Instant Pot Sausage and Lentil Soup (Carraba’s Copycat)

If I could pick the number one reason I love my Instant Pot Duo 60, it’s given me the confidence to try dishes I’ve never made before. I was always intimidated by lentils, but not anymore. Lentils and beans (these Charro beans are delicious!) are nearly foolproof in the Instant Pot, hearty, and very inexpensive.

I recently found myself in an airport with some time before my next flight, and headed into a Carraba’s Italian Grill for a quick bite to eat. I ordered their Sausage and Lentil Soup and immediately thought “I can make this in the Instant Pot, no problem.” Here is my copycat version of Carraba’s Sausage and Lentil Soup, and I’ll bet it cost me less to make the entire batch than I paid for one bowl at the restaurant.

Ingredients (serves 6-8):
2 slices thick cut bacon, diced
12 oz. Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
14.5 oz. can crushed tomatoes
6 cups (48 oz.) chicken broth
1 ½ cups dried lentils (270 grams)
2 tsp. Italian seasoning blend (thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil)
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
Optional garnish: fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese

Press sauté on Instant Pot. When display reads “Hot” add diced bacon and sausage. Sauté until sausage is browned, 5-7 minutes. Add onion and garlic to Instant Pot, sauté for 2 minutes more. Add carrots, celery, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, lentils, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Give it a quick stir and then close the lid. Press “manual” and set timer to 18 minutes. When the timer is done, let pressure release naturally before opening the lid. Soup can be served immediately, or let stand for a bit to continue thickening. Garnish with chopped basil and Parmesan cheese, if desired. Enjoy!

Instant Pot Carnitas

This dish made me a believer in the Instant Pot. Sure, I had heard all of the rave reviews, but I was still skeptical. Carnitas was the second dish I tried in my Instant Pot DUO 60, and I was amazed. The pork was fall-apart tender, juicy and flavorful, and they were equally delicious reheated on the second day. Not only are these the best carnitas I’ve ever had, but the entire prep time was 20 minutes. Once the Instant Pot is set on Manual, you can leave it alone for the entire cooking and pressure release.

 

Ingredients: (Serves 6)
3-4 lb. pork shoulder
Carnitas Spice Mixture (see recipe below)
2 tbsp. canola oil
⅓ cup orange juice
⅓ cup water
1 white onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, smashed

Carnitas Spice Mixture
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. chipotle powder

Cut pork shoulder into six equally sized chunks and evenly coat with spice mixture. Press sauté on Instant Pot. Once display reads “hot” add oil and brown pork on all sides, working in batches. Add pork, orange juice, water, onion and garlic to Instant Pot, close the lid and hit manual. Set timer to 45 mins. Release pressure naturally once timer stops. Shred pork in a large bowl and spoon liquids over shredded pork. Service with tortillas, pickled onions, chopped cilantro and lime wedges. Enjoy!

 

Wine Pairings:
Carlos Serres Rioja Reserva 2010
Solanera Vinas Viejas 2013

Honey Sriracha Pork Chops

Sweet. Spicy. Savory. Are there better flavor combinations than that?

And when something so flavorful comes together so easily, that’s even better. The sweet and spicy sauce comes together in the few minutes that the chops are searing, let it simmer all together for a bit, and dinner is practically done!

The pork loin is juicy and tender from simmering in the honey Sriracha sauce and is perfect served over rice, broccoli or brussel sprouts.

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 pork loin chops
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup honey
¼ cup water
2 tbsp. Sriracha
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper (optional, for extra heat!)
1 ½ tbsp. corn starch

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sear pork chops for 3-4 minutes per side and remove from pan. Sauté garlic in pan drippings for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together soy sauce, honey, water, Sriracha and crushed red pepper (if using). Return pork chops to pan and pour sauce mixture over pork chops. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, turning pork chops halfway. In a small bowl, whisk corn starch with 1-2 tbsp. water to make a slurry. Remove pork chops from pan and slowly stir slurry into sauce to thicken. Return to a simmer for 2-3 minutes until sauce is thick. Spoon glaze over pork chops. Enjoy!

Wine Pairings:
Montgo Monastrell 2012

Cheesy Chicken and Corn Enchiladas

cheesy-chicken-and-corn-enchiladasThere are endless ways you can make (or order!) your enchiladas, from beef to bean to veggie, but the chicken enchilada is king! Chicken and corn, rolled up and topped with ooey-gooey cheese and a savory Red Enchilada Sauce is the ultimate comfort food.

