How the Instant Pot Changed My Life (and How I Use It)

This year, one of my resolutions was to eat healthier – but that is so vague. So I said that I would cook 5 meals a week and limit eating out to once a week. We used to be at McDonald’s twice a week.

TWICE A WEEK.

I wasn’t exactly proud of turning my children’s blood into sludge. But it was hard and stressful to think of cooking twice a day for my shitty kids (we homeschool so I don’t get the option of a school lunch).

This year THUS FAR, since I started using the Instant Pot, we have been to McDonald’s twice and Burger King once. (I have eaten out a few more times, but not at these places. And definitely without the children.)

When I look at these numbers, I am astounded.

Let us pause here and give me the praise and adulation I need and crave (but not necessarily deserve).

Thank you.

Anyhow. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

1) I decided to make this change in our lifestyle and I set an easily attainable goal of cooking just five times a week.

Even though part of my goal was to NOT eat out (or nuggets/pizza/crackers), it is hard to track “negative space.” So instead, I tracked “positive space” and recorded in my ink+volt planner when I cooked.

And after awhile, it became easier and easier to cook and I added more and more until it was silly to track the times I cooked because quite frankly, that was now my default mode.

2) I knew that since I am inherently lazy, I needed to support my decision by setting myself up to succeed instead of fail.

So, I came up with some Instant Pot hacks as well as followed a basic formula because I hate recipes and meal planning.

These hacks and soup templates are boring but honestly, I’m not trying for creative here. I only want to make sure my family has reasonably tasty and nutritious food at least twice a day.

3) Cook. Eat what I cook.

Yes, I need to specify eating what I cook because I used to be notorious for not eating the food I made and thus, I would go out to eat a lot after the kids were in bed.

And that’s it. As a result, here is how my life has changed:

1) Thinking about what we are going to eat for lunch and dinner no longer plagues me throughout the day.

I am not exaggerating when I say the thoughts of what we were going to eat for lunch and dinner were so painful that I would avoid it entirely and then my kids would end up eating quesodillas or nuggets or pizza yet again.

And now that I no longer think about it, this psychic pain is gone and I am much more cheerful. Plus, the kids now have consistent meals and meal times and are much better about eating food.

2) My children eat.

This is another minor miracle.

Now that my children are used to eating what I cook, they eagerly (although sometimes, not so eagerly) ask what’s for lunch or dinner. They also like to help prepare the food and look at the soups and noodles.

Keep in mind, we went through a really rough two to three weeks where the kids absolutely refused to eat what I cooked. But after that ramping up/initiation period, my kids actually eat the food I put in front of them. I mean, they’re not perfect, but it’s still a million bjillion times better than it used to be.

Thus, another source of conflict and pain has been mostly removed.

3) I can now train my kids to put away their bowls into the dishwasher.

Now that the eating dilemma has been solved and I am no longer emotionally exhausted from trying to get them to eat their damn food already, I am training them to bring their used bowls/cups/utensils to the sink.

The older kids also rinse them off and I am training Cookie Monster to put his stuff in the dishwasher. In fact, they are at this weird stage where they want to wash dishes and put things away in the dishwasher or put things back where they belong.

So weird. But hey. Who am I to complain and deprive them of wanting to be more independent and responsible?

4) I spend less money on eating out and groceries.

Because I am now consistently cooking, I no longer throw away 100% of the produce I buy. Thus, I waste less food and spend less money on groceries. Now, I buy only what we need and resist the urge to “stock up.”

5) Eating out is no longer as appealing.

The food tastes different, too. Now, I sometimes try to see how long I can go without eating out.

WHO AM I?

6) I am much happier. 

First, because I no longer feel guilty about mealtimes – whether it be over not serving the kids any nutrition whatsoever or not eating with the children or yelling at them to eat their food already – I don’t have to deal with that pain of not being a good mother.

Second, I no longer feel the psychic pain of planning or procrastinating or figuring out what we will eat. It’s boring, but I don’t care. I follow my formula and perhaps make three or four other dishes that we rotate throughout the week. 

Third, I have much less pain involving my children eating. They are mostly used to the things I make now and will even eat the vegetables. 

Now, all the pain revolves around my kids fidgeting or playing instead of eating during meal times. But this is still considerably less painful than it was before. 

Alright, friends. I think that is the last of my love letters to the Instant Pot. If you have an Instant Pot, are you as enamored as I am? Let me know in the comments. 

Instant Pot Hacks

Everyone knows I am a super lazy person – especially when it comes to cooking (or doing anything, really). Last week I wrote about my Awesome Instant Pot Soup/Stew Templates instead of recipes (because I hate recipes).

This week comes courtesy of my hatred of meal planning.

