Category Archives: Food

Weekend Cooking: Instant Pot Vegetable Stock and Spiced Lentil Soup

Like many cooks, I keep a gallon-sized Ziploc bag in my freezer to save vegetable scraps, which I then use to make vegetable broth when its full. (I once thought this was a rather complicated process but in actuality, it’s really easy and convenient.)

Today was the perfect day to do this. It’s one of those rainy, windy and just all-around miserable November days, the kind where you just crave a big bowl of soup for dinner (something that sounded perfect to me, since I’m dealing with a stupid, pesky cold).

I’ve only made broth in the slow cooker, but today I decided to try Laurel Randolph’s recipe from The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cookbook

I started by dumping my entire bag of frozen vegetable scraps into the Instant Pot.

I added enough water to cover the vegetables, some dried parsley and garlic pepper seasoning blend, a bay leaf and set the Instant Pot to cook on the Soup setting for an hour. Did a natural release for 15 minutes and voila!

Gorgeous vegetable broth! (After straining the vegetables, that is. Important step.)

(That’s a 1/2 cup.)

Obviously, this made A LOT of broth.

My choice of soups was the Spiced Red Lentil, Tomato and Kale Soup from Oh She Glows. Minus the kale, that is. I’ve tried it in many recipes, I’ve wanted to like it,  I know it’s super-healthy, but I just don’t have any affection for kale. I do have a strong affection for Angela Lidden’s blog Oh She Glows, which is one of my favorites.

Again, I wanted to convert this to an Instant Pot recipe. I found a few variations online and used them as a guide. You start off sautéing onion and garlic in olive oil. Then, add ground cumin, chili powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, and coriander. I didn’t have the last two so I just left them out. Add a can of diced tomatoes, 6 cups of vegetable broth, and a cup of red lentils.

I wasn’t sure how long to cook this for. One converted recipe said 3 minutes and another said 15 with a 10 minute natural release. That’s kind of a wide range, so I just went with 15 minutes and a 5 minute natural release.

This was absolutely excellent (as have been every recipe I’ve made from Oh She Glows.) You know how good this was?

So good that The Husband requested to see this soup again — and soon.

He usually likes most things I make but he was especially enthusiastic about this, so we’ll put this on the regular rotation.


Speaking of the Instant Pot, I’ve been thinking of doing a series of blog posts focusing on the Instant Pot — recipes, common questions, etc. I don’t necessarily want to start a separate blog. Any ideas what to call this feature?


Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

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Weekend Cooking: Like Buttah

Earlier this year, I joined a women’s group at our UU church. I saw this as a way to become more involved in the congregation while connecting with others, especially after the election. Each month, our meetings focus on a different topic. For November, our  theme was food and memory — appropriately enough with Thanksgiving just two weeks away.

We were asked to bring or make a food that we associate with a memory, along with an accompanying photo, if we had one. I knew right away what I would be baking.

I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and its suburbs and most of our extended family lived close by. Many special occasions, holidays, and celebrations included family dinners at my grandparents’ house with my aunt, uncle and cousins. Those get-togethers also always included butter cake, often from Geiger’s Bakery located on Frankford Avenue. My grandparents lived a few blocks away from the bakery; whenever we visited my grandfather would have already “walked up the Avenue” to get one.

If you didn’t grow up in Philadelphia, chances are you probably don’t know what I’m talking about with this butter cake. (I’ve since learned it is popular in St. Louis, too.)

It’s a thin crust of eggs and (of course) butter, topped with a mixture of cream cheese, powdered sugar, more eggs. It’s ridiculously decadent. Suffice it to say that butter cake is the food of the gods. I mean, if they serve food in heaven — and I would like to imagine that it’s a 24/7, all you can eat, calories and carbs be damned to hell smorgasbord — then butter cake definitely has a place on the menu.

So, I knew that I had to bring this. And I knew I had to make one because you can’t find a real, authentic butter cake here. Nobody I’ve met in Pittsburgh has ever heard of butter cake.

However, I’m now gluten free and butter cake doesn’t quite lend itself to being easily converted.

Or so I thought. That’s why Google is your friend. Searching for “gluten free butter cake” led me immediately to this recipe for Gluten Free French Butter Cake from The Frugal Farm Wife. 

I’ve never made a butter cake, so this required doing a test run on Monday evening in order to have time to fix anything before our Wednesday night meeting.

