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Ode to the Instant Pot

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This machine is incredible…life changing…inspiring…time saving…and overall the best kitchen appliance ever purchased. I put it through a major workout over Thanksgiving break making gallons of bone broth (recipe below) and prepped 20 freezer meals that can be cooked in 20-30 minutes  from freezer to table. I basically cooked dinner for the rest of the year.

Even better, it’s a crazy good deal right now.

Before hearing about the Instant Pot, I did not even know how a pressure cooker worked. A slow cooker cooks food with heat over a long period of time, but in a pressure cooker, food and liquid are sealed and come to a boil. As steam/pressure builds, food cooks faster. The Instant Pot is an easy-to-use multi-functional cooker that works as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, warmer, and saute pan. There are preset programs for cooking soups, meat/stew, rice, beans/chili, porridge, poultry, multigrains, steaming, and slow cooking, as well as dual pressure settings. It is made of a 3-ply stainless steel cooking pot and comes with a steam rack, measuring cup, and serving utensils. Because I never used a pressure cooker before this one, it took some time getting used to the process. I looked to Pinterest for inspiration, converted my slow cooker favorites, and tested a few recipes from The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook. When I cooked perfect, easy-to-peel hard boiled eggs and in seven minutes, my mind was blown. Know what else took seven minutes? An entire spaghetti squash. Seriously. The Instant Pot was also great for cooking dinner on those hot summer days when I didn’t want to turn on the oven or stand over the grill. After spending a month with my Instant Pot, I sold my Crock-Pot.

Now we are heading into winter, and my Instant Pot made an amazing batch of bone broth. I bought a bag of beef marrow bones at Whole Foods for our dog shortly before she passed away, and that bag has been in the freezer since July. I threw those on a sheet pan and roasted the bones for 45 minutes at 375 degrees. This is optional, but roasting bones first helps create a broth with richer flavor.

Bone Broth:

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrots
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, halved
  • bones (marrow bones, soup bones, chicken/turkey carcass, whatever)
  • 2 tbs. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • water

Place vegetables and garlic in the Instant Pot first, then add the bones. Drizzle apple cider vinegar over the bones and let sit for 20-30 minutes; the acid helps extract minerals from the bones. Then fill the pot with enough water to cover the bones, but do not exceed the max fill line. Cover and seal the Instant Pot, select the “Soup” setting, and set the time at 120 minutes. After pressure cooking is done, turn off the Instant Pot and let it naturally release for 15 minutes before venting. Strain the broth and you’re done…maybe.

Instead of bagging and tagging my broth at this point, I returned the strained broth to the Instant Pot and hit the “Saute” button. This brought the pot to a boil and I reduced the broth by approximately 1/3 to create a concentrate. Then I let the broth cool, poured into ice cube trays, and froze to create individual portions that can be reconstituted with hot water through cold and flu season.

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Mic. Drop.

Bone broth contains easily absorbed minerals and amino acids, like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, arginine, glutamine, and glycine. It supports the immune system to inhibit infections caused by cold/flu viruses and fights inflammation. The gelatin supports proper digestion. It’s the super food my husband hates…but I don’t care, he is still going to drink it and shut up about his man cold.

I followed this same process using the Thanksgiving turkey carcass to make turkey and rice soup. I picked off and chopped what meat remained on the carcass, then used the bones to make stock. Once the stock was strained, I returned it to the Instant Pot and added diced carrots, celery, onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper, two bay leaves, and the turkey meat and simmered for 30 minutes. I added one cup of rice at the end and the entire pot produced three meals worth of soup (dinner for us, dinner for my parents, one for the freezer).

So how can the Instant Pot be improved? Well, I have my eye on accessories at this point…like the Glass Lid and Yogurt Cups. I have also been reading articles about using the Instant Pot for canning, but as much as I love mason jars, that may be too ambitious for me.

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Not-Your-Grandma’s Chicken Casserole

It’s the question as old as time… What’s for dinner? I imagine Adam asked Eve this question in the Garden of Eden. It was muttered by cavemen. Shakespeare spoke it in eloquent iambic pentameter. And it comes out of my husband’s mouth almost daily, slightly less eloquently.

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(Image source: someecards.com)

I had a few ingredients approaching expiration dates in the fridge, namely sour cream and a block of cheese, and thawed chicken to work with. I threw this casserole together on the fly, and it was pretty good. Two of my three kids ate it without too much duress, so that makes it share-worthy.

