Dinner and Dessert in an Instant (Pot)

The inner domestic goddess in my has been calling lately. She’s a taskmaster that one. I have to make lists to keep up with her.

It started with a skirt that needed shortened. Every two years I buy an ankle-length skirt thinking I can wear them in summer. They look sooo comfortable, and so cool. And they are. But they do not flatter with my figure – my best assets are my legs. And long skirts cover them up.

So I wanted to shorten a skirt that I bought last year. And down the rabbit hole I went. Once the sewing machine and I reconnect, a whole bunch of projects spring to mind. Like a new headboard cover in a flamingo print. Then I needed to make a matching pillow – with tassels.

Then I needed to move the bureau. And then I moved into the living room – where the couch needed new pillows. Then on to redoing the bins in the kitchen. Then outside to the deck, which needed washed (Clorox makes an amazing deck cleaner that is better than a power washer – if I am operating it.). This made me rethink the outdoor cushions. And those bushes that have been bothering me.

And so on.

I haven’t been to the gym in a week. Who has time?

I’ve even been multi-tasking when I walk the dog.  I now walk with a plastic bag and a long stick to pluck the dead ones out of the surf and the creek. Planting a dead fish and an eggshell or two with your tomato plants is the perfect fertilizer combination. There I was squatting along Walnut Creek this morning with a long stick trying to snag a floater for my garden. I am not fishing. These are dead fish. I seem to have some things in common with the turkey vultures, who, I swear, are watching this process.

It works. I had a magnificent crop of tomatoes last year.

We could speculate as to why I am on this roll. Avoiding other tasks, perhaps. Preparing to be a full-time nursing student in the fall – certainly a possibility. Before we get all psycho-babble about it, the real reason is that I don’t like sitting in the basement with the sewing machine in the summer. I like to grow tomatoes because I like to eat tomatoes.

And, in the late spring and summer, I can make a meal out of what I have planted — salads with fresh herbs, and soon radishes, and some grilled protein (or not). By mid-August, I will have tomato and cucumber salads with freshly baked bread, and I will be in heaven.

The result of all of this domesticity is that I’m too exhausted to make dinner at night.

Thankfully, the Instant Pot is pretty handy. And it can handle frozen chicken breasts and thighs. I plunged deep into the back of the freezer to find some breasts and thighs that had been there for about six months or so (and was pretty pleased to find them lurking there), and dropped them into the Instant Pot, along with a cup of Franks Red Hot sauce and a couple of tablespoons of butter. In less than an hour (30 minutes of actual cooking time), I had dinner, plus leftovers. The shredding was the most work of the whole dish.

My handy Instant Pot makes both dinner and dessert.

The first time, I just loaded it onto a bun with some slaw on top (you can add some blue cheese dressing or blue cheese crumbles if you like), and added some sliced cucumbers as the salad (two veggies – I win!)

The cold leftovers were great for lunch – I made a broccoli slaw (mayo, vinegar, sweetener) and piled it on the bottom. Put the shredded chicken on top, garnish with tomatoes, cucumbers, or whatever is handy  – and viola, a healthy lunch.

Instant Pot Buffalo chicken on top of a broccoli slaw, with an avocado topper.

I do enjoy my veggies – but at heart, I’m a fruit lover. And dessert with fruit is one of my absolute favorites (except that stewed rhubarb thing I had in Paris about five years ago). Sometimes I am happy with fresh fruit and mint from the garden. But not at the moment. I am craving creamy and cold.

And the bloggers in love with the Instant Pot (a pressure cooker) swear that this thing makes cheesecakes and other desserts. Yeah, yeah, yeah. My bread machine promised that it made jam, but I I didn’t see the point in that. So why use the Instant Pot for cheesecake. After all, you still have to mix the ingredients up (crust and filling).

Two reasons:

  1. You don’t have to use a water bath (the ideal method for cooking a cheesecake to keep it creamy and not crack the top).
  2. You don’t heat up the house.

The hardest part of this recipe is:

  1. You have to find the springform pan that fits your pot. A 6- or 7-inch pan works. I had to order on Amazon. By this summer, you might find them at TJ Maxx or Marshall.
  2. Cream cheese must be room temp. This is true regardless of how you are cooking it – conventional oven or the pressure cooker.

It cooks in about 35 minutes – but you have to add on time for the pressure to build, and then vent naturally – so it takes about the same amount of time as the oven. But, let me tell you, cheesecake without the bain marie (water bath) is a dream. Especially in the summer (which will get here eventually).

