This was the first directive scribbled to myself on a note titled “Foodprep Strategy,” a deliberate attempt at eating well and staying sane in this time of post-moving–new-life-upheaval. New year, new city, new kitchen, new climate, new grocery stores, new work-from-home transition, all around brand new routine.
In my disoriented state, emerging from a maze of cardboard boxes to hit the ground running as Dinner Captain once again, I turned to soup. Nourishing, crowd-pleasing, inexpensive, efficient to cook in large batches, quick to reheat, and warming for cold bellies… soup has been serving me well.
While I was studying to become a dietitian, I lived in Miami for three years. Moving to Miami can cause some serious culture shock, even for a Florida native, but I have to admit that crazy town has some perks.
Some of the best perks were getting to know Cuban friends and their Cuban FOOD. In Miami, I met some of the world’s nicest people who got me very well acquainted with Cuba’s rich culinary traditions. Cafecitos. Maduros. Picadillo. Pastelitos. And one of my personal favorites, ropa vieja, a classic comfort food that makes you feel at home whether you grew up eating it or not. It’s a flavorful stew made with peppers, tomatoes, and flank steak cooked low-and-slow until the meat is tender enough to effortlessly pull apart into long shreds that resemble the fibers of threadbare cloth, hence the name (ropa vieja = old clothes).
I’ve never competed in a chili cook-off, but if I did, this is the contender I would bring to the ring.
Since spying the recipe in an issue of Cooking Light years ago, it’s been a go-to for me and for Grant. I have to give him credit, as he’s taken the recipe on as his specialty – he really makes a mean pot of chili! And as much as I love to cook, there’s something extra-tasty about a home-cooked meal where somebody else does the home-cooking, am I right?
I was surprised to see mixed reviews on the magazine’s recipe post (different strokes for different folks, I guess!) but it’s my all-time favorite and makes an appearance on our dinner table several times every year (that’s a lot for a variety-junkie like me).
This chili has exceptional depth and richness from bitter unsweetened chocolate and smokin’ hot chipotle peppers. I make just a couple of tweaks from the original recipe: most notably, I cut back on the brown sugar (you could cut it out entirely, but I find that just a bit helps balance the heat and round out the tomato flavor) and I add a splash of vinegar at the end for brightness. I also prefer my chili with kidney beans over pintos, and usually only add a single can (but it can certainly accommodate another if you like it bean-ier).
In the recipe below I’m sharing my adaptations and instructions for cooking under pressure (in my case, with Instant Pot). If you’re not on board with pressure cooking, no sweat – we’ve made it plenty of times on the stovetop in a dutch oven before embracing the energy-efficient and flavor-concentrating qualities of my favorite electric pressure cooker.
I believe Instant Pot’s “chili” mode is set at 30 minutes, but for this recipe I’m satisfied with a quicker cooking time of 10 minutes using manual mode.
The beautiful thing about home cooking is that you can make it exactly how you like it – so cook it, tweak it, make it your own!
(optional, if desired: 1 minced fresh jalapeno or other hot pepper)
1 pound ground chicken or turkey breast (grass-fed beef can be substituted as well)
1 tsp. brown sugar (optional)
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
one 15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (feel free to add a second can if desired)
two 14.5 oz. cans crushed or diced tomatoes (I often use one can of each)
1 cup low-sodium chicken or beef broth
from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce: 2 chiles, minced, along with 2 Tbsp. of sauce
1-2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 tsp. red wine or apple cider vinegar
Add the olive oil to the pressure cooker to cook over medium heat (press the 'Saute' button to begin cooking at medium saute heat). When the oil is hot, add the chopped onion, bell pepper, garlic and ground meat. If you like your chili very spicy, add the optional hot pepper (but be aware of the spiciness of your chili powder and chipotles). Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften and the meat is browned.
Stir in all remaining ingredients except the chopped chocolate and vinegar. Cover the pressure cooker with the lid, and be sure that the valve is in sealed position. Cook under high pressure for 10 minutes (with Instant Pot, press ‘Cancel’ to stop saute mode before closing the lid, then press ‘Manual’ to select 10 minutes).
When the cooking time is complete, either open the valve for a quick release, or allow the pot to de-pressurize naturally. After opening the lid, stir in the chocolate and vinegar, and season to taste with salt before serving and garnishing as desired.
