Troubleshooting your Instant Pot

There's nothing more satisfying than getting a new kitchen appliance and putting it through its paces. On the flip side, there are few things as frustrating as having said appliance stop working properly or quit in the middle of a critical task. One of the most popular appliances on the market, the Instant Pot, has garnered legions of fans worldwide who are experience the satisfying. But what would you do if your wonderful new appliance suddenly began acting up? CNEt has solutions for five of the most common problems that crop up with Instant Pots (hat tip to EYB Member Sir_ken_g for bringing this to our attention). 

Instant Pot

If you see the codes "Ovht" or "C5" appear on the display and the IP stops working, don't panic. These codes indicate an overheating situation, likely due to insufficient liquid. Carefully release the pressure and remove the inner pot. Be sure to pay attention to the liquid amount the next time you use the appliance. 

Another code that can send chills down your spine is "noPr". This code means that pressure isn't building up appropriately inside the vessel. The most likely culprit is an improperly positioned steam release handle or a leaky gasket. For the latter, check to make sure the gasket is fully seated, that it isn't twisted, and that it is clean. A small piece of grit underneath the gasket can keep it from sealing well enough to build pressure. 

Spice support: ras el hanout

Over the centuries, signature spice blends have been developed in regions the world over. Most of these blends started with combining herbs and spices that grew in the local area, but after the development of the spice trade routes, people began incorporating flavors from farther away into the blends. One blend that has garnered a following far outside of its original area is ras el hanout, which hails from North Africa.

ras el hanout

According to the Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs, Ras means king, and the name of the spice blend is often translated as "head of the shop." As with many blends, there is no single recipe that is definitive, with everyone adding or subtracting items to suit their personal preferences, with spice vendors closely guarding their particular combination. Typical components of ras el hanout include coriander, green cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cumin, anise, and fennel seeds. Rose petals or lavender blossoms are also frequently included. 

The spice blend is used to season dishes ranging from couscous and rice to tagines, soups and stews. You can use it as a dry rub on meats as well. You can make your own ras el hanout, which is traditionally sold as a blend of whole spices that are ground just prior to use. The EYB Library contains several recipes for making your own blend, including the Moroccan spice blend (Ras-el-hanout) from Epicurious pictured above. And of course, the Library contains hundreds of recipes that use ras el hanout, like these Member favorites: 

Spice support: Ottolenghi's pantry essentials

Usually in our Spice Support columns we focus on a particular spice, diving deep into its history and culinary uses. Today we are taking a broader approach, and talking about your overall spice collection. Some of us have a limited selection of pantry staples like cinnamon, black pepper, and a few assorted herbs, while others have a sprawling assortment of spices that (let's face it) probably could use some culling.

Spices

It pays to think critically about how you cook now and what you would like to experiment with in the near future when developing your spice collection, as getting the right combination of items will make your cooking sing without hopelessly cluttering your cabinets. Tody we are going to share advice from two culinary legends: one no longer with us and one who currently inspires millions of cooks around the world.

The late James Beard offered a lovely assessment on the use of spices in Beard on Food, imploring us to think critically about how we use our collections. The essay tells us to avoid buying a spice for one recipe and then shoving the seasoning to the back of the cupboard where it will lose its pungency and flavor. Beard asks us to think about new ways to use those spices, and imparts sage advice on periodically going through our spice cabinets. "Take regular inventory, smelling, tasting, and throwing out those that have gone stale and flat from age," he says. 

James Beard's legendary status notwithstanding, arguably no one has as much culinary influence today as Yotam Ottolenghi, who also offers excellent advice on developing a spice collection. His list of pantry essentials differs greatly from the spices Beard discussed, but it will allow for endless creativity in the kitchen. Adding items like barberry, za'atar and harissa to your spice drawer opens new worlds of flavor. Ottolenghi recommends first trying a new seasoning in a dish that is specifically made for it (hint: you'll find those recipes in Ottolenghi Simple), and then branching out to incorporate the flavors in new foods. He promises that all of the spices in his essentials list work well in many different contexts. 

These are 11 essential flavors that Ottolenghi thinks you should have in your spice collection:

Avoid these roux mistakes

Roux is the backbone of many sauces, soups, gravies, and stews from bechamel to gumbo. Although its components couldn't be simpler - just fat and flour - there are many ways that roux can go all wrong. If you have had some roux disasters (I know I have), brush up on your technique with Food & Wine's tips for making the best roux

Roux

First things first - make sure you measure your fat and flour. If the ratio is off, you won't have enough thickening power or your gravy will be like Jell-O. While different types of recipes have slight adjustments, the standard ratio is one to one fat and flour.

