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Remember back when I was still an 'Instant Pot Ingenue', I mentioned the yogurt function on this magical machine but said it would have to be the subject of a later post?

Well, this is that post.

And it's made me even more fanatical about the Instant Pot now. Seriously, it's super easy to make your own fresh yogurt and it tastes amazing - I think better than the store brands. And, after making your first batch, you really only need a half gallon of milk to make repeat batches.

So while this post may be more of interest to those who've already got an Instant Pot, maybe this will spur interest if you're on the fence about getting one?

Even if you're the kind of reader like my family members who just read my blog because they're related to me (so thus mandatory)ūüėÉ or don't EVER plan on making your own yogurt, you know I cannot resist putting totally useless nerdy factoids about food in my blog so hey, keep reading. Especially if you have those types of friends who are known to say 'I heard on NPR the other day blahdy blah blah...' - now you'll have your own scintillating conversational tidbits to contribute.

p.s. I am one of THOSE people.

So my husband and I are greek yogurt fans, usually buying big tubs of the Fage ('fa-yeh') brand 2% greek yogurt.  I like the Siggi's brand too but its ridiculously expensive to buy. My kids love regular yogurt like Activia and Stoneyfield, particularly the Banilla flavor.

Between the 6 of us, we go thru quite a bit.  So I thought it would be fun to experiment and see how complicated it might be to make our own.  Plus, all the yogurt marketed to kids are total sugar bombs - I wanted to stop buying any of the flavored yogurts as it seemed few had less than 10 grams of sugar.

Like most things for the Instant Pot, once you read thru enough online descriptions and instructions, you end up saying 'That's it??'.  Making yogurt is definitely in that category.

And I don't know why but there is something so very 'Little House on the Prairie' about making homemade dairy products (butter, soft cheese, ricotta) that totally appeals to me.  Maybe I'm old fashioned - I guess I just like the fact that I know what's in it. Call me Half-Pint.

Okay so let's start. Here's what you need:

  • Half gallon of any milk. ¬†As long as you avoid ultra-pasteurized or ultra-homogenized, you should be fine. ¬†I just use our 2% store brand.
  • Single serve pint of plain yogurt with active cultures for your starter. I'll describe preferred brands and alternatives below.
  • Digital thermometer
  • Whisk or spoon
  • Yogurt strainer (store bought or create your own - I'll describe what I've used below)
  • Mixing bowl for ice bath
  • Instant Pot

The process of making yogurt is basically 5 steps and the Instant Pot does most of them for you.

  1. Heat milk to at least 180¬įF (range 180¬įF and190¬įF) - kills off wild bacteria and allows whey protein in milk to denature to make it thicken to yogurt.
  2. Cool milk to around 110¬įF (range 105¬įF ‚Äď 114¬įF)
  3. Add yogurt starter (couple tablespoons plain yogurt, tempered)
  4. Allow yogurt to set (8-9 hours)
  5. Done if you like plain regular yogurt; or drain if you like greek yogurt

It is honestly less than 15 minutes of work outside of what the Instant Pot is doing and the wait times....very easy.  But given the wait times, it's a good idea to do the heating up and cooling down before bedtime - that way it can do the set up overnight.

So thought it would be easiest to break this down into the stages and describe what I do at each step.  But before that, a factoid:

Yogurt goes back to the Neolithic peoples of Central Asia around 6000 B.C. Herdsmen wandering around with their animals ended up milking them and storing the milk in a carrying case (ie., animal stomach...ew) where it naturally curdled making it suitable for storing longer periods. But it wasn't just for the lonely goatherder - No! It fed armies as well. Apparently the Mongol leader Genghis Khan and his armies LIVED on yogurt. You could say it was the original military MRE???  

Pour the milk into the clean, empty Instant Pot liner.  Close the lid and seal the vent. Hit the 'Yogurt' button and then 'Adjust'.  It should say 'BOIL' on the screen.  Now your milk is heating up.  This will take about 30 minutes.

While it is heating up, take your yogurt starter out of the fridge and spoon a few tablespoons into a bowl and let sit to come to room temperature.  There are several different options to choose from for your starter.

You can buy just a single serve plain yogurt to start. Some brands have more active cultures than others but most major brands should be fine.  If you've already made some yogurt, you can also use some of your current batch or the whey that you drained.  Just use a fresh supply of whichever one to ensure live cultures.

When the digital display says 'Yogt', release the pressure, take the lid off and check temp with the digital thermometer. Stir the milk to make sure you get an accurate measurement.  Try to avoid touching the sides or bottom of the pot as cooked milk proteins stick there and you don't want them to mix into your liquid.

If your milk isn't to 180¬įF ¬†yet, then turn on the 'Saute' function, adjust to 'Low' and allow it to come up to temperature while stirring gently. ¬†I've had pretty good luck with mine being almost at 180¬įF with just an additional minute or so on 'Saute' to bring it up.

Once your milk is at 180¬įF, you need to cool it down to 110¬įF. ¬†You can just let it sit until it comes down to that temperature but this can take an hour so I prefer to just lift the pot out and place it in an ice water bath. This brings the temp down faster within ~5 minutes.

Again, stir to make sure you have an even temperature for measuring accurately and try not to touch sides or bottom when stirring.  Once you are at temperature, lift the liner out of the ice bath, dry the bottom and sides, and put it back into the Instant Pot.

Factoid interlude:  Yogurt really didn't go mainstream to Europe until around the 1500's.  The story goes that King Francois (of France of course) was suffering from severe diarrhea. Doctors of the time were not successful in providing relief (apparently bloodletting just didn't do the trick for this one). The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire Suleiman the Magnificent, a buddy of the king, sent a doctor who prescribed yogurt and voilá, the French king was able to get off the 'throne'. See, that Activia commercial that purports to help with your 'digestive irregularities' is not so far off from this early medical advice!

Ladle a couple spoonfuls of the warm milk into the bowl of your yogurt starter to temper your yogurt (so it's at the same temp as your milk).  Mix gently and then add the starter into the pot. Give it all a stir to distribute evenly.

