New Kitchen Gadget – The Ninja Creami

Summertime brings with it many of the simple joys in life – getting together with friends, family vacations, barbecues and swimming on a hot day all come to mind.  Also included on my list of favorite things to enjoy during the summer months is eating ice cream, as well as other frozen treats. 

Shortly before summer began, my wife and I were flipping through the channels one weekend morning when she paused on QVC.  They were featuring a machine called the Ninja Creami that made ice cream as well as other sweet treats.  Having owned (and usually returned) other ice cream making machines in the past that didn’t really do what they promised, we are always a little leery of such devices.  After watching the presentation, something about this machine and the method used to make the ice cream made sense to me and seemed like it might actually work, so we decided to give it a shot.

The Ninja Creami comes in several colors – we chose the mint green.

Unlike other machines or makers that often rely on adding the ingredients to a large and bulky pre-frozen bowl, the process for this machine is different.  It comes with several pint sized containers (the bundle we bought that day included 5) and extras are available to purchase separately.  Instead of using a big frozen bowl to start the freezing process, you simply fill the containers with your ingredients, and freeze them until they are solid. 

When you are ready to enjoy one, you pull it out of the freezer, load it onto the machine and choose what type of treat you are blending.  The blending process uses a spinning blade that cuts through the bowl, turning the frozen block of ingredients into a smooth and creamy treat.

Blending modes include ice cream, lite ice cream, gelato, sorbet, smoothie bowl and milkshake.  The machine also has two additional modes – re-spin, which gives your treat a second quick blend if it still appears to be too frozen and not creamy enough, and mix-in mode which is used for adding extra items to your treat, such as chocolate chips.  

We wanted to give it a good test run before I wrote this entry, so we tried out a few of the recipes in the book, as well as some variations on those recipes and a couple of other simple ideas that we came up with ourselves.

Lite vanilla ice cream – this recipe was included in the recipe book.  We used the mix-in mode to blend in some mini chocolate chips.

Mint chocolate chip – This was a variation that we made to the lite vanilla ice cream recipe that was included in the book.

Chocolate – another variation to the lite vanilla ice cream recipe.

Mango passion fruit sorbet – a quick and easy recipe we made up.  A simple blend of mashed mango and passion fruit juice.

Banana – we made this one with very ripe bananas, milk,  vanilla, and some stevia.  It’s nice to have a new use for them other than banana bread!

Lite strawberry chia seed ice cream – this was a recipe from the book.  The original recipe called for blueberries, but we didn’t have any on hand, so we used strawberries instead.

Banana chocolate chip – same mix as the banana recipe above, with chocolate chips mixed in.

Chocolate milk – The name says it all… nothing but frozen chocolate milk put through the blending process.  As simple as it was, it turned out to be one of our favorites!  It reminded us of chocolate soft serve ice cream.

I’ve shared lots of nice pictures, but how did it all turn out?  Delicious!  The process was easy, and the end result made for a great treat we could all enjoy whenever the mood hit.  We were amazed that the light recipes we tried, which often used milk instead of cream, could end up being so smooth and creamy.  We were also big fans of the sorbet – with nothing more than frozen fruit and juice, it produced a very smooth and creamy treat. 

We love the fact that not only can we produce a lower fat ice cream option to enjoy, but also one that can be low in sugar by replacing some or all of the sugar with alternative sweeteners, such as stevia.  Another plus to this machine was that with many of the recipes we tried needing little more than some milk, flavoring and sweetener, a pint could be quite economical as well. 

I also appreciated that our package included 5 of the containers.  It was so easy to mix them all up in about 20 minutes to have several on hand in the freezer, ready to be blended up on demand. 

Does this mean we will never buy our favorite store bought ice cream or go to our favorite ice cream parlor again? Of course not! Those things are both enjoyable as well, but perhaps it does mean we would do so less often. There are so many recipes left to explore, and we haven’t even tried making milkshakes, gelato, or smoothie bowls yet.

On that note, it sounds like it may be time to mix up some new creations! Have a great weekend.

