Mason Jar Salad(s)

I love a good salad with lots of “stuff,” but the last thing I feel like doing when I’m hungry is pulling out all the many ingredients and slicing and chopping to make one salad for me, myself, and I.  Making multiple single-serving salads at once and storing them in quart-size wide-mouth mason jars is a great solution here.  I bought my jars at Target, and chose the blue ones so they would be a bit distinctive — when I see them in the cabinet, I know it’s time to make more salads.

Here’s a before photo of all the ingredients I used this time:

The eggs are hard-cooked in the Instant Pot, then peeled and chopped.  The asparagus I roasted in the Breville mini-oven at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes with a little olive oil and salt.  I used the mandoline for the carrots, toasted the sliced almonds on the stove, chopped the (precooked) beets and the cucumbers, and broke up the chicken strips a bit.

Now, I know that a lot of people like to put their salad dressing right in the bottom of the mason jar.  I elected not to do that, because I like to choose the dressing I want at the time I’m eating the salad.  (Hmm . . . am I in a balsamic-ish or a honey-mustard-like kind of mood?)  But if you are prepping these to eat them in a location where you don’t have that kind of flexibility, go ahead and put a couple of tablespoons of dressing in the jar before you load up on salady goodness.

So, below is a gif of the salad assembly.  Having checked around a bit on other websites about the proper order of ingredients, I decided on this one, but without the dressing to consider, I don’t think it matters a whole lot.  Feel free to experiment.

  1. carrots
  2. cucumbers
  3. beets
  4. asparagus
  5. eggs
  6. almonds
  7. feta (not pictured below)
  8. chicken
  9. baby spinach

Note: Before adding the greens, I pressed down on the chicken layer a bit to pack everything down


Next, I vacuum sealed the jars, using our new Food Saver and a wide-mouth jar sealing attachment.

This is the first time I’ve done the vacuum sealing step with these salads, but I am hopeful that vacuum sealing will help everything stay as fresh as possible.  Plus, it is hard to overstate the satisfaction I get when I remove the top of one of these jars and it pops.


Instant Pot Pork Chops with Mushroom Gravy

M, age 4, has been refusing a higher percentage of dinners lately than I would like, so I’ve been trying something: she and I made a list of dinners that we agree that all the solid-food-eaters in the house like.  Then, I plotted the dinners out over the course of a couple of weeks — I used a blank calendar that I’d been given.  This means that I’ve got her buy-in, as we say in business jargon, for those meals, and then I can schedule new recipes as well, and she knows we’ll get back to something familiar the next night.

We’ve been following this new system for a couple of weeks now, and as it turns out, I’m enjoying it quite a bit, myself.  Due to last weekend’s days-long, storm-induced power outage, I had to throw out almost everything in the fridge.  (D and I agreed that I should err on the side of caution.  After all, eating, like, ketchup that had gone bad would be a particularly silly way to die.)  It was a cathartic, if wasteful, process that left us with this amazing situation:

Since then, I’ve gone to Stop & Shop and BJ’s once each, and have had groceries delivered (a spendy indulgence that we are embracing while the twins are so little) from Wegman’s once.  Thanks to the dinner planning, the groceries we’ve bought are much more directed.  I get specific ingredients for specific meals, plus stuff for M’s and D’s lunches, plus assorted breakfast items.  And a few staple-type snacks.  Our fridge now looks as close as it ever will to the kind of fridge that might belong to someone who is professionally healthy:

Look at the salad dressings in the middle of the left door!  Only three, and all brand-new!  Nothing is falling out of anywhere!  The celery is not rubbery and is destined for one of our favorite recipes (that D will make) this weekend.  I’m sure we’re not following any of the rules about where you should keep which produce in order to maximize freshness, etc., but one step at a time, folks.

