Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala

I acquired an Instant Pot a couple years ago for Christmas. When I first used it, I basically viewed it as a super fast Crock Pot and didn’t explore any of its unique functions. My parents would tell me about the dishes they used it to make – curry, fish, ribs, the list goes on – but I never experimented on my own. Its main use in my kitchen was to cook chicken at a high speed.

Clearly I’ve been under-utilizing the Instant Pot. I have a cookbook with 200 recipes, a Pinterest account, and access to the internet, so there’s reason to neglect this small appliance anymore.

My initial inspiration for dusting off my Instant Pot was a craving for Indian food. My dad’s made a couple Indian dishes in his Instant Pot that my mom’s raved about, which tempted me to read some recipes. I found a recipe for chicken tikka masala and decided I needed to try.

Cooking with the Instant Pot was simple. Seriously, it couldn’t be easier, and I can’t believe I didn’t try before. There are a variety of settings which makes it so versatile, but the settings are few enough that it isn’t overwhelming and hard to screw up if you follow the recipe. An added bonus is how easy clean up is, because there aren’t many pots and pans used. Many recipes only require the use of one pot. I’ll definitely be using the Instant Pot more often.

Other reasons I need to use the Instant Pot more often are to perfect this recipe, and be able identify potential flaws in other recipes. This dish lacked flavor, and I only used half the chicken called for. Had I used the correct amount, it would have been so bland. Next time I’ll add a little more spice. I’ll also add some vegetables. Potatoes or bell peppers would be a welcomed addition, bringing texture and flavor.

The dish wasn’t all bad, though. The chicken was tender and I got to eat basmati rice, which I love and don’t eat often enough. I’m excited to experiment more with the Instant Pot, and to make more Indian dishes.

Recipe from The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook by Coco Marante

Pantry Pasta

Like many Americans during the pandemic, I’ve gone many days in a row without leaving my house, resulting in far fewer trips to the grocery store. Pre-pandemic I’d make a trip once or twice a week, and rarely planned more than a couple meals in advance. And while the pandemic has changed my grocery shopping habits, it hasn’t changed my planning habits (or lack thereof), and I’ve ended up with both a pantry and fridge devoid of ingredients. The quarantine has, however, forced me to get more creative and resourceful as a cook, which has been equal parts fun and flavorful.

Since making chicken piccata, I’ve had capers in my pantry and no reason to use them. But in the spirit of creativity and resourcefulness, tonight I decided to find a way. This spirit manifested itself into a pasta dish, of course. A salty, garlic-y, lemony pasta dish that satisfied my savory craving. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients: 1/3 box whole wheat angel hair pasta; 2 strips bacon, chopped; 1 chicken breast, diced; salt; pepper; 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic; 1/2 onion, sliced; 1 tablespoon capers; 1 tablespoon unsalted butter; 1 lemon; 1 teaspoon basil

Start by boiling pasta in salt water. Cook bacon over medium heat until it’s reached desired crispiness. Remove bacon from pan to a plate lined with a paper towel to blot the grease. Add chicken to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and onions. Rinse capers and add to the pan. Add butter and cook down. Add cooked pasta to the pan. Add bacon back to the pan. Squeeze lemon juice and add basil. Serve warm and enjoy!

Chicken Pizza Quesadilla

I had every intention of running to the grocery store today, but time seemed to tick faster than usual and spending the evening watching television in my pajamas was far more appealing. In an effort to consume something more substantial than raisin bran, I scoured my larder for makeshift meal ingredients. My promising findings consisted of chicken, tortillas, leftover pizza sauce, and cheese, resulting in a chicken pizza quesadilla. All the best recipes are created in desperation, right?

To make: start by cooking 1 breast of cubed chicken in oil over medium heat. Salt and pepper. In a separate pan, melt 1/2 tbsp butter over medium heat and lay a tortilla in the pan. In the pan with the chicken, simmer 1 cup of pizza sauce. Top the tortilla with the chicken and pizza sauce mixture and add 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Add another tortilla on top. Once the bottom tortilla is crispy, flip the quesadilla and leave in pan until the second tortilla is crispy. Remove from the pan and enjoy!

Lemon Chicken Pasta for One

In case I haven’t publicly professed my adoration for pasta enough, let me do so once more: I love pasta. Therefore, in my quest to amass an arsenal of recipes for one, I need a trove of pasta recipes. One with a lemon butter sauce and wilted spinach is of utmost importance to perfect.

To start, boil linguine in salt water. Use about 1/8-1/6 of the box. Cut up half a chicken breast into small cubes, salt and pepper, and cook in an oiled pan over medium heat. Melt 1/4 stick of butter in the pan and add 1/8 tsp of minced garlic and 1/8 tsp of parsley. While butter is melting, add 1/2 cup of spinach and the juice of 1 lemon. Add noodles once al dente. Toss to smother noodles in lemony, buttery deliciousness.