It’s not very pretty when it comes out. That much I will tell you. So I made my typical topping of plain Greek yogurt, brown sugar, and lemon zest to cover the top. Then I topped it with mounds of blueberries that I had tossed in apricot jam (made last year). The jam gives the blueberries a glossy look. You, of course, could just buy a container of lemon yogurt, or vanilla yogurt, or whatever flavor you like, and skip that step. You can also skip the step of glossing the blueberries.

This is not a compensated post, BTW. I only write about products I use and love.

See you at the farmer’s markets soon

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@meadballs.co

m

Print Recipe
Blueberry Cheesecake in the Instant Pot
Course dessert, dinner, lunch
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Passive Time 5 hours
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Course dessert, dinner, lunch
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Passive Time 5 hours
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Prepare the 7-inch springform pan by putting it together, then lightly coating with cooking spray. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and spray again. Cut an 18-inch piece of aluminum foil. Place a paper towel in the middle of the foil. Place pan on top of foil. Fold foil up around pan (so that it protects from leaks). Have extra foil go straight up the sides of the pan - you will use this to help lift the pan into and out of the Instant Pot.
  2. In a food processor, pulse crackers until nearly crushed. Add melted butter and sugar and pulse to combine. This should have a crumbly/sandy texture. Press into the bottom and sides of the pan. I like to use some plastic wrap or parchment on top of the crumbs and use a heavy mug or bowl to press crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
  3. Beat the room temp cream cheese and sugar in a stand mixer or your hand mixer until combined. Add in the yogurt or sour cream and mix for 30 more seconds until smooth, add in the flour or tapioca starch, salt and vanilla. Add in the eggs and mix until just smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Do not over beat this.
  4. Pour into crust.
  5. Pour 2 cups of water into the bottom of your Instant Pot. Place the trivet that came with the pot into the bottom, with the feet folded up.
  6. Once the pan is in the Instant Pot (make sure you have the rubber ring in), secure lid. Make sure vent is on "sealed." Press "Manual" and set time for 35 minutes. Let the pot release the pressure - do not manually release.
  7. When the cheesecake is done. Remove the lid. Use foil to lift out of pot. Allow to cool for 1 hour. Then refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.
  8. In the meantime, stir together yogurt, brown sugar, and lemon zest. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
  9. Take cheesecake out of refrigerator. Remove foil, then remove from the pan. The parchment will help you remove the cheesecake from the bottom of the pan, but you may need a metal spatula to help get it started. Remove parchment from bottom. Plate cheesecake.
  10. Toss blueberries with apricot jam. If your apricot jam is firm, then microwave in a glass bowl first for 15 to 45 seconds. Stir. Then add blueberries and stir to coat.
  11. Spread yogurt mixture on top of cheesecake. Heap blueberries on top. Enjoy. Should make 6 slices.
Recipe Notes

This recipe is adapted from Cookies and Cups. I love the Ritz crackers in the crust - but you can use your favorite graham crackers. To make GF, I have successfully used GF graham crackers.

I like the use of brown sugar in this recipe - it lends a depth with the molasses that I enjoy. If you don't have any, certainly you can use regular granulated sugar. If you have just a tablespoon or two sitting in the bottom of your bag or container - DO use it in the yogurt topping.

If you are not a fan of lemon, or don't have lemon zest, substitute 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Tip on lemon zest: Any time you are juicing a lemon, zest it first. Put the zest in a sandwich baggie and keep in the freezer.

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Breakfast in Paris

J’adore Paris. It’s as simple as that. After my first trip, 27 years ago, not so much. But we’ve both mellowed a bit, Paris and I. She is more accepting of visitors, especially if you make an attempt at being polite in her language – bon jour madame or monsieur goes a long way. As does s’il vous plait, or please. I am more tolerant of her idiosyncratic bureaucracy – things open and close according to forces that are not in my control; if someone can’t help you, wait 10 minutes or 24 hours, and, often, they can or will. I don’t know why. C’est la vie.

Terrorism has changed a lot of life. There are now threat alerts posted at major locations. There are armed – as in machine gun armed, military personnel in the subway checking ID and at attractions patrolling. The Eiffel Tower base is now barricaded do prevent explosive vans from blowing the whole thing, along with the people visiting, up.

