Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2 Weeks of Meals in 5 hours - Polenta, Lasagna, Meatballs, Baked Shells

Diving right in, I will recount the steps I take for preparing several meals in one shot.  I try and pick out meals that share some similar ingredients, that way I can shop and prep efficiently.  Each of the meals I prepare are enough for 1-2 people.  

5x Creamy ricotta polenta with garlic, wine braised mushrooms and cocktail tomatoes
3x Baked shells with spinach and vodka meat sauce
3x Lasagna with spinach and meat sauce
8x Meatballs with sour cream and thyme gravy
Extra meat sauce, gravy, and vodka sauce that can be used over pasta, rice or potatoes

From the freezer: 
8lbs grass fed ground beef

From the pantry:
2 cups dry coarse ground corn (polenta)
1/2 box medium shells
1/2 box lasagna noodles
better than bouillon - organic chicken flavor
3 jars of tomato sauce
16oz can whole peeled tomatoes
2.5 cups of Italian breadcrumbs
olive oil
dry white wine
garlic powder
corn starch
sea salt

From the market:
thyme (fresh)
parsley (fresh)
6 oz bag of baby spinach
2 tomatoes
box of cocktail or cherry tomatoes
2 lbs mushrooms (baby bella or white)
2 large white onions
1 head of garlic
1 dozen XL eggs
64 oz of ricotta cheese
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1.5 cups of shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup of milk
1 cup of cream

1.  Process the garlic and onions and mushrooms:
  • peel and mince entire head of garlic (I throw this in a food processor with a little bit of olive oil to save time)
  • dice one onion (into medium pieces about 1/2")
  • mince one onion (into small pieces about 1/8")
  • wipe or wash the mushrooms, halve, then slice thinly
1.1.  Make the Meat Sauce, link to this post here > marinara-meat-sauce-and-vodka-sauce
  • Once the sauce is done, remove from heat, so that it cools, to prevent the pasta from overcooking when you assemble the meals
2.  Parboil the pasta:
  • If using the IP: add shells to liner, break the lasagna noodles in half and put in liner, fill liner to max
  • Manual High Pressure for 3 minutes, Quick release, drain and shock by rinsing well with cold water
  • If boiling on the stove, prepare using regular directions from the box, with half the time. Drain and shock by rinsing well with cold water
3.  Make the Polenta:
  • Set to saute.  Add 1 tbs of butter and 1 tbs of olive oil to the Instant Pot liner.  Saute 1 1tbs of the minced garlic.  
  • Add the 2 cups dry polenta and saute for a few minutes until slightly browning.  
  • Add 7 cups of hot water, and 1 tablespoon of better than bouillon
  • Cover and set to Manual High Pressure for 6 minutes, quick release
  • Remove liner to a towel on the counter to stop it from cooking
  • Add in 2 cups of ricotta cheese, 1tbs of cream, 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.  I like the polenta to be mild, so it does not overpower the mushrooms.  
  • Immediately transfer to the glasslock storage containers, leaving about 1/2" of space on top
4.  Braise the Mushrooms: 
  • Wash the liner to begin or use a second liner for the IP if you have one.  
  • Set to saute.  Add 1 tbs of butter and 1 tbs of olive oil to the Instant Pot liner.  Saute 1 1tbs of the minced garlic.  
  • Add the mushrooms
  • Add 1/2 cup dry white wine, saute for a couple minutes to remove the alcohol
  • Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth (I dilute about 1/2 tsp of better than bouillon in hot water)
  • Cover and set to manual high pressure 5 minutes, quick release
  • Open and allow to saute for a few minutes to reduce the liquid
  • Salt and pepper to taste
5.  Prepare and Cook the Meatballs:
  • Mix in bowl: 5lbs ground beef, 1 large minced onion, 2.5 cups Italian breadcrumbs, 8 eggs (I used XL) beaten with 1 cup of milk, 2 tbs minced garlic, 1 tbs garlic powder, 1 tbs salt.
  • Prepare into golf ball sized meatballs
  • cook by oven for 22 minutes at 400 degrees on glass baking dish (I prefer this method as it frees up the IP for the other items, as well as adding caramelization and drippings for the gravy)
  • or cook in Instant pot for 5 Minutes manual high pressure pot in pot on trivet or in a steamer basket, normal release for 10 minutes
6.  Make the Sour Cream and Thyme Gravy:
  • Collect the drippings from the meatballs, cool slightly and remove the grease from the top. If using an oven for the meatballs, deglaze the pans using a few splashes of wine or hot water, scrape up all the flavorful bits
  • Add 2 cups of chicken broth (2 teaspoons of better than bouillon in 2 cups of hot water) to the Instant Pot or a saucepan.  Add the collected drippings, without the grease, and the liquid from deglazing.  Whisk together over heat.  Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme.  Heat for about 10 minutes
  • Strain out the solids and return the liquid to the pan or Instant Pot liner.  
  • In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk, 1 cup of sour cream, and 2 tablespoons of corn starch.  Whisk this mixture into the pan or liner.  Heat until a thick gravy is produced. Add more liquid or starch as needed
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add in either some fresh thyme leaves or a few shakes of dried thyme
7.  Prepare the cheese stuffing.  
  • In a big mixing bowl, put in your remaining ricotta (6 cups), 2 beaten eggs, chopped parsley, chopped spinach,1 cup of the mozzarella, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese.  Mix together.  
8.  Assembly:
  • Gather your glasslock containers and a bunch of  4 oz and 8 oz ball mason canning jars  
  • Evenly spoon the mushrooms over the prepared polenta in their 5 containers.  Garnish with a few sliced cocktail tomatoes
  • 3 containers of baked shells.  Separate a portion (about 4 or 5 cups) of the sauce and add to it a few tablespoons of cream, and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.  Layer sauce, pasta and cheese mixture.  Add another layer of sauce and then top with mozzarella, Parmesan and garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley
  • 3 containers of lasagna. Layer sauce, pasta and cheese mixture, do this step twice.  Add another layer of sauce and then top with mozzarella, Parmesan and garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley
  • Once the meatballs are cooled, they can be frozen into vacuum sealed bags, or freezer bags with the air removed
  • Pour the thyme gravy into the 4 oz mason jars, will fill about 6 to 8 jars.  These can be frozen, reheated, then poured over the meatballs
  • Pour remaining vodka sauce and meat sauce into the 8 oz mason jars.  These can be frozen, reheated, then poured over fresh pasta or gnocchi
  • Label, date, and refrigerate all the dishes, then once cold, transfer to the deep freezer. 

