Thursday, April 12, 2018

Instant Pot™ or Pressure Cooker Tomato and Rice Soup

The other night, I was craving tomato soup, but I wanted something a little more robust.  I thought that tomato rice soup, perhaps with a little chicken in it, might be just what the doctor ordered.  And what better way to cook it than the Instant Pot, right?  Right.

So I got out the ingredients, started with my Tomato Bisque and Chicken & Rice Soup recipes, and started doing some quick alterations in my head.  It came out pretty good.

I think it may need a few more tweaks before it's perfect, but it's good enough that I wanted to share it here.  Check back once in awhile because I'll be sure to tweak it if I find any major improvements.

Instant Pot™ or Pressure Cooker Tomato Rice Soup

Note: The chicken in this recipe is completely optional.  I like a little protein to make a full meal, so I included it in mine.  The chicken can go into the pot completely frozen if you wish.

1 28-oz can Crushed Tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh basil (optional)
2 cups water or chicken broth
1/2 onion, finely chopped or minced
1/2 cup white or jasmine rice
1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 to 1 pound of boneless skinless chicken tenders or breasts, whole (optional)

  1. Switch the pressure cooker to saute mode.  Add olive oil and onions and sweat the onions until they soften.  The more patient you are softening them, the smoother the final soup will be.
  2. Add crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, a heavy pinch of salt and pepper, and basil.  Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture as smooth as you possibly can.  If the crushed tomatoes don't seem to be breaking down and you have a bit of extra time, allow them to simmer a bit and then re-blend.
  3. Add rice and stir briskly to separate the grains.  Drop chicken pieces, whole, into the soup.
  4. Place the lid on the cooker and set the valve to closed/sealing.  Press Cancel, then Pressure Cook and set timer for 6 minutes.
  5. Once the cooking cycle is complete, quick release pressure immediately and carefully open the lid.
  6. Fish the pieces of chicken out of the pot, if using, and allow to cool slightly on a cutting board.  Meanwhile, stir the soup to distribute the rice into the liquid.  You may have to gently scrape the rice off the bottom of the pot, as it may have settled and stuck.
  7. Chop or shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces, removing any fat, tendons, or gristle, and return to the soup.  Stir it in.
  8. Stir-in cream.  Taste the soup and adjust seasoning.  Thin by adding additional warm water if necessary.  If soup is too thin, switch your pot to the saute or boil setting and simmer-down for a few minutes.
  9. Serve with toast or a piece of nice crusty artisan bread.  A dollup of sour cream or a generous sprinkle of grated or shredded cheese makes a delicious garnish.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Post Where I'm All Excited About Hot Water

I'm going to take a few moments to gush about a new kitchen fixture I splurged on.  You see, I'm a tea drinker, and something I've always wanted is one of those instant hot water spigots you can add to your kitchen sink.  Not a pot filler...this is designed to pour near-boiling water from a spout as you open the tap.

Recently, my regular kitchen faucet (which was a temporary hand-me-down 9 years ago anyway) kicked the bucket.  I've never much liked the old scratched, rusting, gray-enambled cast iron kitchen sink and the way it was installed, it's nearly impossible to reach to install a new faucet anyway.  So I decided it was time to just spend the money and put in a new sink.  And since I couldn't have my dream sink (an apron/farmer's sink) without renovating the entire kitchen, I was at least going to put in my hot water spigot.

And here's the whole thing completed:

Isn't it great?  It's my 6 year old daughter could take a bath in it, huge.  We prefer a single-bowl sink over a dual-bowl.  I simply put a small dish pan on one side so that anything collecting in the sink is out of the way and I can still use the disposal.

Off to the right, there, you can see my new fancypants hot water spigot.  Just turn that handle and I have an instant cup of hot tea.

In case you're interested, here are the products used:
 Let's talk about my thoughts on each of the products, shall we?

The Sink
I chose this sink because I wanted a single-bowl sink and the description included dimensions that assured me it would fit in my existing hole (I wasn't replacing countertop in this project).  Also, I liked the squareness of it.  While it does look a little industrial, I just felt it looked better and sturdier than a "contractor-grade" sink you might find at the home center.

So far, I've been impressed with it, but there are a few caveats:
  • It will scratch if you use a green scrubby pad on it (ask me how I know).  So only blue ones from now on (blue are made for Teflon pans).
  • The grate is nice for keeping things up off the bottom of the sink, but it doesn't work so well with the garbage disposal.  Food just gets stuck under it (or in it) and if you don't have great water pressure, coaxing it into the hole is a bit of a chore.  I may try a rubber or silicone mat instead--probably a cut-down bath mat with suction cups on the bottom.
  • It's squared-off and the old hole was rounded.  This ordinarily wouldn't have been a big deal except the previous owners oversized the original sink for the cabinet and had already cut away bits of the cabinet supports, so I had to do a lot of work cutting away even more--and we didn't really have the right tools on-hand.
  • This sink doesn't come in more than a two-hole design.  This means if you want a built-in soap dispenser on top of the hot water faucet, you'd have to find the right tools to drill a hole in stainless steel.  I decided this wasn't a deal-breaker and just put the soap on top.