Another common error people make with roux is not properly matching the heat of the roux with the heat of the liquid. If you add cold roux to a cold liquid it won't dissolve, but if you add a hot liquid to a hot roux, you are all but guaranteed to get lumps. According to the article, you should "either cool the roux down and then add it to simmering liquid, or add cold liquid to the hot roux you just made." If timing is an issue, you can make roux ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator or freeze.  The article contains more useful tips to help you avoid a rueful outcome with your roux. 

Photo of Making a roux from Essential Emeril by Emeril Lagasse

Spice support: allspice

The appropriately-named flavoring agent allspice is extremely versatile in the kitchen, at once familiar and exotic. Most of us are familiar with its use in the sweet side of the kitchen as part of a melange of spices used in pumpkin pie, gingerbread, and other sweets, but allspice is at home in savory dishes too as indexed magazine Saveur explains

Jerk chicken

Before we dive into the many uses of allspice, a bit of history is in order. Allspice berries are the fruit of a tropical evergreen native to the West Indies and possibly Latin America, although botanists are less sure about that. The Spanish name of the spice ispimenta, which means pepper. The berries got that name because Spanish explorers, who thought they had reached their intended destination of the Spice Islands, mistook the berries for peppercorns. 

Allspice is mainly grown in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean, with some production in South America as well. Like many spices, allspice berries are hand-harvested. They are picked when still green and dried, turning a reddish- to purplish-brown. The berries contain tiny seeds, although most of the flavor is carried in the outer "shell" of the berry.

According to The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs, because the flavor of allspice has hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and cloves, with peppery overtones, people often mistake allspice for a blend of spices, hence its name. You will find allspice in the baked goods mentioned above, but in Caribbean cooking it is used more often in savory applications such as jerk seasoning. Allspice also adds its warm flavors to curries in northern India, to Middle Eastern stews, and to North African tagines. It's often used in pickling and mulled drinks as well. 

Below is a small sampling of recipes where allspice plays an important role:

Nigella Lawson celebrates home cooking

It's always a delight to hear from our favorite authors, especially those as charming as Nigella Lawson. Recently she sat down with Francis Lam of The Splendid Table to discuss several topics ranging from the definition of a pudding to her life in food to her views on home cooking.

Nigella Lawson

Part of the reason Nigella has remained popular in over 20 years of cookbook writing and cooking shows is that she connects with home cooks in a way that celebrity chefs can't seem to match. She embraces her defects and acknowledges her weaknesses. When discussing knife skills, for example, Nigella is honest about her abilities. "I call myself clumsy. I am very badly coordinated and when I get nervous I'm worse," she says. "I don't have that wonderful virtuoso skill where people chop amazingly fast; I don't give a performance. But when I have people around for supper it doesn't matter if I take three minutes longer per carrot."

Nigella has long been a champion of home cooks and her ability to relate to them helps encourage them to cook more. If you are only watching TV chefs in cooking competitions chop onions in a dazzling display of deft movements, you might feel intimidated rather than inspired. "It's been a disincentive for cooks because they have felt that they're lesser beings if they can't present their food as beautiful as a chef," she notes. Instead, she would rather encourage someone to focus less on their onion-chopping skills and more on the joy of sharing a delicious meal with friends and family. Read more of this fascinating interview, where Nigella also discusses telling stories through recipes, at The Splendid Table

If at first you don't fricasse, fry, fry again

My husband and I don't always see eye-to-eye on food, but there is one thing we do agree upon: almost every type of food benefits from being deep fried. While deep frying foods can be daunting - with a bubbling pot of hot oil there are many things that could go wrong - if you follow a few simple rules, you too can enjoy the tasty benefits of fried foods. Over at Epicurious, Katherine Sacks lays it all out with tips on achieving deep frying perfection

French fries

Temperature is a critical factor to ensure good results, so be sure to invest in an accurate thermometer. The sweet spot for many fried foods is 350°F, but you might need to go higher on certain foods to avoid a greasy outcome. Check with the recipe and do a test on one or two pieces to make sure you have the proper temperature for what you're frying. 

Another important rule is to keep from overcrowding foods in your fryer. Whether you are using an electric deep fryer or a Dutch oven, only add as many items as will comfortably fit with room enough for expansion. Many fried foods grow once they hit the hot oil (especially items like doughnuts), so be sure to take that into account. Add items one by one instead of dumping them in all at once - this keeps the temperature from dropping too much. 

