Best Instant Pot Accessories of 2017!

If you’ve recently purchased an Instant Pot, you might be asking yourself the best way to get started. Join an Instant Pot Recipe Facebook group, follow a few blogs, and get cooking! The accessories that come with the Instant Pot are perfect to get started. no fancy tools needed to make the best Carnitas or Risotto you’ve ever had, but if you are looking for a deeper dive, here are some of the Best Instant Pot Accessories of 2017!

Sous Vide Immersion Circulator – I love Sous Vide style of cooking, and this model is designed specifically to clamp securely on both the 6 and 8 quart Instant Pot models. An immersion circulator creates a cooking water-bath set to a precise temperature, usually the temperature that is desired for the internal temperature of what is being cooked. For example, when cooking steak, traditionally methods (grill, broil) create somewhat of a bulls eye effect of doneness. As the outside gets exposed to very high heat, it must be removed at the exact point the inside reaches the desired temperature. With Sous Vide cooking, food is cooked evenly edge to edge with no risk of overcooking, and is juicy and flavorful.

 

 

Immersion Blender – an immersion blender is a great tool to have with an Instant Pot.  It makes blending a creamy soup, like Instant Pot Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup, whipping up a batch of apple sauce, baby food, or making blended sauces a snap, and no need to transfer hot liquids to a blender!  .

 

 

Vegetable Steamer Basket – when making vegetables in the Instant Pot, a steamer basket is a must. Keeping the veggies out of the steaming liquids maintain their flavor and keep them from getting mushy. If you haven’t tried carrots or corn on the cob in the pressure cooker yet, you don’t know what you are missing. Sweet and delicious!

 

Hiware 7 Inch Springform Pan – If you are making cheesecake, lasagna or enchilada pie in the Instant Pot, a springform pan is a must-have. This 7” pan fits the 6 qt. Instant Pot perfectly and is easy to clean.

 

 

 

Stackable Steamer Pots – stackable pans allow for different foods to be steamed simultaneously in the Instant Pot. Want to steam both fish and veggies? No problem. Making both rice and vegetables for a side dish? Easy!  These are especially handy when cooking a variety of foods for a small family or group.

 

 

 

Egg Rack – allows for cooking up to 7 eggs at the same time in the Instant Pot, evenly and within a few minutes. Each egg sits securely in its own place to eliminate rolling around and cracking.

 

 

 

Wide Rim Mesh Basket – another great option for steaming in the Instant Pot, this Mesh Basket holds the maximum amount of veggies or eggs, but requires bending or removing the handles on the pot to fit just right. It’s an easy fix, and totally worth it on this inexpensive accessory.

 

 

Instant Pot Silicone Cover – This lid fits tightly over the inner pot, is air tight and leak proof, making it a perfect accessory for storing leftover in the refrigerator or taking the inner pot on the go.

 

 

 

Instant Pot Mini Mitts – made of silicone, these mini mitts are perfect for quickly removing the hot inner pot from the Instant Pot. Since they are silicone, they are a breeze to clean.

 

 

 

Instant Pot Sealing Ring– A sealing ring comes with the Instant Pot out of the box, but they don’t last forever.   Instant Pot recommends that you change the sealing ring every 12-18 months.  Plus, the last thing you want is for one to start leaking without another one on hand. They also tend to retain some of the scent from cooking, so many people like to keep one on hand for savory dishes and one on hand for sweet dishes.

 

Instant Pot Tempered Glass Lid – Just like the name suggests, this glass lid allows you to actually see what’s in the Instant Pot when it’s covered. It’s a great tool for slow cooking, keeping warm or storing leftovers in the fridge.

 

 

Instant Pot Inner Pot – the Instant Pot comes with an inner pot, but having a second on hand allows you to quickly transfer dishes when making multiple dishes back to back. An extra inner pot also comes in handy for storing leftovers in the fridge.

Wine

I love good food, cooking, wine, and traveling.

One of the things I’ve realized over years is that I learn best when I’m writing things down. I remember the way wine and food taste, the best memories from vacations, and how to make my favorite dishes.

I love wine tasting and pairing wine with my favorite dishes. A perfectly paired wine really enhances a meal. Unless I’m buying for a special occasion, most of the wine in my house is under $20 a bottle. I’m obsessed with the wine departments at Trader Joe’s and Costco, but for very different reasons.

