Thoughts From an Instant Pot Novice

The first time I read a blog post about the Instant Pot, I scoffed that it certainly didn’t sound instant. Though the IP has many functions, it’s primarily a pressure cooker, and pressure cookers take time to build up and then release pressure.

But I kept hearing more and more people rave about Instant Pots and kept seeing more good-sounding recipes. So I used my Amazon points (racked up from using the Amazon credit card. I could use them for everyday buying, like books, but I like to save them up for bigger purchases I wouldn’t normally make).

But my IP sat on the counter for a couple of weeks before I tried it.

I had been afraid of pressure cookers, having heard horror stories of their explosions all my life. But the Instant Pot has safety features built in, so I have little fear of the machine itself. However, it would take a bit of a learning curve and some experimenting to figure it all out, and most weekday evenings had me throwing together whatever was quick and tasty without much time or inclination to experiment.

I’ve been collecting Instant Pot recipes on Pinterest, however, and finally tried a few.

The biggest pluses to the IP I have found so far are:

1. Some items do take less time. The time it takes for the pressure to build up and release does offset the time saved actually cooking, but sometimes the whole process is still less than conventional cooking.

2. Meals can be made all in one pan. With some regular casseroles, I’d have to brown the meat in a skillet, cook the rice or noodles in a saucepan, and then combine them with sauces and spices in a baking pan before putting it all in the oven or microwave. But the IP has a “saute” function, which means I can brown meat in it and then add other ingredients and switch to the pressure cooker function, so I am just using the one pan.

3. It keeps the oven off. I don’t use the oven much in warm weather because of the excess heat it creates that the AC can’t keep up with. But with the IP I can make some meals that I normally wouldn’t during the summer.

4. It has multiple functions. Besides sauteing and pressure cooking, the IP can also function as a rice cooker and crockpot. It can even make yogurt.

Probably my favorite discovery for the IP was that I could cook chicken tenderloins straight from the freezer in it. I’ve cooked them frozen in the microwave and oven, but it’s nice to know I can do that with the IP, too. I’ve been thinking about cooking a whole pot full of them and then dividing them up to freeze for easy future meals.

My favorite recipe for the IP so far is Chicken and Dumplings. I use the ingredients for this one, a stove-top recipe I had used before, and the Instant Pot instructions for this one. These ribs were really good, too. We also enjoyed Copycat Hamburger Helper and Chicken Parmigiana.

And that’s about the limit of my Instant Pot experience so far. ๐Ÿ™‚ How about you? Have you tried it? What do you like about it? What’s your favorite Instant Pot recipe?

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Book Review: The Pound a Day Diet

Pound a Day DietI picked up The Pound a Day Diet by Rocco DiSpirito not so much for the pound a day part, but rather because I had seen Rocco as a chef on shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “Extreme Weight Loss.” On one of them he mentioned that people often feel that when they want to lose weight, they can’t eat anything except grilled chicken and salads, and anyone would get tired of that after a while. That resonated with me, so I wanted to see what else he had to say and hopefully glean some ideas from him.

Part of his interest in lower calorie but tasty foods came from his own need to lose weight. When he became a chef and was working with great food all day, he packed on the pounds. When he decided to lose weight, he used his culinary skills to create recipes that were filling and flavorful yet lower in calories. Sometimes that involved substitutions for the higher-calorie counterparts; sometimes it involved using fresh foods and avoiding higher calorie ingredients. (You can see a before and after photo of him here.) He has created a whole series of books including some of these recipes and ideas.

In this book he advocates losing weight by consuming 850 calories on weekdays and 1200 on weekends in Phase 1. He gets away with the 850 calories by having a protein smoothie in the morning. He quoted a few studies saying that losing weight more quickly than the usually recommended pound or two a week is beneficial because the progress keeps one encouraged: when weight is coming off slowly, combined with the inevitable plateaus, people get discouraged and quit.

He advocates a Mediterranean diet, which involves a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fewer and leaner meats, and a lot of his general information about what kinds of foods to eat is common sense and similar to what you might read in other healthy eating plans (like eating carbs but choosing nutrient-dense, lower calorie versions rather than the calorie-dense lower nutrient versions). He also talks about benefits of exercise, different types, etc. Probably my favorite chapter was the next-to-last one, about healthier ways of cooking, ways to boost flavor without adding empty calories, the benefits of preparing one’s own food and buying locally (pointing out that food that has traveled 5,000 miles to get here is not going to be as nutritious as what you can get locally), etc.

The bulk of the book (some 140 pages) is recipes. In the reviews I saw of the book, several of them criticized his use of things like artificial sweeteners, powdered proteins, etc.ย  Though there is a lot of that kind of thing in the smoothies and desserts, most of the entrees and side dishes are just regular foods and spices. Though Rocco advocates preparing meals for yourself, he does include recommendations of ready-made foods that are close to the the recipes.