Close the Instant Pot lid (doesn't matter if vent open or closed) and push 'Yogurt'. This will automatically set timer for 8 hours. I personally like to have it set for 9 hours. To do this, hit '+' button to increase the time.  The longer the time, the more tart the flavor so if you like a more mild yogurt you can try 6 to 7 hours. The display will show your desired time and beep and then the timer will start to count up from 00:00 to whatever time you have set.

If you just want plain yogurt, you can just put the pot in the fridge and let it firm up for about 6 hours or so and it will be ready to eat or store!

If you prefer greek yogurt, then you need to strain and allow the whey to drain out. There are many ways to do this.  I initially just used what I had at home to drain my yogurt but now that I make it frequently enough I invested in a $20 greek yogurt strainer just to save time putting things together.

Before I had the commercial strainer, I used my mesh strainer, put it inside the bowl from my salad spinner, and lined it with coffee filters.  It worked fine but sometimes was a little messy getting the yogurt out once drained.  Some people use a cheese bag and hang it to drain over a bowl.

Whatever your method, let sit in the fridge for a couple hours, depending on the level of 'thickness/dryness' you prefer.  I like my greek yogurt on the dry side so I let mine sit for about 4 hours. You can always add a little whey back in if you like to make it creamier.

So you will have whey liquid at the end of straining your yogurt that you can do many things with. Don't throw it out!  I typically store the whey in an old peanut butter jar in the fridge until I figure out what I want to do with that particular batch.

You can freeze the whey into an ice cube tray and then it's easier to store for longer periods. The whey still contains the active cultures so you can just use a thawed cube for your next batch (they will last for a couple months in the freezer).  I have also used whey to add to pancake or waffle mix as it's like adding buttermilk - tastes great!  I've also used it in bread recipes. See my post on 'Cheese Please' as there was a link to a bunch of different uses for whey.

You can flavor your yogurt once it's ready.  I prefer it plain and just add honey separately for sweetness but you can mix in honey, flavored syrup, vanilla, jam, blended fresh fruit, flavor extracts (couple drops per pint), or whatever floats your boat.  You could also make a cucumber raita or tzatziki at this point - here's easy recipes for both.

Lots of posts I read had pretty pictures of yogurt stored in cute little pint jars with fruit added so family can 'grab and go'. That seemed way too 'Pinteresty' for me so I just put it in a glass snap-top container from Ikea (5x7x3).  You could freeze it in this container if you didn't think you could use all of it at once.  I use 2 of these and keep a batch of plain in one for my husband and me and use the other for the kids flavored version ('V' for vanilla here).

I have made a double batch using a full gallon of milk (just takes a little longer to heat up but is otherwise the same process) and then just split between the 2 storage containers.

One last factoid: Yogurt production was first industrialized by Isaac Carasso of Barcelona Spain in 1919. He made yogurt with jam and his company was called "Danone" for his son ('little Daniel').  That son, Daniel, then took the company to France. Fleeing the Nazi occupation, he came to America - specifically to the Bronx. You know his company now as Dannon (whose global headquarters are now back in France).

There are a thousand posts out there on making yogurt in the Instant Pot so I must give credit to several I used extensively when I first started.  It's helpful to read everyone's tips and if you need more detail than what's here, rest assured, there is plenty of advice out there.  See here, here, or here if you want more info.

Lastly, now that I'm using my Instant Pot practically every other day, I got tired of putting it in my cabinet and taking it out each time.

So have to share that I dusted off my sewing machine and made my own 'Instant Pot Cozy' out of leftover fabric from my kitchen remodel so that it matches my valance. So now my magic machine can sit out on my counter in it's heralded spot.

As the weather cools down and we head into Fall, I foresee some Instant Pot soup magic in my future!

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4

As I sit in my garden quietly content after checking on the upcoming bounty of fresh veg, nibbling away at a few plucked snap peas and cherry tomatoes, I wonder about my ties to soil and the urge to have my hands in the dirt.  Where does this come from? Why such a strong sense of connection to this voluntary toil I do with willingness, hope, and joy every year when so often the effort is way more than the output?

I know it's partly because I want my kids to learn where food comes from and the difference between home-grown and store-bought.  But also, is it just because my parents showed me the same?  My father an expert farmer who knew how to make magic with seeds, soil, and water.  My mom having a prolific green thumb as well.

Or is it something deeper in us?  Some cellular level DNA thing that is built in over time?

I recently had reason to ponder this further when, out of the blue, an unserious web search looking at my family's genealogy produced some surprising but reaffirming revelations. What I found makes for a great story and ties into what this blog is all about despite the fact that I'm not talking about food this time.

I have to provide a bit of historical background along the way but stay with me, it will be worth it.

Per this blog's namesake, I hail from the farmlands of the great state of North Dakota where the buffalo (used to) roam.

For those who've never been there and noticed that 90% of the population is blond, North Dakota is a state of primarily 2 types of peoples - Scandinavians and Germans, with the great majority of Germans then being of 2 types who arrived in America from Germany by way of Russia.

The Dakotas are full of what we call the 'Odessa or Black Sea Germans' or the 'Volga (river) Germans' depending on which body of water was closest to their point of origin in Russia.  I'm from the Black Sea bunch. To give context to this story, I need to give you the cliff notes version of the historical landscape. Promise it's 200 years in just 2 paragraphs.

Many Germans moved to Russia during the Napoleonic era in the late 1700's/early 1800's from Western and Southern Germany for 2 main reasons - years of war-related hardships due to the French continually invading their territory and an open invitation to come to Russia from Catherine the Great.  The Empress was herself an ethnic German and she issued a manifesto encouraging foreigners to come to Russia to settle and farm, granting them special rights to practice their religion, language, and culture independent of government interference.  Importantly, they were granted exemption from military service.  While there, all those folks tired of conflict who wanted to just 'make love, not war' grew grain, sunflowers, wine, vegetables, and fruits. At the peak, there were over 3,000 German settlements within Russia.

The rule of Alexander II saw the beginnings of Russian nationalism in the 1870's. German Russians started experiencing crackdowns on their independence and cultural freedoms.  German sons were drafted into the Czar's army, Russians wanted immigrants to speak Russian and observe Russian culture, and many resented the special privileges and landholdings of these immigrants (p.s., does any of this sound familiar to today's events??? So many of us descended from unwanted immigrants at some point in time, right?). Thus in the late 1800's/early 1900's, waves of Germans looking for happier fields afar looked to the United States.  They knew how to grow wheat and in 1897 alone, 2/3 of the world's wheat crop entering the commercial market was shipped from Eureka, South Dakota. So under the U.S. Homestead Act of 1862, they came to Dakota territory, acquired property, and farmed the land. 

