Vegetable Flowers

Last night’s dinner was pretty simple: bulgogi beef (using Sempio Bulgogi Sauce as a marinade) on basmati rice (made in the Instant Pot), with sides of carrots and zucchini. It was simple and satisfying and didn’t require a whole lot of tending, although I did actually have to remember to chop up the beef and put it in the marinade the night before.

However, I took Thing 1’s suggestion the other day and turned the carrots and zucchini into flowers using the “carrot sharpener”, and the kids loved it. I have to say that it was quite pretty, but their enthusiasm level was quite a bit higher than I had predicted. And they ate all of their veggies without complaint. I’m going to have to use this technique again in the future.

Instant Pot Pot Roast

If it seems like I’m relying on my Instant Pot a lot lately, well, it’s because I am. I really like the convenience of being able to whip up what is essentially a weekend meal on a week night. It also lets me turn cheap cuts of meat tasty and tender, and I’m all for both saving money and using all of the animal.

This recipe, however, was not all about a cheap cut of meat, although it wasn’t a particularly expensive one either. Pot roasts are traditionally a great way to slow-cook a lean cut of beef and turn it melt-in-your-mouth tender (which is something that you’d otherwise need some fat marbling to do). I remember reading up on some of the cooking in Europe and that their beef is much less fatty than that in North America, so pot roasts in one form or another are very popular there. Now, I read that so long ago that I can’t cite a source, but if true, it makes a lot of sense.

Since my luck with roasts has been pretty bad in the past (I don’t know how, but my track record with completely tasteless roasts is way too high), I decided to follow a tried and tested recipe exactly. I went with the Rosemary-Dijon Pot Roast on page 224 of The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook (Coco Morante, 2018). I’m happy to report that this roast was definitely a success! It was succulent and flavourful despite being extremely lean. I really liked that this pot roast also cooked the potatoes and carrots in the pot roast juices, much like my family did when I was a kid. With the oven pot roast the potatoes and carrots would have gone right in with the meat, but in this recipe I removed the meat to rest and then quickly pressure-cooked the veggies in the juices — it was perfect! This way all the side dishes were taken care of.

There was a bit of leftover beef after dinner, which I sliced thinly to make sandwiches on fresh bread with a bit of mayo and mustard. Even the leftovers were fantastic.

Instant Pot Pulled Pork

My pulled pork method (so simple it’s not even really a recipe) is a personal favourite, but it’s also a slow cooker meal, which means that if you’ve not planned it in advance, you’re not eating it for dinner. I had a kilo of boneless bargain pork chops to use up and no plans for the evening meal, so I thought I’d give it a shot in the Instant Pot. My online research puts pork at about 40min per kilo to pressure cook, so that’s the timing I used. I just dumped the pork chops, barbecue sauce, and 1/4 cup water in the pot, stirred it, and set it to pressure cook on normal (medium) pressure. I let the pot stay on “Keep Warm” for an additional 10 minutes, then released the pressure and removed the lid. I set the pot to sauté and pulled apart the pork with forks in the pot while I let the sauce reduce for about ten minutes, bringing it down from watery to thick and sticky.

All told, the process took me about an hour, which is a far cry from the four plus hours it would have taken in a slow cooker. And honestly, the final result tasted nigh on identical. Now, if I wanted to set up a dish to cook at lunch and and then not worry about it until dinner, I would use the slow cooker method. But the pressure cooker was perfect when I hadn’t thought that far ahead.

As a bonus, the kids and I had fun with the vegetables with this dinner. I’d picked up a carrot curler (essentially a carrot sharpener) in a grab-bag of second-hand kitchen stuff a while back, and I thought it might be fun to use with the last carrots in the fridge. I just piled my shavings haphazardly on my plate, but Thing 1 arranged hers into a rather beautiful carrot flower, much like in the device’s promo photos (although she hadn’t seen them). I think she’s inherently better at food presentation than I am, taking after her paternal grandfather as she does. Perhaps in time I should get her to arrange all of my dishes.

Lactose-Free Grilled Cheese

I’ve felt 1000% better since cutting lactose out of my diet, but cheese is the thing that I miss the most. I can do with vegan milk substitutes most of the time, and there are a number of recipes where dairy really isn’t necessary at all, but cheese is one place that I haven’t found a good substitute. To that end, I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of lactose-free versions, and surprisingly the store and bargain brands seem to be catering most to my needs, which I didn’t expect because they’re also some of the cheapest.

Since the lactose-free pizza turned out so well, I thought that I should try another dish with the new-to-me PC Lactose Free cheese. This time I chose the Lactose-Free Triple Cheddar Shredded Cheese Blend, which I figured would be tangier than the mozzarella. And I have to say that it turned out perfectly. I don’t know what this brand is doing differently than the other lactose-free cheeses I have tried, but this cheese melts well and stays properly gooey as it cools (I find a lot of them end up with a plastic-like consistency unless they’ve melted just moments before). It was a real pleasure to eat and I know I’ll be back for more. And now I really want to try the triple cheddar in Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese — also using lactose-free milk and margarine instead of butter, of course.

