16 January 2021

Weekend Cooking: The Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation by BruceWeinstein and Mark Scarbrough

Review of Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation by Bruce Weinstein and Mark ScarbroughI had every intention to write and post this review last week. But after all the events that happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, I really just didn't have it in me to post a cookbook review.

No worries, though, because Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough's Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation (thanks to Voracious Books and the Voracious Ambassador Program for the review copy) can be used all year round.

Let me start with a little background. I've been a pressure cooker fan since the 1990s, relying on my stove top model until about--what?--10 years ago when the electric versions became readily available and readily affordable. I'm still a fan, and have two electrics and my original stove-top pot. I cook under pressure at least once a week.

I was really excited to see a new Instant Pot cookbook from Weinstein and Scarbrough. They've written many cookbooks, have been nominated for James Beard Awards, and have won an IACP award. They know what they're talking about.

The Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation has (as the cover says, 350 new recipes, ranging from breakfasts and snacks to main dishes, sides, and desserts. The recipes are extremely family friendly, appealing to a wide variety of tastes. For each recipe, the authors have indicated whether it is appropriate for a vegetarian, gluten-free, or vegan diet.

Review of Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation by Bruce Weinstein and Mark ScarbroughThings I like about the recipes: easy to find ingredients, clear step-by-step instructions, tips and notes to help you succeed, and directions for the full range of Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) sizes. I appreciate the "Beyond" boxes, which contain variations, serving tips, and/or ways to use leftovers.

In addition, Weinstein and Scarbrough include recipes to help you learn new techniques, like pot-in-pot cooking, baking, poaching, and stacked cooking. They also help you learn to use models that include an air-fryer lid.

Things I need to point out: The cookbook contains very few photographs of the finished dishes, and these are all found in a single color insert section. Some of the recipes would be just as easy and maybe even quicker if made on the stove top in a conventional pot or saucepan. This is a personal issue for me. I love my pressure cookers, but I don't use them for every possible dish. On the other hand, I can imagine several situations in which being able to cook almost everything in a single electric small appliance could be a bonus (RV camping, studio apartment, for example).

Finally, for a couple of the recipes I tried (not all), I cut the time at pressure by a couple of minutes to get the results that suit our tastes. How did I know to do this? Experience. If you cook something in your pressure cooker and the veggies are too soft, then next time cut the time by a minute or two and see if you're happier. As with all new techniques and skills, there is a learning curve.

I cooked quite a bit out of Weinstein and Scarbrough's The Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation. Usually I followed the directions exactly, but in some cases, I used their recipes as inspiration. I made the Lemon, Baby Kale, and Goat Cheese Risotto (except we used Parmesan cheese instead), Balsamic Beef Stew (a winner, with no tweaks), Millennial-Friendly Pasta e Fagioli Soup, Grandmother-Friendly Potato Soup (with the called-for cabbage), and Ground Beef and Lentil Soup. I'm curious about making some of the desserts and the casseroles.

Review of Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation by Bruce Weinstein and Mark ScarbroughRecommendation: I recommend The Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough for anyone looking for easy and doable recipes for their electric pressure cooker, and especially those who may be totally new to the Instant Pot. It's also a good resource for experienced users wishing to learn new tricks for their beloved appliance.

The recipe I'm sharing today is for Spiced Poached Pears, which I picked because it's vegan and gluten-free and could easily be adapted to conventional cooking if you don't have a pressure cooker. I'm giving the directions for 5- to 8-quart Instant Pots. The authors suggest a bold red wine or even a sweet Riesling if you don't have cider on hand. Weinstein and Scarbrough serve the pears and syrup over ice cream.

Note: I haven't yet made this recipe. Thanks to Voracious and the Voracious Ambassador Program for the review copy. The scans and recipe are used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders.

Spiced Poached Pears
Serves 4

  • 3 1/2 cups unsweetened apple cider
  • 2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1 small orange
  • One 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 4 firm, ripe bosc or Anjou pears, stemmed, peeled, cored, and halved from top to bottom
Stir the cider, sugar, and vanilla extract in the insert until the sugar dissolves. Push the "stem" ends of the cloves into the orange and drop it into the pot. Add the cinnamon stick too. Nestle the pear halves into this liquid and lock the lid on the pot. Set the pot to pressure cook on high (with the valve closed) for 4 minutes with the keep warm setting off. Hit start.

