Pothead Night recipes

WP_20170904_08_18_35_Rich.jpgI recently hosted some friends over to share my love of food and the ease of the Instant Pot. While I do hunt through a lot of recipes and often blend then without much thought, there are some key basics I always look for with Instant Pot recipes.

Sizing – If I’m cooking a whole chicken, what is the weight in the recipe? With stew meat, how big are the chunks? This tells me the most about how accurate the cooking time might be for what I’m trying to do. Speaking of which….

Cooking Time – Most recipes I’ve found ignore all those lovely preset buttons and use “Manual” for a certain number of minutes. However I choose to spice something up, that cooking time is critical, inclusive of….

NPR versus QR – Natural Pressure Release versus Quick Release: Deciding how to release pressure is just as important as the cooking time because it is cooking time. The best recipes call out not only what method, but the approximate time it will take. (See #5 below for more details) This page does a great job calling out when to do which but most recipes will tell you. Just to reiterate, if you are going to QR, aim away from your face or anything that might be damaged by a spray of hot steam.

To Trivet or not trivet – I generally see that meat recipes aiming for a shredded, fall off the bone don’t really need a trivet whereas pretty much everything else not a stew or soup does. There are many kinds so the recipe should explain if you need something special.

Order of Things – If you’re sautéing, searing, or any sort of multi-function in the recipe, the order in which you do all that is really important. Especially if you’ve graduated to pot-in-pot (PIP) cooking.

Total Time – It’s also really helpful if you consider Time #2 + Time #3 (If the recipe doesn’t give you total time) relative to other dishes you may be putting together for your meal. I recently had a recipe for a ham that was supposed to be approximately 36 minutes in a 350 degree oven. With my medium sized sweet potatoes, the recipe I had for them called for 16 minutes cook time and QR which meant that about 20 minutes after I started the ham, I turned the Instant Pot on.

Everything else in recipes for me (unless I’m baking) is up in the air and dependent on what kind of spice I’m thinking of that night. Indian? Italian? Greek? Moroccan? Given the above, you can pretty much play around with any recipe until your own standards start to develop. As to that, here are the few starting recipes from our Pothead night.

Instant Pot Whole Roast Chicken (Once a Month Meals)
Instant Pot Salted Caramel Cheesecake (Cookies & Cups)
Instant Pot Blood Orange Marmalade (Every Nook & Cranny)
Instant Pot Frozen Chuck Roast (Thrice the Spice)

I’ll be working on posting our own versions, especially of the last one since we played the most with that one and wound up about 10 minutes faster on cook time.

Grandma Z’s Ragu

grandma-z-001-small-731x1024_thumb.jpgMy maternal grandmother was first-generation Italian immigrant, born in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. I went through several phases of knowing her. First as a live-in grandma when my dad went on a tour abroad and my mom, brother, and I lived with my grandparents. I don’t remember much of that phase except an unexplained familiarity with polka music (my grandpa was first-generation Polish immigrant), a love for lemons from the garden, and oh boy, the spaghetti sauce. I mean, yum!

After we moved to Montana and I grew up, Grandma would come to visit and became the voice telling my mom to get whatever I wanted from the Victoria’s Secret (which was always tamer than you’d think) and exclaiming “Don’t touch my sauce!” any time I tried to help her cook up her lovely concoction.

Later, as an adult, I managed to get staffed as a consultant back in her adopted town of San Diego and was able to help her through recovery after knee surgery and share memories with her with a new level of understanding and respect, a woman who had lived through a world war, crossed an ocean alone with 3 small kids as an Air Force spouse, and tended to my ailing grandfather for years after his stroke.

And always, there was Grandma’s sauce. When she finally shared her secrets and her recipe, it was a treasured gift, a legacy of love from a woman I adored and who’s looks I had inherited along with a love for books and libraries.

We lost Grandma Z even before her passing as dementia took hold which made the recipe I’d captured even more heartfelt. I cook it whenever I want to feel her with me, in the kitchen, making sure I’m stirring the sauce but not too much. And also when I’m just hungry for a damn good pasta sauce.

Grandma’s version took hours in a pot on the stove, no crockpots for her. She had actually whittled it down to 3 1/2 to 4 hours leveraging modern shortcuts. Maybe in the earlier days, she might have used  fresh tomatoes or other ingredients but Grandma was nothing if not practical in the kitchen.