No, seriously. I hate meal planning. The idea of it totally stresses me out. The idea of having everything planned out ahead of time and buying things for the meals/recipes goes hand in hand with my absolute hatred of recipes and quite frankly, meal planning always sounded like a really white people thing to do. I cannot imagine meal planning with Chinese food.

Also, my mother was able to buy a bunch of ingredients and then look at her fridge every day and then make a bunch of stuff with whatever was available. That is how I think cooking should be and how I cook.

Of course, this type of cooking ALSO stresses me out, so make of this what you will.

But enter the Instant Pot (affiliate link) and my life has transformed.

I am not exaggerating (although I am wont to exaggeration).

I’m not exactly clear on how we used to eat, but it sure wasn’t from me cooking. I’m pretty sure at the end of 2016, my children were 1/3 chicken nugget, 1/3 pizza, and 1/3 miscellany. Thank goodness for vitamins because otherwise my children would have received zero nutrition at all.

As it is, I think my children are also half cacti because they seemed to have grown from just spritzes of water and air and no actual, real food.

Anyhow, I went from slowly using my Instant Pot once or twice a week to at least every week day and sometimes twice a day. But the only reason I can is because I have absolutely zero prep time.

Okokokokok. In reality, that is not really true. But I want to say it is 99% true.

Anyhow, here are my “hacks” for using the Instant Pot with minimal effort. (I say hacks in quotes because I’m not really sure I’m using the term correctly but I can’t think of a better word so this will have to suffice). (Oh, and all links are affiliate links. They don’t affect the price you pay, but should you buy from them, it allows me to contribute modestly to my web site fees.)

1) Prep food ahead of time and freeze in individual serving sizes. 

So, this is the part that takes a lot of time. But it’s not every day – and not even weekly. It’s mostly on an as needed basis.

First, I bought a ton of Ziploc small and medium rectangular containers.

Since I tend to overthink things, I want you to know that it took me almost a YEAR of thinking and contemplating storage solutions to food prep. I considered using Ziploc baggies, but I found that wasteful and I didn’t want to contribute more plastic to the oceans. I thought of using my Glasslock containers, but I didn’t like the idea of frozen glass and me buying more of those things.

I also considered using plastic containers, but I didn’t like BPAs and wasn’t sure if they were in the disposable ones. I thought of it so often that even Dr. T was like STOP THINKING ABOUT IT ALREADY AND ARE YOU REALLY USING PART OF YOUR $150/hr SESSION TO DISCUSS THIS??

So, one day while I was already in Safeway, I saw these containers and bought a bunch of them. I have not regretted it. (In general, I prefer the medium containers because I find them to be the perfect serving size for one pot of soup for five people.)

I also use large gallon sized Ziploc bags, too. But I reuse them because I fill them with things that don’t make a mess (eg: cut celery, daikon, broccoli).

After finally deciding on the storage containers, I will buy meat from Costco and then cut and marinate and then put in the medium containers. I will also chop vegetables that freeze well. Then I put them either in the large gallon Ziploc bags or in the small containers.

I have also cut up ginger into slices and frozen them because I have never used up fresh ginger before it turned weird or shriveled up and died.

Then, I put them in the freezer and freeze them. And since the Instant Pot cooks frozen meat just fine, (although it does retain the SHAPE of the frozen meat), there is no need to defrost first.

Note: If you don’t enjoy mushy vegetables that taste like your soup, you perhaps shouldn’t freeze your veggies. But since I don’t mind and don’t care, it serves my purposes just fine.

2) Buy prepared or prepackaged foods. 

I know this isn’t strictly cooking from scratch, but quite frankly, I don’t care.

I am not a purist. I have no shame in buying things that have been prepackaged for my convenience.

Thus, I buy packs of sausage, premade rotisserie chicken, peeled garlic, bags of broccoli, cauliflower rice, frozen vegetable mixes, pasta sauce, tofu, chicken stock, coconut milk, etc.

3) Buy foods that freeze well, don’t spoil quickly in the fridge, or are dry goods that can last a long time.

I used to throw away so much produce that it would’ve saved me time to just compost dollar bills. So now, I only buy things that don’t spoil easily, can freeze well, or are dry goods that last awhile.

4) You can put pretty much anything in the Instant Pot and it will come out just fine in stew.

Because the Instant Pot obliterates everything under high pressure, I have found that I can pretty much put ANYTHING in there with my soups/stews and it will turn out mostly delicious.

This may sound gross and was a total fluke, but since I was trying to clear out my deep freezer of things that have lived there since before Gamera was born (that’s over five years for those of you keeping track at home), I LOVE using frozen tater tots in my soups.

Other things I have put in the Instant Pot that initially sounded weird but turned out fine and completely unnoticed: stale bread and frozen sweet potato fries (I had 5 bags of these suckers and my kids HATE them as fries but didn’t mind them as obliterated parts of soup).

There you have it!