When the pot has finished cooking, turn it off and let the pressure return to normal naturally, about 25 minutes. Unlatch the pot and open the cooker. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pear halves to a heat-safe storage bowl (do not use plastic). Remove and discard the orange, any cloves that have fallen out, and the cinnamon stick.

Press saute, set on high. Stir constantly as the sauce comes to a simmer. Continue cooking, stirring almost constantly until the sauce has reduced to a thick syrup, about half the volume it was after you removed the pears, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the hot syrup over the pears. Cool to room temperature, cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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04 January 2021

What I Read Last Week

Hello, all. Here is another of my periodic "what have I read lately" posts. I skipped a December roundup, but my thoughts on everything I read in 2020 are available on GoodReads, where I'm BethFishReads.

What to read right nowOne of Our Own by Jane Haddam (Minotaur: Nov. 2020; Dreamscape: 9 hr, 6 min). This is the end of a long series featuring an ex-FBI agent, his wife, and the members of his Philadelphia Armenian American neighborhood. Haddam finished this book just before she died. Note: because I was the copyeditor for the first several entries in this series, the Demarkian books have always held a special place in my heart.

Although this isn't the strongest Demarkian book, Haddam did a fine job concluding the series. Most of the story arcs reached a satisfying ending, though (rightly so) not everything was tied up in a neat bow. I'm sorry to say goodbye to the returning characters whose stories I've followed since the first book was published.

As in most of the Demarkian books, Haddam addresses contemporary sociocultural/sociopolitical issues. In this case, she looks at inner city housing and a real estate magnate, immigration and ICE, foster care, culture clashes, and the changing nature of city neighborhoods. The mystery and side stories are well constructed, complex, and engrossing.

You'll want to start this series from the beginning so you can understand the dynamics between the main characters. For my thoughts on the audiobook, read by David Colacci, see AudioFile Magazine.

What to read right nowThe Children's Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin (Delacorte: Jan. 12; Random House Audio: 11 hr, 25 min). This is a well-researched, though fictionalized, account of the great 1888 blizzard, often referred to as the Children's Blizzard because it struck just when most schools in the upper Midwest were closing for the day. The majority of those schoolchildren failed to made it home or to a safe haven before the blinding snow engulfed them.

The focus of the novel is on two sisters who are schoolteachers in different towns. The women make very different choices for how to tend to the children in their care. We also meet a newspaper man who is forced to think about his role in enticing the unprepared to stake claims on the prairie, and a young girl who was sold by her mother to a childless couple and makes decisions based on her unique situation.

The storm came up so suddenly that people were simply caught unaware and unprepared on the open prairie, where they became lost in the blinding snow, eventually freezing to death. The novel conveys the horrors of the blizzard, why even seasoned settlers were surprised by the snow, and how the storm had lasting effects.

Cassandra Campbell performs the audiobook, adding to the drama and bringing the characters to life. Thanks to the publishers and Libro.fm for review copies in audio and digital media.

What to read right nowUnder the Alaskan Ice by Karen Harper (Mira: Dec. 2020; Harlequin Audio: 9 hr, 9 min). I was attracted to this book because of the premise of the mysterious unmarked private plane that crashes into a frozen Alaskan lake. What I didn't realize, though, was that this mystery had a heavy romance factor. That in and of itself would have been okay, but ultimately I had problems with the writing/style and put the book aside fairly early on.

My primary issue was the number of times the author asks the questions that should be left up to the engaged reader. For example, Harper has one of the characters think through a long list of questions about the plane: Why did it crash? Why now? Why here? and so on. The plotting should have made me ask those questions, without the prompting. This happens more than once. In addition, the young child was little too precocious for my tastes.

I'm a mystery fan and love an Alaskan setting, but this book just didn't click with me. Thanks to the publishers for audio and digital review copies.

What to read right nowSummerwater by Sarah Moss (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: Jan. 12 Macmillan Audio: 4 hr, 27 min). Written almost as linked short stories or vignettes, this slim novel, told over the course of one day, follows about a dozen people who are vacationing in a remote area of Scotland.

At the beginning of the day, which opens with a young mother taking a dawn run, each family is insular, hunkering down in their own cabins or following their own amusements. As we see the day progress through the eyes of different characters, we begin to view the temporary community of strangers as unique individuals, understanding their behavior from a variety of perspectives. By the end of the day, several groups have crossed paths, quarreled, or bonded . . .