I used quinoa instead of rice in this casserole for extra keep-you-full protein because I really need to stop stuffing cookies in my face. And wine. And cheese. And potato chips. But I digress… I jumped on the quinoa bandwagon a couple years ago (thanks, Pinterest). Quinoa is a cool superfood as it’s high in protein and an excellent source of riboflavin. The grain is also alkaline-forming, antiseptic, gluten-free, and low on the glycemic index.

Let’s start with the “soup” part. You’ll need:

  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 3 tbs. flour
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • salt and pepper

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add flour to create a rue, and let that cook for 90 seconds. Whisk in chicken stock, and when that is combined and smooth, slowly whisk in milk. Let that cook for 4-5 minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste.

That there is my recipe for cream-of-anything soup. I use it for casseroles, chicken pot pie, and anything calling for a can of cream-of-crap.

I transferred that soup to a large mixing bowl and whisked in sour cream, 1 cup of the shredded cheese (I used Sargento’s Garlic & Herb Jack), and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Then I rinsed out my saucepan to cook the quinoa, which included:

  • 3/4 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Just like rice, you bring it to a boil, then simmer covered for around 15 minutes.

While the quinoa simmered, I got the chicken and broccoli ready. The final ingredients you need are:

  • Two chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
  • 10 oz. box chopped broccoli, thawed

I buy chicken in bulk, then freeze it in 2-breast or 3-thigh portions in a rub or marinade. For tonight’s dinner, I used two chicken breasts sprinkled with Wildtree’s Garlic Galore and Absolutely Onion blends; but you can roast plain chicken with salt and pepper, pull it off a rotisserie, or use leftovers. It really doesn’t matter. I microwaved my chicken in a Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker for 5 minutes, let them rest, and chopped them up.

Add the chicken, broccoli, and cooked quinoa to the soup and cheese mixture in the mixing bowl. Give it a good stir, add salt or pepper to your liking, then transfer to a greased baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup shredded Jack cheese on top.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 8 minutes.

Dinner. Done.

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I wish I did a topping with breadcrumbs or crushed Ritz crackers. That would have been the piece de resistance. Turn it southwest by using black beans, diced tomatoes and corn, pepper jack cheese, and chicken seasoned with taco seasoning. Go Greek with feta cheese, olives, and chicken with garlic and herbs. Or order a pizza. I always vote for pizza.

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The Overachieving Box of Jiffy

The October air is chilly, and the crisp weather tonight is perfect for chicken soup, cornbread, and pumpkin ale. Once you indulge in this Jiffy on steroids, there will be no going back. Trust me. This cornbread is moist and decadent and amazing because it all starts with a stick of butter. I scored the recipe from a card shark named Tanya who dropped off the face of the earth, so I guess she won’t mind me sharing it here. If you copy this recipe, I want you to use REAL butter and shut up about the calories or your diet. Don’t half the amount or sub yogurt or some nonsense like that. Just. Shut. Up. This is what your preheating oven should look like.

Jiffy_sourcream

You’ll thank me later.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 1 box of Jiffy corn muffin mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 8 oz. can cream corn

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. I put the stick of butter in my cast iron skillet to melt while the oven preheats. (Cast iron is preferred, but any baking dish will do).

Combine the Jiffy, eggs, sour cream, baking powder, and cream corn. Add that mixture to your hot skillet with the melted butter. Listen to the sizzle as the batter hits the pan and think, “Ooooohhh, yes.” Bake at 375 for 5 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 and bake for an additional 25 minutes.

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I’ve added cheddar cheese, jalapeños, cayenne, or paprika, but this original recipe is my favorite. It’s the perfect sidecar to a bowl of chili or soup. It is so good!

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Spinach Mini-Muffins

All because this lonely jar of baby food took up valuable pantry real estate for too long…

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I tried to donate it, but the food bank does not accept glass containers. I hated the wasteful idea of throwing it away. So into muffins it went.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 6 oz. baby food (I used the jar above, but any flavor/variety will work)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two mini-muffin tins.

In a stand mixer, combine applesauce, baby food, egg, vanilla, sugar, and oil. Separately sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the applesauce mixture and blend until just combined. Scoop the batter into greased mini muffin tins, filling each cup 2/3 of the way. Bake for 12 minutes. Allow to cool and serve to your hungry toddlers! Makes 24 mini muffins.

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Two thumbs up from Thing 3 and his cock-a-doodle-doo hair. The muffins were moist and pretty yummy, if I do say so myself. The dog stole three off the cooling rack when I wasn’t looking, so they are also greyhound-approved.

