Breaking News: Chocolate Chess Pie Replaces Pumpkin Pie as Thanksgiving Favorite!

Breaking News: Chocolate Chess Pie Replaces Pumpkin Pie as Thanksgiving Favorite!

When you think of Thanksgiving and pie, what comes to mind? Pumpkin Pie? Today, I’m offering another suggestion – Chocolate Chess Pie! Everybody loves chocolate, right? And all of us could use a little chocolate comfort.

I’ve made Chocolate Chess Pie from a lot of different recipes, some of which have been labeled as the signature recipe of some famous restaurants or from prize-winning cooks. I even set up a blind taste test of two award-winning pie recipes along with my humble recipe. And I asked the most discerning connoisseur of Chocolate Chess Pies that I know to be the judge – my grandson. I’ve seen that handsome tall skinny kid devour half of a pie at one sitting!

The winner of the blind taste test of Chocolate Chess pies was…(drumroll, please!)…my Chocolate Chess pie! I will admit that my grandson said one of the other recipes was a close second, but he still picked mine as the certified winner.

I want to give you a little back story to my humble rise to pie stardom (at least in my family’s estimation). My family celebrated my daughter’s birthday one year at a famous steak restaurant, which shall remain nameless, in Raleigh, North Carolina. After a sumptuous steak dinner, she ordered Chocolate Chess Pie for dessert. I thought it was too expensive for such a simple dessert, one that I could easily make at home and could probably make several pies for the cost of that one slice.

However, when the waiter served the pie, I tasted it and was struck by how smooth and creamy, as well as downright chocolate heaven it was! When I returned home, I started experimenting. How hard could it be to make a Chocolate Chess Pie as good as the one in the famous restaurant? Turns out – not so hard!

The recipe I had been using was from a local cookbook, assembled and sold by a rural women’s community service organization. They started the cookbook in 1958 and its popularity has continued to grow along with sales. These are recipes from country cooks who have lived their lives cooking for their families and everyone else in the community. I can’t say it contains the most nutritious recipes. But I can say it contains some of the best-tasting recipes!

But I digress. The recipe listed only six ingredients and the directions were simple: “Mix ingredients. Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake 30 minutes at 350°.” After a few tries, I came up with what I and my family thought was a much better pie. So, I rewrote the recipe to include every step I followed to create a smooth, creamy, and delicious Chocolate Chess Pie.

So, how did I change it? Check out my YouTube video to see! And subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified when more videos are added! Go to https://www.youtube.com/c/herlifehacks/

You’ll also find my rewritten and renamed recipe there for The Ultimate Quick and Easy Chocolate Chess Pie! And I’d love to hear about the pies you make. Do you have a favorite recipe? Email me at vicki@herlifehacks.com!

Now – move over Pumpkin Pie. Let’s make Chocolate Chess Pie the new Thanksgiving pie!

How Have Your Eating Habits Changed?

How Have Your Eating Habits Changed?

We’ve been experiencing many life changes for months now as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage throughout the world. How have your eating habits changed? Notice that my question was not “Have your eating habits changed?” I dare say with all the disruptions to daily life in 2020, that your eating habits must have changed.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here if I assume your eating habits have not changed for the better. I know mine have gotten worse. If your eating habits have improved during the pandemic, I congratulate you! Keep up the good work.

Which describes you best?

     My eating habits have improved during the pandemic.

     My eating habits have stayed the same during the pandemic.

     My eating habits have gotten worse during the pandemic.

In the beginning, when we were advised to stay at home, we scoured the freezer for what to cook. We tried to prepare healthy meals, but it was difficult from the beginning. The hardest part was incorporating healthy vegetables.

And although I cooked more, I found myself baking comfort foods instead of healthy options. I started baking bread, cookies, cakes, and pies! The natural inclination is to reward ourselves for losses suffered in other areas of our lives. But that has resulted in emotional indulgence in unhealthy foods.

