Category Archives: Weekend Cooking

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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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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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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bring to a boil

Worries go down better with soup.
~ Jewish proverb

Since the election, I’ve been attending our nearby UU church more regularly. (It’s helping.) The Girl also has been getting more involved with the teen youth group. For both of us, being among people who believe in the principles of acceptance, love, justice, equality, dignity and peace is providing some much needed sustenance during this tumultuous time.

On Sunday, The Girl and I helped out with a soup sale to raise money to support the youth group’s activities. That’s a picture of their efforts above: nearly a dozen slow cookers and stock pots simmering with Moroccan Chickpea Spinach soup, Potato Corn Chowder, a lentil soup and (our contribution) a gluten-free vegetarian Pasta e Fagioli.

The symbolism of many single ingredients commingled together to make this selection of delicious soups–ones based on ethnic flavors that are centuries old and that have been consumed by people throughout history and generations and under tyrants and dictators of their own–resonated with me on a weekend when the Celebrity President extinguished the lamp and slammed our country’s once-golden but now tarnished door on innocent people who had gone through the arduous legal process to come to America. Not to mention people living here legally and who happened to have the misfortune to be traveling home from visiting family or burying loved ones when they learned they were no longer welcome in the place they call home.

As I ate a nourishing bowl of vegetable soup and watched the teens serving the congregants steaming bowls of pasta, broth, chicken and beans, I thought of the analogy of the United States being a melting pot.  The teens are a composite of different life experiences and personal histories, of genders and of ethnic backgrounds. They themselves are a collective melting pot.

Barbara Mikulski, the former Senator from Maryland, once said that America isn’t a melting pot but a sizzling cauldron. She said those words in a speech about immigration in 1970. Almost half a century later, her words seem especially apt.

The funds the teens raised from their soup sale will support their participation in several activities–events for them to understand others’ stories and perspectives and to participate in social justice volunteer efforts to make our community stronger. Ingredients for a sizzling cauldron of a society at its boiling point and one where these kids are among our best hope and sustenance for the years ahead.

 

 

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Weekend Cooking: A Year of Food

 

I’m working on several Year In Review type posts and thought it would be fun to recap my Weekend Cooking posts and other highlights of 2016 in food.  If anything, it’s a way to remind me that there were some good things about this year (but not much).

Early in the year came the news that my favorite childhood bakery, Geiger’s in Northeast Philadelphia, was closing its doors. If there was ever a year that needed Geigers’ creme filled powdered doughnuts, 2016 was it. (Not that I could eat them anymore, but still.)

Both kids took a required cooking class in school (can I say how delighted I am that our school district requires this?) which led to them making some simple dinners on their own when they were unhappy with what I prepared. As a bonus, this class also gave me two nights off from making dinner, thanks to them having to plan and prepare a meal as a homework assignment.

Summer was all about the bounty of the farmer’s market (until the season ended in October), discovering the ease of overnight oats, and creating a gluten free bread salad. I gave quinoa a second chance and now, I can’t get enough of it (especially cold).  This Quinoa Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, Black Beans and Feta was perfect as a work lunch during the summer.

A friend from afar sent an incredibly generous food gift which we’re still enjoying and our next door neighbor shared his tomatoes with us.  Our backyard blueberry bushes produced enough berries for a Watermelon-Feta-Berry salad perfect for the Fourth of July and a Berry Banana Smoothie.  I tried to trim our food budget by identifying some possible homemade pantry items, like the Slow-Cooker Vegetable Broth I make occasionally — especially in fall for soups and sauteing vegetables.

Our financial situation this year prevented us from enjoying Pittsburgh’s dining scene as much as I would have liked, but I did have the chance to try two new (to me) establishments. After a Listen to Your Mother rehearsal this spring, our cast had a delicious dinner at Church Brew Works.  In the summer, a former coworker and I enjoyed drinks and appetizers at Sienna Mercato.

Given all the dreadful news that 2016 held, you’d think my wine consumption would have been off the charts this year. It wasn’t, but when I did imbibe, my electric wine opener proved essential — like when we returned from visiting family in Philly for several days only to find a broken refrigerator leaking all over the kitchen with hundreds of dollars of rotten food inside.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with family in Philly, complete with second helpings of gratitude and enough pie to make up for our scary Thanksgiving of 2015.  

Among the many piles of food-related books and cookbooks I checked out from the library, I reviewed these:

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Whiskey, Etc., short (short) stories, by Sherrie Flick

Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Stop Pain, and Reverse the Path to Diabetes, by Richard P. Jacoby, DPM and Racquel Baldelomar

Carb Conscious Vegetarian
by Robin Robertson

In regard to the last two, I made some lifestyle changes related to my doctor giving me six months to lower my cholesterol and triglycerides, and this year I became one of those people who track every calorie and carb with My Fitness Pal.  I need to get back on track with MFP but at this point, maybe that’s something best saved for 2017.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads (who, as a coincidence, has a similar retrospective post up today) 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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