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Stupid Simple Instant Pot Mac n' Cheese

by Sunday, January 21, 2018

I think it's safe to say that if it involves cheese, I'm into it. What is "it"? Anything, so long as "it" involves cheese, of course.

I also am a big fan of pasta, and lately you may have noticed I am into experimenting with my Instant Pot. So a marriage of cheese, pasta, and my IP is pretty much heaven-sent. And all I can say is RUN, don't walk, to get the ingredients to try your very own version, stat. Because it is STUPID simple and STUPID fast. How does prepped and cooked in under 15 minutes grab you? Yes, that includes mis en place, coming to pressure, cooking, releasing, and plating. Bonus: truly only one-pot will be dirty when you're done (well, and your plates and utensils... stop being so picky).

I have included lots of suggested variations, which in some cases would lengthen your cook time, but many are ingredients you can finish prepping while the IP is doing it's thing so it adds no additional time. Even then, it's gonna be fast and it's gonna be delicious. For me, the pasta was perfectly al dente--to the tooth! Unlike the box mac n' cheese that often comes out mushy/too soft for my taste, this had the mild chew of a perfectly done pasta. Prefer it softer? You can easily let the pasta sit for a minute before releasing pressure to add a little extra cook time, or simply sauté a minute, lid off, until you get the texture you prefer.

Some bloggers make big claims about this being a "blue box but better" experience. First of all, why would I want that? I don't think anything compares to the powdered neon yellow-orange of the mac n' cheese so many of us grew up with, and if that is what I am craving, that is what I am making. But if that's what you're going for, stick to American cheese in your version, as nothing else will really compare otherwise. For me? I wanted home made mac n' cheese with ingredients I can stand by, and fast as fast can be. Done! Now I'm kinda obsessed with all the different ways I can riff on this recipe, the sum of this mental roller coaster is outlined below:

INGREDIENTS
FIRST
1 lb bag of elbow macaroni
4 Tbsp butter
4 cups water
2 tsp ground mustard
salt and pepper

THEN
1 cup heavy cream, evaporated milk, or even 3/4 cup whole milk and 1/4 cup half-and-half (consistency will vary, but any will work)
16oz shredded cheese of choice
      - I used pre-shredded cheese for speed: 8oz of sharp cheddar and 8 oz of a mixed Mexican blend we had on hand with Monterey Jack, Oaxaca and Asadero
OPTIONAL: 1 cup cream cheese

DIRECTIONS
  1. Dump macaroni, butter, water, mustard, salt and pepper into the IP and stir together. Close, set to high for 4 minutes. 
  2. Quick release and stir to make sure noodles are cooked to your liking. If not, you can sauté a minute to boil it a little longer, but mine was perfect.
  3. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, AKA TEH NOMS. All the creamy goodness and cheeses melt together.
  4. That's it. Really. All done. Serve it and eat it. Voila. Finis.
Okay, so if you want to take this a step further, you could casserole it. Spray a 9X11 pan with Pam, load in your mac n' cheese. Sprinkle some more cheese and some breadcrumbs over the top and broil in the oven until melty and browned on top.

VARIATIONS
The variations are simply endless. I can't stop spinning on ideas!
  • Stir in spinach or broccoli, peas, artichokes, or other veggies of choice
  • Cube and oven-roast seasonal veggies (squash, peppers, etc) to add in final step.
  • Stir in bacon, sausage, ham, or shredded or chopped chicken from a previous meal or a pre-cooked store-bought bird
  • Hit with some garlic powder or garlic salt, cayenne, Italian blend, or any other seasoning of choice for a punch of flavor
  • Use chicken broth instead of water to cook the pasta for a little more flavor
  • Use mozzarella, gruyere, fontina, gouda, havarti, parmesan, and/or other mixed cheeses for different flavors. Smoked gouda mac n' cheese?! Yes! Blue cheese? Yes yes! Brie and camembert? Hell yes. And don't be mad, but American cheese/Velveeta is of course right up there as well.
  • Swap out the pasta for kicks. Bowties (farfalle)? Penne? Gemelli? Shells? Just about anything should work. One of my faves is orecchiette, so I want to try that next.
  • Seafood! Crab or lobster mac with chives and Old Bay? White cheddar and gruyere, asparagus, and smoked salmon, anyone?
  • Stir in pre-made pesto, top with pine nuts and parmesan, maybe even dollops of goat cheese
  • Use the Mexican blend cheese from the store, maybe add some Pepper Jack. Add black beans, corn, and chiles for a Mexican flavor. Top with avocado, cilantro, and green salsa.
MORE VARIATIONS
I love this recipe for adding sweet potato and making them into cupcake-sized mac n' cheese bites. I bet pumpkin or butternut squash would work well here, too. They can even be made ahead and frozen for later enjoyment.