In that vein, I recently felt like it was time to do an update to the recipe, leveraging my Instant Pot. I know she would definitely approve. When I first went looking for the recipe cards, I couldn’t find them. This was after 3 moves in 3 years and I’m not always as organized as I should be with my recipes, stuffing them into other books or magazines along the way. But a quick shoutout to Grandma Z in heaven and sure enough, she helped me find it.

Interesting enough, Grandma’s sauce is technically a ragu because there’s meat in it. Obviously, season to your own taste, step back from the garlic if you’re a vampire, and swap out fresh for dried herbs if you add them in later. Except the parsley. Best fresh, best added last for that freshness.

Grandma often ate the parsley while she added it. She was fresh that way.

Grandma Z's Pork Ragu - Instant Pot version

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Authentic but easy rustic pork ragu sauce especially good with spaghetti.

We use this sauce for spaghetti or lasagna. If using for lasagna, you may want to thin it a bit. For slow cooker version, let simmer on Low for 6-7 hours. (No point in using a slow cooker on High. )

Credit: Grandma Z


  • 2 country pork ribs (bone or boneless)
  • 2 medium (14.5 oz) cans diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 medium (14.5 oz) cans Italian style diced tomatoes
  • 1 small (6 oz) can tomato paste
  • 1/2 a whole small garlic, about 6-8 cloves
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne red pepper
  • 2 sprigs fresh parsley, right at the end


  1. Peel the garlic cloves. If you want stronger flavor, smash the cloves first. If you want a more mellow flavor, leave them whole.
  2. Remove pork from packaging and set within reach of your Pot.
  3. In the instant pot insert, pour olive oil, and turn on your Pot to Saute mode (for certain version, set to Low Saute.) REMEMBER: NEVER hit Saute and walk away.
  4. Place garlic in the insert and saute for about 2-3 minutes.
  5. Sear outside of pork ribs by putting first in, turning it on each side while making sure garlic stays in motion in the pot.
  6. Add the second rib and repeat. Add more oil if needed.
  7. Turn off Saute (hit Cancel).
  8. Add all cans of tomatoes, can of tomato paste (keep 1 empty can of tomatoes and can of tomato paste for later if you need more liquid.)
  9. Add all the spices, minus the parsley, and stir.
  10. Secure Instant Pot lid, press Manual, set to 35 minutes.
  11. Let natural pressure release (NPR).
  12. Open lid. If you used bone-in ribs, get bones out.
  13. Use masher to break up pork meat.
  14. If sauce is too thin, put on Saute for a few minutes. If too thick, use the tomato paste can first and add 1/2 a cup at a time until desired thickness.
  15. Serve or Can.

I’m a Pothead. Instant Pot Head

Several months ago I took the plunge and bought the Instant Pot. Pressure cookers are no novelty to me. My mom has been using them for all the time I can remember, back to the days when we would have to search the kitchen for the circular metal topper before we could use our stovetop version and have to put it into the kitchen sink and dose with cold water to lower the pressure inside to even open it.

I’ve also been a long-time fan of the slow cooker having grown up with hearty stews made from ton cuts of deer, elk, or antelope meat that my dad had hunted during our years growing up in Montana.

And I eat rice and hard boiled eggs. Like a lot of Seattle’s techy throng, I subscribe to the excitement for intellectual cooking as typified by Sir Alton Brown however not quite the McGyver-esque zeal that propels me to make a smoker out of foil, terracotta  planters, and wood chips I harvested from my last foray into the forests.

Nope, I’m a lazy cook. I like to understand enough to make choices like which cut of meat to speed the dollars on and which ones to troll the discount bins and throw in the slow cooker.

Oh, and I hate washing dishes. Or really, putting them away. Yeah I never minded filling the dishwasher or even sudsing up myself. But putting them away….ahhhh, man!

So after reading all the virtues of said Instant Pot (which my friend Kate and I both agree should be called Insta-Pot, because it’s so quick it needs to abbreviate the word. Ha!), I wanted to give it a go. Also, living in a much smaller space in the city, I was interested to see if I could get rid of my other slow cookers to settle on the One-To-Rule-Them-All!

