What To Do With Your Pressure Cooker (Part 2)

So you’ve succumbed to your (wiser) instincts and bought an electric pressure cooker. Perhaps you read my previous post about Why Everybody Should Own An Electric Pressure Cooker. Now what?

I completely understand how intimidating it can be (took me 4 days), but you must simply plug that bad boy in and just do it. These days I’ve become quite cavalier with my pressure cooker, and use it 2-3 times per week. Generally speaking, anything you can do in a slow cooker you can accomplish in a pressure cooker, but within minutes instead of hours. When in doubt, I will flip through Miss Vickie’s cookbook to find cooking times for a comparable dish. I find that many people vastly overestimate the time required, so having a reliable reference is invaluable. For example, I can cook 8-10 chicken breasts in only 5 minutes, maybe 8-10 minutes if frozen. Frozen ingredients don’t require much extra time because the pressure cooker only begins counting down once internal temperatures are adequate and it begins actual pressure cooking. So it will simply take a little longer reaching pressure in these cases.

A good example of how convenient this doohickey is: Last night we ate our first spaghetti and meatball meal from our previous freezer cooking session, and I was able to throw the partially thawed sauce and frozen (cooked) meatballs into my pressure cooker and cook for 3 minutes, resulting in boiling sauce and meatballs that had the flavors of the sauce literally “pushed” into them under pressure. I started the pressure cooker and boiling water for pasta at the same time, and it was able to get up to pressure and finish cooking by the time my pasta hit the strainer.

Here are a few of my favorite things to make in the pressure cooker.

Rio Chicken 

Chicken Tacquitos. Photo courtesy of SkinnyMs.

 

We featured this in our last freezer cooking session, and since then Rachaelle has made it for the first time and loved it enough that she made 5.5 lbs of it within 24 hours! I use frozen chicken thighs from Costco, simply dumping them in my InstantPot, then pouring the ingredients on top. Lock the lid in place, make sure the vent is pointing straight forward in the pressure position, push the “Meat” button, set the timer for 15 minutes, and walk away. When it’s done cooking, you can either let it depressurize naturally over about 10 minutes, or flip the vent. I like to shred the chicken and place it back in the broth for maximum flavor. The broth this produces is mind-blowing with a Mexican flair, and can be used in almost anything that calls for chicken broth. It is particularly tasty as the liquid base for rice. Zesty Italian dressing is not negotiable, and coming soon MaryP will be sharing her recipe for homemade Ranch Dressing seasoning for those of you who have the time and want to skip any artificial flavoring. I, alas, do not have the time, but I am completely willing to let her make and provide it! Our favorite way to eat Rio Chicken is as Skinny Tacquitos, which take all of 5 minutes to throw together. Dipped in sour cream….forget about it.

Chicken Broth

So easy, so fast, so delicious, so I-am-a-Domestic-Goddess-smell-my-house brag worthy. Rachaelle recently wrote a post about it. Browning the bones is key for making the broth’s flavor more intense, and adding 2 tablespoons of vinegar helps to leach the calcium from the bones so the broth is more nutritious, will gel when cold, and and make you attain the status of Domestic Goddess. This broth is obviously wonderful in any recipe, but other uses include making dried beans, soup, or rice.

Rachaelle’s frozen 1 oz. chicken broth cubes

Carnitas 

My brother-in-law got me hooked on this dish, something which my husband will be forever thankful for. We also made this dish during our last freezer cooking session. Some fun twists on this recipe include adding a jar of Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde or a can of crushed pineapple. I used to eat these as tacos with cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, and onions, but have since discovered I like them best with nothing but a flour tortilla and sharp cheddar. Easy and delicious!

Shredded pineapple carnitas ready for the freezer.


Pot Roast (recipe coming soon)

My favorite pot roast recipe comes from Miss Vickie’s cookbook, and is Apple Cider Pot Roast with Sour Cream Gravy, which I’ve already mentioned tastes and smells like Thanksgiving. My favorite way to serve it is to remove the pot roast at the end, throw in baby carrots and large chuncks of peeled sweet potatoes, and cook under pressure for 2 minutes, Heavenly! With the added bonus of being Paleo friendly and lower carb than potatoes. For traditional pot roast, you can sear your pot roast on the “Saute” setting (adjust heat setting to High), then add a cubed onion, onion soup mix packet, and enough water to cover the meat half way, then cook on the “Meat” setting for 35 minutes. Open, remove meat, add your desired veggies, cook again for 2-5 minutes, and enjoy!

