Instant Pot Love – How to make yogurt, cheesecake, meatloaf and more

Do you have an Instant Pot yet?

It was apparently the hottest gift for the 2017 holiday season, so if you’re like me, someone who loves you bought you one of these babies.

Happy Holidays to me!

It’s really an amazing machine.

It’s a pressure cooker – but not one of those old and clunky ones that your grandmother used to have that made horrible noises and looked like it might explode at any moment.

This is a computerized cooking machine that is smart enough to remember your past settings and cook everything from hardboiled eggs to cheesecake to BBQ ribs.

After using this machine for a few weeks, I was able to happily donate my old slow cooker (because the IP has a slow cooker setting that doesn’t involve pressurization), my rice cooker (it makes all rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and any other type of grains in half the time of the best rice cooker on the market), and my yogurt maker.

Yogurt

Speaking of yogurt, you can literally make a ton of it at the touch of a button. I recommend setting it up before you go to bed at night, and you’ll wake up to yogurt!

All it requires is:

  • a gallon of milk,
  • a small container of plain yogurt (approx. 6 oz.), and
  • a 5 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk.

Put it on the “Yogurt” setting for 10 hours (or more) and then refrigerate.

That’s it.

Six quarts of homemade Greek yogurt.

That yields 6 quarts of yogurt.

Wow!

Adapting Your Favorites to the IP

My first experiment with this machine was for a tagine recipe … one of my favorite Moroccan dishes with chicken, chicken livers, green olives, preserved lemons, and other veggies.

Instead of slow cooking this for 8-9 hours, or on the stovetop in a fancy tagine clay pot, I simply placed all the ingredients in the Instant Pot and pressure-cooked it for 25 minutes.

Instant Pot Moroccan chicken

I have to admit, I was still a little nervous. Would that be enough time to cook chicken? And to make sure all of the flavors were properly cooked in to the meat?

To my pleased surprise, it turned out beautifully. If you are trying to adapt your favorite recipes to the Instant Pot, check out this link.

I think the most important thing when adapting is to check the pressure release – a “quick release” of the pressure will let the steam escape right away and are for recipes that are not generally slow-cooked (see, for example, the meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe, below).

For a recipe like this chicken where you want the flavors to be infused into every bite, you will want to do a “natural release” method after the cooking time is over. It takes a few extra minutes, but it’s worth it. And it’s still ready to eat in a fraction of the time.

Sweet Dishes

One of the first rookie mistakes of the Instant Pot is to neglect the sealing ring. The IP comes with a clear ring that fits on the inside of the pressurized lid.

At the very least, you need to make sure the sealing ring is cleaned after every use, or the flavors from whatever you cook will stick to the ring and get into everything you cook later.

If you intend to use your Instant Pot for savory dishes (chicken, ribs, eggs) as well as sweet dishes (cheesecakes and desserts), then the first thing you need to do is buy at least one extra sealing ring. I got a pair of them on Amazon.

Now I only use the red sealing ring for desserts and sweet dishes.

I also purchased a springform pan that fits inside a 6-quart Instant Pot, and I can use this for cheesecakes and other desserts as well as lasagna.

Cheesecake

I made a couple of different types of cheesecake to see how well it worked. Basically, you can make the crust however you like (crushed cookies with melted butter, or even a brownie that is only partially baked in the oven).

Oreo crust!

Then the filling recipe is simple:

  • 4 8-oz. packages of cream cheese
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

The most important thing to remember is that the cream cheese and eggs MUST be at room temperature. If not, they will not blend properly and will result in a lumpy cheesecake. Make sure all ingredients are blended and smooth, then pour into your springform pan.

Cook on the (high) pressure setting for 45 minutes, and use the natural release method (which will take about another 10-15 minutes).

Let it cool and garnish with your favorite toppings.

Oreo cheesecake with berries.

This is one of my favorite recipes because it’s so easily adaptable. Try it with lots of different crusts and/or toppings!

Turtle cheesecake with brownie crust

I have tried similar recipes in the oven before, and I even made some in the oven while I was making some in the Instant Pot, just so I could see the difference in flavor and texture. The pressure cooking makes the filling much softer and lighter!

Food parties

During my first couple of weeks with the Instant Pot, I organized a few friends for a tamale party.