Pressure Cooker Rice Pudding

With all the rice pudding recipes out there, it seems like almost every country has their own take on it. Actually, it seems like every town has their own version of the recipe. What the heck, I’ll go one step further – it seems like every household has their own version!

I have copies of two different versions that my grandma used to make. They were baked in the oven, and they were enjoyable, but I’ve made both recipes a few times myself and it felt like they took about 35 hours to finish cooking! I’ve found stovetop versions of rice pudding recipes as well and there are no doubt other pressure cooker versions out there – I’m sure my idea to make one is nowhere near the first time it has been done.

Pressure cookers are awesome inventions for speeding things along. Sometimes they shave off a lot of time and sometimes just a little. It’s important to keep that fact in mind. I’ve seen so many bloggers work hard at creating a delicious recipe to share, only to find comments written in the comment section saying that it didn’t really save all that much time. The author usually doesn’t promise it will, but I think the expectation when we see the words “pressure cooker” is instant food. When it doesn’t produce a meal in 5 minutes, it gives us the perception that using the device is not worth the effort.

While the idea of “instant food” would be great with every recipe we make, isn’t it still nice to be able to work on other things while the machine does a bit of the work for you? That is the case with my recipe today. While it does require a bit of manual cooking time at the end of the pressure cooking period to help thicken it, about 10 to 15 minutes, I was more than happy to save the extra 35 to 45 minutes it would have taken to complete the recipe on the stovetop alone.

When trying to make your own recipe with a pressure cooker, there can be a bit of a learning curve. The story of this simple rice pudding recipe was no exception – it was very much like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. My first attempt was too wet, my second attempt was too dry, and my third attempt was just right!

Easy pressure cooker rice pudding

  • 2/3 cup Arborio rice
  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Pour the milk, sugar, and vanilla into the pressure cooker pot. Stir well for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rice and mix well for about 30 seconds until the rice is well incorporated and evenly distributed throughout the liquid mixture.

Set the pressure cooker to medium pressure – that equates to 6 pounds of pressure on my Breville cooker. Set the time to 8 minutes and choose quick pressure release.

When the cooking cycle is done and it is safe to open the lid, immediately set the cooker to saut̩ mode (or whatever the heating or browning mode is called on your machine). Simmer the mixture, stirring frequently, until it begins to thicken Рabout 10 to 15 minutes. You want it to be thick enough that the space made by sliding a spoon through the mixture fills in slowly Рsimilar to any cooked pudding you would make on the stovetop. See picture below:

Remove from heat and allow to cool in the pot for about 10 to 15 minutes and then transfer to a bowl. Refrigerate until very cold – at least 6 hours. It will continue to thicken as it cools.

Rice pudding served 3 ways – with whipped cream, berries and a simple dusting of cinnamon

Finally, after three attempts, the end result was creamy and delicious with a simple splash of vanilla flavor.

On occasion, my grandma would make it with raisins mixed in – not my first choice, but I’d eat it. Sometimes she’d mix in crushed, canned pineapple – not my second, third or fourth choice, but I’d still have some. Since the simple and pure vanilla flavor pairs so nicely with so many options, as shown in the picture above, I prefer to leave the choice up to the individual eater. What could be better than enjoying it the way you like?

If you decide to give this recipe a try, I’d love to hear how it went for you and what you enjoy adding to yours. Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!

An Anniversary, A Birthday And A New Bread Baking Bowl

Let’s start with the anniversary… March 1st marked the first anniversary of The Food In-Laws! I can’t believe it has already been a year since we first officially opened our doors. We started out knowing little about how to set up and run a blog, but we have sure come a long way since then!

There is still much to learn, but I am proud of what we have achieved so far and I look forward to another year of adventures. We have met a lot of friendly and supportive people along the way, and that certainly helps to keep us motivated. Thank you to our followers and to those who just stop by from time to time to read, like or comment on one of our posts. We appreciate every one of you!

On to the birthday… My birthday was several weeks ago – I had a great day and was given extra special treatment by my family. They always treat me that way, but they somehow manage to go the extra mile for my birthday! One of my gifts was a new kitchen toy – a KitchenAid bread bowl with baking lid.

