Sunday, December 31, 2017

Instant Pot Recipe #1: Arroz Con Pollo

Sooo, here we go! Recipe #1 of my Instant Pot Challenge 
(I couldn't wait until 2018 and add yet another thing to my long list of "New Years Resolutions" so I've been getting a head start on this while on "light life duty" this past week :)

Category: Weekend Meal
(This took more time than I'd like to admit... maybe a little over an hour from prep to serve? I'll try to remember to track the time better next round.)

My biggest savings (and headache) is that most often we purchase our meat in bulk. We normally rotate purchases each week between chicken thighs, chicken breasts and ground beef. Although, we do have a few steaks in the freezer as well. But all of this frozen meat requires planning! And one of the things I was looking forward to with the InstaPot was to be able to throw frozen meat into the pot with all my other ingredients and close the lid.

This isn't the recipe for that... but I did have a big package of chicken thighs sitting in the fridge that needed to be cooked and the rest frozen. And I had an itching for a little latin cuisine so Brad took a stab at Arroz Con Pollo.

Does this recipe really count for my InstaPot Challenge if Brad cooked it? I am making up the rules as I go along so I'm going to stay it counts. Because well, I took the pictures and I was busy cleaning the house (it has been spring cleaning around here all week).

I borrowed and adapted the recipe from: A Pinch of Healthy

For starters... we used bone-in chicken thighs.

I seasoned the chicken thighs generously with garlic powder, cumin, paprika, oregano and Goya's Cilantro & Achiote (I don't necessarily recommend purchasing from Amazon, but for visual purposes I included the link). My parents always have this Goya seasoning on hand and I feel like they put it on everything. Don't be alarmed, it does tend to make your food look a little orange... ha.

Then, Brad set the InstaPot to Sauté Setting, added the 1 Tbsp of oil and waited a minute for it to warm up. He tossed the chicken thighs in there and started searing. He seared for about 5 minutes on one side and 3 minutes on the other.

PS - The thing I love about chicken thighs is that they are so hard to overcook because of how juicy the dark meat is? Brad reminds me of this occasionally when I used to cook them on the cast iron skillet and then throw the pan in the oven. It really is hard to "dry out" chicken thighs and with chicken breasts it feels like that can happen so quickly! Even those Meat Temperature things always say how tender the legs or thighs get with higher temps.

After the searing of the thighs, he took them out and placed them on a plate. Then he got started on sautéing the veggies. The recipe I followed suggests to add 1/3 cup of chicken broth to deglaze the pan and scrape the sticky stuff with a wooden spoon. Brad normally follows the instructions so I am going to trust that he did this step (it literally says do not skip this step :)).

In true Brad fashion, he was well prepared for this meal and cut up all the veggies before he even started cooking. He also had the rice rinsed and sitting on the side of the sink before he started cooking. I share this tip because I'll also go ahead and admit that I am normally not this prepared in the kitchen. I am usually trying to cut up veggies, watch something sear over open fire, rinsing rice and helping Joanna open PlayDoh... all at the same time. And while that strategy works well in my everyday life (where I am striving for several goals within a 24hr or weekly period), it doesn't work well in the kitchen when you are trying to cook something in 1hr. The majority of my stress probably comes because I don't read the recipe FIRST, and get all my ingredients chopped, spices out and measuring utensils too. But everyone has areas of their life that require improvement, right? :)

Moving on...
After the sauté of the veggies, he added the remainder of the chicken broth, the rinsed rice and some salt and pepper. He put the chicken thighs back in the pot, on top of the mixture, put the lid on the pot, locked it (you just turn it to the lock position) and then set the valve to "Sealing". He also changed the setting to Pressure Cook and set the timer for 10 min.

