Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to grade schooler, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national parenting and lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Wednesday
Feb082017

I'm part of the Instant Pot Cult and I have the Risotto Recipe to Prove It

I like my rice cooker, I am okay with my slow cooker. But I would throw them all out in a hot minute to keep my Instant Pot. Instant Pots are a new take on pressure cookers. You may remember pressure cookers by the stories of them exploding and leaving spaghetti sauce stains on the ceiling, or worse. But Instant Pots, and other new pressure cookers are easier with their plugs, built-in timers and safety features. 

They cut down the time it takes to cook by approximately 70 percent, which means chicken is done in 15 minutes, dried beans are tender in 35 minutes and a pork shoulder becomes pulled pork in an hour. The best part is that you can throw frozen meat in and it is still done in a short time. 

I love my Instant Pot --  if Instant Pots were Mary Kay cosmetics, I would be driving a pink Cadillac by now. I use it at least a couple of times a week. I am terrible at meal planning but I like to grocery shop -- so throwing in frozen chicken thighs with some BBQ sauce and having it ready in 20 minutes is perfect. I make soup every weekend by tossing in some beans or barley, stock, veggies and sometimes a smoked turkey leg or ham hock. 

It's not all sunshine and rainbows though. Just like in slow cooking you want to use fattier meats that stand up to braising. And it can be a little bit hard to figure out -- the natural release vs. forced release is something I am still working out. (A good rule of thumb is that if it is something that can't be overcooked (like rice) then you need to do a quick release, if it is something that can wait a bit longer (like stock) then you do a natural release.  It definitely takes a few times to figure it out, and I am still always consulting websites to work out the timing. 

There is a big community to help you out as well, the Instant Pot site has lots of resources, there are hundereds of Facebook pages some of which specialize in a certain diet or region. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt articles at the Food Lab was what inspired me to try a pressure cooker and the site has lots of recipes -- though they can be a little over-involved for a short-cut cook. 

Also, evangelists like me will shout from the rooftops on how it only takes six minutes to make rice, and 15 to make chicken but the machine takes 10 minutes to heat up and then another 10 minutes to release all the pressure so you can open the lid. So six minute rice is really 26 minutes. It's hands-off time, but I'm just warning you. 

But there is nothing faster and better for turning tough cuts like pork shoulder, shanks, short ribs into a delicious weekday meal. It's amazing for dried beans and pulses, making hummus from dried chick peas suddenly seems doable on a Tuesday. You can sauté right in the pan, which means you have more flavourful sauces, and you can use the sauté function to reduce them down too. The Instant Pot also has a slow cooker, keep warm, and yogurt making functions. 

And risotto. Risotto was a weekend only meal, usually made to impress people. But I can do it in the Instant Pot in six minutes (plus, the heat-up time). It is creamy without needing constant stirring, and I don't add any cream to it. It also makes delicious rice pudding, if that is your thing. (And coconut milk rice pudding is definitely my thing!)

Basic Pressure Cooker Risotto

This risotto is a base for other flavours, sauté mushrooms with the onions and use mushroom stock or veggie stock for a mushroom risotto. The formula of one cup of rice to two cups of stock is consistent, so feel free to double and triple recipe (if your pressure cooker is big enough). Add goat cheese and leftover chicken. Roast butternut squash and add a few roasted cubes in before cooking and top it with more squash and sage. The possibilities are endless. 

3 tbsp Olive oil

1-2 clove garlic chopped (or shallot)

1 medium onion finely chopped 

2 cups Arborio or risotto rice

1/3 cup white wine

4 cups chicken or veggie stock (homemade or low-sodium)

pinch of salt (depending on saltiness of stock)

2 tbsp butter (optional) 

1/2 cup Parmesan, freshly grated (optional)

 

Turn on the sauté function and add a couple tablespoons of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add in the chopped onion and sauté until almost translucent, about 4 minutes. Add in the chopped garlic. The burner can get a little hot in sauté function, turn it off for a minute if it is too hot.

Add in the two cups of rice, stir continuously until the rice becomes translucent around the edges but still has a white core. Add in the wine and let it boil off. (Because there is no evaporation in the pressure cooker, make sure the wine has boiled off.) Add chicken or veggie stock. Stir.

Turn off the cooker, and turn on the manual setting on high for six minutes. When the time is up, do a quick release. Open the lid and it will look soupy. Stir it and let it sit for one minute. It should be creamy risotto, if it is still a bit wet looking, cover it and let it sit and stir some more. If you need to add more stock, do so and turn on sauté function and stir it for a minute. 

Stir in butter (if using) and parmesan (if using) and any other additions. Serve and feel good.

 

Wednesday
Feb012017

Let's Talk about Slow Cooker Recipes

I wasn't kidding when I said that the biggest fight my mother and I ever had as adults was over slow cookers. It was also in front of our editors, so that was not at all embarrassing. 

I was arguing that the convenience of the slow cooker overrides the compromises in taste. Eventually we agreed that you can coax good flavours out of the slow cooker by layering the flavour. But there will never be browning, or very much sauce reduction. 