What a fun toy it is! For those of you with a KitchenAid mixer, it is basically a ceramic, oven safe version of the mixing bowl with a lid. While you can use it as a spare mixing bowl, the main intended use for the bowl is to make amazing artisan style breads. The beauty of the bowl is that the whole process can basically be done right in it from start to finish, mixing to oven.

The bowl attaches to the mixer, which allows you to easily mix the dough right in it using the dough hook. The recipe that comes with the bowl calls for a 1 hour rise, after which you take the dough out of the bowl for a brief knead before returning it to the bowl for a second, and final, 30 minute rise. After the second rise, you gently turn the risen loaf out onto the lid of the bowl for baking. For the first 30 minutes, the bowl itself is used as a lid which is then removed for the last 8 to 10 minutes to allow the loaf to become nice and brown.

I knew after making my first loaf that I wanted to share this fun item with you all, but I wanted to give it a few more test runs first. It is so easy to use and right from loaf one, I turned out one of the best loaves of bread I have ever made!

I was amazed at how much it looked and smelled like something that had just come from the bakery. It also tasted like a bakery fresh loaf! It was nice and crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside and the flavor was great.

It wasn’t long before I tested the pot out again… three more times! The gallery below shows more of my results which included a second white loaf, one wheat loaf and one rye loaf. Each time I followed the same basic recipe that was included with the bowl and each variety came out just a nice as the first loaf.

If you are someone who enjoys baking bread and would like to take your artisan bread creations to a new level, I would definitely recommend giving this bowl a look. From ease of use to the delicious end results, I couldn’t be happier with it. I’m sure my family loves it too – I was given an awesome gift for my birthday, and they are enjoying eating my creations!

One important note if you do decide to give the bread bowl a try, as of this writing, the bowl is only designed to work with specific sizes and models of the KitchenAid mixer, so please read the specs carefully before buying.

In closing, to my family I say thank you – for your love, for the gift, for always supporting what we are doing with the blog and for being my honest taste testers! I couldn’t do it without you!

Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!

Fresh Herbs Year Round

I love using fresh herbs when I cook. The flavor is often more pronounced than when using dried herbs and they truly do add a nice feeling of freshness to anything you make. This doesn’t mean I don’t like dried herbs, there are in fact instances where I prefer them to fresh! One herb that immediately comes to mind is oregano – I find the flavor of dried oregano to be much more bold and I really don’t care for it when it is fresh.

One of the biggest problems with using fresh herbs is the expense that comes with it. Frequently the herbs you find in your local market are quite pricey for a small bunch and the appearance and condition of them for such elevated prices often leave something to be desired. So what is the alternative? Growing your own of course!

The joy of gardening runs deep in our family. My father grew amazing vegetable gardens every year. He didn’t have a lot of room to work with, but he knew how to fill every inch of space to produce high yields. This love passed on to my sister, so much so that she returned to school a few years ago to attend a program on becoming a master gardener. I’m not sure that my brother enjoys it quite as much as she does, but he and Karen do grow some very nice stuff in planters on their patio and I know he enjoys researching and trying different varieties of things.

Then there’s sibling number three – yours truly… The one branch on the family tree that doesn’t enjoy gardening at all! I have tried… and tried… and tried! I’ve planted gardens the regular old way right out in the ground and didn’t find the joy. I’ve had small self watering tomato planters that I used on the deck of my first apartment long ago before I was married. Easy enough to use, but I still didn’t enjoy digging in even that little amount of dirt and I found halfway through the season that I stopped adding water as often as I should have.

A few years ago we decided to try again with a nice wooden planter on our deck – the perfect location to keep it from becoming a deer salad. We grew tomatoes, peppers and a small variety of eggplant. The garden, much like my earlier attempts, was successful but once again I didn’t find any great joy in the whole experience. I also learned that my wife and son were not huge fans of the process either. So after two years, the next great hope for an exciting garden experience was put to rest as we disassembled the planter.

