Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dear Reader.....

So how does this new "Dynamic View" format work for you?

Do you hate it? Can you see this background photo tiled, or is it just dull, flat GREY on the sides?:

I recently tried to view my blog from my work system (which is a little archaic and prone to failure at times), and I just got this flat, boring grey background.

And then I started to wonder - does everyone see that?

The other thing I really don't like about the new Dynamic View format, is the SEARCH feature. Sometimes I want to find a post (or typically something I mentioned once but I don't know which post it's in!), and all it does is highlight the text, but I have to scroll down for an eternity to find it!

Do you hate it, too? Would you rather I revert back to a simpler format?

I may anyway, but I would love to hear feedback. Please cast your vote / post your opinions below (Comments).

Because the whole point of writing this blog is to SHARE information EASILY with YOU! And if it's not working, please say so!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Hawkins' Maiden Voyage

Well, I'll say one thing for pressure cooking - it's exciting! Slightly scary the first time, too! Jets of hot steam that you cap (manually and bravely!) with a weighted regulator, bursts of steam periodically from the vent (it sounds like a locomotive, which runs on steam after all!), and then the short-cut depressurizing by lifting the little stop-cock vent weight regulator with the end of a spoon or a fork . . . at which point all the steam comes hissing out right next to your fingers!

Only my fingers didn't get burned, but my thumb did. I (wrongly) assumed that the regulator would have cooled enough to handle it with my well-seasoned fingers after the entire lid had sat out cooling for a minute or so. Yee-ouch. It stays QUITE hot for quite some time!

The manual didn't warn about that (it covered everything else in great detail, so I'm not complaining!), so I will:

When removing the vent weight from the lid (long after you've removed the lid from the pot!), either wait for a long while for the metal to cool, or use an oven mitt/cloth because it gets, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite hot from having pressurized steam flowing out of it!

WARNING: this weight vent pressure regulator gets HOT HOT HOT!

And I suppose that this is why there should be a trial run! I'm learning, oh how I'm learning! One surprising minute after the next!

Here's a little slideshow of the steps involved:

Element set on "high"; contains 2 cups tap water + 1 tsp lime juice.

Steam at first spurts, then steadily blows out of the vent.

Then (the scary part) you CAP the steam geyser with the little regulator, pressing it down to "click" in place!

And after a few anxious moments, the thing BLASTS steam and lifts the weight! And then silence. And then BLAST! Then you reduce the heat to MEDIUM. I suppose this is a continuous cycle as pressure builds up, is released, then builds again. The steam didn't travel far from the pot.

And then another scary step - you remove the pot from the burner (while you move it, it BLASTS steam, which is really unnerving!), and then short-cut the depressurization process (optional) by lifting the weight with the end of a fork. And all the steam again comes BLASTING out!

Weirdly, the manual explicitly said to add 2 cups of water plus 1 teaspoon of fresh lime juice (which I did) in order to keep the inside of the cooker 'clean'. But when I opened it after the run, it had clearly become discoloured...

See the splash marks from the water and lime juice?

Ah well, I suppose I'll be putting worse into it very soon anyway! Next up are the navy beans for the Eggplant and Navy Beans in Kalonji and Tamarind Curry recipe (Vij's, of course!).

Add 1 cup navy beans (dry, unsoaked)

Add 4 cups water

Cook for about 25 minutes and voila! Cooked beans! (No, sadly not 11 min; that required a 1hr pre-soak)

Hey, did you know that "Vij's at Home: Relax, Honey - The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking" won the 2010 World Gourmand Cookbook award? I'm also hardly surprised that there's only four copies of this cookbook in stock on - the publishers must be so thrilled!

The Eggplant and Navy Beans in Kalonji and Tamarind Curry turned out fantastic (of course)! Everything I've ever made in this cookbook has been astonishingly delicious. If you're worried about the 'spicy' factor, all of the dishes are MILD for a Western-palate (I typically double the recommended spices, and even then it hardly hits "medium"!). Even the "spicy" dishes are still what I would consider to be mild.

So, so good. It's like baked beans - total comfort food. And I didn't have to soak those dried beans overnight thanks to Hawkins!

Total success. Totally pleased. Totally going to use my Hawkins 5L pressure cooker for everything!

