Friday, September 23, 2016

Review - OXO Barista Brain 12- Cup Coffee Brewing System

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Coffee. There is nothing like it. Well... GOOD coffee. I have to admit, I am really picky about my coffee. I don't even like Dunkin Donuts coffee unless it's flavor is masked by a sweet, artificial flavor swirl and milk. I usually drink my coffee black. I rarely buy a cup of coffee. I prefer to make it at home. There is nothing like starting the day with a pot of coffee waiting for me on the counter. 

Which is why I bought the OXO Barista Brain coffee pot. Which is why I have a love/hate relationship with it. 

I was looking for a coffee pot that uses the pour over method instead of a traditional drip method. I also needed a thermal pot. And an absolute must for me is an automatic timer. I NEED to wake up to the coffee already made.

The OXO Barista Brain has all of the things I was looking for. And I do have to admit, it makes a good cup of coffee. The one button interface takes a little getting used to, but it is easy to use once you get the hang of it. The carafe keeps the coffee hot for a long time. Plus, you can use the kettle separately to boil water for tea. 

BUT. The thing requires CONSTANT descaling. For those of you who aren't into coffee, when you descale a coffee pot you run a cycle through with half water and half vinegar to rid the machine of any residue that interferes with the purity and flavor of your coffee. Once you run the vinegar and water solution through a cycle, you have to run one or two cycles of plain water through the machine to get rid of any lingering vinegar. It does make for a "cleaner" cup of coffee. BUT....

Back to the point. Most normal coffee pots have some kind of warning light. A light that says, hey human, descale me soon, like within the next couple of weeks. But not the OXO Barista Brain. It just doesn't work. At all. So you prepare the coffee the night before as usual, but when you wake up, (cue dramatic music) THERE IS NO COFFEE! And you can't use it until you descale the pot. 

Well, I prefer a little warning in my life. Waking up to no coffee is really not pleasant for me. I have a little cone pour over thing that I use camping or when the power goes out:

But it is a whole extra step and takes time. Time which is even more valuable in the morning. And this last time the Barista Brain decided not to work and I had to pour over, I burnt my hand. Badly. And it hurts. Which is what prompted this review.

Bottom Line: I will continue to use it until it breaks, but I would never buy it again. It was expensive and should warn me when it isn't going to have coffee ready for me in the morning.

Monday, August 15, 2016

3 Tips for Easier Camping

Sorry for my absence folks... we just got back from our yearly camping adventure, and I've been very busy preparing for camping and reorganizing now that we are home. Camping is such a fun family activity. When else do you get days of time away from electronics with hours to spend with your family talking, playing games, and sitting by the fire, and experiencing nature's beauty?

Sunset on our last day at Branbury State Park

But in all honesty, camping is a lot of work! This was our 5th annual trip, and over the years, I've pretty much honed it down to a science. The more upfront preparation you do, and the more organized you are, the more fun the trip will be! Here are my top 3 tips for easier camping:

1. Foil Packet Meals - Cook at Home, Enjoy While Camping!
When we first started camping, my husband wanted to cook all of these elaborate meals at our campsite... steak, shrimp, asparagus, etc... There were a couple of problems with that. First, the mess. Second, the time and the work. Who wants to do all that work when you are tired from setting up your site, hiking, or whatever other fun and exhausting activities you do? After some online searching, I discovered the solution. Foil packet meals. There are a ton of recipes out there for meals you can make at home and heat up either over the fire or on a grill camping. But after experimenting, I've discovered that you don't need to make different recipes than you usually would to bring camping. Instead, cook your family's favorite meals at home, package them in foil, stick them in your cooler, and heat when you want to eat them! Here are some meals that I've brought camping, but you should make your own family favorites!

  1. Hot sandwiches for the first night - Thanksgiving subs and meatball subs work well.
  2. Taco meat
  3. Any pasta and meat dish. I brought the pink sausage pasta made in the Instant Pot from this post
  4. Ratatouille
  5. Chili
2. Staying Organized While Camping
True confession: I am a crazy person when it comes to organization. Keeping everything in its place makes it so much easier to find things. Otherwise, you are spending time wandering around the camp site searching for things instead of enjoying your time. I keep all of our camping gear in bins. We have four of them. Bins should be clearly labeled with what goes in them that way the whole family knows where to find things. Every time someone takes out the bug spray, use it, then put it directly back in the bin. This may be the most simple and obvious tip, but it really saves time and keeps things together!