Making this dish couldn’t be simpler, and when portions are smaller, ingredients cook faster making time in the kitchen minimal. And, although it’s pasta, it’s pretty light, making it a great weeknight summer meal. Enjoy!

Chicken Piccata

When I was 18, I ordered chicken piccata for the first time, and my life was forever changed. With tender chicken, a rich and flavorful lemon butter sauce, and salty capers, it’s impossible not to swoon over this Italian dish. Chicken piccata is a meal I order any time I see it on a menu, and after learning how quick and easy it is to cook, I wanted to recreate this palatable entrée at home.

When choosing a recipe, I was sure use one created by someone with a penchant for Italian cooking, so I chose Giada De Laurentiis’s. I adapted it slightly to serve one instead of four, and to fit my palette, which has an affinity for anything salty and lemony. This required lessening the amount of meat, oil, and butter, but adding extra capers and lemon juice.

For the chicken, I butterflied one breast and pounded it down, which I will be doing any time I sauté chicken moving forward, as this gives the chicken a more consistent thickness, allowing it to cook evenly throughout. No one wants pink chicken. I used my meat tenderizer, but a rolling pin works, too. However, if you use a rolling pin, be sure to cover your chicken with cling wrap beforehand to avoid sticking.

Next I dredged each piece of lightly seasoned chicken and placed them in the pan already teeming with oil and butter. While those cooked, I readied a mixture to deglaze the pan and serve as the base of my sauce, which consisted of lemon juice, capers, and pasta water. The recipe called for chicken stock, but I opted for pasta water since it has more flavor than pure water.

After the chicken had cooked on both sides, I let it rest while I deglazed the pan, added butter, and simmered the sauce. Minutes later I added the chicken back in, taste-tested, and seasoned a bit more. All that was left to do was play “That’s Amore,” open a bottle of red wine, and pretend I was in Italy. Okay, I didn’t do that, but I should have. Next time.

What I actually did was prepare a plate and snap a quick and, sadly, unappealing picture before devouring my incredibly satisfying meal. I’m happy to spend hours cooking and baking to make something delicious, but I wish the joy of savoring food weren’t so ephemeral. My scrumptious piccata was gone just as quickly as it came. Thankfully it’s easy to make, so I’ll be enjoying it again soon. Maybe next time over mashed potatoes or arugula. The joy of eating may be fleeting, but the joy of cooking is eternal.

Chicken Stir Fry for One

Any time I make a meal, I end up cooking an amount suitable for a large family reunion. And while I do love leftovers, eating the same meal six days in a row gets tiresome, and it’s not conducive to trying new recipes. If something bombs, I either have to eat disgusting food for a week or waste it and cook something new.

What I need to do is cook one serving at a time. Unfortunately, ingredients aren’t often sold in portions and recipes aren’t often written in manners that behoove those of us cooking for one and searching for variety. It’s understandable, albeit frustrating.

Ideally, grocery manufacturers would begin producing more “sample size” items. Think makeup samples, only the food version. Even more ideally, professional cooks would create recipes for those of us cooking for one on a regular basis. But since these requests aren’t widely available, I’ll adapt and develop methods that make cooking for one attainable (maybe).

The obvious first step when cooking for one is adjusting the measurements. Instead of 3 lbs of chicken, use close to 1; instead of 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, use 1/2. However, it’s not always that cut and dry, and I am bad at math. Sometimes it takes trial and error and a little creativity.

For this recipe, I used 1 chicken breast. I have no idea how much it weighed, but I knew it was a good choice. Ravenous me would scarf down an entire chicken breast in one sitting, whereas sensible me would split it into two meals.

For the vegetables, I used one frozen package of stir fry vegetables, including snap peas, carrots, water chestnuts, and broccoli. The Birds Eye steam-able packages are great for small meals. Cans are sometimes suitable, but frozen vegetables are often better quality. I steamed the bag in the microwave for speed and added them to the pan once the chicken was nearly cooked.

Whenever I use spices, I eyeball, which is a terrible habit of mine given I am not very good at it. That being said, I cannot relay even a good estimate of how much of each ingredient I used to make my sauce. I can, however, share what I used: honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. Whatever the amounts were, I needed more, so I’ll measure next time to ensure I have a better idea of ratios moving forward. The combination was tasty, though. I poured it over the chicken and vegetables and let it simmer before serving.

I topped my stir fry on a bed of white rice. Stir fry is versatile, though, and can be served over cauliflower rice, ramen noodles, spinach, or virtually anything. I just happen to love white rice. 1/2 cup sufficed.

I liked this recipe. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but it tasted good and I had enough left over for one more meal, which, to me, is ideal. I have yet to perfect the art of cooking for one. I have yet to perfect the art of cooking, for that matter. But I’ll keep trying! Either that or I’ll eat chicken stir fry for the rest of my life. At least it tastes good.