So the cool thing (cool to me) about this pot or really any pressure cooker, is that it LITERALLY keeps all the liquids inside the pot and contains all the pressure. I know you're probably thinking... "duh Steph, it's a pressure cooker" and it should be obvious that its main purpose is to do this. BUT... I didn't really think about the semantics of what *Pressure Cooker* really meant when I started down this journey. And honestly, I probably have no sincere interest for learning new things in the kitchen... besides feeding my child anything other than microwave Velveeta macaroni, steamed broccoli and KidFresh fish sticks - which by the way are pretty darn good :)

The one ingredient that we didn't have on hand that probably would have just made this dish that much better was some Spanish Olives. My dad cooks with this stuff and it makes all of the rice dishes better. I immediately added this to my grocery list and BAM, now I have some Goya Manzanilla Olives in my pantry, waiting for this dish to be made again. All of the other ingredients, I easily had on hand.

After the 10min timer was up... we turned it off. I believe the pot just goes into Natural Pressure Release (NPR) mode, which just means that the pressure begins releasing by itself and you need to wait for it to all release... vs, manually moving the little valve to "Venting". This NPR thing took about 20 minutes. At first the rice mixture looked a little too liquidy for our liking, so we put the lid back on and added another 5 min to the timer using the Pressure Cook setting again.  (PS recipe instructions below indicate to just cook with pressure for 15 minutes, you'll thank us later)

We still thought it looked a little liquidy but we were pretty hungry by this point so we just went with it. And then I forgot that this dish is naturally more moist than just your normal pot of rice... DUH. It's more like a casserole consistency and we just let it sit while I took out the chicken thighs to shred them.

Joanna was pretty antsy by now and I had finished cleaning the floors so her and I came back to the kitchen. She was sitting on the kitchen island literally eating the chicken shreds just as fast as I could get it cut up and back in the pot. Have you ever made a toddler wait for their food while they are hungry? Yeah, not a good idea. Needless to say, she probably ate about half a chicken thigh and by the time we served her dinner, she ate about 4 bites of her rice.

Short tangent, unrelated to this recipe:
I have this recent revelation that as long as my child isn't eating cereal for dinner (which we literally just survived a 2-3 week period where all she did was ask for Fruit Loops, Mini Wheats or Honey Nut Cheerios for dinner)... then I am doing a decent job. So, this night she ate half a chicken thigh, 4 bites of rice and then later we had a meltdown about wanting dried-out apple slices. It was a battle (which Brad and I were determined to win) but we BOTH stood our ground and said that she needed to finish the other 4 bites of her rice if she wanted anything else to eat. After lots of tears and running back and forth between the two of us, she ate it! ...followed by the ever so promised dried-out apple slices :)

I'm going to try to avoid parenting tactics here but this is one of the first few times which Brad and I have tried to be stern with her about food. In the past (see bit above about cereal for dinner) she has manipulated us into feeding her whatever she wanted after she had already refused her dinner earlier that night. Lately, we are trying to keep her unfinished dinner on the kitchen island so when she asks for something else, we can point to her dinner and ask her to eat some of it first. Like my mother in law told me when I asked her how I would get two children to nap at the same time.... "Steph, you are the boss! Not them!".

:) :) haha, I'm trying to remember that my toddler is not the boss of me :)
Hey... this parenting this is not easy, or for the faint of heart.

Anyways, if you are still with me... here is the recipe:

Instant Pot
Arroz Con Pollo


  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • Half medium onion, diced
  • 4-5 sweet baby peppers, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1.5 cups rice rinsed and drained (DO NOT skip the rinsing. Rice will scorch if not rinsed.)
  • 1.5 cups of chicken broth
  • Season chicken thighs to taste with: garlic powder, cumin, paprika, oregano and Goya's Cilantro & Achiote
  • Half cup of Goya Manzanilla Olives, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Using the sauté setting, preheat on normal for 1.5 minutes
  2. Generously season your chicken thighs with garlic powder, cumin, paprika, oregano and Goya's Cilantro & Achiote
  3. Add oil and when it is "glassy looking" (as Brad would describe it), use tongs to put chicken in the pan (watch out for oil splatter!)
  4. Sear chicken thighs, 5 min on side one, season the opposite side and 3 min on side 2 (pan will be hotter)
  5. Chicken will render a little fat, but you can add a little more oil if you want to
  6. Remove and set aside chicken on a plate
  7. Add 1/3 cup broth to deglaze the pan, scrape the bits with a wooden spoon (do not skip this step!). If there are any stuck on spots, be sure and lift those away from the pan with a wooden spoon.
  8. Add onion, baby peppers, carrots, and cook for 3 minutes.
  9. Add garlic, and continue to cook for another minute.
  10. Add remaining 1 and ½ cups of chicken broth, rice, Spanish olives and stir together.
  11. Place the chicken thighs on top of the mixture.
  12. Place the lid on, and lock it, setting the valve to sealing.
  13. Cook on manual high pressure for 15 minutes, and allow the Instant Pot to release naturally (do not use the quick release lever, but let the pressure indicator lower on its own. (mine took 20 minutes, FYI)
  14. Switch the valve release, and remove the lid carefully.
  15. Use two forks to shred the chicken, add chicken back in and stir the pot.
  16. Serve immediately.

We hope you enjoy!

Brad & Steph

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My Instant Pot Arrived!

Disclaimer: I am a true amateur in the kitchen and I do not recommend following any of the brief instructions that I have laid out below. My husband barely trusts my kitchen skills and we have been together for almost 7 years. Please consult your Owners Manual or at least another, more experienced kitchen blogger for more clarification on how to use this magical appliance. 

Now that we've got that out of the way! ...

Just as I suspected, Amazon Santa delivered me my very own Instant Pot to my front door at 8pm on Christmas Eve. We didn't even wrap the thing! Just slid it right under the tree :) For a brief 48 hours, my model was $20 off the normal price with 1 day free shipping and BOOM... all my dreams came true! (okay, not all of my dreams but you get the picture). 

We had a pretty low key Christmas around here. The temperature dropped pretty quickly in Austin and staying home in our PJs was an obvious choice. After opening gifts and getting through breakfast, Joanna and I did some playing while Brad took a snooze (he worked all night long). Then Joanna passed out herself around 11:30am and I was able to start reading my Users Manual.

Before everyone broke for their naps, I did get into the InstaPot for a quick photo #sixmonthspregnant

In true Ganey curiosity, Brad began tinkering with my new toy himself. I'll admit, I was a little intimidated and kept telling myself, "No, you cannot get into the pot... Not until you read the Users Manual first!". So, he took the thing apart and washed all the pieces and set them out to dry. 

Later on, we took it for a "test run" together. After you get through reading all the features and the several Cooking Program Options in the Users Manual, the instructions say that you should drive your InstaPot around the block and make sure that it works - before using it to cook for the first time. This was a great way for Brad and I to both "break the ice" together.... but I really just led him lead :)

It was a relatively easy process. It tells you to add 3 cups of water (2 cups is the minimum liquid required), make sure that both the pot and the seal are sitting "correctly" and to close the lid  and put it in the lock position. This initial test run tells you to use the Steam feature for 2 minutes. I've never used a pressure cooker before and I really cannot recall if my parents own one either. I do remember seeing one in a family member's house before... but as a child, I wasn't really allowed in the kitchen (hence the reason why I have very minimal kitchen skills) so I have no experience with a pressure cooker... AT ALL. There is one very important thing I learned with this "test run":

There is a "float valve" at the top of the cooker, and this indicates if there is pressure in the pot. If the float valve is all the way UP... there is pressure in the pot and this basically means that its like a little bomb if you open the lid (or a big one, I don't really know. But bomb means bomb and I don't want to find out). If the float valve is all the way DOWN... then there is no pressure left in the pot (all the pressure has been released via the Steam Release Handle either naturally or forced by moving the handle yourself) and it is safe to open the pot.... only if the valve is all the way DOWN.

...good thing we read the Users Manual :)
I don't want any bombs going off in this house!