This recipe is perfect to make with a store bought rotisserie chicken, which saves time and money. They are large enough to split among two recipes, one that calls for pulled or shredded chicken (like this one), and another that calls for soup or broth.  Making broth with a rotisserie chicken that has already been roasted adds tons of depth and flavor that you won’t get starting with raw chicken.   (See quick and easy broth recipe below.)  Use some of the chicken with these enchiladas, and make a BBQ Chicken Cast Iron Skillet Pizza or Chicken Tortilla Soup tomorrow.

Ingredients (makes 8 enchiladas, serves 4):
8 corn tortillas (approx. 6 inch diameter)
1 tsp. canola oil
½ thinly sliced onion
12 oz. cooked chicken, shredded
½ cup frozen corn, thawed
1 ½ cup Red Enchilada Sauce (see recipe), divided
6 oz. shredded cheddar or Monterrey jack cheese
Green onion, to garnish

cheesy-chicken-and-corn-enchiladas-2Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small skillet, heat canola oil on low and sauté onion until starting to soften, approximately 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine sautéed onion, shredded chicken, corn and ½ cup Red Enchilada Sauce.

In a large baking dish, pour ½ cup of enchilada sauce in bottom of dish, spreading to coat evenly. Divide chicken and corn filling among 8 tortillas, roll, and place in a baking dish, seam side down. Top with remaining Red Enchilada Sauce and shredded cheese and bake until bubbly, 15-20 minutes. Top with green onions and serve.

To make your own broth from a rotisserie chicken, remove chicken from bones and set aside.  Place bones and skin in a small stock pot and cover with water.  If you have any ends or leftover bits from other vegetables (like carrots, onions, celery), throw those in the pot too.  Season with salt and pepper and simmer on low for about 30 minutes. Remove large bone and skin pieces and strain broth through a sieve.  Broth can be stored in freezer or used in any recipe that calls for chicken broth.

Enjoy!

Red Enchilada Sauce

cheesy-chicken-and-corn-enchiladasAustin is synonymous with Tex-Mex, especially the great enchilada! There is something satisfying about rolling up a shell with your favorite filling and topping with sauce. The French have their crepes, New Yorkers love manicotti, and today we are making some enchiladas (although I am a fan of crepes and manicotti also!)

Then there is the debate between red or green enchilada sauce. They both have a place at my kitchen table, but when I am short on time, this Red Enchilada Sauce is the way to go. It’s rich, savory, and takes about 10 minutes, which means it’s perfect for an easy weeknight dinner, but delicious any time.

red-enchilada-sauceIngredients:
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. flour
1 ½ tbsp. chili powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. cumin
14.5 oz. container chicken broth
8 oz. can tomato sauce
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
Pinch of oregano

Heat canola oil on low heat. Whisk in flour until starting to bubble, about 1 minute. Whisk in chili powder, garlic powder and cumin until incorporated. Add chicken broth and tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Season with salt, pepper and oregano and simmer for 5 minutes. Add to Cheesy Chicken and Corn Enchiladas or your favorite recipe. Enjoy!

30 Minute Tomato Sauce

30 Minute Tomato Sauce 3After spending a week in New York visiting family, you would think I’ve had my fill of Italian food. And while I certainly did indulge in all of the delicious pasta and pizza, I can never really get enough. Since I made a big batch of Homemade Ricotta Cheese, I had more than enough after making a Hot Soppressata Pizza for other meals during the week.  It doesn’t get much better than tomato sauce with a big dollop of cool, creamy Homemade Ricotta!  Since the pizza recipe doesn’t call for any tomato sauce, I needed to make a batch of 30 Minute Tomato Sauce in a pinch.

 

Typically, I make a big batch of tomato sauce that simmers away for hours, and freeze several containers for use over the next couple of months. That is still my favorite way. But when dinner needs to be on the table in 30 minutes, this is my go to recipe.

30 Minute Tomato Sauce 2I use canned whole tomatoes rather than crushed or pureed for a couple of reasons. The primary reason is that I think the best tomatoes (freshest and best looking) are left intact for canning. I don’t know if this is really true, but it seems that way to me. The second reason is that the texture of the sauce can be changed based on what I’m making. Sometimes I want my sauce a little chunkier and using whole tomatoes lets me control the amount of the squish! That’s a technical cooking term by the way.

Ingredients:
2 28 oz. cans of whole plum tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 small shallots, minced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil (optional)

30 Minute Tomato Sauce 1Pour whole tomatoes with their liquids into a large bowl. Using your hands, squish tomatoes to desired consistency. If you like a really smooth tomato sauce, they can be pureed in a food processor.
Preheat a medium saucepan on medium-low heat and sauté minced shallots and garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, Italian seasoning, sugar, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper and fresh basil. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If sauce is a little watery, increase heat to medium and simmer for 5-10 minutes more. Enjoy!