This one has peaches and prosciutto! Over orecchiette, even. Now I'm thinking butternut squash and blue cheese with sage...Mmmmm

This genius over here gave me another leftover option, namely mac n' cheese quesadilla. Makes me want to make the Mexican variation I was thinking about above to start with. Should I do this, I am not ashamed to say I will devour this in a spectacularly messy fashion.

And this fancy-pants appetizer made with mac n' cheese in little prosciutto cups is up my alley.

I have to stop now. All this is making me hungry. I think I'll go have some cold leftovers to start my day...




All About Eggs in Instant Pot

by Sunday, January 14, 2018
I can sum up cooking eggs in an Instant Pot in two words: easy and frustrating!

Cooking eggs conventionally, we have boiled, baked, steamed, poached, and fried, to name a few. Among the "in the shell" methods, we call them "two-minute eggs", or whatever length of time you want them cooked to get the yolk the way you like it. Sounds easy enough.

With Instant Pot, we have different models/sizes to contend with, but we also have altitude and psi to take into account.

Altitude because the temperature of boiling water changes depending on your altitude, and pressure cookers cook with pressurized boiling (above boiling, even) steam. So if someone in Denver, Colorado is telling you to cook for 30 minutes, in Seattle you're gonna cook it for a little less time. A handy little cheat sheet lives here, if you happen to be curious.

On top of that, different models of pressure cookers operate at different psi, pounds of pressure per square inch. Stove top models and many electric models cook at 15psi on high, while inexplicably most Instant Pot models top out a little over 12psi. So the intersection of altitude and model can make differences in cook times, which you can geek out about over here, if you wanna know the ins and outs of that (and funny enough, uses the same comparison of Denver, CO in altitude adjustments that I chose to).

So what does this mean for me, an Instant Pot user at sea level? Not much for most recipes, honestly. I will be trying to make a note of online recipes and where the author is from in future, at least. But it makes a big difference when we're talking about a very short cooking window, as with eggs. Literally one minute difference, can produce runny or hardened results. Add on manual or natural release, and whether you shock the egg after to stop cooking and you have a handful of steps where the finished product can vary widely. Based on ONE MINUTE of cook time. No pressure, would-be Julia Childs (I made a punny! "No pressure, " get it?!" *ahem*)

Recently I followed a comprehensive blog post where a home cook took beautiful photos of her 1-5 minute "poached" eggs. Specifically I was looking sidelong at her images of a perfectly drippy 5 minute high-pressure egg, when I get similar results at 2 minutes in-shell. How could 5 minutes come out gooey in a silicone cup, and with no ice bath to follow? I decided to try 4 minutes and came out with just-this-side-of-hard boiled, confirming my skepticism. Which is what went me down a rabbit hole to try and suss out why her results could be so different from mine. And it turns out that while we were using the same model of IP, and I used the exact same silicone cups even, she is a few thousand feet above sea level. Could that be the difference? I am going to find out!

Next experiment is LOW pressure poached eggs, as outlined on The Kitchn when briefly discussing the purpose of low-pressure settings on our pressure cookers. Up to now, I have been doing 2 minute eggs on high pressure, followed by an ice bath. The results are a gooey yolk, which I love, but sometimes the whites don't set all the way inside which I do NOT like. So the next test will be a low pressure setting for 3 minutes with manual/quick release and see what we get. I will try to report back soon!

Some inspiring recipes I found while looking for info on my blog post:

Egg Papin - Poached Eggs in Bell Pepper Cup
Eggs En Cocotte - "French Baked Eggs"






Instant Pot Killer Cheesecake

by Sunday, January 07, 2018
I have been using my IP for a little over a year now, and so far I have only ever done savory dishes/meals. I keep running across recipes for baked goods, but they require a small springform pan to go into the IP, which I didn't have. Well, the other day I was ordering something small off of Amazon, such that it was an "add on" item and required I bring my total to over $25. I figured this was a perfect opportunity to pick up that pan I always wanted. Bonus, I also wanted a bundt pan for another recipe I wanted to try out, and this sweet little number came up in my searches-it's both! And it comes in two adorable colors: orange and turquoise! I snagged the turquoise one and it arrived the other day.


