the Instant Pot

Good morning, friends. Since receiving my Instant Pot (IP), I’ve made a variety of dishes to try and figure the contraption out. Is it worth it? What does it do well? What does it do less well? Do I recommend one and why?

What I bought:

I purchased the 6-quart Instant Pot Ultra. It comes with a steam rack (with handles), recipe booklet, two plastic serving spoons, and a plastic 1-cup measuring cup. In addition, I purchased two additional sealing rings because pretty much every review said that savory things infuse the ring with savory pungency which one would not want in, say, a cheesecake; a 7-inch removable base pan (I bought this one because although it’s not a springform proper, it’s made of stainless versus weird teflon stuff and I just prefer cooking as cleanly as possible, especially at high pressure and high temps); and two cookbooks, Dinner in an Instant and Comfort in an Instant, both by Melissa Clark.

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Why I bought those items, and my thoughts on them:

The Instant Pots come in 3-, 6-, and 8-quart size. For a family of four, 3-quart is very small in my opinion, and for things like roasts, I thought it’d feel cramped. 8-quart is on the big side for a family of four, and because I wasn’t sure how much I’d cotton to this machine, I didn’t feel like spending the extra money on an 8. The six is just right.
The handled steam rack is essential in my opinion, but I doubt I will ever use the plastic spoons or measuring cup. To be fair, I’ll probably never use the recipe booklet either. The instruction manual is seriously lacking so although it gives you a decent overview, please heed the advice of my dear friend, S, who sent me straightaway to YouTube. I watched one and a half videos and was set.

I knew I wanted to make a cheesecake sooner rather than later, both because I’ve heard it’s one of the things IP does best and because a 7” cheesecake (the size a 6-quart IP can make) is infinitely more family-friendly than a 9” or 10”er. Neither of the boys eats cheesecake, Tom is dieting, and there’s only so much cheesecake you can eat, freeze, and give away. So, the desire to make cheesecake prompted the purchase of the additional sealing rings and the 7” removable base pan. More on the cheesecake below.

Many IP recipes beyond cheesecakes do call for a springform or removable base pan; meatloaf for example. Assuming I would try some of those made me even more willing (beyond the stainless factor) to pay up for the nice ekovana pan I bought. Also, it has a handle which is fabulous. You need an assist lifting hot pans out of a hot, relatively narrow pot, and I knew I’d be irritated if every single time I had to fashion a foil sling to enable removal.

Lastly, the cookbooks. Melissa Clark is one of my favorite cooks. Her recipes are almost always delicious and successful. In addition, I am an experienced cook with an extensively stocked pantry at my disposal, and my whole family really likes to eat interesting things. This is why I bypassed all the starter IP cookbooks, and because I don’t need to cook for any specific diet, I bypassed all those books too (the good news is that there are SO MANY IP cookbooks for all level of experience, culinary preference, diet, and so forth.) I beelined for Melissa’s books because I was tired, short on time, and already trust and like her style.

Overall: I am pleased with and do recommend every purchase I’ve described above.

What I’ve made in my IP so far:

All are from the two aforementioned cookbooks:

  • Lemon Chicken with Garlic + Olives

  • Easy Weeknight Chili

  • Chipotle Pork Tacos

  • Black Beans with Green Chiles + Cumin

  • Salmon with Lemon-Caper Butter

  • Ginger-Lemon Cheesecake

  • Cod + Potato Chowder (though I made it with clams)

I chose these recipes to test a spectrum of foods, textures, and cooking techniques in the IP. (I also made wild rice but mis-measured the water so am not including that here.)

Reviews of those dishes:

The lemon chicken was the first recipe I tried. Why I chose it, I’m not sure as it calls for chicken thighs and I loathe chicken thighs, but lemon, garlic, and olives sounded so good, so I made it with four thighs and two boneless breasts and served everything over egg noodles as MC suggested. The kids LOVED the meal and much preferred the thighs, as, frankly, did I and Tom.