Then in the spring of 2020 I decided to give yet another garden a try. I started to read more about the Aerogarden and liked what I saw. Hydroponic gardening meant I could leave digging in the soil behind – an instant plus for someone who doesn’t want to dig in the dirt! It also meant that it would be a fully indoor garden which made it easier to check on before I got to work on my other activities for the day. It’s not that we don’t want to be outdoors, we love our outdoor activities and when we go outside we want to be able to do the things we enjoy, which never seems to include working in the garden. So, the simplicity of indoor gardening with the Aerogarden checked another box for us.

We were sold enough to give another form of gardening a try and I can finally say after all these years, I love my little garden! For our first season we grew lettuce, tomatoes and basil and enjoyed them all through the spring and summer months. It was in my second season, for fall and winter, that I discovered what truly made the Aerogarden worth every penny for us when we decided to grow all herbs.

We have a 9 pod model and the ability to grow and have 9 different kinds of herbs on hand throughout the fall and winter months was an awesome experience. Now we are entering our second fall/winter season and I have gone with all herbs again. You can’t beat the value – you can pick up a 9 pod custom herb kit during one of their many 20% off sales for around $14. There’s no way you would be able to buy 4 or 5 months worth of 9 different types of fresh herbs from the store for that price! For this season I have chosen cilantro, sage, dill, basil, tarragon, rosemary, parsley, thyme and lavender.

Day 9 – 6 of the 9 pods have already sprouted.

The herbs tend to grow quite quickly in the Aerogarden and it won’t be long until we are able to cook up all kinds of dishes with them fresh right out of the garden. I’m looking forward to the creations that await us in the months to come! Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!

My New Bread/Potato Pot or shall we call it The Learning Curve?

One day last week Tom surprised me with an Emile Henry bread/potato pot. I had mentioned it to him a few days before (Costco had a great price) extolling the virtues of a pot that both baked bread AND roasted potatoes, but had no idea that in a very short period of time I would walk into my kitchen and behold the bright, shiny red pot right in front of me. So, I decided that I would take this opportunity to share my experiences with my new toy.

The pot did not come with paperwork so I went to the Emile Henry website and after a little digging, found the key information to get this pot up and running properly. Emile Henry is a French company that has been producing cookware and bakeware since 1850. The pot is from the Flame Ceramic product line and comes with a 10 year warranty on workmanship. It is safe for use up to 930 degrees F. It can go into the oven, into the microwave, on the stove top and into the freezer. It is also dishwasher safe. Specific to the Flame products are instructions for seasoning. After looking over reviews on several websites, I concluded that a lot of people have difficulty with this step and really burn and make a mess of the pot, so I made sure to approach this step with care. The instructions are to place about 1 inch of milk into the bottom of the dish and let it simmer for 5 minutes. I think the key is to start with the burner on low and slowly turn the heat up. I was able to do this step without ever getting to the medium setting on the stove top and cleaning was a breeze. So far, so good.

As to the next part of my journey, it was not quite as straightforward. I decided to try the no-knead bread recipe on the Emile Henry website and watched the accompanying video. That turned out to be a mistake. I am not sure if it was me or the recipe, but something wasn’t right! The dough was wet, and I don’t mean a bit wet as most no-knead dough is. I think it is possible that the 2 glasses of wine I’d consumed that evening might have clouded my judgement, but I just shrugged off the wetness of the dough and soldiered on. There was just no coming back from that mistake! The following day, when I realized just how wet this dough was, I attempted to add flour, let it rest, and plow on, but there was no saving this bread. The baked result was a stodgy loaf ribboned with unincorporated flour. What now? I decided to pick myself up, dust myself off (literally) and go back to my tried and true no-knead bread recipe and it worked! The new loaf was very nicely baked with a crust that I am proud of. I still have a few things left to master such as how to most efficiently transfer the dough into the hot pot and how to best approach scoring the loaf or not worrying with scoring at all, but for now, I feel confident in my ability to produce a lovely crusty loaf with my new pot! On to potatoes!