This week has been a bear, unfortunately. Hubby is sick again (still sick? Who can tell any more?!), and my studio flooded in the rain and we have spent the past several days UN-installing all my beautiful bamboo floors to chase down the trouble. Unfortunately, the water intruded far further than we could have imagined and we are having to take the ENTIRE floor up, and not just a section. Cue call to insurance, and we'll see where we land...

So yesterday, I was feeling despondent and tired and cranky and sore from lots of unhappy physical work. We were at the grocery store to get some staples when I remembered I had this little pan at home and I wanted to try my hand at making a salted caramel cheesecake. Cheesecake of all flavors happens to be one of my and my husband's favorite desserts, and I thought maybe if I had the energy left when I got home, I would bake us one to cheer us up. Ooooh, and I had some leftover Ginger Snap cookies I could make a crust with, I bet! So I tossed some extra cream cheese and sour cream in the basket.

Hubby went into shut-down mode and I set to my task. My spirits lifted a bit as I changed my focus to something fun. He walked into the kitchen, hearing the bashing about, wondering what I was up to. I commanded him to go sit down and offered to make him a hot buttered rum to soothe his throat and maybe lift his spirits as well. Which is when inspiration struck. Cheesecake. Ginger Snaps. Salted Caramel. Hot Buttered Rum. I need to put these all together!

After scouring the Googles for some versions of cheesecakes with some of the ingredients I envisioned--in order to get the ratios at least somewhat correct--I altered course slightly, and this is the result. Hubby gobbled it down, complimenting me repeatedly on success. The crust really was noms in particular. We both agreed the caramel sauce was fairly unnecessary as the cheesecake itself was so yummy, though I might add a tad more sugar to the filling next time. Hope you enjoy it!



Instant Pot Hot Buttered Rum Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust and Salted Caramel Sauce

TOOLS
7" springform pan
parchment paper (optional)
Cooking spray
Foil
Paper towels

INGREDIENTS

Crust
~20 gingersnap cookies
4 Tbsp melted butter
2 Tbsp sugar

Filling
2 packages cream cheese (16 oz), room temp is best
1/2 cup golden brown/light brown sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsps rum -OR- 1 tsp rum extract (or vanilla if it's all you got)
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon*
1/8 tsp ground cloves*
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg*
2 eggs
*shortcut, you can use pumpkin pie spice if you like, close enough, IMO.

Topping
I cheated and used a salted caramel sauce I already love from Delicately Sweet Confections which I got from The Handmade Showroom.
If you need to make a sauce, try this simple salted caramel sauce, or alternately this rum caramel sauce.

