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.

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.

English Muffins Take 2

My husband has been bugging me to make homemade English muffins again since I last made them about a year ago. But my new stove meant that I didn’t have the griddle attachment anymore, and I hadn’t bought a stand-alone version in the meantime. I also hadn’t found a local source for proper silicone English muffin rings, which is what I thought would have really helped create a better muffin than last time.

However, I had found a Flippin’ Fantastic pancake maker at a thrift store, so after a good wash I thought I’d give it a try instead. I discovered that if you want perfectly-round English muffins, this really isn’t the right tool. It’s great when they’re first starting out, but the rings need to be deeper, so once they started to rise they ended up being irregularly-shaped anyway. Not only that, but despite a good coating of non-stick spray, the batter stuck really badly to the silicone, making for a messy clean-up.

I also tried to use the flipper for the eggs that were going to go in the muffin sandwiches, and that was an unmitigated disaster. Eggs are a lot more liquid than English muffin batter, and they just leaked out the bottom of the flipper to create a single, solid mass of egg that I then had to break up with a spatula. Online reviews point out that this exactly the same thing that happens with pancake batter, so I don’t think that this product works as advertised. What a shame.

All that being said, the flavour and texture of the English muffins themselves was great despite the flipper not working out. I used Alton Brown’s English Muffin Recipe, which turned out lighter than my other attempt. I discovered that while this mixture is too liquid to mold like a bun, it can just be spooned out onto a pan without rings at all. The resulting muffins will be lopsided, but they will taste just as good! This time I served the muffins as sandwiches with bacon, egg, and cheddar cheese (lactose-free for me), with slices of navel oranges on the side. It was a hit!

Salmon Cheese Tamagoyaki & Rice

This past Saturday I had what seemed like a houseful of people over for dinner. Okay, there were seven people in comparison to our normal four, not exactly a party, but still more than usual. I didn’t have anything taken out of the freezer, I decided to make everyone tamagoyaki on rice. Ever since I got my Japanese omelet pan for Christmas, they’ve become a go-to meal when I want something relatively simple and healthy.

This time I had smoked salmon in the fridge, so I added ingredients between each layer of egg: nori, cheese, and smoked salmon. The kind of salmon that I had automatically comes sliced in very thin, flexible sheets, so it’s perfect for this kind of thing. I really liked this addition and I think I will do it again in the future! I served the omelets with slices of naruto fish cake and cucumbers on the side, and a squirt of Japanese mayonnaise on top (if the diners wanted these additions).

Should I do this again, though, I’ll have to plan at least a little bit better. I didn’t make enough rice the first time so I had to make a second batch, and I realized that I was short of eggs about halfway through and had to send my brother-in-law out to get some. And if I’m planning on making this many tamagoyaki in a row again, I’m definitely going to have to pick up a second pan!

Strawberry Pi Pie Cat Toy Tutorial

March Break didn’t really turn out as planned. A tickle in my throat at the flea market on Saturday turned into a full-blown chest cold by Sunday; Monday through Thursday I spent most of my time between decongestant doses with a hot barley bag over my face to decrease the pressure in my sinuses. The rest of the family didn’t fare much better, with my husband missing work and the only reason the kids didn’t miss school being that it was already a holiday. All of our plans for outings and most of the fun things to do at home went straight down the toilet.

However, I had made myself a promise of one thing I was going to do over the break: find a rescue kitty who would fit well into our home. This was not a spontaneous decision, since my husband finally agreed that it was time for a new cat since Christmas (our previous cats passed away of extreme old age over ten years ago). But we also knew that we were going to be in Madrid in February, and we didn’t think it was fair to adopt a cat and then go away for ten days just as it was settling in.

So over the March Break I visited the Humane Society as well as many of their Pet Adoption Locations. While I think I petted and cuddled every cat who was willing (which is honestly a nice way to spend your time anyway), it wasn’t until right before closing on Wednesday night that I found Fizzgig (originally named Violet).

Fizzgig is a female 9-month old brown tabby with green eyes who is very curious about the world around her. She is a little bit shy, but deals well with our boisterous, noisy family.

So, in honour of the new member of our household, I thought that a cat toy craft was in order. Since March 14th is Pi Day, a pie-shaped toy seemed particularly fitting! If you don’t have a cat who would have any use for this toy, it also makes fun play food for a child.

Strawberry Pi Pie Cat Toy

Materials:

– 1 sheet of tan felt
– coordinating tan thread
– red embroidery thread
– polyester stuffing
– OPTIONAL: dried catnip

Supplies Needed:

– sewing needle
– scissors
– circular item (to trace)
– pencil

1. Using a circular glass or container about 7cm in diameter, trace a circle on your felt.

2. Cut out the circle and a strip of felt about 2cm wide. The strip should be an inch or two longer than the circumference of the circle. The easiest way to determine the circumference without math is to wrap the felt around the bottom of the glass/container you used to to make the circle.

3. Using coordinating thread, whip stitch the long edge of the strip of fabric to the circumference of the circle.

4. Overlap the ends of the long strip, and then trim off the excess so that they only overlap by about half a centimeter. Whip stitch along the exterior edge to join the strip into a circle.

5. Using your stitched portions as a guide, draw a rough circle about 1cm larger all the way around than the original base. Cut it out.

6. Turn the circle over so that the marked pieces are on the bottom. Draw the symbol for Pi π in pencil at the center of the “top crust” you just cut out.

