I got an Instant Pot for Christmas.
And suddenly this blog, almost defunct for so long, is perhaps returning to its former existence as “a place to post recipes so I don’t lose them.”
I loved blogging when I did it regularly, but after a few years and over 700 posts about trying to make life a little greener, I sort of…ran out of things to say. I mean, I still try to do it, but it’s not like I’m thinking of new things, just trying to keep doing as much of the stuff I was doing.
And then I got this Instant Pot. For those who don’t know, it’s this electric cooking thing that is much more energy-efficient than the stove, and in which you can saute, boil, pressure cook, slow cook, steam, and God knows what else. (It also makes yogurt, although so can almost anything, so I’m less impressed with that. I do that in my slow cooker.) I’m using it almost daily, and in fact three times today, and making some really fun things. I’ll try and post about them as I make them, so I don’t lose track.
The caveats about the Instant Pot: The timings the recipes give for pressure cooking do not count the time it takes for the pot to come “up to pressure”–which means everything has to heat up to a certain point in order for the little floating pressure valve to seal–and that part is difficult to predict and sometimes quite slow. On the other hand, even if it’s slow, it’s a lot quicker usually than the same thing on the stovetop, and it’s completely hands-off. The stainless steel inner pot is, at least so far, very easy to clean…but the lid tends to hold odors from whatever you’ve cooked most recently, unless you have cooked tomato sauce and/or garlic at any time, in which case it smells like that indefinitely. That said–I have made rice pudding in it while the lid still smelled like marinara, and the pudding was lovely and had no trace of the other smells.
The pressure function tends to kill the subtler flavors of herbs and spices, so it’s best to add those at the end.
The beauty of it–I barely need recipes most of the time. I can make most of the things I would have otherwise used my slow cooker or dutch oven for, and just sort of improvise. And that’s after only a couple weeks of use.
The thing is a gem. I am not one to jump onto the gadget bandwagon (remember how slow I was to embrace the Vita-Mix?), especially in my small kitchen without much storage space, but this is worth its real estate.
Recipes to come!
I have a middle-schooler now, and he’s in cross country. They have meets after school. He needs good snack food. He also needs a lot of food; he’s at that “bottomless pit” stage right about now–the only time he’s not hungry is when I put vegetables down in front of him at dinner time.
Last week I found this recipe for “Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies.” I’ve now tried them in three different iterations and proceeded to mess with the recipe a good bit, and in all versions they were pretty darned good. The kids scarf them down like there’s no tomorrow. Even when there are no chocolate chips in them. The Boy can take them to his practices and meets and be filling up with something that takes most of its calories from good protein-y things. (Except for the chocolate chips.)
So, here are the different versions–if you want to go gluten free, substitute almond flour for the whole wheat flour, and make sure you start with gluten-free oats if the trace amounts of gluten will mess you up. I’ve tried both, and they are both really good. Honestly, I bet oat flour would work just as well, or any basic gluten free flour (except coconut), since there’s not much of it and the oats carry most of the weight.
Banana Oat Nut Protein Cookies (with chocolate variation)
In a medium-sized bowl, mix:
- 1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 large)
- 1/2 cup natural peanut, almond, or other nut butter (or non-nut butter for allergies)
- 1/3 cup maple syrup or honey (recommend maple syrup for the chocolate variation)
- 2 tsp vanilla
Add, all at once (or mix the dry ingredients separately)
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (or almond flour for gluten free)
- 1.5 tbs ground flax seed
- 1.5 tbs oat bran (for the oat bran and flax seed, you could use all oat bran or all flax seed if you want)
- 1/4 cup powdered nonfat milk (or vanilla protein powder, but I don’t really like it) (for chocolate variation: 2 tbs each nonfat milk and unsweetened cocoa powder)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon or other spice (omit or reduce for chocolate variation)
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2-1 cup dried cranberries or raisins (or chocolate chips–especially if you used peanut butter)
The batter will be very gloppy, and it will spread only a little while baking. Drop by teaspoonfuls (for little cookies) or tablespoonfuls (for bigger cookies) onto parchment-covered cookie sheets and flatten; bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until slightly brown on the bottom.