Anyhoo, on the calendar for tonight was pork, but I wanted to try something more savory than sweet.  I settled on This Old Gal’s Pressure Cooker Pork Chops in Homemade Mushroom Gravy.  Here’s a before photo:

I didn’t think we had any sherry and didn’t feel like looking, so I substituted white cooking wine.  I also opted for cornstarch because it’s what I had.  For the seasoned salt, I used Jane’s Crazy Mixed-Up Salt because, say it with me now, it’s what I had.

Here’s a sort of mise-en-place stage, with two of the pork chops obscured by the head of the mysterious mustachioed man who showed up at our house tonight.

For sides, I did some sweet potato mash (trim tough ends off three sweet potatoes and prick them with a fork before microwaving them for 8 minutes.  Cut in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.  Mash with a masher or fork and a little (1 Tb?) butter and salt to taste).

Sweet potato carcasses and mash

I also roasted some cauliflower, which I bought in floret form from BJs.  I lined a pan with aluminum foil, sprayed on a little olive oil, laid out the florets in one layer, sprayed with a little more olive oil, salted, and roasted in our Breville mini oven thing at 425 degrees with convection for 11 minutes, or until a little brown at the edges.

Here’s a sample plate:

And here’s the one for M, who says she doesn’t like mushrooms, but who did end up asking to add some gravy — without mushrooms — to her pork:

We all liked the meal enough to add it to our regular rotation.  D thought the pork was a bit tough, but that might have been due somewhat to my impatience — I released the pressure directly after cooking instead of waiting for 10 minutes of natural pressure release.  Next time, I might try decreasing the pressure cook time from 8 to 7 minutes.

Carrot and Beet Salad

Sometimes you make up a dish with whatever you have on hand and it turns out more attractive and tastier than you had any reason to expect.  My sister C is visiting from Florida, and she, her three kids, and my mom came over last night for pizza.  It was Auntie C’s first time meeting the twins.

Auntie C is a little bit happy to meet her niece and nephew.  Photo credit: my mom, S.

I wanted to throw together a salad, but the baby spinach I was counting on was well past its prime.

I used one of my favorite kitchen tools, the mandoline, to slice up some carrots and (precooked and vacuum-packed) beets, drizzled with a balsamic glaze I’d forgotten was in the cupboard, and sprinkled some crumbled goat cheese and sunflower seeds on top. Look how pretty!

I realized when cleaning up dinner that I had some fresh thyme hanging out in the fridge, which would have been a nice addition to this dish.  If balsamic isn’t your jam (or, in this case, glaze), you could use lemon juice instead.  A lot of nuts could work in place of the sunflower seeds.  I think if I ever actually planned to make this, I might choose pistachios.  Yum.

You might notice, in the second photo above, that the bottle of balsamic glaze is sharpied with yesterday’s date.  I try to remember to date containers of things — spices, salsa, pretty much anything that comes in a jar — when I open them.  That way, D and I can make informed judgments about whether to dispose of stuff weeks or months (or, ahem, years) later.

Instant Pot Hard-cooked Eggs

I’ve been eating a lot of eggs recently, and boy, does the Instant Pot make hard “boiling” and peeling those suckers a breeze.  (I think technically, they are steamed?  Or — duh — pressure cooked, I suppose.)  I looked around the interwebs a bit and settled on the following method for perfectly-cooked Instant Pot eggs.  There seem to be a few different ways that people do these; this is just the one I tried today.

I sliced one of the eggs to add to my breakfast of bagel thin, cream cheese, cucumbers, and smoked salmon.  Here’s half of the resulting yumminess.  (If you care about WW points, both halves totaled 5 FSP.  Three for the bagel thin, two for one tablespoon of cream cheese.  The cukes, salmon, and eggs are zero.)

Not the prettiest photo I ever took, but way yummy.

I cooked all the thirteen eggs that we had (what’s that, husband D?  You were going to scramble a couple?  Er, sorry about that.)  In the interest of Science, I placed half of them (OK, six of them) directly into an ice bath, and plopped the other half (seven) back in the carton and the fridge.