As one might imagine, the fact that Mom was baking was met with much delight in my house. The Husband, who was part of more than a few of those family dinners back in the day, was eagerly anticipating the results of this experiment. The kids couldn’t remember ever having butter cake, which was just another reminder to The Husband and me that since most of their formative years have been spent here in Pittsburgh (plus four in Delaware), they don’t identify as Philadelphians the way we do.

I’ll cut to the chase. This butter cake?

Absolute.

Perfection.

And the fact that it’s gluten free? That’s just … well, the icing on the cake.

The kids were in love at first bite.

“WHY HAVEN’T YOU EVER MADE THIS?” they demanded.

“To be honest,” I admitted. “I thought it would be harder than it was.”

That’s true of a lot of things in life, isn’t it? We have a notion that something is too complicated, difficult or beyond our abilities and lo and behold, we surprise ourselves by succeeding. The butter cake was well received at the women’s group meeting, during which we also feasted on pavlova, jello salad, date nut bread, port wine cheese and crackers, sparkling cider, shortbread and noodle soup and heard wonderful stories connected with each of these dishes.

My kids requested that I make a butter cake every week. No, I told them. For one thing, we’ll all gain 500 pounds by Christmas if I did. Besides, there are reasons why it’s a special occasion cake. It’s part of its magic.

But now that I know how to make it, I’m betting we’ll be seeing it more often.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Summer’s End

Sunrise over Wildwood Crest, NJ ~ June 9, 2017, 5:23 a.m. ~ Photo credit Melissa Firman

Count me among the many who consider Labor Day weekend as the official end of summer, regardless of what the calendar says. As much as I hate to see the longer days and warm weather leave (because I know what follows), I’m fine with saying goodbye to what was oftentimes a challenging couple of months and welcoming a new season.

I’m cognizant that this is my first Sunday Salon/Currently … post since May and likewise, that my posting frequency in general has been lackluster, with only 8 posts since Memorial Day. There are a few reasons for that. Several issues occupying my attention aren’t bloggable, and those that are — say, like the state of the world and daily onslaught of outrage provoked by Twitler, for example — often leave me apoplectic.

But, I really have missed being here more regularly and connecting with those of you who are actually still interested in what I have to say, so I’m going to try and be more of a frequent presence.

Let’s get caught up by recapping the summer, shall we?

June

We took our first family vacation in two years and headed downnashore. (That means the New Jersey beaches for those not fluent in Philly talk.)  Unfortunately, we picked the four worse consecutive days of the entire summer to spend by the ocean — cold, rainy and damp. Just miserable weather. I know, I know … a bad day at the shore is better than a good day at work, but it would have done our souls good to see the sun more than just the morning we left.

The Girl, during a very windy walk on the beach. She’s wearing a sweatshirt I purchased 24 years ago on our honeymoon.

As disappointing as the vacation was, there were some good moments. The sunrise above, for starters. I happened to wake up early and catch it, and I’m so glad I did. The Girl and I also enjoyed several nice walks on the beach, despite being bundled up in sweatshirts. (We walked a total of two miles on two separate days!) We had some great meals and only one not-so-great, and the place we stayed was fantastic.

Gluten free spaghetti with clams, Poppi’s Brick Oven Pizza, Wildwood, NJ

Mozzarella and Pesto Pearls (tomato, basil, mozzarella, pesto) at Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Salmon with grilled asparagus over rice. Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Rigatoni with marinara. This bowl was huge. Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Mussels. Godmothers Restaurant, Cape May, NJ

We bookended the shore trip with stops in Philadelphia to spend several days with family and that coincided with a cousin’s graduation party. The Boy spent the whole day in the pool and was in his glory.

After we returned, The Boy went to a social skills camp for kids with Asperger’s. He participated in this program last year and it was a good experience. This summer? Not so much. A rough couple of weeks. It was a completely different group of kids and a new counselor from last summer and the dynamic just didn’t work.

The Girl did a writing camp for a week. This was her third year at this camp, which she loves. She also did another one-day writing camp at Chatham University and now she has her sights set on going to college there and working at the library. (She volunteered one day a week and we got to have lunch together, which was nice and one of the highlights of my summer.)

July   

The Girl and I were in a minor car accident on the 6th. Fortunately everyone was fine. My car was banged up a bit and wound up being in the shop for a month. These things are why one has insurance and I’m very glad we do.

Most of the month was spent dealing with some dental woes that involved several emergency appointments (two in one week), a consult with an endodontist (and potential oral surgery), three sick days from work, and copious amounts of Advil (we’re talking close to 12 per day) with an occasional Vicodin left over from my gallbladder surgery thrown in. It all just got resolved three weeks ago — with a root canal, not the aforementioned more extensive oral surgery — and this past Friday night, one of my crowns fell out. Here we go again.

