Mashed Potatoes in 8 Minutes, Beef Stew in 35

Back in March I began a new career in wine sales. I love my job but find one of the biggest challenges is getting a good meal together if I haven’t planned ahead. But last Christmas I bought my husband an electric programmable pressure cooker, and it’s been a life-saver. I am using it all the time.

One thing about my job is the inconsistency in my schedule. I am driving all over lower Fairfield County and at the mercy of I95 and Merritt Parkway traffic, which seems to get worse each week. I sometimes have shorter days where I’ll get home at a reasonable time, and then at the end of each month, I’m working well into the late evening. So, planning dinner is a challenge, as I’m not always certain when I’ll get home and not always sure if my husband will be home with food ready or ready to cook.

I have found that I can still get dinner on the table in under 45 minutes if I use the pressure cooker, but more often can get it done in 20 minutes if it’s not elaborate or needing extra time to cook. Beef stew, like our family recipe of “Eintopf” which normally takes at least 3 hours to cook, can been cooked from start to finish in around 45-50 minutes– including the peeling of potatoes, cutting of onions and browning of beef.  My Instant Pot cooks the stew in 35 minutes. Now, if I had planned I could also use the slow cooker (crockpot) to make it, but this is for when I haven’t planned, which is more often than not.  

How about cooking potatoes in 7-8 minutes to mash? For those nights when I can make dinner in 20 minutes (because we’ve got a practice, scout meeting, etc and that’s all the time I have), it’s a game-changer.  And I just learnt that I can make baked potatoes using it in 25 minutes. 
Pressure Cooker Mashed Potatoes
4-5 medium to large Russet potatoes
1/4 cup milk
1/3 stick of butter
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and cut potatoes in half or quarters (not too small), add to pressure cooker and cover with cold water. Set Manual time to 8 minutes Pressure. When done and steam/pressure is released, drain potatoes and add milk, butter, salt and pepper. Mash until you’ve got consistency you like. (You can add more milk if you need.)

We made chicken curry last week in 10 minutes… using chicken thighs. All we had to do was add the cut up chicken thighs to a good-quality jarred sauce with a little extra water (the water will evaporate). The entire meal took 15 minutes– the time it took to cook the rice.


I am not getting paid to endorse any product, I just love this! And I’m sure it’ll make a great gift for the busy person. 

Baby Kale Chips

Can't wait to get them on a plate!

Can’t wait to get them on a plate!

It’s been weeks since I’ve had a chance to post on here.  My husband is working for a new restaurant and he’s working 14 hour days/6 days a week.  (Well, even his one day off he’ll still do food ordering, and other odds and ends.  Hey, better than being unemployed!)  After most of the past year having him around, I’d gotten quite used to it and now I’m back to doing all the parenting (after 8:15 AM) alone as well as cooking, cleaning, laundry, lawn mowing, shopping and my other job.  Oh, and the volunteer stuff I still do. Oh, and a kid home each day for 3 days last week after a 4 day weekend.  And, my son who’s not willing to get to school most days– at least on time.  So, all I’m saying is that it’s been a bit tough to sit down and write.  (Or I’ve got a fairly good excuse!)

I have been cooking and baking more now that my professional chef husband is out of the kitchen.  I’ve created a couple new things but mostly done many stand-by’s.  Those who are familiar with my blog might recognize some of the snack foods I’ve been making, but sometimes I like to change it up a bit. One such way, using baby kale when I make kale chips.  The boys gobble it up this way and I have done it 3 times in 2 weeks.  

I notice the taste of the kale is milder.  Maybe that’s why even my pickiest son will eat this faster and in larger quantities than normal (full-grown) kale chips.   It’s a very kid-friendly healthy snack!    


For these I just use a tiny bit of olive oil, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.  (Sometimes I’ll use a spray oil which gives a perfect mist.) I roast them in batches at 375F until they’re papery and crisp.  It is important not to use too much oil or they’ll burn or be too soggy.  I just put a couple drops on top of a handful in a large mixing bowl with the salt and pepper.  Toss it around and even rub the oil onto the leaves.  Line a cookie sheet with the kale so they’re only 1 layer.  

I can’t bake them fast enough!



Same chicken, 2 nights 2 ways

One dish I absolutely love that my mother-in-law makes is her chicken stew.  She makes it full of large pieces of chicken, potatoes, carrots and celery.  And she makes dumplings too.  I decided the other day I’d make a chicken stew but wasn’t in the mood to make the dumplings so I opted for egg noodles instead.  I didn’t have my MIL’s recipe but she’d explained it a few years back so I thought I could manage it.  I had boneless chicken breasts and thighs which I poached in the liquid.  It’s a perfect dish to make in the slow cooker and great to eat on a cold night.  The boys all ate it with gusto, although my middle son says he only likes raw carrots and wasn’t going to eat it until he noticed I gave him a bowl with no carrots in it. 

