A Month with the Instant Pot

Amanda got me an Instant Pot for Christmas! I’ve used it now for about a month and I love it.

Some observations:

  • I use this so much more than I ever used my stovetop pressure cooker. The stovetop one needed babysitting and I was never completely convinced that it wouldn’t explode. The Instant Pot doesn’t need babysitting, has safety features and failsafes, and is more exact than the stovetop one.
  • It takes at least 15 minutes to come up to pressure and another 5 to come down with the quick release. Plan accordingly.
  • It cooks rice like a charm. I couldn’t justify getting a rice cooker because we don’t eat THAT much rice, but now that the Instant Pot can make great rice, I’m pumped. My first trial was successful.
  • While it is great at curry and great at rice, cooking one and then cleaning it out to cook the other in the same night does not save time. Plan ahead accordingly. I tend to make stovetop curries anyway.
  • It is great for hearty winter meals. I wonder if I’ll use it as much during the summer?
  • It is great for meats, soups, stews, rice, beans, lentils, etc. Probably not worth the effort for things that would normally take just 10 minutes to steam.

Meals I’ve made with the Instant Pot so far:

  1. The Food Lab’s Pho Ga ūüć≤ ūüźď
  2. Nom Nom Paleo’s Kalua Pig ūüźĖ
  3. The Food Lab’s Ragu Bolognese ūüćĚ
  4. Nom Nom Paleo’s Curried Cream of Broccoli Soup ūü•¶
  5. Sausage, lentil, potato ūü•Ē , and kale soup (my own recipe, adapted for the Instant Pot – brown sausage, dump in everything else, high pressure for 30 minutes, quick release)
  6. Chicken, Wild Rice, and Mushroom ūüćĄ soup adapted for the pressure cooker (sear chicken first, dump rice in uncooked, 35 minutes on high pressure, quick release)
  7. The Food Lab’s Chicken Chili Verde
  8. Rice for a stovetop curry ūüćõ

One book that helped me figure out what the Instant Pot is best for (and gave me great recipe ideas!) is Dinner in an Instant by Melissa Clark. Our friends Tyler and Erin made a great braised pork recipe out of this book when they had us over for dinner in December and I bought the book right away.

Here is a great quote from the intro:

In this book, I focus on the machine’s strengths, writing not about what you can make in it, but what you should make because the electric pressure cooker does it better‚Äďfaster or more flavorfully, or with less mess and/or stress. The key to successful pressure cooking is choosing recipes in which softness and succulence is the goal, and which traditionally take hours to get there. It can’t cook a whole chicken very well, and it doesn’t do crisp or crunchy. So don’t ask it to and you won’t be disappointed.

What I want to try making next in the Instant Pot:

  • Yogurt
  • Chili
  • Black bean and ham soup
  • Chicken and dumplings
  • Tagine
  • Elaichi gosht (lamb with cardamom)

I’ll post some of my own Instant Pot recipes soon, so stay tuned!

Four Hot Sauces that are Better than Sriracha

I consume a lot of hot sauce. It is rare that one of my meals¬†doesn’t have some sort of hot sauce on it.

Frank’s Red Hot and Sriracha are good. Both are widely available and pretty tasty. I actually have a bottle of Frank’s in my fridge right now. I had some yesterday!

That said, there are better hot sauces available. Here are four that I keep on hand and regularly consume:

ABC Sambal Extra Hot Pedas


This stuff is what Sriracha could be. It is pretty spicy and delightfully garlicy. It keeps you coming back for more, despite how much it makes you sweat from the heat.

My friend Dusty Gulleson. He grew up eating this stuff in Indonesia and now buys it a case at a time and gets it shipped here to the US. I won’t eat any sort of asian food without it. I also eat it with eggs, hotdogs, potatoes, and the cauliflower rice we like to make.

The cheapest place I can find to buy it in the US is IndoFoodStore.com. You can also buy it in 3, 6, and 12 packs on Amazon. I’ve seen three different labels, which is kind of strange. But I’ll overlook it because this stuff is SO GOOD.


