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Grocery Staples for Easy Last Minute Meals

Even the best meal planners have days where things don’t go according to plan. Fast food is convenient, but usually more expensive and less healthy than what you can make at home. If you have any dietary restrictions, eating out safely can be extra challenging. For those nights, I like to keep a few staples on hand that make it easy to make a last minute meal that’s healthy and frugal.

Here’s my list of grocery staples I like to keep on hand for last minute meals, along with ideas for how to use them. Depending on your tastes, you may not find everything I use helpful. Since we eat gluten and dairy free, my list doesn’t include common staples like bread or cheese.

Grocery Staples for Last Minute Meals

Proteins

  • Flash Frozen Boneless, Skinless Chicken – I always have one or two bags of frozen chicken. Because they are individually frozen, it’s easy to separate out just what I need. The pieces don’t have to be thawed before cooking, so it’s perfect for a quick meal. I alternate between breasts, thighs and tenderloins.
  • Eggs – Eggs cook in minutes for when time is short.
  • Ground Beef – It’s easier to cook ground beef if it’s thawed, but it’s not impossible to cook it from frozen. I like using my electric pressure cooker if I need to cook it from frozen. Place it on a trivet, add about half of a cup of water to the pot and cook under high pressure for about 20 minutes. When it’s done, drain the water, remove the trivet and cook with the saute function with seasonings to remove excess moisture and finish it if it’s still a little pink in the middle.
  • Canned Beans – Dried beans are cheaper and don’t take that long with a pressure cooker, but sometimes you need something fast. Canned beans are a great plant-based protein for quick meals or for stretching left over meat in stews and chili.
  • Lentils – Dry lentils don’t have to be soaked and cook in about 20 minutes. I love this Coconut Lentil Curry from A Couple Cooks for a fast meal.

Vegetables

  • Frozen mixed vegetables – Perfect on their own as a side, or add to soups, rice dishes, scrambled eggs, curries, etc.
  • Onion – Sauteed onion adds lots of flavor to just about any meal.
  • Potatoes – Potatoes are great as an ingredient, a side or bake them and add toppings for a meal on their own.
  • Frozen greens – I like freezing chopped kale to add to soups and curries because it’s hardy and freezes well. Spinach or other greens work, too.

Grains

  • Rice – Nice to have as a side, with curry or stir-fry or to make a quick jambalaya or similar dish.
  • Quinoa – Cooks quickly in the pressure cooker and high in protein. Easy Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa is a quick quinoa based meal that is easy to customize and a great way to use up leftover meats and vegetables. You can also make it with rice with adjustments to the cooking time.
  • Pasta (I buy Aldi’s gluten free or Skinner brand gf at Kroger. ) – Cooks quickly and can be topped with a variety of sauces, tossed with sauteed vegetables and drizzled with olive oil or added to soups.
  • Tortillas or Taco Shells – These are especially handy because my kids love tacos. Putting anything in a taco shell increases the chances that they’ll eat it. Corn tortillas are also a cheap gluten free bread substitute.

Sauces and Seasonings

  • Simmer Sauces – These are the closest thing I use to hamburger helper. All you need is the sauce, a protein, a vegetable and rice for delicious last minute meals. Find a variety you like and turn it into an all in one meal if you have an electric pressure cooker if you’re super busy. This is one of my favorite places to use the frozen chicken. I cook it all together and cut up the chicken into bite sized pieces before serving. While it’s cooking in the pressure cooker, I’m free to catch up on housework or whatever else needs done.
  • Curry Paste – I love the flavor of curry, and adding curry paste to a dish is a way to add a ton of flavor.
  • Bouillon – Bouillon is another way to add flavor with little effort, or use it to make broth in a pinch.
  • Canned Coconut Milk – I can usually work around this ingredient with whatever milk or broth I have on hand, but I prefer it for curry.
  • Tomato Sauce and/or paste – Add to soup, stew or chili, or make a marinara sauce for pasta.
  • Salsa – serve as a condiment or add to chicken, ground beef or beans during cooking for flavor.
  • Commonly Used Herbs and Spices – My staples are salt, black pepper, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, basil, oregano, garlic powder, and poultry seasoning. There’s plenty of others I keep around as well, but those are the ones that I use almost daily.

