Instant Pot Ground Beef Stroganoff

I was perusing my cookbooks the other day for a quick meal that wouldn’t require a lengthy trip to a grocery store, and I decided on Ground Beef Stroganoff from The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook (Coco Morante, 2018). It’s very different than the stroganoff that I was taught to make way back when (I learned so long ago that I honest can’t remember), but it was still quite nice. The only alteration was that I made the dish using lactose-free sour cream instead of regular sour cream.

I really liked that this was truly a one-pot meal; the sweating of the onions and garlic, the browning of the meat, and the cooking of the noodles are all done in the Instant Pot. This is the kind of situation where the saute function really shines. And I really liked that the short pressure cooking time was just long enough to get the prep mess cleaned up and the table set. What a great meal for a busy weeknight!

All-You-Can-Eat Sushi

One of the things that I really like about birthdays is that it usually means going out for dinner. When it’s a large group of people like it was for the dual birthdays this past weekend, that usually means a kind of place where everyone can find at least one thing that they like — which often means a buffet or all-you-can-eat kind of place. This year my friends chose 168 Sushi Buffet. We’ve eaten there for a number of other celebrations, and it’s usually pretty good food. I mean, it’s not fancy, no bones about it, but it gives everyone a chance to try a little bit of everything, and I really like that.

As a bonus, this meal gave me the chance to try out the little ring light that I had purchased during my visit to the US in the fall. Restaurant lighting is notoriously bad (it’s generally kept low for “ambience” — and often to conceal a multitude of flaws), and it’s not like you can set up a tripod in the close quarters between tables. One of my friends was nice enough to act as my light stand, though, so I think I captured a few decent pics. Above we have a group order of sashimi.

Shrimp tempura.

Rolled sushi (dragon rolls I think).

And seafood udon soup.

Every other dish went by me so quickly and was picked clean so fast that I didn’t have a chance to get pictures! I mean, it’s not like I wasn’t involved in that process or something, but I found it funny.

So, would I recommend this restaurant, and others in this style? Most definitely! Don’t go in expecting something high-end, but you will get your fill of good food. It’s also extremely popular! There was a long line from the time we arrived to the moment we left.

Leftover Stew

Yesterday was a toss-up for reasons not to send the kids to school: on the one hand, it was a snow day, and on the other, they were both sick anyway. So I kept dinner simple and made a stew out of all of the leftover bits and pieces I had in the fridge. Honestly, a traditional stew (at least the way I learned it) is a bit of whatever you’ve got around anyway, so it seems fitting.

The stew contained beef, onions, garlic, carrots, baby potatoes, celery, homemade beef broth, store-bought beef broth, pearl barley, red wine, fresh thyme, fresh sage, a bay leaf, and salt. I whipped it up in the Instant Pot in about 45mins, including preheating/venting time. It wasn’t the best stew I have ever made, but it was tasty, hearty, warm, and went down easily for those with sore throats. I’ll consider it a win.

Hearty Hamburger Soup

The plague, aka the nasty cold with a sore throat and a cough that has been going around, hit our house hard this week. While I am desperately trying to fend it off, Thing 2 and my husband have succumbed, and Thing 1 is starting to show symptoms. It’s also been ridiculously (if seasonally) cold the last few days, averaging about -35°C (-31°F) at night with the wind chill. All of this together means that the best thing for everyone to eat is a nice, hearty soup.

So last night I made Hearty Hamburger Soup in my Instant Pot. It’s actually a stove top recipe, but it’s easy enough to adapt; I just did all the sautéing in the cooker, drained off the fat, added the rest of the ingredients and then pressure cooked for 30min. This is a dish that I’ve been meaning to make for years, and the ingredients are generally the kind of thing I have stocked in my pantry and freezer. I’m told that my aunt makes a killer version of this dish, but I haven’t been able to wheedle her recipe away from her. The Allrecipes version was quite nice, though. I made the accompanying bread earlier that day in the bread machine; it was Egg-Enriched White Loaf on page 67 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2002).

Thing 1’s Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken

Thing 1 is learning how to cook, by which I don’t mean just helping me in the kitchen, but actually planning and preparing entire meals. She’s been able to successfully manage pre-packaged food for a while now, so she wanted to step up her game. I gave her free run of my cookbooks last week, but I suggested that for now she stick with some of the ones meant for beginners that I’d picked up over the years. She really likes Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997), I think at least in part because it’s full of detailed step-by-step photos, but isn’t only targeted at children. She prepared this dish almost entirely by herself, although I remained nearby to field (many, many) questions and to introduce her to some new techniques.

She chose to make Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken (page 88), which is the kind of meal that takes a lot more time to peel and chop than to actually cook. She was only just starting to prepare when she cut open a sweet pepper to find another tiny pepper growing inside! I’d read about this phenomenon before, but hadn’t chanced upon it myself; it’s called parthenocarpy, which is a kind of internal proliferation of a fruit without fertilization. Basically, it’s a tiny natural clone of the larger pepper — and it’s perfectly edible.


Yes, I know the knife in the background shouldn’t have been left blade-up; Thing 1 put it in the dishwasher moments after this photo was taken.