7. Using red embroidery thread and your favourite stitch (I am a fan of the split stitch, which is #3 in this article), embroider over the pencil markings you have made for the Pi symbol.

8. Using a large whip stitch (which will result in the fabric bunching around the edge to create the “crimped edge” of the top crust), sew the top crust to the rest of the pie. When the crust is about 3/4 of the way attached, stuff the pie with polyester stuffing and, if you so choose, a little bit of dried catnip. Then finish stitching the pie closed.

Your strawberry pi pie cat toy should be ready to go! We didn’t use catnip for ours, but Fizzgig likes it just the same. Her favourite thing to do is bat it down the stairs and then go chase after it. I tried to get a picture of her playing with it, but this was the best that I could do — she’s basically just a motion blur at this age!

Shrove Tuesday

I meant to write this post on Wednesday about Tuesday, but unfortunately I was in a minor car accident — a fender bender, really — which, while not severe in any shape or form, did eat away at my day. (Before you ask: I seem to be fine, the car is now in the shop but likely doesn’t require any major repairs, and no it wasn’t my fault (I was rear-ended while stopped in a right-hand turning lane, waiting for a gap in traffic so I could pull out).) So now I’m writing my posts all out of order, but this post will be backdated to Tuesday, which is when I actually made the pancakes.

I’ve written about Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Tuesday before, since it was a yearly tradition in my family growing up. In all of the hustle and bustle with travel (and my remaining jet lag) this year I’d almost forgotten about it, but somebody’s post on Facebook reminded me just in time. Not that pancakes for supper are limited to one day a year, mind. Some days I just feel like pancakes.

This year I went with Basic Pancakes from the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition); I’m not sure what page of the hard copy book, though, since this time I used the app (super-convenient, that thing). However, I discovered too late to go to the shops that I was low on eggs and completely out of butter, so I substituted half a mashed banana for an egg and canola oil for the butter. My substitutions seemed to work just fine since these pancakes were very fluffy and mighty tasty! I topped them with a fresh fruit salad of Granny Smith apples, dragon fruit, strawberries and more bananas, along with lots of maple syrup. And, as is pretty much a constant request in this family, I served bacon on the side.

Royal Palace of Madrid

Like many tourists, one of my first stops during my visit to Spain was the Royal Palace of Madrid (“Palacio Real de Madrid” in Spanish). I actually visited twice on consecutive days, because I underestimated how long it would take to properly appreciate all of the exhibits and I wanted to give this beautiful complex the attention it deserved.

The Royal Palace is located right in the middle of the old city; buildings that are commercial on the ground floor and apartments (or sometimes hotels) above are separated only by a road and the public parks such as the Plaza de Oriente and Jardines de Sabatini. This means that you can get a good look at the palace even from outside of the gates. It’s possible to look right inside the Plaza de Armeria (the main courtyard) from the publicly-accessible area between the Catedral de la Almudena and the palace. The throne room is on the second floor right above the central doors, and looks over the courtyard and at the cathedral.

This is the statue of Charles III at the base of the grand staircase.

And this is the grand staircase from above, with a statue of Charles IV at the center. It is, quite simply, awe-inspiring in its grandeur.

On ceiling above the grand staircase (and, indeed, most of the ceilings inside the palace) is a fresco. As this is probably the biggest single room that I saw, I’d venture to guess that it’s also the largest fresco. It is by Corrado Giaquinto and depicts Religion Protected by Spain (although I have to admit I had to look that up after the fact, I was so gobsmacked by the palace that I forgot less-consequential things like artists and titles).

After this, though, I have very few photos of the palace, since there were only a few areas where photos were allowed. Suffice it to say that it is an exercise in opulence and incredible attention to detail. Also on the palace grounds is the armory, which contains fantastic examples of full plate armour (for men, children, and horses) alongside swords, crossbows, and other weapons. Most of the items on display belonged to royalty or upper nobility, so they are beautifully detailed as well. Of course I wasn’t allowed to take photos in there either.

One place that photography was allowed was an extra to the basic tour that I just had to go see: the royal kitchens. They are absolutely huge, which makes sense because they once played host to hundreds of people working at hot, sweaty, tiring jobs that eventually produced all of the food that royalty and nobility at the palace ate. Above is a selection of the kinds of copper and glass molds that were in use.

A wooden work table with the more delicate tools for preparing and decorating the foods prepared in the molds.

The station for washing vegetables.

The pastry station with its marble counter top for keeping the pastry dough cool (much as we still use marble rolling pins or rolling pins filled with cold water for the same purpose today — it keeps the lard or butter from melting, which makes the dough flaky).

Prep table in the room with the main ovens and stoves. The big rack in the background holds all of the different kinds of spits for roasting above the massive fireplace.

The stoves used wood as fuel and the smoke was vented through pipes that ran under the floor, which kept them from having to have overhead chimneys. I’m not sure how they managed to get the chimneys to draw correctly; apparently it was quite the feat of engineering. Notice the high ceilings for air flow; the kitchens were in the basement and the windows that light it and allow for air circulation are at ground level.

Here you can see another of the massive cast-iron stove/ovens, with the fireplace for spit-roasting in the background.

Back when these kitchens were in use, they were often written about by visitors who were impressed by how much work it took to feed the upper classes in the manner to which they were accustomed. They also wrote about how the kitchens ran like a well-oiled machine, or they compared it to a military operation. I personally have a hard time imagining the monumental task it must have been to make these kitchens anything but absolute chaos. My hat is off to the generations of people who worked here.