Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Instant Pot Cafe Rio style chicken

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I love Cafe Rio.  There is one just about 1 mile from my house, which is awesome.  But I also like cooking at home and having leftovers.  And I love my Instant Pot.  There are lots of recipes out and about for Cafe Rio.  I make no claims to this being exactly like theirs-but its close enough for me for a substitute for when I don't want to stand in line or circle the parking lot looking for a space.

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken (I use thighs because they cook up better than white meat in the instant pot)
1 C. chicken broth
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 C. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp dried onion pieces
1 tsp powdered garlic
1 tsp dried chili flakes/red pepper flakes

Put all ingredients in the Instant Pot.  Set for 6 minutes then let it natural release for 7 minutes. Shred the chicken (I take the steaming hot chicken and a couple tablespoons of the liquid and put it in my KitchenAid mixer with the paddle attachment on low--watch it carefully and it will shred.  Don't walk away, you'll end up with mush). 

My dressing recipe is still on target for Cafe Rio--but everytime it seems to get better. 

In the Magic Bullet blender
1/4 C. milk
2 Tbsp sour cream
2 Tbsp mayonaise (NOT Miracle Whip)
2 tsp ranch dressing powder (Winco sells in in the bulk section, so I keep a jar handy)
small chunk of onion (like 1 tsp or so)
small chunk of jalepeno (like 1/2" slice off the end)
handful of cilantro, stems and leaves--about 1/4 c
juice from 1/2 a lime

Make up your salad or burrito with lettuce, guac, sour cream, tortilla chip strips, rice, beans, cheese.  I buy the foil pans at the Dollar Tree when I'm feeling fancy...but most of the time I just make it up on a plate (or pie pan).

Fabric Christmas Trees

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I saw some really cute fabric Christmas tree decor at Walmart this year--I like them, and they are only about $5 each--BUT--they are all the same size.  I like having some variety/depth if I'm grouping things together.  This post is not sponsored at all by Walmart, but wow, they've had some pretty great decorations and craft supplies this year.

Walmart version

When I wandered past the crafting section at the same Walmart, I saw some fat quarter fabric for only $1.47 each and thought they'd make awesome craft projects. Fat quarters are pieces of fabric that are 18x22 inches.  You could use any fabric (or cut up an old piece of clothing).  The nice thing about fat quarters is you don't have to wait in line to get fabric cut.

Also down the craft aisle at Walmart are some pre-cut dowels, only $1.27 for a package of 16.

Once I had my supplies at home, I poked around in the garage for something to work as the base--a tree "cookie" would be great, but I didn't have any of those, but I did have a leftover bit of 1x2 lumber, so I cut it into about 1.5" lengths.  I used my drill to make a 3/16" hole to receive the dowel.

I used a simple tree outline (you could also just make a plain triangle with no branches) and enlarged and reduced it so that I had multiple sizes.  I printed them on cardstock and cut them out as patterns.  My biggest tree is 7 inches tall and 6 inches at the base.  I also did a 6 inch tall and 5 inch tall.  I have a pattern for a 4 inch, but it seemed too small for what I wanted.

With some careful planning, I was able to cut 4 Large, 4 Medium and 4 Small trees from each of my 3 fabrics.  That meant 36 pieces which equals 18 trees.  I had to really layout the pattern carefully to get this many.  I laid the fabric out flat and traced and cut each piece.  It would be way faster to fold the fabric and cut more than one at a time, but you won't get as many pieces.

I chose to sew mine.  I also chose a "rustic" look, so I sewed them with wrong sides together and left the edges a bit ragged (instead of sewing with the right sides together and then turning it out to hide the stitching).  I started my seam about 1/8 of the way in on the bottom edge of the tree and then went around every branch until I was back at the bottom of the tree--and went in about 1/8 inch.  That left me a wide opening to insert a bit of stuffing.  I used the dowels to poke the stuffing into all the branches (I went with a slightly stuffed look, but you could really pack it in there).  You could probably do this as a no-sew craft if you used fabric glue and let it dry for several hours before stuffing.  I just liked the look of the stitching around the edges.  The sewing was the longest part of the project.

Once the trees were stuffed, I closed up the bottom seam with my machine (skipping over about 1/4 inch in the center so I'd have space to insert the dowel).  Run the dowel all the way to the tip of the tree.  Place the dowel in the base and you are set.

fat quarters of different fabrics (or if you like them all the same, just the one kind)
3/16" wooden dowels
wood block or tree cookie for base
polyfill stuffing (or an old pillow you can cannibalize)
matching thread/sewing machine or glue

My total investment was under $6 for all 3 fat quarters and the package of dowels.  I already had the other supplies.  I was able to get 5 sets (actually 6, but the dowel package leaves you short two dowels, so I went into the yard and cut a couple sticks off a shrub...it will do--if you have some small, straight tree branches, you could skip the dowels altogether).

