When I Cook with my Instant Pot All the Food is Scrumptious

Instant Pot

My mother and sister are always on the hunt for the latest kitchen toys. Ice cream maker, spiralizer, sous vide, bread maker. The list goes on and on. These are all good toys and they have their use in the kitchen. For the most part I also believe my mother and sister use them. They both are great cooks and often feed big crowds. I do enjoy the odd toy in my kitchen (I can’t live without my espresso maker!), but I was a skeptic when my sister first told me about the Instant Pot.

When she bought this contraption, she talked about a pressure cooker that was easy and safe and that could cook up delicious food in minutes. I did not believe her. How could you dump ingredients into a machine, press on and minutes later have fully cooked food that was also tasty? No way. Not possible and I wasn’t interested.

If you know my sister you know that she is a rather determined person. She did not give up on me. Every time the Instant Pot went on sale on Amazon I got a friendly text or email. It was unrelenting. She told me this machine was life-changing, that it would become the centrepiece of my kitchen. No way I said, I had enough kitchen toys.

Then on Black Friday last year the Instant Pot was on sale for a price that was almost too good to be true, so I relented and purchased it. A few days later it arrived at my house, I opened the box and gave it a once-over.

I surfed the web in the days before my Instant Pot arrived to find a few recipes to try on this new toy and was ready with a fridge stocked with ingredients. In my first week, I decided to experiment with a Mongolian beef dish, General Tsao chicken and a couple of soups.

Oh my gosh my sister was right. Yes, I will very publicly admit it here – my sister was right. The Instant Pot was easy to use and every dish was sensational. The beef was full of flavour and melted in the mouth. The chicken had just enough kick and was tender and juicy. Every soup had a deep flavour after only 10, 20 or 30 minutes in the pot.

My Instant Pot is definitely now one of my best friends in the kitchen. I have tried dozens of recipes since it joined the family back in December. Soup is my favourite thing to make, but I have also made roast chicken, chicken wings, pasta dishes, rices and last night made the best ratatouille I have ever tasted.

Instant Pot
It cooks chicken wings
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One of my favourite soups was minestrone

My daughter has had a bit of thing for ratatouille since she saw the famous movie by the same name and has been begging me to make it. So, last night I thinly sliced up 2 baby eggplants, 2 zucchinis, I chopped 3 peppers, one onion and four garlic cloves.

I turned on my Instant Pot to sauté (yes you can first sauté in the pot before you switch to high pressure), heated up some olive oil, then threw in the garlic and onions to create a strong flavour base. Then came the peppers, followed by the eggplant and zucchini. Then in went a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes and some pepper and salt. I carefully mixed it all together, closed the lid and set the machine to manual high pressure for 5 minutes.

The Instant Pot did its thing. It rose to high pressure, cooked the food for 5 minutes, then I let the pressure naturally release for a few more minutes. In the meantime, I cooked a pot of quinoa (which one can also make in the Instant Pot if you wish) and in less than 30 minutes (includes time to chop veggies and cook the food) I had a fabulous dinner.

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This is how the ratatouille looked last night after I saluted it but before high pressure.
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My ratatouille in he bowl, on a bed of quinoa. Yum.

After 7 months, I am still a novice with the Instant Pot. I have not ventured out into foods such as yoghurt or cheesecake (though I did make perfect molten chocolate cakes in there). I hope to go there soon. This toy is a good investment, whether you are a gourmet cook or scared of the kitchen.

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The molten cakes when I took the lid off
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I cooled them for a couple of minutes
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And enjoyed mine with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cappuccino from my espresso maker

I am always looking for new recipes and new foods to try in my Instant Pot. Leave me a comment here, post on Facebook or Tweet me @AliciaRichler with some ideas that I can try. I will let you know how it goes.

What you need to know about a Farmers’ Market

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One of the ways I know that the spring and summer season has arrived is the presence of farmers’ markets dotting parks, parking lots, squares, and sidewalks in cities and towns across Ontario, Canada and really across North America. While a few markets run all-year round, heading indoors over the winter, many of the farmers’ markets pop up in late May and early June, offering a wide assortment of goodies for people to buy.

While walking in the Annex yesterday in central Toronto I passed signs posted on front lawns and hydro polls with details about the neighbourhood farmers’ market that happened every Wednesday afternoon, starting in June. My luck, yesterday was Wednesday, it was 3:00 pm and I was only about 3 blocks from this market. It’s hard for me to stay away from a farmers’ market, so off I went, with sleeping baby in the stroller, to check out a market I had never visited before.