So that in a nutshell is my father's peoples' history and the subject of my geneaologic internet wanderings...

For this story, though, I need to provide one piece of relevant more recent history.

While I am originally from North Dakota, my purposeful (really, it was!) but somewhat meandering educational path took me to colleges in Missouri to Arizona to Oregon to Utah and back to Oregon for my final pharmacy training. Sort of a weird path and so far afield of where I started.

German wine village

It was at Oregon State (go Beavs!) where I met my husband, Wolfgang, who by almost a complete crapshoot ended up at OSU as well, a German foreign exchange student in Microbiology hailing from one of the most beautiful parts of Germany, the Palatinate, near the Rhine. This region in Southwest Germany is famous for its forests and vineyards - full of castles, farmland, and picturesque small villages with grapevines growing up the sides of buildings and arching across the narrow streets with one particular area called the 'Wine Street' of Germany. You've seen them - the towns in photos at the front of travel brochures for Germany.

Wolfgang's hometown, Kirchheimbolanden or 'Kibo'

So where is this going? Well, for the past 2 weeks, my husband and kids have been in 'Kibo' Germany visiting family on summer vacation.  I unfortunately couldn't go due to work. So I was left to my own devices in an empty house trying to fill the eerily silent void 4 absent pre-teens create. With no one to cook for or nag to make beds or feed pets, I was bored. Thus also explaining moments to do things like ponder about dirt sitting in my garden (see first paragraph).

Several years back, my Dad had given me a pile of family recollections and genealogy charts someone in the family had started.  From time to time, I've poked around with them trying to trace the lines back. But my subscription to Ancestry.com had lapsed years ago and I ended up just randomly Googling names and dates to see if anything interesting might turn up.

Eureka! Some kind soul who researched their family history had created an entire website of extensive information containing pages going back 5 generations for a line of my family.  The amount of information available now from when I last poked around was just exponentially more. The interwebs is sometimes frickin amazing.

Castle Trifels, near Annweiler

So guess where I'm from way back when??

Within a stone's throw of Wolfgang's family, that's where.

Specifically, my 5x great grandfather (Johann Adam Hieb) on my great grandmother's side was a farmer from Ilbesheim Pfalz - about 30 miles as the crow flies from my husband's family in Kirchheimbolanden and Kerzenheim.

There is also a village called Iblesheim literally less than 3 miles away from Kirchheimbolanden and I first thought this was the correct location (which would have been even freakier). But his family knew there was an Ilbesheim a little farther away closer to where his sister lives, right in the center of wine country. Given the other information on the family, this was much more likely the correct one.

Annweiler

Local city documents cited on the website revealed relatives were in nearby Annweiler, a beautiful town we actually just toured last year after taking the kids sightseeing at the nearby Castle Trifels (where Richard the Lionheart was kept in 'honorable captivity'. For trivia, in Disney translation, he's the more handsome full-maned lion king that Robin Hood defends in the movie against that mean scraggly looking lion, Prince John).

Following the generations down, the website documented that their sons and son's sons were all farmers. I also found my great grandfather's line came from around Worms, also in the area. Not much information on their occupations but very likely farmers as well.

My family has had their hands in the dirt going way back.

'Ebel Road?' (visiting Annweiler last summer)

Isn't that crazy?  My distant relatives travel across the world, my husband travels across the world, and I meander my way across the U.S. - we end up together both miles from home but from essentially the same place.  I'm still processing how cool this is. [Insert cliche here about what a small world we live in.]

I've always thought his hometown area felt like home despite the day to day cultural differences and my embarassingly undeveloped use of the German language. Just a different feeling from anyplace else I had traveled to. I had hints over the years as my Dad said when visiting Germany he always had an easier time understanding dialect in the area around Stuttgart. His first language was German growing up in ND and he didn't learn English til he was ~6 years old. Maybe why Wolfgang's hometown area seemed sort of familiar to me was that it sounded similar enough to when my grandparents and older relatives spoke in German?? (usually when speaking about something they didn't want you to hear, like Christmas presents).

The dialect in the Palatinate, Pfälzisch, is shall we say 'unique'? The words in my German grammar books I study before every visit to brush up are often not even remotely close in spelling or pronunciation to words in Pfälzisch, and the locals recognize this in joke books and funny stories about its unique 'flavor'. But maybe my ears picked up that they sounded enough like my grandparents that it made the area seem more familiar?

Have you ever watched that show 'Who do you think you are?' on the TLC channel?  The one where famous celebrities trace their relatives back to interesting historical times or people?  I was always struck by the episode with Josh Groban, the famous singer who traced his family back like 8 generations and discovered a relative who was a musician and singing instructor.  He found connection in knowing this interest was in the family.  The same is true of other episodes where long family histories are in the military. How much of that is just doing what your parents did?  How much is maybe built into our DNA in ways we just don't understand yet? Makes me wonder.

My next job is to track back my mother's family.  She comes from generations of teachers who settled in South Dakota.  She's a retired English teacher who has directed theater, written amazing and personal poetry, and is a prolific bookaphile. I wonder if there is a similar theme running back in her family?  Especially considering the desire to write or teach runs strong in several of her daughters (case in point this blog and my unrealized desire to write a book about Frances Kelsey, my hero of the FDA, for which I am perpetually in the "research" stage of writing (sigh). I want to find how far back that 'teacher/writer' thing might go.

I don't think the apple from the seeds of the apple from the seeds of the apple from the seeds of the apple falls far from the original tree.

As they say, family is the soil in which we grow the next generation.

I wonder what will grow next in ours?

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2

I don't know what happened this Spring but was time on hyperspeed??  Some job changes, a load of kids' school projects and activities ranging from creating 3-D DNA models to piano recitals to soccer matches, and maybe stress over my own expectations about what I 'should' be getting done seemed to take over the days.