Resolving to Eat Better this year? Me too, but I’m not just talking about nutrition… I’m also always looking for new and exciting ways to ENJOY IT. That’s why I make this kind of food: wholesome, real ingredients coming together to make something indulgently nourishing for your “most important meal of the day.” It’s simple, but special. It’s rich, but still provides legit nutrition. And as a bonus, it will warm you to the bones not only by virtue of being a hearty porridge, but also by briefly relieving your winter weather woes with a mental tropical vacation.
So, what makes these oats so nutritious and filling? The winning combination of whole grains and coconut deliver fiber, complex carbs and a healthy dose of fat that provide lasting energy to fill you up and truly satisfy.
You can cook this on the stove, in a rice cooker, or a slow cooker, but I choose my pressure cooker. It couldn’t get much faster or simpler!
The secret to this recipe is the first step, toasting the oats and coconut, which enhances the nutty flavor in both ingredients (it’s easy as pie with Instant Pot’s saute function). Be sure to reserve some toasty coconut to use as a topping before dumping in the rest of the ingredients and locking down for pressure cooking.
You’ll open the lid to find some flawless oats: lightly sweetened and heavily fragranced with coconutty aroma. The flecks of toasted coconut offer a satisfying chew, while the coconut milk makes it extra rich and creamy. Top with fruit (fresh or dried), a drizzle of the coconut milk that’s leftover in the can, and an extra sprinkle of toasty coconut flakes.
Aside from everyday eats, keep this recipe in mind when you have a home full of house-guests. Throw together a double batch, set up a toppings station, leave the steamy pot on keep-warm mode and allow your waking visitors to self-serve at their leisure. Oatmeal doesn’t normally garner oohs and ahhs… but this recipe is special enough to hold its own!
Leftover oats? You’re in luck – save a cup to whip up a batch of my #1 favorite pancakes. Imagine how good they’ll be infused with coconut!!
Below is my pressure-cooker adaptation of this recipe from Shutterbean. If you’d rather use a rice cooker or the stovetop, use her instructions instead. If using a slow cooker, start the night before you plan to serve. Add an extra cup of liquid (your choice – either more water, coconut milk, or another liquid like almond milk), and cook overnight on the ‘low’ setting.
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup steel cut oats
1 cup coconut milk, plus additional for topping (I use full-fat canned coconut milk, but you can substitute lighter varieties if desired)
2 cups water
1 pinch salt
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
Begin by toasting the coconut: add the dry coconut to the pressure cooker to cook over medium heat (with Instant Pot, press the ‘Saute’ button to begin cooking at medium saute heat). Stir frequently, and watch closely to avoid burning. When the coconut begins to lightly brown, remove half to set aside for the topping, and add the steel-cut oats to toast as well. Cook the oats and coconut for a few more minutes, until both are fragrant. Then add 1 cup coconut milk (reserve the remainder for topping) and the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine, then cook under high pressure for 2 minutes (with Instant Pot, press ‘Cancel’ to stop saute mode, then close the lid and press ‘Manual’ to select 2 minutes).
When the cooking time is complete, allow 10 minutes for a natural pressure release before opening the valve and lid. Serve warm, topped with a drizzle of coconut milk, a spoonful of toasted coconut, and any other desired toppings.
Most of the time, I love to cook. But some nights, I wish dinner would just cook itself.
Thankfully, I finally figured out the solution to my problem. And knowing myself, I really shouldn’t be surprised that it involves Instant Pot, my loyal kitchen companion. I’ve learned that with the magic of pressure-cooking, I can effortlessly cook chicken breasts from frozen. Yes, STRAIGHT FROM THE FREEZER! Each pound yields enough shredded meat for dinner + leftovers for 2. The chicken braises itself into tender, moist perfection with the help of whatever flavorful liquid your heart desires. Along with the rest of my Instant Pot recipes, it’s really been a game-changer for my weeknight cooking. If you’re a fellow pressure-cooking devotee, read on for the simple steps!
Start with about a pound of frozen chicken breasts. It’s difficult to tell, but this photo actually shows a single very large breast that weighs a full pound. Optimal cooking time is affected by the size of your chicken breasts (more on that later).