But a lot hasn’t changed. Parisians get up. Get on the subway. Stop at cafés. And have croissants – some much better than others. But nearly all better than what we can buy here.  Our guide noted, however, that doctors recommend eating no more than 3 per week.

We weren’t there to listen to doctors. We were there to eat and drink in all things Paris – from the croissants, to the metro, to the churches, to the museums, to the shops, restaurants, cafés, and, to even have a picnic dinner in the park watching the Eiffel Tower put on its nightly light show while men with green plastic bags hawked Champagne, wine, and beer to fellow visitors. It was heavenly. Where else could you buy a salted caramel and chocolate Pot de Crème in a supermarket.

This visit, in addition to buying the Seine River cruise and the Catacombs tickets (if you buy in advance the line is only about 30 minutes instead of the normal 90 minutes to 2 hours or more), I booked a 3-hour croissant class at La Cuisine Paris. The cooking school, which offers classes in English and was highly recommended in a New York Times review of cooking classes.

It certainly lived up to its reputation. La Cuisine Paris offers many classes, including a market shopping class that includes making lunch or dinner, macaroons, baguette, etc. But, for my daughter and I, learning to make the basic French pastry was the ultimate experience.

Our teacher, Guillaume, was from Marseilles and trained in Lyon – the epicenter of French cooking. His English was perfect, as was his ability to teach to all levels in our class, which included a Canadian student who had spent the year in Paris and whose mother told him to come home having learned how to cook something. There were several amateur pastry makers – American and Canadian, two novices (including my daughter, 14), and a Paris dweller.

We learned the three keys to the perfect pastry – butter (must be at least 82 percent butterfat which is typically found in European butters but not American, which requires 80 percent), technique, and time.

About the butter – this is really crucial. Guillaume recommended we buy President in the United States. Or basically any French butter. I didn’t really understand until I read Dorie Greenspan’s article on the difference in how the French make their butter.  Here is an article on the various types of butter you can usually find in American grocery stores and how they stack up. They aren’t cheap – you are going to pay about 150 percent more for half the butter. If you are going to make pastry, this is not the time to go cheap. I’ve done it. You will regret it. Because you will have about 24 hours invested in the process of rising, rolling, laminating, baking, etc. If you are going to do all of this, don’t try to save $2.

This goes back to the basics of cooking. When you have one star ingredient – in this case butter – make sure it shines.

I’m giving it a shot here in my U.S. kitchen. I bought butter yesterday – and I’m being daring using a U.S. butter cultured in the European fashion (the ratings are recommended, but not as high as Plugra, which is the best and I couldn’t find). The dough is rising as I write.

Right now, though, the best ingredient you can find in our area is strawberries. I went out on Sunday – complete with jet lag and 84 degrees – and picked 8 quarts. I will be back this afternoon because all of those berries are turning into fancy little shortcake cakes. Not the biscuit kind, but the ones made with a sponge cake, a lemon simple syrup, lots of whipped cream, and berries. Lots and lots of berries.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. And I’ll keep you posted on the croissants.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Strawberry Shortcake Cake
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter or cooking spray. Line with parchment and grease parchment. Or use mini paper cake pans that you have coated in cooking spray.
  2. Cut off tops of strawberries and thinly slice half of them, leaving remaining berries whole. Mix sliced strawberries with superfine sugar and half the lemon zest and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip eggs and egg white on high speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Gradually pour in 1 1/4 cups sugar. Whip on high speed until mixture is a pale yellow and thick, 1 to 3 minutes.
  4. Fold flour mixture into egg mixture. Fold in milk, vanilla and butter until completely combined. (I melt the butter in the milk when warming in the microwave for 30 to 45 seconds).
  5. Gently pour batter into prepared pan and bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Invert cake onto a cooling rack and peel off baking paper. Let cool completely. If you are using mini cake pans, bake for 15 minutes, then check, and turn to evenly distribute heat. Check again after 5 minutes.
  6. To make syrup: In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup) sugar, 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and optional pepper. Simmer on medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining lemon zest.
  7. Whip heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form.
  8. Using a serrated knife, horizontally slice cake in half. Generously brush each cut side with lemon syrup. Place the bottom half, cut side up, on a cake plate. Spoon sliced strawberries and any juices over it. Spread half the whipped cream over strawberries. Place the other cake half on top. Spread remaining whipped cream on top. Garnish with whole strawberries and drizzle with more lemon syrup for serving.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Cooking at New York Times. Recipe by Melissa Clark with some modifications by Marnie Mead.

