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).

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker Chicken Marsala

I received an Instant Pot for Christmas and I've been making dinner in it almost every night for the past week or so.  I might be a little bit obsessed.  Just a little.  ;-)

Last night, I decided it'd be a good idea to convert my Chicken Marsala recipe for the IP.  It came out awesome, though it's not quite the "dump and stir" recipe you might expect for the IP.  In order to maximize flavor and texture, you need to do a fair amount of prep.

Instant Pot Chicken Marsala

Note: This is probably the only occasion where I'm going to say it's okay to buy Cooking Wine from the grocery aisle instead of a good drinking wine.  It makes a perfectly good Marsala sauce.  If you have a nice Marsala, feel free to use it, though you might have to use extra salt and the sauce might come out sweeter.

8-10 oz Baby Bella (Cremini) Mushrooms
1-2 pounds Boneless Chicken
1 large onion
3/4 cup of Marsala Cooking Wine
1 cup water or chicken broth
1 large clove of garlic, minced or pressed
olive oil or butter (about 1/4 cup)
1/3 cup Cornstarch
salt and pepper

  1. Thickly slice or quarter the mushrooms.  Chop the onion into a large dice (about 1/2 inch).
  2. Switch your multi-cooker to the saute setting and coat the bottom generously with oil or butter.
  3. Place 2 tablespoons of the cornstarch into a bowl or measuring cup and add 1/4 cup of water.  Stir thoroughly until no lumps are visible.  Set aside.
  4. Place the remaining cornstarch in a shallow bowl or plate.  Season with salt and pepper.  Coat the chicken with cornstarch.
  5. Working in batches, so as to not crowd the pan, saute each side of the chicken to develop a firm yellowish crust (it will not completely brown).  You don't want to cook the chicken through.  Just develop the crust.
  6. Remove chicken to a plate and add the vegetables to the pot.  Add additional olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Saute vegetables until they start to soften and lose some of their liquid.
  7. Add the wine, scraping-up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes to allow some of the alcohol to dissipate (else it will get trapped inside the pot and be kind of boozy).  Add the chicken stock and season with pepper.
  8. Nestle the chicken into the liquid and close the lid.
  9. Set the valve to closed and set your pot for high pressure and 6 minutes.  Allow the pot to complete the cooking cycle and release the pressure naturally.
  10. Open the pot and remove the chicken to a plate again, gently as it may start to fall apart.  press Cancel and Saute.  Bring mixture to a bubble.
  11. Stir-in the cornstarch and water mixture, which should thicken the sauce.  If it's too thick or gloppy, add a little water until it's the thickness you like.  Taste and adjust seasoning.
  12. Serve chicken and mushroom sauce over rice, pasta, grains like farro, mashed potatoes, polenta, or as-is with a good portion of nice crusty bread to soak-up the sauce.


  • You may find you have a lot of extra gravy and mushrooms after you've served all of the chicken.  This can be frozen or refrigerated and then used as a delicious pasta sauce.
  • If you wish to make this recipe faster, try tossing the mushrooms and onions with olive oil and a pinch of salt and microwaving them covered on high for a few minutes instead of sauteing them.  This should serve the same purpose of softening them and removing some of the water and can be done while you're browning the meat.

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).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Cranberry Relish

Every family has one or two recipes that come out during the holidays that are fairly unique to their family.  My family has Cranberry Relish.

It's not a pickled relish as you might expect from a hot dog relish.  It's all fruit, made with fresh cranberries, a whole orange, a whole apple, and just enough sugar to take the puckery edge off a bit.

Over the years, this has become my favorite condiment for that after-Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing sandwich.  I'll gladly pass the jellied stuff for a big heaping spoonful of cranberry relish.

Enjoy the recipe below.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry Relish

Ocean Spray actually sold a similar product in a tub in the refrigerator section of the grocery store back in the 80's or 90's.  It came in various additional flavors, such as cran-raspberry, but the texture and taste was nearly the same.  I'm not sure what ever happened to them.

1 12oz package fresh or frozen cranberries
1 large range, preferably a thin-skinned variety
1 whole apple, preferably a less-tart variety
1/2 to 1 cup of granulated sugar to taste

  1. Wash the apple and remove the core and seeds.  Chop the rest of the apple, skin and all, into large chunks.
  2. Wash the orange and slice-off the stem and blossom end so that you can see the orange flesh.  If using a thick-skinned variety, such as a navel orange optionally remove half of the peel (the thick white pith is the most bitter part).  Chop the remainder of the orange into large chunks, removing any seeds as best as you can.
  3. Wash cranberries if using fresh.
  4. Place the apple and orange chunks into the bowl of a food processor outfitted with a steel blade.  Process in pulses until the fruit is very finely chopped, almost pureed.
  5. Add the cranberries.  Pulse just until the mixture is the texture of hot dog relish.
  6. Remove mixture to a bowl.  Stir-in 1/2 cup of sugar.  Taste and add additional sugar until you like it.  Keep in mind that the mixture will sweeten slightly as it sits, so you may wish to under-sweeten it and add more sugar the next day.
  7. Pack into an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days.  Serve.
Optional Canning Instructions
This product is made of high-acid ingredients and thus is safe to can.  The instructions provided below were devised by reviewing recipes for pickle relish and making some adjustments to buy a little extra safety.
  1. If the relish seems dry, add about 1/2 cup of water or commercial orange juice to loosen it up.  This will keep the density down for safety.  You might also wish to allow the mixture to macerate overnight in the refrigerator, which usually extracts juices naturally from the fruit and softens it.
  2. In a large pot, heat the mixture just until it is heated through and is at a simmer.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Pack into jars no larger than quarts.  Leave 1/2 inch head space.  De-bubble as best as you can, wipe the rims, and add lids and rings.
  4. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.