So bottom line: for the “healthiest” version, leave out all chocolate and chips, and use cinnamon and unsweetened dried fruit. If you want a little choco-kick, add the other stuff. Notice the only fat in the recipe comes directly from your nut butter and/or almond flour, so it’s all to a good cause. Fat ain’t evil. But note that as good-ingredient-filled as these are, they are not low calorie. I did some calculations and figured out that if you make 2 dozen cookies from this recipe, it’s about 80-ish calories per cookie, more if you use almond flour and/or chocolate chips.
A note about the oats: I’d recommend starting with quicker rolled oats rather than the thick “old fashioned” ones, unless you like the chewy texture; the baking time isn’t long enough to really soften the oats if you start with bigger ones. I’m told you can toss thick-cut rolled oats in the food processor for a few pulses to break them up and they’ll work even better. I happen to like the chewy, oaty texture of the old fashioned oats, but I know not everyone does.
Let me know if you try these, and what other fun variations you might come up with!
Since this year for the first time ever my pepper patch sort of exploded, it was time to brave another of those recipes for “things I know get made somehow but I never quite really thought about it”–two, actually. This week I made hot pepper sauce and dried chili powder, both for the first time. Both ridiculously easy, if a little time-consuming–and it’s low-maintenance time, so no problem there.
Yes, I’m supposed to be writing my dissertation now, but I wanted to write this down before I lose the links and/or forget how, as easy as it was:
Hot Pepper Sauce
- In a blender, cut up a bunch of hot peppers, preferably several varieties at varying levels of hotness, but it’s up to you. Take out the stems, but leave everything else. Use gloves, or a baggie over your hands. If you ignore this last piece of advice, whatever you do, don’t rub your eyes or pick your nose for several hours and washings afterward.
- Pour some white vinegar over the peppers in the blender. Recipes I found say to pour enough to cover the peppers, but I didn’t; I maybe half-covered them. Also toss in a small handful of salt. (I did maybe a teaspoon for what amounted to a cup and a half of sauce. It’s up to you.)
- (Next time I’m going to throw a couple of garlic cloves in there as well…)
- Blend on high speed till smooth. Or as smooth as you’d like, anyway.
- Transfer pepper puree into a saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat. At no time between opening the blender and boiling the liquid should you put your face in range of the fumes. This stuff is serious.
- After the liquid boils, turn off the heat and let cool, covered, for an hour or two. Transfer to a mason jar and refrigerate for several days.
- After a few days, you should see the pepper sauce settling into two layers; the vinegar floats to the top, and the peppers sink to the bottom. This is good. Skim off as much of the vinegar layer as you can, and re-refrigerate. Taste cautiously, and then use to your heart’s content.
This stuff should keep a really long time, but I leave others to do their own research on that. My very first batch is ugly as sin (mostly because the peppers in it were a good mixture of green and red, thus the sauce is sort of sludge-colored), but it’s delicious.
Dried Ground Chilis
This took a little more work but was also really easy…
- De-stem and cut up a bunch of chili peppers of varying varieties; we mixed the hot skinny mystery peppers from the garden with some basic ordinary jalapenos; next time I’m going to add banana peppers and poblanos to the mix for more flavors and less heat…(Wear gloves. See above.)
- Scatter loosely on a cookie sheet on parchment paper so there is plenty of room to circulate; set oven on its lowest setting and put the peppers in for a total of 24 hours or so. Ideally you want something between 120 and 140 degrees; my oven only goes as low as 175, so I alternated on and off–5 hours on, 5 hours off, overnight on, morning off, and so on. The key is to dry them, not to cook them.
- At the end of this time, carefully check the peppers; if they are absolutely solid and brittle, without a hint of flexibility, they are ready. If they have any bend to them, put them back for another 10-12 hours. You want every bit of moisture pulled out.
- Once they are ready, you have options: You can store them almost indefinitely in their chunky dried form and grind them later, or you can put them into a blender or food processor or, I guess, spice grinder and pulverize them as much as you want–you can stop at “red pepper flakes” for sprinkling onto pizza or take it all the way to “chili powder.” This would also be a good time to add other spices, like cumin or garlic or oregano, so you’ll just have an awesome mixture to toss into your chili whenever you make it. (You can do your own internet search for that!)