August 

The Girl participated in Girls Rock Pittsburgh, a week-long camp where those who identify as girls and are tweens through age 18 learn an instrument, form a band, write an original song, create merchandise, take part in workshops (confidence building, healthy relationships), and record and perform their song in public. The Girl was initially reluctant to be part of this program but it turned out to be a fantastic experience. She played the drums and we’re now the proud renters of a drum set and an electric guitar for the next year.

Reading 

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, I read 15 books.

Cocoa Beach, by Beatriz Williams
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne
The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance: Poems 1987-1992, by Audre Lorde
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, by Cherise Wolas
The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc
Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout (audio)
The Fifth of July, by Kelly Simmons
The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley
South and West: From a Notebook, by Joan Didion
Ageproof: How to Live Longer Without Breaking a Hip, Running Out of Money, or Forgetting Where You Put It, by Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen (audio)
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by Caitlin Doughty
Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide Open Heart, by Scott Stabile
The Floating World, by C. Morgan Babst
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, by Derek Thompson (audio)
Heather, The Totality, by Matthew Weiner

This weekend is pretty low key. Time to bring on fall.

 

 

 

 

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Weekend Cooking: Becoming a Pothead

I have become a Pothead.

I’ve been curious for awhile now and made my first purchase at the encouragement of my mother.

Lest you think I’m talking about something different than a kitchen appliance, allow me to introduce you to the Instant Pot. Judging from my social media feed, I’m not the only person who was lured in this week by Amazon’s Prime Day $89.99 deal for the all-in-one pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker/porridge maker, sauté/browning pan, steamer, yogurt maker and stockpot warmer.

Indeed, the Instant Pot does all that, speeding up cooking times considerably while also using 70% less energy.

Every single person I know who has one of these things loves it. Initially, I wasn’t sure how much use we would make of it; The Husband and I are vegetarian (and I’m gluten-free as well) and even though both kids eat meat (The Girl only does chicken, no red meat), the majority of the meals I cook are vegetarian.

Several trusted friends said that the Instant Pot is great for vegetarian meals and pointed me to several Facebook groups, which led me to discovering new blogs and cookbooks and falling down an Instant Pot rabbit hole, completely obsessed with this thing before it even arrived last Friday.

The Husband was convinced this rather large box would still be in the kitchen months from now, still unopened.

(I can’t imagine what gave him that idea. Perhaps it’s the several wedding gifts that we have yet to use after 24 years of marriage — I know, I know, they need to go — or any number of items we’ve moved to five homes now.)

I intend to prove him wrong and to allow the Instant Pot to do what everyone says it will — transform the way I cook.

It already has. After doing the water test, the first thing I made was hard-boiled eggs.

So easy. I used this recipe from Cooking with Curls. One cup of water, 5 minutes in the Instant Pot on high pressure and 5 minutes in an ice bath. That’s it. Perfect eggs. Amazing and delicious and now I won’t make hard-boiled eggs any other way.

My second meal (if hard-boiled eggs can be considered a meal, which they most definitely were for me several times this week) was 10-Minute Zucchini Noodles with Garlic, Lemon and Parmesan from Instant Pot Eats.   Zucchini noodles (or “zoodles”) seem to be incredibly popular and I have been wanting to try them, thinking they would be a great alternative to pasta. I don’t have a spirializer, though, so when I saw that Trader Joe’s had zucchini noodles in the pre-made section, I bought them. The recipe itself worked fine; however, I discovered I’m not a fan of zoodles. Glad I discovered that before purchasing a spiralizer!

Tonight’s dinner for the kids was chicken breasts in the Instant Pot. I wanted a plain, simple chicken breast recipe and found it on A Pinch of Healthy.  This was simple, quick (about 25 minutes total) and best of all, both The Boy and The Girl liked it! (The Boy requested less seasoning next time, but regardless, I’m taking this as a win.)

Suffice it to say, I’m really liking my Instant Pot. I think this is going to help immensely with meal planning, given the varied diets and food preferences in this house.

I am an Amazon Affiliate. Some links may take you to Amazon’s shopping pages. By making a purchase, I will receive a small commission which helps to sustain this blog, its content and its author.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

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Weekend Cooking: 3 Cookbook Reviews

Our wonderful library system (full disclosure: I work for them but was a big fan before becoming an employee) includes an extensive collection of cookbooks spanning every possible cuisine and diet. I can’t resist checking out several food-related books every week and perusing them for recipes and inspiration.

