Starting 2021 with cookies

It's been years since I baked cookies. But I had to find something to do with that last 1/2 cup of roast pumpkin.

These oatmeal pumpkin cookies turned out OK. The pumpkin pie spice brings good flavor.

How did you start 2021?


Turning veggie scraps into vegetable broth in my Instant Pot

Now that I know how easy it is to make vegetable broth in my Instant Pot, I no longer buy it in the store.

Whenever I prepare fresh vegetables, I put the scraps into a 1-gallon freezer storage bag. In the summer, this included lots of kale stems and quite a few beet leaves. If I cut corn off the cob, I chop the cob in half and toss it in the freezer bag. Mushroom stems, the white part of celery stalks, anything is fair game. Dont think I'll finish all the parsley before ot goes bad? Throw it in. I wash all the scraps before freezing, so thst they will be clean when I need them.

To make the vegetable broth, I use fresh carrots, celery, an onion, frozen vegetable scraps, a splash of olive oil, and plenty of water.

Iturn the Instant Pot to sautée.I peel the onion and cut it in quarters. I wash and peel the carrots, discard the ends, and cut them in thirds. I wash the celery and cut in thirds. When the pot indicates thst it's hot, I splash in about a tablespoon or so of olive oil. When the oil is hot, I add the fresh vegetables. If I time things right, I can throw in each vegetable as it's ready. I sautée them, turning occasionally, until they are brownedand there are brown bits in the bottom.

I have a large strainer that fits into the Instant Pot. At this point, I transfer the browned vegetables to the strainer. If you don't have a strainer for the Instant Pot, you can so the straining at the end. The pot should still be on sautée mode. Pour in about a cup of water. With a spoon, scrape as much of the brown bits as you can into the water.This adds flavor to the water and will make it easier to clean the pot when I'm done.  I turn off the Instant Pot.

Be aware of how far down to the max fill line. You can't see the max fill line when the strainer is in place. The max fill line is about 1/2 an inch below the top of my strainer.

I put in the strainer. I fill the strainer with frozen veggie scraps. At first, some pieces are big, and there are a lot of air pockets. I pour in 4 cups of water. The frozen scraps start to thaw, and I can press them down. I add more scraps, up to the max fill line. I pour in water until the max fill line. In total, I can get 10 - 12 cups of water.

I close the Instant Pot lid and seal it. I set the Instant Pot to soup/broth for 25 miniutes. This might not sound like much time, but with all that water, it takes a long time to come to pressure, and even longer for the natural release at the end. It can take about 2 hours.

When it's done, I turn off the pot and open the lid. Wearing oven mitts, I pull the strainer out of the broth. Before I remove the strainer, I let the broth drain into the pot. I use a spoon to press on the scraps and force out as much broth as I can. Finally, I set aside the strainer, move the pot liner to a trivet, and fill mason jars with vegetable broth.

If you didn't have a strainer in the pot, you will first need to strain the broth. Before I had a strainer to use in the pot, I used to put a strainer over a very large pyrex bowl and strain the broth into the bowl. Then I would ladel the broth into the mason jars.

You don't need to use mason jars. You can use any heat-proof container. The broth keeps about a week in the fridge.

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A tale of two Instant Pot rice puddings

I love making dessert, if not too much work is involved. The Instant Pot recipe app includes a few desserts, including a recipe for pina colada rice pudding:

I like coconut and pineapple, and thought it would be great.

The texture was pretty good.... Just slightly too firm. The flavor was milder than I expected. If I try this again, I might first carmelize the pineapple, which will give it a rich flavor.

This recipe, however, was a great starting point for dairy-free Portuguese rice pudding.

Because I need a larger quantity, I doubled the amount of all ingredients in the recipe. I omitted pineapple. I substituted margarine for coconut oil. I substituted rice milk for regular milk. Just before mixing in the egg mixture, I added two cinnamon sticks and one lemon peel. I made exactly the right amount to fit in my Pyrex container.

As you can see, I decorated the top with cinnamon.

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Roast chicken cooked in the Instant Pot is so moist and tender

When l was researching the Instant Pot, l was excited that I could make an entire roast chicken in the pot. I found a recipe that looked promising ( The Instant Pot recipe app included a recipe for roast beef with potatoes and carrots. The trick was to do a quick release (vent the steam to release the pressure), and the potatoes and carrots, and then cook for another 10 minutes. I like the idea of cooking the entire meal in the same pot.

I made two mistakes, but the meal still turned out delicious.

When calculating the time that the chicken should cook at high pressure before the quick release, l took the time in the recipe and subtracted 10 minutes. However, the time to cook a chicken depends on weight. As my chicken was lighter than the one in the recipe, I should have looked at the chart in the Instant Pot recipe booklet to see that roasting chicken is 8 minutes per pound. After I added the potatoes and carrots, the pot took time to come back up to pressure. Some cooking occurs during that time. I should have also looked at a recipe for roast beef without potatoes and carrots, to determine how to adjust cooking time.

When the additional ten minutes was up, I did a 10 minute natural release (pressure naturally diminished due to reduced steam), and opened the pot. To make sure the chicken was cooked, I measured with a meat thermometer. The temperature was 190f, but a chicken is cooked at 165! 