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The sign outside the market I visited
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Walking into the local farmers’ market
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The musicians at work at the farmers’ market

There are some basic commonalities that all farmers’ markets share, which I find helps locals, tourists or just general passers-by easily find their way through:

  1. They are set up with vendor tables on two sides of a wide aisle, to easily allow for pedestrian traffic. These vendor tables are all protected under a pop-up white tent (sometimes another colour but for the most part it’s white), so they stay dry. These markets happen rain or shine!
  2. The vendors are all local, coming from as far as farms 100 km away. They know the town or neighbourhood and the kind of customers that frequent that market.
  3. It’s not just produce at today’s farmers’ markets. While there are always a few vendors selling seasonal produce (asparagus in May, strawberries in late June or peaches in August), one can expect much more. I can always count on someone who is selling homemade breads, another vendor that may have honey, maple syrup, jams or olive oil and there’s usually an assortment of freshly cooked food or fresh squeezed juices to purchase as well.
  4. For the most part, transactions are cash only. Unless there is a vendor who is selling bigger ticket items like clothing or jewelry, don’t expect to find Apple pay or a credit card reader.
  5. Some of the more eclectic markets feature live music, which is an added bonus. It is nice to show off local talent, and music puts people in a good mood.
  6. The vendors are friendly and knowledgeable about what they are selling. The baker will recommend the right bread that suits your personal taste buds. When you buy a jar of honey you will get advice on how to store it. The local farmer will tell you what she pulled from her garden just that morning and what to expect next. The personal touch is something special.

The city of Toronto has many farmers’ markets to choose from, and many towns offer one weekly or biweekly. My favourite market to visit outside Toronto is the one in the centre of Collingwood, a town on the southern shore of Georgian Bay. It runs every Saturday from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm, from Victoria Day weekend to Thanksgiving weekend.

This market has all the usual vendors one can expect as well as a few surprises. My children love the live alpaca and the soft socks, hats and clothing that vendor sells. It isn’t a summer weekend for my nephew unless he gets his raspberry filled doughnut from a specific vendor (who also makes and sells the best pierogis) and my parents can’t leave without buying up all the fresh samosas from a vendor called Ali’s Kitchen (who has a restaurant in Collingwood). The market often features live music, it’s bustling on a warm and sunny Saturday morning and it represents everything a good farmers’ market should be.

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I just had to get some photos
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The brown one happily posed for a photo
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The white one held still perfectly and posed for me
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Doughnut…yum
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In asparagus season in May, why not become an asparagus?

One of my favourite farmers’ markets that I visited as a tourist was a Thursday morning market in the Napa Valley in California. In addition to local fresh produce, breads and jams, there was a live cooking demonstration. Using food all available at that market, a local chef demonstrated with mirrors and cameras, how to put some simple and fresh dishes together. It was a great way to show off what was on offer from the vendors, the local chef showed off her talent and plugged her restaurant and everyone went home with some new recipes and cooking skills.

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The chef’s demonstration at the farmers’ market in Napa

I encourage you to swing by a farmers’ market this summer, in your own city or town, in a community just outside where you live or on summer travel. You are guaranteed, fresh, local, quality food and merchandise with kind and friendly service.

I Discovered a New Spot Downtown as a Tourist in My Own City

new spot downtown

 

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about Doors Open Toronto and the excitement I felt at being a tourist in my own city. Toronto is a big place and has definitely come into its own as a world class city. With its many ravines, vast greenery and its setting on the north shore of Lake Ontario I really think that Toronto is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

I have explored many parts of Toronto, but with such a rich mix of cultures, neighbourhoods and urban spaces there is always a new spot downtown for me to explore. With the first big heat wave of the season upon us, we decided, with my parents, to escape the oppressive temperatures on Sunday afternoon and head down to the waterfront. With the beaches closed because of excessive amounts of rain and too many crowds around places like Harbourfront, my parents suggested we try a new spot downtown (new for us) and have dinner at Against the Grain.

This restaurant sits inside Corus Quay, on the east side of Queen’s Quay. As you approach the area it looks quite industrial and there seems to be an infinite number of cranes dotting the skyline. I saw signs for many developers, building both condos and tall office towers. With a dense downtown core, it makes sense that the skyscrapers are spreading out in this direction.