Two other thoughts to round off the meal:
  1. I've decided that making your own tamarind paste (from page 42) is not worth it. It's the second time I've done it - either my strainers are all the wrong gauge of mesh, or I just don't have the knack for straining and pressing lumpy, chunky, skin-filled tamarind mush through a sieve. I also noticed that a jar of unsweetened, mostly tamarind, preservative-free paste (product of Thailand) at New Apple Market cost about $3.50. Seeing as this is only about $1.50 more than the block of tamarind, and it means I don't have to press unpressable fruit goo through a strainer inefficiently, I'd say it's completely worth it. I only needed 1 Tbsp of the paste in the end! I think if I were to make the tamarind chutney from scratch, I'd definitely do the full paste preparation. But for a Tbsp of paste added to an otherwise easy recipe? I'm taking the short-cut next time!
  2. I got a bag of tomatoes for $1.00 at the New Apple Farm discount shelf (outside, bottom left!). Everything tastes better when you buy stuff on sale! Score! (I should also mention that tamarind blocks are slightly cheaper at New Apple than at Sabzi Mandi (by $0.50 or so), but that cilantro is twice as expensive at $0.79 compared to $0.40 at Sabzi Mandi. So it all balances out if you happen to purchase both!).


My Hawkins Pressure Cooker!

I'm obscenely excited about this! A Brand New, Shiny 5L Hawkins Classic from Sabzi Mandi!

After much deliberation, I decided to go with the quickest, cheapest and easiest option - I bought the famous Hawkins Pressure Cooker from Sabzi Mandi (at the mythical Main and 51st location)!

See, it DOES exist! The internet may not support that notion, but it is here. And it carries MANY Hawkins cookers!

While Jen put up a very convincing argument for the Presto 1781 monstrosity, I couldn't actually get it here easily (and I wasn't about to pay more than $50 extra to buy the same product off the Canadian site when our dollar is worth more than a greenback!). The logistics of not only the purchase and shipping, but also of storage did not end up in favour of the Presto. Perhaps one day, given a house and a family and much canning, I'll look into it again. If you could use a giant pressure cooker - please follow Jen's recommendation and enjoy!

I already know which Vij's recipe I want to try first!

I'm so ridiculously excited about this little Hawkins pressure cooker! I went to bed reading the instruction manual (a 139 page Indian cookbook-cum-operations-cum-DIY repair manual!), and as soon as the alarm went off this morning, I picked it up again. It's really not my fault - this stuff is riveting! (Literally - there's these special alloy rivets in the handles.... oh, nevermind! I'm turning into my grandpa with all these terrible puns!).

I am starting to believe that I may lack in impulse control. This felt like the culmination of a 5 year mountainous journey with setbacks, upswings and surprises along the way; when in actual fact, two days ago I decided I "needed", desperately, a new kitchen gadget. I suppose this is what comes of the Sesame Street generation - short attention spans and lack of impulse inhibition.

These may as well be Tibetan prayer flags on the summit of  Mt Everest for all my celebrating

I heard through the grapevine that television is about to become much more dangerous to those even worse than me - the sort of people who "CALL NOW!" when infomercials shout at you to do so, the sort of people who are so easily persuaded by advertising. I'm not allowed to divulge what I know, but let's just say if you see something on TV and you want it, you'll be able to click on it and buy it off the internet instantly. Talk about targeting those with impulse control problems!

Fortunately, I have very strange shopping tastes. Though I fall nicely into that 30-39 age range, I'm not representative of most females. For example, I get really, really excited to buy kidney beans in bulk from the Sabzi Mandi. So excited that I blog about it:

2.19 lbs (that's 0.99 kg!) of dark rajma (kidney beans) for $3.26! Hooray!

Give me the choice between a day at the spa (oooh!) and a equivalently priced shopping spree at Devan Greenhouses in Abbotsford, and I'll be racing down the #1 like my life depends on it! A Coach purse loaded with lovely things from l'Occitane en Provence or having a Sabzi Mandi move onto 4th Avenue? Well, you can probably guess. I'm rather strange that way, I suppose. While most young girls spent time planning their dream weddings, I designed landscapes and made wishlists out of seed catalogues (I kid you not!).

In a by-gone era, I think I would have made quite the happy homemaker! I found a funny little excerpt to that effect in the Hawkins cooker manual:

"And substantial saving in time allows the housewife to devote more attention to the management of her household and pursue her other interests."

This advert didn't have a charming statement like the above, but I thought it was too cute to not share:

I like my new appliances to come with a faint waft of another culture. The pages of the manual even smell like Indian paper (Christine - it smells like your letters! I can't explain how!)

When I first brought my Hawkins home (note the language usage: MY Hawkins! Oh yes, there's ownership in that statement!), I wanted to get it going right away. I had heard about how misuse of a pressure cooker, much like misuse of an autoclave, can result in gross personal injury and property damage (alright! I feel like the Tim Taylor of the kitchen - MORE POWER!), so I was of course careful enough to at least briefly glance at the booklet and all the the bright red warning inserts...