Last Minute Meal Ideas

I’ve provided a few specific recipes above. Really, though, as long as I have one or two things from each category handy, I can combine them to come up with delicious last minute meals. Here’s a few more of my go-to combinations:

  • Season and oven bake the chicken. Serve with vegetables and rice.
  • Saute onion using whatever oil or butter I have available until translucent, then add chicken and a little broth. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Cut into bite sized pieces and add a spoonful of curry paste, vegetables and a can of coconut milk. Heat until the vegetables are done, being careful not to boil. Serve over rice.
  • Saute onion in a skillet and toss in a handful of frozen greens. Once the greens are thawed, add whisked eggs and scramble.
  • Brown ground beef (or pressure cook) add onion and cook until the onion is translucent. Add tomato sauce, basil, oregano, garlic and a little salt. If you like your sauce thicker, add some tomato paste. To cut the acidity, add a spoonful of brown sugar. Serve over pasta. You can also make it with chicken, canned white beans, or skip it and just have the sauce and pasta.
  • Pressure cook ground beef and season with salt, garlic powder, chili, cumin and cayenne. Make Mexican rice ( I use this recipe). Serve with canned black beans or refried beans and salsa. You can make tacos with the meat if you have tortillas or taco shells, or just have the meat on the side or atop the rice. Shredded lettuce, shredded cheese and diced onion all make it even yummier, but if you’re limited to what’s on hand, it’s still yummy without.

What are some of your favorite last minute meals? I’d love for you to share them in the comments.

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Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Recipe Roundup

My electric pressure cooker is such a lifesaver when it comes to getting fast, healthy meals ready. It’s almost like having someone else do the cooking. With so many working from home with kids right now, those minutes saved in the kitchen are valuable. Here’s five of my favorite electric pressure cooker dinner recipes.

Honey Glazed Chicken for Electric Pressure Cookers like the Instant Pot
This honey glazed chicken is made in an electric pressure cooker with just minutes of prep. Sweet and juicy, it will satisfy even picky eaters.
Check out this recipe
honey glazed chicken and peppers
Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots or other Electric Pressure Cookers
Rich, earthy mushrooms in nutty brown rice make this work as a side dish or, serve with a salad to make it a meatless main course. Makes 6-8 servings.
Check out this recipe
Mushroom Brown Rice
Electric Pressure Cooker (Instant Pot) Whole Chicken and Potatoes
This is my method for cooking a flavorful whole chicken and potatoes in an electric pressure cooker. After a little prep work, you can walk away and let the pressure cooker do it's job without having to check on it or worry about overcooking. I'm using an 8 quart electric pressure cooker. If yours is smaller, you may need to adjust the size of the chicken and other ingredients accordingly.
Check out this recipe
Instant pot whole chicken
Sausage Potato Soup
Dairy and gluten free sausage potato soup inspired by Olive Garden's zuppa toscana. I prefer making it in my electric pressure cooker but it could easily be done in a slow cooker or on the stove top.
Check out this recipe
Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa
Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa is a quick, last minute dish that is great hot or cold. Customize it by swapping out the protein or vegetables depending on what you have on hand.
Check out this recipe
Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Quinoa

Shop update: Freebies and a sale

Knowing that so many are stuck at home right now needing distractions, I’ve decided to make all of my machine embroidery design files free until April 30. That’s the day my area’s shelter in place order expires. If it is extended, I’ll extend the embroidery design freebies, too. If you make something with one of my designs, I would love to see it.

My full shop is still open, and will be as long as everyone in my household is healthy. I’m using extra care with handwashing and using hand sanitizer before coming into contact with products and packaging as well.

All of my handmade soaps are currently on sale for 20% off. You can find them here.

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Honey Glazed Chicken for Instant Pots or other Electric Pressure Cookers

If you need a quick and easy meal that is sure to please the whole family, this honey glazed chicken is it. All of the ingredients are things you probably keep on hand, so no hunting for some rare spices. It only takes about five minutes of prep time and fifteen minutes of cooking under high pressure. The end result is a sweet, glazed chicken that even most picky eaters will enjoy. Serve over rice with a side of veggies or a salad for a quick and easy meal.

For the photo, I sauteed onion and mini bell peppers separately and served them along with the honey glazed chicken over basmati rice.Some of my kiddos do not like a lot of spice, so instead of the red pepper flakes originally called for, I substituted a tiny bit of cayenne pepper. 

Gluten and Dairy-free adjustments for honey glazed chicken

If you need to keep it gluten-free, be sure to check your soy sauce. La Choy soy sauce is gluten free, but most others are not. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos are also gluten free and a good substitute. 

This recipe is already dairy free, so no substitutions are needed there. 