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The cranes and the Toronto skyline

The waterfront in this part of the city is simple and beautiful. It is anchored by Sugar Beach, which on the surface is the most bizarre beach I have ever seen. It is sandy, it has adorable pink umbrellas and it sits on the water’s edge. But there is a boardwalk between the beach and the water with no water access (except for a cute maple leaf shaped splash pad). A massive industrial boat is moored in the water beside this beach, and with the amount of industry in that area I don’t think anyone would actually want to take a dip in Lake Ontario right there. So, I guess it’s okay that it’s actually a lakeless beach.

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The greenery as you approach Sugar Beach
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The beach beside the lake

The boardwalk is relatively small in that area, but it is wide, clean and provides pedestrians a great view of Lake Ontario, the Toronto Islands and the city’s skyline. We got a table at the edge of the patio, so we were lucky to enjoy these sweeping views as we dug into our dinner.

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A table by the water, how nice.

Any restaurant that has a mix of sophisticated flavours, traditional classics and a kids’ menu is a winner for me. My son was thrilled with his pizza and French fries and my daughter couldn’t believe her luck when a plate of cheesy nachos with guacamole was placed in front of her. I was thrilled to see a Moroccan dish on the menu and enjoyed my roasted carrot tagine. The happiest person at the table was the baby who couldn’t get enough of my tagine!

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My roasted carrot tagging
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Nessa is sampling the food options
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Now we are getting serious. The bib is on
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Now we are having fun with our food
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No more food to eat, so why not spread it around our hands?

Sitting on the patio, overlooking the lake, was so delightful, especially with the 21-degree temperature at the water’s edge (as opposed to 30 degrees in the centre of the city). A light breeze even picked up as we finished dinner and did another walk around the boardwalk. The kids loved running on the giant rocks around Sugar Beach, playing hide and seek around the giant planters and just being kids. It was wonderful to take advantage of the beautiful weather and to discover a new spot downtown as a tourist in my own city.

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The kids being kids at Sugar Beach

What’s Your Favourite Doughnut Flavour Combination?

doughnut flavour combination

 

I will admit it: I love doughnuts. There’s something so pleasing about that combination of fried dough, sugar, fillings and toppings that makes my stomach purr with delight. Whether I am hungry or not, every time I pass by a doughnut shop I feel a slight twinge to slip inside and purchase one of these tasty treats. Today I ask you, my readers, what’s your favourite doughnut flavour combination?

Yesterday evening, with my girls in the car cruising about town, we drove past a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. My doughnut radar quickly went off, I parked the car and we went in to bask in the joy of picking out a dozen doughnuts for a Saturday night family treat.

But what to choose? We were faced with a great glass case of doughnuts, and all of them looked so good. I quickly chose a couple of mint chocolate for my son and sea salt caramel for me. My daughter had to have one with sprinkles as well as a strawberry filled powdered. It wouldn’t be a visit to a doughnut shop without buying some cream filled doughnuts or the melt in your mouth original glazed.

Our mouths watered as I gingerly carried the precious box to the car and we drove home. Everyone pounced as the box was opened and my family swiftly devoured half a dozen doughnuts. Krispy Kreme did not disappoint.

What was my favourite doughnut flavour combination from last night’s box? For me, hands down it was the sea salt caramel, which Krispy Kreme describes as “filled with salted caramel filling, dipped in decadent chocolate icing, drizzled with both the chocolate and caramel icings and topped with a blend of amber sugar, salt sprinkle and Ghirardelli mini chocolate chips.”

But Krispy Kreme, while I do love their fresh and creative doughnuts, is not the only game in town. Every Canadian town has its local Tim Hortons, with traditional favourites such as Boston Cream, Canadian Maple, Sour Cream Plain or Chocolate Glazed. Tim Hortons doughnuts are okay, but over the last couple of years I have eaten a few too many stale baked goods from this establishment.

With more doughnut shops per capita in Canada than any other country in the world, it’s easy to find other basic doughnuts at establishments such as Coffee Time or Country Style, or you can go to a gourmet place and try fancy flavour combinations such as apricot and ginger, bacon and maple or chocolate fudge with grilled strawberries.

I find that most of the gourmet doughnut flavour combinations are too indulgent for me and sometimes I’m happy to consume an original glazed. It is hard for me to refuse a doughnut (or a cupcake, or cake, or tarte…) filled with caramel, so my vote for my favourite doughnut flavour combination is definitely caramel and chocolate.

I know I missed National Doughnut Day on June 2, which is definitely a special day of the year, but for me every day is a day to celebrate the doughnut. Tell me what your favourite doughnut flavour combination is by leaving a comment here or Tweet me @AliciaRichler. I look forward to trying all these flavours.