So…that’s it! Really easy, and pretty seriously yummy, and I can’t wait to keep going with the dozen or so peppers still out there doing their peppery thing in the garden…
This post is inspired by Queen Composter’s post on “DIY vs. Chemistry” on the Green Phone Booth on Friday. It addresses the whole “these greenies are dissing ‘chemicals’ but really it’s all chemistry” dilemma…and I’m really glad it does. Because she’s absolutely right.
A few years ago my mom sent me a chemistry lesson email on why baking soda does indeed work as a superb and cheap deodorant. She was a chemistry prof for years, and if I’d had her in high school instead of who I did, I might have stuck with it longer.
I think this is brilliant, and I offer it to anyone who thinks they might like to give up the aluminum chlorohydrate stuff and try doing the non-stinky thing without rubbing a metal solution onto freshly shaven skin really close to, you know, your breasts, those lovely things that so often seem to be a place where icky malignant cells seem to gather and party…
“A short lesson in buffering, sodium bicarbonate, and bad smells:
Lots (most?) of bad body odors are the result of the production of stuff that is either acidic (butyric acid – essence of rancid butter, caproic acid – eau de male goat, eg) or alkaline (many many amines, the products of protein degradation – dog anal gland exudate being an example here). Baking soda is able to “neutralize” those amines by transferring its hydrogen ion to the amine, changing it into an odorless amine salt. In the case of the smelly acidic stuff, it steals the hydrogen ion from the acid, forming carbon dioxide and the odorless acid salt–almost magic, huh? Thats what buffers do – they can neutralize both acidic compounds as well as alkaline compounds by taking or donating a hydrogen ion. And since sodium bicarb is pretty much neutral itself, it does all this at the body’s normal pH and isnt too acidic or alkaline itself to cause any irritation, at least for THAT reason. AND ITS CHEAP!!!”
Whenever we go to Polish delis or restaurants, we always try to get some of that lovely mushroom soup they always have. It’s usually heartier than most shroom soups I’ve found, very thick and creamy, with big pieces of shroom and usually some kind of pasta in there. And I’m sure it leaves my arteries screaming…
But last night I made a pretty good approximation of it without any evil ingredients, and it was still lovely and creamy and delicious. Give it a try!
My base recipe was Mark Bittman’s “Cream of Any Vegetable Soup” from the “How to Cook Everything” app/cookbook. The overall gist is that you cook the shrooms and a potato in broth till everything’s soft and cooked, and then you puree it. This is different but uses the same basic method…
Love-your-arteries Polish Mushroom Soup
In a stockpot or crockpot put the following (I used a 2 quart crockpot; double if you have the larger sized kind, which most people do):
- 1 lb mushrooms, sliced or cut up as you wish
- 1 good-sized russet potato, cut into chunks (Peel if you want, but I don’t bother)
- 3 cups good stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable, whatever you like)
- (If I’d thought of it, I’d’ve added an onion too…)
Cook on low heat till the potatoes are very soft (maybe 30 minutes over the stove, 4-5 hours on high in the crockpot).
With a slotted spoon, remove about half the mushrooms, leaving the potatoes and broth behind. Set aside.
To the soup-and-potato mixture, add:
- 1-2 tbs Greek yogurt
- 1-3 cloves crushed garlic
Using an immersion blender, or transferring soup mixture to a blender or food processor, puree soup mixture until very smooth. Return to pot if necessary. Taste and check for seasonings and add salt if you need to. (It depends on how salty your stock was–I made my own, so it needed a good bit. If you use pre-made stock, or stock from a store-bought rotisserie chicken, you may not need much.)
- reserved mushrooms
- 1 tsp or so fresh dill weed (dill freezes really well, by the way!)
- 1 cup al-dente cooked macaroni pasta (optional)
- crushed black pepper to taste
- a good slug pale dry sherry or white wine (optional, but a good option!)