Maryland Crab Cake Salad

Maryland Crab Cake SaladThere is a restaurant in Austin called The Grove that was designed with me in mind. Extensive wine list, great salads, pizzas and charcuterie; it’s a wine lover’s dream. They make a fantastic crab cake salad – mixed greens, lightly dressed with a citrusy vinaigrette, topped with a crab cake and drizzled with remoulade. It’s light and fresh, but the crab cake and creamy remoulade make it just a little sinful.  And at about $20, it’s also kind of expensive. Luckily for me, the Central Market by my new house has a great seafood selection; they even have ready-to-make crab cakes that rival most restaurants in town. If I were feeling adventurous, I might make my own, but this easy shortcut gets dinner on the table in about 15 minutes.  Perfect for a quick weeknight dinner and much easier on the wallet than eating out!

Maryland Crab Cake Salad 2Ingredients (serves 4):
5 oz. container spring mix
½ red onion, sliced thin
Red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, sliced
Cucumber, peeled and seeds removed, sliced
4 tbsp. Citrus Vinaigrette (see recipe)
4 crab cakes
4 tbsp. remoulade

Preheat a non-stick skillet on medium-low heat, spray with cooking spray, and brown crab cakes until they are cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Meanwhile, in a large salad bowl, combine spring mix, red onion, bell pepper, cucumber and toss with Citrus Vinaigrette to lightly coat. Portion salad into 4 bowls, top each with a crab cake and drizzle 1 tbsp. remoulade over each. Enjoy!

Note: the easiest way to remove seeds from a cucumber is to cut off the ends, stick a butter knife in the seedy center, and turn in a circular motion to loosen the seeds. They should come right out.

Pistachio and Basil Pesto

Pistachio and Basil PestoWhew! The last few weeks have been hectic. Packing, moving, unpacking… but we are all settled in to our new home and ready to enjoy the summer. Basil is my all-time favorite summertime herb, so much so, that one basil plant just isn’t enough in my house. Of course when I make pesto, I think pasta, but it’s also great on pizza, in soups, and – my newest favorite – on sandwiches. Doesn’t a grilled cheese with mozzarella and prosciutto, topped with bright and aromatic pesto sound indulgent?  This pesto sauce also takes less than 5 minutes to make; all the ingredients are thrown in a food processor and blended until smooth.  Easy and delicious!

Pesto is traditionally made with toasted pine nuts, but the grocery store sells pistachios in the bulk section, where I can buy just what I need for a single recipe. Pistachios are also less expensive than pine nuts, so it’s a win-win to me.

Pistachio and Basil Pesto 2Ingredients (serves 4):
¼ cup unsalted pistachios, toasted (see below)
3-4 cups loosely packed basil leaves
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, quartered
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

To toast the pistachios, preheat a small skillet on medium heat. Add pistachios and stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and place toasted pistachios, basil leaves, parmesan cheese, garlic, crushed red pepper and olive oil to a food processor.  Pulse until ingredients are smooth, scraping the sides with a spatula as necessary. Season with salt and pepper and toss with your favorite pasta for an easy weeknight meal.

Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Chicken Soft Tacos

Slow Cooker Chicken Soft Tacos 1Tacos are a way of life in Austin. You can get tacos for any meal, any time of day, with nearly anything on them. A stormy weekend followed by a cold front inspired a spicy mixture of chicken, onions and peppers simmering away in my slow cooker. The end result is tender chicken, loaded with flavor, and piled high with shredded cheddar and pepper jack cheese (like any good taco should be!) The mixture of spices could easily be substituted for a taco seasoning packet, but it’s cheaper to make your own (plus no mystery ingredients!).

 

Slow Cooker Chicken Soft Tacos 3Slow Cooker Chicken Soft Tacos 2Ingredients:
2 bone in chicken breasts
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, ribs and seeds removed, sliced

Slow Cooker Chicken Soft Tacos 4Place chicken in slow cooker. Top with diced tomatoes, chili powder, paprika, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, crush red pepper, salt and pepper and cook on low for 3 hours. Add onion, bell pepper and jalapeno to slow cooker for 1 hour more. Remove chicken and shred, discarding bones and skin, and return to slow cooker to heat thoroughly. Serve with tortillas, shredded cheese, lettuce, salsa and your favorite taco toppings. Enjoy!