One recent survey indicated that over 75% of respondents said they had gained over 15 pounds during their period of quarantine! Before you know it, you can be mindlessly snacking throughout the day and eating meals that take little effort, like sandwiches and chips.

 

Plated Meals vs Munchies and Bags

How you eat a meal can dictate the volume you consume. Consider a party where chips and dip are present at a table. You casually munch on these items as you socialize. Inevitably, you'll eat more than if you served yourself food on a plate.

This same concept applies to environments where you're eating out of a bag, such as fast food or a popcorn container. Most vegetables aren't served in this manner, which means that you're probably eating items that are high in fat and lack nutrients.

This can send you into a downward spiral of unhealthy eating habits that contribute to depression, anxiety, and brain fog. In such instances, your body is just not getting the nutrients to support good health.

Eating Out Options

With restaurants closed and takeout the only option, a fast-food drive-thru appeared to be our only option. Foods laden with salt, fat, and sugar can only lead to disastrous results for our health. And as we continue to eat this way, the likelihood of making healthy food choices continues to decline.

What about the children?

With the closing of schools around the country, parents were faced with food preparation for every meal every day for the entire family. That alone created a situation that most people were totally unprepared to tackle. If fast food was previously a frequent choice, families were even more likely to make unhealthy eating choices.

Which describes you best?

     I have planned and cooked healthy meals.  

     I have eaten a lot of fast food ordered in a drive-thru.

   My grocery shopping included more unhealthy snacks than wholesome foods.

What can we do?

The first thing we can do is become more aware of our food choices and the impact they are having on our families. Are you using food to self-medicate and shield yourself from life changes over which you have no control? What are some healthy foods that are readily available and require little preparation? Start there with small positive food choices.

Think about ways you can incorporate more movement into what may have become a more sedentary lifestyle. Get outside and soak up some morning sun with a brisk walk. Walking is a good way to help clear away the brain fog and promote better decision-making.

What about sleep habits? Have you been staying up later binging on Netflix series? If your sleep habits have been altered, it’s likely you’re not getting enough rest and are feeling more stressed. Get back to a routine that prepares you for adequate and restful sleep.

And be kind to yourself. This has been a chaotic year so far. So many changes have been beyond our control, which makes it even more difficult to cope. Forgive yourself for not being able to handle everything perfectly. It’s just not possible. Look for little ways to reward yourself that also lead to more healthy habits.

Which statement(s) best describe(s) your plans for the future?

     I will plan my grocery shopping and food preparation to include more healthy foods, especially vegetables.

     I will implement more exercise into my day, especially walking outside.

     I will follow a winding-down routine before bedtime and go to bed at a reasonable time.

     I will give myself a break and implement plans for a healthier lifestyle.

      Nah, I’m good. Don’t need to change. Just going with the flow.

Are you prepared to come through this pandemic stronger and in a position to make better life decisions? If you’re not exactly where you want to be, consider my new mini-course, Designing Your New Normal Mindset. The interactive activities can guide you to making more intentional decisions in line with how you want to move forward with your life. Check it out here: https://designingyournewnormal.com/

10 Best Apps for Cooking With Ingredients On Hand

10 Best Apps for Cooking With Ingredients On Hand

Good or bad, wanted or unwanted – our lives have changed. A major area of change is food preparation. My husband and I used to eat out a lot. We used to be at our grandchildren’s sporting events on weekday afternoons. No time to cook there; eating out was a must. Even when we were at home, we might look in the refrigerator and not see anything to cook. Another eating out opportunity!

But COVID-19 has changed all that. No excuses. I had to cook more. Fast food drive-thru eating can get boring quickly, not to mention how unhealthy that can be. But I still look in the refrigerator and ask myself what do I cook for dinner? (And now, that includes breakfast and lunch!)

So I researched apps that would give me recipe ideas based on the ingredients I have on hand. One or more of these could help solve that staring into the refrigerator paralysis. These are the top 10 apps based on consumer ratings. I only included apps that were available for download on both IOS and Android devices.