Trader Joe’s has a vast selection of wines under $10, probably more than any other store I’ve seen, but it takes some weeding through to determine if a wine is a bargain… or just cheap. The best bargains at Trader Joe’s are found under labels that are bottled for, and exclusive to Trader Joe’s. You won’t find them anywhere else, and they are usually in stock all year.

On the other hand, Costco’s wine department is forever rotating. They get some great buys on wines that are carried at other retailers, but offer them at a savings, sometimes substantial. They buy them in bulk, and when they’re gone, they’re gone, so buy a case if you find something you like!

Over the next couple of months, I’ll be adding my favorite finds from Trader Joe’s, Costco and some of my other favorites under $20, with pairings to some of my favorite recipes. I hope you enjoy!

Propagating Basil

Planted basil at 2 weeksFresh fruits, vegetables and herbs make everything taste better. I love summer, and nothing tastes more like summer than fresh basil. You can find packets of cut basil at most grocery stores, but there is nothing better than growing your own at home. Most of the time, a potted plant is less expensive than those little packets anyway, and with a little care you will have fresh basil all season. Did you know that many herbs, including basil, can be easily multiplied by taking cuttings and letting them root in water? I don’t know about you, but I can’t make all the pesto, pizza, sauces and salads I want with just one little plant.

Basil cuttings in water

Basil cuttings in water

So I make more.

The fastest and easiest  way to multiply basil plants is to buy a big healthy plant at the beginning of the growing season, and root additional plants from cuttings. Basil is one of the easiest plants to do this with. Here’s what to do –

 

 

 

Basil cuttings at 3 weeks

Basil cuttings at 3 weeks

 

Take 4 inch cuttings from basil plants, about an inch below secondary leaves. Remove lower leaves and stick in a glass of fresh water so the water covers the nodes where the lower leaves were removed. Place in a sunny window, and after a few days, you will see roots starting to form, looking like small white bumps. Change water every few days and after 3-4 weeks, you will have cuttings with strong root systems ready for planting.

 

Planted basil cuttings

Planted basil cuttings

That’s it! It doesn’t get any easier than that. I’ve also done this with Rosemary and Thyme with similar results. Hooray for free plants!

 

 

 

 

 

Planted basil at 2 weeks

Planted basil at 2 weeks

Cancun

Cancun Hyatt Zilara Sunrise 2I love Cancun. It’s warm, sunny, the people are friendly and it’s a quick flight from Austin. Cancun has a reputation for being a spring break party town, but that really isn’t the case for most of the year. After Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to visit; the crowds are light, it’s the beginning of the dry season, and the weather is a perfect 82 degrees and sunny. I suppose you can go anywhere and party hard, but I’m more into going to sleep early, waking up early, and getting a light workout in before relaxing poolside with a drink in hand. After all, is there a more rewarding mimosa than a post workout mimosa? Of course there isn’t.

Cancun Hyatt Zilara SunriseThe coast of Cancun is lined with hotels that range from no frills, to all-inclusive to luxury resorts. If relaxing on the resort is your thing, Hyatt Zilara is an adults only all-inclusive with spectacular sunrises and food and drink options that are a notch above others I’ve been. They have a fun lobby band, with a lead singer with killer thighs turning out a mix of American classics and Mexican music to put you in the vacation mood. When she shakes her bootie, conga lines break out. If you are a fan of the Chase Sapphire credit card, like I am, you know that you can transfer your points on a 1:1 basis with their travel partners, which include Southwest and Hyatt. Save up some points, and this vacation can be practically free.

Chichen ItzaYou can’t go to Cancun without seeing some of the ancient Mayan towns. Chichen Itza is an amazing experience, with incredible architecture and history. If you take a tour, you will be provided transportation and a tour guide, but this proves to be a very long day. There are hours spent waiting around and sales opportunities for everything from tequila with your picture on it to Mexican knick-knacks. We wished we had taken the suggestion from one of our fellow pool goers to hire a taxi driver to take us personally, give us a tour and take us back to the hotel. It probably would have taken about half the time, and when on vacation, every precious hour counts.

 

 

Cancun beachFor me, a Caribbean vacation needs to be a mix of soaking in the sun and exploring all the city has to offer. That usually means opting out of an all-inclusive, because experiencing some of the local culture is what makes the best memories. After all, a lot of Caribbean beaches look very similar!  One stay at the Ritz Carlton, we enjoyed spectacular drinks and service, although pricier than other hotels in the area. There are tons of restaurant options in the hotel zone, La Habichuela was a standout, with great outdoor ambiance and great food.