Honey Glazed Chicken for Electric Pressure Cookers like the Instant Pot

This honey glazed chicken is made in an electric pressure cooker with just minutes of prep. Sweet and juicy, it will satisfy even picky eaters.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Course: Main Course
Keyword: chicken, dairy free, egg free, Electric Pressure Cooker, gluten free, Instant Pot, rice
Servings: 5 people

Equipment

  • Electric pressure cooker, such as an Instant Pot

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs Can use any boneless, skinless chicken, but I prefer the juiciness of dark meat.
  • 1.5 cups onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 0.5 cup soy sauce Make sure to use a gluten-free soy sauce, like La Choy if you need it to be gluten-free.
  • 0.25 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/3 tbsp red pepper flakes I used a dash of cayenne pepper instead to reduce the heat for my kiddos.

Instructions

  • Place everything in the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes.
  • Release the pressure. I usually allow it to do a natural release, but you can do a quick release with this recipe.
  • Remove the chicken and slice. In the meantime, turn on the Saute function and allow the sauce to cook to thicken, stirring frequently for about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the sliced chicken back to the pot and stir to coat.
  • Serve over rice.

Notes

For the photo, I sauteed onion and mini bell peppers separately and served them along with the honey glazed chicken over basmati rice.
Some of my kiddos do not like a lot of spice, so instead of the red pepper flakes originally called for, I substituted a tiny bit of cayenne pepper. 

While I try to write recipes as clearly as possible, it’s easy to miss a step or make assumptions. If anything is confusing, please don’t hesitate to comment with your questions. If you make this recipe, please let me know what you think.

Soap Sale!

On an unrelated note, all of my handmade soaps are on sale for 20% off their normal price. The sale ends on March 29. Find all of my soaps here.

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Honey glazed chicken
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Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots

Mushrooms are one of those foods that you either love or hate. I love them and try to incorporate them into once in awhile in hopes of swaying my kids to the “love” side. Finn is already there and Thadd is interested but skeptical that something with that texture can be delicious. I’m not giving up on Beckett, but I think he may have inherited his dad’s and grandma’s mushroom dislike. 

This mushroom brown rice dish is rich but mild, with the brown rice adding a little nutty flavor. Because the mushrooms are sliced and not chopped, they are large enough for little mushroom skeptics to remove them and eat the rice.

Not a fan of brown rice?

The brown rice adds to the flavor, but takes a lot longer to cook than white rice. With an electric pressure cooker, it’s only about 15 minutes of active prep time. After that, the pressure cooker does all the work. If you’re in a hurry to eat, though, swap it out in favor of a long grain white rice. I like basmati and jasmine rice the best for white rice. 

Dietary Restrictions?

As written, this recipe is plant-based, gluten free and dairy free. If you choose to use broth instead of water, that could change depending on the type of broth you use.

One thing I like to keep on hand is a broth base called “Better than Bouillon“.  It’s a paste that comes in a small jar. You mix a bit of the paste into water to make broth like you would with bouillon. To me, it really does have a better flavor, and a little goes a long way. I usually have the vegetable version on hand and would have added a bit to this recipe, but I used my last bit up yesterday. They also have a mushroom version that would compliment this recipe as well. Between the onion, garlic, mushrooms and brown rice, though, it’s really not necessary. 

All electric pressure cookers welcome.

I’ve titled this post “Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots” because Instant Pot has become the most popular brand and is now synonymous with electric pressure cooker. The recipe should work in any similar electric pressure cooker. Personally, I use a GoWise brand 8 quart electric pressure cooker.

Mushroom Brown Rice for Instant Pots or other Electric Pressure Cookers

Rich, earthy mushrooms in nutty brown rice make this work as a side dish or, serve with a salad to make it a meatless main course. Makes 6-8 servings.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time22 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Keyword: gluten free, mushroom, rice, vegan
Servings: 8 people

Equipment

  • Electric pressure cooker, such as an Instant Pot

Ingredients

  • 1 T coconut or other oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups mushrooms, sliced White, bella or similar.
  • 1.5 tsp salt Can use less if preferred.
  • 3 cups water or broth
  • 2 cups long grain brown rice
  • 1 squeeze lemon juice optional
  • 1 dash black pepper Adjust to taste.

Instructions

  • Select "Saute" on the pressure cooker and add the coconut oil.
  • Add the diced onion and saute until translucent.
  • Add the minced garlic and saute for about a minute more.
  • Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper. Continue to saute until onions are lightly browned and mushrooms begin to get some color.
  • Add about 1/2 cup of water or preferred broth and stir up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the rice, remaining 2 1/2 cups of water, lemon juice and pepper.
  • Turn off the "Saute" function and set the pressure cooker manually to 22 minutes or follow your pressure cooker's instructions for brown rice. Most require longer than the "Rice" setting allows.
  • Allow the pressure to release naturally for at least 10 minutes before doing a quick release. I think it's best to let it naturally release completely if you have the time.
  • Fluff rice and serve.