DIRECTIONS


The foil sling thing, in Step 8
  1. Mise en place - set out your cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, and spices for the filling right away so the cold ingredients can come to room temp and you're ready to whack out the filling when your crust is done. If you have a second silicone ring for your IP which hasn't been used for cooking meats/savory things, swap it in now so your dessert doesn't taste like last night's dinner.
  2. Prepare your springform pan. Spray inside of springform pan lightly with cooking spray. Line bottom with a circle of parchment paper, cut to fit the bottom and spray lightly again (optional, but this second step makes getting it out of the pan even easier)
  3. Make crust. Using a food processor, or the handy plastic bag and a rolling pin method, break up your gingersnap cookies until finely ground. Combine with melted butter and sugar and blend thoroughly. Using a flat bottom glass or other similar tool, press gingersnap crust into pan bottom and working half way up around the sides as well. Allow to set in freezer while you make the filling.
  4. Blend all ingredients except for the eggs in a stand or hand mixer, scraping down sides and making sure everything is blended evenly. (If you let the ingredients warm to room temperature, this should come out smoothly. If you didn't, you may get a more lumpy textured filling. I'm okay with this, but fair warning to you.) Add two eggs and blend just until combined, don't over-mix.
  5. Pour filling into prepared crust, smoothing the top
  6. Take a piece of paper towel and a piece of foil of similar shape/size, place foil on counter, then paper towel, then your cheesecake pan on top of both. Mold the foil/paper towel around the base of your pan (prevents water from getting to your crust).
  7. Take a second length of foil and loosely cover the top of your pan - this keeps water from dripping down from the lid onto your cheesecake top
  8. One more foil thing! Take a length, about 18 inches long, fold into  a 4" strip. Slip under the pan like a sling--this makes it easier to lower your pan in and lift it out when you're done.
  9. Pour 2 cups into pot and place metal trivet in the bottom. Lower your pan onto the trivet. (Tip: using boiling water and closing the IP quickly thereafter saves time coming up to pressure. Works with anything you cook this way.)
  10. Lock lid, make sure it is sealing, press "Manual" and set for 35 minutes on high pressure. Allow to release naturally.
  11. Lift out cheesecake, remove all foil and set on a cooling rack for a bit. When cooled, release from pan (use a knife around the edge to help as needed), put in refrigerator for 3-4 hours or overnight.
  12. Slice and plate with half a gingersnap cookie on top, drizzle with sauce of choice.
TIPS
Feeling impatient about that cream cheese and eggs coming to room temp? Full a bowl with warm water. Drop in eggs. Put cream cheese in a ziplock bag and submerge as well. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.

When preparing your crust, only go up the side of the pan partway. The more exposed your crust is above the filling, the more opportunity it will have to absorb moisture and come out spongey.

Do not forget to release the cheesecake from the pan before refrigerating. I got lazy and just stuck it in there, so our crust lost all crustiness, sitting in its own steam. For a crispier crust, get it outta there!

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My Favorite Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes

by Friday, December 29, 2017
It always sounds ridiculous to say “I won’t ever do it another way again!”, but Instant Pot mashed potatoes are the best texture and flavor I have enjoyed in....I dunno how long.

There is really nothing to it, like most everything in an IP. The reason they are awesome is that they *pressure steam* instead of boil, so there is no extra water introduced to the potato watering down the flavor and texture, nor in any way breaking down the potato before you get to mashing it. If you're used to pouring cubed potatoes into a colander and watching them start to fall apart already you know what I mean. In the IP, they come out quite firm, mash up as chunky or as smooth as you want to, and the flavor is so robust. And you can let them rest as long as you want without overcooking them and/or making them gluey or mushy. So you can "hold" this dish for hours and still have an amazing result.


  1. Peel and quarter russet potatoes or red potatoes (not cube, quarter; and you don't even have to peel if you like skin on/chunky mash potatoes--so simple) 
  2. Put metal rack or steamer basket of choice into pot, add 1 cup water 
  3. Close, seal, and set to steam 5-8 minutes (I do more if I am making a bunch, but do 5 for a couple russets) 
  4. (really, 3a) If you are of a mind to add other flavors, like garlic, you can heat some butter in a small pot on the stove while the potatoes are busy and add some crushed garlic cloves to it. Sautee a little until garlic smells rock your face, remove cloves, add milk/cream to it to heat through. This step is not one I usually do, but sometimes is fun for a flavor boost. 
  5. Remove steamer with potatoes, place potatoes in bowl or back into dry liner (like I do) and mash along with whatever you like. I almost always do butter, cream, and salt/pepper. Sometimes I will add some sour cream, parmesan, and/or a dash of nutmeg. 


Some cool things:
* you can natural release or quick release, it has made no difference for me
* you can let them just sit in there a bit if you want to. We were in the middle of a campaign board game the other night and we left them in their unmashed state for about an hour and it still came out awesome
* I have read over and over that some people mash it all up then put it back in the liner in the pot, put the lid back on and let it sit for hours on the "warm" setting and they stay amazing. I haven't tried it, but it seems to be a thing.

BONUS - COOK AND FREEZE MASHED POTATOES
So apparently mashed potatoes (with butter/cream aka plenty of fats) hold up really well to freezing and thawing. So you can make a big ol' batch of mashed potatoes, portion them as you like, freeze, and have them at the ready all month long.
Two methods:

Method A. Cool the potatoes enough to portion them into ziplock bags, flatten the bags, and freeze in convenient stacks.

