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. 

Panko Crusted Tilapia Recipe

After several requests I’m posting the recipe from the fish I made the other night. 

Panko Crusted Tilapia
1-3 filets of tilapia (or below)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs 
2 tsp Penzy’s Singapore spice mixture (see below)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp neutral oil (grapeseed, canola, sunflower) 
optional 1 egg

Because I had defrosted my tilapia, it was very moist and the crumb mixture held to it.  BUT you can dip the fish in an egg (scrambled) to get the crumbs to adhere.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a flat bowl.  Dip fish either alone or in egg first then in breadcrumb mixture, making sure it’s well coated.  Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, add fish, cooking for 4 minutes on each side.  

Serve immediately. 

You can use catfish, tarakihi or even snapper.  Firm white fish that isn’t very flaky. 

Singapore spice mixture has the following ingredients.  I haven’t figured out the ratios yet.
Black pepper, garlic powder, lemon peel, citric acid, onion powder, turmeric, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg, fennel, cinnamon, white pepper, cardamom, cloves, and cayenne.   I’d probably do the first 8 ingredients in fairly equal portions then maybe 1/2 the amounts of the last 9. (You’ll need to add extra lime/lemon juice to cooking fish if you don’t have citric acid or lemon peel.) 
This is really a trial and error at this point.  You could also try different combinations of any of the above but I really notice the turmeric and fenugreek (latter is quite potent). 

Good luck!

Dinner in 10.

At story time in the library yesterday a mother mentioned she never cooks because she doesn’t have time. Instead of saying I completely understand because my time is crazed right now and I have no time, I told her she could try some recipes I’d just cooked.  One I told her, took as long as boiling the pasta to make.  Her interest was piqued.  Now, I probably should have told her that I was up until 1:30 last night sorting and folding laundry because I’d let it go to the point of digging socks and underwear out of the mountain filled baskets, but I didn’t want to tarnish my super-mommy image (actually nobody who knows me thinks I am supermom, because I am usually honest about how messy my house is and how I just can’t do it all).  Ah, but one can dream and pretend for a day. 

I know that some people choose to keep a tidy house over cooking meals for their kids and I do have some friends that have tidy homes and cook great meals (even a couple that hold fulltime jobs) but they’re just much more organized and less ADD than me!  I have a cluttered office, an over abundance of toys to weed through, a laundry situation that constantly eludes me, and a back yard that will soon win the WT award.   Cause truth is I’d rather be cooking than cleaning, I’d rather be writing than cleaning and I’d rather have an over scheduled schedule than cleaning.  Now, if I start making more money I can hire someone to come clean regularly… ooh, and if I make tons I can hire someone to do my laundry.  Well, that means getting more clients and that takes a lot of time.  But, for now, messy house and laundry up the wazoo.


Back to the food… Here is one of recipes I told her about.  It took about 10 minutes.  


Shrimp Bianco with Spinach and Tomatoes


1 pound frozen de-veined shrimp

1/4 onion (or 1 shallot) finely diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

handful parsley, chopped

baby spinach (I used what I had from my CSA about 2 cups)

handful cherry tomatoes, cut in half

3 Tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup cream

1/4 cup white wine

sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

1 pound thin spaghetti


Run cool water over shrimp to thaw, set aside.  Put salted water on to boil.  Chop the onion, garlic and parsley.  Heat olive oil and sauté the onions then add garlic, making sure neither get brown.  Add shrimp and when they’re just turning pink add wine, cream, parsley. Stir for 30 seconds then add spinach and tomatoes and salt and pepper.  As soon as spinach is wilted, strain spaghetti and toss with shrimp mixture.  Serve. 


My kids loved this dish.  I loved that I made it so quickly.  I was seriously considering getting a pizza, but managed to save money and give something a little more nutritious in less time than it would have taken for the pizza delivery person to drive over here.  And there was not a single whine at the dinner table! 


Unfortunately because it was so quick, I didn’t have my camera ready during the cooking process. Next time!

Another quick, last minute meal

I have way too many tomatoes right now so I keep using them in recipes.  One  confession to make: sometimes I end up throwing them into the compost.  It’s not my preferred method of using them, but I just have too many for me to get to.  So, today after putting in some time at the farm where we get our CSA I learnt that you can freeze tomatoes to use in sauce (ok, I just have never done it, nor thought that it would be that great) but I decided to go the other route— canning.  I have bought some mason jars and other supplies. I remember making jam as a kid and preserving it, so if I could do it then, I’ll try it now. 

In the meantime (I just bought the stuff today, give me a day or two), I made some salsa on one day and pizza with the tomatoes as base another. I also used some cherry tomatoes in a killer I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-making-for-dinner-now-because-I spent-too-much-time-chatting-on-the-playground-oh-yea-I-can-make-THIS-pasta.  (I was going to make chicken gumbo, but that keeps getting pushed back due to time). I used to throw together these great chicken and pasta dishes that are like my version of stir-fry…whatever vegetables I have in stock that actually go together will go into the dish with chicken, garlic, basil and tomatoes.  I try to make it with mushrooms, because they’re perfect here, but I had none.