I marked several recipes I want to try and had wanted to do so before reviewing the book, but that didn’t happen. I was going to try the protein smoothie: I don’t have diabetes (my fasting blood sugar the last few times has been in the “slightly elevated, not enough to say diabetes, but enough that you need to make some adjustments” readings), but I do have a tendency to low blood sugar. If I just have cereal (even cream of wheat) and fruit in the mornings, within an hour or so I am dizzy and shaky and lightheaded and needย  to eat something else. Over time I’ve figured out that I have to have something with protein for breakfast for it to last at all, so I wondered if a protein shake might help. As I started to look for the ingredients in the smoothies, I couldn’t find them locally. I did find them online, but as I added up all I would need, I decided that before investing in all that I should probably try a ready-made protein shake and see if I even liked it and if it worked. I liked it well enough, but it still had me just on the edge of feeling dizzy and shaky, even with eating fruit in addition to it. I don’t think I could use them every day – I’d miss the regular smells, tastes, and textures of breakfast foods – but they’d be ok for an occasional supplement. They did work well when I was recovering from oral surgery.

I like Rocco’s focus on foods and recipes because in so many of these weight-loss shows, the focus is on the workouts and the “drama,” with very little said or shown about food. Yet food is the major part of a diet, and if people can’t find a variety of things they like to eat, they’re not going to stick with any healthy eating plan long term. So I appreciate his efforts to provide not just healthy but also tasty alternatives. I’m still wary of 850 calories a day and foods that are made primarily of powdered ingredients (the high-protein chocolate breakfast shake has psyllium husk powder, fiber powder, protein powder, and egg-white powder besides the cocoa and monk fruit extract), but the general principles and a lot of the other recipes sound good. In fact, I received from my Christmas “wish list” his Now Eat This!: 150 of America’s Favorite Comfort Foods, All Under 350 Calories to glean some more ideas for pared-down favorites. You can check out some of his recipes here, and he has various YouTube videos as well.

(This review will also be linked toย Semicolonโ€˜s Saturday Review of Books.)

The Hidden Art of Homemaking: Chapter 8: Food

Chapter 8 of The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer, which we’re discussing a chapter at a time atย  The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris, is about food.

Once again Edith emphasizes that in this area as in all others, we have to balance time, money, energy, and priorities, and there will be times when food has to take a back seat to other things going on. But God has created a variety of foods that are both nutritious and beautiful to look at and has given us the taste buds, sense of smell, and eyes to enjoy them. She has some interesting observations on the manna that God provided the Israelites with during their travels in the wilderness, and notes that God could have made all food like that – nutritious compact packets – but that was just temporary “traveling food,” and for all the rest of time He’s allowed a great variety to enjoy.

Food is a major aspect of hospitality, and she emphasizes that the people Jesus said to include are not just old friends or people we’re trying to impress, but also “the least of these.”

I have to admit that I am relieved that this chapter is not what I thought it was going to be. I remember learning how to make radish roses in a high school Home Ec. class and thinking it was such a waste. She is not talking about providing extravagant meals or elaborate garnishes, but enjoying simple food prepared and offered with the simple artistry of a variety of colors, shapes, and textures. Although my husband appreciates the effort behind a nice meal, I think he would much rather have something simple and peaceful than something that takes hours and wears and stresses me out.

On the other hand, Edith describes a tramp coming to her door to ask for food, and instead of reluctantly thrusting whatever was at hand out the door at him, she made him a tasty and nice-looking sandwich and soup on a tray complete with flowers. Those little touches and efforts can convey, “You matter, and I care.”

Food cannot take care of spiritual, psychological and emotional problems, but the feeling of being loved and cared for, the actual comfort of the beauty and flavour of food, the increase of blood sugar and physical well-being, help one to go on during the next hours better equipped to meet the problems (p. 124).

One of the most well-known quotes about Edith herself, though I don’t know the source, is “As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons!โ€

I confessed some years ago that I don’t really like to cook a lot of the time, but I like to eat, and they sort of go together. ๐Ÿ™‚ I recognize that it is a ministry to my family and part of my job description, and once I get going I’m ok with it. I just usually dislike having to stop whatever else I am involved in to go make dinner, but we all have to do things like that. I’m sure my husband doesn’t feel like going to work every day, either, but thankfully he does.

In discussing the last chapters, I’ve showed pictures of things I am pleased with: this time I am going to show you some of my epic fails, because I have had more of those in cooking than anything else. Enjoy. ๐Ÿ™‚

Failure

One day I posted just this picture with the title “This is how my day has been going.” That was supposed to be for a ladies’ function at church the same night, so I had to come up with a plan B. I did dig the rest of the cake out of the pan, put it on the platter, covered it with glaze, and we enjoyed it as a family. It did taste good even if it didn’t look so good!

image01.jpg

These were supposed to be little Muppet-looking cupcakes, but the runny green icing made them look like baby swamp monsters.

Cake decorating has never been my forte, but I used to be able to spell.

And then there was the green gravy. One day years ago I was trying to make gravy that wasn’t turning as brown as I wanted it to. I had heard somewhere that mixing red and green make brown, so I added a few drops of red and green food coloring into the gravy. It turned green, and no amount of added red food coloring drops would change it to any other color. That time, instead of crying into my gravy, I started laughing hysterically until my husband came to see what was going on. But I couldn’t eat it. The strange greenish color was revolting. (I rarely make gravy, but these days I eat it whatever color it ends up being.)

