Pressure Cooker Beef (or Oxtail) Barley Soup

One of my favorites, made quickly with a twist.

Oxtails, fresh from the butcher.

One of my favorite “comfort foods” is beef barley soup. I blogged my recipe last December; here’s the pressure cooker version that’ll get yummy barley goodness to your mouth quicker. But rather than use plain old stew meat, this time I used fresh oxtails that I picked up from a local butcher this past week. I whipped it up in my Instant Pot in about an hour.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil. The original recipe called for cooking spray. But why not use a little olive oil instead?
  • 2 pounds oxtails, trimmed (or 1 to 1-1/2 pounds stew meat, trimmed and cut into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces). You can make it with less meat, but if you have more, use it. It’ll make a heartier soup.
  • 3-4 large carrots, sliced. Carrots are a must-have in any meat-based soup.
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, sliced. I don’t care for celery, but it is part of the aromatic trilogy.
  • 1 large onion, chopped. The third member of the aromatic trilogy, I put onions in most soups and stews. I still have onions from my garden.
  • 1 large parsnip, sliced. If you can’t find parsnips, add another carrot or two, which is what I did today.
  • 1 medium turnip, cut into 1/2-inch cubes. I skipped this today.
  • 4 cups fat-free, low-sodium beef broth. Today I cheated and used water with bullion, which is the only thing I had.
  • 1 bay leaf.
  • 2/3 cup uncooked pearl barley.
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt. You can probably omit the salt if you don’t use low-sodium beef broth. I did, but then again, I’m trying to keep my salt intake down. Remember you can always add salt; you can’t remove it.
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Pepper is always good with beef.


These instructions are for an Instant Pot, but I tried to include generic pressure cooker instructions, too.

  1. Heat the pressure cooker for browning. On an Instant Pot, press Sauté.
  2. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.
  3. Add oxtail or stew meat to pot and cook until browned on all sides.
  4. Remove meat from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  5. Add vegetables to the pot; cook 6-8 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates.
  6. Return beef to pot with beef broth and bay leaf.
  7. Bring to a simmer and turn off the pressure cooker.
  8. Stir in remaining ingredients
  9. Cover and lock down the cover. Set the pressure cooker to high for 20 minutes. (On an Instant Pot, press Manual and set to 20.
  10. When pressure cycle is over turn pressure cooker off and allow pressure to release naturally. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes.
  11. Remove cover carefully, fish out bay leaf, and serve.

Oxtail Barley Soup
Oxtail barley soup. It was delicious!

Keep in mind that the longer you cook the pearl barley or let it sit in the hot soup, the more liquid it will absorb. The net result could be more of a stew than a soup. If you want a soupier soup, either reduce the amount of barley or increase the amount of broth.

This yields about six to eight servings, depending on serving size. I think it would be excellent with some crusty bread on a cold winter day.

Sous Vide Steak

An update to my post about exploring sous vide cooking.

Well, my new Instant Pot Accu SV800 Sous Vide Immersion Circulator arrived the other day and I wasted no time trying it out. I pulled two 1-1/2 inch thick New York strip steaks out of the freezer — they were from the quarter cow I bought last year — and defrosted them. I seasoned them with my prime rib rub (see below), which I normally use for roasting beef on my Traeger. Then I sealed each steak and about 1-1/2 tablespoons of butter in a pouch using my FoodSaver vacuum sealer.

Although my immersion circulator was supposedly designed to work with the inner pot of an Instant Pot cooker, it was too tall for mine. (WTF?) Fortunately, I have a tall Calphalon stew pot and it fit perfectly in that. I filled the pot with hot tap water to the bottom fill line of the circulator, plugged it in, and set the temperature for medium cooked beef: 135°F. Because my tap water is so hot (about 122°F in the pot, according to the circulator’s thermostat), it only took a few minutes to get to 135°F.

Sous-Vide setup
Not a very good picture, but you get the idea. The immersion circulator keeps the water at temperature. The steaks cook in the water in individual bags.

I dropped both steaks in. As I expected, the water level rose to about halfway between the upper and lower fill marks. I tried to set the circulator’s timer to 1-1/2 hours, but it reset itself to 8 hours. So I took note of the time and went about my business cleaning the garage.

An hour later, I came back. The steaks were no longer red. The butter had melted. There was juice in the packets.

I heated my propane grill to high temperate, brushed off the metal grill, and turned down two of the three burners. Then I put some cut up potatoes and beets from my garden, along with a cut up carrot, into my grill basket, set it on the grill away from the high burner, and closed the lid. I let them bake on mostly indirect heat for about 20 minutes, tossing them occasionally. I added a cut up onion from my garden.

I made a salad. For me, that usually consists of opening a bag of mixed greens and adding salad dressing. I like to cook but hate making salad.

When the onions were beginning to soften and the potatoes and beets were done, I brought one of the steaks out. I cut open the pouch and put the steak on over the burner set to high. I reserved the packet of juice.