There was quite a bit left over.  Since I was doing a lot for a charity event that we were expecting around 500 people to attend, I was thinking something easy.  So, I took the leftovers and cut everything into bite-sized pieces, thickened the liquid with corn starch, added peas and put it into a puff pastry crust.  Voila! Chicken pot pie!  I had it in the oven cooking when I left with my mother babysitting.  When I returned I was told the boys liked it— except my middle son complained about the carrots!

Chicken Stew

½ small onion, diced

2-4 pounds chicken pieces

1 leek, well rinsed and cut into pieces

2 celery stalks, chopped

4 carrots

5-7 small potatoes

3-4 parsnips

1 Tbsp fresh chopped thyme

2-3 cups chicken stock

Salt (go lightly on salt at first) and pepper to taste

I sautéed the onion in olive oil then added the chicken and leeks with stock. Add carrots, potatoes and parsnips which are cut into 1-2 inch pieces along with rest of ingredients.  Bring to boil then lower to simmer for 45 minutes.  Adjust seasoning.

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken stew leftovers

2 puff pastry sheets

½ cup frozen peas

Roll out sheet of puff pastry on well-floured surface.  Line pie plate with pastry, add smaller chopped pieces of stew reserving liquid. Mix well 2 tsp corn starch with 4 tsp water.  Put reserved liquid in sauce pan, bring to boil, add cornstarch mixture and stir well. Lower to simmer for a few minutes to thicken.  Add thickened sauce to pie.  Add frozen peas.  Moisten edges of pastry and top with other rolled puff pastry sheet.  Press edges together and trim excess.  Bake for 30-40 minutes in preheated 400°F oven.


Photos taken with iphone.  My Canon EOS 20D has not been working lately.


When I was back in New Zealand last year I was lucky enough to be treated to some fabulous food at some of NZ’s premier restaurants— Logan Brown, The Mattahorn, Martin Bosley.  While we were eating at Logan Brown (yes, I had the Abalone Ravioli and loved them!) we were served a dry spice dip with bread and olive oil.  I was so enamored of the dip and when I inquired about it, they gave me the recipe!  Score! 

Dukkah is an Egyptian nut and spice dip, and this one also has dried olives.  It is so scrumptious and I’ve been wanting now for the past year to make it; and finally I did.  And I am so glad I did.  My kids loved it (it’s very salty and quite intense) as did my friends. It also got me to experiment with a new spice blend for another recipe.

This began as Logan Brown’s recipe but I had to change it a little because I didn’t have any hazelnuts but I did have Filbert (hazelnut) oil.  So I roasted the almonds in the oil. Continue reading

Greatest Dessert Find

An opportunity to cook for a friend who recently severely broke his leg came up yesterday and since I had so much housework to do, I seized the moment.  I’d much rather help someone out, especially when cooking is part of it, than vacuum or fold laundry. (And I wonder where my son’s avoidance of non-preferred tasks comes from.)  I was going to make pork chops, but I must have purchased old ones because they were no good.  So I changed to a Moroccan style (of course) stew with chick peas, chicken, tomatoes, peppers and kale.  I served it with couscous.  I ended up saving a little for us, which came in handy when our dinner plans changed at dinner time.  The boys ate it all without complaints and they really loved the couscous (it’s so quick and easy to make too).

But what I really was excited about making and giving was the dessert.  It was the ultimate recipe that I’ve been trying to find but not quite finding the right one.  But this Banana Sticky Toffee Pudding was it; this one is really what I had been searching for all along.  The differences that make this recipe stand out against my other attempts are using less flour and baking it in a water bath but most of all roasting the bananas in their skins.  Roasting the bananas changes the chemistry of the starches/sugars before you mash them and their sweetness really comes out.  As one friend said, you could probably just take those mashed bananas and serve them over ice cream at that point.  I made the recipe in a one large dish a few days earlier but didn’t roast the bananas and realized what a difference it made after doing it.

The recipe comes from Ruth Pretty’s Favourite Recipes.  Ruth is a well-known New Zealand chef and author who has catered to cultural and political elite including royalty.  She has an amazing cooking school and catering facility on the Kapiti Coast, which I have had the pleasure of having touring with my close friend who works for Ruth.   Ruth herself was very sweet and I was truly in awe of her operation.  Well, I found the recipe while I was looking through the book trying to find a Pavlova recipe.  When I read it I knew I’d stumbled across the bestest of Sticky Toffee Puddings!!