Notes

This recipe has tons of flavor with just water, but you can use broth (vegetable broth to keep it vegan) if you prefer. Unless the broth is low sodium, you probably want to reduce the amount of salt.
I like coconut oil, but feel free to use olive or your preferred cooking oil.
Brown rice adds an earthy, nutty flavor, but it takes a long time to cook compared to white rice. If you’re in a hurry, substitute a long grain white rice and reduce the cooking time to 8 minutes or use the “Rice” setting. Basmati is my favorite long grain white rice.

While I try to write recipes as clearly as possible, it’s easy to miss a step or make assumptions. If anything is confusing, please don’t hesitate to comment with your questions. If you make this recipe, please let me know what you think.

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This post contains affiliate links. If you click through any of the Amazon links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. There is no added cost to you.

Mushroom brown rice
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Easy Homemade Chicken Broth in an Electric Pressure Cooker

If you have an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker, delicious homemade chicken broth takes just a few minutes of prep. This technique can easily be applied to other types of broth as well.

The ingredients

When I make chicken broth, I prefer to use bones from a cooked chicken. It’s easy to cook a whole chicken in an electric pressure cooker, or use an oven-roasted or rotisserie chicken. Save the bones for broth to make a chicken stretch farther meal-wise. You can make the broth immediately after de-boning a cooked chicken. If you’re short on time, store the bones in the freezer until you’re ready.

To flavor the broth, I like to add some combination of carrots, celery, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. I usually use:

  • one onion peeled and cut into chunks
  • one or two carrots
  • two to three celery stalks broken into two or three pieces each
  • two to three cloves of peeled garlic
  • a few peppercorns
  • about 2 teaspoons of salt.

It’s easy to add salt and pepper to taste to the finished broth, so I lean toward adding less at the beginning.

Herbs like sage, bay leaf, parsley, basil and oregano are great additions, too. You could also add jalapeno to give it some spice.

Making the Chicken Broth

To make the chicken broth, put the bones, chosen vegetables and seasonings into the pot of your electric pressure cooker. Add enough water to cover the ingredients by 1-2 inches. Lock the lid and manually set the pressure cooker to cook on high pressure for 2 hours. When it’s done, depressurize naturally.

Once it’s cool enough to handle, I like to pour it through a mesh strainer to get all the small bones and vegetable remnants out. If not using the broth within a few days, it’s best to store it in the freezer.

That’s it. With a just few minutes of prep to assemble the ingredients, an electric pressure cooker makes flavorful chicken broth that tastes like it was simmered on the stove all day long. Unlike on the stovetop, though, there’s no worry about it boiling over, and the time is dramatically reduced.

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Whole Chicken and Potatoes for Electric Pressure Cookers

whole chicken recipe for electric pressure cookers

Whole chickens are inexpensive, frugal type of meat. They provide easy leftover meals, and you can use the bones to make homemade broth for soups and to flavor other meals. While you can cook a whole chicken in an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker (this is the type I have) just by seasoning it and adding it to the pot with liquid, a few extra steps will add even more flavor to the final result.

Customize your whole chicken

I like to keep the seasonings fairly neutral so that I can get creative with the leftovers. My family often gets bored with multiple meals of chicken and vegetables. If I use some of the chicken for chicken tacos for the next meal and chicken soup with the rest, it makes it less monotonous.

In this recipe, to keep it neutral I use salt, pepper and poultry seasoning to flavor the chicken. It’s easy to adapt the seasonings for a different twist. Cumin, chili pepper and cayenne pepper work well for making chicken chili, tacos or tortilla soup with the leftovers. Garlic, ginger and orange zest work well for making leftover chicken stir-fry. Get creative with the flavors you like.

You can also leave out the potatoes or swap them out for other hardy vegetables. Root vegetables hold up the best with the longer cooking time the chicken requires. Sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips are some possibilities.

Slow cook

One neat feature on most electric pressure cookers is the ability to use them as a slow cooker. If you’d rather slow cook your whole chicken, follow the steps through step 11. Instead of locking the lid and setting it to cook under high pressure, keep the lid in the venting position and select the slow cook setting. You will want to cook the chicken for about 3-4 hours on “high” slow cook or 6-7 hours on “normal” slow cook, which is the equivalent of “low” on a traditional slow cooker. I do recommend double-checking the instructions for the slow cook setting on your pressure cooker, as there may be some variations.