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The reason is a clue to one thing the IP is especially good for: higher-fat meats that can be tough when cooked incorrectly. Under pressure, the proteins and cell walls soften such that the result is fall-off-the-bone tender and juicy meat. In contrast, the boneless breasts were tough, flavorless, and not really worth eating. The lemon, garlic, and olives stayed intact but helped make a fragrant broth that was really lovely atop the noodles.

easy weeknight chili, unadorned

easy weeknight chili, unadorned

The next night, I made the chili. The kids LOVE chili but my go-to is the Silver Palate Chili for a Crowd which is perfect and sublime but not fast. MC offers a chili recipe in each of the books I bought and for no good reason, I simply chose the Easy Weeknight chili first. It was fine. Not bad at all and definitely easy and quick, but it did need some flair at the end so if you do make it, go forth with the sour cream and avocado, lime and salt.

Next I made the cheesecake and salmon, not together, obviously. While the cheesecake’s texture was incredibly creamy, consistent, and smooth, it was ugly as sin. I will absolutely try another cheesecake in the IP as it takes roughly a third less of the time than it does in the oven and the texture is dreamy (and it didn’t crack!), but the top looked like a steamed bun rather than a slightly-golden-on-the-edges-and-a-lovely-cream-in-the-middle cheesecake.

The kids thought the salmon was the best they’d ever had. Tom and I thought it was fine- I prefer to do it in the oven, but if the kids devour 6 ounces each in no time flat AFTER, by the way, the fish taking one minute on high pressure to cook, well, I will make it for them any time. That said, no salmon takes all that long, so…

On Saturday, we made clam and potato chowder. It was nice but a bit thin. More dainty vichyssoise than hearty chowder. I honestly didn’t even know you could make chowder with just a quarter-cup of cream, but go forth, MC. Not sure I’d make it again.

Yesterday, I made the chipotle pork tacos with the green chile and cumin black beans to go alongside. The pork was off the hook good, again proving that meats that really need to be cooked long and slow or at high-arse pressure are one thing the Instant Pot is truly made for. I pulled the hunks of pork shoulder out with wide tongs, just barely making each piece to the cutting board before they fell apart.

Not usually a fan of chipotles, here they’re terrific in concert with fresh orange juice, a generous dash of cider vinegar, and a whole slew of other spices.

chipotle pork tacos

chipotle pork tacos

The beans, while still in need of seasoning after the fact, are nonetheless another example of Instant Pot stars. How many of you never deal with dried beans because who remembers to soak them overnight and then cook them long enough in advance of actually needing cooked beans? I have many dusty bags of hopeful dried beans on my pantry shelf for just this reason.

In the Instant Pot, dried black beans start to satiny finish took under an hour. Tonight we had leftovers with hot rice and salsa.

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Do I recommend buying an Instant Pot?

If it’s in your budget and you have space to store it and eat meat, I definitely recommend this. I’m less certain about its applications for vegetarians unless you want to prepare and eat dried beans on the very regular. I can envision myself using this once a week or so.

Part of my reaction here is due to the fact that I like doing things from scratch and with attention to detail. This is why not a few people were shocked that I bought an IP. I love to roll a pie crust and stir a roux and watch jam come together, tasting all the while. I like listening to a pot of soup bubbling away on the stove on a cold day, and I like opening a hot oven and letting the steam give me a quick facial before I turn the pot or the cake or whatever. We are all so sped up all the time, and I just want to stop sometimes; to just stop being driven by efficiency and the clock.

That said, Jack had banjo until 6:40 tonight, and he and I got home with the groceries near 7. Oliver was pouting about how much homework he had because he didn’t chunk it well since Friday, and you can bet I do NOT have a full meal in me right now. Also, I was getting bored with all I was preparing.

I’m grateful for tasty leftovers in the same way I was last week grateful for tender chicken quickly made and served over freshly cooked egg noodles. I can absolutely see the virtue of this pot on harried, tired nights when you nonetheless want to serve your family a hot meal made in your kitchen.

As all IP reviews say, you need to figure out what’s in the Venn diagram of what you like to cook and eat and what the IP does well. If you can figure out that set, you’ll be glad to have one of these on hand!

PS- for tech-minded kids, this seems to be exciting. Jack has eagerly eaten every single thing I’ve cooked in this (despite being the pickiest eater in my family which is both saying very little and saying a lot) because he is fascinated by how pressure impacts cook speed. If you have such a child and plan to introduce an IP, go nuts describing the slashed cook times on things like dried beans and meats that need a long bake. Perhaps you’ll get lucky like I have.