Then decide what you’d like your chicken to taste like. You’ll want 1/2 cup of something tasty, and 1/2 cup of water to dilute. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, and I’ll share some of my favorite combos below, but for this example I’m keeping it simple: storebought salsa!
After you mix in the water to make a full cup of liquid, pour it over the chicken in your pressure cooker. Close the lid and set the cooking time based on the size of your poultry portions. On the low end of the spectrum, small 4-6 oz. portions of frozen chicken cook through in about 15 minutes, while the large 16 oz. cut above needs 30 minutes; if your portions fall somewhere in the middle, adjust accordingly. I’ve used both the manual setting and poultry program on Instant Pot, and have not observed any real difference in the results.
After the cook time is up, let the pot rest for 10 minutes to naturally release pressure before opening the lid and and removing the chicken to shred it. If by chance you find that your chicken is undercooked, never fear – just shred it as best you can and return it to the pot with Slow Cooker or Saute mode turned on until it’s cooked through.
And tada! It really is that easy. This is a glimpse at the finished product from my post on Chimichurri in a Hurry.
On weeknights, I throw the chicken and sauce into the cooker, and then begin my relaxed 30-minute countdown/meditation of figuring out what else is going into our dinner. I might be reheating leftover brown rice and chopping up fixin’s to top burrito bowls, or I might be toasting buns and tossing a side salad, or whatever else sounds good in the moment!
Or on weekends, I can take a couple of minutes while I’m at home to cook up some healthy protein that I can bank on later in the week. For example, the salsa Insta-Chicken from these photos later went on to play a starring role in a killer taco pie / enchilada bake (you can thank fellow RD blogger at Fearless Flying Kitchen for the recipe).
And the real beauty of this technique: endless flavor possibilities. Variety is the spice of life, of course! Starting with the easy Mexican chicken we walked through in the photos, here are 5 of my favorite flavor combinations that I’ve tried so far:
Simple Salsa: 1/2 cup water + 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa
BBQ: 1/2 cup water + 1/2 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce + a splash of apple cider vinegar for extra tang
Teriyaki: 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup soy sauce + 1/4 cup orange juice + 1 Tbsp. brown sugar + a squirt of sriracha
Cuban Mojo: 1/2 cup water + 1/3 cup orange juice + juice from 1/2 lime + 1-2 cloves of minced garlic + 1/2 tsp. cumin + salt/pepper
OK, I lied: I can’t stop at 5! I’m going to continue to update this post with more simple sauces whenever I try one that strikes my fancy. Fellow experimenters, I’d LOVE to hear about your successes in the comments!
Honey Dijon: 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup whole grain mustard + 1/4 cup honey + hot sauce (if desired)
Lemon Garlic Herb: 1/2 cup water + juice from 1/2 lemon + 2 cloves minced garlic + 1/2 tsp. dried basil + salt/pepper
Jamaican Jerk: 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup molasses + 2 Tbsp. lime juice + 2 Tbsp. orange juice + generous sprinkles of dried thyme/allspice/salt to taste + a handful of fresh sliced garlic and ginger (and hot peppers if desired)
Chile Verde: one 10-oz. can green enchilada sauce (no need to dilute with water)
Thai Curry: 1 cup canned coconut milk + 1-2 Tbsp. Thai curry paste of your choice (no need to dilute with water)
1/2 cup flavorful liquid of your choice (see suggestions above)
In a measuring cup or small bowl, mix together the water and flavorful liquid of your choice. Place the frozen chicken in the Instant Pot liner, and pour the liquid over the chicken. Close the lid (with vent set to sealing position), press the 'Poultry' button and use the +/- buttons to adjust the cooking time. For standard chicken breasts (~4-6 oz. each), cook for 15 minutes; for extra-large chicken breasts (~1 lb. each), cook for 30 minutes. In between these two sizes, scale your cook time accordingly.
After the cooking program completes, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes before opening the lid. If you're in a hurry, it is not hazardous to manually "quick-release" the pressure - but this may toughen the chicken's texture. Transfer the chicken breasts to a plate and shred into bite-sized pieces with two forks. While you shred the chicken, you can optionally turn on Instant Pot's 'Saute' mode to reduce the sauce if it is too thin for your taste. Return the shredded chicken to the sauce and toss to coat.