Electric Pressure Cooker (Instant Pot) Whole Chicken and Potatoes

This is my method for cooking a flavorful whole chicken and potatoes in an electric pressure cooker. After a little prep work, you can walk away and let the pressure cooker do it's job without having to check on it or worry about overcooking. I'm using an 8 quart electric pressure cooker. If yours is smaller, you may need to adjust the size of the chicken and other ingredients accordingly.
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Course: Main Course
Servings: 6 people

Equipment

  • Electric pressure cooker
  • Trivet or rack insert for the electric pressure cooker

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lb whole chicken, giblets removed
  • 1 large onion, cut into wedges
  • 5-6 medium potatoes cut into large chunks Firmer potatoes, like Yukon golds work a little better, but I used Russets because that's what I had on hand.
  • 4 tbsp coconut or other high heat oil
  • 3/4 cup water or chicken broth
  • salt
  • pepper
  • poultry seasoning

Instructions

  • Season both sides of your chicken with your choice of seasonings. I used salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning, but you can adjust this to your family's taste.
  • Select the "Saute" setting on your pressure cooker.
  • Add the coconut oil to the pot and heat until melted and shimmery.
  • Brown the whole chicken on both sides in the coconut oil until lightly browned. I use this time do cut up the onion and potatoes.
  • Remove the chicken and set aside.
  • Add the onion wedges to the pot and cook until translucent and starting to brown.
  • Add about 1/2 cup of water or broth to the pot with the onions to deglaze the pot. Be sure to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot to mix into the liquid.
  • Turn off the "Saute" function.
  • Place the trivet on top of the onions and liquid in the pot. Add about 1/4 cup more of water or broth to the pot.
  • Place the browned chicken on the trivet.
  • Place the potato chunks around and on top of the chicken.
  • Lock the lid in place and cook on high pressure for 35 minutes.
  • Allow the pressure to release naturally and carefully open the lid.
  • Check the temperature of the chicken to ensure that it has reached at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If not done, cook for another 3-5 minutes under high pressure and recheck.
  • Carefully remove the potatoes, chicken and trivet.
  • Optional: Press "Saute" and allow the onions and liquid to simmer for a few minutes to condense the liquid to serve over the chicken and potatoes.
  • Optional: Place the chicken on a broiler-safe pan and place in the oven under the broiler for 3-5 minutes to crisp up the skin.
  • Plate and serve with a side of veggies.

Notes

I like to keep the seasonings fairly neutral so that I can get creative with the leftovers without worrying about seasonings clashing. In addition to potatoes, other root vegetables such as carrots can be used. 
Whole Chicken and Potatoes for Electric Pressure Cookers

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Easy All in One Electric Pressure Cooker Meal

For busy weeknights, there’s nothing better than an all in one meal that practically cooks itself. Prepare everything the night before and keep it in the refrigerator until it’s time to cook for even more time in the evening. You could even prep the vegetables and meat and store in the freezer for last minute meals.

The basics

This is more of a how-to than a recipe. You can really use however much of the ingredients based on how much food you need and your pressure cooker’s size. For my family of five with two little appetites, I used about four chicken breasts, three cups of rice and water, one jar of sauce and all the broccoli I could squeeze in and around everything.

You can easily swap out the protein for whatever you prefer. Ideally, it should be cut into small, bite sized pieces prior to cooking. With the chicken breasts, I’ve been able to cook them from frozen first and cut them later, but it’s not ideal.

This time, I used broccoli, but it was a little overdone for my liking. Root vegetables cut into bite sized pieces or frozen peas or green beans are probably better for all in one meals like this.

The sauce

To make it super easy, I started with a jar of Korma simmer sauce from Aldi. You could easily substitute any store bought or homemade sauce. Canned soup, salsa, tomato sauce or even just broth are all options. Tailor it to your family’s tastes.

Assemble the ingredients

I used an old rice cooker pot for the rice. Any heatproof container that is big enough to hold the rice and cooking liquid but small enough to fit in your pressure cooker’s cooking pot would work.

I put the chicken and broccoli under and around the rice pot. Then I filled the rice pot with appropriate amounts of rice, water and salt.

The Korma went on top of the broccoli and chicken, and I added about half a cup of water just to make sure there was plenty of liquid. If you use broth or a thinner, liquid sauce, the water isn’t necessary.

Cooking

Finally, I set the whole thing in my pressure cooker and cooked it with the “Rice” setting. My electric pressure cooker is a GoWISE USA brand. Recipes for the Instant Pot brand usually work as written for mine, so I assume that setting would work for the Instant Pot and other similar pressure cookers.

Here is a terrible picture of the end result. I promise it tasted better than it looks. A homemade sauce would have been healthier, I’m sure. When you are strapped for time or having to make do without a fully functioning kitchen, though, it’s lots better than having to rely on fast food.

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All in one Electric Pressure Cooker Meal