Sweet Basil’s Sticky Banana Pudding via Ruth Pretty

3 ripe bananas (skin on)

180g unsalted butter, room temp

180g (¾ cup + 3 Tbsp) sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

¾ cup flour

1½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

Grease 10 ramekins or other oven safe dishes.  Pour toffee sauce into base about ¼ inch deep and set aside.  Preheat oven to 200ºC (392ºF).  Place whole bananas in a baking dish and bake in their skins for 10 minutes or until they are mushy.  Cool.  Peel off the skins, mash and set aside. 

With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together until creamy and smooth.  Add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add banana and vanilla and mix well.  Sift flour, baking powder and salt into mixture and fold in.  Spoon batter into ramekins (allow for expansion) and place in a roasting dish.  Pour hot water to about 2 cm deep (or halfway up sides of dishes) in the roasting dish and cover entire dish with foil.  Place in oven and bake for about 30 minutes (until they’re spongy to touch).  Remove foil and cool on a rack.  To serve: run a knife around side to separate then tip upside down onto a plate, pouring toffee sauce from bottom over top of the pudding.  Add any additional warmed sauce you’d like and serve with whipped cream.  Sea salt on top is a nice option.This picture doesn’t really do it justice.  I was having camera trouble and this was the best I could do.

Of course my kids loved them… and the friend I made them for did as well! 

Asian Style Kale Chips and Singapore Spiced Haddock

I was so excited to share these recipes I couldn’t wait to have the time to sit down and write.  On our first real warm day, after my kids had a fun and muddy playdate with some friends’ children, I had one boy wanting to stay for dinner.  He seemed especially keen when I said I was making fish.  He said he loves fish and seafood and got so excited to not only to stay to eat, but continuing to play with my sons.  I’d bought some Haddock and decided to make a variation of a recipe I’d created a month or so ago.  He loved it! But besides that I knew I had to make the kale chips.  So many people I follow (SC, FER, SK) have been blogging about them lately and I’d never made them before.  But I thought I’d change it up a bit by making it similarly to the roasted seaweed chips my sons adore. Sort of more Asian-style.  And, it not only worked, it far exceeded my expectations!  Woo-hoo! When my friend came to pick up her son she tried them and although she was full, she couldn’t stop eating them and took home what I had remaining for her husband.   I love that.  I love to see kids and people I care about eat well, enjoy food that I’ve served them.  It’s such a great gift to give them pleasure.

Roasted Kale Chips

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • sea salt to taste

Strip the leaves of the kale off the stems and tear them into smaller pieces.  Put them in a mixing bowl and add the oils and salt.  Toss well then place on cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven at 350º F* for about 10 minutes until crisp. You might want to turn them halfway through. They are so light and crisy, you’d be surprised how thin they become.    *I found recipes that had higher temps but I found this worked well.


Roasted Haddock with Singaporean Spices

  • 1 pound Haddock
  • 1 large handful cilantro, chopped
  • 2 spring onions (scallions), chopped
  • 1-2 tsp Penzy’s Singapore Spice blend
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp grape seed oil (or canola)
  • juice from ½ lemon
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350º F Cut haddock into serving-sized portions.  Put 1 Tbsp oil into bottom of oven-proof pan. Place haddock in pan, skin side down and sprinkle spices over tops of fish.  Pour oil, wine and lemon juice over fish.  Cover with herbs and put in oven.

Bake for 10-15 minutes (depends on thickness of fish) until flaky but not dry. 

Now, my friend’s son wasn’t as into the kale as the fish, he did eat all his broccoli and most of his coleslaw.  All my sons liked the kale chips but funnily enough my eldest was the only one who didn’t care for the fish..   Friend’s son’s plate after he’d devoured the fish!

The coleslaw I made was very simple with just Savoy and red cabbage, carrots, lemon juice, mayonnaise, sugar, salt and pepper.   The whole dinner was perfect for a warm spring-like day that started with shirtless mud making and ended with sharing good food.  

Soup from Scraps

We compost our food scraps and I noticed that since the kids don’t tend to eat most of the broccoli stalks, just the florets, I have been throwing them into the compost.  Well, I decided before tossing them into the compost, I’d keep aside a few meals’ worth in the fridge and make soup out of it.  I had some left over potato in two forms— boiled in the jacket and mashed.  I knew the mashed potato would thicken the soup nicely. You can just use a whole potato cut. brown specks are from the potato skins

Broccoli & Potato soup

2 cups of broccoli ends

1-2 potatoes

2 cups water, vegetable stock or chicken broth

2 tsp onion flakes

1 tsp garlic powder

1/4 cup cream

salt and pepper to taste

So, I cut up the broccoli stalks (and about one floret) into small pieces and brought them to a boil in water .  I cooked until tender and added the seasoning (I added 2 tsp chicken base too) and 2 different types of cooked potatoes.  Lastly I added the cream.  Once it had come back to a boil I took it off the heat and used the immersion blender to purée it.  Delicious and vibrant too!

My eldest son had it for lunch and deemed it “Delicious!” after getting over the fact I didn’t make potato leek soup. 