Once they were all cool, I peeled and ate one of each kind of egg.  Far as I could tell, they were totally the same: beautifully cooked, with easy-peel shells and no green ring around the yolk.

Instant Pot Hard-cooked Eggs | serves as many people as you use eggs, I guess |WW FSP 0 per egg


Large eggs


Pour a cup of water in the bottom of the Instant Pot.  Insert the trivet that came with the IP.  You can use a steamer basket instead of the trivet, if you prefer.

Pile up the eggs.  They can touch the side, each other — it’s wild, I tell you.

Close the lid and cook at high pressure for two minutes.  Use natural pressure release for 11 minutes, then quick release the rest.

If you need your eggs cold immediately, go ahead and plunge them into an ice bath.  (Note: proper enunciation is the only thing that distinguishes the spoken phrase “an ice bath” from “a nice bath.”  I know this because someone I know used to be an ice dancer, and when I pass along this info in conversation, listeners think I am describing this guy as a nice dancer.  Which he is, but no, I mean that he used to be an ice dancer.  Hilarious.)

Ice dancers. I’m sure they are nice, as well.

If, on the other hand, you have used all your ice to make G&Ts, feel free to just plop the cooked eggs back into the carton or into a bowl and put them back in the fridge.  Note that if you live with anyone with whom you typically share groceries, it is a kindness to communicate to him/her/them somehow that these particular eggs are already cooked.  Otherwise: s/he goes to crack an egg for a scramble and — what?!  Not that I know this from experience or anything.

Instant Pot Black Bean and Cauliflower Soup

I gave my husband, D, an Instant Pot Ultra for his birthday last month, and for a short but real time, I was scared of it.  Pressure cookers are dangerous, right?  Steam could just pour out and scald me any time, right?  Wrong.

Now that I’ve actually read some of the documentation and used the thing a little, I know that the gadget that Kevin Roose of the New York Times called “this holiday season’s must-have gift — a Furby for foodies” is perfectly safe and eminently predictable.  Our four-year-old daughter is way more volatile than the Instant Pot.  (Then again, maybe that’s not that high a bar.  Or low a bar?  Not totally sure this expression makes sense in this case, but, you know, just go with me here.)

And now, I am riding the Instant Pot wave to deliciousness.

Today, I tried making black bean soup in the Instant Pot.  I incorporated a bag of “Cauliflower Crumbles” (aka “riced” cauliflower) that I had bought on impulse this week.  Cauliflower is, as the whole trend to “rice” it, implies, relatively neutral in flavor.  D and I have used it before as (1) the base for creamy mash, (2) in potato soup, and (3) roasted in steak or florets form with salt and cumin.  I figured it would take on the strong flavor profile of the black beans well and would add a little bulk to the soup.

I knew the resulting soup would be healthy — or, perhaps more correctly, healthful.  It was also pretty darn tasty.  M, the four-year-old, ate it (although she needed me to spoon it for her, a request that has become more frequent since six weeks ago, when twin siblings A and H were born.  Fair enough, don’t you think?).  After tasting this soup, husband D wondered out loud whether he could bring it in for the lunch he has signed up to provide for 8-10 coworkers next month.  (Answer: sure.  It’ll be easy to bring the Instant Pot along to work if D wants.  Note that he drives there; he has no public transportation to negotiate.  This is key.  My friend H has been given an Instant Pot by her boss, but it’s at work — two subway rides and one commuter rail ride away from her Brooklyn home.  Meanwhile, she was inspired/compelled/possessed to open the box by CUTTING OFF THE PLASTIC CARRYING HANDLE.  That appliance is never going to see Brooklyn.)

Returning to my point: three out of my five family members (including me, naturally.  Is it still cool to say “natch?”  No?  Asking for a friend.) gave this recipe a thumbs up.  The twins did not express an opinion.