Fortunately, overcooking chicken in a pressure cooker is forgiving. In an oven, the bird would dry out. In the pressure cooker, the steam kept the bird moist, and the mest became exceptionally tender.

So, while I took far longer to cook this meal than I needed, it turned out delicious.


Lessons learned from my first attempt to cook rice in my Instant Pot

Somehow, I missed out on hearing about the Instant Pot until recently. I saw a news spot on the inventor and his device. I had been wondering if I should get a rice cooker or a slow cooker or a pressure cooker, but this one device seems to do it all.

The manual is good about the safety warnings and about explaining safe usage of the device. However, the manual is too brief in covering the different functions, and seems unclear in other areas.

First, I tried to use the Instant Pot as a rice cooker. I had leftovers, but needed more rice. No problem, I thought, the Instant Pot  will cook rice in 4 minutes. I started with the included recipe book. In the pressure cooker, I am supposed to use equal amounts of rice and water. I measured 1 cup rice. Then I used the included measuring cup for 1 cup water.

This was my first mistake. This cup might be OK for a rice measure, but it holds less than a cup of water. The rice did cook, but it didn't get soft and fluffy.

The recipe book indicated to use pressure/manual for 4 minutes. I noticed the rice setting on the Instant Pot, and I thought I should try it. My second mistake was to use the default rice settings. The default is for low pressure, with an estimate of 14 minutes. I was not able to set the time. The default pressure/manual setting is for high pressure. Next time, I will choose high pressure, as that will be quicker.

Those 14 minutes do not include the time for the pressure to build. The recipe indicated to allow a 10 minute natural release (in which the rice contimues to cook while the steam pressure dissipates). If you've been doing the math, this rice took an exceptionally long time to cook. And because I didn't add enough water, it was only barely edible.

I want to figure out the rice function. Next time, I will measure the water properly and try high pressure.

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What to cook with all the CSA veggies

We received a great variety of veggies in our week 2 CSA basket. Greater variety is more fun. Also, it's easier to figure out what to do with a variety than with several heads of lettuce.

Sometimes the variety is good for a single dish. I used onion, garlic, yellow pepper, tomatoes, and mushrooms in a chicken stir-fry. The garlic and onions are young, and I saved the greens for other dishes.

Let me know whether you like seeing what goes into dishes. I'm unlikely to post recipes, but prep photos are quick to add.

Sadly, my dessert did not turn out as expected.

That was supposed to be coconut custard topped with strawberry rhubarb compote. The compote was good, but the custard did not set. If I find a better custard recipe, I might try this again.

I didn't even cook this asparagus. Just cut it and mixed with a little dressing for a quick salad. This super-thin asparagus is so tender.

The not-quite-custard used 7 egg yolks. So, I used the egg whites in an omelet. Egg-white omelet is not as satisfying as whole egg, but I needed to use those egg whites. The flavor comes from the filling of asparagus and garlic scapes. No lettuce in week 2, so I made a spinach salad.

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This year, I start CSA season with salad

The first week or two of the CSA season are typically a bit light. Growing season is short in Canada. But my local farmer has a greenhouse, so we got all the fixings for salad.

No pictures of the strawberries. They were large, sweet, and flavorful. I just cut them up and ate them plain.

I steamed the asparagus.

I love the first thin stalks of asparagus. I steamed extra asparagus and used the chilled extras in another salad.

Also not pictured are the onion greens, which I chopped and added to many dishes - from tuna sandwiches to potato pancakes.

I wonder what I'll get in my next CSA basket.

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Meatloaf fit for a president

Most of the dishes in The First Ladies Cook Book are elegant, intended to impress heads of state. But some presidents were fond of simple cooking. For example, President Truman enjoyed meatloaf.

This was likely the best meatloaf I've tasted. It was very moist, and the tomato sauce helped with the flavor.

These chicken croquettes favored by President John Quincy Adams seem like comfort food more than fine dining.

These days, it's not common to mince meat leftover from a roast chicken. Unfortunately, as I was preparing this recipe, I realized that I didn't have breadcrumbs on hand. It's not hard to make breadcrumbs, but it definitely slowed me down. I'll only try this dish again if I have all the ingredients on hand.

I made the casual version of Huguenot Tort, a favorite of President Martin Van Buren.

The fancy version is a layer cake alternating layers of cake and whipped cream. This apple pecan cake is very dense and really flavorful.


What did people used to eat?

What I like best about cooking from The First Ladies Cook Book is discovering dishes from the past. For example, I've heard of "pease porridge" from the nursery rhyme, but I had never tried it. This recipe called it "pea pudding"

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Is it still chicken gumbo if I don't use okra?

I rarely see okra in Toronto. And, to be honest, I'm not a huge fan. So I substituted green beans.

This is another recipe from The First Ladies Cook Book. Chicken gumbo was supposedly a favorite recipe of James Munroe.

This chicken gumbo recipe is flavorful, but I'm not sure that all the steps in the recipe really helped. For example, why fry the chicken and then cook it in liquid?