Unless I am adding an ingredient I haven’t frozen ahead of time, all that cooking requires of me is dumping a bunch of frozen serving sizes (usually a veggie, a protein, a carb), some stock/coconut milk/water, and seasonings into the Instant Pot, hitting a button, and walking away.

I know none of these ideas are revolutionary, but they have made it possible for me to make lunch and/or dinner in less than five minutes on a daily basis. And though it took a few weeks for my children to get used to the new world order, they are now used to eating home cooked meals and are now 1/4 veggies, 1/4 protein, 1/4 rice, 1/8 fruit, and 1/8 miscellany.

Do you use the Instant Pot? If so, what are your tricks to using it on a regular basis?

How to Use the Instant Pot if You Hate Recipes


Folks, I have a confession to make. I hate recipes.

I mean, I see their utility, and I have even used them on occasion. But in general, if it requires a recipe, you can pretty much be assured that I will never cook said item.

I’m always amused when I go to a friend’s house and eat something delicious they make and then they proceed to tell me the recipe or offer to send me the recipe. I always tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

When I tell you I love what you made, that is not an invitation for you to give me the recipe. That is an invitation for you to make more of this awesome dish and bring it to my house at a later date.

Here’s why I hate recipes: it usually requires me to go out of my way to buy something that I do not have in my household. And if that is the case, whatever I buy is not something I use daily. And because of that, I will buy an item and then HAVE IT FOREVER UNTIL IT ROTS IN MY FRIDGE OR GOES STALE IN MY PANTRY.

Because I will likely never use it again.

Also? Recipes totally stress me out. All this reading and buying and prepping and following directions.

Have you ever tried doing any of those things – let alone ALL of those things – while having four small human beings demand your attention as soon as you might be doing something other than nothing?

And thus, though I bought into the hype about the Instant Pot (affiliate link) last summer on Prime Day, I knew that even though I purchased the technological and culinary wonder that I would never use it.

Yes, I know. My Rich Girl Syndrome is rearing its ugly head again. After all. Who buys an expensive appliance fully knowing they will never use it?

A person who has FOMO and discretionary income. That’s who.

Anyhow, I know the Instant Pot is super easy, blah blah blah and whatever but my main hurdle to actually using it was this: everything seemed to require a recipe. And all the recipes were for white people food.

Look, I love white people food as much as the next person but that is not what my brain says is real food for families. That is not what I grew up with, and though it is perfectly legitimate food (and OMG, if you bring it to my house, I will love you forever and eat it and compliment you and perhaps even write a blog post dedicated to your awesomeness), I will not make that food on the regular.

As a result, my poor Instant Pot languished on top of my laundry machine from July to December. That is, until my friend, Char Siu Bao, came over and told me I should buy an Instant Pot and I informed him that I own one that was still new in the box.

He made me dinner and told me lots of awesome delicious things I could make with the Instant Pot as I laughed at him because I would never make those awesome delicious things. But then Char Siu Bao said I could also just make soups.

I can make soups.

I make awesome soups.

And so, after five months of putting Baby in the corner, I started using my Instant Pot once a week, then twice a week, then almost every day (and sometimes twice a day).

And here’s how: I use a template.

Like my previous posts on How to Make an Awesome Salad and How to Make an Awesome Sandwich, I now add to this series with my How to Make an Awesome Instant Pot Soup/Stew.

Awesome Instant Pot Soup/Stew Template

1) Vegetable
2) Protein
3) Carbohydrate
4) Liquid
5) Season to taste
6) Hit the button and walk away

Since there are so few items, I want to say you really need all of them in order to make a well-balanced soup/stew. However, I think you can get away with fewer of the categories if say, you have two proteins or two vegetables and then skimp on carbohydrates.

Whatever.

Anyhow, to make it easy for you, here are some ideas for each category.

1) Vegetable – This really is easy. Any vegetable will do. I have used frozen vegetables, broccoli, diced napa cabbage, diced celery, carrots, daikon, etc.

In general, I go for veggies that will cook to clear (to better disguise the fact that they exist so that my children will eat them) as well soak up into whatever flavor the soup has (again, to disguise their existence). I also dice into smaller chunks because (you guessed it) it makes them more palatable to my ungrateful children.

2) Protein – Any meat, beans, or tofu.

3) Carbohydrate – Dried pasta (I usually add them into the IP with the rest of the ingredients), rice (usually made in the rice cooker), potatoes, sweet potatoes, barley, etc.

4) Liquid – Chicken/vegetable/beef stock/broth, water, coconut milk, etc.

5) Season to taste – I usually use salt, garlic powder, white pepper, garlic, and ginger. Sometimes, I also add soup base (Memmi soup base), soy sauce, or chili powder.

6) Hit the button and walk away. 