If you’ve never been to one, it’s basically a fun way to make a party out of something that can be pretty boring and tedious – making tamales.

Tamales are a popular dish around the holiday season, especially in the southwestern United States and Mexico. They are delicious concoctions of many types of fillings and masa (corn) dough stuffed into corn husks and steamed.

They are also a giant pain to make. Hence, a party.

Tamale party setup

Instead of spending hours doing all the work yourself, you get a few friends, everyone brings fillings and masa dough and corn husks (as well as a few bottles of wine and snacks to sustain you for a long afternoon), and everyone makes a bunch of tamales.

It’s a little bit of work, but everyone goes home with tons of tamales to eat (or freeze for later).

Tons of tamales. Literally.

As you can imagine, the Instant Pot made a ton of work a little easier.

The night before the party, I used my Instant Pot to make a vegetarian filling … literally a variety of vegetables and spices simmered for a few hours. Except that it literally took less than 20 minutes on the pressure setting. It took me longer to chop all of the veggies than it did for me to make a huge amount of delicious vegetarian filling.

Vegetarian tamale filling

I also made a chicken verde filling – literally a few boneless chicken thighs and a big can of salsa verde – that was ready in half an hour.

Saving the day at the tamale party

And, of course, tamales need to be cooked, too; and that usually takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours in standard steamer pot. But I actually brought my Instant Pot with me to the party (did I mention it’s very portable and has a handy handle on top?) and was able to steam a few batches right on the spot.

A full pot (I have a 6-quart) stuffed full of tamales steamed each one beautifully in 30-35 minutes. (Do a quick release afterwards.)

Weeknight Meals

Because the Instant Pot can make short work out of many dishes that would otherwise take hours and hours, it’s perfect for weeknight meals and holiday dinners.

For Christmas dinner I used it to make Brussels sprouts (in 3 minutes!); and for New Year’s, I made black-eyed peas and greens, a delicious Southern New Year’s Day tradition to bring good luck in the new year.

Usually it simmers in my slow cooker for 24 hours. This year, I made it in 35 minutes – from dried beans!

Black-eyed peas and greens for New Year’s Day.

Which brings me to another awesome feature of the Instant Pot – it’s multi-functionality! Although most recipes use the “pressure” setting, there is also an equally awesome “sauté” setting.

For example, before, when I made black-eyed peas in my crock pot, I would brown the onions and garlic and whatnot before adding them to the slow cooker.

With the Instant Pot, you can sauté the veggies, then add the rest of your ingredients and switch the setting to pressure to complete the dish! It saves tons of time in washing multiple pots and pans, not to mention that you are cooking the food in a fraction of the time.

Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes

The meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe from I Wash, You Dry is definitely going to be a weeknight supper regular for me. It’s so easy!

Meatloaf and mashed potatoes AT THE SAME TIME!

You place the potatoes and chicken broth at the bottom, then put the wire rack over the potatoes and place the foil-wrapped meatloaf on top. You can even cook a vegetable side dish in there, too.

Meatloaf and potatoes dinner

With only 25 minutes on pressure, and quick release, you can have a delicious dinner on the table in no time.

Sous Vide Eggs and Meal Planning

I usually eat breakfast on the go, and it’s hard to do that and stay healthy sometimes. Luckily, the Instant Pot is also great  for meal prep.

This is another cool Instant Pot accessory … a silicone mold. The Amazon listing says it’s for baby food and egg bites, among other things, but I use it mostly for eggs.

Sous vide egg bites

The most important thing to remember here is to not fill the cups all the way. I made that mistake my first time, and the egg mixture expanded and almost popped out of the container!

Ah well. They still tasted good!

This is a really great way to prepare an easy and healthy breakfast.

You can customize the flavorings (and control the salt and fat, etc.), and make a whole pan of these in less than half an hour – 8 minutes of pressure cooking (which means it will take a moment to get to the appropriate pressure) and then 10 minutes to let the steam naturally release.

The result is a pan of delicious and super-fluffy egg bites you can eat all week long.

Coming soon

In addition to some fun and useful Instant Pot accessories, I treated myself to a new cookbook, too!

I really adore Indian food, and I can’t wait to experience how much easier it is to make at home with the Instant Pot!