I let the steak sear well on one side before turning it. Then it seared on the other. Total grill time was less than 4 minutes.

I plated the steak and veggies with some salad. I poured the pouch juice over the steak. I poured a glass of cabernet and sat down to eat.

A Sous Vide Dinner
My first sous vide steak with grilled garden vegetables and bag o’salad.

This was probably the most delicious, perfectly cooked steak I’ve ever eaten. Tender and amazingly juicy, it was just the way I like it: brown on the outside and pink but firm on the inside.

The interesting thing about cooking this way is that you can (with some exceptions) leave the steak in the hot water as long as you like before searing it. This makes it an extremely convenient method of cooking red meat for guests. The only drawback is that all meats in the cooker will cook to the same doneness. That means you can’t please someone who likes their meat rare while pleasing others who like theirs medium well — unless you do more than just sear those medium well steaks on the grill.

As for the other steak, I left it in its sealed pouch and put it in the fridge for another day. I would up serving it to a friend last night. I microwaved the pouch for about 30 seconds to get the juices liquified again, then put the steak on the grill and finished it up as I’d finished mine a few days before. My guest was very impressed.

Prime Rib Rub Recipe

Mix together the following ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons dry mustard
  • 4 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic or dried minced garlic or 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons celery seeds

This is good on any beef you roast or smoke. I first used it on a rib roast I prepared in my Traeger a few years ago and it was amazing. Now I always keep a jar of it on hand for seasoning steak and even hamburgers.

Exploring Sous Vide Cooking

As if I needed another new thing to explore.

Instant Pot Sous Vide Immersion Circulator
The Instant Pot Accu SV800 Sous Vide Immersion Circulator attaches to the lip of any suitably sized pot.

This week, I bought a sous vide immersion circulator. This is a device that you put in a pot of water and let it heat the water to the exact temperature you need for sous vide cooking. The one I got is from the Instant Pot people — the Instant Pot Accu SV800 Sous Vide Immersion Circulator — so it’s designed to go into that pot, but it’ll fit just about any large pot. I suspect I could even use it with one of my big, stainless steel cheesemaking pots if I needed to prepare a large quantity of food. I bought this with a “Lightning Deal” on Amazon for under $100; it basically gives me a sous vide cooker for a fraction of the price (and size) of a dedicated sous vide cooking device.

Sous vide — in case you’re not aware of the term — is a method of cooking raw food inside a vacuum sealed bag. Add the food and seasonings, seal up the bag, and then simmer it at a specific temperature for a few hours. Yes, hours. For certain foods — like steak — you’d then finish it off by searing it in a hot skillet or on a grill. You can learn more in an excellent article I found online at the Serious Eats website.

Although many people use zip-lock bags for this kind of cooking, a vacuum sealer with heat tolerant bags is preferred. I already have one of those so I’m all ready to go. I’m thinking I might try a steak tonight. (I have to admit that I’m already pretty good at grilling up steaks so this would have to greatly improve the flavor or texture of the meat for me to switch for steak.) If all goes well, I’ll explore other recipes. Anyone have any recipes for sous vide that they want to share?

I’m also wondering if I can prepare the food with seasonings in a bag, freeze it, and then defrost and cook it later.

But the real reason I bought it? I was thinking that I could somehow use this device to help me maintain certain temperatures needed when making cheese. A quick look at it, however, gives me the idea that submerging it directly in milk would probably not be a good idea. I’d have to stick to a double-boiler, which is okay; I could use the immersion circulator in the outer pot. Any thoughts?

If anyone reading this has experience with sous vide cooking and has a favorite recipe or two, please share it. I’m always interested in trying new things.

And sometimes I’m not sure that’s a good thing!

Instant Pot Chicken Mole

Another great recipe for my pressure cooker.

Chicken Mole
Chicken mole from my Instant Pot.

A friend came by for dinner yesterday. I expected her at 5 and worked down in the garage until 4:50 PM. I wasn’t worried about time; I was cooking up dinner in my Instant Pot and had all the ingredients ready. She kept me company while I got everything into the pot and we drank wine and snacked on caprese with tomatoes from my garden and fresh mozzarella while we waited.

Here’s my version of the Mole Chicken Chili recipe I found in my newPressure Cooker Perfection cookbook. I served it over white rice and it was delicious: slightly chocolatey from the cocoa, slightly sweet from the raisins, and with just enough heat to catch your attention from the chili powder and chipotle peppers.


  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil.
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder.
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa.
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced.
  • 2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce. This stuff, which you can find in the Hispanic food aisle of your grocery story — assuming your store has one — is spicy! I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with the rest of the can. Freeze it in a small container?
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth. If you use a quart sized container, as I did, you can use the remainder with water to make the rice. If you use canned chicken broth, you can get away with using one can and making up the difference to 2-1/2 cups with water.
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes. I used 3 medium, very ripe fresh tomatoes from my garden.
  • 1 cup raisins.
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter.
  • 3 to 4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, with fat trimmed off. The original recipe calls for 4 pounds bone-in thighs.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced in 1/2 inch thick pieces. I used a red onion from my garden.
  • 1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces. In general, I don’t like peppers, but I’m trying very hard to like them so I included them.
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped.