Of course, a good grilled cheese isn’t all about the cheese, although I’d say that it’s more than 50% of the quality of the final product. This grilled cheese was also made on fresh homemade bread — well, bread machine bread, but that still counts! Thing 1 made us some white bread (page 66, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)). We’ve really had to keep close tabs on the bread machine lately because the cold, dry weather has meant that we generally need up to a quarter cup more liquid per loaf. Basically, when the machine sounds like it’s struggling to knead, it’s time to add more liquid! This has meant that we’ve had to pay attention (and not go out) instead of the usual set-it-and-forget-it, but it’s worth it for easy, fresh bread.

Instant Pot Duck à l’Orange

A few weeks ago I purchased some duck at the grocery store, since it was actually cheaper than chicken for a change. (That doesn’t happen very often around here.) I hadn’t cooked duck before, and I’d only eaten it a few times before, mostly in a very thick, sweet orange sauce at a Chinese buffet. I had been warned that it was both gamy and greasy, though, so I though it would be a good idea to cook it in some kind of sauce instead of doing a basic oven roast. I settled on the Easy Duck à l’Orange from the Instant Pot Holiday Cookbook.

The whole process was made more difficult right away because I had a whole bird, not just four duck thigh quarters. I’ve only taken a bird apart a few times before, so it was very awkward and slow going, even after looking up tutorials online. I think it’s just something for which practice makes perfect. But one way or another the duck had to be broken down into smaller pieces, since otherwise it wouldn’t fit in the Instant Pot.

As for the final result, I was quite satisfied with the recipe, which cooked the duck thoroughly and with a lovely sauce. However, I think that when it comes to personal preference, I’m just not a duck gal. It was just too greasy for me. I think I might like it better on a rotisserie or in a dish that calls for no skin, though, since that would make the final dish less fatty.

As a bonus, I roasted the bones in the oven and made bone broth in the slow cooker, which I cooled and skimmed the fat off of before I froze it. I look forward to some duck broth soup in the future.

Tuna Steak

A while back I picked up a four-pack of frozen tuna steaks at Food Basics for about $10.00, which is a really reasonable price around here. Now, I know that frozen fish can be hit or miss, but around here a lot of the stuff you find at the fish counter is previously frozen anyway (it’s usually noted only in the tiniest of print), so I figured I’d give it a shot. I followed Jamie Oliver’s tutorial for How to Cook Tuna Steak, which I’ve had great success with before. I figured it would be a good idea to keep the methodology the same if I wanted to test a different product, only changing the one variable and all that. See, teachers, I did learn something in science class!

I am happy to report that it turned out really well! I’d say it was easily as good as the tuna steaks I’ve previously bought from the fish counter. Now, the stuff from the counter probably doesn’t compare favorably to fresh, but unless I want to spend an exorbitant sum to get stuff flown in from the ocean, it’s probably the best I’m going to get. After all, we are landlocked here — the closest ocean (the Atlantic) is almost 500km away! (And that’s if you go to Maine — it’s more than double that to stay in Canada.)

The rub on the tuna is salt, pepper, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds, all ground together with a mortar and pestle. I served the fish over sticky rice, along with garlic shrimp, steamed asparagus, and steamed edamame. Overall it was a lovely, fresh-tasting dinner, and I look forward to having it again.

Lactose-Free Pizza

A friend of mine who also has to avoid lactose told me that she’d found a great new product from President’s Choice: Lactose-Free Pizza Mozzarella Shredded Cheese (and they also have a cheddar blend). I was able to find it at a nearby store, too! Then the other day a different friend reminded me that I could use my bread machine to make pizza dough, so I figured that the world was conspiring to have me make some pizza.

Since I’d already tried the Betty Crocker pizza dough recipe, I thought I’d try something different to compare it to. This time I went with the dough from Tomato and Prosciutto Pizza on page 108 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), and I think I like this one better. It’s more of a thick crust and it definitely makes a greater quantity. I’d run out of homemade sauce, so I picked up a jar of Classico Traditional Pizza Sauce, which I had also never tried before and ended up quite liking. Not only did it taste much better than the canned kinds, it also was enough for two pizzas with some left over. I topped the pizza with bacon and ground beef, at Thing 1’s request. And I really liked how it all turned out! I was especially impressed with the lactose-free mozzarella, which remained gooey and stringy even as it cooled. I find that a lot of lactose-free cheeses melt just fine, but they start turning a disturbing plastic-like consistency very quickly. But not this one! This is definitely a dish I’m going to be making again, especially since my pizza dough tossing technique needs a lot of practice.