It really didn't help that I left completing 30 pharmacy continuing ed credits (which you have 2 years to do) to the last month this May.
Adult procrastination fail!
(and yes, I did buckle down and finish on time so still legal =)

But I am SO glad that Summer has begun - ready for a fresh season start - to chill, watch my garden grow, and hopefully see things slow down a bit.  And glad to finally get to writing a post on all things growing: summer flowers, gardening, and chickens!

I was able to get our patio pots and flower beds planted with annuals in May, so pops of color right outside my doorstep are a good reminder that some progress, even if slow, was made. But I was REALLY late getting the garden in....like a full month late.  The good news, though, was that we got a major upgrade to the garden before planting. My husband gave me a Mother's Day gift of installing raised beds - no more rearranging dirt to create planting beds each year and no more (or at least less) complaining about weeds! More on that in a bit.

Speaking of Mother's Day, I want to plug an awesome local business once again for those in the area....every year hubby orders the CSA 'bouquet a week' from Maple Acres Farmright down the street.  Consider it for next year - beautiful natural arrangements each week to enjoy all summer!

And I'll put in another plug for Maple Acres Farm as it's strawberry picking time right now ...YUM!  Yes, that time of year where your kids practically eat their weight in strawberries before you take their quart containers to the cashier=)

They also have some fantastic asparagus right now too.  Kids absolutely hated it a year ago, but 2 of 4 have fully converted after being served it every couple of weeks the past year.  I'm thinking we're just a few tries away from getting all 4 on board - nothing better than simply roasted with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper!  Mom for the veggie win.

Maybe we'll get a small patch of asparagus going in our garden??  Future idea.  For now, we are sticking with the basics.  Here's what's planted so far:  Spinach, lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, hot peppers, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, beans, peas, corn, cucumbers, and squash. This year, I'm trying seeds from Burpee (I've never settled on a particular seed source so if you have advice for success in our area, I'd be interested in any tips.)

Outside of the garden, we have a few other things going as well as we've mixed in some veggies into our flower beds.  Between this patch of Cleome flowers, there are potatoes and a few berry canes mixed in.  And I'm also trying to get 2 plants of the Japanese sweet potato plants (see earlier post) going in there as well.

In the garden, I've planted the typical Spring veggies more than a full month late so we'll see what happens. The radishes as well as the pepper and tomato starter plants I got at the store are the only things going so far but the lettuce, corn, peas, and beans seedlings are just peeking above ground now too. As the weather has been so wacky lately in our area, who knows how this will go??  I guess the advantage I have now with raised beds, is that I could cover some beds in Fall and maybe get a bit of extended season if needed.

So now I wait.  We still have a few things to do for maintenance.  You can't see in these pictures, but hubby got creative and ran small underground PVC pipes to each bed that we'll hook to a drip irrigation system so that still needs to be hooked up.  We have a handy faucet that he set up inside the garden by running PVC pipe from the house faucet out to the garden and that works really well so just need to take it the extra step to the beds. And we want to cover the walkways between beds with plastic and then mulch as it's been a constant battle to keep the weeds out in past years.  You can see on the right side of the beds in one of the pictures above, the out of control peppermint patch that would take over the whole garden if we let it.

So while we wait for our garden to get going, we are also waiting for our daily supply of eggs to return.  I don't think I've posted about this before, but we did have 2 Rhode Island Red chickens who were providing us reliably with 2 eggs a day.  I had their hutch inside the garden. Unfortunately, while we were away for Spring Break, a fox managed to exploit a tear in the chicken wire on the garden door and sadly.....winner, winner chicken dinner!  We were very bummed as we thought we had them in a safe spot.  So not only the garden needed an upgrade this year!

We have invested in a very nice chicken run from Omlet¬ģ that we've set up right behind the garden. Must say they are quite a bit spendier than if we built something homemade but we wanted something to last many years with no maintenance. ¬†It was very easy to assemble and we were able to also put the rabbit hutch for my son's pet bunny (Latte) inside. ¬†So now that gives him a safe space to run around in as well. It's very nice as it's tall enough to walk inside to check food and water and the outside has wire that extends about a foot along the ground to prevent predators digging in. ¬†We're pleased with the whole set up and now have obtained 2 new additions to the family.....meet Speckles and Ginger!

Both are just teenagers at the moment so we will likely be waiting until Fall for regular eggs again. Our understanding is that Speckles is a Plymouth Rock and Ginger is a buff Orpington. We liked the Rhode Island Reds as they were a very hardy breed that could take the winters here.

Apparently these 2 breeds are hardy as well but it will be interesting to learn a little bit more about them as they grow. We miss our supply of fresh eggs!

So much anticipation for all things growing this Summer...I hope you have some good things awaiting you too!

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4

How many of you out there purchased an Instant Pot¬ģ after hearing it's the hot new thing and giving¬†in to a¬†sale on Amazon??

How many of you have actually taken it out of the box??

Confession: I got mine over 4 months ago and it just came out of the box a few weeks ago. There was too much to do over the holidays to start experimenting with something new.  And it didn't help that I'd read too many blogs about how people had suffered to overcome the initial trauma of its newness and many buttons. But I told myself it's an appliance for pete's sake and I have a graduate degree....I can DO this!

So I did. And it is awesome and simple and all things good and wonderful.
Here's my story.

All I remembered about pressure cookers was that my mom did have one and the few times I can recall it being used was for cooking corn on the cob.
And steaming artichokes - which was one of the most exotic things we ever ate as children in North Dakota, dipping those leaves into butter or mayo with our parents slyly assuring us they would take the weird hairy bottom parts off our hands because 'we didn't like that part' (what did we know???)

So what is an Instant Pot and how is it different from those days? We've come along way baby since the first one invented by a french physicist named Denis Papin in 1689!  The Instant Pot is basically a souped up pressure cooker with more functions - a multi-cooker that acts as a slow cooker, electric pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté/browning pan, and warming pot. But add in that it's electric and very safe.