Coming up soon on Starbright’s Kitchen!

Please stay tuned to Starbrightskitchen.com to see the creations from Urvashi Pitre’s Indian Instant Pot Cookbook!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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High-alcohol Kombucha

It’s possible!

If you are like me, you are a huge fan of kombucha and all of its amazing healthy properties. But did you know that you can make your booch with the alcohol level of a good double IPA, and still retain those healthy vibes?

If you live in the southern California area, you are probably already familiar with Boochcraft. They make an amazing product. They have a few different varieties, but they all clock in at 7.0% alcohol.

 

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This past summer, I visited the Boochcraft brewery (here in San Diego county, along with a few thousand of the best breweries in the world), and learned a few tips to try to make it myself.

 

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After my trip to the Boochcraft brewery, I had to first invest in some supplies.

In addition to purchasing a SCOBY and a metric ton of pure cane sugar and black tea bags, I bought a 6.5-gallon brewing bucket with a spigot at the bottom (Trust me, that bottom spigot will come in handy later…):

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I also bought a 6-gallon clear plastic carboy for the second ferment.

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If you’ve never made your own kombucha before, it goes like this:

 

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  1. You obtain a SCOBY. That’s the funny-looking squishy thing at the top. It’s concentrated yeast and it’s what will give turns tea into kombucha. (You can obtain these online or get one from a friend who brews their own kombucha. It is also possible to grow one, but that takes a while).
  2. You brew strong black tea with a large amount of sugar in it. For one gallon, you will need 14 cups water, 1 cup sugar, and 8 tea bags. Brew it and let it cool, then add it to the liquid that comes with your SCOBY and place the SCOBY on top (it might sink a little, this is fine).
  3. Let it ferment for 5-7 days.
  4. Congratulations, you have now completed your first fermentation! Now for the second ferment (also known as 2F).
  5. Pour the kombucha into bottles and add fruit juices, or other sugar or flavoring.
  6. Let it ferment for another 3-5 days.
  7. Put it in the fridge and chill it, and it’s ready to drink!

This will make “regular” kombucha, which will have a negligible alcohol content or less than 0.5 percent.

To make your kombucha extra alcoholic, it only takes another step, another ingredient, and a bit more time.

Step one is the same. Obtain a SCOBY and brew your tea, and let it ferment for about a week. The difference comes in the second ferment.

Essentially, I placed my (pretty large) SCOBY in the bucket with about 5 gallons of brewed sweet tea (note: if you use a large bucket like I did, the SCOBY will expand to the size of the bucket!), then for the second ferment, I placed it in a large plastic carboy instead of glass bottles.

Don’t add any juices or extra flavors yet.

 

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To add extra alcohol, you need to add extra yeast and sugar to the existing ferment.

 

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For one gallon of kombucha, you will need one cup of water and one cup of sugar, Bring it to a boil, let it cool, then add between 1/2 -3/4 tsp. of champagne yeast.

After it starts to react (you will see lots of bubbles and/or foam), add it to the carboy filled with the partially-fermented kombucha.

You will also need to let it ferment for a few days (maybe even a week) longer than a standard 2F. I discovered that the best method is to use an airlock cap, and then when the mixture stops bubbling, it’s ready.

 

 

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Now it’s ready for you to test, flavor and enjoy!

Testing:

There are two different ways to test your home-brew:

  1. a triple-scale hydrometer, but this requires that you take a pre-fermentation reading and a post-fermentation reading to get an accurate percentage of alcohol content; or
  2. a refractometer, which is slightly more expensive but is very easy to use – after calibrating it, you simply put a drop of liquid on a slide and view it through the scope, and it tells you the alcohol content.

 

Low Carb Chicken Tetrazzini – and a giveaway!

I really love the Del Real Foods company.

Two years ago, I participated in a recipe contest using Del Real products, and although I wasn’t one of the winners, they gave me a free trip to Los Angeles to film my very first recipe video! (If you haven’t checked out my awesome video, click here.)

In addition to Del Real just making great food  – authentic Mexican food that only requires heating – they are also a caring and thoughtful company. A few months after I filed the video, I began treatment for Stage 2 breast cancer, but Del Real Foods didn’t forget about me … they even sent me a huge box of free, delicious, easy-to-cook food! It was such a blessing to me to have healthy and tasty food that I didn’t have to spend precious energy cooking.