You could do the same tree pattern for ornaments, or decorations on a wreath instead of on dowels.  I thought I'd gift each set along with the story of the Three Trees. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Moo Goo Gai Pan

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This is my usual order at my favorite Chinese take-out place.  I had never tried the technique of "velveting chicken"-but it was a win, so I'll keep that one in my pocket to use again on other stir fry recipes.

This recipe is from a fun family food blog called Dinner at the Zoo-check it out, lots of good stuff there. Like most things I see online, I tweak the recipe to fit my style or the ingredients I have at home.

I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs since I often use the instant pot (but not this time) and dark meat cooks better under pressure.  You must have thin sliced meat for the velveting technique to work, so partially thawed meat is easiest to slice.

Velvet the Chicken
1 lb boneless skinless chicken, thinly sliced
1 large egg white, whisked until foamy
1 Tbsp cornstarch
 Mix the egg white and cornstarch in a bowl and add the sliced chicken.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then strain off liquid before cooking.

Make the Sauce
1 1/2 C. chicken broth
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp sugar
1.5 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
Mix sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Veggies to chop
2 tsp minced garlic (I use the bottled kind, about 2 cloves)
1 tsp ginger, chopped (also from the bottle)
16 oz pkg of sliced mushrooms
1 C. snow pea pods
1/2 C. sliced carrots (I buy them presliced)
1 head, baby bok choy chopped across the stalk
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 can bamboo shoots

Heat 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil in a large fry pan over medium heat and add the carrots and about 1 T of water.  Stir and cook for a couple minutes, then add the mushrooms.  Keep cooking (and add a bit of water if you need it) until the mushrooms are soft.  Toss in the pea pods and cook for about a minute. Scoop all the cooked veggies out of the pan and into a bowl, wipe out the pan and put in a bit more oil and cook the chicken for about 4 minutes or until done.  Add in the garlic and ginger and stir for about a minute.  Add back the cooked veggies, the bok choy, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.  Pour the sauce liquid over everything and cook until bubbling.

Tasty.  Serve it over rice and pick up a box of fortune cookies! 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Tacos Al Pastor

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Do you love tacos?  The kind from a cart outside on a sidewalk?  Me too.  I live in a community with lots of opportunities to hit a taco cart or local Beto's (or his cousin's, brother's, uncle's version...)--but cooking awesome tacos at home is not hard.  I love me some ground beef "American" tacos with crunchy shells, but when you are craving a taco cart style--try these.

Tacos Al Pastor use pork with a bit of pineapple.  If you are lucky enough to have a Hispanic  market nearby, go to the meat counter and just buy the pre-seasoned al pastor meat.  Done.  If you don't, you can make the marinade.

1 Tbsp ancho chile powder
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp thyme
1 Tbsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic
1/2 medium onion, rough chop
1/2 C. orange juice
1 small can of pineapple, drain and keep the juice for marinade and use pineapple with the meat.
2 pounds pork, sliced thin (I use pork loin or boneless chops)

Make the marinade by putting all the ingredients in a blender and pour over meat for at least an hour or overnight.  Remove the meat and cook in a medium hot skillet.  Add the pineapple tidbits while cooking.

Serve in your favorite tortillas and top with things like:
Salsa (link is my dad's quick homemade salsa) I also like to look for salsa verde molcajete from the store
shredded Nappa or red cabbage
pickled red onions
sliced fresh jalapenos
fresh lime
chopped white onion
mango salsa if you've got it!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Orange Chicken in the Instant Pot

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I've been using my Instant Pot plenty this year.  It helps me get dinner done in under 30 minutes, which is important when you work all day and are hungry once you get home.

The recipe I found on SweetandSavoryMeals was a good start...but I took a look at the ingredient list and knew there was way more garlic and ginger than I would like and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of orange flavor, and a trick I learned from America's Test Kitchen is to use frozen orange juice concentrate.  No breading on this chicken; but with orange juice concentrate, no one can say this is "healthy" but it has less carbs and calories than a fried and sauced version. Chicken thighs cook up really nicely in the Instant Pot (more fat, less likely to dry out and get rubbery than chicken breasts).