These days I do most of my recipe-clipping on Pinterest, but I still have a recipe folder on my browser’s bookmarks bar dating back from the days before ‘pinning’ was a household term (shocking, I know). There’s a smattering of links from all corners of the web, but the heart of the collection is a sub-folder marked “Tried and True,” which holds those special recipes that I’ve come back to again and again… the keepers, if you will! Along with the formula behind killer pumpkin garlic knots and the original source inspiring my favorite chili (which has been tweaked and perfected and eventually taken over as Grant’s kitchen specialty), this folder is also home to an unassuming yellow dal bookmarked from Smitten Kitchen. I made this recipe for the first time in college, just starting to dip my toes into Indian cooking, and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve served it up since then!
This dish has been a dinner staple in my house for a lot of reasons. For one, the recipe is really straightforward, easy enough to commit to memory. It’s also super inexpensive. I do my best to cook with economy and grace, and these tasty lentils make it easy: all of the budget-friendly benefits of dried beans, but with no soaking needed. It’s a hearty vegetarian (easily vegan) source of protein – about 14 grams per serving, before the yogurt garnish. And those healthy legumes are filled out with plenty of vegetables and nutritious spices. I’ve been putting more focus on anti-inflammatory foods in my diet lately, and the turmeric, cumin, coriander, cayenne and garlic in this recipe all offer functional health benefits to reduce inflammation in the body. This is definitely an example of getting your flavor from real food, and this enticing combination is so nutritious that it’s practically medicinal!
Au naturale. Simply steamed. Is any other plain vegetable quite so botanically romantic? Maybe it’s the delicately sweet flavor. Maybe it’s because they love cool, salty California air, like I do. Maybe it’s because you’re literally eating a dang flower! Whatever it is, sitting down to share an artichoke is something special.
Unfortunately, the things have a reputation for being a pain to prepare – their tough structures definitely need some cooking before they’re ready to melt in your mouth. On the stove top, you’re looking at upwards of 40 minutes of babysitting the pot, making sure the water level doesn’t boil too low. This is where Instant Pot comes in (affiliate link). With my favorite set-and-forget pressure cooker on hand, the task really isn’t fussy at all.
How much tradition do you like on your Thanksgiving table? Is it just not the same without your family heirloom recipes for turkey, stuffing and green bean casserole? Or do you prefer to flex your creative muscles and trick out your menu with fancy stuff like cranberry coulis or pumpkin panna cotta? Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. Traditional flavors, but with enough twist to keep things interesting. Right at home on my holiday table? These dreamy Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes.
Had a hard week? You need an easy weeknight dinner. Fortunately for us, this one is packed with nutrient dense vegetables and layers of slow-cooked flavors… without the slow-cooking. The veggies all cook quickly, so there’s no advance planning needed. Just a little therapeutic chopping and simmering while you decompress from the challenges of the day, and you can have this wholesome vegan dinner on the table in no time.
If you’re a seasoned Caribbean foodie, please note that I’m not claiming any authenticity. When I dreamed up this stew, I was going for a hearty foundation of powerful plant foods, tempered with tropical coconut milk and some warm spices as my simplified allusion to Jamaican jerk-style seasoning. Authentic cuisine? Not exactly. Super satisfying healthy dinner? Most definitely!
A funny thing happened on the way to writing this post. We’re only here talking about this soup today because two months ago on RD Day, I took the opportunity to scope out a list of fellow RD bloggers. On one of the many links I clicked, I came across a giveaway raffle and entered on a whim. And out of the zillion entries, I actually won! That day I gained an awesome new Mediterranean cookbook, and my first glimpse into what has become one of my new favorite RD blogs, Zen and Spice by the talented Emily Hein. This girl inspires me to live right! If you’re like me and love cooking/eating beautiful whole foods, growing some of them yourself, and generally taking a mindful and appreciative approach to it all, you should definitely check it out!
The book that I won in the giveaway is Eating the Greek Way, by Dr. Fedon Alexander Lindberg. Emily mentioned that this is one of her favorite cookbooks, and I can totally see why. The book features gorgeous photos and recipes featuring the kind of simple but perfect food I can imagine being served up in Mediterranean kitchens on real life weeknights. And now in my kitchen too! On my weeknights! Life is grand.