And then there was the time I reached for the cinnamon instead of the chili powder for chili mac. That turned out….interestingly. And the time I accidentally grabbed baking soda instead of corn starch for teriyaki – that made it foam like a science fair volcano. I scooped out the foam and tried to rectify it, but it was still so salty that we were drinking fluids all evening to counterbalance the extra sodium in our systems, and my husband can’t eat my teriyaki to this day.

Thankfully I’ve had more successes than failures, and though I’m not the best cook in the world, my family likes it enough to keep coming back for more, and we appear to be relatively healthy. ๐Ÿ™‚

Some other cooking-related posts here that you might enjoy:
Cakes Are My Culinary Waterloo.
Cooking style.
Cooking experiences.
Food flashbacks.
Encouragement for Homemakers.

Boyz cooking

(Updated with pictures!)

My oldest son, Jeremy, is anticipating moving out on his own some time, so for Christmas he asked for the book How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Then as my husband was shopping for video games for the youngest for Christmas, he saw a Personal Trainer: Cooking Game for the Nintendo DS and took advantage of the Toys R Us sales to get this one for Jeremy. Jason liked it so well he bought one of his own. Then, Jeremy had received a gift card for Wal-Mart for Christmas and looked around but didn’t see anything he wanted. I suggested that, just as he had asked for some basic tools for Christmas and birthdays the previous year in anticipation of being out on his own, maybe he could use the gift card for some basic kitchen tools or appliances. So he bought a food processor because he’s been reading about one in his new cookbook.

One day for lunch he made homemade potato soup and roast beef sandwiches. Monday of this week he made homemade bread using the dough-mixing capability of his food processor. It was good!

Jeremy's bread

The DS game is pretty neat. It narrates the instructions out loud, and because you have your hands busy, when you get ready for the next step, you just say, “Continue.” It does tend to interpret any loud noise as the instruction to continue, though. If you don’t understand a step or want a term defined, you can say, “More information.”

DS cooking game

Jason unexpectedly got the night off work tonight, so he suggested he and Jeremy collaborate on making dinner. A night of someone else making dinner is fine by me! They’re using the DS game for a recipe, and it smells good so far.

Jason cooking

Jeremy helping with dinner

It’s been fun to see their approach. Jeremy is analytical and by-the-book, at least when he’s new to something. Jason tends to be more experience-oriented. One time when I was out of town helping my mom after surgery, Jason had some friends over — he must’ve been about 10 — and Jim let them make mini pizzas using English muffin halves and pizza sauce and whatever toppings they wanted. They had some pretty unique combinations, but they had a high old time.

Jason also started working at Subway several weeks ago and brought home all kinds of neat ideas for sandwiches that I’d never thought about or tried. For a while there at lunch or after church Sunday nights we were all asking him to make sandwiches for us. ๐Ÿ™‚

I had always thought it would be a good idea to have them be responsible for a meal once a week or so as they were growing up so they’d know some basics about cooking, but in their high school and college years, they were so busy, there just never seemed to be time. But I am glad they have the desire to experiment now. It will be good to know they won’t have to subsist on fast food if it is a while before they marry or if their wives are sick or away. It’s been a blessing to me that Jim is able to cook a few things in those instances, and I wanted the boys to have at least some skill in the kitchen.

I’ve even learned a few things. With Jeremy’s by-the-book approach and going out and buying the exact ingredients called for, I’ve found it does make a difference. I tend to just use vegetable oil if I don’t have extra-virgin olive oil or minced onion if I don’t have green onion. But sometimes those extra little touches do make a great deal of difference. It’s good to learn how to improvise, too, but I am going to start paying attention to the particulars.

Of course, with any beginning cook, there are mishaps…things I thought they knew or just didn’t think to tell them. Like keeping a eye on the toaster oven and making sure no food touches the heating element…because it can (and did) start a fire (thankfully very small and easy to put out)…and not to touch your eyes after chopping peppers. But we all have our stories…I won’t mention the time years ago I set a bag of popcorn on a burner on the stove when I thought I had a different burner turned on. The boys thought having a fire truck come to the house was great fun…

Finished product:

Finished product!

Update: I wrote most of this last night and didn’t get back to update, but dinner turned out well! I don’t remember the name of the dish — it was from Spain and was kind of a stew with chicken, ham, onions and bell peppers. Different, but good! I took pictures but my Picasa, where I download them, is having trouble this morning and I am waiting til one of my computer experts gets up before I attempt to do anything with it. Hopefully I’ll be able to upload them later! Jeremy suggested closing down Picasa and then opening it again, then rebooting the computer if that didn’t work, before following Pica’s instructions. The first stepped worked, thankfully!! It was scary opening the program to find icons in place of the photos! I have most of them backed up on an external hard drive but wasn’t sure when I last backed them up — this reminds me to do that again!!