See the bins next to the table? Note that Ollie took my chair so I had to sit on the bench. Spoiled puppy!

3. Get Organized When You Get Home
When we get home, the first thing I do besides unpack the tents to clean them before putting them away for the season is open up all the bins and make sure there are no stray items. Then I reorganize everything. And this is key... anything that we've used and need to buy for next year gets written on a list and put away with the camping things. This way, next year, all I have to do is open up the bin with the list, hit up the store, cook some foil packet meals, and pack up the car!

Staying organized and planning for easy meals is key to an easy, fun camping experience. I will leave you with the best picture of Ollie sleeping by the lake with Sean behind him floating, relaxing after a long hike:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pasta Method - Pink Sausage Pasta

As you know, I am on a mission to learn new methods to simplify our favorite recipes, described in this post. One of our favorites is a sausage pasta dish that we call Pink Pasta. I got the original recipe from Boston Globe Magazine about 15 years ago:

I made some adaptations over the years, which I will describe in my Instant Pot version. 

Truth: I'm almost embarrased to admit that I was looking to simplify this recipe. It already is ridiculously easy. Six ingredients. Two pans. 25 minutes. Sounds like an easy weeknight meal. But for me, on any given weeknight, even that is too much. Two pans to clean? Not after teaching all day, going for a run, doing errands, walking the dog, taking a shower, tidying up the house... I'm sure you get the idea. So I researched methods for cooking pasta in the Instant Pot.

All of the recipes I saw used pretty much the same basic process:
  1. Use the "Saute" feature to cook vegetables and brown meat (I use Italian sausage not chicken sausage) *Thank you to Jody for telling me I left this part out of the original post!
  2. Add sauce ingredients and mix together with vegetables and meat
  3. Add pasta and stir it into the sauce
  4. Add water to pretty much cover the pasta
  5. Seal the pressure valve, and use the "Manual" setting to cook for 6 minutes
  6. Use quick release to release pressure and open lid
  7. If sauce is thin, saute until it thickens
  8. If pasta is too al dente, add more liquid and saute on low until pasta reaches desired texture
You could follow this method with any of your favorite pasta recipes. Here is how it worked for our Pink Pasta recipe.

First, I sautéed the chopped onion in olive oil on low for a few minutes, then I removed the sausage from its casing, added it to the pan and browned it using high heat.

If you get brown bits on the bottom of the pan, don't panic! Brown bits = flavor! When the sausage is browned, just add a little water and use your spoon to scrape up the brown bits. 

Next, add a whole jar of your favorite sauce or use homemade. Then, add about half a 16 ounce container or ricotta until the sauce reaches your desired shade of pink.

Now is where the method is different from the original. If you were following the original recipe, you would have also been boiling a separate pot of water and making pasta. But now, we cook the pasta right in the sauce in the same pan. Yup. One pan cooking. So add a whole box of pasta and stir it in, then add water to mostly cover the pasta. 

Put the lid on, seal the pressure valve, and use the manul setting to pressure cook for 6 minutes. Use the quick release method to release the pressure, and follow the steps above if the sauce is too thin or if the pasta isn't cooked enough. I found the sauce thickened as it sat. If the sauce is prefect, I would remove the inner pan from the Instant Pot to stop any residual heat carry over. 

It really was, dare I say it, better than the original. The pasta absorbed more of the flavor of the sauce since it cooked in it, and the clean up could not have been easier. Just plop the steel liner right into the dishwasher. I will definitely make more pasta dishes this way. How about you? If you tried it, let us know in the comments. Here is Ollie enjoying the leftovers:

Instant Pot - My Philosophy

As soon as I ordered my Instant Pot, I started searching the internet for recipes. I even bought a pressure cooking cookbook. As I was browsing, I found many recipes that just wouldn't work for my family. Lentil tacos? Nope. Sloppy Joe's with rolled oats in them? Nope. So I took a step back and thought about why I wanted to buy the Instant Pot in the first place. Although I do like to experiment with new recipes, that's not why I bought it. I wanted to simplify every day cooking and expand our week day repertoire by making recipes I know we already like more simple and and quicker. This is my Instant Pot philosophy:

 As a cook, learning a recipe means you now know how to make that one thing. But when you learn methods, they can be applied to any recipe. So from now on, although I may try a new recipe now and then, I'm going to focus on adapting the recipes my family loves for the Instant Pot. Hopefully you will be able to use these methods to adapt your own favorite recipes for easy, quick cooking with the Instant Pot!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Instant Pot - First Reactions

Seven functions in one device? One pot cooking? Easy weeknight meals? The Instant Pot sounds like magic. But is it really all everyone says it is?


I wanted an Instant Pot for a couple of years after reading about it on my favorite cooking blog, the kitchn, but there were a couple of reasons why I held off. First of all, it is expensive. Secondly, it is a big "small" appliance. I hate having a cluttered counter in the kitchen. But when it went on sale during Amazon Prime days and I could get it at 50% off, I went for it.

So far, I've used it four times. I made steel cut outs, rice pilaf, white rice, and salsa chicken for burritos. Here's how it went:

  1. Steel cut oats: Easy. Took only a few minutes of pressure cooking. I was surprised at how long it takes for the machine to build pressure, and how long it takes for a "natural release" of the pressure. The recipes make it seem like "cook oats in 5 minutes!" but that's not really true. It took about 20 minutes from start to finish, which is still faster than stovetop and the cleanup was easy.
  2. Rice pilaf: Wow! I have a treasured homemade rice pilaf recipe from Cooks Illustrated Magazine, which involves browning vermicelli in butter, adding a shredded onion and a garlic clove, then toasting the soaked rice before adding in stock. The original stovetop recipe has you cook the rice for about 15 minutes on the burner until the liquid is mostly evaporated, then putting a towel over the pot under the lid and taking it off the heat for another 10 minutes. In the Instant Pot, I was able to do all the browning and cooking using the saute function, then pressure cook the rice. It came out better than the original, and again, easy clean up.
  3. White rice: Used the "rice" button with a rice to liquid ratio of 1:1.5. Came out perfect, easy clean up.
  4. Salsa chicken: Was looking to make a shredded chicken to go in burritos, so I used this recipe from the blog flavorrd. It was super easy, and I made it from FROZEN chicken breasts! It came out really good, but I think next time I will season the chicken with some cumin and chili powder, then brown it before throwing in the salsa and pressure cooking it. 
Overall, I love it so far and it really IS the magical appliance that everyone says it is. Easy quick cooking, and easy to clean. Tonight, I'm cooking a sausage pasta dish. I'll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To run... or not to run...

Check this out:

Medals. Accomplishments. Pride. These are just some of the reasons why I run. Running is one of the few times that I actually feel ALIVE. But I've been into a bit of a rut lately. Not running consistently, eating, and drinking too much leads to... well, nothing good. And it's a cycle. The more runs I miss, the less I feel like running, the more unhealthy choices I am likely to make. 

What's the solution to a running rut? For me, it's signing up for a race. But how ambitious do I want to be? I can't decide whether to run a full marathon or a half marathon. So I am making a list to help me decide.

Reasons to run a full marathon:
  • The rigorous training schedule will force me to run
  • I still did not accomplish my goal to finish in 4 hours
  • There are points during marathon training that I feel great and look great
  • Finishing another marathon feels like a big accomplishment

Reasons NOT to run a full marathon:
  • It's hard!
  • It takes a lot of time
  • There are points during marathon trainging that I feel AWFUL and want to quit
  • Training runs interfere with my family and social life

Reasons to run a half marathon:
  • The training is less intense
  • It doesn't interfere with other aspects of my life
  • It is still an accomplishment
  • The training schedule will still keep me motivated

A half marathon it is!!!!!


A lot has happened since my last post. Obviously. Since it's been FOUR YEARS! I decided to start posting again for a couple of reasons. I am going to have my students start blogging, and I think that I need to lead by example. And I have all of these thoughts, projects, and ideas to share! So welcome back to me and I'm looking forward to more posts about my "pseudo-domestic" life :)