The novel is beautifully written. Moss creates an uneasy atmosphere, building a sense of dread beneath what should be a relaxing summer day for the vacationers. This isn't an uplifting story, and some threads are left open-ended. But life isn't always bright and we can't predict how people are going to face their challenges.

The audiobook is read by Morven Christie, who does an excellent job conveying the author's style, building the tension, and subtly distinguishing between the characters. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher and libro.fm for the audio review copy.

What to read right nowThe Effort by Claire Holroyde (Grand Central: Jan. 12; Hachette Audio: 10 hr, 38 min). What happens when a comet is destined to hit Earth? A secret international team is quickly cobbled together to try to figure out a way to deflect the comet's path. Meanwhile, a team of scientists is heading to the North Pole, with a poet and photographer in tow, to try to record the last vestiges of Arctic wildlife and the icy landscape before climate change finally wins.

We follow the individuals from these two groups as the countdown to either the comet's impact or the comet's destruction occurs. We also see what happens afterward.

I liked the premise and the different ways people reacted to the news of the impending death of the world as we know it. This isn't an action-packed story but more a slow burn as individuals rise to the occasion or crumple under hopelessness. In addition, this isn't a feel-good story, but it does give us lots to think about.

This will not be the best book I'll read this year, but I'm glad I read it. This would be a good book club pick because readers will likely have differing opinions about the characters' actions. Worth your while.

The audiobook was read by Jay Ben Markson, whose sense of pacing was good match for this book. Thanks to the publishers for the digital and audio copies of this book.

What to read right nowThe Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage (Back Bay: 2001; Hachette Audio: 8 hr, 15 min). This is a re-issue of a book originally published in 1967 and my first time reading it. It is soon to be a movie.

Set in the 1920s in Montana, this is the story of two brothers, aged 38 and 40. The older, Phil, has always been thought of as the smarter, tougher, more sociable of the two. George is stocky and quiet. The brothers run a successful cattle ranch, living together in their childhood home, which their parents left them when they moved to Salt Lake City.

Strict routines are kept until George suddenly, and without telling Phil, marries Rose, a widow from town, bringing her out to the ranch to make a new home for her and her son. Teenage Peter is bookish, somewhat effeminate, and has trouble connecting with others, but George hopes to be a good stepfather. Phil concocts myriad reasons for disliking and distrusting Rose and Peter and is determined to break up the marriage so life can get back to normal.

Savage writes with power and insight. He provides just enough of the characters' history, through minimal backflashes and memories, to give foundation to the events that unfold after George brings Rose into their home. Chilling and moving. In a way, Savage reminds me of Mishima: through sparse prose, a full and lush story is told. The Power of the Dog will likely be on my best of 2021 list.

This is my first Savage book, but now I must read the rest of his work.

The unabridged audiobook was brilliantly read by Chad Michael Collins. This is my first experience with him, and I was taken in by his pacing, his delivery style, and his ability to build a mood. The afterword (do not miss this!) is read by Annie Proulx, who provides context and thoughts gleaned from several close readings.

Thanks to the publisher and Libro.fm for the audio review copy.

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24 December 2020

Happy Holidays from Beth Fish Reads

Wishing all my friends a happy (and safe and healthy) holiday season. I'll be back in the new year with a 2021 goals post and plenty more Weekend Cooking posts. Thank you all for sticking with me through the years--especially this year. Let's all hope for a better and brighter future.

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22 December 2020

Review: All Creatures Great and Small (PBS, 2021)

Review of PBS All Creatures Great & SmallAmong the wonderful things to look forward to in 2021, is the U.S. premiere of the all new television production of All Creatures Great and Small on PBS Masterpiece, starting January 10 (check your local listings for the exact air time).

If you don't know, the show is based on a series of books written by veterinarian James Herriot and loosely based on his own life, after he joined a small Yorkshire practice owned by Siegfried Farnon. The books are fantastic and well worth your time, but you don't need to have read them to enjoy the PBS series.

Thanks to WGBH Boston, I was able to watch a screener of the series. Let me jump to chase: The production is fantastic! The producers did an excellent job re-creating the look and feel of the late 1930s. The clothes, the cars, and the little details in the houses and pubs all look like they fit the era. The Yorkshire scenery is beautiful, and you might be planning your next vacation before the first episode is over. Better yet, the screenplay nicely follows the beloved books, and fans will recognize many of the incidents, people, and animals.

