Under Pressure: Cooking with a Pressure Cooker

Nancy explains how the pressure cooker has changed the way she cooks dinner and how it helps her get great meals to the table while still driving kids to music and taekwondo lessons.  Learn about the new electric pressure cookers and how they can make dinner prep easier and faster.

Nancy likes the Cuisinart electric pressure cooker available at Costco.

Nancy’s EASY Frozen Chicken Dinner

frozen chicken thighs (you can do breasts if you prefer)
1 cup Kirkland Organic Salsa from Costco
1/2 cup water

Place frozen chicken thighs in pressure cooker, then add water and top with Kirkland Organic Salsa. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes.  You can use the quick release method.  Remove the chicken and keep warm.

To make the pan sauce, set the pressure cooker to brown and watch the sauce until it reduces.  Stir occasionally.  This should take 5-7 minutes and makes a healthy and delicious sauce.  If desired, you can add sliced zucchini to make the sauce into a side dish.


NOTE: Still Nancy’s favorite fast meal machine.  Dinner Sunday night and the kids rave about it still–5 years later.

Get Your Spook On: Halloween Preparations

20141003_143858  What costumes do your kids want? How are you going to decorate (or not) for the season?  Are you in charge of games at the school party? What about some fun food ideas?  We cover these topics and more with some excellent ideas to help you get your Spook On!

Some Decorating Tips

  • If you can’t decorate a lot, choose one area to decorate and put it all in that one place.
    • Your front door is a great place to decorate because many people come there (see the photo of Nancy’s front door above)
    • Choose one Room to decorate (Nancy’s living room gets transformed with a Harry Potter Theme–check out the book titles and the magazines–great printables from online)
  • Choose a theme and a style
    • The key is to have some cohesive look (cutesy or scary, Harry Potter look or Fall Décor, witches or scarecrows)
    • Find a color palate and stick with it. Spray paint can be a life-saver20141006_11583820141006_11592620141006_115758
    • Black and Orange are not the only colors. Try using lime green or turquoise to spice it up. Silver and white work too to give a ghostly feel.20141006_115810
  • Use what you have—don’t buy new things
    • Outside lanterns for summer become spooky lanterns
    • Planters/Urns can be used to stage pumpkins or Witches Legs
    • Trimmed trees or bushes can become backdrops for both Fall and Halloween scenes
    • Vases and jars can become apothecary jars
    • Family silver and old photos of relatives add that old feeling
  • Candles add ambiance
  • Check out a past podcast and photos
  • Paper can be your cheap friend for a great impact (Shelly’s silhouette)
  • More is More—one bat won’t cut it. You need a swarm for impact.
  • Check out the perfect 20141006_120000way to cut out a pumpkin for cleaning and lighting  http://makezine.com/2009/10/23/a-better-20141006_115903way-to-slice-a-pumpkin/

Ideas for School Games

  • Eyeballs—have you played Kerplunk? Do this at school with eyeballs (ping pong balls painted)
  • Eyeball relay with eyeballs and spoons where they have to carry the eyeball through a course and drop it in the cup.
  • RENAME a game Shrinking Island (like Musical Chairs)
  • Witches Stew (kids have to make a stew by picking up pieces of paper with a straw and suction to get them in to their stew—the first one wins) Print pictures of Halloween ingredients for the stew from the Internet and

Costume Ideas

  • Start early
  • Think of something easily recognizable but not often repeated
  • If on a budget, think of something that uses what you already have (Clothing, etc)

Food Ideas

  • Use a toothpick to drag out legs from melted chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies   http://jensfavoritecookies.com/2013/10/19/spider-cookies-2/  or go to http://iambaker.net/spider-chocolate-chip-cookies/
  • Inside out Caramel Apples–slice the apple in half, core out the seeds and a bit more flesh, pour the caramel in the center and let set up before slicing.
  • Turn Cuties (small oranges) into pumpkins (with or without the peel).  With the peel–draw faces on the peel.  Without the peel–stick a green candy coming out the top like a pumpkin stem.