So in addition to being a great company that makes healthy food, they are also just good people.

Recently, I came home to this.

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Isn’t that a beautiful sight?

Yep, I knew right away that it was packed full of delicious Del Real food, but it also contained a cool lunch box, a sweet reusable shopping bag, a couple of water bottles and two awesome t-shirts. And the good people at Del Real Foods want to share the same box with one of my lucky readers!

But first, here is my favorite new recipe using Del Real Foods shredded chicken.

I first got the idea for this recipe from a video I saw on the Fit Men Cook Instagram page, where they used spaghetti squash and rotisserie chicken to create a low-carb (read: no pasta) chicken tetrazzini. I adapted this recipe to a) add Del Real pre-cooked shredded chicken, b) add red onion and “zoodles” (spiralized zucchini) to the spaghetti squash (for extra colors and flavors), and c) I cooked it all in little acorn squash bowls, just to make them adorable.

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Low-Carb Chicken Tetrazzini

(adapted from Fit Men Cook)

  • 1 package of Del Real shredded chicken;
  • Two acorn squashes, with the tops sliced off and the insides scooped out;
  • 1 spaghetti squash, sliced into rings
  • 1 zucchini, spiralized
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
  • 3/4 cup milk (can substitute coconut milk or other milk)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 panko or breadcrumbs (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. diced rosemary
  • 2 tbsp. dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp. parsley
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

First, slice the spaghetti squash into rings and remove the seeds inside. Lay each slice on a baking sheet (with a spray of olive oil) and bake for about 20 minutes at high heat. Let it cool; then you can easily remove the “spaghetti” on the inside.

(Note: unless you are using your spaghetti squash for a “boat” or something, this is probably the easiest and fastest way to prepare it. Save time and try it this way the next time you make spaghetti squash for anything!)

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Mix the squash, the zoodles, the herbs and half of the parmesan cheese, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, sauté the garlic and onion with olive oil and let cook until the onions are translucent. Add the milk, the cheese, and the chicken broth and let simmer until it thickens slightly.

Blend the squash mixture with the milk mixture, then add in the shredded chicken. Then fill the acorn squashes (or mason jars), cover with more parmesan cheese (and optional breadcrumbs) and bake at 300 for about 20 minutes until the cheese and crumbs form a crust on top.

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Note: This mixture is quite tasty by itself and can be used as a healthy side dish as well as baked in a large casserole dish for a party or large dinner. I decided to use mason jars and squash, mostly so I could use the mason jars for an easy lunch, but this recipe is totally adaptable.

Pin or save the recipe card here:

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Now, for the giveaway.

The Del Real Foods company has offered to let one of my lucky readers get this huge gift box full of food, t-shirts and water bottles, as well as this totally adorable lunch box and grocery bag. (I told you they were nice!)

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Here’s what the lucky winner will receive:

  • Two (2) Del Real Foods water bottles;
  • Two (2) Del Real Foods t-shirts (“Home is where the Tacos Are”);
  • One (1) Del Real Foods lunchbox with utensils;
  • One (1) Del Real Foods twine reusable grocery bag;
  • One variety pack of delicious Del Real Foods food products (actual products may vary)

(Note: when a winner is randomly selected, I will be contacting the winner for their mailing address. The box will be shipped to the winner by Del Real Foods.)

Click this link and enter as many options as you can to increase your chances of winning!

 

The Fit Foodie 5k is tomorrow!

I am really excited, you guys. I am honored this year to be a Fit Foodie Ambassador for this year’s John Hancock Hosts The Cooking Light & Health Fit Foodie Festival & 5K at Liberty Station in San Diego.

Me last year with the Recipe Renovator team

That means that I and a crew of my friends will be representing Starbright’s Kitchen tomorrow – and we are super excited!

I’ve been training for weeks to get ready. It’s great exercise – the 5k is on an easy track – but it’s not just the race … it’s also the food! Don’t leave when the race is over, because the fun foodie part is the best…

The Fit Foodie 5k will also feature cooking demonstrations, celebrity guests, and tons of free swag from the many amazing sponsors.

 

Be sure to check back to this page after the race for a cool giveaway. 🙂

If you still want to register, it’s not too late!