I used a bit of kale, corn, broccoli, onions, zucchini, orange bell pepper, and carrots.  Fussili pasta is perfect, but ziti or farfale will go nicely too.   It takes 10 minutes to prepare and 10 minutes to cook (using chicken breast)— if you don’t have to interrupt for looking over kids’ homework or refereeing a squabble.

Chicken and Vegetable Pasta with Garlic and Tomatoes

  • Approx 1 pound chicken breast (or thighs), deboned, skinned and cut into 1-2 inch pieces (thighs take longer to cook)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 med onion or 2 shallots
  • 10-15 cherry tomatoes, quartered or 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • handful of fresh basil, chopped
  • Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4-1/3 cup white wine
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • choice of fresh vegetables, chopped  (spinach, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, peppers, carrots, corn, kale, chard, snow or snap peas, asparagus and/or mushrooms) 

Put pasta on to cook according to instructions. While that’s cooking: sauté onions then garlic in pan.  Add chicken and lightly brown on all sides, careful not to burn garlic.  Add wine and stock.  Cook for few minutes and add vegetables that take longest first (kale, carrots, peppers) then others (mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, corn).  While stirring, cook another couple of minutes then add herbs and tomatoes, salt and pepper.  Mix gently and cook for 2 minutes until tomatoes are warm but not disintegrated.  Toss pasta so well coated with sauce and veggies.  Serve.

This is always a winner with my kids.  Not everyone will like every vegetable each time, but it hardly ever elicits a protest because there’s pasta.  It’s great to get rid of left over vegetables and perfect for lunch the following day. And, it uses up some of those tomatoes. 

The tomatoes give it a fresh sweetness that goes so nicely with garlic, basil and pasta.  You can also substitute shrimp for the chicken.

Rush, rush, rush… now cook.

It can be a real challenge to actually find the time to write this blog let alone cook a good meal and take photos while I’m cooking— I’m already multitasking with keeping kids occupied and/or mediating fights (and working my “real” paying job).   So sometimes, I skip writing/posting to my site because I just can’t do it all. The other day I had someone over while I was cooking, I was busy talking and cooking so I couldn’t manage to actually take my camera out and shoot photos of the food before and during the cooking process.   I’d have overcooked the veggies (actually I did slightly overcook the zucchini) and burnt the salmon (luckily not) if I tried that much multitasking.  But she left just as dinner was ready, and it looked so delicious (it was) I had to snap some photos of the end result. 

If I haven’t mentioned before, salmon is my go-to main course.  My kids love it, I love it and it only takes a few minutes to cook in a pan or on a grill.  And if it’s seasoned with salt and pepper before it’s cooked there’s no need for sauce— so, easy. 

Our dinner that was made in 40 minutes from start to finish including getting our charcoal grill started and hot enough.  It would have taken only 20 minutes had I pan roasted the salmon (started on stove, finished in oven).  I made mixed grains that take just 10 minutes to cook, broccoli and zucchini that each take 3-5 minutes plus the prep time.  Oh, right and I made a coleslaw.    

Everything was enjoyed… although it wasn’t eaten neatly or with them sitting at all moments.  It’s more important to me that they eat well— getting them to eat with proper manners and without getting up is still a work in progress. 


Simple Coleslaw

Cut 1/2-1/3 cabbage into 4 inch long thin strips and put in bowl with  2 shredded carrots.  In separate bowl mix 4 heaping Tbsp of mayonnaise, 1 1/2 Tbsp cider vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, 3/4 tsp celery salt, pepper to taste.  Pour over cabbage/carrots and toss.  Chill if possible or just serve!  Shredded apple or minced red bell peppers are nice in there too.

20 Minute Dinner- Start to Finish

This is one quick chicken dish I’ve come up with for when I’m at a loss for inspiration and time Throw a little Adobo seasoning powder or some Penzy’s Singapore Spice (black pepper, lemon peel, garlic, onion, turmeric, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg, fennel, cinnamon, white pepper, cardamom, cloves, cayenne pepper— all in one!!) on cut up chicken breast pieces, toss them into a hot pan with olive oil, flip around a bit until they’re cooked. If they’re small enough it’s only a matter of minutes.  (Be careful with the Adobo seasoning as it’s very salty and you need only a little.) Add a simple salad, green beans and 3 Grains Blend from Trader Joe’s…dinner in 20 minutes!


The salad contained Romaine lettuce, red cabbage, cucumber, tomato, basil and green bell pepper.  All but the Romaine were from our local CSA.  I used my go-to prepared salad dressing: Briannas French Vinaigrette.  (I’ll post some homemade salad dressing recipes soon, promise.)  The beans, also local, were coooked in rapidly boiling water for 3-4 minutes and cooled in ice bath.  Reheated with butter, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  The grains took a little longer than I thought, but still were simple to prepare. 