 Follow this link to my post about reheating using the Instant Pot>  reheating-frozen-meals-using-instant-pot

Hope you enjoy this easy recipe.  If you give it a try, would love to hear how it comes out for you!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pulled Turkey with Gravy over Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I rarely cook a full turkey anymore, so it is a rare treat when I actually cook a few pieces and make a real turkey gravy.  My dad came over earlier today, so I made this while he watched the kids, and packed him some portions to go.  Super efficient for me, and such a yummy comfort meal for him!  After I pulled and shredded the meat, saved all the skin, bones and bits to make a bone broth as well.  Took some pictures during the process, so hope this will help everyone see exactly what is going on.  

3 turkey legs
sea salt
garlic powder
chicken seasoning jar organic mix (sage, thyme, a few others)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
thyme (for garnish)
bay leaf
better than bouillon - organic chicken flavor
oil for searing, I used avocado oil due to the high smoke point

Recipe for the garlic mashed potatoes can be found here: > garlic-mashed-potatoes

1.  Score the turkey legs.  I was using partially defrosted legs, so scored about 1/2"

2.  Season generously with sea salt, pepper, chicken seasoning, garlic powder.  Sear until golden on all sides.  The legs would be too big to sear in a 6qt pot, so I used my saute pan.  

3.  Put the seared legs into the Instant Pot liner. Might be a tight fit.  Deglaze the saute pan with about 2 cups of hot water.  Scrape up all the flavor bits.  Pour the liquid into the Instant Pot and add 1-2 tsp. of better than bouillon.  

4.  Set the Instant Pot to Manual for 35 minutes.  Normal Pressure Release.  

5.  Remove the legs and put on a plate to cool.  Pull apart the meat and remove all the tendons, skin, and bones.  Reserve if you like for later making bone broth.  