And of course it recommended that I not only look over but "read this whole book from cover to cover and act upon it. Become an expert."

So I naturally skimmed through to the "How to Close and Open Your Hawkins" section, where it says, "The closing and opening of your Hawkins pressure cooker is easy once you have understood it and practised a few times." Hmm. Not immediately obvious, eh?

It's actually very well-engineered! Would you expect anything less from India?

I decided to soldier on - I'd figure it out, being the mechanically-minded sort. I jumped straight to the "Hawkins Cooking Tips" and started to get out my ingredients for Eggplant and Navy Beans in Kalonji and Tamarind Curry recipe....

....when I came across this passage: "Read this section carefully after you have taken the trial run and before you attempt to cook in the Hawkins pressure cooker."

This little vent weight IS the pressure regulator...hmm. Better read the instructions!

And so I valiantly admitted defeat and put a frozen pizza into the oven instead.

I've now practised opening and closing the cooker a few times - there is a knack to it, but it's really not that difficult. Like I said, it's amazingly well-designed, and there's a 5 year warranty and replacement parts and some impressive safety features as well. So far, so impressive!

Did I mention the price? Oops, how could I get so far without posting this!

My 5L Hawkins classic pressure cooker cost $44.99 from the Sabzi Mandi at Main and 51st on 7 May 2012.

Travel from Kits: #99 B-Line to Main street, #003 Main Street Bus to 49th or 51st. Easy! Return trip is the same - #003 to Broadway, then hop a B-Line back home to Kitsilano. The #003 bus travels as frequently as the B-Line during peak hours.

Sabzi Mandi Express - 6684 Main Street (Main & 51st) in Vancouver, BC. Great prices on sabzi (veggies)!

The #003 Main Street bus can easily deposit you here - catch it at Main and Broadway

$44.99 - that's it! The cheapest pressure cooker I could find elsewhere (London Drugs) cost $50, and it didn't look especially good. Those which cost $70 at Canadian Tire (on sale at 50%) off had the absolutely scathing reviews online that I mentioned in part 1 of my search for a pressure cooker. So I feel absolutely confident that I invested my money properly in a Hawkins.

I had done quite a lot of research on pressure cookers and had surmised that the Hawkins brand was the only choice when it came to the Indian-style cookers. The cashier at Sabzi Mandi even reiterated that this particular brand was famously good.

Of course, whenever I go to Sabzi Mandi (or its competition), I can never leave with just one item. I also bought the hilariously-named "Chunky Chat Masala" and "Deggi Mirch" (chilli powder) as recommended in that useful blog post by NellaLou that I mentioned in my last post:

Sabzi Mandi has the "Kitchen King" spice mix too, but it was just a mixture of spices I already have.

Chunky Chat masala contains black salt, musk melon and Bishop's weed (whatever that is!), so I figured it was a good investment as I didn't already have a stock pile of dried Bishop's weed....

Oh, I guess I do! Bishop's weed seeds are "ajwain"! Well, nevermind, I definitely do not have dried musk melon at hand.

The Deggi Mirch was more of an impulse buy, though it is nice to have a curry-specific chilli powder instead of the typical cayenne or Mexican chilli powder I generally have on hand. Also, "Deggi Mirch" just sounds cool, right?!

As if I needed any more recipes (honestly, I cannot advocate more for your purchase of a Vij's at Home: Relax Honey cookbook! It's all you'll ever need!), the Hawkins cooker came with a Northern India-specific recipe book, which also contains 8 recipes each from Western, Southern and Eastern India as well (there's 98 recipes in it, including some rather revolting "white people food" recipes in the back. Or maybe I'm the only one who finds caramel custard and spaghetti bolognaise gag-worthy! Poached mackerel is sure to do it for you - I'm sure the Brits got the better end of the culinary exchange when they moved into India way back when!).

My only real complaint about the Hawkins is the cover image on the manual. Urgh.

Speaking of mackerel, if you have never seen the "Weight Watchers Recipe Cards circa 1974" that Wendy McClure has written about, you're in for a treat! It's hysterical - the images are so horribly unappetizing, let alone the actual dish itself (would you make "Fluffy Mackerel Pudding"?! I didn't think so!). The front cover of the Hawkins North Indian cookbook is rather reminiscent of some of those infamous recipe cards (this one in particular!).