Visit http://www.fitfoodierun.com and use my code “STARBRIGHTFF” for $10 off of registration!

Chicken Artichoke Soup

This soup is perfect for a rainy and gloomy day. I first tried it at an unassuming French bistro/deli in downtown San Diego for lunch one day, and I shortly thereafter became TOTALLY obsessed with it.

It’s creamy yet tangy, light yet hearty, and pretty healthy, all things considered. I replaced the heavy cream (which I am sure the fancy French bistro used) with coconut milk and a little whole milk, and I also added extra lemon juice and a few more hearty vegetables.

chicken artichoke stew in the pot

The best and easiest way to make this is in your slow cooker crock pot. This recipe makes five quarts, so feel free to cook it on the stovetop or halve the recipe  – but even five quarts of this amazing soup will disappear quickly.

chicken artichoke soup

Chicken Artichoke Soup

(makes 5 quarts)

  • 2 (12-oz.) jars marinated artichoke hearts, including the liquid
  • 3-4 lbs boneless and skinless chicken thighs, chopped
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, diced
  • about 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 1 handful chopped fresh spinach
  • 1 (13-oz.) can coconut milk
  • 15-20 oz. water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or cream
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 5-6 dashes hot sauce
  • salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients (except the salt) in a 5-quart slow cooker. Cook on the high setting for approx. 4-5 hours or until the chicken is cooked thoroughly. Taste the soup first and then add salt as needed  — you won’t need much salt, depending on the saltiness of the marinated artichokes, but you don’t want to over-salt the soup, so be careful.

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chickenartichokesoupcard

The Franken-Cookie

  • Sometimes, you just can’t decide. I was recently at home with a sweet tooth and a pantry full of goodies, and I couldn’t decide if I wanted an oatmeal cookie, a peanut butter cookie, or a chocolate chip cookie. I mean, who can choose?

So I created the Frankencookie. The best parts of all three cookies, rolled into one giant, soft, sweet — and not drastically unhealthy — snack.

Frankencookie

The Franken-Cookie

(makes about a dozen large cookies or 16-18 small ones)

  • 3 cups oatmeal, quick-cooking or old-fashioned
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325. Mix together the oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Slowly add the coconut oil, peanut butter, eggs and honey, and mix well until completely blended. Then add the coconut and chocolate chips (and the walnuts if you are choosing that option).

Form the dough into balls (makes about 12 large cookies or about 18 small ones) and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Frankencookies

Thanks to coconut oil instead of butter or oil, and brown sugar and honey instead of granulated white sugar, this is even a *relatively* healthy cookie.

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recipe card - Frankencookie

Chocolate-Cranberry Smoothies

Honestly, I don’t know why more people don’t use cranberries in their smoothies. You know the huge bags you see in the grocery stores with frozen berries of all types, all ready to be tossed into a blender? All you really need are some cranberries and a ripe banana.

Berries

Cranberries have huge amounts of Vitamin C, Vitamin E and fiber, which lead to amazing anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant (and even anti-cancer!) properties. They also have a deliciously tangy flavor that goes great with chocolate.

cranberries

This is my second recipe post for the Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries – the first was my last post about how to make simple Larabar knockoffs with cranberries and just two other ingredients. I really enjoyed coming up with new cranberry recipes … and eating my mistakes. 🙂

I encourage you to check out the great recipes and other goodies on Cape Cod Select’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest; and if you can’t find them in your local grocery store, check out the store locator here.

For this simple recipe, you take a handful of Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries, plus a frozen or ripe banana and milk. I also add chocolate-flavored protein powder (I enjoy the Orgain brand powder in chocolate fudge flavor for this recipe, but use your favorite brand), and either some raw hemp hearts or chia seeds for extra thickness and fiber.

 

Chocolate-Cranberry Smoothies

  • 1 handful (about 1/2 cup) of Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries
  • 2 scoops of chocolate protein shake mix
  • 1 tbsp. hemp hearts or chia seeds
  • 1 ripe or frozen banana
  • 2 cups milk or almond milk

chocolate cranberry smoothie

If you’re on the go and don’t have a fancy travel cup, remember that mason jars (with plastic, re-usable lids) are an excellent way to reduce waste!

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Discover more here.