Let sit on lowest possible heat another 20 minutes or so, to let flavors blend, but not long enough for the pasta to get soggy. Serve.
This is really good–it’s the dill, I think, that makes it really have that Polish flavor, but it’s a lovely and filling soup!
I’m so excited–my dried elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs just finally came, and I can make my own syrup! Up to now we’ve been buying bottles from Whole Paycheck, and they are wonderful, but the price is a little…well, high. For less than the cost of a 4 oz. bottle of that stuff, I was able to buy a whole pound of elderberries, a few of which are now simmering on the stove…
I checked a bunch of different recipes, and in the end WellnessMama’s is the one my version is going to come closest to. The kids love this stuff, whether it actually fights coughs and flu or not, and IMO it kinda does, so…?
Homemade Elderberry Syrup
In a saucepan, put:
- 2/3 cup dried elderberries
- 3 cups water
- 1 tsp ginger powder or 3 tsp dried or fresh ginger root (I use dried, because I bought it from Mountain Rose along with cinnamon chips, clove granules, and other goodies for making mulling spice as Christmas gifts. One of those purchases from a few years ago that is lasting forever; not a bad investment.)
- 1 tsp cinnamon chips or 2/3 tsp cinnamon powder
- 3 cloves
Bring to a boil, then reduce to slow simmer and let boil for 35-45, uncovered, till reduced by about half. You might want to put the exhaust fan on; the smell is lovely, but it becomes a little overpowering after a while…
Remove from heat, let cool half an hour or so. Strain out solids into pyrex measuring cup, mashing berries to get as much liquid out as you can. Continue to cool till lukewarm or so.
Mix in raw honey at about a 1:1 ratio. (Or less, if you want–it’s a kind of “to taste” kind of thing.)
The official way to dispense this stuff is usually 1/2 tsp for kids or 1 tsp for adults, morning and night, to strengthen the immune system. I bet a little bit in seltzer water would be delicious, or drizzled over ice cream…be careful, though, because I’m told too much of it can have an…interesting (and shall we say cleansing)…effect on the digestive system.
Love this stuff!
This came out of one of those random Facebook recipes someone posted, which looked really good…except that it needed tweaking. Kind of a lot. But once tweaked, man was this an awesome breakfast! I upped the apple quantity so that the fruit was the real star, and it didn’t need much or any added sugar (depending, I guess, on how sweet the apples were you started with…)
Overnight Crockpot Steel Cut Apple Pie Oatmeal
- Into the crockpot, put 4 medium apples, cut into wedges or chunks. (Peeling is optional; I didn’t bother.)
- Sprinkle about 1-2 tsp. of your favorite sweet spices–go heavy on the cinnamon, but then you can add bits of nutmeg, allspice, a teeny bit of clove, ginger…
- Over that, pour 2/3 cup steel cut oats.
- Then over the whole mess, pour 2 cups water.
What you do next depends on what kind of crockpot you have, and how it behaves:
If you have an older model, and you know from experience that you can cook it on “low” all day without it ever hitting an actual boil: Cook on low heat 7 hours or so. If it’s too dry in the morning, add up to 1/2 cup water, milk, or orange juice and stir to make it creamier. Add a tsp. vanilla extract if you’d like.
If you have a newer model, one which does hit an actual bubbling simmer when it’s on low (I hate that!), do the following:
- Instead of 2 cups room temperature water, pour boiling water over in the end. Give it a quick stir and turn the crockpot on to high heat. Cook for an hour.
- After an hour, without lifting the lid, switch to warm. Let cook overnight.
- Add water/milk/oj and/or vanilla if you’d like, as in the above.
My kids wanted a little more brown sugar sprinkled on in the morning, but I thought it was sweet enough, and everyone loved it!
If your crockpot is somewhere in between these two, I don’t really know what to tell you. You could try using actual ice water at the beginning, which would buy you a little more time…
Let me know if you try it!
The other day I realized I had a couple of potatoes getting ready to sprout, half an onion, and 2 eggs left in the carton. So…why not try my hand at potato pancakes? These were unbelievably easy and tasty, and I could control the amount of oil and butter that went into them, which I can’t if I buy them at the admittedly delicious Polish market down the road…
So: so I don’t lose track of what I did, this is what I did.