Mar Bella Prawns

 

One of the best meals I’ve had in my life was at a seafood restaurant named Mar-Bella. This tiny restaurant, perched atop a convenience store in the port town of Puerto Juarez, was a true gem. There was no menu, just a board listing their fresh catch, ordered by the kilo and prepared to your liking. We raved for months about the grilled octopus salad and giant prawns. It is truly not to be missed.

Bottom line: no matter your travel style, Cancun’s sunny weather and beautiful beaches are reason enough for a visit.

Barcelona

Barcelona - La Sagrada Familia

Barcelona – La Sagrada Familia

Barcelona is a beautiful city with amazing art history and a young fresh culture. There are so many things to see and do (and eat of course!).

The Cotton House hotel on Gran Vìà de les Corts Catalanes, is an upscale and modern hotel in the former headquarters of the Cotton Textile Foundation “Fundación Textil Algodonera”, a 19th-century style building, traditional in the city of Barcelona. In 2015, the building was refurbished to open the beautiful hotel while maintaining the original elements of the building. The marble and spiral staircases, ceiling, floor and wall embellishments have all been conserved in the beautiful new hotel. The hotel staff are friendly, helpful and there is an upscale lounge for breakfast or an evening cocktail.

The city’s art scene is heavily influenced by Gaudí, including La Sagrada Familia, an iconic church with three grand façades: Nativity, Passion and Glory. The Nativity façade bears the most Gaudí influence, and was completed prior to his death. The Passion façade is strikingly different to the Nativity façade, with tormented symbolical characters representing human sin, and was constructed by other architects with the plans left by Gaudí. The Glory façade, which is under construction, will be the largest façade and will represent the ascension to God. It is expected to be completed in 2026, marking the 100 year anniversary of Gaudí’s death. The church’s building materials are a stunning collection of stones, tiles and colored stained glass windows.

Barcelona - Park Guell

Barcelona – Park Guell

Strolling around Park Güell is a must, another beautiful Gaudí creation. The two mile hike from the Cotton House was mostly uphill, but the views of Barcelona are beyond spectacular. The park was conceived by Güell and Gaudí, and was originally designed to be a grouping of artistic, high-quality homes. The idea never took off, and only a few homes were built, leaving a city landmark with beautiful architecture and views not to be missed.

 

 

 

Barcelona - Cook and Taste 2

Seafood Paella at Cook and Taste Barcelona

Taking a cooking class in Barcelona is a fun way to spend an afternoon, learning some traditional Catalan dishes and enjoying our delicious, fresh lunch while wine was flowing throughout the class. Cook and Taste is located in the Gothic quarter, down one of the many narrow streets, and starts with a walking tour to the Boquera Market, an open air market with fresh seasonal vegetables and seafood catches. After purchasing the ingredients for class, the cooking began! A four course meal was prepared, including a seafood paella and a beautiful custard dessert with a delightfully caramelized top. Complete with recipe cards to go, the taste of Barcelona can be recreated at home.

Dessert at Cook and Taste Barcelona

Dessert at Cook and Taste Barcelona

The restaurants in Barcelona are a treat, especially Bodega 1900, the Adrià brothers’ latest venture in Barcelona. In this small restaurant you will find house made vermouth and thoughtful tapas dishes highlighting some of the freshest seasonal fare. The menu changes daily, but the famous olives from El Bulli are a must, and their carpaccio was delightful. The seemingly simple tomato salad was anything but, highlighting the freshest grape tomatoes in existence drizzled with a rich, flavorful Spanish olive oil.

A trip to Barcelona isn’t complete without a walk to the beach, so stop at one of the many seafood restaurants on the strip near the beach, grab a beer from the concession, and find a place near the water to dip your toes into the Mediterranean and a little people watching.

Top 5 Pizza Places in Austin

When I moved to Austin almost seven years ago, there weren’t a lot of good pizza options in town. Whenever I would visit my hometown in New York, my first stop would be my favorite hometown pizza place to get my fix. Fast forward seven years and pizza places are popping up all over the place. Here are my top 5 favorites (4 relatively new ones, and 1 Austin classic).

Pieous Fat Queen Pizza1. Pieous – The Fat Queen – crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, hot sopressata, Italian sausage and pepperoni

Pieous is the only restaurant in Austin to have a VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) certification. This Neapolitan style pizza cooks in an 800-900 degree wood fired over for under 90 seconds and their yeasty, chewy crust has the perfect amount of char. The Fat Queen has more toppings than one would think possible. Getting a pizza from Pieous is well worth the 15 mile drive outside of town.

