A week of Instant Pot meals: Yes, it’s all that

When your favorite food writer, Rebekah Denn, writes in glowing terms about a new kitchen appliance how do you not jump on that? Especially when it’s time-saving and space-saving? And does just about everything? I mean, I think I’m a mere Google search away from programming it to run a race for me. See her persuasive argument in the Seattle Times here. She’s not wrong.

Enter the Instant Pot. It’s a pressure cooker, crock pot, rice cooker, and sauté pan all in one. For me, the main benefit was freeing up the cabinet space dedicated to storing the crock pot and rice cooker. Pressure cooking has always terrified me because of the whole blowing up the house thing. So I always worked around it. But now, with the introduction of the Instant Pot, whole new worlds are opening up to me.

Normally, I’m a total cheapskate who wouldn’t buy a new appliance on a whim. But Mike’s new gadget enthusiasm, coupled with Rebekah’s promise of faster food and less clutter in my cabinets, won me over. When the giant box arrived I was determined to put the thing to the test.

I’m not going to lie. Initially this was an intimidating endeavor.

Instant Pot instructions

Going against my usual M.O., I’d actually have to read the operating instructions.

Which weren’t, in fact, all that bad. It’s pretty easy to use. “Idiotproof” is the word Rebekah used. Perfect.

Once I started using it, I realized that it really does just involve pushing buttons. For the initial test drive I chose my standard turkey chili recipe. Though this recipe uses canned beans, I usually make mine with dried beans, which adds significantly to the cooking and prep time. Following instructions for Instant Pot soaked beans (I deliberately didn’t soak them overnight), I used manual mode for 4 minutes and the natural release method of depressurizing. All-in, I made completely cooked dried beans in about 45 minutes. This was starting to seem a little magical.

Next up, I tried Nom Nom Paleo’s Vietnamese Beef Stew recipe.

Another perk of the Instant Pot is the ability to sauté in the same pot that will do the rest of the cooking. Fewer dishes and easier clean-up? This thing is racking up the wins. The stew came together in a snap, and I realized that the time saving is not only found in the shorter cooking time, but also in the ability to completely walk away from it. I can cook and navigate the after-school sports taxi all at the same time.

Basic brown rice was my one miss so far. I’m not sure if I added too much water, or chose an overly long cooking time. Regardless, the resulting rice was a little goopy for my liking. But nevertheless paired well with this awesome Simply Recipes recipe for scallion pancakes.

Instant pot rice

The final, and best, test of the week was this Serious Eats recipe for Chicken and Black Bean Stew.

Instant Pot chicken black bean stew

I added some chopped tomatoes and substituted boneless chicken thighs for the bone-in legs and cannot emphasize enough how good and easy this recipe is. Even the kids, who don’t always love stew-like meals, couldn’t get enough of it.

My takeaway after a week of Instant Pot meals is that this thing is definitely worth the $129.95 investment (we went for the 8 quart size). Amazon will even deliver it straight to your doorstep, no driving to a store required.

Got veggies? Make a veggie bowl.

This is one of my favorite times of the year. The temperature is cooling down, fall is in the air, and I have vegetables coming out of my ears. Almost literally.

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We’ve been canning, freezing, pureeing, and baking. We’ve stocked the pantry with pickles, salsas and jams, and packed the freezer so full that there’s constant danger of a frozen food avalanche. But my favorite thing to do with all of this garden fresh produce? Make a veggie bowl.

Masters Mama veggie bowl

This is one of my go-to meals year-round. It’s easy, flexible, and you can tailor it to the different seasons. Start with your favorite grain, add your favorite veggies, maybe some lentils or beans and you’re good to go. Finally, I toss everything together with a vinaigrette, add a protein on the side and serve it up as an easy dinner.

This particular bowl put to use the cucumbers, tomatoes and kale that threaten to overrun our kitchen these days. It went a little something like this.

Grains and beans

1 cup quinoa
1 cup dried lentils

Cook and cool the quinoa and lentils separately, according to their own cooking instructions.