The Morroccan chicken recipe that we developed is delicious, and you can do it in a slow cooker, a Dutch oven in the oven (for two hours), or in a pressure cooker (25 minutes on high). I wanted to show Gill Deacon, host of CBC Here and Now the difference between the oven and slow cooker so I divided the recipe and did half in each appliance. 

slow cooker version on the left, oven version on the right

The oven one (which to be honest, I left in too long) was thicker and tastier. But my husband looked at me like I was crazy when I pointed out the difference. 

Find the recipe here.

From the Globe and Mail:

"Cooking time varies depending on the brand of slow cooker, so check your machine. Mine, an All-Clad slow cooker, took four hours on high and eight hours on low. You can find premixed Moroccan seasonings, but this easy one can be made in larger quantities and will keep in a container for six months. Harissa can be found in a tube in most larger grocery stores. We used precut butternut squash in this recipe – a time-saver ingredient that is available in many produce sections."

 

Slow-cooked Moroccan chicken, photo courtesy of Globe and Mail

We also added in some important tips to ensure slow cooker success including: no peeking, a handy conversion guide and how to layer flavour.  The recipe has been a family and reader favourite. Try it out and let me know what you think.

If you are a die-hard fan of the slow cooker, just remember that fatty meats like thighs, shoulder, shanks and brisket do better because the fat breaks down slowly and the collagen helps keep the meat tender. And firing up a pan to brown the meat and sauté the onions will improve your flavour, somewhat. 

I know that some people absolutely adore their slow cookers while others leave them to collect dust in the basement. I admit, I use mine intermittently, mostly for chili and brisket. But now I have a new love in my life -- my Instant Pot and next Wednesday on CBC Radio Here and Now I am going to talk about how and why I love it so much. 

Monday
Dec192016

Eating Bugs and other Food Trends You May Love in 2017

This is a post sponsored by Loblaws. But 100% honest.

I ate crickets. Billed as the next new protein, they were crunchy little bits sitting on top of a lovely paella. Bugs are an environmentally-friendly protein that could make us, and our world a little healthier. If you want to taste the #TasteTheNewNext, you can try them out.

I ate them at Loblaws, the nation’s largest grocery store chain. The food industry is always looking for new trends and items like bugs, sustainable seafood and turmeric are top of the list. I’m on the Loblaws Food Council that is discussing those new trends and what will be on store shelves, and on our plates, for the next year.

But really, I’m just looking at ways of making dinner a little easier.

 

Me at #tastethenewnext event announcing the trends. Yes, it's filtered. Don't blame me.  

Those of us in the head-down tunnel of just getting dinner on the table may be impervious to the trends. But some of those trends are very helpful to the harried home cook. Loblaws has identified a handful of trends that are going to influence how we eat and shop over the next year.

For instance, stores are doing better at connecting with shoppers online. That’s a trend that can help you out of a time-squeeze panic. I have written about my love affair with Loblaws Click & Collect before. And almost two years later it just keeps getting better. Click & Collect is Loblaws’ online service. You shop online, choose a 2-hour window to pick it up and they pack it for you. You never get out of your car. They will even take your reusable bins/bags out of the car and put your groceries in them and then return them to your car. The whole time you are listening to music, enjoying your heated seat and cruising Facebook on your phone.

I just did a junk food order last week for my daughter’s birthday. Not only did I not want to be seen carting all that stuff around, but why bother? I also order while I’m up north to pick up on the way home. And sometimes, I order and get my husband to pick it up on his way home. Then it is like delivery (but the tip is much higher).

Can you guess what the number one item that gets ordered on Click & Collect is? Bananas. I was worried about ordering fruit and vegetables online, but the staff do a very good job choosing and people keep going back for more. Personally, I need to get better at visualizing how much 100 grams of green beans is.

And it all hooks up with your PC Points account. I currently have 100 dollars to redeem at my local Loblaws, thanks to my points. (If you aren’t a member. Why not?) Eventually, I hope that grocery stores’ sites will be a hub to get inspired and make meal planning and shopping much easier.

 

Another trend that I am big proponent of is the use of global flavours in the home kitchen. If you follow my 6 O’Clock Challenge column in the Globe and Mail, you will know that we use flavours from around the world. Loblaws calls this The New Canadian Cuisine. I call it dinner.

Loblaws has made it a lot easier for me to kick up my dishes a notch, with the PC black label spice blends. I am a big fan of both the Za’atar and Togarashi blends, which I use weekly.

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern blend that often combines thyme, sesame and sumac. It is used in Mediterranean food and is good as a finisher on hummus, salads, chicken and roasted vegetables. The Schichimi Togarashi spice is a Japanese combination of red chili flakes, Szechuan peppers, dried orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, nori flakes and wasabi powder. It has a little bit of a kick to it and I love it on any kind of sweet roasted vegetable such as butternut squash as well as chicken wings.  

A selection of the PC Black Label spices. I also have the Chinese 5-spice and Tandoori blends.