 

Via 313 The Original Pepperoni2. Via 313 – The Original Pepperoni – cheese, smoked pepperoni, tomato sauce

This Detroit style pizza is a Sicilian style pizza with a softer, thicker crust, topped with pepperoni, cheese all the way to the edge of the pizza and sauce on top. Cooked in a perfectly seasoned blue steel pan, the thick crust comes out crispy, with a little oil, and a lot of delicious. With one of their locations in the backyard of Craft Pride on Rainey Street, it’s the perfect place to grab a pizza and a beer on a sunny day.

 

Backspace Pepperoni Americano3. The Backspace – The Pepperoni Americano – picante salame, tomato, mozzarella, basil

Most of the tables in this quaint space are front row seating to watch the pizza makers in action with the wood fired oven. Lots of fresh mozzarella, basil, and spicy pepperoni tops this chewy crust, cooked to perfection.

 

 

Home Slice4. Home Slice – NY Style Cheese Pizza

Home Slice is the only place in Austin that you can get an authentic NY style pizza experience, ordering at the counter, and getting a large cheesy slice on a paper plate for only a few dollars. Wait at the outdoor pick up window on South Congress for some sun and people watching, or head inside for a much shorter line at the counter.

 

 

 

Luckys Puccia5. Lucky’s Puccias and Pizzeria – Margherita – tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella
Lucky’s pizza has a thin crispy crust and the perfect amount of cheese. Margherita pizza is traditionally topped with thinly sliced fresh mozzarella, but Lucky’s also includes shredded mozzarella, so there is deliciously salty cheese on every bite. Stop at their new casual brick and mortar store on 5th street for pizzas and puccias (wood fired Italian sandwiches).

Pieous

PieousWho would think that a small pizza place, located about 15 miles outside the heart of downtown Austin, would be the #2 rated restaurant in all of Austin on Trip Advisor?  It’s second only to Uchi, the OG of badass restaurants in Austin, which is quite an impressive feat. (Update, Pieous has recently taken over the Numero Uno position).

 

 

Pieous Pastrami SandwichIt’s hard to impress someone that grew up in New York with pizza and pastrami, but Pieous knocks it out of the park.  Their pastrami is hands down the best in Austin, with a perfectly peppery bark.  Sliced thick and piled high on fresh baked sour dough bread, this enormous sandwich tempts me to order sandwiches over pizza, which is an unbelievable feat for this pizza lover.

 

 

Pieous Fat Queen PizzaBring and friend and share that delicious pastrami sandwich, so you have room to try some of their phenomenal pizzas.  The Fat Queen, topped with crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, hot sopressata, Italian sausage and pepperoni has more toppings than one would think possible. The yeasty, chewy crust has the perfect amount of char.

It’s a go to anytime heading all points west of Austin, but their pizza and pastrami are worthy of the drive on their own.

Madrid

Beautiful coffee at Federal Café in Madrid

Beautiful coffee at Federal Café in Madrid

Madrid has topped the list of cities to visit for a long time. There is lots to see and do, so much history and eating in Madrid is a pleasure.

The coffee is fantastic in Madrid and Federal Café is a great stop if you are looking for some beautiful coffee and a light breakfast. In a city where brunch is hard to find, Federal Café offers a full menu of light breakfast and brunch fare and is packed by both locals and tourists.

 

 

Stop for a midday snack at Chocolateria San Gines for some freshly made churros with chocolate for dipping. Later in evening, take a stroll down Calle de Cava Baja, a cozy street lined with restaurants and bars. Casa Lucio is a must for some tapas, chorizo and, of course, Jamon Iberico de Bellota. Jamon Iberico de Bellota is a cured ham that comes from the noble black Iberico pigs that feed on acorns while roaming the Spanish countryside. After curing, the result is a fatty, salty, sweet cured ham that melts when it hits your mouth.

Churros at Chocolateria San Gines

Churros at Chocolateria San Gines

Calle de Cava Baja

Calle de Cava Baja

Jamon Iberico de Bellota

Jamon Iberico de Bellota

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the highlights of our trip to Madrid was the Tapas and Taverns Tour, for numerous reasons. It’s a four hour tour of tasting Madrid’s best tapas, drinking wine, vermouth and beer. The mushrooms at Meson del Champinon, with garlic, lemon and chorizo are to die for and you will need a big hunk of bread to sweep up all the garlic from the Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) at La Casa del Abuelo. As you wander from tavern to tavern, you visit monuments, plazas, and historic buildings for some history of Madrid and to hear about some of the scandals from the royal palace. It was a great back drop to touring the royal palace and viewing the portraits of the royal family. There was that whole inbreeding snafu that resulted in some seriously ugly royals!