Vegetables

4 garden cucumbers (mine are small, this is probably equal to 1-2 store cucumbers)
1 bunch kale (once chopped I probably had about 4 cups)
3 cups garden cherry tomatoes
3 carrots
1 avocado
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Remove the ribs and chop the kale. Dice the cucumbers, carrots and avocado. Halve the tomatoes and chop the walnuts. Combine everything together in a large bowl with the quinoa and lentils.

Vinaigrette

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, chpped

I play it fast and loose when it comes to making vinaigrette. My rule of thumb is to take an acid (lemon juice, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar) and whisk it together with an equal amount of olive oil and whatever seasonings you want to add. Since it’s that simple I rarely buy grocery store dressings. Toss this together with everything else and you’ve got yourself a killer veggie bowl.

As the weather starts to change and cool, I use more root vegetables and squash, which I roast before adding. I might choose a heartier grain like farro, or my kids’ favorite Israeli couscous. The roasted veggie bowl pairs well with a poached egg on top, drizzled with a generous helping of Sriracha.

The beauty of this meal is its flexibility. So, get out there and try it out. It’s cooking without rules and a fantastic way to add nutrient-rich grains and vegetables to your day.

“Fried” pizza rolls and workout of the week

I am completely fried. Well done. Hopefully not to the point of totally burned, but I guess that remains to be seen. Not a good state to be in two days before the Carlsbad 5000, but here we are.

The kids are a school day away from spring break and I couldn’t make another school lunch for all the money in the world.

How did I get here? Could be the 1-2 combo of racing the 1500m last weekend at the SPU Doris Heritage Distance Festival and the killer workout that I squeezed in on Wednesday to allow for some rest before Sunday’s race.

I haven’t raced a 1500m since college. This isn’t even 4 full laps on the track. On paper I should have been ready for another race that very same day. But, as often is the case with physiology, things don’t work out neatly like that. Racing a 1500m is an all-out sprint for me. It’s taking off at top speed from the sound of the gun, and doing everything to hold on for 3 3/4 laps. I eked out a 4:56.42 – not bad, but will it keep me in the top 12 by the time the Trials qualifying window closes in June? We’ll see.

I was still beat by the time Wednesday rolled around, but there was a plan. Plans need to happen. That’s the way the universe works. Wednesday’s workout was a 3-round challenge set of 800s and 400s that went like this:

800m @ stretch 5k pace (which for me was 2:45 or faster, or 17:00 5k pace)
Rest 3:00
400m @ :80-:82 (also 17:00 5k pace)
Jog 400m
Repeat 3 times

I’d love to run under 17:00 but this workout was a huge eye-opener. I was barely holding on to that pace for two laps. How do you stretch that out to 12 laps? Anyone? I’d love to know.

With all of that going on, and a flight to California early tomorrow morning, decent meals around here are falling by the wayside. The kids don’t seem to care, especially when you come up with “fried” pizza rolls.

Fried pizza rolls

Baked, for when you’re fried

Make no mistake, this isn’t some earth-mother wellness meal to nourish the family inside and out. This is a knock-down, drag-out, I’ve-called-for-pizza-one-too-many-times-this-week meal. Sure, you could make it healthy, but that might be doing it wrong.

Here’s what you do. First, you take stock of your refrigerator. I had leftover spaghetti sauce (homemade, thanks to my half-Italian husband), leftover salami, and some shredded “Mexican mix” cheese (there was some sort of white cheese mixed in there – close enough). Maybe you have leftover pizza dough in the freezer from the last time you made homemade pizza dough (cue laughter), or maybe your local grocery store carries fresh, pre-made pizza dough in the deli section. Trader Joe’s even sells a whole wheat version for higher achievers.

Anyway… get yourself some pizza dough and roll it into a 3/4″-thick rectangle. Spread some sauce over the top.

dough:sauce

Add your cheese and desired toppings.

My crust is two-toned from a remnant scrap of whole wheat dough

My crust is two-toned from a remnant scrap of whole wheat dough

Then roll up like a jelly roll and cut into 1 1/2″ thick slices.