2 lbs  boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons  vegetable oil
1 tsp ginger, minced (I used the kind in a jar/bottle)
2 tsp garlic, minced (again from the jar)

3/4 C. water
4 oz of frozen orange juice concentrate
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 C. soy sauce
1-3 tsp sriracha sauce (I use 1)
zest from one orange

Cornstarch slurry 
1Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp water

In a bowl, mix up all the sauce ingredients and set aside. Turn the Instant Pot to saute and cook the chicken with the oil for about 3-4 minutes until the outside is lightly browned.   Add the ginger and garlic and stir for about a minute.  Pour the sauce ingredients in and scrape up the bottom of the pot of any brown bits (flavor!) Set the pot for 3 minutes--yup just 3 minutes.  (If you've cut your chicken into small bites and browned the outside, it will be close to being fully cooked before you set the Instant Pot).  After it has cooked at pressure for 3 minutes, let the chicken natural release for 3-5 minutes.  Open it up and stir in the cornstarch slurry and turn pot back to saute and cook until bubbly and slightly thicker.  Serve over rice or with veggies. 

Sweet and Sour version:  Try pineapple juice instead of water/oj concentrate.  Increase the vinegar to 2 tablespoons.  After you've cooked it and are adding in the cornstarch slurry, toss in a can of pineapple chunks. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Korean Beef Tacos or Bowls in the Instant Pot

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I made this as a rice bowl and served it to my brother, who claimed it was the best thing I'd ever made for him. It is very tasty. Its a great combination of sweet, spicy, savory, crunchy and creamy. I made it as a taco bar for a family holiday party (with the small street taco corn tortillas) and even the picky kids ate it up! The recipe comes from one of my favorite blogs, Your Home Based Mom, which always has recipes that use "regular" ingredients and taste good!

I make up a batch of meat and then freeze half to use for another night (I am usually planning for 4 servings, so if you want to freeze half, you might need to double the recipe first).

Ingredients for the meat
2 lbs sirloin steak sliced thin, 1/4" thick (easy to do if meat is still partially frozen)
1/2 c soy sauce
3/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c water
2-4 tsp minced garlic (I use the bottled kind, and usually go for about 2 tsp, but you can use more)
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp ginger minced (again, the bottled kind is super convenient)
1 tsp sesame oil (I think a little goes a LONG way)
1-2 tsp sriracha sauce (I'm probably closer to 2 than the 1)
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp water

Measure everything (except the meat, cornstarch and 1 Tbs of water) and put it in the Instant Pot and bring to a boil. Make a slurry of the cornstarch and 1 Tbs of water and add to boiling liquid. Add the raw meat. Put the lid on the pot and set for 15 minutes. Natural release for about 10 minutes.

Make the Yum Yum sauce. I never have tomato paste on hand (or don't want to open a can...maybe I should buy that tube that looks like a toothpaste tube). I digress. I just use ketchup. Seems great to me. I also leave out the butter. Still tastes great to me.
2 tsp ketchup
1 Tbsp melted butter
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp sriracha
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp water

 Rice Bowl Version: Make some rice while the meat cooks, top with the meat and veggies. I like Nappa cabbage, red cabbage, green onions, shredded carrots, cilantro, jalapeno, sesame seeds, fresh lime. Top with the Yum Yum sauce.

Taco Version: Fry/heat corn tortillas and fill with meat and veggies along with Yum Yum sauce and fresh lime.

Vegan/Vegetarian version:  Make the sauce on the stove and then add your favorite substitute meat product.   For the Yum Yum sauce, leave out the butter and use Vegan mayo.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Chile Colorado

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I went on the hunt for a recipe similar to one my dad used to make when we were kids.  He always called it Chile Colorado.  It was a red sauce over beef that we ate with flour tortillas, but it wasn't hot-spicy, just delicious.

This recipe hits my memories right.  I tweaked it since I don't care about gluten-free and I have an Instant Pot pressure cooker.

Modified recipe:

3 cups water
9 dried large red New Mexico chili peppers (stems removed and seeded)
2 lbs cubed beef stew meat
1 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans chicken broth (about 4 cups)
1 tsp ancho chile powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano

Bring the water to a boil, turn off and then add the chili pods to soften for 20 minutes then drain.  In the meantime, toss the meat with the flour and salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in the Instant Pot on saute mode and add the meat to brown, then take it out so you can saute the onions with the garlic.

In a blender add the chicken stock, softened chili pods, sauteed onions/garlic, chili powder, cumin and oregano.  Blend until smooth and carefully pour through a mesh strainer into the Instant Pot bowl.  Add the browned meat back to the Instant Pot.   Set the timer for 25 minutes in the Instant Pot on high.  Once the timer goes off, do a quick release to open up and eat!  I like to take a warmed flour tortilla and fill with the meat, roll it up and smother in sauce and top with cheese.  Place under the broiler until the cheese is melty and serve with toppings like sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce and sides such as rice or beans.

This sauce is some work, but it sure is tasty. Its great for making smothered burritos, enchiladas, or just eating out of a bowl with a side of warm tortillas.  You can just make the sauce without the meat and use it as enchilada sauce.