Boy, have I been sold! So much so that I can often be heard selling its features to friends and family and have made a Pinterest board dedicated to recipes. I moved quickly from fresh hard boiled eggs every morning to whole chickens, frozen pork shoulder, lotion bars, and now cheesecake. I haven’t tackled yogurt or bread yet…but I’m getting there.

I’ve even now hosted a Pothead night to help my friends who hadn’t even unboxed their trendy purchase break the seal and start cooking. Which presented an interesting problem: I leverage plenty of other recipes across the Internet but there is one recipe that is uniquely our family’s, a second-generation Italian family’s loving legacy of our matriarch. Grandma Z’s spaghetti sauce. What to do about updating, storing, and posting that recipe to friends and family.

Well, enter the dust-covered lifestyle blog that I started many moons ago as an offshoot of my fiction blog. The outcomes of converting and creating new recipes can nicely land right here in addition to other important lessons of Pot-ter mastery: timing and toys. Sometimes it helps to know when you are putting meals together when to start up the Pot, when to fire up the broiler, and whether the metal or silicone heating basket might do best.

So to this end, I re-launch Style Just be, a lifestyle diary of discovery, experimentation, and dedication to promoting your own learning, creativity, and fun.





NFL Week 16: East Bound and Down

So these Thursday night games are killing me and I hear the NFL is planning for more. Maybe it’s a concerted effort to kill the Fantasy League practices…or maybe it’s just the quest for more money. Knowing the NFL, it’s a little of both.

Still, I can tell you in all honesty I would NOT have picked the Colts to beat the Texans so mark that ‘L’ for me.

And as I’m about two shakes from heading East Bound and Down, I’m going to make this post ever so brief….

The Picks

Thursday Night

Texans over Colts – Loss!


Ravens over Browns

Panthers over Bucs

Pats over Dolphins

Chiefs over Raiders

Titans over Jags

Cardinals over Bengals

Giants over Jets

Steelers over Rams

Bills over Broncos

Redskins over Vikings

Chargers over Lions

Cowboys over Eagles

Seahawks over 49ers

Sunday Night

Packers over Bears

Monday Night

Saints over Falcons

Fantasy Island

So in my inaugural fantasy season, I managed to scratch out a bid for the fifth place consolation game. Not that impressive but not that horrible considering the bulk of my team relied on Rivers-Gates and they, frankly, haven’t had a great year either. Lessons learned and Thursday night match-ups notwithstanding, it’s been a fun experience and I look forward to the playoff challenges.

Happy Holidays, Everyone in Cyberland! Keep on truckin’!

NFL Week 12: Cyber Monday

So much for picking the underdogs for Thanksgiving! Ah, well, at least the games were interesting, even if the only interest in the Detroit v Packers game was how late into the game Ndamukong Suh would be ejected from the game.

Having said that, none of Sunday’s games look nearly as intriguing except for, perhaps, the Broncos v Chargers game. I’ve written enough this year about both teams but with the AFC West title up for grabs even with the AFC West looking anemic compared to the rest of the league, it’s still a key game.

The Picks Pt 2

Bengals over Browns

Texans over Jags

Cardinals over Rams

Bills over Jets

Bus over Titans

Panthers over Colts

Falcons over Vikings

Raiders over Bears

Seahawks over Redskins

Chargers over Broncos

Patriots over Eagles

Steelers over Chiefs

Monday Nite

Now Monday Nite’s game should be interesting. Lots of talk about how wonderful a coach Tom Coughlin is. You know, Sean Payton ain’t too bad either

Saints over Giants, at home, 34 – 28

Butterflies and Summer Skies

Butterflies and Summer Skies, originally uploaded by StacieBenton.

Woke up to a misty white morning that caught me completely off-guard. But it turned into a really pretty day and enjoyed the best company for a long walk along the river trail. Back at the house, the butterfly bush has finally bloomed. I hate to think how soon fall may come so, for now, just focusing on all the green and color and remembering how lucky I am. I’m guilty of forgetting that and a day like today was a good one to remind me.

NFL Week…um….

Considering I’m in Turkey having a fantastic time and completely unable to keep track of time zones, I’ve already missed picks for this Sunday’s games.

However, mucho props to my madre for texting me updates on the fantastic Charger win while in transit so that I got them all on landing in Amsterdam. Smile 


And Merry Xmas!!!

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