Mushrooms at Meson del Champinon

Mushrooms at Meson del Champinon

Chorizo at Casa Lucio

Chorizo at Casa Lucio

Spanish Royal Palace

Spanish Royal Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside of ancient Madrid, stroll around the Parque del Buen Retiro, one of the largest parks in Madrid, filled with magnificent sculptures, monuments and lakes before heading to the Prado museum. The Prado has one of the world’s largest collections of European art and is the largest collection of Spanish art in the world. Aside from the permanent displays, there are special exhibits that run anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Madrid is an energetic city, known for its history, vibrant culture, and of course, the food!

Wu Chow

Wu ChowWu Chow opened a few weeks ago, backed by the same group that runs Swift’s Attic, and is the answer to Austin’s almost nonexistent Chinese food.  With their sophisticated space, creative cocktail menu, and authentic dishes, Wu Chow is quickly becoming a top restaurant in Austin.

For me, Asian food usually pairs with white wine, and there are few good options in the sub $50 range, which is most welcomed!  The descriptions of the dishes on the menu are a little lacking, so be sure to ask some questions.  I got the sense the servers were still learning some of the menu items as well, but they helped us pick some great dishes.

 

Wu Chow Soup Dumpling 2

 

The Shanghai Soup Dumplings are not to be missed!  You eat them by picking them up from the top, as to not burst the soupy dumpling bottom, place in soup spoon, top with red wine vinegar and ginger, and then slurp away! These are the best dumplings I’ve ever had. We were told there is one person that makes about 4,000 a week.  They put a limit on how many you can order, they are that good.

 

 

 

Wu Chow Honey Pecan Gulf PrawnsHoney Pecan Prawns are lightly fried, and glazed with a sweet honey sauce.  They are large, tender, and a more generous portion than expected.  Wu Chow Special Fried Rice is also very good, a large portion of fried rice with three of four different proteins.  Most of the dishes came with white rice, so we had quite a few bowls of rice on our table, much more than we could finish.

Dry Fried Green Beans are crunchy, a bit spicy, and flavorful with garlic and some sort of fermented veggies.  We also enjoyed the Scallions Hugging Beef, very tender in a salty oniony sauce.

 

 

Two-Faced Crispy Noodles and Tangerine Peel Beef

I love the texture of the Two-Faced Crispy Noodles.  With chicken, beef, and a ton of vegetables, these crispy noodles are gently softened by flavorful broth to give them a nice chewy quality.

We enjoyed everything we tasted, and will definitely be back to try some of their dim sum for Sunday brunch.  I could see stopping in for happy hour regularly to slurp up those delicious soup dumplings!  (Seriously, get the soup dumplings.)

Juniper

Juniper PappardelleJuniper is a new restaurant that opened on the east side a little over a month ago, specializing in small plates with a Northern Italian flair. This special occasion spot is perfect for a small group, so you can share more of their delicious offerings.

One of the early favorites were the Puffy Potatoes, like a cheesy adult tater tot with fresh herbs, served alongside a spicy whipped Dijon. The Cannellini bean salad was unique and bright with the addition of fresh grapefruit to sweet potato and red onion.

They have an interesting selection of fresh made pasta. The Shaped Pasta was similar in size and shape to orecchiette, cooked very al dente and topped with broccoli and crispy pig ears. It was nothing like any other dish I’ve tried before, but quite tasty! The star of the pasta show was the Pappardelle, fresh pasta topped with an oxtail ragù and grated horseradish. The distinct flavor of the spicy horseradish paired really well with the tomato in the ragù.

Juniper Milk and HoneyThe Pork Belly was just perfect. It was smoky, perfectly rendered and slightly sweet from the fennel and onions. It’s not to be missed! You must also save room for the Milk and Honey dessert, a sweet ricotta panna cotta, topped with a tangy yogurt gelato, garnished with oats and honey.

The portions are on the smaller side, so plan on ordering two to three per person. If you want to order less and add on as you go, they were able to accommodate that pretty quickly also. Be sure to ask questions about each dish; the knowledgeable wait staff were able to paint each dish perfectly, but you might end up trying them all!