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Bake Madeleines for April in Paris

I’m head over heels in love – with spring. Everything about it renews my soul. The sound of the birds fills my head with song – sweeping away some of the darker thoughts of winter. On my walks I inhale the perfumes of the daffodils, the hyacinths just coming up  – even the dark, dampness of the soil.

The creeks are filled with purpose, rushing by the willow trees with the laughter of a young child. That same creek will meander like an old man by the time August comes around. But, for now, it reminds me of a toddler in a bathtub.

Out on the lake, the ducks, geese, and gulls are chatting away with their honks, squawks, and dives into the water.

The flowering tree outside my widow is showing small white flowers. If I look away too long, I suspect they will burst forth into bloom.

Yes, the the world is alive again.

Springtime reminds me of Paris. The last time I visited we were on the cusp between spring and summer – having the honor of experiencing both seasons (according to the calendar). In truth, the first day was gorgeous – and we were jetlagged. I think it was rainy and 50 degrees every day after. The Seine was threatening its riverbanks.

I visited during all four seasons – fall, winter, spring, and summer. And will be returning in early June. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to revisit during all the the seasons again. But, at the same time, there are other countries to visit as well.

In any case, it is spring. And I am thinking of Paris. Which makes me think of sitting at café outside, eating and drinking my way through one of my favorite cities. And this makes me think of the famous French madeleines, the little cakes shaped like shells that are famous in Paris.

Being very American, I was at first disappointed in madeleines. They weren’t cakes. They were cake-like cookies. I expected CAKE. American cake. Big slices of cake.

Over time, I appreciate how the French eat. They eat sweets, and croissants, and butter, and sauces, and French fries (called frites), and steak, and, and, and. And they aren’t fat. That’s because they eat in moderation.

So just one (or two) madeleines should take care of that sweet tooth after dinner.

They don’t keep. They are best eaten the day they are made. Don’t put into plastic or a container to try to save them. It won’t help. The batter keeps well in the fridge, so you can just make a small batch for a craving.

Like all things French, there is a debate about the correct way to make them. At issue is whether to use baking powder or not. If you do, use one without aluminum (so there is no tinny flavor), such as Rumsford (red and black label). I don’t use baking powder for mine because I don’t like the taste. As a result, my cakes are a little denser than those made with the baking powder.

I do use cake flour. Most recipes call for all-purpose flour. It’s up to you. I find them to be a little more delicate with the cake flour. If you do use AP, I like Gold Medal for baking. It’s a Cook’s Illustrated favorite.

Madeleines are made in a specific pan, which violates my code not to buy pans for just one purpose. Sometimes you just have to break the rules. If you are buying one, buy nonstick. Otherwise, I like to melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter with 1 tablespoon of flour. Then I brush that into the indentations in the pan to keep them from sticking. Remove the little cakes from the pans about 3 minutes after they come out of the oven.

You can glaze them with lemon and powdered sugar. Or I just sprinkle with powdered sugar.

TIP: Use a tea ball with a handle as a go-to powdered sugar spinkler for cakes, cookies, etc. It sifts, sprinkles, and can be stored in the container with the sugar.

Enjoy.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
French Madeleines
Course dessert
Cuisine French
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine French
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Use an electric mixer to beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl just to blend. Beat in vanilla, lemon peel and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Stream in 10 tablespoons of the cooled melted butter in into the batter, beating just until blended.
  2. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
  3. In the meantime, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the melted butter. Stir to combine. Use a pastry brush to coat the indentations in your pan. (Don't use it all. This recipe makes from 24 to 30 cookies). Place madeleine pan in freezer for 1 hour.
  4. Spoon batter into each indentation in pan, estimating it to be about 3/4 full. Do not spread it out. This will be about a scant tablespoon, depending on the size of your molds. Mine take about 2 teaspoons.
  5. Bake for 8 minutes. Turn pan. Bake for another 3-5 minutes. The madeleines should be browned around the edges and slightly golden on top. Remove from oven and cool 3-5 minutes. Gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch.
  6. Dust cookies with powdered sugar.
Recipe Notes

You can make a batch of the madeleines and then refrigerate the remaining batter to make more the next day. This will keep for about 3 days.