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Easy Homemade Salsa

I love going to farmers’ markets, and I love that my father-in-law grows and cans tons of vegetables. Summer tomatoes are abundant now, but do you know that tomatoes are one of the most politicized crops ever? At the risk of sounding like a nerd, I’ve been interested in the sources of my tomatoes since I read this article in Gourmet magazine in 2009 that detailed wages and living conditions of Latino farm workers in Florida. Today CBS Sunday Morning showcased a story on the growing demand for “fair food,” and tomatoes are center-stage in this argument. Unless our tomatoes come from my father-in-law’s yard or are in season, we do not eat them. Despite the unholy and unnatural year-long growing season (stepping off my soapbox now), tomatoes do offer excellent health benefits. They are a fantastic source of Vitamins A and C, folic acid, and antioxidants like lycopene, choline, beta-carotene, and lutein.

But holy tomato, Batman, we had the red fruit coming out of our ears. With our last few tomatoes wallowing away in sadness on the counter, I made salsa.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tomatoes, quartered
  • 4 jalapeño peppers, halved (I removed seeds from two peppers)
  • 1/2 of a red onion, quartered
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (that’s about three cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons Wildtree Chipotle Lime Rub
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cups fresh cilantro
  • Juice of half a lime

East Homemade Salsa

Add all the ingredients to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until all ingredients are diced and combined.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed (my husband said it needed more salt…whatever).

I love all things Wildtree, but if you don’t stock their line of seasonings like I do, you can substitute cumin.

Transfer the salsa to your favorite airtight vessel and store in the refrigerator.

East Homemade Salsa

Best enjoyed the next day!

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Tales from the Kitchen

Winter break came and went, and despite the flu and pestilence, I managed to stock the freezer.  I made tried-and-true favorites, like pasta sauce with meatballs.  I finally demolished the leftover Thanksgiving turkey carcass and made a giant batch of turkey and rice soup.  We experimented with new sauces and flavors, and I’m sharing my pasta sauce recipe.  It’s awesome.  It starts with butter.  You’re welcome.

First, I have to sing the praises of Wildtree’s Outrageous Orange Sauce.  It makes orange chicken like Panda Express on steroids.  I cubed three chicken breasts and let them hang for a few minutes in 2 eggs, some cracks of pepper, and a pinch of salt.  Then I dredged the chicken in flour and browned in a skillet.  From there the chicken went into a glass dish and bathed in the orange sauce.

IMG_0857The chicken baked in the oven for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.  I gave everything a good stir and threw in some leftover broccolini about 15 minutes through and served it with rice.  This stuff was spicy and great for clearing our stuffy noses.  I would show you a picture of the finished product…but we were hungry, and this is all that was left.

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Two thumbs up.

Okay, now the pasta sauce.  Make sure you pour yourself a glass of red wine before you start.

For the sauce:

  • One stick of butter
  • 2 onions (one chopped, one just cut in half)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 28-oz. cans of crushed or whole tomatoes
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Tool: Immersion blender

When it comes to herbs, I usually use what I have on hand; any mixture of oregano, parsley, basil, dried mirepoix, or Italian seasonings tastes good.  The meatballs finish cooking in the sauce, so that adds more flavor.  You can use less or no crushed red pepper if spicy is not your thing.

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Melt the butter in a large pot or dutch oven.  Add the chopped onion and saute until tender, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute another minute.  Then add tomatoes and dried herbs to the party.  If I use whole tomatoes, I crush them with my hands first.  Bring everything to a simmer and add the fresh basil and half of a whole onion.  Seriously, just put the onion on top and leave it there.  You can save the other half for another dish.  Let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes.

Now drink your wine.  Feel free to pour yourself another glass, too.

While the sauce simmers, form the meatballs.  You need:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork (or lamb, or sausage, or whatever)
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs (I prefer Panko, but use what I have on hand)
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried parsley

Combine all ingredients and form meatballs to your desired size.  I keep them small to medium and get 30-32 using two pounds of meat.

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Now wash your hands and finish that wine.

Return to your sauce and remove the half onion that’s done working it’s magic.  I use an immersion blender at this point to make the sauce smoother, but not totally pureed.  Give it a taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.  Once that’s done, return your attention to the meatballs.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet and brown the meatballs in batches (2-3 minutes per side), then transfer the browned meatballs to the pot of sauce to finish cooking.  Simmer for an additional 25-30 minutes.

This makes at least two dinners for my family, and is my boys’ favorite thing to eat besides Nutella sandwiches.

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