Slicedroll

I lined my baking pan with wax paper, but the rolls stuck to the paper, so I think you’re better off greasing the pan, then sprinkling cornmeal over that to keep the rolls from sticking. Line them up with enough space to account for the rising dough, but close enough that they bake together a bit.

Rollsinpan

I baked mine at 400°F for about 40 minutes. Ovens vary (as does the patience of hungry appetites) so they’re done when they’re puffed, set, perhaps a little browned, or once your family can’t seem to wait for dinner any longer.

Pizzaroll2

Eat fat and you won’t be fat

There is a generation of people for whom that idea is completely counterintuitive.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one.

I was a teenager in the late ’80s/early ’90s, and as any dutiful teenage girl did, I read magazines. Lots of them. And they all said essentially the same thing: eat fat and you’ll get fat.

It was the age of the low-fat diet, and it fit with the way I preferred to eat anyway: carbs, carbs, and more carbs. I could eat all the bread and pasta I wanted. It was great. Cereal and frozen yogurt for breakfast? No fat in that! Sure, I was hungry all the time, and I can’t imagine how much muscle mass I sacrificed during my college running years eating that way, but those were the times. Magazines wouldn’t print things that aren’t one hundred percent true.

Of course in the intervening years that philosophy has been completely flipped on its head. And if the Atkins craze of the 2000s and Paleo diet of today have taught me anything, it’s that diets are a big load of crap.

These days I’m all about everything in moderation. Real food with limited processed stuff. Yes, crackers are still their own food group around here, but I’ve increased my  healthy fats, dairy and am working on the protein part. Good fats fill you up. And you know what? I’m no fatter than I was in the low-fat years.

So what’s for dinner tonight? Salmon cakes and kale slaw with curried almond dressing.

Healthy fat

The recipe for the salmon cakes can be found on The Kitchn here. It’s an easy recipe and makes for a pretty quick weeknight meal. I bought a 2 lb. wild salmon fillet on sale and cooked it last night while I had the oven on for something else. That streamlined the prep even more for today. I also doubled the recipe since I had extra salmon, and froze the extra patties for an even easier meal down the road.

The recipe for the kale slaw came from Plant-Powered Kitchen and can be found here. It does happen to be wheat-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and oil-free, but I made it despite those distinctions. The nut-based dressing gives the slaw great body and flavor and if you don’t love kale, a reason to eat your hearty greens.

Toast up some crusty bread and you’ve got a meal packed with good fats and protein that’s kid-friendly too. There was nothing left at the end of the evening at my house.

Soccer night heirloom tomato sandwiches

Tomatosandwich

I love the idea of the “soccer dinner”. The meal that you don’t have time to prepare, that needs to magically appear when you arrive home, tired and hungry after an afternoon and evening of practices, games, and driving around. Ideally this takes the form of a take-out container, one that, even more ideally, is delivered straight to your doorstep, hot and ready to eat. Living in New York City, we grew accustomed to that type of service. Unfortunately that is one benefit of city living that did not follow us out West. For those who, like us, can only take so much pizza delivery, I give you the heirloom tomato sandwich.

Now, before you see all of those tomatoes and think about the tomato haters in your life, hear me out. This is the anti-tomato tomato sandwich. My kids inhale these like there’s no tomorrow, and they wouldn’t touch a tomato with a ten foot pole. It must be the combination of ingredients that makes this palatable to even my picky eater. And it’s not just my kids. I’ve served this to friends who would not have been sheepish about pulling the sandwich apart, and they liked it in its entirety. It’s worth a shot. And if you do the slicing in the morning or before starting the carpool run, this meal comes together in no time.

Ingredients
This serves 4 people in my house

1 loaf good-quality kalamata olive bread
2 large heirloom tomatoes
1 1/2 avocados
Parmesan or other sharp hard cheese
Basil leaves
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

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Thinly slice the olive bread and toast. I use the broiler and only toast one side, partly because I can do a lot of bread at one time, and partly because I put the untoasted sides of bread on the outside of the sandwich to save people the mouth cuts from the potentially sharp edges of toasted bread. But that’s just me.