Spaghetti Sauce (recipe coming soon)

For as long as I can remember, my mother (MaryP) has made homemade spaghetti and meatballs, which simmered on the stove for no less than 8 hours and made us all salivate like Pavlov’s hounds. By dinner time we’d be a pack of wild animals descending upon it. It feels almost sacrilegious to cheat and make it in under and hour in my pressure cooker while I take a nap [HAHAHAHA! More like write a thesis, do the dishes, do laundry, pry my toddler’s fingers out of the light socket…]. The great thing about the InstantPot is that you can begin by searing the Italian sausage on the “Saute” mode (adjust heat setting to High), then saute the diced onions without dirtying another dish.  I cook this under pressure for 50 minutes, depressurize, gently add browned meatballs (recipe coming soon!), then cook again under pressure for 5-10 minutes.

Ribs, Baby!!

I literally bought Harris Teeter out of ribs the last time they were on sale (50% off!) and have been slowly rationing out my freezer stock of beef ribs. I cut the meat into individual ribs before cooking.
1. Place wire rack (comes with InstantPot) .
2. Add 1/2 cup water to pot.
3. Coat ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce, mine is Jack Daniels Honey Hickory.
4. Cook on “Meat” setting for 12 minutes (20 if frozen).
5. Brush on more BBQ sauce.
6. Broil in oven (parchment paper is aluminum-free and mess-free) till browned ~ 5 minutes.
7. Flip ribs, brush on more BBQ sauce, broil again till browned ~5 minutes.
8. EAT!!

These ribs make me really happy.

Quick and Easy Burritos

Burritos are quick, easy, cheap to make and versatile.  They can easily be customized for your individual tastes, and are freezer friendly.  My favorite way to fix them is to fry them until golden brown in a small amount of oil, turning over halfway through. (If they are frozen when you start, be sure your heat is low so that the center has time to heat through.) You can also microwave them or bake them until heated through. I learned to make them from Mexican friends when we were living in Mexico.  When my kids were teenagers, this was a favorite snack to hold them over until the next meal, and the best part was that they could make them themselves.

The picture above is one of Kayte’s burritos (she likes lots of cheese).  All you really need is a flour tortilla and some refried beans, but I prefer to add cheese and usually some kind of meat.  Leftover cooked chicken or pulled pork works well, or I sometimes use a piece of bacon (cooked).  Let your imagination be your guide!  They are surprisingly delicious if you stop there, but adding any combination of toppings right before serving (chopped tomatoes, salsa, sour cream or feta cheese, shredded lettuce or cabbage) takes them over the top.

They are quick and easy to put together.

  • 1 Soft-taco size flour tortilla 
  • 2 heaping tablespoons refried beans (homemade or from a can)
  • Cheddar cheese, shredded or cut in a strip
  • Meat of your choice (optional)
  • Toppings (optional) – salsa, chopped tomatoes, sour cream or feta cheese, shredded lettuce or cabbage, chopped onions)

Put a line of refried beans down the center of the tortilla, top with cheese and meat (if using). Fold the ends in and then the sides over until you have formed a roll.  That’s it!  If you are going to eat it immediately bake, fry, or microwave – you can even eat it without heating if you like since all the fillings are already cooked. This makes one small burrito.  Either make several of these for one serving, or use a larger tortilla, increasing the filling ingredients as needed. To freeze, wrap tightly in parchment paper, foil or plastic wrap and put in a freezer baggie.  I prefer parchment paper, because it can go right into the microwave without unwrapping.

The picture above shows the progression from refried beans to cheese to meat (leftover carnitas).  The picture below shows how to fold the burrito.  Once folded, the next step is to cook or wrap for the freezer.

Here is an easy variation that works well for breakfast.  Heat tortilla briefly (microwave or in a dry skillet), fill with scrambled eggs, sausage or bacon (optional) cheese, chopped onion, chopped tomato, shredded lettuce or cabbage, and/or salsa).  
These are so quick and easy that you can have a batch in the freezer, just waiting to grab to take to work for lunch or to make a quick meals when you don’t have much time.

Freezer cooking session

Kayte and I (Mary) got together this past week for our first freezer cooking session.  Kayte is cooking for a family of four (one of them a toddler) and I am cooking for one.  Her family does not like leftovers, so everything needs to be (or appear to be) freshly made.  Kayte is also staying low-carb, so the meals also need to reflect that. 
We decided to select five recipes and make 3 meals for each of us of each recipe.  The dishes we made are spaghetti sauce, meatballs (made and packaged separately, not in the sauce), rio chicken, cashew chicken, meat loaf and carnitas.  (Yes, we really can count, but decided the meatballs kinda sorta went with the spaghetti sauce, although they can also be used for other recipes.) The special equipment we used was a 6-quart slow cooker, a food processor and an electric pressure cooker. 
A messy kitchen

We divided the shopping, with Mary checking the sale adds, then going to Costco and Publix, and Kayte hitting Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter.  We spent a total of about 30 minutes on Friday prepping and cooking the rio chicken in the pressure cooker, and the spaghetti sauce in the slow cooker.  We got down to business on Saturday, and spent about 3 hours completing everything.  Kayte’s husband was very helpful, taking the kids out of the house (it’s really hard to be efficient with a toddler hanging on your leg, being very helpful with the raw meat, etc.). 