All the actors captured the essence of their characters. Nicholas Ralph plays James. He is so perfect, it's hard to believe this is Ralph's screen debut. He has a bright future. Samuel West plays Siegfried with a good balance between the veterinarian's outward crustiness and rare moments of overt kindness, and I can't think of a better actor to play Siegfried's fun-loving younger brother Tristan than Callum Woodhouse.

Review of All Creatures Great & SmallThe Farnon's housekeeper is played by Anna Madeley, and the local woman who catches James's eye is played by Rachel Shenton. The women are from different generations with different expectations, though they've both experienced hardship. Each actor brings her character's personality to the fore while avoiding stereotypes.

I loved being transported back into the world of James Herriot (the pseudonym of the real-life James Alfred Wight). This production of All Creatures Great and Small shines. Mark your calendar and get ready to meet all of James's quirky and eccentric neighbors and patients, to laugh at Tristan's antics, and to root for James's success. I can't think of a better way to brighten up the new year.

Take a look at the trailer:

Thanks again to WGBH Boston for the opportunity to watch the series and share my thoughts with you.

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12 December 2020

Weekend Cooking: Xi'an Famous Foods by Jason Wang

Review of Xi'an Famous Foods by Jason WangToday I’m talking about my final Abrams Dinner Party cookbook for 2020. If you’re into foods from western China or if you’ve been to Xi’an Famous Foods in New York City, then Jason Wang’s new cookbook, named after his restaurant, is for you.

I have to be honest. The first time I flipped through the cookbook, I was a little intimidated. Would I be able to find the ingredients? Would it take a ton of time to make the sauces before I started on the main dish? The answers are, fortunately, yes and no.

Right off, I want to assure you I could find many of the essentials (like black vinegar) as well as easy substitutions (like some kind of fresh hot pepper) at my local Wegman’s. I’m currently waiting until we get on the other side of COVID to visit our small Asian market, where I’m confident I’ll be able to find the rest of the pantry items (like sweet flour sauce). Vegetarian tip: I found a vegetarian “oyster” sauce made by Wegman’s that tastes very much like the real thing.

I love that Xi'an Famous Foods is a combination recipe compilation and memoir and is filled with tons of great photos of the finished dishes, of the restaurant, of the city, and of culinary techniques. Even if you’re not inclined to cook from Xi’an Famous Foods, I encourage you to read through it. The text is informative and interesting and the photos are inspiring.

Wang offers a wide variety of recipes, such as basic sauces, salads, pot stickers, skewers, soups, noodles, and even a few sweets. Vegetarians, and I think vegans, will find quite a few recipes. Gluten-sensitive eaters can serve most dishes over rice or gluten-free noodles.

Review of Xi'an Famous Foods by Jason Wang I made several of the main dishes from Xi’an Famous Foods, but my two favorites were the Zha Jiang Noodles, with its two homemade sauces. It’s a ground meat dish spooned over noodles and topped with wasabi just before serving. The other recipe was for spicy cumin lamb, which was, according to the recipe introduction, one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite dishes from the restaurant. I’ve provided the recipe below and included the scan of the finished dish to the right.

Note that the recipes, including the sauces, are easy to make, and even the homemade noodles look doable. In fact, several people in the Abrams Dinner Party group made the hand-pulled noodles (shown on the book cover). I haven’t given them a go yet but will once we get past the holidays.

Jason Wang’s Xi’an Famous Foods is recommended for its recipes and for its narrative text. I suggest you jump in and give the recipes a try. I think you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was by how easy it is to follow the recipe instructions and by the delicious results.

Note: Thanks to Abrams and the Abrams Dinner Party for the review copy. The scan and recipe are used with permission; all rights remain with the original copyright holders.

Spicy Cumin Lamb
Serves 2
BFR's note: If you don't like lamb, substitute another meat or use a non-meat alternative. I served this over rice.

  • 10 ounces (280 g) boneless lamb leg (ideally partially frozen)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 green onion, trimmed and chopped
  • 1-inch (2.5 cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red chili powder
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced
  • 1 longhorn pepper, diagonally sliced
Carefully slice the lamb into 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick pieces (note: it's easier to cut when partially frozen).

Place the sliced lamb into a large bowl along with the cornstarch and 2 teaspoons of the vegetable oil. Mix together with your hands.

In a large skillet or wok, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over high heat for 1 minute. Add the green onions, ginger, and garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add the lamb and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.

When the meat turns an even brown color, turn the heat down to low, add the cumin, salt, and chili powder, and stir to combine. Add the onions and longhorn pepper, stir to combine, and serve.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2020. All rights reserved.



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