Chiligods Green Pepper Sauce


When Amanda and I were out in Sonoma last year, we stopped at a little spot for breakfast. On each table they had a bottle of this stuff. I put some on my omelet and I was a changed man. I’d never had a green sauce that had a flavor like this: Savory, tangy, slightly acidic, citrus overtones, and some light heat. I asked the waitress where I could buy some of this around town and we drove straight over to a store she mentioned. I bought the last bottle on the shelf.

You can buy some from Sunsweet. The shipping is a little pricey, but this stuff is worth having around. Everyone needs a good green sauce in their rotation. I use it on eggs, tamales, and carnitas.


El Yucateco XXXtra Hot Kutbil-ik Mayan Style Habanero


You’ve probably seen little bottles of red or green El Yucateco at your favorite Mexican restaurant. Those are good, but they also make an even hotter and tastier version called XXXtra Hot Kutbil-ik. They say it is a Mayan-style recipe.

I always underestimate how how this stuff is and inevitably overdo it. It walks the line between flavor and overwhelming heat, but I think it ultimately lands on the flavor side. The fruity aspect of Habaneros come out in this. When I need to add a lot of heat to something, I reach for this. Spreading a little dab across a burrito is enough. I eat it most with Mexican food. It is particularly good with huevos rancheros.

This stuff is available at most grocery stores. Look for the little Mayan guy on the bottle so that you don’t accidentally pick up the wrong El Yucateco. You can also get it on Amazon.


Spicy Chili Crisp


This is the least spicy condiment on the list, but it is an indispensible part of any good hot sauce collection. It is a lot more savory than spicy due to the shallots and soy beans, but it does have a little heat. It also has a delightfully crunchy texture.

My friend Janet Bufton¬†posted about it on Facebook back in the winter and I’ve gone through a couple jars already. I love it in vegetable soup (Sickie soup), with steamed or stirfried vegetables, and with dumplings. I have two heaping spoonfuls minimum every time I open the jar.

You can buy this on Amazon, too. Better get at least two jars because you’re gonna love it.



What is your favorite hot sauce? I love suggestions, so drop them in the comments.


New Cocktails Section is Live!

I added a new section to Cook Like Chuck: Cocktails!

Now you will find my 27 favorite cocktail recipes with notes on how to make them, the cocktail books I recommend to people most often, and the tools I use to make cocktails here at home.

Check back as often as you’d like. I’m continually adding new cocktails, books, and tools as I come across them. If there is anything you love that I should know about, drop me a line!




2016 Gift Guide

Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are quickly approaching. Here are some gift ideas for your friends and family who like to spend time in the kitchen.

Note: Many links below are affiliate links. By buying through these links you support this site and my Amazon habit. No one incentived me to post these things here. Every single item is here because I either have it or think it is great. Happy holidays!

Under $30



Help your friends refresh their cabinet of old, stale spices. I get most of my spices from Penzeys. Great quality and fair prices.

The gift boxes are always great. My regular order usually contains:

  • Turkish Bay Leaves – Better than anything you’ll buy in the grocery store and a more complex flavor than the California variety.
  • India Special Extra Bold Peppercorns – The highest grade of peppercorns. If the person you are buying for doesn’t usually grind their own pepper, get them this and a mill and you will change their world.
  • Smoked Paprika – I love the flavor of smoke. This stuff is a regular¬†occurrence in potato dishes, meat rubs, and stews in our house.
  • Mural of Flavor – A dozen different herbs and spices mixed together to roughly mimic Mediterranean flavors. Great with chicken, pork, popcorn, and breakfast sandwiches.
  • Kosher Flake Salt – This is our house salt. Great general-purpose stuff. Get your giftee a salt box, too.
  • Roasted Garlic Powder – I’d rather have roasted garlic powder over regular any day of the week.
  • Cajun – Cajun spices regularly dust the outside of our chicken, pork, and beef before we sear them to add some extra flavor.
  • Whole Vanilla Beans – Make your own vanilla liqueur, flavor some mid-shelf bourbon, or use them to make some awesome homemade ice cream.