Other tips include a listing of the appropriate tools you'll need to gather, along with advice on what to do with your foods post-frying. If you follow the rules suggested in the article, you will want to fry, fry again even after you nail the technique. 

Photo of French fries from Pure Delicious by Heather Cristo

Getting to the bottom of pie

Between a coworker picking my brain for Thanksgiving pie ideas and Jenny's wonderful post about the Sister Pie promotion, today left me with pie on my mind. Of all the components of a holiday meal, pie may be the one that strikes the most fear in the hearts of home cooks. People who will tackle a complicated, multi-component entree or side dish often balk at making a homemade pie crust. Visions of leaky fillings, soggy bottoms, and misshapen edges lead them to turn to the safety of a purchased crust or even a prebaked pie. 

tree pie

One of the biggest fears of novice bakers is a pale, soggy, underbaked crust. That is one fear that PJ Hamel of King Arthur Flour can help you overcome, with an excellent article offering advice on how to get your crust as beautifully brown on the bottom as the top. The beauty of Hamel's tips is that they work irrespective of the recipe you use, because they have more to do with your bakeware and the functions of your oven than with the content of your pie. 

The material of your pie plate can make a huge difference in how quickly the bottom crust browns. Metal pans have an advantage here because metal transfers heat much more quickly than glass or ceramic pans. But fear not: if you want to use your grandmother's ceramic pan, a golden brown bottom crust is still within reach. Moving your pan to the bottom of your oven can help, because the heat is more concentrated nearer to the heating element (or burner, if you have a gas oven). 

In addition to these considerations, time is also important. If the top of your fruit pie is starting to get brown but the filling isn't bubbling and the bottom crust is still pale (easy to see if you use a glass pan), you can just cover the top with foil and wait as the bottom catches up. As Hamel notes, it is difficult to overbake a fruit pie, although custard pies are a bit more sensitive. Hamel offers additional strategies to deal with those, including a few tricks for baking in a metal pan and transferring to a ceramic one for serving (we won't tell if you don't). 

The case for not lining your sheet pan

When you pull out a sheet pan to make cookies, you probably line it with parchment or foil to keep the delicate items from sticking. So it makes sense to do the same when you are roasting meat or vegetables too, right? Perhaps not, says Anna Stockwell at Epicurious. She makes the case for not lining your sheet pan

sheet pan chicken

As someone who purchases parchment paper in 1000-count boxes, I admit that I almost reflexively pull out a sheet any time I get my sheet pan out of the cupboard. I hate to clean up sticky messes, so I use parchment to avoid a big cleanup. But as Stockwell points out, often times butter, oil, and juices end up running underneath the parchment (or foil), rendering it ineffective for the very purpose it's being used. 

Another big problem with using parchment in all cases is that it can inhibit browning and evaporation. If your goal to is have crispy edges and caramelized crusts, parchment is not your friend. Stockwell did a side-by-side comparison of a lined versus unlined pan, and the results were definitive. An unlined pan is superior. So the next time you pull out a sheet pan for roasting veggies or meats, feel free to skip the parchment or foil.  

Photo of Sheet pan chicken meatballs with tomatoes and chickpeas from Bon Appétit

How to fix a stuck Bundt cake

With all of the gorgeous Bundt pan designs available now, it's never been easier to create a stunning cake without a ton of work. Usually if you grease and flour your pan according to the instructions, the cake will slide right out and all you have left to do is slice and serve. Sometimes, however, despite your best efforts the cake stubbornly remains in the pan. If this happens to you, don't panic - instead, following the advice offered by King Arthur Flour on how to "unstick" a stuck Bundt cake

Bundt cake

First, make sure you let the cake rest for several minutes before attempting to unmold it. The cake needs time to shrink back slightly, making for an easier release. If it's been more than 10 minutes and the cake still won't let go, there are a few options you can try, depending on the type of cake you are making. You can attempt to give the cake a "steam bath", which might loosen it enough to pop out. 

Sticking it back into a low oven for a few minutes might also do the trick, but a few cakes call for the opposite treatment. If you have used a liquid oil to grease the pan, placing the cake into the freezer for a few minutes can cause it to shrink enough to release. If you used a solid fat such as shortening or butter, the freezer will likely make the problem worse, so don't do it in those cases. 

If all else fails, no one will blame you for doing what you have to do. Take the broken pieces and use them to make a trifle, or mash up the crumbs to make bourbon balls. You can also freeze the crumbs for later use. If you need a quick dessert, pull out the frozen crumbs, mix with a little butter and place them on top of frozen fruit (berries or peaches work well) in a shallow ceramic dish. Pop it into the oven until the crumbs are golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream or sour cream. 

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