Why would you get one??  Here are 5 great reasons:

  1. It cooks food fast  (12 minute risotto? 20 minute chicken dinner? Sign me up.)
  2. It keeps more good nutrients in your food by using less cooking liquid and shorter cooking time.
  3. You can cook with frozen meat for many recipes - skips the defrost time!
  4. Saves using a bunch of cookware to create meals - one pot, less clean up!
  5. Go green and save energy:  less time cooking saves electricity

Like I said in an earlier post, I'm a visual person and I do like my cookbooks for inspiration so ones for pressure cooking were no exception.
I use these 2 books - simple recipes and clear instructions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So here are a couple good easy recipes I've used with partial credit to the above authors for the second and third recipes below (I've altered them to my taste and portion needs).

I've Got Better Things To Do Pulled BBQ Chicken

  • 3 lbs frozen chicken breasts (you can chop in half if so desired to fit better)
  • 1 cup ¬†BBQ sauce of your choice
  • 1 tbsp worcester sauce
  • 2-4 tbsp apple cider vinegar to your taste
  • ~2 tbsp brown sugar or more to your taste

Directions:  Throw all the ingredients into the pot, stir to coat the chicken.  Press 'Manual' timer and set for 40 minutes.  Walk away and do something more fun.
Allow pressure to release naturally, remove the lid and shred chicken, mixing it with the sauce. Serve on buns.  Serves ~8.  Experience the rapture of doing about 5 minutes of work for dinner.

I Got Home From Work Late Chicken Risotto

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2¬†tbsp minced garlic
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked, crumbled
  • 1 -2 chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1/2 cup (300g) Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup¬†grated parmesan
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 3 cups chicken¬†stock
  • seasoning: salt, pepper, thyme

Directions:¬†Using 'Saute' button, add oil and 2 tbsp butter and saute onion, garlic, crumbled bacon and chicken for about 2-3 minutes.¬†Add in rice, salt, pepper, thyme, and wine. Give it a stir for a minute or two. Press 'Stop/cancel', pour in the stock and stir well. Press ‚ÄėManual‚Äô and set time for 12 minutes. Seal the lid. ¬†When complete, vent, open lid, stir well and add in the grated parmesan and 1-2 tbsp butter. Leave to stand for a few minutes. Serves 6-8.

No, We're Not Going Out For Dinner Chicken and Shrimp Alfredo Pasta

  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 chicken breasts diced
  • 1 cup frozen shrimp
  • 16 oz box penne pasta
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock or broth
  • sundried tomatoes or red pepper flakes or both (or whatever's on hand for flavor!)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp flour

Directions: use 'Saute' function to soften onions, garlic, and cook chicken in oil for ~3 minutes.  Press 'Stop/Cancel' button. Add in shrimp, pasta, chicken stock/broth, sundried tomatoes, red pepper flakes and set 'Manual' timer to 7 minutes. When complete, vent, open lid and add cream, parmesan cheese and flour and stir to thicken, adjusting liquid as needed.

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So those are just a few simple ideas - all were dinner hits.  If I had this appliance before my kitchen remodel I would have created a designated counter space for it, it's that magical.  And I have not yet even tried the rice, beans, or yogurt functions. Future posts....

So if I've sold you on the virtues or you have one and are now ready to finally open the box, that's great. You should know there's an Instant Pot community on Facebook and many websites that provide great basic instructions so I won't repeat - here's a great one on getting started!

Don't be afraid and give it a chance.  It's not the pressure cooker of yesteryear.
To steal (and play on) the words of the immortal David Bowie and fabulous Freddie Mercury, why can't we give [the pressure cooker] one more chance?

Oh stop groaning at my cheesiness and just listen to the awesome music!
Give love give love give love give love give love

 

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The Japanese sweet potato or 'satsumaimo' was one of those mystery veggies that came in my CSA box that I stored away in my potato basket for a couple weeks while I figured out what to do with it. Weeks went by and while extended family was here for Christmas, I thought 'what the heck, just roast it' (which is basically my go-to strategy for most mystery vegetables) and see what happens.  It was a hit!

Roasted with just olive oil, salt and pepper, they were quite sweet with a 'carmelized' nutty taste.  To me, they had a flavor similar to roasted chestnuts.  Served with grilled pork loin, it made a nice pairing. They don't have a lot of water content so the roasted sections I cut almost had a homestyle french fry type texture.  If you've ever tried to make sweet potato fries before, you know they have a higher water content and can sometimes turn into a soggy mess....not the case here.

Depending how much you read the fashion magazines or keep up with celebrity gossip, you may have heard that the Japanese sweet potato has recently become something of a hot item, being mentioned by people like Dr. Oz (sorry, think he's a quack) or by the actress Olivia Munn.  Supposedly they are the 'secret' to her great looking skin due to the high content of hyaluronic acid in the vegetable. The more you know!

Japanese sweet potatoes are much smaller than regular sweet potatoes, with a dark red skin and a light sort of yellow interior.   They are different from another Japanese yam called the 'Okinawan sweet potato' which has a white skin and purple interior.


The  plant is actually a perennial vine that is quite attractive with heart shaped leaves and beautiful pink and white flowers as it is in the same family as morning glories. They are supposedly pretty easy to grow so this might be an experiment for next year's garden. You can plant in the Summer and harvest in the Fall. I watched this video and it seemed pretty straightforward.

This vegetable has tremendous importance in Japan due to some interesting history.  In sort of an opposite tale from the Great Irish Potato Famine where potato crops failed and people bailed, the Japanese sweet potato was actually the hero that saved people from famine when rice crops failed in the Kanto region (where Tokyo is located) in the mid 1700's. One man, Aoki Konyo, a scholar of Confucianism and Western science showed that satsumaimo plants normally grown in the South could survive in the colder North.  Because this knowledge was instrumental in alleviating the famine, Aoki came to be known as the "Potato God of Edo (the former name of Tokyo)". You can even find temples or shrines in this region dedicated to this special tuber.

Although I haven't tried yet, you can boil, steam or microwave these sweet potatoes with good results.  There was even a charming post about making Japanese sweet potato 'Jenga fries' in a sweet, dessert version with cinnamon and a honey ginger dipping sauce - sounded yummy! Another post had a really interesting combo: Japanese sweet potato, avocado, and hard boiled egg.....odd but actually sounds quite good!

Good luck in your own experiments!