If you have been searching out turmeric, then you are on trend as well. There are other trends that will continue to seep into your home such as searching out sustainable options, using healthy whole food ingredients and wasting less of the foods we use.. Actually, the word trend sort of undercuts those ideas. Choosing healthier, less-processed, less-damaging food should not be a trend. I would hate to see those go out of fashion.  

I may not be ready to embrace bugs in my food but if you are sprinkling cricket powder into your green smoothies, then you may be the trendiest person out there!

 

#sponsoredbyLoblaws

Loblaws Inc. has provided promotional consideration, all product(s) and product information in exchange for my comments or review.

 

Tuesday
Oct042016

Don't Miss Out on Cirque du Soleil Luzia #promo #greatdeal

Have you seen Cirque du Soleil's LUZIA yet? Everyone who has seen this Mexican-inspired show has been raving about it. The show is leaving the Port Lands on October 16th but I have a great deal so you can catch it before it flies like a monarch butterfly heading for warmer climate. Maybe you will see me there next Wednesday night.

Some of my best memories involve Cirque du Soleil. My husband and I saw "O" in Vegas just after we got married and when we decided to start trying for a family (Is that TMI?). We met a couple in Mexico who were acrobats at Cirque and I often think of them when I see the ads (they are still performing with them!). But the best memory is when I picked up my son (who suffers a bit from middle child syndrome)  from school as a surprise and took him to see Cirque du Soleil. He loved it, and I loved it. But most of all, I loved watching his delight in the show, and in the knowledge that I had planned that evening just around him. 

My longtime readers (you are still out there, aren't you?) know that I don't do very many promotions or contests. Since I love Cirque, it only seemed fair to pass on this great deal of 30% off of tickets to see #LUZIA. Just click this link, you don't need a promo code

Or Click here:

LUZIA is inspired by the warmth and cultural richness of Mexico. The Globe and Mail calls it "a magical Mexican dream" with the audacity to cast characters as both a demigod and a cockroach. I'm so excited to surprise all my kids, and experience the show through their eyes.

Happy Thanksgiving!  

*I got two tickets to LUZIA for promotion. (But I would bought them anyways.)

Thursday
May122016

The best medical care can miss one important thing #nobabyunhugged 

Once you have been one of those new mothers, you see them whenever you are at the hospital. They are the ones sitting sadly in a chair right near the exit, waiting for a car to pick them up. They have the tired bewildered look of a woman who has just given the birth, her stomach pooches, her hair is a mess and she is wearing maternity clothes. She is missing something though; she is leaving the hospital without her baby.

Sixteen years ago, I was that woman. I had spent two months on bedrest, one of them in the hospital because of a placental abruption. After an emergency C-section at 37 weeks, I went home without my baby. It was one of the most confusing and disheartening experiences I have ever been through.

 

How could they keep my baby and kick me out? Who was going to hold him through the night? Even 16 years later, I hold on to tremendous guilt that my son spent his first two nights in this world alone.

I can only imagine how much better I would have felt if there had been friendly volunteers willing to hold my baby when I wasn’t there. And that is exactly what the Huggies #nobabyunhugged campaign does. Huggies has created No Baby Unhugged programs in two Canadian NICU units where the premature and sick babies can get all the benefits of hugging, even if the parents can’t be there all the time. These programs supply rocking chairs, stations and volunteers to neo-natal units, so babies can benefit from the power of touch, even when the parents are unable to do it themselves.

The medical technology in the NICUs across the country is incredible, and the babies receive the best care possible. But researchers have found that is not all about high-tech, the power of touch is transformative for newborns. Hugging can regulate a baby’s breathing and slow down their heartbeat, it can help with pain and improve baby’s sleep. Skin to skin contact can release powerful “love hormones” such as endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. All of this together can mean shorter hospital stays and happy homecomings for both baby and parents.

The hugging program is currently at the NICUs at Cape Breton Regional Hospital and Southlake Regional Hospital in Newmarket. Huggies is providing an additional $50-thousand dollars to expand its hugging centres to two other Canadian hospitals this year. If you are, or know an expectant or new mother, they can join the campaign by uploading a photo with your babe (or your bump) and becoming a no Baby Unhugged Mom. Click here for more information. For each photo Huggies will donate five dollars to the #nobabyunhugged campaign, and send the new mother free diapers. And you know what Huggies says: they put a hug in every diaper. Checking out the No Baby Unhugged Mom page is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face – even if your first baby was 16 years ago.

When my son was born, the nurses thought I was crazy when I gave him “kangaroo care” by stripping down and placing him on my chest for skin to skin contact. I insisted that we held him every moment we could while at the hospital. It’s amazing that the research has caught up with what we mothers already know – the power of touch and hugs is much more than skin deep. I'm glad that Huggies is advocating and educating people for such a simple and effective treatment.

My only question is: how do I become a #nobabyunhugged volunteer? I totally want to add "baby hugger" to my resume.

*this post was sponsored by Huggies. They are donating diapers to the Syrian family who I am sponsoring. So more hugs all around!