Lobster Tails

I went to the grocery store yesterday to pick up eggs and milk (the two perishable foods we go through the fastest in our household), I popped over to the meat and seafood counters to see if anything tempted me for dinner. As it turned out, they actually had rock lobster tails on for a reasonable price — or at least what I’d consider to be reasonable compared to the ridiculous price that beef has gone up to lately. Lobster in my budget is extremely rare, so I had to pick up enough for dinner.

I followed the instructions from Maine Lobster Now and I was impressed with how quick and easy it was. (Most of the lobster I get these days is the much cheaper frozen claws from T&T to make Carribbean lobster bisque.) The girls were a little intimidated by the shell — they’ve had lobster as often as I could afford to serve it, but I don’t think they’d ever had to deal with cracking their own before. I don’t blame them, since even to me the tail looks a heck of a lot like a giant wood louse! Luckily I’ve been to a fair number of lobster boils in my day and, as per the instructions, the meat actually was very easy to remove once it was cooked.

I served the lobster with steamed asparagus, baby-cut carrots, and baby potatoes, all cooked very easily in the microwave. All in all this meal took me about 25 minutes to make, which is good because I was (as usual) running late. One thing I missed out on was garlic butter to drizzle on the lobster, which I do regret, but it was pretty darned good anyway.

Instant Pot Pork Chops & Mushroom Gravy

It’s been chilly for spring lately, even here; over the weekend we got what will hopefully be the season’s last bout of snow and freezing rain. To me, cold weather makes me crave solid, hearty meals — although I have to admit they’re not always the prettiest.

Covered in gravy like that it doesn’t look all that appetizing, I know, but it really hit the spot.

I actually cooked these pork chops & mushroom gravy in the Instant Pot, although with having to boil down the gravy to a decent consistency afterwards I don’t think it actually saved me any time. The flavour itself was pretty much identical, too. Although there was nothing actually wrong with cooking them in the pressure cooker, I don’t think I’ll be making them this way again, since it was neither easier nor quicker. Well, unless my stove goes on the fritz or something, or it’s a really hot day and I want to cook outside (although by then I’d hope that I’d have the barbecue up and running).

I made the mashed (well, technically whipped, I find them smoother that way) potatoes the traditional way, on the stove. Perhaps if I wanted to switch the roles around I could do the potatoes in the Instant Pot and the pork chops on the stove. It really makes cooking them a breeze, and that way I don’t have to worry about the pot on the stove boiling over — again. And I could possibly cook the potatoes and the carrots at the same time, like I did with the pot roast. That might be worth trying.

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.

Instant Pot Beef and Guinness® Stew Recipe

After my success with the Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon, I really wanted to use my new toy to make some Guinness® beef stew for my husband, since it’s one of his favourites. Unfortunately none of the Instant Pot cookbooks that I bought after Christmas (because of course that was one of the first things I bought) contained this recipe. I’ve had fantastic luck with the Chef John’s Beef and Guinness® Stew, which creates a delicious stove-top version of this dish. To try and keep the flavour the same as the version we love, I adapted the preparation method for the Instant Pot. Here’s what I did:

Instant Pot Beef and Guinness® Stew
Serves 6

Cut* into small pieces:
4 slices low-sodium bacon
Peel and dice:
2 medium-sized yellow onions
Turn on the Instant Pot and select the Sauté program. If necessary, press the Sauté key repeatedly to toggle to the Normal setting. Wait until the LED displays “Hot”.
To the inner pot, add:
1 Tbsp olive oil
Stir the bacon and onions into the oil and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the bacon is cooked and the onions have begun to turn clear.
Add to the pot:
2 1/2 lbs (1.1Kg) boneless beef chuck**, cut into bite-sized pieces
Sprinkle the mixture with:
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Press the Sauté key repeatedly to toggle to the More setting. Being careful not to burn the onions, cook until meat has browned, about 5 minutes. Stir often.
Press the Sauté key repeatedly to toggle to the Less setting.
To the pot, add:
1 can (440mL) Guinness® or other dark beer
1 cup low-sodium beef stock
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 sprigs fresh thyme OR 1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp white sugar
Stir all ingredients together until evenly mixed.
Press Cancel on the cooker.
Place the lid and turn to lock. Turn the steam release handle to the Sealing position.
Select Pressure Cook, High Pressure, and set for 30 minutes. 10 seconds after settings are set, the cooker will beep three times and display “On” to indicate that it has started the preheat cycle.

While the Instant Pot program is running, you may wish to make:
4 cups mashed potatoes (OPTIONAL***)

When the cooking cycle has finished, the cooker will beep and enter the Auto Keep Warm mode. (If the Auto Keep Warm function has been turned off, it can be turned back on at any time.) Once the cooking is complete, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, and then turn the steam release handle to the Venting position to let the steam out for a Quick Release. Once the steam is safely released, remove the lid.
Turn the cooker back on to Sauté > Normal and simmer stew until it has thickened somewhat, about 15 minutes. While thickening, stir regularly, and remove the sprigs of thyme, if using fresh.

Serve stew in soup bowls, either as-is or atop a mound of mashed potatoes with a divot in the middle to hold the toppings.

*I find that bacon is easiest to cut up using kitchen shears.
**Most kinds of beef are good in stew, so use whatever is in your budget. The pressure cooking (or slow cooking, in traditional stews) will transform even the toughest cuts into something you can cut with a fork. Whatever the cut, make sure to cut off the worst of the fat, since the texture can become off-putting.
***I prefer this stew served over mashed potatoes to soak up all of the lovely broth, but many people like it plain.

Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner is traditionally hosted by my parents. It used to be served on Christmas Day, but after the gigantic breakfast that often lasts until lunch, it seemed kind of overkill. A few years ago by consensus we moved it to Boxing Day, and it has just made everything so much more relaxed.

One of the things that I love about Christmas at my parents’ house is how their brilliantly-lit tree fills up the front window. From the street outside, as you’re pulling in to the driveway, it really welcomes you in. While my parents do have lights strung up outside, the tree outshines them all. I’m told that there are 600 or more lights on there. To compare, our tree only has 200 lights, and it seems positively dim by comparison.

Mom is generally the one who is responsible for the roast turkey dinner, although Dad’s specialty is the Yorkshire pudding. They used to only serve Yorkshire pudding with roast beef dinners, but enough pestering by my brother and I (and then by my kids) over the years convinced them that they were appropriate to any meal served with gravy. Mom’s turkey dinner this year included stuffing, whipped potatoes, mashed potatoes almondine, carrots glazed in my carrot jam, squash with orange juice and walnuts, and of course lots of gravy. It was all delicious! My contribution to the meal was dessert: homemade apple and dairy-free pumpkin pies, baked in advance and reheated in the oven. It always seems a shame to me that a meal that takes all day to make can be scarfed down so quickly, but there is always lots of chatting after the meal as we all digest.