Easy Potato Pancakes
In a Vitamix or food processor, put:
- 2 cups or so cubed potatoes. Mine were russets, but I guess anything would work. It took 2 potatoes for 2 cups. And I don’t imagine the exact quantity makes that much difference…
- 1/2 a medium onion, cut up to about the same size pieces as the potato. (Or more. Or less. Or a shallot or two.)
Process in the Vita-Mix on low speed (1 or 2) or in the processor with the chopping blade until it’s sort of a chunky grated-looking mess. Add:
- 2 eggs
- 3 or so tbs flour (I’m guessing for gluten free you could do some alternate flour like spelt or rice? Let me know if you try it…)
- a couple good shakes each salt and pepper
Process again, for a little longer, till you’re somewhere between “grated” and “smoothie.” This part will ultimately be a matter of preference; some say to blend it completely, some say to leave the potatoes in a more grated state (but others decry this as “not potato pancakes but hash browns”–gotta love the passion of the internet), so do what you like. If you are using a Vita-Mix–important!–immediately remove your potato mixture to another bowl or pyrex glass cup or something and wash the blender container.
Place butter or oil into a large skillet and heat to about medium.
(This, again, is where you can choose your path: a proper Polish potato pancake would be cooked in about 1/2 inch sizzling oil and have lovely crispy edges. It would also have a gajillion calories. A non-stick skillet would also work, with only a teeny bit of oil, but the pancakes would lack the nice crispness. I used about 1 tbs. butter in the pan and got a kind of happy medium.)
Put spoonfuls of potato batter into the pan and spread fairly flat; let them cook on each side, without disturbing, maybe 4 minutes, till brown.
Serve with warm homemade applesauce.
My picky kids actually ATE these, though they would have turned up their noses without the applesauce. If you go without too much oil, these are a really good and unprocessed-food-y meal option, and they were incredibly quick and easy. I served them with leftover mushroom soup for the grownups. This one’s a winner! And it gave me another opportunity to befriend my husband’s over-achieving blender…
I don’t know if it’s all this BBC I’ve been watching or what, but suddenly this Christmas I had this urge to make proper British mince pies. And then I realized proper mince pies require suet and venison and all kinds of things I can’t really bring myself to put into my Christmas baking.
And then I found a bunch of recipes for mince pies without meat…and I was off and running. Today I made my first batch of mince pies. And they are absolutely amazing. This recipe is a keeper.
I don’t remember exactly where I found the basic pre-tweaked version of this (though I think it was from an Australian woman), but this is my version of it, and it works beautifully:
FRUIT MINCE TARTS
Pulse in food processor till chunky but not pasty, just however you like it
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 dried cranberries
- ¼ cup candied fruit (citron, peel, fruitcake mix, etc)
- 1 cup almonds
- 2 tart green apples, peeled and chopped
- splash orange juice
Add and pulse till just blended
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup brandy
- 2 tsp. sweet spices (pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, or mixture of cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice/clove/ginger kinds of things)
Spoon into a large bowl
Stir in :
- ½ cup zante currants
- 3 tbs. melted butter
Store in fridge for at least a few days and up to 3 months; make pies or tarts by putting circles of pastry crust into muffin tins and filling half full with mince filling. Cover with smaller circles, stars, lattice, or other shapes, or leave uncovered. Alternatively, make a “rustic pie” by rolling out a round pie crust, spreading mince filling in crust leaving 3 or so inches around the edges; fold the crust into the center.
Bake at 400 20 minutes or so for mini-tarts, 30 minutes for full-sized muffin tarts, and maybe 35-40 minutes for rustic pie, or till crusts brown.
Just last weekend, we watched Shrek the Musical on our cable’s On-Demand system. It was cute. The line about the parfait made it in. Most of the best lines from the movie made it in. But…honestly…with the exception of a few particularly cute moments, I didn’t find it to be a great or memorable musical. (Except for this. But that’s about it. And it’s way too early in the show to save it. IMO.)