Slice the tomatoes and avocados. Shave pieces of cheese. Wash the basil leaves.

When ready to assemble the sandwiches, lightly drizzle olive oil over toasted bread. Add slices of tomatoes, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, then add avocado slices, cheese, and basil leaves.

Enjoy!

To pea, or not to pea

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When the opportunity to investigate the recent Pea Situation presents itself, how do you not jump all over it?

In case you are unfamiliar with the kerfuffle,The Pea Situation involves this New York Times guacamole recipe:

nytimespeaguac

And has caused such a stir of negativity that even the president has an opinion.

potus peas

Now, I love Melissa Clark and New York Times recipes, and was a little skeptical about what I was reading, especially since it didn’t seem like anyone weighing in had actually made the recipe. So when this weekend’s dinner with friends involved a taco bar, there was no way we weren’t doing a taste test.

In the name of science, I made the Times recipe exactly as written, overcoming my usual tendency to hack the recipe (usually in the name of laziness). I roasted the jalapeño as directed, and whirred up a mixture of peas, jalapeños (roasted and raw), cilantro and salt, adding a big investment in labor with the use (and later cleaning) of the food processor.

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I was never able to get the mixture “almost smooth”, but that didn’t seem to impact the end product. The rest of the recipe involves the usual mashing of avocados and addition of lime zest, lime juice, scallions and salt.

I then made my go-to guacamole, a literal mash-up of unmeasured amounts of avocado, onion, lime zest, lime juice, diced tomato, and salt.

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The verdict? Unanimously in favor of the pea guacamole. There was a greater depth of flavor and brightness that was lacking in the control batch. This may have been due to the jalapeño, which was only included in the pea version. But no one could discernibly taste the peas. Which leads me to believe that perhaps the whole problem is nothing but a marketing issue. Leave the peas out of the garnish, and avoid the visual source of the objections. What you’re left with is a solidly bright, tasty guacamole.

Snap pea summer salad

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The locavore movement was SO five years ago. OK, maybe ten. Which is about the amount of time lag that I usually have when it comes to major trends. But five years ago I couldn’t even grow ivy (seriously, I tried). Our move to Bainbridge Island, WA (from Seattle) changed that. Not only did we find the sense of community and good schools that we were looking for, we also picked up an incredible side benefit: the ability to garden.

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In fairness, this really has very little to do with knowledge or talent, and just about everything to do with the fact that we have a sunny yard in which to grow things.

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But I’ll take the locavore credit when I can. Who needs the 100-mile diet when you can get within 100 feet?

This was the perfect salad for this week, adapted from a recipe from Food & Wine magazine.

Sugar Snap Pea Salad
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  2. 1 large sweet onion, sliced into 1/4-inch wedges
  3. 1 garlic clove, minced
  4. 2 cups sugar snap peas
  5. 1 cup frozen shelled edamame
  6. 1 1/2 cup frozen peas
  7. 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  8. 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  9. 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  10. 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped mint
  11. 5 oz. feta cheese
  12. Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil, then add onion wedges and garlic and cook until golden and softened. Set aside.
  2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the snap peas, then add the edamame and peas. Immediately drain and cool under running water, so that snap peas are still crisp. Let drain.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice with the mustard and 3 Tbsp. olive oil. Add the snap peas, edamame, peas, onions, garlic, mint and feta.
  4. Toss to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine
Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine
Masters Mama http://mastersmama.com/

Salmon, with a side of moral superiority

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, this is the time of year when images like this grace the cover of your local paper.

(Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

(Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times, May 15, 2015)

It’s Copper River salmon season, the time of year when Seahawks and celebrity chefs will gather at an airport at the crack of dawn to usher in the arrival of the first of this highly sought-after fish. If I am being perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I could tell the difference between regular-old omega-rich, coral-hued sockeye salmon, and it’s (significantly more expensive) counterpart. But I like a good reason to celebrate. And who doesn’t feel the pressure to get in on something before it’s all gone?