At any rate, I'm all set for my trial run this evening, before having a bash at the Eggplant and Navy Bean recipe (can cook those suckers in 11 minutes!) from Vij's. I'll be sure to rant or rave about my first forays into DIY autoclaving at home (oh, did I mention that the Hawkins manual also explains how you can sterilize injection syringes?! Oh my! Sterilization is a good thing, but perhaps let's not be reusing needles just in case. Hepatitis C is a terrible thing to contract!).

Although I am happy that the 121 degree steam and 15 psi will kill just about anything, I'm not sure I want to replace InSite with a Hawkins pressure cooker. Sterilization of drinking water is pretty boss, though. And I'd feel alright about cooking cheap cuts of meat, too.

And so there we have it! I have procured a pressure cooker! And not just any pressure cooker, a HAWKINS 5L Classic! Woo baby!

Now we're cooking!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Pressure Cooker Search, pt II

I get by with a little help from my friends....!

A great big heart-felt thank you to Jen for her email to tell me about her ongoing friendship with the Presto 1781 23-Quart pressure cooker!

Jen spent much time and effort in researching the best pressure cooker when she bought one last year, too. She ended up buying this 'monstrous' one from Amazon because it can also be used as a pressurized canner. Now that's thinking - I might be finally able to safely can low-acid foods (like antipasto, mmmm!). Apparently she can even fit a turkey in it!

But most importantly, it has been successfully used to cook Rajma Chawal from the Vij's cookbook! How's THAT for a tailored review! Thanks so much, Jen!

It honestly tastes much more amazing than it looks!

Jen describes it as "a total tank", which I wouldn't doubt. Apparently it lives in their spare room closet... I don't have a spare room (or many closets - not even a broom closet in this old place!), and I think my husband might lose his mind if I suddenly acquired a pressure cooker that wouldn't even fit in the kitchen cupboards...!

There's another problem - Jen lives States-side. On, the pressure cooker is $76.59 and it qualifies for free shipping.

On, the same darn thing costs $129.99 (note that the Canadian dollar is currently well above parity!!! How does this figure?!), though apparently it too will ship for free.

Now the question is - do I buy it on and ship it to my friend's place in Washington state and owe them a favour for lugging it up, or do I try to find the same model elsewhere?

I get excited just looking at packages of dried beans, now. This has obsession written all over it!

Or, do I go in search for a small Hawkins brand one from one of the Indian grocery stores, and slip it amongst my pots and pans in the kitchen cupboard (rather than perch it on the living room bookshelf, which is likely where the Presto monster would have to live!)?!

I did a little more searching and found another blog that mentions Hawkins (Indian-style) pressure cookers in Vancouver: Thank you, NellaLou! See, this is what the Blogosphere is all about - getting out the relevant information that we ourselves have struggled to find, and to make it easier for the next person. Ah, altruism! So $40 or so for a Hawkins in grocery stores in Vancouver, eh? Hmm.

I got a reply back from the people at Gagan Foods...

You can buy Hawkin Cooker from
Sabzi Mandi
6684 Main Street
Vancouver, BC
Phone # 604-327-4911
Contact : Chandan

Paul Arora
Gagan Foods International Ltd
8137 Swenson Way
Delta, B.C. V4G 1J5
Phone 604-583-6000
Fax 604-583-6001
Toll Free 1-877-327-9611

Note also the location (Main Street!) of Sabzi Mandi! I KNEW it wasn't simply a mirage! Blogosphere to the rescue once more!

Decisions, decisions. I suppose first I should find out why Canada Revenue has messed with my tax returns and find out if, and when, I'm getting that refund...! (Getting married part way through a tax year makes things woefully complicated!).

Thanks again, Jen! We'll see if I ever am able to adopt a monster like the Presto 1781 23-Quart. Just getting it here might be a problem (nevermind trying to find a place for it to stay!).

How could I forget to check London Drugs? Hmm, $50...

The search continues..... I'm getting closer....!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Search for a Pressure Cooker

Happy last-day-of-existence, according to the Mayan calendar! I still think some poor soul with very tired arms simply put down his hammer and chisel and decided that "2012" was far enough!*

Assuming there is a tomorrow, I would like to find myself a little closer to having procured a pressure cooker by then. And not just any pressure cooker - one that works, and which will continue to work for the next few decades!
*(6 May 2012 Update:  I checked the dates. Sorry - the end of the world is supposedly the 21 of December, 2012 according to the Mayan calendar. Looks like I still have time to find a pressure cooker!)

I'm sometimes tempted to purchase a 2nd one as a back-up. Awesome cookbook.