Today, my husband shows me a picture from his phone:
Since we’re a little demoralized today because we were going to go apple-picking and can’t because one of our short roommates has had a fever all weekend, I thought we should do something sort of cool and fall-ish to salvage the day. And the recipe looked really easy, basically just two different flavors of cornstarch-thickened pudding, and we had all the ingredients. (Except the toffee. But we bought some.)
So here’s the recipe. The thing about parfaits is that you can really make them out of anything you want, just layer stuff. If I were to make this in “real life,” as in not on a day when my husband and kids had already seen how much evil stuff was in the recipe and were craving it, I would have maybe made just the pumpkin pudding, and substituted yogurt for the vanilla pudding layer. I would have used just granola in the crunchy layer, or crushed up some gingersnaps. Or some toasted pecans. In fact, without the toffee…but here’s what we did tonight:
Pumpkin Vanilla Toffee Parfaits
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- scant 1/8 teaspoon cloves
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup fresh pumpkin puree
- 3 cups milk
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For each individual pudding:
- Mix sugar, cornstarch, salt, and whatever spices you are using in saucepan.
- Mix in a little milk to form a paste and avoid lumps.
- For pumpkin pudding, add pumpkin at this point
- Add milk and heat to near boil stirring constantly 4-6 minutes, till pudding thickens
- Add flavoring, remove from heat, and chill 3+ hours. Put plastic wrap directly on top of pudding to avoid forming a skin, or be prepared to peel the skin away when it’s chilled.
- 1/2 cups toffee bits
- 1/2 cups granola
(NOTE: This is where I would definitely make substitutions, with all granola or crushed gingersnaps or something.)
In trifle bowl or individual parfait glasses, layer pumpkin and vanilla puddings with a layer of crumble in between. Chill again and serve.
VERDICT: A little Too Much, if you know what I mean. Too sweet, too gooey, just too much. Definitely a yogurt substitution for the vanilla pudding would have been good, or a not as sweet crunchy layer, or something of that nature. It was sweetness overkill. The pumpkin pudding would have been good in a trifle, too–layered with not-too-sweet cake or something. (And by the way, we all sort of agreed about the “too muchness” of it–it wasn’t just buzzkill mom.)
A Word about Pudding:
Cornstarch-based puddings are incredibly easy, I’ve learned. These recipes called for 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/2 cup sugar to 3 cups liquid. (Next time I’ll use much less sugar; Neither pudding needed this much at all.) I’m assuming you could make them out of almost anything–this recipe substituted a cup of pumpkin puree for 1 cup of the milk, but I can’t imagine why you couldn’t puree bananas or use applesauce or some combination thereof instead. For chocolate pudding, you’d add up to 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa to the pan with the dry ingredients. You could use brown sugar in place of white, and add whatever spices or flavors you want. From this really easy base recipe, you can make pies, trifles, parfaits, fruit dips, or just plain old pudding. You could use your favorite dairy-free substitute for the liquid; there’s nothing magical about milk itself as the main ingredient. And it’s ridiculously easy, and hard to screw up (honestly! I used to be totally intimidated by them, but they are easy to make), and if you are judicious about your ingredients there’s not that much that’s bad in them. And certainly better than those boxed chemical-tasting things…
Okay, a couple of days later I tried something I should have earlier: I made one of these in a skinny little shot glass, like the photo up top (though it took us a while to realize that’s what we were looking at in the photo):
You know, it’s nuts, but serving this “too much” dessert in a deliberately tiny vessel, with a slightly higher crunch-to-pudding ratio, suddenly made the whole thing not too much after all but just right. Really quite marvelous, actually. Which, if you did do a slightly less candy-ish version (i.e. gingersnaps or just granola or crushed candied nuts) would render this dessert actually almost virtuous–there’s not much in there but milk and sugar and pumpkin, really, and though of course refined sugar is one of the world’s dietary evils, this would be kind of not very much at a go!
Even here you can see I used much less of the candy filling than the original, but even that was plenty. Yummers! Definitely give this one a try! (But maybe halve the recipe entirely, because this version makes a LOT of little shot glasses of pudding!