We ended up spending a total of $122.57, but when subtracting out the unused portions (honey, onions, cashews, parmesan cheese), the meals cost $94.07. We didn’t count the staples that we already had on hand, and this also does not include any side dishes or add-ons that will be needed for serving (such as tortillas, rice, bread, veggies, etc.) .  The meals were divided up with 2/3 for Kayte and 1/3 for Mary.  We each ended up with 15 entrees at an average cost of $4.18 for Kayte and $2.09 for Mary.  A side benefit was five links of cooked Italian sausage (makes a great sandwich especially if you add provolone cheese) and several portions of broth from the rio chicken and the also from the carnitas.  (The broth makes a wonderful base for rice, beans or soup.)  Most of these meals will also have leftovers that we will use for lunches the next day.

Some lessons learned: do as much prep before hand  as possible, such as chopping onions, mixing spice blends, etc.  These tasks can be divided up between everyone cooking and brought with them.  Figure out a game plan for cooking day – what order will recipes be prepared, who will do what.  I ended up doing most of the meat handling such as shredding the rio chicken and carnitas, chopping the raw chicken for cashew chicken, and mixing the raw hamburger for meat loaf and meatballs, since that grosses Kayte out.  Kayte mixed other ingredients, spice blends and sauces, cooked the recipes that needed to be cooked, and packaged (and photographed) the finished food.  The meatloaf and cashew chicken will need to be cooked on the day of serving, and everything else will just need to be briefly heated. Here is a run down of what we prepared:

Rio chicken in pressure cooker
Packaged up, broth in jars

 Rio chicken, fully cooked –  great as a filling for tacos or taquitos, or would be delicious on a bun.  A great side dish, especially with the tacos or taquitos, is rice cooked in the broth – no other seasoning needed.  This is a slow cooker recipe that we made in the pressure cooker.

Free form meatloaves ready for the oven

Meatloaf, frozen raw  – a wonderful Alton Brown recipe that you really should try even if you don’t like meatloaf.  His recipe says to smoke it, but it is good cooked in the oven instead.  In the interest of keeping the carbs low, we substituted BBQ pork rinds for the potato chips.  We also used ground beef only instead of the mixed meats to keep the cost down.  A double recipe was made and divided into 3 large loaves for Kayte and 3 small ones for Mary.  The glaze for the tops (to be added before cooking) was packaged in small ziplock bags and packaged with each loaf.

Chicken & sauce in baggies, cashews packaged separately

Cashew chicken, frozen raw in sauce – needs brief cooking before serving, cashews packaged separately and included with each bag of the chicken and sauce, to be added right before serving.  We both add some veggies, usually broccoli or a stir fry mix, quickly sautéed, but we always have something on hand that we can quickly grab and add when we prepare for serving. 
Spaghetti sauce & Italian sausage
Spaghetti sauce, fully cooked – I don’t really have a recipe for this.  I combine any combination of tomato sauce, canned tomatoes (break up if using whole), fresh tomatoes (whatever I have on hand or is cheapest), diced onion, minced garlic, Italian seasoning, and Italian sausage (optional).  Everything goes into the slow cooker and cooks as long as possible.  It can also be done on the stovetop, once again cooking as long as possible and stirring often.  The Italian sausage can be eaten with the spaghetti or makes a great sandwich, especially if you add some good provolone cheese.
Meatballs

Meatballs, fully cooked – once again, I don’t really have a recipe.  Let me know if you need one by commenting, and I will try to write down how I make them.  Usually I use bread crumbs, but in the interest of going low carb, we substituted almond meal.  We used 3 pounds of ground beef for the meatballs, and baked them in the oven without browning in a skillet first.  The meatballs ended up being pretty big (I was getting tired and just wanted to get them finished!).  If they had been more normal size, we would have had more packages.  We will put them in our spaghetti sauce, but they could also be used for Swedish meatballs or other recipes.

Carnitas, ready for the freezer
Carnitas, fully cooked – this is the best tasting and easiest recipe I have ever found for pulled pork or tacos.  The linked recipe calls for making your own tomatillo salsa, but I use Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde.  It can also be used as enchilada or taquito filling.
Freezer meals all together

In the freezer

Here is the end result of our cooking session. We are starting to plan our next one, gathering recipes and watching sale ads.  Give us your feedback and any tips you may have to make it more efficient.