Even though the apps were presented in order of user ratings, their value depends on needs of the user. The ninth app listed might be more useful to the user than the number one rated app.

All of the apps reviewed allow the user to search for recipes based upon ingredients on hand and generate grocery lists. However, each delivers a different food preparation experience. A summary of what might be most important to a user and the app to choose follows:

  • For customizing the entire food preparation process from searching for recipes, creating a cookbook of saved recipes, generating grocery lists based on recipes, shopping for groceries and having groceries delivered (only by Walmart) – choose TASTY
  • For starting with the main ingredient to search recipes resulting in beautifully detailed instructions for cooking – choose EPICURIOUS
  • For creating a personalized cookbook and publishing to a community of like-minded individuals – choose KITCHEN STORIES
  • For a broad and varied way to filter recipes based on ingredients and different combinations of ingredients – choose SUPERCOOK
  • For “foodies” who follow food blogs – choose YUMMLY
  • For specific food diets based on nutritional needs – choose SIDECHEF
  • For recipes based on utilizing leftovers – choose BIG OVEN
  • For a social experience that includes sharing and chatting about recipes and cooking – choose COOKPAD
  • For a personalized file of recipes that continually responds to your personal preferences and previous choices – choose ALLRECIPES
  • For a more automated family-inclusive process from selecting a recipe to grocery shopping – choose RECIPE TO TABLE

The best way to select an app that fits your cooking preferences and lifestyle is to download ones that sound like they would work for you and try them out. And there may be other apps that would be more appropriate for your circumstances. If you find yourself cooking more than ever before and need to get out of the rut of preparing the same things over and over, a food app might be your solution.

Bonus: Download 10 Best Apps For Cooking With Ingredients On Hand chart here https://vickiloves.me/AppsIngredients

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though the apps were presented in order of user ratings, their value depends on needs of the user. The ninth app listed might be more useful to the user than the number one rated app.

All of the apps reviewed allow the user to search for recipes based upon ingredients on hand and generate grocery lists. However, each delivers a different food preparation experience. A summary of what might be most important to a user and the app to choose follows:

  • For customizing the entire food preparation process from searching for recipes, creating a cookbook of saved recipes, generating grocery lists based on recipes, shopping for groceries and having groceries delivered (only by Walmart) – choose TASTY
  • For starting with a main ingredient to search recipes resulting in beautiful detailed instructions for cooking – choose EPICURIOUS
  • For creating a personalized cookbook and publishing to a community of like-minded individuals – choose KITCHEN STORIES
  • For a broad and varied way to filter recipes based on ingredients and different combinations of ingredients – choose SUPERCOOK
  • For “foodies” who follow food blogs – choose YUMMLY
  • For specific food diets based on nutritional needs – choose SIDECHEF
  • For recipes based on utilizing leftovers – choose BIG OVEN
  • For a social experience that includes sharing and chatting about recipes and cooking – choose COOKPAD
  • For a personalized file of recipes that continually responds to your personal preferences and previous choices – choose ALLRECIPES
  • For a more automated family inclusive process from selecting a recipe to grocery shopping – choose RECIPE TO TABLE

The best way to select an app that fits your cooking preferences and lifestyle is to download ones that sound like they would work for you and try them out. And there may be other apps that would be more appropriate for your circumstances. If you find yourself cooking more than ever before and need to get out of the rut of preparing the same things over and over, a food app might be your solution.

Instant Pot Porcupine Meatballs

Instant Pot Porcupine Meatballs

In a previous blog post, I talked about the basics of an Instant Pot. Today, I’m sharing my most recent experience of cooking in an Instant Pot. Porcupine Meatballs is a family favorite – meaning my husband likes it!

I whole-heartedly recommend reading the user manual first. In my experience, that will pay off and save you time in the long run. Did you guess that I didn’t heed my own advice? If so, you are correct! I thought I could remember what to do; surely the controls were intuitive. Not necessarily.