6.  Remove some of the fat from the surface of the liquid in the Instant Pot.  Turn on IP to saute, add bay leaf, and season to taste.  Add corn starch slurry to thicken.  Return the pulled turkey meat to the IP and saute for about 5 more minutes, or until gravy is absorbed into the meat.  

7.  Plate over garlic mashed potatoes in the glasslock.  Refrigerate until cooled, then transfer to deep freezer.  

Follow this link to my post about reheating using the Instant Pot>  reheating-frozen-meals-using-instant-pot

Hope you enjoy this easy recipe.  If you give it a try, would love to hear how it comes out for you!

Lasagna with Spinach and Baked Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce

Since lasagna and baked rigatoni dishes share most of the basic same ingredients, when I prep several at a time, it is easiest to just prepare them together.  My dad loves Italian foods, so these are great to make up in big batches for freezing.  With the directions below, it will make about 6 freezer meals with about 2 servings.  

~5 cups of prepared meat sauce 
~5 cups of prepared vodka meat sauce
1/2 box lasagna noodles
1/2 box rigatoni noodles
1/2lb baby spinach, coarsely chopped
16oz ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
parsley (fresh if possible)
12oz shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil
*optional, slices of seared Italian sausage for topping

1.  Par boil the pasta with a splash of olive oil and salt.  I use a big spaghetti pot on the stove for about 3 or 4 minutes at boil, but you could also just do it in the Instant Pot for Manual 2 minutes, and then a Controlled Quick Release (open the vent halfway and cover with a towel).  Drain pasta and shock with cold water to prevent it from continuing to cook.

2.  Prepare the cheese stuffing.  In a big mixing bowl, put in your ricotta, one beaten egg, chopped parsley, chopped spinach,1/2 of the mozzarella, and 1/2 of the Parmesan cheese.  Mix together.  

3.  Have 6 oven safe glasslock containers ready, I first spray them with Pam, but they would be fine without.  Pour in one cup of either the meat sauce of vodka sauce in each container.  
4.  Put on layer of pasta.

5.  Put on a generous layer of ricotta mixture (about 1/2 inch or more)

6.  Put on 1 more cup of sauce or until evenly covered.  Add on the slices of seared Italian sausage if desired.  

7.  Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of parsley.  

8.  Cover with the snap lid, and then refrigerate overnight.  Transfer to deep freezer.  

Follow this link to my post about reheating using the Instant Pot>  reheating-frozen-meals-using-instant-pot

Hope you enjoy this easy recipe.  If you give it a try, would love to hear how it comes out for you!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I use this same recipe as the topping for my Shepherd's Pie as well as a side dish for Kielbasa with peppers and onions or paired with a chicken dish, like the grilled chicken from the risotto.  This saves time when prepping, so a few different dishes can be made at the same time.  I don't bother peeling my potatoes, just scrub them really well, quarter them and put them in the Instant Pot.  

~ 10-12 Yukon gold potatoes
~ 1 cup of chicken broth
~ 1 cup of milk
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
sour cream or plain yogurt

1.  Put the potatoes, garlic, and chicken broth in the Instant Pot.  Set for 20 minutes manual.  Quick Release.  

2.  Add remaining ingredients, mash and season to taste.  Add additional milk, sour cream or broth as needed for desired consistency.  

Done!  Super easy 

Follow this link to my post about reheating using the Instant Pot>  reheating-frozen-meals-using-instant-pot

Hope you enjoy this easy recipe.  If you give it a try, would love to hear how it comes out for you!

Mongolian Beef over Sushi Rice with Carrots and Green Onions

Mongolian Beef is a popular dish at PF Chang's, and subject to many copycat recipes.  I have come up with my own version, which uses less sugar and is more savory.  The carrots are a good accompaniment as they add their own natural sweetness.  Earlier, I posted a sushi rice recipe, that uses just 2 minutes of high pressure if planning to freeze.  My dad is not a huge fan of plain rice, but with the rich sauce from the Mongolian beef, the simple rice works so well.  