I am positive that we will refer back to this Users Manual frequently as there are like 9 Programs on this little pot with their instructions of how to operate, some troubleshooting tips and cleaning instructions. Brad's only complaint was how long it takes to dry while sitting out on the drying rack. It seems to have several pieces or areas in the lid that can catch water and may require a hand towel to finish drying before you put it away. Although, almost all the pieces are dishwasher safe! For us, we normally hand wash our pots and pans and only load plates/bowls/cups and utensils in the dishwasher. That way we only have to run the dishwater 1-2 a week.

After our "test run" I started doing a little bit of recipe research. I quickly caught on that most recipes share the time it takes to get the pot to temp and also the time it takes for the pot to naturally release its pressure. This is important for me because if I am looking for quick meals to begin cooking at 5pm when I arrive home from work, then I need ALL THE TIME ADDED UP! I also came to a quick realization that there are going to be two categories of meals I can cook in this thing:

  1. Weeknight meals - these are the more simple, less prep meals that take minimal time from prep to serving. We are normally eating dinner by 6pm and if we aren't then Joanna is ravaging the pantry and eating all the snacks. These meals need to take less than 1hr from start to finish.
  2. Weekend meals - these can be the meals that require more prep, sautéing, steaming, etc. Maybe I can explore dishes I normally wouldn't cook, because I'll have more time and flexibility to put this thing to the test on the weekends. Gourmet meals anyone?

So that kinda sums it up. On Tuesday we did cook our first meal - Brad and I were both home from work and we had chicken thighs sitting in the fridge ready to go. I'll share that recipe and pictures very soon!


Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Instant Pot Challenge

Life has been pretty busy for us since we moved to Austin since we said "yes!" to moving to Dallas, Texas back in summer of 2015, while 7 months pregnant with our first child. But if I really stop to think about it, I think the busyness really started in 2013 right after I graduated with my undergrad. That spring I was taking a heavy load so I could graduate in May, then we immediately started training for our first marathon, and we got engaged in October. It's almost like the speed at which life moved just got faster and faster since 2013 and its really hard to believe how much change we've undergone in just 4.5 short years.

Anyways, I preface this "Instant Pot Challenge" post with a few statements of reminiscing because I realize that I probably don't need to add anymore challenges to my life. And if you read my last post that took a look back at 2017, you may be thinking that I need to take a break from life for a little while, ha. What I DO NEED is a good reason to get excited in the kitchen and a better strategy for meal planning and meal cooking. I've shared before that Brad is the primary cook in our house, but he also works a pretty gruesome (gruesome to me) schedule at the hospital which requires for him to be awake all night long when the rest of the world is sleeping. Regularly it seems, he works this 10hr overnight schedule for 7 or 8 days straight. Brad seems to like it, but I'm sure that getting us a little more organized in our dinner plans will give him more hours to snooze on those days he is working, and quite possibly less stress for me on the days that I pickup the cooking.

So, I came up with a brilliant idea! (said no one ever). I've been stalking this Instant Pot craze for a while now and really thinking, "I need one of those things in my life". I say that because I could really get on the band wagon of putting several ingredients in a pot and walking away until the thing beeps DONE. (If you haven't heard of an Instant Pot, I am not going to try and explain what it does.. you just have to google it and trust the millions of other bloggers). Anyways, when I take on new recipes in the kitchen, its usually a disaster that Brad saves me from. And when I do come home from work to cook dinner with a toddler who's hyped up on afternoon snacks, I'm usually stressed out by cutting/steaming broccoli, warming up already cooked rice from the fridge and just plain cooking some chicken on the stove top. Seriously, cooking is not therapeutic for me. It's actually the complete opposite. Throw a toddler into the mix who loves to sit on the counter top (you can thank me for the introduction of that habit) who is IN YOUR FACE while you're chopping veggies and cooking over open fire (apparently Texas likes their natural gas... not really a "thing" in Florida!)... I can easily turn into the evil step mother on the verge of a mental break down. Knife, fire, toddler and soon to be infant are not a good combination for me... while hangry myself. Brad is usually just about waking up to our chaos to save the day, as I am saying "shhhh, daddy is sleeping!" for the tenth time.

