time.
  • Long-Distance Electricity - 1885
    Westinghouse Electric developed alternating current, allowing long-distance transmission of electricity for the first time.
  • First Air Brake - 1869
    The first practical air brake for railroads was invented by George Westinghouse in the 1860s and patented in 1869.