Here are three that recently caught my eye and that I thought I’d provide some thoughts for via Weekend Cooking, a feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads and open to anyone who has a food-related post to share.


One of my favorite cookbooks these days is Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes by Gina Homolka who writes the blog — you guessed it — Skinnytaste. I’ve checked this cookbook out of the library at least three times now and have made two stellar dishes from it.

The first was a slow cooker version of Lasagna Soup. I had some leftover vegetarian ground beef and used that instead of the actual meat. Everyone in our family liked it except The Girl, who doesn’t like soup, period. It felt like a substantial meal. I used DeLallo’s gluten-free lasagna noodles for this (the best variety of GF pasta I’ve found) and nobody could tell the difference.

The second recipe was a Sheet Pan Greek Chicken dinner that I made for the kids. It was very similar to this Sheetpan Italian Chicken on the Skinnytaste site. I think I used baby carrots, broccoli and roasted potatoes as the vegetables.

The photography in this cookbook is gorgeous and if memory serves me correctly (as this one has since gone back to the library again), the organization of recipes was very user-friendly. There were plenty of meals in this that either everyone in our family could enjoy or that lent themselves to simple substitutions or adaptations. I look forward to cooking from this one often.

Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes for Real Life
by Gina Homolka and Heather K. Jones
Clarkson Potter
2016
304 pages

Terry Hope Romero is one of the authors of Veganomican, which always seems to be go-to source for all things vegan, so I guess I had high expectations for Protein Ninja‘s  “100 hearty plant-based recipes that pack a protein punch.” Unfortunately, almost every recipe calls for some type of protein powder, be it pea, hemp, brown rice, etc. Although I’ve never tried it, the notion of cooking or baking with protein powders doesn’t hold much (if any) appeal for me; however, if this is of interest to you, the author gives a very good description of such powders, their uses, storage, where to buy, etc. in the opening chapters of the book.

I also didn’t find too many of the recipes to be labeled gluten-free, a category which is included among the recipe descriptors. I’m sure some could be modified to be such. Protein Ninja wasn’t for me, but this would be a good resource for those who enjoy or would like to try using protein powders in their vegan cooking and who don’t necessary need to be gluten-free.

Protein Ninja: Power Through Your Day with 100 Hearty Plant-Based Recipes That Pack a Protein Punch
Terry Hope Romero
Da Capo Lifelong Books
2016
208 pages

For whatever reason, a typical salad holds little appeal for me this summer. I seem to have some sort of aversion to lettuce lately, unless it’s in a chopped salad, yet I’m craving salads with an abundance of ingredients (with little to no lettuce). I’m buying salad-worthy ingredients at the store and farmers market, and then somehow have zero inspiration or ability to construct such a salad when I get home.

All this is why I was excited to pick up Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad Into Dinner, a new cookbook from the folks behind the Food52.com website (a great source with a plethora of food articles, recipes, products, tips, and more). Immediately, they were speaking to me, with this right inside the cover: “Does anybody need a recipe to make a salad? Of course not. But if you want your salad to hold strong in your lunch bag or carry the day as a one-bowl dinner, dressing on lettuce isn’t going to cut it.”

This cookbook is divided into sections titled Leafy Salads, Less-Leafy Vegetable Salads (yes, please!), Grain and Bean Salads, Pasta and Bread Salads, Fish and Seafood Salads, and Meat Salads. This is chock full of inspiration (“Even if you never make a single recipe in the book to completion but instead create a mash-up you like better or that serves as a happy home for your leftover vegetables, we’ve done our job.”) That they have.

Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad Into Dinner
Editors of Food52
Ten Speed Press
2017
160 pages

 

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The No Meat Athlete Cookbook (spoiler alert: you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy this one)

I’ve become somewhat of a slacker with running. There are enough reasons for that to warrant a separate post, I think, and I do want to get back to more of a fitness routine. I’m starting with walking; The Girl and I did two 2-mile walks on the beach last week and that felt good, so that’s something.

When I started running last fall, I went back to eating chicken. I thought I needed the additional protein for my increased workouts. That experiment lasted only a month or two because a) I didn’t really notice a difference (it’s not like I suddenly became a triathlete) and b) after 20 years of not eating meat* the stomach woes were too much. Within a month or two, I was happily back to being a gluten-free pescetarian.