Okay, maybe I'm overreacting (maybe I'm not), but the idea of one pot holding my main dish to be cooked, excites me. No open flame, no stirring and splashing of hot food or oil AND.... A DELAY START BUTTON? Come on, that sounds like a dream come true. Plus I hear its really a "set it and forget it" kinda appliance!

Look at that beauty just waiting to change my life

I'll admit, I haven't done a TON of research on all the features this Instant Pot thing has, but I promise that for the first time in my life... I will read the Owners Manual! I pinkie promise (and I hear this is kinda mandatory). I honestly might be hyping this thing up and setting myself up for disappointment. But I cannot imagine that a 9-in-1 pot won't have a positive impact on my life and reduce my stress level in the kitchen ;) My pot arrives just in time for Christmas and with plenty of time for me to tinker around with it before the craziness of the new year begins again.

So, I want to challenge myself to cook X number of recipes in this said pot... which I will begin referring to as an InstaPot (that's literally how it sounds in my head every time I want to type out the words, then the little red squiggly line shows up and tells me I typed it wrong. Add To Dictionary? :) ). When I started this blog a few years back, I really wanted to learn "domestic-like skills". And you know what? I can mad-woman clean a house, do some laundry and even iron. But my downfall is always in the kitchen. No one said that I needed to cook over open flame in order to call myself domesticated. So, why have I been trying to convince myself that I need to? If this InstaPot can really bring out Chef Stephanita and help me convince my daughter that I am not that awful in the kitchen, maybe I'll change the name of my blog to Running Away from Domestication. Ha, maybe not... I'm sure then I can focus on some crafty stuff or becoming that awesome PTA mom that I aspire (and have minimal skill set) to be.

So, follow along with me! I can't promise I'll share my experience every week on the blog. But I will promise that I'm going to give this thing a real, honest effort. But, I haven't decided how many new recipes I should try to tackle in 2018... any suggestions?

Fifty? One hundred?

For my very few readers still alive out there...
Your suggestions, feedback and well wishes are welcome! :)


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

11 months too long...

Hi friends!

My apologies for the obvious neglect around here. I ran that crazy marathon back in February, 2 days after my 29th birthday and it's been a whirlwind of a year. I've thought about writing several times, and even drafted a few different posts... but I never finished them and the next time I log in, they are completely irrelevant.

So here it goes...

In February I ran THAT marathon. My THIRD marathon, my first as a #motherrunner and my SLOWEST to-date. It was one of the hardest training cycles I've ever accomplished and my PRIMARY goal was to finish. And that's exactly what I did... with lots of tears and pain in my left knee/IT band area. I had my mama, my hubby and my daughter out there in the COLD Dallas weather cheering me on every chance they got. It was ugly, and beautiful all at the same time. And it was such a monumental moment that helped me prove to myself that I can do this thing called motherhood and running and working (and not cooking)... this thing called life.

Joanna and I after The Cowtown Marathon
February 26, 2017

Life got pretty busy after that because I was assigned my second major project at work. I pretty much spent 70% of my time in Austin for the next 4-5 months between consolidating one of our laboratories and checking-in on our new house being built on the north side of town. The travel between Dallas and Austin was HEAVY and I thought it would never end. On May 30th my project went live and on June 30th we closed on our new home.  The stress of building a home 4 hours away while traveling back and forth with a toddler and 2 dogs, was insane to say the least. But somehow (with the grace of God and lots of prayers) we survived.

Brad and Joanna on closing day
June 30, 2017

Brad and I had some serious downtime the month after closing. He took some time off work before starting at the new hospital in Austin and I also got some much needed time away from work projects to unpack and help us get settled. We took on lots of little house projects - laying sod in our backyard, staining the fence, hanging all of the blinds, painting the garage and setting up a "big girl room" for Joanna. It was great to able to hit the reset button and focus on our family after such a stressful 6-8 months.

