Meal Prep Monday: Instant Pot Magic

Instant pots cropped up in my world around Christmas time. Many friends were gifted the magical pot that cooked instantly and can cook just about everything.

Having a kitchen full of items, I wasn’t really jumping at the idea of adding another one to my arsenal. While all the food cooked in it looked great and seemed like this incredible, too good to be true item, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy one.

Luckily for me, my mom has one. She’s had it for a while now. Except she always referred to it as her pressure cooker. She even suggested it give it a go at some point because she felt that I would like it.

As my media feeds were food with pictures and posts of this cooking revolution, I asked my mom if her cooker was the same and she told me that yes, the one she had been using for some time is the same one that everyone was in love with now.

So, I borrowed it. And this weekend I made a few meals to help me make it through the week with healthy options.

Our first attempt was simple. Steaming some green beans coated in a little oil and salt and pepper.

These didn’t last long once they came out because my husband started eating them like candy. So I’d say they were a success.

My next recipe was a whole meal with honey teriyaki chicken and carrots. I got to use the sauté function and brown the chicken then pressure cooked the whole thing together. It came out great! So good that AGAIN I had to hide it from my husband. Within minutes of it being out of the cooker (while I was making the sauce thicken up a bit) he had devoured a whole chicken breast.

See?! I’m not lying. He totally nommed on a whole breast while I was busy stirring.

My last effort to play with the instant pot was cooking a whole spaghetti squash.  Now I’ve never had a spaghetti squash before but I’ve aways heard great things about it working well as a low calorie option for pasta.

Initially it took 15 minutes to soften but it didn’t feel completely cooked through so I put it back in for another 5 minutes. After that second round it was perfect. I carefully took it out and cut it open to pull apart the meat.

For lunch I made a spaghetti squash, green bean, and chicken sausage bowl and it was good. Not great, but good. I’d have to say that the spaghetti squash was definitely something I’ll have to get used to but it’s nice to have some different options for healthy eating.

So far my first foray into the instant pot has been successful. I’m fascinated by the process and I think my husband is too. He’s been very hands on with helping me cook and test out new recipes, although his favorite job in my kitchen is taste testing. I can’t wait to try it again, maybe with a meat sauce to go with my spaghetti squash.

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Meal Prep Monday: Casseroles Are LIFE!

Hey my fellow crafty chefs. It’s been a while since I’ve shared some of my creative endeavors in the kitchen. Why? Well, things have been super busy with the new teaching job and cooking took a back seat.

Plus, the husband shared with me that making all of the food over the weekend and eating it throughout the week wasn’t desirable because he felt like he was eating just leftovers again and again. I could see his point so we made some adjustments and made most of the protein items on Sunday and then cooked sides through the week.

Nothing like a fresh batch of veggies or rice each night to complement some chicken or steak!

But even that change still proved to be too tough to keep up with. The demands of my new job and our already hectic life kept getting in the way. Between grades and soccer and long working hours for the Mr., I was in need of a meal prep schedule that I could keep up.

Enter the casserole! Sorta…

I call it a casserole because I tend to put it together in a large casserole dish but in all honesty it’s more like a tossed together full meal that we reheat throughout the week. It includes a meat, veggies, and a carb like pasta or rice at the base. I’ve had some successful meals come from this new plan of attack that I’ll share below.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Ravioli Casserole

Ok this one literally was an off-the-cuff last minute idea. I had guys over watching football and a kiddo playing Minecraft so I was stuck at home trying to come up with something to feed the troops.

In the freezer I had some butternut squash cubed and ready to cook so I roasted it with garlic, oil, cayenne, oregano and sea salt. While I did that, I layered cheese ravioli into a casserole dish along with some washed spinach. When the butternut squash was fully cooked, I blended it until it was soup like and then I spread that between layers of ravioli and spinach. My thinking was to make it like a lasagna but instead of the long, flat noodles, I’d use the ravioli for layers.

I covered the top with cheese and baked it until the ravioli was cooked completely. As a finishing touch I broiled the top so that the cheese was nice and melted. And we were super impressed! I thought the guys would hate it but in the end they both ate it and enjoyed it! We added a little simple basil marinara sauce on top or to dip it into and that added bonus flavor.