Around this time I discovered the No Meat Athlete  site and podcast, which reinforced that it was definitely possible to eat a plant-based diet while partaking in high-intensity fitness activities like marathons. Even though I’m nowhere near that point — and may never be — NMA offers a lot of great information, strategies and recipes for athletes of all abilities.

I was thrilled to review The No Meat Athlete Cookbook by Matt Frazier and Stepfanie Romine  in Tuesday’s issue of Shelf Awareness. They offer athletes at every level 125 plant-based recipes providing a powerhouse of essential nutrients for strength and endurance.

“It’s everything in the food–and the remarkably complex interactions of countless nutrients–that our bodies thrive on, not a single constituent,” the authors state. Because the body also requires less time to process whole foods, more energy is available for workouts and a full recovery afterward.

While athletes are this cookbook’s focus, there’s plenty here for people who are simply interested in eating a plant-based diet.

Thanks to Shelf Awareness for the opportunity to review The No Meat Athlete Cookbook. Read my full review here.

* There was a brief period in 2011-2012 when I ate chicken. The kids and I were still living in Delaware while The Husband commuted back and forth from Pittsburgh, and it was just easier for the three of us to eat the same thing. And then I got a job where I was on the road extensively, often in rural parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. After that ended, so did my meat consumption.

 

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Weekend Cooking: The Comfort of an Egg, Avocado and Tomato Sandwich

You know how sometimes there is a particular food or a combination of ingredients that you see everywhere and you tell yourself you really should try that, it looks so simple, it has everything you love, and still somehow you never get around to making it and then — then! — when you do, you wonder what took you so long because now that dish, that meal, that delightful concoction becomes your most favorite thing ever and you’re convinced you could exist quite happily eating nothing else for the rest of your days?

Just me, huh? Oh. Mmm-kay.

That’s been my experience with this egg, avocado and tomato sandwich. I cannot get enough of this.

It started earlier this month at a women’s group I’m part of at church. Each month we gather, people bring food, and we discuss a particular topic. This month was on sustainability, and two of the members talked about ways they’ve implemented more environmentally-friendly practices into their everyday lives. It was incredibly interesting and eye-opening and went beyond the usual suggestions — you know, don’t run the water when you brush your teeth, keep bags in your car for impromptu grocery trips, things we all should be doing anyway.

For example, did you know that after using the restroom, if you count to 12 while shaking the water off your hands after washing them, you will likely use less paper towels because your hands aren’t as wet?

(I’ve been doing this for the past two weeks and damn if it isn’t true.)

Anyway, the two women who led the discussion both have backyard chickens and they brought in fresh eggs for us to take home.

(Look at them. Aren’t they gorgeous?!)

They explained how the eggs, when laid, have a coating on them called “bloom” and because of this, eggs can stay fresh on your counter, unrefrigerated, for several weeks. Once washed, they either need to be used immediately or refrigerated and used relatively quickly. They also explained that eggs in the grocery store may have been there awhile; farmers have 30 days to get eggs to the store and then the store has an additional 30 days to sell them.

I accepted my friend’s gift of fresh eggs, knowing that The Husband would be appalled. He’s extremely particular about things like expiration dates and refrigeration. Both of us have sensitive stomachs and quirky GI systems and his reaction when I brought the eggs home was predictable.

“Are you out of your goddamn mind, eating unrefrigerated eggs?!? You’re driving yourself to the emergency room when you keel over from eating those things.”

I admit, I was skeptical too. To my knowledge, I’d never had fresh eggs right from the chicken. And keeping eggs out on the counter for several weeks defied all logic. Maybe I was chancing fate. What the hell was I thinking?

But a few nights ago, I came home from work exhausted and wanting some simple, no-thought-involved comfort food for dinner. The Husband wasn’t hungry, so it was just me and the kids for dinner. I forget what they had, but I looked at the eggs, avocadoes, and tomatoes sitting on the counter and realized I had the makings of a beautiful sandwich.

I’ve made this three times in the past week. I’ve had it on toasted gluten-free bread, as pictured above, and on a toasted gluten-free bagel. I’ve made it into an open-faced sandwich. It has become the most perfect comfort food during a particularly difficult time and I can’t get enough. It’s all I want to eat. The Husband, meanwhile, is astounded that I’m still alive after eating a total of six eggs that have been residing on our kitchen counter for more than two weeks.

To each his own. Sometimes the best comfort foods are discovered when we step out of our comfortable shell.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

 

 

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