#TBT – Using Your Pressure Cooker

Welcome back to another Thowback Thursday!  Here is one of our most popular posts from the past. The pressure cooker has become one of Kayte’s most-used kitchen appliances, and several of our regular readers have invested in (and love!) one.  I recommend it highly for anyone who is cooking for a family and needs to be able to put a good meal together without spending a lot of prep time.

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Quick and Easy Taquitos

Taquitos are a fast but satisfying appetizer, snack or lunch, especially if you have some shredded meat of any kind in your refrigerator or freezer.  Two of my favorite meats to use are Rio Chicken and Carnitas.  I usually make a big batch during one of our freezer-cooking sessions and package in individual portions for easy access.  I am sure the Taquitos could be made vegetarian by using refried beans and/or cheese instead of the meat.

They are so simple to make that it is almost ridiculous to write out a recipe but here goes:

  • Corn tortillas
  • Shredded meat (or refried beans and/or cheese)
  • Olive oil or cooking spray

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put a couple of tablespoons of desired filling down the center of a corn tortilla. and then fold both sides over to form a roll (do not tuck ends in).  Warm tortilla briefly in a skillet or the microwave if necessary to keep from cracking when you fold it, although they tend to crack anyhow while baking. (Don’t try to overfill or they will come apart.)  Place tortilla rolls on a cookie sheet and brush or spray with oil.  Bake for 10 minutes, turn rolls over and  brush or spray again, then bake for an additional 10 minutes until lightly browned and crisp.  Eat as is or serve with salsa and/or sour cream.

If I am eating the taquitos for a meal, I usually add a side dish of some rice cooked in the broth from the Rio Chicken or Carnitas and, if I am really going all out, a green salad.  Another good side is to roast some veggies in the oven at the same time the Taquitos are cooking. (All the recipes referenced here are also in the Recipe page on the menu at the top of the page.)

OAMC & Freezer Cooking

We have put out a few posts referring to bulk cooking and stocking up your freezer. Kayte & Mary even had their own freezer session. I have been doing some form of this type of cooking for the better part of 4 years. Sometimes I feel it’s the only reason I get a hot meal on the table for dinner. Having a stocked freezer is also helpful when you’re meal planning.  By planning ahead, you don’t have to make so many trips to the grocery store (save time, $$$, and gas) and you can take the time to buy items when they are on sale, and take advantage of opportunities to save money by buying bulk.
Currently I’m working on getting together all my food for this month, a bit for next month and stocking up for when the baby comes. On top of this, I don’t want to stray too far off budget. We use freezer meals two to four times a week. Other meals are left over, new recipes, something we are craving, or occasionally eating out or fast food.  

My freezer from bottom to top (Left to Right): (1) egg crate of slow cooker meals, (2) two baskets, one with raw meat, 
and salmon, the other with meatballs and soup, (3) Popsicle, biscuits, veggies, chicken stock, and 
(4) baskets of frozen veggies!
While working on my current shopping list, it struck me that there’s plenty of ways out there to get this done. Generally speaking, all of these methods fall under the title OAMC (once-a-month-cooking) or freezer meals, but there are certainly different ways to go about making this happen. Honestly, first and foremost you have to choose the way that works best for you and your family. For us, it’s a little bit of everything. 
The first method is really a way of easing yourself into it. Planning on making spaghetti for dinner with your own homemade/meat sauce? Make two. For most recipes, the actual time it takes to double a recipe is only marginally more than a single recipe. Sauce freezes great, particularly flat in a Ziploc bag. My favorite sauce takes a good 30 to 45 minutes to make from prep to finish. I can pull a bag out of the freezer, defrost over night, or in water for a few minutes (just long enough to un-stick from the bag), then put into a pot on the stove, and by the time the spaghetti is done, it’s ready to go. This process works great for sauces, pasta dishes, and marinades. I recently used this method for chicken enchilada pasta, and Rio chicken.  
Enchiladas made with Rio Chicken. Pre-“Flash-Freeze”, and bagged for freezer
For marinades, I just make a double batch and freeze the meat with the marinade (it marinates while it defrosts) and then cook like normal – grill, bake, slow cooker, or pressure cooker. This brings me to one of my favorite methods: dump meals. A friend of mine and I did a giant cooking session, all dump meals. No cooking required. Throw ingredients and spices in the bag and freeze. Dump the defrosted ingredients in your crock-pot, and go.  You can adopt most slow cooker meals to this method. If you have a favorite, buy the ingredients, or buy double, bag and label for the future. 
Crazy Meal Prep: 20 “Dump” Meals for Each person. Look at all that meat!

Finally, there is full-blown once a month cooking (OAMC). This involves extensive shopping and a full blown game plan. Ideally, you make enough meals for the entire month, this type may or may not involve repeats, and the meals may or may not be fully cooked. It all depends on what you want in your fridge. This method is great, if you’ve got time, enough kitchen space, and perhaps a toddler-free environment. It does require pretty extensive planning, as far as ingredients, and order of prep and such to make it work. I’ve always thought it’d be a really great choice, if you had a few friends who you wanted to work with and split up meals. You can also do “mini sessions”, cooking a few meals at once, or perhaps all your meals that involve ground beef. Mini sessions are especially ideal, if you are watching sales, and a particular ingredient goes on sale (like meat).
Don’t forget to keep track of whats in your freezer

My current game plan involves a bit of all these methods. Last weekend, I found chicken breast on sale for less than $2/lb (stock up price!). I purchased two packs, for 8 lbs total. I turned 4 lbs of chicken into Rio Chicken. I split the chicken into 2 bags of cooked chicken (1 lb each), and a tray of enchiladas, and then ate some for dinner. It was the bomb! I cooked the remaining chicken, saving a pound to have in the fridge for my son’s meals this week, and the remainder went to a double batch of Chicken Enchilada Pasta.This fed us for dinner, with enough left overs for another meal, and two trays of pasta for the freezer. The grocery store also had frozen veggies on sale, so I picked up a crazy amount (20+ bags/boxes). Keep an eye out for a post on how awesome frozen veggies are!
Buying on sale in bulk, allowed me to save a lot of money, and time!

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.

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.