Instant Pot Black Bean and Cauliflower Soup | serves 10 | about 1 1/2 cups per serving | WW FSP 1 per serving (according to the in-app recipe builder; I tend to count this as a zero point food)


  • 1 medium onion, chopped (The Chop Wizard can help, as always)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped small
  • 1 large carrot, chopped small
  • 1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 pound dry black beans, rinsed
  • 16 oz. cauliflower crumbles (cauliflower, diced or riced)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 Tablespoons cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups chicken broth (for vegan version, substitute vegetable broth)


Add all the ingredients to the Instant Pot and close.  Stir it if you are so moved.  Seriously.  That’s all the prep there is here.

Cook on high pressure for 40 minutes; then use natural pressure release.  With pressure build and release, cooking time ends up being over an hour.  Open the lid and hunt down and remove the bay leaves.  Taste and add salt and/or hot sauce if you like.

Serve with toppings.  Put them all in bowls and pass them around the dinner (or lunch) table.  Possibilities:

  • sour cream
  • shredded cheddar
  • chopped cilantro
  • diced avocado
  • tortilla chips or strips
  • lime wedges for squeezing


Hello!  This inaugural post is inspired by the lunches I made today for two-year-old daughter M.  Like many lunch-making parents, I try to put together meals that are relatively healthy, with a balance of food groups and without a bunch of processed stuff.  In general, I try to incorporate at least the following into each lunch: one protein serving, one vegetable serving, one serving of whole grain/carbs, and one serving of dairy.  Once in a while, I throw in fruit, but M tends to get fruit at breakfast and dinner, so I usually lay off it at lunch.

Today was a what’s-in-the-fridge? kind of day.  There was no considering of recipes or shopping for particular ingredients.  I started with the idea of putting some brown rice in the rice cooker.  I had a couple of blocks of extra firm tofu in the fridge.  I had some veggies.  Felt like a stir fry of some kind.

Brown rice went into the rice cooker first.  Then, I did a bunch of other stuff while the rice . . . you know . . . cooked.

I drained the blocks of tofu and blotted them dry-ish with paper towels.  I cooked the tofu in the only way that I’ve ever really had much success with:  I put a tablespoon or two of sesame oil in a nonstick pan with an equal amount of cooking/canola oil.  I turned on the burner pretty high, and when the oil shimmered, I added one block of tofu.  Today, I tried two ways of cutting up the tofu: in cubes and steaks (to cut into cubes after frying).  Both methods were fine, but I think I prefer the control I have over the color of the steaks.  See how they got nice and brown?

IMG_9457 (1)Here is how the tofu looked after all the cooking and cubing:IMG_9458 (1)I guess they’re not so much cubes, are they?  Rectangular prisms?  Did I mention I used to be a Math teacher?

OK, so now I chopped an onion, a green pepper, and some carrot.  I added a little more sesame/canola oil to the pan, turned the heat up high, waited for the oil to shimmer, and added the veggies to the pan.

IMG_9460I sauteed the veggies until they were soft, and added a tablespoon or so of jarred minced garlic and some Chinese five-spice powder.  I sauteed for a minute or so until fragrant, then added three or four cups of the cooked rice.  I cracked two eggs on top of the whole thing and stirred it all up, still over the high heat.  Once the eggs were cooked, I seasoned with a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce.

IMG_9462I portioned the fried rice into five two-cup containers like this one:

IMG_9464Then I added about a heaping half cup of the tofu to each container and stirred it in:

IMG_9468Yes, this has some veggies in it, but I wanted more in M’s lunch.  I had some butternut squash puree leftover from Thanksgiving, so I portioned some into half-cup containers like this:

IMG_9473Of course, there wasn’t enough squash for five portions, so I also prepped a broccoli crown into florets . . .

IMG_9471 . . . and stir fried it in the same sesame/canola oil mix over high heat until bright green with some charred spots.  I put a half cup or so of this into some one-cup containers, like this:

IMG_9478With protein, grain, and veg all set, I added a serving of one of M’s absolute favorites, cottage cheese.  This week, M’s lunch will be one of these two options:

IMG_9481IMG_9480That’s it.  First post complete!