The Faucet
I was a little skeptical purchasing a no-name faucet, but the high star rating for this one was well-deserved.  There are no plastic "brushed nickel" pieces.  They're all actual metal.  It assembles easily and feels sturdy.

There was one small downside.  In the photos shown on Amazon, it shows the handle on both the left and the right, indicating it can be placed where you want it.  Turns out, it's actually a left-sided handle.  If you place it on the right (which is where my old one was), it reverses the water so that hot is down and cold is up.  I didn't want anyone burning themselves, so we just reversed the hoses under the sink.  Because the blue/red color indicator is also facing the wall, nobody will read it and choose the wrong one.  However, the lever does hit the wall since the "down" (which is now up) goes down further than the other direction.  Again, not a huge deal breaker.

The Hot Water Dispensor
Overall, I love this thing.  Seriously.  I use it to make tea.  I use it to fill small pans of water to give them a kick-start heating (the tank only holds 3/4 of a gallon, so you're not going to use it to fill a stock pot).  I've used it to get stuck-on bits off of plates quickly (like the cat's bowls).  And I frequently use it for other cooking tasks like pouring water to soften the sealing compound on canning lids or adding water to soups or to the Instant Pot.

While I love it and will never be without one again, I do want to point out a few of its faults and design flaws:
  • The instructions say it will reach temperatures up to 200 degrees, but I've rarely been able to get the thing over 190 and I have it turned up to the highest setting.  This was a common complaint in the reviews on Amazon  I'm okay with it, as I don't like particularly dark tea, but if you're a tea snob (brewing black at 212 and green at "just off the boil"), it won't work for you.  Stick with an electric kettle.
  • The heating tank is essentially the same from model-to-model but the price skyrockets quickly the nicer you want the visible handle to be.  ISE could seriously make their price jumps between handles a little less drastic.  Also, there were complaints in the Amazon comments from long-time users that when the tank rusts-out, you can't replace just the tank.  You have to buy a whole new kit.  Average lifespan seems to be 7 to 10 years.
  • The handle I bought is a right-hand only handle, which people complained about in the reviews.  It works great if you're a righty and you place something in the sink and pour water into it (your right-hand goes for the handle).  But if you have a tea cup in your right hand (the natural pose for drinking from it), you have to reach over/behind the faucet to turn it on with your left hand and you do risk burning yourself if you accidentally reach UNDER it instead of behind.
  • Installation is generally easy, but for some silly reason, it comes with everything you need EXCEPT the shutoff tee you need to adapt it onto your existing cold water pipe.  Ordinarily I'd say plumbing parts shouldn't be included, but this is a pretty standard connection that should work with anyone's plumbing.  It also comes with all the other connections and hoses--so why make customers run to the plumbing supply store for one piece?  The fitting is less than $5 retail.  They could have included one.
The Dish Pan
Let's be honest.  This is expensive for a dish pan.  However, I've had other dish pans and I don't love the way they hold-up over time.  This one looked sturdier and I liked the square, tall shape, as it'd take-up less space in the sink (I leave it there to collect dirty dishes when the dishwasher is otherwise occupied).  It also had the drain feature, which was intriguing and might prevent stagnant water from getting trapped.

Overall, I'll say it's worth the money.  The only part that could use some improvement is the drain.  It has a tendency to close itself somehow.  I wish they'd add a little friction to it to keep it where you put it.

Monday, March 5, 2018

My Favorite Emergency Kit Items

We recently went through our second multi-day power outage of the year in Rhode Island.  They're getting more and more frequent and I'm learning that we're just going to have to start getting used to them and spend some money putting in things like a hard-wired generator or alternative heat sources.  It's unfortunate, but welcome to the world of Global Warming.

There are a few inexpensive products that we've found indispensable during the outages and I thought I'd take a moment to share them.  Fair warning, these are Affiliate links (I'll get a small kickback from Amazon) but I have not been paid for my use or review of the products.  I've purchased them all myself and my thoughts are my own.

Favorite Flashlights
Ever go to get a flashlight and it's dead or provides dim yellow light?  Yeah, me too.  Recently, I've invested in all new LED flashlights.  They're great because they use very very little electricity, so batteries tend to last longer and they take fewer, smaller batteries for the same light output.  Plus, when they die, they don't go dim for awhile.  They either work or don't and provide bright white light.