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leek1Many people consider leeks in the 'semi-exotic' category of vegetables. This was true for me until I began cooking with them more regularly the past few years.  But I've now come to view them as essentially just gigantic scallions. They're easy to throw into dishes anywhere  you might use an onion.  As far as flavor, they tend to be a little less 'oniony', sweeter than onions themselves.

In history, the leek has held both an exalted and abused status.  The Welsh actually wore leeks in their caps to help distinguish themselves from their opponents in the battle against the Saxons in 640 AD. They did win the battle (presumably partly because they weren't attacking their own men?) and the leek became the national emblem of Wales.   In contrast, the French thought leeks were 'the asparagus of the poor'.  This remained the opinion until a French chef at the New York's Ritz Carlton in the 1920's came up with vichyssoise (cold potato and leek soup). Leek reputation restored!

leek2

The biggest issue with leeks is making sure they are very clean before cooking as dirt tends to hide in between the layers. The simplest way to clean them is the following:

  1. Cut the leek stalk where the light green section turns to dark green. Discard the dark green sections.
  2. Cut stalks lengthwise so they lie flat and then chop into desired size.
  3. Place pieces in large bowl of water and swish to get water in between layers.
  4. Strain and rinse.

One of my favorite recipes is from Jamie Oliver....very simple, just yummy leek and cheese goodness and you can vary the recipe easily depending on what you have available.  I end up making some variation of this recipe every couple of weeks. Here is the original recipe taken from his 'Jamie's Food Revolution' book:

leeks6Baked Creamy Leeks
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  1. Chop and clean 3 medium or 4-5 small leeks into 1/2 inch pieces.
  2. In saute pan, add 2 cloves garlic finely sliced (I use heaping tsp of minced garlic), olive oil and 2 pats butter.
  3. When garlic takes on color, add the leeks and leaves from 6 sprigs of fresh thyme. Cook for about 10 minutes, until leeks softened.
  4. While that is cooking, grate 1 cup of cheddar cheese.
  5. Remove pan of leeks from the heat, season with salt and pepper and add just under a cup of heavy cream and half the grated cheese.
  6. Mix and transfer into earthenware/baking dish so that leeks are about 1 inch thick.  Sprinkle the other half of cheese on the top and bake for 20 minutes.

Variations:  I've substituted milk for cream when not on hand, various spices, and made with more flavorful cheeses such as Gruyere or Havarti. All good!

Two other fun stories about leeks.  One again comes from Wales as the leek is associated with Saint David, the patron saint of Wales. The story goes that any maiden who slept with a leek under her pillow on his feast day (March 1st) would see her future husband in her dreams. This apparently is why leeks are a common dish in Wales around Lent.  Imagine all those stinky pillows!  

The other interesting leek tale is that Agatha Christie named one of her most famous characters, Poirot the French detective, after the leek. Poireau is the French word for leek. She apparently has said that she actually disliked the character she created
- maybe she just didn't like leeks as a kid?? It's a mystery!

leek1My other favorite recipe uses some unusual ingredients mixed together and has the appearance of being more difficult than it really is.  It's rich and flavorful, not skimping on the calories so it is a wonderful dish for special occasions as it looks elegant once removed from the springform pan.

leek5Phyllo Vegetable Pie
4 large or 6 medium leeks
1 3/8 stick of butter
2 carrots, cut in small cubes
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (I like Cremini)
2 cups brussel sprouts, quartered
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces (1/2 cup) cream cheese
4 ounces Roquefort or Stilton cheese
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups chopped apples (Gala or similar)
2 cups cashews
12 ounces frozen phyllo pastry, thawed
salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut leeks into 1/2 inch pieces, clean well, drain, and dry. Heat 3 tbsp butter in large pan and cook leeks and carrots over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add mushrooms, brussel sprouts, and garlic and cook another 5 minutes.  Empty vegetables into a large bowl and set aside to cool.
  2. Whisk the cream cheese, blue cheese, cream and eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Pour over the vegetables and mix well.
  3. Peel, core, and cut the apples into 1/2 inch cubes.  Add the apples and cashews to the vegetable mix.
  4. Melt the remaining butter.  Brush the inside of a 9 inch springform pan with butter.  Add the pastry sheets one by one, brushing them with butter as you go and laying them so they line the bottom and come up and lay over the sides of the pan by ~2 inches with overlapping layers. Leave several pastry sheets for the decorative top.
  5. Spoon the vegetable mixture into the pastry and fold in the pastry dough over the top towards the center.  Brush remaining phyllo sheets with butter and cut into 1 inch strips.  Cover the surface of the pie with strips sort of bunching them up in a decorative manner.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and crisp all over.  Let stand for 5 minutes to cool, then carefully remove springform pan to serve.

So these are just 2 of my favorite leek recipes.  There are so many easy ways to incorporate more leeks into your dishes. Consider some other ideas:

  • add thin slivers of leek to your salad or your next omelet
  • combine leeks with regular or sweet potatoes for a great soup
  • saute with other greens like kale or swiss chard
  • roast chunks of them with carrots or other vegetables on a sheet pan
  • for a great party appetizer, saute slivers of leeks in butter until soft and then dump a warm gooey chunk of brie on top of them on the plate and let everyone scoop with bread or crackers. Yum!

Heart of fruits and vegetables

Need one more good reason?? Like garlic and onions, leeks belong to the Allium family and contain the good chemical compounds of that family - vitamin C, iron, and fiber but also polyphenols and an important compound called kaempferol, a flavonoid (also found in red onions).
Polyphenols and kaempferol have been shown to protect blood vessel linings from damage. Leeks also contain the B vitamin folate in one of its most bioactive forms (5-methyltetrahydrofolate, or 5MTHF).  Folate is important because it helps keep homocysteine levels in proper balance and really high levels of homocysteine are a risk factor for heart disease.   So leeks are an excellent 'heart healthy' vegetable!

I rest my case for the lovely leek!

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4

enhance-10 Hiya Everybody! I've been on a little unplanned hiatus....although it was the kind of adventure you don't want to have.

September marked the first complete year of the Dakota Pharmgirl blog and I had big plans for an anniversary article! Now here we are about a week before Halloween. That was not the plan!