Italian Sausage and Beer Pasta Unbake

My husband confided in me that he didn’t like baked pasta. Particularly the crusty bit around the edge (oh my favorite!). So, taking the idea of a pasta bake, I boiled noodles, browned sausage and beef together with garlic and seasonings, and mixed a bag of roasted peppers into a marinara sauce with the intention of tossing it altogether in a casserole dish but leaving off the last step of baking it together.

That way we still get the goodness of a full meal without the crispy bits around the edges. And when we heat it up throughout the week, we melt a little cheese on top to keep it fresh and new.

My other go-to is my Turkey Chili. I can vary certain ingredients (like marinara for salsa) to include whatever I have on hand. I’ve got a list of a few things I need to always have on hand to make one of these all-in-one meals. Things I replace when I run out, not things I buy weekly. The meat I buy weekly and that’s about it. Otherwise I have a decent stash of these items in my cabinets and freezer.Canned tomatoes

pasta sauce
frozen mixed veggies
pasta (a variety)
frozen ravioli/tortellini
frozen meatballs (Trader Joe’s are awesome)

With these things always  at home, I know I just need to grab the beef, chicken, or turkey to add. We also shop for the pasta and the frozen veggies on days when it’s a 10/$10 sale. It saves us a little money and time to grab a bunch and store them.

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What’s Cookin’ Good Lookin’

Not too long ago I wrote about a change in our habits. We were going from a general meal prep household (where a whole day was spent preparing meals for the whole week) to a meal a night. At first I didn’t want to make the switch. Preparing meals was much, much easier at one time then having to get up the energy to cook a full dinner throughout the week.

I had some great suggestions to keep with preparing certain things on Sunday but adding the prepared foods to new meals every other night. I took all the suggestions and starting figuring out how I wanted to go about feeding my family. Since I’m the one responsible for cooking and the shopping, it’s a big weight on my shoulders and after a long day of teaching, I’m not always ready to get in the kitchen and make a full meal.

My shopping list stayed the same but I did freeze a few items that I wasn;t going to need right away. This has been a problem in the past. I’ll intend to make dinner but will forget to set out the meat or some other important item so that it will be thawed by the time I’m ready to cook. So I’m going to have to adjust my brain there and remember to set everything up before work.

The first meal I made last week were turkey burgers! Using my skillets, I sauteed some peppers with garlic in one and cooked the turkey burgers in the other. My turkey burgers were a mix of turkey meat, panko crumbs, seasonings, and a little salt. I pressed each patty in my handy dandy hamburger press so that they would all be the same size and thickness. It was the first time using them and I’m glad I have it. It made cooking the meat much easier.

The burgers were a hit! My son loved them, my brother in law loved them, and my husband did too. I made enough to have left overs for a night or two and there were a few ways to eat it. It could be eaten like usual, on a bun with all the fixings. Or if you wanted a lighter meal you could skip the bun and eat it wrapped in some lettuce. Another option would be to crumble the burger over some rice or lettuce, too!

My next attempt was a chicken Parmesan skillet meal. I browned some chicken tenders in butter with garlic and onions for flavor. Once the chicken was properly cooked through, I poured a jar of marinara sauce over the whole meal and let it simmer on low for a few minutes. When it was almost time to serve I sprinkled some hand-shredded Parmesan and Romano cheese over the top.

It was a lot of cheesy goodness and made the house smell amazing! We served over some whole wheat penne pasta and have enjoyed the leftovers served with rice or pasta.

We had a craving for ravioli during the week, too, so I grabbed some to heat up and serve to the guys. This was a simple meal and required nothing more than heating and serving but it gave us a great meal and enough leftovers for lunch or dinner for an extra day or two. Plus it helped that they were heart shaped and super cute!

Our little Moo Cow loved the raviolis too!

This week I’m going to attempt the turkey burgers again and this time pay attention to my measurements and the process so I can post a recipe for my fellow kitchen hobbyist!

I’ll share any of my successful meals!