  1. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to Instant Pot and press Sauté to start heating.
  2. When oil is shimmering, add chili powder, cocoa, garlic, chipotle, cinnamon, and cloves. Cook about 30 seconds. (It will smell really good.)
  3. Stir in broth, tomatoes, raisins, and peanut butter. Be sure to scrape any bits of the dry ingredients off the bottom of the pan. (I have a silicone spoon I use for this and it does a great job without damaging any of my cookware.)
  4. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Remove the sauce from the pot and puree it in a blender. (I use an immersion blender, which does a great job.) Set it aside.
  6. Season chicken with salt and pepper.
  7. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the pot.
  8. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about five minutes.
  9. Stir in sauce, chicken, and peppers.
  10. Cover and lock pot; close steam vent.
  11. On the Instant Pot, press Off and then press Manual and set the time to 20 minutes.
  12. When the timer beeps, press Off. Do a quick pressure release and then carefully remove the lid.
  13. Stir in cilantro and serve.

The original recipe instructs you to leave the red pepper out in step 9. Instead, when the pressure cooking is done, you remove the chicken and shred it. While doing that, you cook the pepper in the sauce for 10-15 minutes and then add the chicken back in. My way is quicker and easier and I’ve found that the chicken shreds a bit on its own as it’s served. Also keep in mind that if you use bone-in chicken, you should increase pressure cooking time to 25 minutes.

This makes a lot of food. With rice, it fed both of us two servings and there was enough leftover to give my friend some to take home and feed me at least two more meals. We were too full for dessert!

If you make this, let me know what you think.

Instant Pot Mac and Cheese with Chicken and Peas

A one-pot dinner in 15 minutes.

Macaroni and Cheese
This looks a lot better than that orange stuff I used to eat.

Everyone loves macaroni and cheese, the ultimate comfort food. What’s better than home made?

I’ll admit it: for most of my life I’ve been hooked on Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese dinner. For years, it was almost a special treat to whip up a box of this unnaturally orange stuff at home. But with the rise of good mac and cheese and its popularity in restaurants, I started looking outside that blue box. And, after making this dish, I can’t see going back — ever.

This recipe is based on one I found in the Pressure Cooker Perfection cookbook by the folks at America’s Test Kitchens. It’s a great cookbook with nice color finished food photos — I’m a sucker for that in cookbooks — but it predates the Instant Pot I and so many of my friends have. Since I modified the recipe a bit for my own version, I figured I’d rewrite my version of it with Instant Pot-specific instructions. Here it is.


  • 8 ounces (2 cups) elbow macaroni. I used large elbows but I suspect you could use small ones or any other similarly sized/shaped pasta.
  • 2 cups water. I used cold water because the recipe didn’t specify otherwise.
  • 1 teaspoon salt.
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. You can omit this is you prefer not to have the spice.
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard. I used the full teaspoon and could really smell it when it was first cooking and wondered whether I should have cut back. But I couldn’t taste it in the finished product.
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk. I used whole milk, although the original recipe says 2% is okay. Use fat free at your own risk. Please remember that evaporated milk is not the same as sweetened condensed milk, although they’re usually together on supermarket shelves.
  • 1 cup cooked chicken, chopped. I occasionally buy roasted chickens at the supermarket and, because I usually can’t eat a whole one by myself in two days, cut up the breast meat and freeze it in a vacuum-sealed packet. It’s perfect for recipes like this.
  • 1/2 to 1 cup frozen peas. I love peas and aways have a bag in my freezer. I didn’t measure; I probably used a whole cup!
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded. I bought it pre-shredded.
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) Monterey Jack cheese, shredded. I couldn’t find it pre-shredded so I had to shred it myself. In hindsight, I realize I could have bought a pre-shredded mild cheddar/Monterey Jack mix the supermarket offered in 8-ounce packages.


  1. Mix macaroni, water, salt, pepper, and mustard in Instant Pot (or other pressure cooker).
  2. Cover and seal pot for pressure cooking.
  3. On Instant Pot, press Manual and set for 5 minutes. (On another pressure cooker, heat and cook at high pressure for five minutes.)
  4. When cooking is finished turn pressure cooker off, do a fast pressure release, and carefully remove lid.
  5. Stir pasta thoroughly. It should be mostly cooked with some water left in the pot.
  6. On Instant Pot, press Saute. (On another pressure cooker, heat to medium high.)
  7. Stir in milk, chicken, and peas.
  8. Cook until liquid is mostly gone and pasta is tender.
  9. Turn pressure cooker off and remove from heat.
  10. Stir in cheeses and serve.

This makes four good-sized servings, perfect for dinner.