This is also the time of year when I am equal parts amazed that I was able to get ANYTHING aside from weeds to grow in my garden, and panicked that I don’t have the time/energy/motivation put it all to good use.

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Which is a long way to say that this was a great week to dig out an old recipe that I clipped out of Cooking Light magazine a good fifteen years ago. Believe it or not, I actually have binders full of recipes that I cut and pasted – with actual scissors and glue – at a time in my life when I, apparently, had a lot more time on my hands. But this is a great way to make a meal that is local, sustainable, and packed with protein and good carbs. And since my kids actually like to eat this kind of fish, cutting it with pasta makes it a good way enjoy this year’s haul of Copper River salmon without breaking the bank since I, for one, am unwilling to spend $40 on a meal at home that I cooked myself.

I’ve adapted this from the original Cooking Light recipe, and like I mentioned in a previous post, it’s a recipe you can totally hack, adjusting the proportion of ingredients up or down to suit your tastes.

Salmon and Edamame Pasta Salad
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Ingredients
  1. 1 box (13.25 oz.) whole wheat pasta (farfalle or rotini work well)
  2. 1 1/2 cups shelled edamame
  3. 12 - 16 oz. salmon
  4. 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  5. 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  6. 8 cups chopped greens (swiss chard, spinach, kale)
  7. 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  8. 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  9. 2 Tbsp. honey
  10. Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line cookie sheet with parchment or foil, and add boned salmon, skin-side down. Season with salt and pepper, then bake at 350 just until done (about 15-ish minutes, depending on thickness of fish).
  3. Remove salmon from skin, coarsely chop, and set aside to chill in refrigerator.
  4. Cook pasta in boiling water according to the package instructions. With 1 minute remaining, add edamame and let it finish cooking together.
  5. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until tender. Add greens and cook just until wilted. Drain any excess liquid.
  6. Add spinach mixture, dill, and salmon to pasta mixture.
  7. Whisk together mustard, honey, and salt and pepper and toss gently to coat.
  8. I serve this pasta salad cold.
Masters Mama http://mastersmama.com/

Summer Lentil Salad

rsz_salad

It’s like summer on a platter. It’s crisp and clean and fresh and is a fantastic source of protein. And one of the best parts about it is that it’s also an opportunity to clean out those little bits of vegetables that are about to rot away in your vegetable bin. I adapted this recipe from Skinny Taste – see the original recipe here – tweaking it to use the ingredients I had on hand.

A note about my savory cooking: I am a complete hack. I went to culinary school for pastry only, and do not suggest deviating much from pastry recipes if you want them to work. But take away the baking element and all bets are off. This salad works if you dial up or down any of the ingredients to suit your tastes. Take out the feta and make it vegan. Add or subtract veggies as you wish. I don’t have a huge taste for salt, so I only added about 1/4 teaspoon, to account for the salt in the feta. The sliced avocado made a nice richness to the salad. The take home point? Make it your own.

Summer Lentil Salad
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup dried lentils
  2. 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  3. Water to cover lentils by 1-inch
  4. 1/2 cup red onion, diced
  5. 1/2 cup celery, diced
  6. 1 cup carrot, diced
  7. 1 sweet (yellow) pepper, diced
  8. 1 roma tomato, diced
  9. 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used a mix of chives and cilantro from my garden, but parsley is probably ideal)
  10. Juice of 1 lemon
  11. 1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
  12. 1 clove garlic, minced
  13. Salt (I used 1/4 tsp.) and pepper to taste
  14. 4 oz. feta cheese
  15. Sliced avocado
Instructions
  1. Combine lentils and thyme sprigs in a pot, then fill with enough water to cover lentils by 1-inch.
  2. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered until lentils are tender, but not mushy, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Remove thyme sprigs
  3. While the lentils are cooking, chop vegetables and herbs and combine in a large bowl. Add rinsed and drained lentils.
  4. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss with lentil/veggie mix, then add feta and mix to combine.
  5. Serve with sliced avocado.
Masters Mama http://mastersmama.com/