  • The Food Lab¬†–¬†J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is my favorite food blogger and one of the main inspirations for this blog. He¬†meticulously tests every dish he makes and posts the results for the benefit of us all. I’ve learned so much from this book.
  • The Art of Simple Food¬†–¬†Alice Waters of Chez Panisse has the best books around for¬†simple, flavorful dishes made with in-season ingredients. Each time I flip through this book I get new ideas. The second edition is great, too!
  • On Food and Cooking¬†–¬†This is the go-to source for the science of food and cooking. If I want to know what is going on when I ferment sauerkraut, which genus currants belong to, or the proportions and qualities of different kinds of cake batter, this is the book I pick up.


Other Food-Related Reading

  • A subscription to Lucky Peach magazine, the best food periodical in the game, from Momofuku.
  • The Raw and the Cooked – Jim Harrison is “the Henry Miller of food writing”. Hilarious, a bit raunchy, and a treasure trove of knowledge.
  • An Everlasting Meal – A meditation on cooking and eating.
  • The Belly of Paris – A classic about¬†class struggle and the many tantalizing tastes and smells of 1850s Paris.




Very few people have proper¬†soup spoons.¬†If someone you know regularly eats soup but doesn’t have soup spoons, these will give them a huge quality of life increase. Get some soup bowls to go with them.


Cocktail Gear



Under $50



I had a whole post on inexpensive knives you’ll actually use a while back. These are great knives that make great gifts.


Coffee Gear


  • For brewing single cups, the¬†Aeropress¬†cannot be beat. I use mine almost every afternoon.
  • For brewing more than one cup, we turn to the Chemex.
    • Make sure you get some paper filters or a reusable filter cone.¬†¬†If you like coffee oils in your cup and don’t mind a bit of fine sediment, I think the reusable¬†is the way to go. There are cloth options that filter out oils, but the metal ones last much longer.
  • The¬†Porlex Coffee Grinder¬†produces the most consistent grind size this side of a $200+ coffee grinder.
  • The¬†Buono Gooseneck Kettle‘s¬†weird spout allows you to pour a consistent stream of hot water, which is essential for making a good cup of coffee.
  • Consistent measurement is a key ingredient in making good coffee. I use my¬†kitchen scale¬†every day.
  • You can’t go wrong with a nice bag of Blue Bottle’s Three Africas coffee beans¬†or a gift subscription.
  • My favorite mugs are made by Mazama. They are handmade, dishwasher and microwave save, and beautiful.


General Kitchen Tools


  • Mandolin V-Slicer¬†–¬†This makes slicing and shredding veggies into a uniform size very easy. It is a bit dangerous, but worth the risk.
  • Hand Blender¬†–¬†When I got this two years ago, I put my regular blender in the cabinet and havent touched it. This will change how you blend. It makes blending soups very simple and you can make homemade mayo with it in two minutes.
  • Amazon Echo Dot – This may be a tech gift, but its home is in the kitchen. It¬†is a voice-activated¬†assistant. Set timers, ask for measurement conversions, check sports scores while making a gameday snack, or have it order pizza for you when you burn your meatloaf.
  • Lodge Cast Iron Skillet – Perfect for searing meat, frying up potatoes, roasting half a chicken¬†in the oven, or making crispy bar-style pizza. I don’t know where I’d be without my cast iron. I use it more than all my other pans combined. Works on both gas and electric glass-top ranges.
  • Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven – Perfect for braising, my go-to for soups, and even great for baking no-knead bread. Sure, you could get a Le Creuset that is 5x as expensive, but I’ve been getting along just fine for years with a cheaper one.


Tampers for the ROK Espresso Maker

I had trouble finding this info when I first got the ROK Espresso Maker, so I’m posting this here for others to find.

The tamper size you want for the ROK Espresso Maker is 49mm.