If you still haven't bought "Vij's at Home: Relax, Honey - The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking", then you obviously either haven't been reading my blog, or you really hate cooking, or Indian food, or both. Still, I will beg you to reconsider - this is THE best ethnic-cuisine cookbook I have ever used or owned, hands down. Every dish tastes incredible, and the instructions are idiot-proof (trust me, I know whereof I speak!).

Most of the recipes are quite quick - for example, our comfort food favourite "Rajma Chawal" (kidney beans and rice) takes only about half an hour with rice cooked simultaneously on the other burner.

Piping hot bowl of Rajma Chawal. I like to go heavy on the tumour-fighting turmeric.

But the one big trouble with Rajma Chawal is that sometimes I've used up all the canned kidney beans. Or, I've soaked dried beans overnight (8 hours), only to realise that it takes 45 minutes to cook them BEFORE I even start into the 30 minute recipe!

And after a long day, frozen pizza starts looking like a better option.

Rajma Chawal is so nice, though. It's vegan (not that I have many vegan friends to entertain, but it's suitable for those with dairy allergies), it's really good for you (high in fibre, iron, and low-in-fat, particularly when you skimp on the oil like I do), and it's easily made with pantry staples.

I really want to make this with dried beans, which are cheaper, particularly when bought in bulk or large bags. They're also lighter to carry home from the grocery store!

P is for Pressure Cooker!

But I don't want to have to plan a day in advance, and cook them 45 minutes prior to beginning a recipe. For starters, my dinner plans constantly change, and if I do manage to make it home in time for dinner, I don't relish having to pre-cook beans!

What I need is a pressure cooker!

I want, I want, I want, I want . . . . ! (Vij's at Home)

Vij's at Home talks about pressure cookers, and makes a good case for this investment:

  1. Money-saving: turns dried beans and cheap cuts of meat into perfectly cooked meals
  2. Eco-Friendly: makes your stove more efficient by reducing the time required to cook
  3. Time-saving: you can turn dried beans into cooked beans in 22 minutes!
This Hour has 22 Minutes?! Bring on the pressure cooking!
The page in Vij's at Home that convinced me of my need.

So naturally, the first thing I do is run to the computer and begin to comparison shop. This endeavour, I should mention, usually metes me with much success. But not today.


First, I tried Ming Wo. Apparently they don't sell pressure cookers. I tried the local guys, so now onto the national retailers.

Canadian Tire had two pressure cookers at half price! Could this be the steal I was looking for?! Like when we bought a cast-iron, enameled Dutch Oven for half price? (Thanks A & D for telling my husband about that particular scoop!).

On Sale! What a happy phrase!

Upon reflection, no. There were 3 reviews. The first was mostly positive. Below are the other two. If you don't feel like reading it, the summary is that one person bought and returned this particular cooker twice, taking the cash in the end because of an inherent design flaw in that the steam escaped through the handles. The third one didn't appear to have that problem, but it rusted on the first use, and then further on the second. Aluminum can rust?! Yikes.

Scary reviews. I'm so grateful these people posted them!

Okay, skip that. To Home Hardware. As usual, the prices here were staggeringly high. So I comparison-shopped at Amazon carried the Hawkins brand, the Indian-made pressure cooker that Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala know and love. And it was only $45! But before I added it to the 'cart', I noticed that the cost of shipping was estimated at $41. I can't handle that.

Even the aluminum base model was incredibly expensive compared to other stores.
$45 is great, but not when shipping is $41!

So I got desperate - I tried Walmart's website (ooh, I know - bad. Don't judge me! I was just looking!), but they didn't have any. Neither did Superstore.

Sabzi Mandi had cooking instruments - but they don't have much of a website. So I went straight to the manufacturer's, Hawkins, and had a look for local distributors. And lo and behold, of the three in Canada, one was in Delta, BC - Gagan!

Look at all those Hawkin's Pressure Cookers! Jackpot!

Gagan is, of course, wholesale only. Which means I'm going to have to troll around and find it in real life, and likely nowhere remotely close to home.

Efficient and practical - music to my ears!

And so this is the mission of my post today - to document Day 1 in the ongoing search for a pressure cooker, and to see if anyone reading can help me to acquire this incredibly useful tool!

It was going to take too long to write: "WANTED: PRESSURE COOKER" in beans

Don't miss my latest "PAGE" (see black navigation bar at top of blog): FRUGAL FOOD - Easy Frugal Dishes that Your Mama Didn't Ruin for You! (Free recipes linked to titles!)

My own photos and links to free versions of the recipes! It's a beautiful thing!