No seriously. That’s it. If I have raw meat, I hit the “Meat” button. If I have unsoaked dry beans, I hit the “Beans” button. Otherwise, I hit the “Soup” button. Or sometimes, I hit “Manual” and add whatever time I want.

Then I walk away until it beeps at me to tell me it’s done cooking.

See? Isn’t that not intimidating at all? You likely have all or most of these items in your fridge/pantry already! You can now commence instapotting.

Next week, a post on how I use “hacks” to make my Instant Pot experience even easier. In the meantime, are you a template/formula type of cook or a recipe follower? Let me know in the comments.

Random Thoughts

Friends, I am a little tipsy on fatigue and a day full of drinking prosecco at Cookie Monster’s birthday party. So, if today’s post is particularly punchy and random, blame the baby. Being tired hurts my brain cells more than the prosecco.

Seriously, you need to check out my friend, Miranda Wicker’s, Wine Shop at Home site and order this prosecco. I am not a fan of wine at all. I smell wine and fall over drunk. Quite frankly, I don’t see the appeal.

However, I am a fan of sparkling wine (which I recently learned is just champagne from areas other than Champagne, France). In fact – I particularly enjoy prosecco during the day (there is something delightfully naughty about drinking in the day time for me). So because I love my friend, Miranda, I wanted to support her business and bought two bottles of their Le Cadeaux Semi-Seco.

Dude, the shipping was $18 because they have to pay by weight and use a fancy bottle cushioner thingy to make sure your wine bottles arrive unbroken (IMPORTANT). But other than that, the wine arrived in 2 days.

TWO DAYS. (It might have even be less than two days – I can’t remember because I am a horrible reviewer of things but you’re stuck with me so I’M NOT SORRY.)

Anyhow, I originally was considering ordering a case on Black Friday for $240 but Hapa Papa put his foot down and ruined all things (he claims I don’t drink enough but you know what? I could and I could start now. Talk about a lack of imagination on his part. Lame.)

I meant to immediately start drinking the moment I received the package but since I was by myself, I didn’t want to waste it and risk it losing all its bubbly because I can’t kill a bottle by myself. I even bought special bottle stoppers for bubblies because otherwise it will lose its fizz and I was not about to ruin $22 bottle wine. (Affiliate link.)

But it turns out I needn’t have bothered with the wine stopper because it’s all gone gone gone. Down my gullet and my friends. YUM. Not too sweet and not too dry. Just the way I like it.

Ok. That was a pretty boozy preamble for a non-drinker. But now onto my other thoughts.

1) I finally convinced my mother that Hapa Papa and I don’t want Christmas presents and I would rather spend time with her watching a movie or eating so we watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them tonight.

Since I exclusively breastfeed, I had to start pumping milk this week so I would have enough milk for Sasquatch during the three hours I would be out.

It was hard because I haven’t been pumping and I was starving when trying to ramp up production. Making milk is hard work. Also? I lost sleep because instead of sleeping, I was pumping milk.

Sasquatch ate 10 ounces in the three hours I was gone and when I got home, he was still hungry. This was after I fed him before I left.

People, this means I will need to pump milk for months before I will have enough for baby boy when I go off to Type A Parent West 2017 in Denver this coming April.

I am going to be very hungry and cranky.

2) Incidentally, because I so rarely watch movies now, all the previews seem amazing. I teared up inappropriately at all the movies. Every movie looked amazing.

3) My mom seemed really happy to watch a movie. She loves movies but doesn’t have anyone to watch with. I don’t know why we haven’t gone to see more movies together.

In 2017, I am going to make more of an effort to watch movies with my mom. Easy peasy.

4) I have been listening to The Weeknd on Spotify lately after reading a review in the New York Times of his latest album.

I never realized just how filthy The Weeknd is.

Also? His cover of Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana is amazing. If I could sex a song I would have sex with this song. It is so good.

Maybe I just don’t listen enough to music. I don’t know.

5) I am starving.

6) My friend’s husband was so appalled that I’ve owned the Instant Pot (affiliate link) since July but I still hadn’t brought it out of the box to use it; he decided to make us dinner with my Instant Pot.

People – this is how you friend, ok? Everyone else? STEP UP YOUR GAME.

He kept trying to tell me how awesome the Instant Pot is by describing all the things I could make and I just kept laughing at him. Me make tacos? Pulled pork? Braised pork shoulders?

I don’t make these things. I eat these things.

I am chuckling just thinking about it.

7) Geez, people. I really am ravenous. But Sasquatch is on me and I am in bed.

Sigh.

8) Oh, and I know I mentioned it last week, but HFS, I have been adulting af this week.

I AM MADE OF WIN.

I don’t know how long this will last. I am deeply suspicious of myself.

And with that note, I should sleep. (I will lost likely squeeze in a few more games of Two Dots though because I can only make so many wise decisions without maxing them out.)

Happy Monday!