Here's what was supposed to happen and how it got derailed.

enhance-14My first post, if you remember, was about my grandmother's recipe for Kekle, sort of a fastnacht donut type dessert.  While I was making it last year for the blog, my husband's cousin was visiting from Germany and told me her grandmother made something similar as well.  At the time, we agreed to share recipes. So while vacationing/visiting family in Germany this August, she graciously gave me the recipe.  I thought this was a perfect way to acknowledge the 1 year anniversary of my blog by making her recipe and comparing it to my grandmother's!

enhance-12Made the dough, cut out the shapes and fried them up. They turned out great!  I discovered her recipe was closer to the Polish variety of Chrusciki's (angel wings)...lighter and crispier whereas my grandmother's recipe are closer to a cake donut - same shape but different texture.  All was well.  1st half of anniversary plans complete.enhance-11

So I was ready to make a batch of my family's recipe in order to do a 'taste and compare'.  Just needed to change out the pan of hot oil......asked my daughter to open the patio door so I could go dump the dirty oil outside and make a fresh pan of oil for frying.

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For whatever reason, the screen door was closed (which it never is).

She didn't see it and I didn't see it and I walked right into it with a hot pot of oil!

Yes, ouch.  Major ouch.  Hands, wrist, belly, and a few toes burned ouch.

The type that requires an ambulance, a fire truck, and 10 men to be in your house figuring out how to get you to the hospital ouch.

Did I mention it was my husband's birthday that day??
And my birthday the day after?? Yes, I have nice timing like that.

ambulance5Once in the ambulance, the pharmacist in me was fascinated at how AWESOME Fentanyl works and from that point on, my pain was under control. So really, it was all good from that point on. After leaving the ER, I hung out at home Netflixing for several days on really nice pain meds and by the end of the week I was just an awkwardly bandaged mummy but everything was okay.  Got out of cooking for awhile too which was nice =)

Anyhoo, I'm 99% healed now, the scars are fading quickly and my aversion to the kitchen is slowly waning.  Ready to get back in there!

So this sad story now becomes my anniversary blog story - one to remember for sure!  Sometimes the best laid plans definitely do go awry.

So with that, I will just leave you with an important reminder for this time of year. Now is the time to sign up for a Fall CSA....many have deadlines soon approaching.

enhance-9I just signed up again for the Fall CSA from Lancaster Farms which we enjoyed last year so I'm repeating.  I've added on a cheese CSA this time - 3 different cheeses every other week.  Looking forward to the first box!  (delivers to my workplace so also very convenient)

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See my earlier blog on CSA's to find out how to find one in your area.  If you can't find one, there are a few farmer's markets out there that will likely run for a few more weeks.....just visited the Ambler Farmer's Market the other week and got some great watermelon radishes and fresh lettuce.

So thanks for entertaining this tardy anniversary episode!  I've loved learning the ropes of blogging this past year and really appreciate all of you who have perused my posts along the way.

Here's to another year.....Cheers!

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IMG_0258As the tops of my basil plants start to flower, I'm reminded that summer is soon over and the kids will be back to school routines and soccer games next week.  I'm not ready yet, but will make the most of the last weekend of pool & play before going back to the demands of that 4-kid, color-coded, whiteboard activity calendar!

My sad basil plants need answers now so I thought it would be good to do a refresher on what you can do with all your herbs for the season. Since you can find a thousand recipes for pesto on the interwebs right now, we're going to skip that suggestion here and cover things in general.

herbsHowever, as a reward for the hard work of cleaning up your summer garden, I'll share the recipe for the trendy drink of the summer from Europe (and a new way to use some of that peppermint that has spread across your garden over the summer).  Hubby's cousin introduced us to this drink (thanks Gertrud!) and it was a popular new offering at his hometown's wine festival we attended while visiting family in Germany this past month.

It's called the Hugo and I am officially importing the recipe from Germany to Philly right here in this post. Serve it for your Labor Day get-together this weekend and get ready for rave reviews. You're welcome =)

Ok, we'll get to that a little later but first we have work to do.
Here's what you can do with your herbs:

Plan Herbs Advice
Overwinter perennial herbs

 

chives, lavender, oregano, sage, thyme You can leave these in the ground and they should bounce back next season. Best to cut them back after the first freeze and add some mulch if you live in a colder area.
Pot and bring indoors chives, lavender, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme Transplant into pots making sure to get a good ball of roots.  Let them stay outside in pots for couple weeks to adjust to the pots and then bring indoors. Should be able to enjoy thru the Fall.

For woody stems like rosemary and lavender, you can  take cuttings and use root powder to get potted.

Collect seeds coriander, dill Collect and store seeds now. You can plant them where you want them next season.  (My dill seems to come back each year but it moves around to wherever seeds landed in Fall!)
Harvest and either dry herbs or store frozen Group A: basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme

Group B: chives, parsley, cilantro, tarragon

See instructions below for best way to store herbs.  Group A dry or freeze well while Group B do not dry well but freeze well or can used to prepare herbal vinegars/oils.

basilSomeone thankfully did the research and evaluated the various ways to prepare and store fresh herbs.  The best and easiest method is to mix chopped herbs with some light oil (canola or olive) and put them in a ziploc bag in a flat layer, sucking the air out. IMG_0264

The bags can then be stored in the freezer. To use, you just break off thin slices of whatever you need. This method is much easier to prepare and saves space compared to the old ice cube tray method! And the herbs dissolve into your cooking fast and easy without adding extra moisture.

Okay so now for the reward recipe!

elderflower

From what I understand, the Hugo originated in Northern Italy but it has taken Europe by storm this summer, particularly in Germany.

Enjoy the last moments of the summer this Labor Day weekend by trying it out!

(And note, mineral water with a splash of elderflower syrup also tastes terrific and makes a great non-alcoholic alternative!)

hugo2'The Hugo'
Peppermint leaves
Prosecco
Mineral water
Elderflower syrup (can be found at IKEA)
Lime or lemon slice for garnish
Ice

Muddle a few peppermint leaves in the bottom of  a wine glass and add a few ice cubes.  Add 4 parts Prosecco and 1 part elderflower syrup. Add splash of mineral water and stir.  Decorate with lime or lemon slice or sprig of mint.

Cheers everyone to the new school year!