Knife skills are, I think, one of the most essential parts of learning to cook efficiently. I’m no speed demon myself, but I’m reasonably quick I manage not to cut myself most of the time. I find that even a lot of adults are awkward and slow with a knife in the kitchen, so I hope that starting Thing 1 early acquiring this skill will mean it’s easier for her as she grows up.

Another part of learning how to cook is learning how to adapt a recipe to what you have. I, for example, don’t have a good wok any more, so the dish had to be cooked in a large non-stick frying pan, which meant that the instructions had to change a little bit. Also, I couldn’t find the specific kind of noodle that the recipe called for, so a few adaptations had to be made for that.

Thing 1’s final dish was perfectly prepared: the veggies were still a little crunchy, the chicken was moist, and the noodles were al dente. Everyone went back for seconds, and there was still enough for Thing 1 to take as leftovers for lunch the next day — and show off to her friends.

Breaded Chicken Thighs with Baby Potatoes & Miso Greens

I’ve been trying to cut down on food waste in my house, and one of the things that goes to waste a lot of the time is the heels and mis-cuts of my homemade bread. You’d think it would get eaten up since it’s fresh and honestly tastes the same as the rest of the loaf, but the kids especially tend to leave it to go stale or even moldy. What I’ve started to do is take the stale ends and whizz it through the food processor to make bread crumbs, which was suggested by Jamie Oliver in this video. (I know it’s an ad, but it had some good tips!) This go around the crumbs were mostly from a loaf of rosemary Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, which is a great herb to combine with chicken.

To add a bit more flavour, I broke out the Ikea FALKSALT sampler that my husband got for Christmas. I can’t seem to find a listing for it online, but it comes with four blends of sea salt: natural, wild garlic, oak smoked, and wild garlic. I chose the oak smoked for this dish, so I ground up a bit and added it to the bread crumbs. I dipped the chicken thighs in flour, then beaten eggs, and then bread crumbs. Then I baked it all for about half an hour, until the meat was cooked all the way through but still juicy.

To finish the meal, I also boiled up some baby potatoes that I bought over a month ago and had forgotten about in the fridge, and the leftover miso greens from the night before. Truly, this meal was all about avoiding food waste — but it was also delicious! Simple, too.

Green Tea Salmon with Coconut Rice & Miso Greens

When I bought the salmon for yesterday’s dinner, I had the option of buying just enough for one meal at a rather high price, or picking up a club pack that would make two meals for only a dollar or two more. Bulk discounts are a really big thing here and, if you can work with it, can save you an awful lot of money. Owning a deep freeze is a great way to buy in bulk without having to eat the same thing for a week. However, most ocean fish that gets to us here is frozen, since we’re about 1,100km away from the Atlantic coast in our country, and 500km away if we drive south to the States. I didn’t want to re-freeze the extra salmon, so we ended up eating it two days in a row. I’d been itching to try out some of the recipes from my new-to-me copy of Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, 2012), and the green tea salmon with coconut rice & miso greens on page 138 looked like it was packed with flavour.

I like how this book gives very specific directions for how to prepare these dishes in the least amount of time. That being said, this dish definitely took more than 15 minutes, mostly because of the rice. The instructions call for basmati rice to cook in light coconut milk for only 10 minutes — but I have never managed to make decent basmati on the stove in less than 25, and I cook it a lot. I tried to shave off a little time by cooking it in the Instant Pot (which didn’t exist when this book was written), but with the preheating, a 12-minute automatic cook time, and 10 minutes of releasing pressure naturally, it was still closer to a 25-minute cooking time. So I had to time my other preparation around the rice so that all of the elements finished at the same time. That actually made things much easier for me, since I’m definitely slower at my knife-work than Jamie.

My other issue with this recipe, and it’s become a big of a pet peeveas I’ve written before, is that the ingredients aren’t measured by something objective like volume or weight. Rather, they were given such measurements as “bunches” or “thumb-sized”. It’s fine to be able to throw in a pinch of this and a dash of that once I know a recipe well, but when I’m trying it for the first time I want it to be as much like the original as possible. Also, a “bunch” can change size from store to store and season to season — and I’m pretty sure that we use slightly different varieties of veggies than over in the UK, so their sizes can vary considerably. This can throw off proportions and potentially ruin a recipe. In this recipe, I threw in a whole bunch of cilantro instead of half a bunch, because the bunches where I was shopping seemed really small. Also, I had to use broccoli instead of broccolini, since my local grocery store didn’t carry the latter at all; luckily that particular bunch also had an approximate weight measurement as well.

Despite my pickiness about the recipe, I was very happy with the final dishes. The salmon with its green tea coating was surprisingly delicious, the coconut rice was lovely (and so easy!), and the veggies were crisp and fresh-tasting. I think the dressing would have been better with a little olive oil added to thin it out, since it had such a strong flavour that you really didn’t need much. The oil probably would have made my poor old blender deal with the whole thing better too, since it didn’t like working with such small quantities or low levels of liquid (my blender is older than I am). I think that making this sauce into a salad dressing for fresh greens would be absolutely lovely — unless I’m making it for someone who finds that cilantro tastes like soap. Luckily, I’m not one of them!