PORCUPINE MEATBALLS

Preparation Time: 30 min

Cooking Time: 8 min

High Temperature

INGREDIENTS

½ cup long-grain white rice (uncooked)

¼ cup finely diced yellow onion

¼ cup beef broth

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1 ¼ teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 pound ground beef or turkey

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 (16-ounce) jar chunky spaghetti sauce

2/3 cup beef broth

3 teaspoons sugar

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine uncooked rice, onion, beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, allspice, salt and pepper. Add the ground beef (or turkey) to the bowl and mix well.
  2. Form the meat mixture into 1 ½ inch balls.
  3. With the cooker’s lid off, heat oil on HIGH or “Saute”, until sizzling.
  4. Brown meatballs in the oil on at least 2 sides. You may need to work in small batches to brown them all. When finished, return all meatballs to the cooker.
  5. Mix spaghetti sauce, beef broth and sugar and pour over meatballs in cooker and securely lock the pressure cooker’s lid. Set for 8 minutes on HIGH.
  6. Let the pressure release naturally 10 minutes before performing a quick release for any remaining pressure. Set cooker to LOW or “warm” and serve.

Before I started making the meatballs, I started rice cooking in a double boiler, so I could serve the meatballs over the rice. A simple salad is a good way to complete the meal.

Assemble all ingredients first.

Then, I assembled all ingredients and chopped the onion. As I measured the first 8 ingredients in Step 1, I added them to a mixing bowl.

I usually do Step 3 first or at least before Step 2, which included adding the oil and turning on the Instant Pot to Sauté, so it can be heating.

I mixed the ground beef with my hands, trying not to overwork the meat. In Step 4, I added the meatballs to the oil to brown, using silicone tongs to carefully turn the meatballs as they brown. Browning on all sides as much as possible adds flavor to the dish.

Turn meatballs gently to brown on all sides.

I was able to brown all meatballs in the same batch. However, if your meatballs are crowded, cook them in batches until all are browned.

In Step 5, mix remaining ingredients and pour over the meatballs. To secure the lid, align the upside-down triangle with the vertical triangle “Open” on the cooker housing rim. Turn clockwise to lock in position.

(As in reading the manual, I found this process is faster if you actually locate the above marks and align them to lock the lid!)

Setting cooking time involves the Manual setting and adjusting the time to 8 minutes. The temperature should come on the high setting. About 10 seconds after you complete the settings, the LED light should indicate ON. This means pressure is building to the appropriate temperature and pressure, which also means you need to allow enough time for this to happen. When this is complete, the light should change to the cooking time and count down until cooking is completed.

After cooking is completed, the Instant Pot switches to WARM to keep the food warm and allow time for pressure to go down. Allow this to occur naturally instead of doing a Quick Release.  At the end of 10 minutes, you should be able to turn the steam release handle to Venting to complete the release process. Be sure to stay away from the steam release handle to avoid burning yourself from remaining steam. Before opening the lid, make sure the float valve next to the Steam Release Handle has dropped down.

Ready to eat! Serve with or without rice and enjoy.

OBSERVATIONS AND/OR TIPS: (The products listed below in italics are clickable links for ordering. Hover over a product to see if there is a clickable link.)

  • If you don’t have an Instant Pot, this recipe could easily be cooked in a Dutch oven on the range. You would need to allow enough time for the rice to cook or add quick-cooking rice instead of long-grained uncooked rice.
  • My recommendation for beef broth is Better Than Bouillon. (I also love the Better Than Bouillon Chicken Broth.) If you’d like to try both the beef and chicken bouillon, click here to get a 2-pack!
  • To make the recipe healthier, the following swaps are recommended:
    • Ground beef that is 80-20 is a good ratio of lean meat to fat, because it does not render so much fat that you need to drain it. Also – if you could get pasture-raised, grass-fed beef, it would be healthier.
    • Most vegetable oils are not the healthiest choices. I used avocado oil in this recipe. It can be heated to higher temperatures without breaking down like olive oil. Coconut oil (organic, unrefined cold-pressed is best) will also work.
  • You can vary the taste by selecting any type of chunky spaghetti sauce you like.
  • I also prefer brown sugar to white sugar. I often use a small amount of brown sugar to reduce the sharpness of my homemade spaghetti sauce.