After getting back into the groove of his new hospital and me working with a new team at my new Austin office, I decided to apply to Baylor University for their Online MBA program. I've been considering going back to school for the last 2 years but the timing has been less than ideal. Moving our Ganey circus TWICE in a year and half has not been something I've wanted to handle while also trying to juggle going back to school. In October I received my acceptance letter for Baylor and a few days later we found out we are EXPECTING BABY #2! I say less than ideal circumstances for going back to school and you're probably thinking that introducing another baby into our lives is not the best timing either... ha :) but we were also ready for Joanna to be a big sister. If there is one thing I've really figured out in the last few years, it's that there is never a good time to grow your career, grow your family and increase your knowledge. So, we decided... let's just do it all at the same time :)

Ganey Christmas photos
November 15, 2017

Work travel has been pretty heavy again this fall as I was assigned a new major project. My leadership team has been very supportive of my desire to have and try to balance all.the.things but my #1 rock has been Brad. That man is the glue who keeps it all together for us. I don't want to turn this into a mushy rant about how great my husband is, but the things he does for our family.. and for me to pursue ALL MY ASPIRATIONS... (because I have like ADHD for life and feel the need to juggle 5 balls at the same time), is beyond what I can try to sum up in a 3 paragraph essay. I'm just going to throw it out there that I am a pretty lucky gal. While he does try to "bring me back down to earth" as I set goals in the sky, he always encourages me to follow the little voice inside of my heart.

So here we are, mid-December and I just finished my first semester of GRAD school! Baylor's online program is accelerated, which means that every 6 weeks I'm taking a new class. At this rate, I'll be finishing the program when baby #2 is TWO YEARS old. I'm currently on a 1 week vacation at work reflecting on the last year and enjoying time with Florida family who are coming to visit us (I specifically told everyone that we DO NOT want to pack any bags to visit anyone for Christmas.... but they can come to Austin!).

One thing that has really helped me in the last month is REFLECTION. Instead of just pushing forward relentlessly, I need to remind myself to take a moment and look at all that WE have accomplished. Every little and big goal that we've set for our family and how we both came out stronger in the end. It's all about team work and we definitely don't get enough date nights to slow down with each other and reflect on everything we've been through in the last two years.

So, before we wrap up this "year in review" or 11 months too long...
I have to share a few things that have helped me personally survive the last year...

  1. I give myself grace, all the time. And I pray and ask God to help me give myself grace on the days that I feel like I'm really beating down on myself.
  2. I acknowledge and thank Brad for all that he does to help this Ganey circus move forward, as often as I possibly can. Because without his support and without him by my side, none of this would matter.
  3. I try my hardest not to stress out when my kid only wants to eat mac and cheese and fish sticks (this comes in waves, luckily right now she likes broccoli again!). But, we do continue to offer her different varieties of food. You gotta pick your battles, right?
  4. I write everything down and have taken my PMP skills to the next level at home. Although I could do a much better job meal-planning, I really try to have a "plan" for everything and that helps me get things accomplished.
  5. I ask Brad to take the lead in the kitchen and when it's my turn to cook, I don't compare my sub-par dinner to his savory meals!
  6. I have accepted that my running needs to take a backseat for a while. I can't run marathons, do crafty homemaker things, do well at my demanding-job, be a present mother, do an online MBA program and be a decent wife to my extremely supportive husband. I can't do it all and I have to accept when some areas suffer so I can give attention to the areas that need it. Oh did I mention cooking in that long list? Yeah, that isn't my forte anyways. I CANNOT be a chef :)
  7. I reach out to a few close girlfriends more often. I know we are all busy but leaning on them for some support, guidance and just laughter helps me see that we are all chasing the same dream. It's true what they say, "there ain't no hood like motherhood" and having some supportive girlfriends in your corner (mommies or not) is the best kind of therapy life can offer.

Hopefully in 2018 I can do a better job reflecting and use this little space in the corner as an outlet, opposed to making it feel like another thing on my checklist

Until next time! & Happy 2017!