I wasn’t stressed out—boys got a nutritious and tasty dinner after a day outside in the hot sun.  I set up the living room table as a dining table and they got to watch a movie.  It’s at most a once-a-week treat. I prefer to eat at the dining room or outside table, but when they’ve been going full-on all day outside, I don’t mind the occasional retreat in front of the TV.

Taco Night

My sons love tacos!  But they prefer the way I do them.  When my eldest got tacos at school one day he told me how they weren’t very good because they didn’t have all the “things” we have on tacos at home- “No vegetables! Not even lettuce! It was just meat and cheese.”  Ugh, school lunches…another topic for another time

I set up a taco bar on our island in the kitchen.  The offerings at the bar can change according to what’s in the fridge or cabinet.  Mostly on the bar are bowls with shredded lettuce, black beans, rice, shredded cheese, chopped avocado and/or avocado salsa, tomato salsa, tomatoes, chopped cilantro, cabbage if we’re having fish tacos,  most often I serve beef but sometimes other meats or fish.  I give them hard and soft tacos- corn shells and flour tortillas.

Last night’s was organic beef (no hormones, antibiotics, etc) made with shallots, garlic and tomatoes and a pre-packaged spice mix from Trader Joe’s (careful— I used only 1/2 the packet and it was very spicy for the kids), but you can mix chili powder, cumin, garlic, oregano, paprika and black pepper to get a good taco seasoning.  I also put out the left over swordfish and my eldest jumped at the chance to have in a hard corn tortilla.  I used up the black rice too.  If the kids don’t want all the stuff in the tacos I serve some things on the side.

It really doesn’t take long to prepare, mostly time spent chopping, and they get a well-rounded meal that they absolutely love!

FYI- you can get organic corn tortillas.  I don’t like to buy conventional corn as most corn in the US is genetically modified. 

© 2010

Quick Meal- Pasta with Seafood & Micro-Greens

It was one of those days around here, which is pretty often, when dinner time was upon us already and nothing was on the stove, in the oven or on the grill. So, what’s fast?  Pasta!  I had remembered earlier that we had a half package each of frozen large shrimp (uncooked) and Langostinos (cooked) and we could make a pasta with them.  Langostinos are a crustacean, like crayfish, just about 2 inches long.  I got these ones from Trader Joe’s. 

We took the frozen packages out and thawed them in 2 separate bowls of cold water.  Put some water on to boil the pasta. Chopped a couple of cloves of garlic, one shallot and 1/4 red onion (because that’s what we had in the house).  Sautéed them all in olive oil for a few minutes and added chopped organic white mushrooms (I tend to buy certain things organic and some conventional) a pat of butter, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  After a few minutes added some white wine (please use what you’d actually drink and don’t ever buy “cooking wine” it would leave the same awful flavor in your food as in a glass)— about 1/4-1/2 cup and some more olive oil.  Added the drained shrimp that was cut into half (smaller bites) and took off the heat while the pasta is cooking. Once it’s finished and drained, added the pasta to the garlic, mushroom, shrimp mix, stirred in the Langostinos, package of baby organic spinach and 3/4 package of micro-greens and put back on heat stirring regularly for about a minute or two.  No need to really “cook” the vegetables or Langostinos, just heat them.  All done!  It was less than half an hour in total. 

The micro-greens I got from Trader Joe’s too (one of my favorite stores) and are the sprouts of Red Russian Kale, Red Cabbage, Purple Kohlrabi, Purple Radish and Beet Greens.  They are intensely flavored and only about an inch long- root and all.  Some of these ones are quite peppery too.  Micro-greens are really rich in nutrients too.  Because of their intensity, you don’t need other herbs with this dish, but you wouldn’t go wrong with some fresh chopped basil. 

We hadn’t done this dish as such before, so I wasn’t sure how the kids would react except I knew that my middle son would whine, “I don’t want that” per most every dinner.  Today he added, “I told you I wanted just plain pasta with butter.  Didn’t you remember that?  Of course I did, I just ignored it.  My kids get plain pasta with butter often when we go out to eat.  It’s funny because we don’t usually have the things listed on the kids’ menu at home I let them order from it out.  It’s a treat we’re out, so I let them have a treat of chicken nuggets or plain pasta with butter!  The funny thing is as soon as the whine is out of the mouth, the fork is in.  He ate it all and really enjoyed it.  This was also one of the cases where he said he didn’t like mushrooms unless they were in a cream sauce, so I had him try it… he ate the rest without complaint.   

I’m sure some kids would love to eat cookies, candy and ice cream instead of all the good foods but as parents we know they wouldn’t survive on a diet like that.  Well, they need the nutrients in vegetables and fruits and if they’re served regularly they will eat them.  We got a taste for them at some point, so will they.  Kids have to be introduced to them to understand they should be eating them every day.  There won’t be the struggle some have over just a few veggies if they just have them in front of the kids every day.  And when there are so many quick (and yummy) ways to do it, it becomes easier for all involved.