Since the potatoes were already cooked it didn’t take long.  You can always cut everything into small pieces, to increase the speed of cooking if you’re starting from raw, since they’re staying in the same liquid in which they’re cooked. 

A cauliflower by any other name

Sometimes it’s just mentioning the name of the food that can turn up the nose of my kids.  But change it a bit, don’t mention the name and wham, they like it.  Totally by accident I again found this out.  I didn’t purposefully omit “cauliflower” when I had my middle son try the soup I’d just made, because he of all my sons loves cauliflower. I just said, “Here try this.” It’s the other two who profess to “hate it”.  That is until I made the soup.  They saw it cooking and my youngest one asked what the smell in the kitchen was, so I showed him the cauliflower soup still in it’s adolescence.  He looked and said, “Yuck! I Hate Cauliflower!”  and walked away.  Well, after I puréed the soup, and it no longer looked the same, I approached my cauliflower-loving middle with a spoonful.  He ate it and requested another spoonful immediately, so my youngest sitting next to him and not wanting to be left out, said, “Hey I want some!”  “Ok!”, I gave him a taste.  And another, and another.  And so on and so on. Well then my eldest wanted a taste.  And another… so much for cauliflower hating.  They all had more.  I think the spices and appearance were just camouflaging enough that they were open to sample.

I adapted Spicy Cauliflower Soup from The Art of Simple Food byAlice Waters

Curried Cauliflower Soup

2/3 lg head cauliflower, chopped

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 onion diced

1 sm carrot, peeled and diced

3/4 tsp cumin seeds, crushed

3/4 tsp coriander seeds, crushed

1/2 tsp hot chili powder

1/4 tsp turmeric

salt and pepper

1 Tbsp fresh cilantro chopped or 1 cube frozen cilantro

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 cup vegetable stock

1 cup water

Sauté onion and carrot in olive oil. Stir in spices and remaining ingredients. Bring to boil then lower heat and simmer for 30-35 minutes.  Purée with immersion blender. Optional garnish- – plain yogurt, mint and lime juice

Quick, Quick, Quick — Part II

Continued from Quick, Quick, Quick

More recipes/ideas for quick meals:

Chicken breast: unlike the dark thigh meat, chicken breast takes only minutes to cook.  It is so versatile and can be added to liquids to poach or sautéed  (browned) or baked in the oven.  I also don’t know many kids who don’t like chicken.  Again, just adding a few herbs or spices to the chicken can create a flavorful and quick meal.  Just a pinch of paprika and cumin over the cut breast and sautéed in olive oil for just minutes and served over potatoes, noodles or rice.  Add a 1/4 cup of cream and you’ve got a wonderful sauce as well.  Panko bread crumbs or my homemade bread crumbs with herbs (thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, sage) coating pieces of chicken breast then baked make a wonderful alternative to chicken nuggets. 

Pasta: always on hand in our pantry is a variety of pastas for different meals. There’s nothing wrong with keeping some jarred tomato sauces in there too. I often have Trader Joe’s Organic Tomato Basil sauce in my pantry (it’s healthy and cheap at just over $2 for 25 oz). It’s easy enough to create quick and healthy meals with pasta this way. Pasta is great for sides or for the main course and a wonderful way to incorporate vegetables, especially for those kids who are more resistant to eating them on their own.  Just chop veggies, (broccoli, zucchini, squash, beans, spinach, mushrooms, peppers, carrots, kale— all are great in pasta), add to olive oil and minced garlic, some protein (chicken, shrimp, beans, tofu), season with herbs, salt and pepper and lastly add to the pasta and you’ve got a great dish that most kids will love.  Ideal way to use up small amounts of vegetables and meats/seafood. 

Vegetables: whether the main focus or the side, incorporating many into your children’s diet is ideal.  Kids need around 9 servings of fruits and veggies a day.  Think of that as 9 fistfuls (the size being that of the recipient).  If you need a quick side dish frozen peas are super fast— microwave on high for about 2 minutes, stirring half way.  Add a touch of butter to help make it more palatable. Spinach can also be cooked in microwave, steamed for few minutes over boiling water or just throw in sauté pan with Tbsp water, dash of sea salt and cover.  Cook for few minutes (until wilted) and drain any excess water, add butter.  Broccoli can be boiled/steamed for a several minutes.  Just put in cold water when it’s done (soft yet still got some crispness/color). Again add a pat of butter.  Butter helps many kids eat their vegetables by providing umami the savoriness they/we like.  Fat (butter) is also helpful to absorb many vegetables’ nutrients. Hope this gives you all some ideas to help getting kids to eat healthily.  I wish everyone the best for this New Year!  I hope more kids will eat well and thrive. 

You can always contact me if you have recipe questions or requsts!