Some people will decrease the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and add 1 to 2 tablespoons each of honey and brown sugar; add 1 more egg; add baking powder; add lemon juice, etc. This is a recipe, once you make it, that you can then make your own. I sometimes use almond extract instead of vanilla. Or you could add lemon extract to boost the lemon flavor.

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Failure is Part of the Recipe of Life

People often ask if I have failures.

Yes. I do. Sometimes more often than I would like to admit.

Today, I will admit to a couple in the kitchen last week. I’ll admit to some personal ones in another blog later this week.

What do I do, then, with stuff that doesn’t turn out?

Depends. If it is a total disaster, it goes into the waste bin. If not, it may be recycled.

Most of the disasters happen when I bake. And usually it is when I am not following the recipe, precisely. I do like to wing it now and again. With more than 40 years of baking experience, I generally know most of the chemistry. So I know what a batter looks like for a cake, what the texture is for a pie crust, etc.

The oven and your pans, however, can play a real role in the success for failure of your baking adventure. If your oven temperature is 25 degrees off, high or low, even a minute or two will make all the difference between overcooked and raw in the middle. The first time I made the recipe, I had the oven temp at 400 degrees, like the recipe stated. But I have a convection bake setting, so after 12 minutes, they were borderline burned. The second time, I set the timer for 10 minutes and the temperate at 375 degrees. When the timer went bing, they middles were sunken. So I walked away … and forgot for 5 minutes. Once again, overdone.

On the third time, I checked after 10 minutes. Middles still sunken. This time I set the timer for 2 minutes – barely enough time to pour a cup of tea and sit down. Bingo. Twelve minutes was perfect.

So what did I do with the less than perfect ones? Burned and chocolate, even slightly burned, isn’t repairable. They went into the waste can. The batch that we baked, but just not runny in the middle, I turned into cake pops. Essentially just crumble them up in a food processor, add frosting, roll into balls, and dip into chocolate. I also could have made a chocolate trifle, with layers of chocolate sauce. crumbled cake, and whipped cream.

It’s a lot of work to rescue a failure.

Earlier in the week, I was working on no-sugar baked goods made with almond and coconut flour. One was sweetened with oranges that simmered for two hours and then were pulverized in the blender. The other was sweetened with applesauce.

Both were dreadful. Just awful. They represented an entire afternoon of time, some very expensive ingredients (almond flour, olive oil, and a dozen eggs aren’t cheap), and wishful thinking.

Failure happens to anyone who tries. To anyone who dreams, “what if?”

If you keep at it, sometimes you get that perfect molten lava cake. And you get to eat it, while wearing PJs, on the couch, with the remote, and with as much ice cream as you like.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Chocolate Lava Cakes
These are best served about 15 minutes after coming out of the oven with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings
cakes
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings
cakes
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees if using convection bake). Coat 6 ramekins with cooking spray. Place on baking sheet.
  2. You will need 4 bowls for this. One will need to be large enough to mix all the ingredients together.
  3. In the first bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt.
  4. In a microwave-safe bowl, add chocolate and butter. Cook, uncovered in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir well. If not fully melted, return to microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Don't cook too long or the butter and chocolate will separate. Let sit for about 5 minutes.
  5. In a third bowl - this one large enough to hold all ingredients - and fourth bowls, separate eggs, discarding one white. The yolks go into the larger bowl with the sugar. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until light, frothy, and the sugar has dissolved into the eggs. Stir in vanilla. Beat the two egg whites until light and fluffy.
  6. Add melted chocolate/butter mixture to the eggs. Then stir in the flour. Don't beat it. You want to stir until the mixture is glossy looking. Then stir in egg whites.
  7. Pour mixture into the prepared ramekins. You can refrigerate this now if you won't be serving soon. If you refrigerate, take the ramekins out of the refrigerator long enough so the batter comes to room temperature before baking - at least 30 minutes (and depending on the temp in your kitchen, up to 2 hours).
  8. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The tops will be puffed, but not cracked. The ramekins will have some shimmy left in the batter if you move them, but won't have an indentation in the middle indicating raw batter. I check mine after 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack. Set timer for 5 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges of the ramekin. Invert each onto a wide spatula, then flip over onto a plate to serve. These are best eaten while still warm served with ice cream or whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours."

Use your favorite chocolate that you like to eat, bittersweet, milk, or semi-sweet. If you are using the milk chocolate, use just 4 tablespoons of the sugar. If using semi-sweet, then 5 tablespoons. Bittersweet gets all the sugar.

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