How to Get the Witch Leg Look

1410794201268Use what you have around the house. I used one pool noodle cut in half, halloween tights, old boots, and some stuffing and bubble wrap to get the shape of thighs.

Once you get the legs, you can attach them to your pot.  I used two dowels (actually two checkered flags on wooden sticks) to give the legs some stability. Then, I attached the shoes to the legs using rubber bands that I covered with cute ribbon (see the photo at the top).


Lunch Solutions

LunchWeekFreezerLunch boxes don’t keep your child’s lunch cold enough and you don’t have time in the morning. SOLUTION: Making Lunch on the Weekend and Freezing Them! Nancy explains how she makes fun lunches for the entire week including snacks and fun stuff in an hour or so on the weekend.

Nancy’s Tips to Make a Week of Lunches Ahead of Time and So They Stay Cold:

  1. make all sandwiches at once and freeze them in freezer paper  (if mayo—put in the middle between layers of meat). You can even cut shapes out and freeze them.
  2. bake and freeze cookies or muffins, then take some out everyday
  3. freeze yogurts or applesauce(even pudding freezes fine)
  4. freeze water bottles
  5. freeze cheese sticks so they stay cold
  6. cut up fruits and veggies and put in containers in the fridge
  7. make bags of dry goods that can be added quickly to lunches

MissingPieceWith everything already cut up, frozen and ready, you can just grab things in the morning for your kids!  Making lunches takes seconds this way.

Other things to check out:

PBJ Sushi RollPBJ Sushi–the TOTAL hit at lunch in Elementary and JR High

  1. Roll the bread thin and flat with a rolling pin.
  2. Spread the peanut butter on the bread.
  3. Add a slice of banana and a small amount of jam.
  4. Roll the bread tight (try to keep the jam in the first time you roll so it doesn’t spread further.
  5. Place the sushi rolls in the freezer uncut.
  6. Cut them when you make lunch.

PBJ Shushi

Since you have extra time, some days you can make some fun lunches

AngryBirdsLunch ShaunTheSheep



Perfect Protein Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

CowboyCookiesBy using white beans instead butter along with the oatmeal, you are creating a cookie with a perfect protein profile.   This recipe has half the sugar of our original Cowboy Cookie recipe but so much flavor with the addition of cinnamon that the kids don’t miss the sugar.  Plus the semi-sweet chocolate chips add a heart-healthy dose of deliciousness.  I also simplified the recipe so that you use the entire can of bean–no measuring needed there.

Makes 60 small cookies

1 15 oz can white beans  (also called Northern beans)
1 1/2 c brown sugar
3 eggs
1 T vanilla
1 T cinnamon
3 c whole wheat flour
3c oatmeal
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a blender at the lowest setting, mix beans (with the can juice), sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract quickly until the beans are incorporated.  Do not mix on high or for a long time so the eggs do not get over beaten.

In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients (except chocolate chips). Add the moist mixture to the dry ingredients until incorporated (it will be a dry dough mixture), then add chocolate chips.  Make small cookie dough balls and place on baking sheet.  Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes until they start to turn golden on the edges.  Make sure you remove them before they over bake so cookies remain soft and delicious. You do not want them to look golden brown everywhere.

These cookies freeze very well and can be put directly into a lunch and will defrost in time. On days when we are rushing out the door, these cookies also work as an easy, healthy breakfast–just pop them in the microwave for 10 seconds to bring back the deliciousPerfectOatmeal taste of just-baked cookies.  We take them on road trips and when we go camping. These are also great after-dinner snacks.  Some family members even love them frozen. Whenever I make these for parties, I always get requests for the recipe.  Make a batch and see!

Update:  Here is the nutritional profile for 1 cookie




Baby Led-Weaning

9780091923808You never have to mash or mix or blend another meal again for your baby! Tracey Murkett, co-author of Baby-led Weaning, discusses how to help your baby love real food and not be picky all while making family dinner time more enjoyable for everyone in the house–even when you have children spread in age from 20 years to 6 months.