 

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Remember my post on making cheese a couple weeks back where I said I dreamed of having goats in my backyard to make my own supply of yummy goat cheese? At the time I wrote that, it was definitely wishful thinking.

BUT, guess what I just learned about in the past couple weeks?? Farm Stays! The next best thing!

goat-1381942I first came across an article on farm stays while skimming our Mid-Atlantic Region AAA travel magazine about a month ago. And then, while visiting my parents in Kansas a couple weeks back, we just happened to watch an agricultural news show that featured a segment on farm stays.

a-cowboy-and-his-horses-1305882I felt unseen forces were speaking to me =). So of course I had to investigate further.

What is a farm stay? Basically instead of staying in a hotel, you choose to vacation at an actual working farm that supports agritourism. For example, I could stay at a farm with goats in Vermont, learn all about making goat cheese or soap while there, and still be able to visit whatever other attractions were in the area. Farm stays are a great new way for farm families to supplement their incomes, and the trend toward agritourism has been growing in the past 10 years in the U.S. so there are many different places to choose from.

So instead of Disneyland, what about visiting an alpaca farm in Colorado and learning about turning their fleece into fibers? Have the kids learn how to gather eggs or milk a cow in Lancaster, Pennsylvania? Go on a cattle drive at a working California ranch?

farm-fresh-eggs-1235249There's an amazing variety of farms, ranging from ones in the middle of nowhere to ones right next to major cities or national parks. You can decide to get in on the action on the farm by doing chores and helping with the animals or simply just observe. There are also farms where you are not supposed to do anything but absorb the bucolic scenery and chill. There's also a wide variety in the types of room arrangements, some being in the farmhouse itself, some in separate cottages or buildings, and even some options for glamping in yurts!

The primary way to find a farm stay in the U.S. is to check out the main web directories:

photo_14066_20090906

Thinking about traveling a overseas? Farm stays have actually been around a lot longer in Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand. Check out Responsibletravel. Imagine staying in a beautiful rustic farmhouse in Italy, Spain, or England for a different housing experience while you explore the country. After searching the site, I found many options that certainly had lots of very modern amenities and were geared for overseas travelers.

As far as options in the U.S., I did just a quick search on Farmstayus.com and below is only a sampling of the activities that you could find by staying on a farm.

Orchards: picking fruit Raising alpacas Go on a cattle drive
Vineyards: making wine Cheese making Harvest maple sugar
Beekeeping Homestyle canning/cooking Horseback riding
Birdwatching Raising chickens: collecting eggs Fishing

A vineyard landscape under a beautiful sky

The possibilities are endless and what a great experience to give kids if you've always lived in an urban or suburban environment.  They can learn a lot about where certain foods actually come from and make some unique memories at the same time. And for those of us who are perpetual learners (like we never left college), the idea of experiencing something unique and taking that knowledge home really sparks the curiosity!

Cheers! I'm off to search the site some more and plan our own trip!

 

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6

enhance (3)Too hot outside to be standing too long in front of the stove or grill?  Maybe it's time for a Stirum dinner. Stirum is a traditional prairie supper as old as the days of the sod shanty - a meal that could fill you up to work long hours without being too heavy and one that was easy to make in times of few resources.

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And now that I have more fresh lettuce than I know what to do with, it's an excellent time to make it the main meal!  Stirum is basically salad with little pieces of broken-up thick pancake on top served with a light dressing - a  perfect fast easy meal for days when no one wants a big dinner.

I tried to find where the word 'Stirum' came from and whether it was a German or German-Russian dish but there is very little out there as far as history on this dish. I found this surprising as I would imagine it's a very common recipe to this day and done a thousand ways.

enhance (1)I did find that the word 'stierum' appears to be part of the Schwäbisch German dialect (the region near Stuttgart), which makes sense since we believe my father's family was from that area before moving to Odessa, Russia and then the Dakotas.  One source said the word 'stierum' means 'chopped pancakes' (believable, since this is basically what it is). The most simplistic explanation out there suggested it's a variation on stir 'em (short for 'stir them') - however, this seemed a little too 'Americanized' of an explanation to me.  I'll be traveling to Germany in August to visit my husband's family so I'll have a little side mission to investigate the origin!

Stirum
Author: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: Serves 4-6
 
Ingredients
  • Batter: 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 2 tsp sugar, ½ tsp salt, 2 cups flour
  • Dressing: 2 tbsp mayonnaise, 2 tbsp milk, 2 tbsp vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, salt and pepper
  • Fresh leaf lettuce
How It's Done
  1. Mix batter (should be a little thicker than pancake batter)
  2. Add 1-2 tbsp oil in fry pan then pour in batter size of a pancake.
  3. Allow to brown on one side, flip it over and then break into pieces allowing to fully cook through.
  4. This amount of batter makes 2 large pancakes that can be broken up into small pieces.
  5. Serve stirum pieces on top of fresh lettuce and drizzle the dressing on top.

 

enhance (5)Regardless of where the name came from, this is the recipe I had from my grandmother.....I do remember having it occasionally as a kid and always enjoying it as something fresh and light.

There are a few other variations out there that use baking powder or small differences in the combination of eggs and flour compared to my grandmother's recipe but they are essentially the same basic pancake.

My favorite variation I came across made me realize¬†I had already tried it without knowing it was a relative of stirum! 2015_0731_Kaiserschmarrn_Apfelso√üe_Edelweissh√ľtte_S√∂lden

Last Fall, my husband and I visited Vienna, Austria. For dessert one evening, we shared 'Kaiserschmarrn'', a popular dessert you can find throughout Austria and southern parts of Germany. I usually take pictures of all my food adventures when I travel (Exhibit A below) but I must have been too busy devouring it at the time so I don't have a picture of the yumminess we ate - this picture from Wikipedia looked the closest.

It is basically the same recipe with raisins added to the batter (in some recipes raisins soaked in rum). The final little pancake pieces are sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon and served with applesauce (or other fruits like plum or lingonberry sauce) for dipping.

So maybe next time I make stirum for dinner, I'm going to double the batch and have half for dessert!

Stay cool out there!

Exhibit A: Austrian food adventures

Enjoying sturm not stirum!
(new wine)
Schnitzel!
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Gröstl  (pork and potatoes hash) Afternoon coffee
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