Why not just use the little plastic one that came in the box?
The one that came with the ROK is significantly smaller than the portafilter, so it pushes grounds up the sides when you push down on it. It has no heft, so it is left up to you to push evenly. This leads to uneven pressure, which can lead to channeling. Plus, regular tampers are just plain cool. Unnecessary, sure, but cool.

Here are a few options for all price ranges and styles:

RSVP Stainless Steel Espresso Tamper 49mm

RSVP Stainless Steel Espresso Tamper, 49mm. $14.95 at time of writing.


Zoie + Chloe Stainless Steel Espresso, 49mm

Zoie + Chloe Stainless Steel Tamper, 49mm. $17.99 at time of writing. (This is the one I’m currently using. See photo above.)

49mm Stainless Steel Tamper

49mm Stainless Steel Tamper. $21.79 at time of writing.

Jimei Calibrated Coffee Tamper,49mm

Jimei Calibrated Coffee Tamper, 49mm. $37.00 at time of writing. Clicks when you reach 30lbs of force.


Espro Calibrated Convex Tamper, 49mm

Espro Calibrated Convex Tamper, 49mm. $113.67 at time of writing. This cool but expensive contraption clicks after you reach 30lbs of force.


Soylent Coffiest Review

Soylent (Rosa Labs) released a new product last week: Coffiest. I bought a case a few hours after the announcement and I made it my breakfast the past few mornings.

This is the fourth, and best, type of Soylent I’ve tried. Here are my notes on the other ones I’ve tried:

  • 1.4 (powder, no longer available) was thick, clumpy, and tasted like pancake batter. I added a lot of cocoa powder to it.
  • 1.5 (also powder, different formula, no longer available) was thinner and had a more neutral taste. Not bad, but I thought the carb-to-fat content was a little too high.
  • 2.0 (original pre-mixed version, still available) is pretty good. I really liked the convenience of not having to mix powder with water and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before I drank it. My main use-case for Soylent is a quick breakfast or lunch when I have a lot going on and no time to make something. Drinking¬†a bottle of 2.0 keeps me going until dinner time. It is thinner and even more neutrally flavored than 1.5. It has a slight cereal milk¬†taste.¬†I didn’t dislike the flavor, but I found it to be a whole lot better when I added in some of my iced coffee.

Coffiest is the latest addition to their line. It contains the nutrients of one meal and some caffeine to get you going.¬†I’ll admit that¬†I was a little nervous about what the flavor of Coffiest would be. I’m happy to say that Rosa Labs nailed it. Coffiest has a good balanced coffee flavor and just a little bit of the cereal milk base flavor peaking through. In fact, it tastes pretty close to what I mixed together myself with Soylent 2.0 and¬†my iced coffee. Some people say there are chocolately overtones in there, but they don’t really come through for me.¬†It isn’t too sweet and¬†doesn’t leave a weird film in your mouth like coffee+milk. It tastes just like a balanced coffee drink should.

It is easy to forget that this is a meal replacement drink because it is so thin. Remember that this is packed with the nutrition of a full meal, so consume it wisely!

Be aware of the amount of caffeine you usually drink and how it compares to Coffiest. 150mg is roughly 1 large strong cup of coffee or 2 cups of weaker office coffee. I’m a caffeine addict, so Coffiest¬†doesn’t replace my caffeine intake for the day. I usually follow it up 2-3 hours later with a cup of coffee or shot of espresso. If you arent a coffee drinker though, 150mg might be a lot for you.

You might feel a little different after drinking Coffiest. It has 150mg of caffeine and 75mg of l-theanine, an amino acid in green tea that has been found to smooth out the effects of caffeine. In short, it helps keep you from getting jittery. I’ve taken l-theanine before and gives me a somewhat dazed feeling, even when combined with caffeine. If you aren’t used to it, it can be a little strange.

I’ve had no problems so far consuming it on an empty stomach, unlike some of the early powdered versions. I’ve been taking it with me on my morning walks (see the photo at the top of this article), so by the time I get back home, I’ve had a walk, something to “eat”,¬†and coffee.¬†I’m pretty pleased with this version and I think it will become a regular breakfast item for me.