2 lbs chuck roast beef, bones, fat and connective tissue removed.  Sliced into thin bites. 
3 large carrots sectioned into 2 inches, halved, then sliced into thin strips.   
1 bunch green onions, coarsely chopped
2 cups sushi rice (prepared yield is around 4 cups)

For Marinade:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

1.  Marinate the beef for about 1 hour (or 10 minutes).  Add the beef along with 1/2 cup of water to the instant pot.  Set to manual pressure, 25mins high pressure, Normal Pressure Release.  

2.  While IP is cooking the beef, saute the carrots in some sesame oil.  Add a little salt to taste.  Carrots should be just slightly wilted.  Remove carrots from saute pan.  

3.  Remove beef from Instant Pot using a slotted spoon.  Leave all liquid in IP and save for later.  

4.  Sear beef in saute pan on high heat, to just scorch the outside.  Remove from pan.  

5.  Thicken sauce in the IP using a cornstarch slurry, add in the green onions.  

6.  Transfer immediately to the Glasslock Containers that you will use for freezing and reheating.  This helps to cool the rice, and prevent overcooking.  Layer in the glassware, 2/3rds full of sushi rice, then a layer of carrots, then the beef, and top with the sauce and green onions.  Seal, refrigerate, then transfer to the deep freezer.  

Follow this link to my post about reheating using the Instant Pot>  reheating-frozen-meals-using-instant-pot

Follow this link to my post on cooking sushi rice in the Instant Pot> easiest-instant-pot-sushi-rice

Hope you enjoy this easy recipe.  If you give it a try, would love to hear how it comes out for you!

Marinara, Meat Sauce and Vodka Sauce

When I was younger, my mother who is of part Italian descent, taught me how to make red sauce and meat sauce.  Who knows if it is authentic, but this is how we made it : ) Sometimes we add a splash of red wine, or beef broth, but the basics stay the same.  Many variations existed for us, depending on what it was being used for.  Marinara for pizza, meat sauce for pasta, vodka sauce for rigatoni, etc.  When cooking for dad, these meals are nostalgic.  They can tend to be a little heavy, so I try and sneak in some vegetables and use fresh cheeses to reduce the saturated fats and preservatives.  

Basic Marinara:
2 jars tomato basil sauce (Lately I have been using Muir Glen Organic from Costco)
1 16oz can of diced tomatoes (Also Muir Glen Organic)
1 onion, diced
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt
olive oil
Italian herbs (basil, oregano, parsley)

Saute the onions on med heat until clear, then add the garlic.  Once just turning browned, add the sauce and diced tomatoes.  Add the seasonings to taste and simmer for however long.  I typically make sauce on the stove, just out of habit, but I am sure this can also be done easily in the Instant Pot.  

For Meat Sauce:
Same as the Marinara above, but prior to sauteing the onions, brown your ground beef in the pan or liner, and drain off most of the grease.  remove from the pan, and set aside until marinara is complete, then add the beef to the marinara for meat sauce.  

For "Vodka" Sauce:
We just add a bit of cream and Parmesan to meat sauce 😃

These sauces can then be incorporated into many types of freezer meals, or just frozen on their own to top any type of pasta.  


Here is the link for assembling the lasagna and baked rigatoni using these sauces: > lasagna-with-spinach-and-baked-rigatoni

Follow this link to my post about reheating using the Instant Pot>  reheating-frozen-meals-using-instant-pot

Hope you enjoy this easy recipe.  If you give it a try, would love to hear how it comes out for you!

Easiest Instant Pot Sushi Rice

This is one of my favorite things to make in my Instant Pot, because it is just so easy, and so good.  Make sure to use good quality short grain or medium grain sushi rice.  I pick up a 15lb bag at any Asian grocer, or also sometimes find it in bulk at Costco or BJ's.  I think the one I have right now is Nishiki brand or CalRose.  This is the rice recipe I use to pair with my version of Mongolian Beef or Bulgogi.  


2 cups sushi rice, rinsed until water runs clear and drained
2 ~1/4 cups cold water
~1 teaspoon (or I just splash) sesame oil
~1 teaspoon (I just shake a few times) sea salt


Add all the ingredients to the Instant Pot.  Manual 5 minutes High Pressure.  Quick Release or Natural Release.  Doesn't Matter!  (May very slightly affect texture, but noone in my family notices).  

*If using the rice for freezer meals, reduce time to 2 minutes HP and QR, as reheating will cook through.