Method B. Portion them into one cup mounds/pucks, freeze on a parchment paper lined tray until hard, then toss into a ziplock bag such that you can pull out as many one-cup portions as you like when you're ready to heat them back up. So handy! And if this method appeals, you can make "party pretty" versions of these thusly:


BONUS PARTY-PRETTY OPTION - MAKE-AHEAD DUCHESS POTATOES
If you want to make Duchess Potatoes--which is how I discovered IP made the best potatoes--make sure you use cream and add 2-3 egg yolks to your mash stage, depending on the volume of potatoes you are making.

Using a spoon or fancy-pants frosting piping bag, make mounds of potatoes on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet.

Freeze and then toss frozen potato mounds into a ziplock bag to store.

When ready to cook, place desired number of potato mounds onto lightly greased baking sheet, brush with water/egg wash (some people use butter, but it can burn at high temps), and bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown and warmed through.

If you want to bake them the day you made them, just give them a little time in the fridge to firm up, then brush and bake.

Pretty Puffs Slouchy Hat

by Tuesday, December 12, 2017
This is a hat pattern I have made many many times as gifts for friends and for myself. I went looking for the pattern today and the website is gone. I was able to capture the pattern from a Wayback Machine impression of the old website, and am posting it here to preserve it! Credit to the crafty gal who made it, Jessica Suzanne, and is a modified version of Bobble Beauty by Dot Matthews.

I made mine with Bernat Alpaca and a J hook. This yarn doesn't seem to exist any more, so substitute whatever works for you!

Puffy Slouchy Hat
Bulky weight yarn, size K hook. For Worsted weight use a J hook

The numbers in the [] say how many stitches there should be.

Puff stitch: (YO, insert hook in next st, YO, pull up a loop) 4 times, YO, and draw through all loops on hook. (Here’s a video)

You do not have to join rounds, and this will create a spiral, and there will be no seam. Use a stitch marker if you do this, and keep the stitch count the same.

1: ch 4, 12 dc in first st, join in ch. (Just grab one loop from top of the chain. This makes the seam less visible, and this will make a circle.) [12]

2: ch 3, work 1 dc where chain is (in same st as join - ch3 counts as first dc), 2 dc in each stitch, join with sl st (remember, the ch counts as a st!). [24]

3: ch 3, work 1 dc where chain is, (work 1 dc, 2 dc in next stitch) around. Join. [36]

4: ch 3, work 1 dc where chain is, (work 1 dc in next 2 sts, 2 dc in next st) around. Join. [48]

5: ch3, work 1 dc where chain is, (work 1 dc in next 3 sts, 2 dc) around. Join. [60]
6-8: ch 3, 1 dc in each st around. Join. [60]

9: ch 3, puff st in same st as join, dc in next st, (puff in next st, dc in next
st) around. Join in top st of first puff. [60 sts: 30 puffs, 30 dc]

10: ch 1, (sc in top of puff, sc in next dc) around. Join. [60]
* It will look like you are skipping stitches here, but you aren’t. Just
remember, sc in top of puff, skip spot, and sc in top of dc post. Make sure you have 60 sts here!
11: same as row 9. [60 sts: 30 puffs, 30 dc]
12: sc around, same as row 10. [60]
13: same as row 9. [30 puffs, 30 dc]
14: sc around, same as row 10. [60]

15: ch 1, sc in each st around. [60]

16: ch 1, (sc in next 3 sts, dec over next 2 sts) around. Join. [48]

17: ch 1, sc in each st around. Join. [48]
18: same as row 17. [48]
19: same as row 17. [48]
20: same as row 17. [48]

21: ch 1, (slip st in next st, ch1, slip st in same st) around. Join in first sc.
Fasten off, weave in ends.

NOTE: As I mentioned in my original craftster post, I had intensely studied a pattern online. I don’t have a printer, so I tried to visualize it as a crochet chart. I have an insane memory, and graduated with a 3.98 GPA by only reading the texts the night before the tests. When I made this hat, I thought I was only being inspired, but I essentially recreated the hat. People have pointed it out, and I am very disappointed that I wasn’t being creative, I was just recalling it. SO, all accolades should go to the original author here: http://patternsbydot.blogspot.com/2005/11/bobble-beauty.html. My sincere apologies. I know it’s hard to believe, but it wasn’t intentional at all. I posted this at craftster, but I never got around to posting it here. :/


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