Sunday/Superbowl/Stream

Parenting is constant and tiring and unlikeable at times. Add a slumber party into the mix, and I guarantee you’ll want to run.
The Patriots did, by most accounts, cheat during DeflateGate and maybe have again since, but are, objectively, an exceptionally amazing team, and Tom Brady, while likely insufferable IRL, is a bot-like specimen that sort of proves Malcolm Gladwell’s point about practicing things tens of thousands of times and being committed and steadfast. One must admire his athleticism, mental fortitude, and talent. One need not admire Belichick’s attire.
The Saints were robbed by an extremely horrible call. Shoulda been Saints-Pats.
donald trump is a deeply horrible person who lies more than he breathes and is an abject, disgraceful blotch on America. I truly loathe him.
Maroon 5 needs to go away. Does Adam Levine actually play the guitar, or does he just wear it around his neck like an accessory? I ask because his looks extremely undersized. I don’t understand the tank he wore during the SB halftime. I dislike tattoos.
Ralph Northam needed to resign two days ago. NO ONE in 1984 should have been in blackface and they MOST DEFINITELY should not have donned KKK robes.
Thank GOD I have a cat. I often like him best of all things.
It is utterly dismaying that rabid pro-life arguers will rear their vitriolic heads once again in 2020. Sigh.
I folded and ordered an InstantPot yesterday.
Last week, while volunteering at World Central Kitchen, I got to briefly speak to the indomitable Nancy Pelosi. I thanked her SO profusely for everything. I later watched the RBG documentary (fabulous) and ordered an XL “I Dissent” RBG collar necklace. I love men, but you know what, now is the time for women and our leadership and our voices. The ship is listing. Let others try.

NANCY!

NANCY!

The shutdown continues as does World Central Kitchen and its new locations and Resource Center

Earlier this week, I worked at World Central Kitchen’s new Resource Center. Next door to the café, it provides furloughed workers with fresh groceries (nothing canned!), infant formula, diapers, feminine products, and pet food. Additionally, companies like Pepco, Washington Gas, and Verizon are there helping people with bills: deferred payments, avoiding late fees, and so forth.

I was on the product distribution team. We made thousands of sacks of groceries and handed them out to everyone in the line passing our table en route to diapers and the fruit station. In terms of physicality, it was easier than working in the kitchen. But emotionally, it was a more direct link to everyone hurt by this ludicrous shutdown. And it was hard and humbling and deeply moving.

A number of people were teary or in tears. Some seemed or said they were embarrassed. There were parents, kids, babies, owners worried about their pets. There were women in need of Poise pads who were so ashamed to have to carry them out, prompting us to resuscitate all manner of box or bag in hopes of helping them be discreet. I talked to one man who’s been furloughed from USAID, the irony of which was not lost on either of us. Another man shared that his wife, a nonprofit worker, was laid off last year, and now he’s been without pay since before Christmas. They have kids. I shared many hugs. Countless folks thanked me. As if I was doing anything really except trying to thank and honor them.

Whole worlds upended, near and longer term futures forcibly adjusted, happily employed people waiting in food lines with heads bowed. IN THIS NATION’S CAPITAL. And throughout the country.

Representatives Joe Kennedy from MA and Eleanor Holmes Norton from DC visited Chef Andrés while I was there. Later, Senators Van Hollen and Cardin (Maryland!) went. Nancy Pelosi helped the day before. Yesterday, the café served 11,400 meals. Today, the Republicans voted to keep the government shut down. Please watch this powerful, fact-based, historically-accurate and provable rebuttal by Colorado Senator Michael Bennet.

(In addition to opening the Resource Center this week, WCK also expanded its reach to feds in 20 states and Puerto Rico!! You can click this link to see the various WCK locations and also participating restaurants offering free or reduced-price meals to feds.)

The book we chose for the Open Discussion Project’s next discussion is How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky. It’s eerie, really. I am well-informed but maybe I wish I weren’t. Part of me wishes I didn’t see so clearly how trump’s behavior tracks almost exactly with the four warning signs Ziblatt and Levitsky lay out in a nation’s descent from democracy to authoritarianism. (If you want to watch the authors present the Cliff’s Notes of the book, click here.) And in votes like today’s, I see people enabling the fall. For NOTHING but fear and/or ephemeral popularity or relevance.

For what it’s worth, I’ve not met one trump supporter volunteering to help furloughed workers.