This one is a favorite:

At only around $13, they're affordable enough to have two or three.  Make sure to buy the higher-lumens model.  I keep one in a central place in the kitchen near the door in a spot that I know I'll be able to find fumbling around in the dark.  They're also good for the bedside table.  The carabiner on the end lets you latch it onto a bag or backpack if you need to leave the house so you'll have one when you get home in the pitch-darkness and they're just the right size and not too heavy.  Takes only 3 AAA batteries.

We also have a few inexpensive ($3) pocketbook/lipstick sized ones that we keep for bedside and travel.

Portable Device Rechargers
These things are awesome.  They come in different sizes offering either the ability to toss one in a pocketbook or the ability to recharge your phone or tablet multiple times.  I have the rectangular one that's about the size of a deck of cards.  Keep it by your recharging station, plug it in every so often to make sure it's charged (it holds a charge great) and you'll always have emergency recharge power for your cell phone.

An LED Camping Lantern
We bought this for actual camping but it's come in handy more for power outages.  The batteries last a long time on stand-by (easily a year or two) and I've never had to change them in the middle of heavy use.  It's bright enough to light a small room to move around and do things (like our windowless bathroom) and you can hang it above you from a hook or set it up by your head and read easily by its light.
I recommend buying more than one if you can spare the money (the batteries are almost as expensive as the lamp).

Extra Extension Cords
We recently bought a portable generator and haven't been able to have the house wired to accept power from it directly.  However, we were able to put it just inside the detached garage door to shelter it (with the door open for circulation) and run a 100-foot cord into a house (shutting a window on it and stuffing with fabric to keep fumes and cold out) and hook it up to a power strip in the middle of the room and then use smaller cords to get to lamps, our pellet stoves, and other necessities.

I'm over the moon with this inexpensive (about $20) 100-foot cord from Amazon Basics.  It's made of a really soft vinyl that doesn't get hard and kink-up the way other cords do.  When not in use for power outages, it helps with yardworking tools. They also make a 50-foot version.  Don't be afraid to keep a power strip on-hand as well.

An Inexpensive Kettle
You can do a lot if you have hot water, whether it's making instant soups, tea, coffee (try coffee bags or a french press), hard-boiling or poaching eggs, etc. We now have a generator, so we were able to use our favorite electric kettle to heat water, but a simple inexpensive stove-top kettle can be placed on a propane camp stove or a side burner on your outdoor grill.

Cases of Bottled Water
I haven't quite gotten around to this yet, but I plan to purchase 2 to 3 cases (6 to 18 gallon jugs) of bottled water, which is around $1 to $1.50 per bottle and just stashing them in a basement or the back of a closet (or heck, under a bed if you need to).  We've tried keeping extra empty bottles on-hand and filling them before the storm, but at least half the time, the storm catches us off-guard.  When we do remember, the bottles sit around in the kitchen for 2 weeks after the store until I remember to empty them, wash, and air-dry them before putting them away.  Having fresh, clean water in the closet is the easier option.

Eton Emergency Radio
I don't have the most recent fancy model below (mine lacks the USB Port) but this radio has been really helpful.  Again, if you keep it near your device charging station and just make sure it's charged every so often, you'll always have a source for local information (our local TV station simulcasts on an AM radio station during emergencies).  It has a hand-crank generator in case the battery runs low, an LED flashlight, and the newer models can be used to charge your cell phone. Eton makes several models but this is a really affordable one at around $30-40.  LL Bean also carries them branded with their logo.

Baby Wipes and Hand Sanitizer
If you have a well like we do, chances are, you won't have water to keep things (or your body) clean.  Having baby wipes on-hand is great for those moments when you need to clean-up or freshen-up.  Unscented and/or natural is always a nice touch.

Hand Sanitizer is great for all those other situations where you need to touch things and can't wash your hands.

A Battery "Generator"
I don't actually have one of these, but I wish I did.  It's basically a large version of the cell phone recharging packs I listed earlier.  At 150 watts, you're not going to be able to run anything with a pump or a heating coil, but you can run lights, recharge devices, operate medical devices like a CPAP machine, etc.  Assuming you haven't lost your cable lines, it might be able to run your Internet modem or the TV for a bit.

A Battery Back-up Sump Pump
We live in an area with a high water table near a reservoir that feeds public water to more than half of the state.  For about 3 months out of the year in the spring, water pours into my basement from the subsoil at rates up to and over a gallon an hour.  Normally, my sump pump keeps us dry, but this year, we had an early rainy season and a freak wind/rain storm.  Needless to say, I had about 4 inches of water in the basement before I got the generator going to pump it out and the generator struggled to run the pump (and couldn't run all-night).