The cookbook I referenced, Great Food Fast by Bob Warden, has some great-sounding recipes. I’ve already selected several to try next. If you’d like a copy of the cookbook, you can order it here.

If you try out this recipe in your Instant Pot, comment about your experience! Or let us know about other recipes you’ve tried and your own Instant Pot hacks!

Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. Keep in mind that I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.

Instant Pot? Great Scott!

Instant Pot? Great Scott!

Raise your hand if you got an Instant Pot for Christmas OR already had one. How often have you used it?

I’m sure it has already transformed your life. You’re cooking more healthy family meals at home and are constantly finding new ways to use it. (LOL!)

Truth? I’ve had one for about a year now, and I’ve only cooked a few things in it. I do have one recipe I like and have cooked it several times. Seems like I don’t have the time to find a recipe I want to try, have all the ingredients on hand or the time to learn the controls of my Instant Pot. My husband says I’m always surprised that mealtime comes around so regularly!

And I have another confession to make – one that is going to determine what I share with you. I’m really a very picky eater. I like my food
plain and predictable. I’m not very adventurous when it comes to trying out new foods. And that presents a problem. There are lots of Instant Pot recipes out there, but most contain ingredients I don’t regularly buy and would never eat in the first place!

So – let’s talk a little about features of the Instant Pot first and meal situations for which it would be a good idea to use it. Then we’ll talk about recipes.

As you probably already know, the Instant Pot (and by the way, that’s not the only brand on the market) uses pressure and heat to cook a wide variety of foods more quickly than other methods. The pressure also tenderizes meats well. Most instant pots are programmable, with settings to sear, sauté, steam, slow-cook and simmer. All the settings and programming alone can confuse you and leave you saying “I’ll try it out when I have more time to actually read the manual”, and you never do.

If your recipe calls for the food to be crispy or crunchy, don’t use an Instant Pot. But for many other foods, it works great. It is especially good
for meats (pot roast comes to mind). You can also cook vegetables, mac and cheese, soups, chili, and the list goes on and on.

Real Simple’s recent article by Laura Fisher, “6 Things to Know Before You Use Your New Instant Pot”, is a good starting place
to familiarize yourself with the basics. You can access that here: https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/tools-products/appliances/how-to-use-instant-pot. 

If you want the CliffsNotes version (do they still have those??) of the article, here it is.

  1. Start out using the Manual setting and leave the programming to learn later
  2. Even though cooking time is greatly reduced, you need to add time for preheating and pressure release.
  3. Don’t let it scare you. Instant Pots are much safer than the old “jiggling-top” pressure cookers. (I had one of those and was always nervous when it started jiggling too much!) Just be careful with the quick-release function and avoid the rush of escaping steam.
  4. The Instant Pot is great for quick cooking, but if want the flavors of the recipe to develop more, use the slow cooker instead.
  5. At least start out using recipes that are designed for the Instant Pot.
  6. Just in case you go out on your own without a recipe, at least include some liquid.

Have a great Instant Pot recipe to share? Let us know about your experiences and tips in the comments section.

In the next post, I’ll start sharing some recipes I like and tips for success with them. See you then!

And, just in case you’re one of the few people who didn’t get an Instant Pot for Christmas, you can order yours here: https://amzn.to/2Rzop0h. It’s on sale now at Amazon!

Disclosure: Bear in mind that the above link is an affiliate link and if you go through it to make a purchase, I will earn a commission.
Keep in mind that I link companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.