I don't have one of these yet, but we'll be installing one soon.  This is a secondary 12 volt pump with a battery case (battery sold separately).  It is a major investment, for sure, but is going to be worthwhile for us.  You place it into the sump pit a little higher than the main pump.  If the main pump fails for any reason (power outage or it dies), an alarm will sound when the water reaches the secondary pump and it'll go to work pumping the water out.  If there's power, it'll use the house power.  If not, it'll draw from a rechargeable battery.

I'm still shopping-around for the best one, but this one looks promising:

Note: If you happen to have city/town water service, they make a device that uses city water pressure to create the suction needed to pump the water out of the sump pit.  It wastes a lot of fresh water and requires tapping into your home water lines, but it may be more cost-effective for your situation since you don't have to worry about batteries and power.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Instant Pot™ or Pressure Cooker Tomato Bisque (Tomato Soup)

As most of you know, I've been on a bit of an Instant Pot kick lately, so expect to see many of my recipes being converted for pressure cooking.

This week, I adjusted my Creamy Tomato Bisque recipe and served it during a visit from my in-laws with some nice toasted cheese sandwiches.  It was very well received, because who doesn't like grilled cheese and tomato soup?  The whole thing, start-to-finish, takes about a half-hour.

Instant Pot™ or Pressure Cooker Tomato Bisque

Note: If you wish, you can use 1/2 cup of water plus a generous tablespoon of Better than Bouillon.  If you have neither on-hand, water will do just as well.  A teaspoon of dried basil will also work here, though fresh has a much better flavor.

2 28-oz cans Whole or Crushed Tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh basil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 small onion, minced
1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

  1. Switch the pressure cooker to saute mode.  Add olive oil and onions and sweat the onions until they just begin to soften.
  2. Add tomatoes, chicken broth, a heavy pinch of salt and pepper, and basil.
  3. Place the lid on the cooker and set the valve to closed/sealing.  Press Cancel, then Pressure Cook and set timer for 10 minutes.
  4. Once the cooking cycle is complete, quick release pressure and carefully open the lid.
  5. Using an immersion blender, blend the contents of the pot until it is as smooth as you can get it.
  6. Place a wire mesh strainer over a bowl.  Working with one to two ladlesful at a time, pass the soup through the strainer, swirling and pushing with the back of soup ladle.  Discard the remaining seeds and tough bits.
  7. Rinse the pressure cooker pot and return the soup to the pot.  Switch the cooker back to Saute and bring the soup to a bubble.  If it is too thin, allow it to reduce a bit.  Once it reaches the thickness you like, add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.  If you're used to commercially canned tomato soup, you may like it on the sweeter side.
  8. Melt in the butter and pour in the cream, stirring.
  9. Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches, of course, preferably made with nice artisan bread.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Instant Pot™ or Pressure Cooker Chicken and Rice Soup

The other day, I decided I wanted a "dump and cook" chicken soup that could be done in the Instant Pot™.  My wife suggested chicken and rice, which was a great idea, since rice normally cooks great under pressure (and in no time at all).

I'll admit the first attempt wasn't perfect.  For reasons I can't explain, I decided to let it release pressure naturally, even though I know very well that rice is a quick-release ingredient.  I also added way too much rice.  The result was mushy and thick, but nonetheless delicious.

The recipe below makes corrections for those two mistakes.  I haven't actually tested it yet, so I present it with caution, but I'm pretty sure it'll work just fine.

Instant Pot Chicken and Rice Soup

Note: This recipe uses white rice.  It can be done with brown rice, but the cooking time would need to be longer (about 20-25 minutes).

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 pound of boneless skinless chicken
1/2 cup of white long-grain or jasmine rice
1 large onion
3/4 pound of carrots
2 large ribs of celery
salt and pepper
olive oil
  1. Wash, peel, and cut all ingredients into spoon-sized chunks.
  2. Switch the cooker to saute on high and heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of the pot.  Saute the vegetables with a pinch of salt until they begin to soften.
  3. Add the chicken to the pot, stirring.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add the rice, stirring, followed by the liquid.  Make sure all the rice is scraped off the sides and submerged into the liquid.
  5. Place the lid on the cooker.  Switch to pressure cooking high pressure and set the timer for 6 minutes.
  6. As soon as the cooking cycle completes, perform a quick pressure release.
  7. Open the pot carefully, letting steam flow away from you.  Stir the soup and give it a taste.  Adjust seasoning and serve hot with nice crusty bread or cheesy toast.

Instant Pot is a trademark that I use and mention without permission from the trademark owner.  Most of my Instant Pot recipes can be made in any similar multi-cooker or a stove-top pressure cooker, provided it can handle the settings described in the recipe (typically, high pressure for a designated amount of time plus saute/browning).