Instant Pot Love – How to make yogurt, cheesecake, meatloaf and more

Do you have an Instant Pot yet?

It was apparently the hottest gift for the 2017 holiday season, so if you’re like me, someone who loves you bought you one of these babies.

Happy Holidays to me!

It’s really an amazing machine.

It’s a pressure cooker – but not one of those old and clunky ones that your grandmother used to have that made horrible noises and looked like it might explode at any moment.

This is a computerized cooking machine that is smart enough to remember your past settings and cook everything from hardboiled eggs to cheesecake to BBQ ribs.

After using this machine for a few weeks, I was able to happily donate my old slow cooker (because the IP has a slow cooker setting that doesn’t involve pressurization), my rice cooker (it makes all rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and any other type of grains in half the time of the best rice cooker on the market), and my yogurt maker.

Yogurt

Speaking of yogurt, you can literally make a ton of it at the touch of a button. I recommend setting it up before you go to bed at night, and you’ll wake up to yogurt!

All it requires is:

  • a gallon of milk,
  • a small container of plain yogurt (approx. 6 oz.), and
  • a 5 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk.

Put it on the “Yogurt” setting for 10 hours (or more) and then refrigerate.

That’s it.

Six quarts of homemade Greek yogurt.

That yields 6 quarts of yogurt.

Wow!

Adapting Your Favorites to the IP

My first experiment with this machine was for a tagine recipe … one of my favorite Moroccan dishes with chicken, chicken livers, green olives, preserved lemons, and other veggies.

Instead of slow cooking this for 8-9 hours, or on the stovetop in a fancy tagine clay pot, I simply placed all the ingredients in the Instant Pot and pressure-cooked it for 25 minutes.

Instant Pot Moroccan chicken

I have to admit, I was still a little nervous. Would that be enough time to cook chicken? And to make sure all of the flavors were properly cooked in to the meat?

To my pleased surprise, it turned out beautifully. If you are trying to adapt your favorite recipes to the Instant Pot, check out this link.

I think the most important thing when adapting is to check the pressure release – a “quick release” of the pressure will let the steam escape right away and are for recipes that are not generally slow-cooked (see, for example, the meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe, below).

For a recipe like this chicken where you want the flavors to be infused into every bite, you will want to do a “natural release” method after the cooking time is over. It takes a few extra minutes, but it’s worth it. And it’s still ready to eat in a fraction of the time.

Sweet Dishes

One of the first rookie mistakes of the Instant Pot is to neglect the sealing ring. The IP comes with a clear ring that fits on the inside of the pressurized lid.

At the very least, you need to make sure the sealing ring is cleaned after every use, or the flavors from whatever you cook will stick to the ring and get into everything you cook later.

If you intend to use your Instant Pot for savory dishes (chicken, ribs, eggs) as well as sweet dishes (cheesecakes and desserts), then the first thing you need to do is buy at least one extra sealing ring. I got a pair of them on Amazon.

Now I only use the red sealing ring for desserts and sweet dishes.

I also purchased a springform pan that fits inside a 6-quart Instant Pot, and I can use this for cheesecakes and other desserts as well as lasagna.

Cheesecake

I made a couple of different types of cheesecake to see how well it worked. Basically, you can make the crust however you like (crushed cookies with melted butter, or even a brownie that is only partially baked in the oven).

Oreo crust!

Then the filling recipe is simple:

  • 4 8-oz. packages of cream cheese
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

The most important thing to remember is that the cream cheese and eggs MUST be at room temperature. If not, they will not blend properly and will result in a lumpy cheesecake. Make sure all ingredients are blended and smooth, then pour into your springform pan.

Cook on the (high) pressure setting for 45 minutes, and use the natural release method (which will take about another 10-15 minutes).

Let it cool and garnish with your favorite toppings.

Oreo cheesecake with berries.

This is one of my favorite recipes because it’s so easily adaptable. Try it with lots of different crusts and/or toppings!

Turtle cheesecake with brownie crust

I have tried similar recipes in the oven before, and I even made some in the oven while I was making some in the Instant Pot, just so I could see the difference in flavor and texture. The pressure cooking makes the filling much softer and lighter!

Food parties

During my first couple of weeks with the Instant Pot, I organized a few friends for a tamale party.

If you’ve never been to one, it’s basically a fun way to make a party out of something that can be pretty boring and tedious – making tamales.

Tamales are a popular dish around the holiday season, especially in the southwestern United States and Mexico. They are delicious concoctions of many types of fillings and masa (corn) dough stuffed into corn husks and steamed.

They are also a giant pain to make. Hence, a party.

Tamale party setup

Instead of spending hours doing all the work yourself, you get a few friends, everyone brings fillings and masa dough and corn husks (as well as a few bottles of wine and snacks to sustain you for a long afternoon), and everyone makes a bunch of tamales.

It’s a little bit of work, but everyone goes home with tons of tamales to eat (or freeze for later).

Tons of tamales. Literally.

As you can imagine, the Instant Pot made a ton of work a little easier.

The night before the party, I used my Instant Pot to make a vegetarian filling … literally a variety of vegetables and spices simmered for a few hours. Except that it literally took less than 20 minutes on the pressure setting. It took me longer to chop all of the veggies than it did for me to make a huge amount of delicious vegetarian filling.

Vegetarian tamale filling

I also made a chicken verde filling – literally a few boneless chicken thighs and a big can of salsa verde – that was ready in half an hour.

Saving the day at the tamale party

And, of course, tamales need to be cooked, too; and that usually takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours in standard steamer pot. But I actually brought my Instant Pot with me to the party (did I mention it’s very portable and has a handy handle on top?) and was able to steam a few batches right on the spot.

A full pot (I have a 6-quart) stuffed full of tamales steamed each one beautifully in 30-35 minutes. (Do a quick release afterwards.)

Weeknight Meals

Because the Instant Pot can make short work out of many dishes that would otherwise take hours and hours, it’s perfect for weeknight meals and holiday dinners.

For Christmas dinner I used it to make Brussels sprouts (in 3 minutes!); and for New Year’s, I made black-eyed peas and greens, a delicious Southern New Year’s Day tradition to bring good luck in the new year.

Usually it simmers in my slow cooker for 24 hours. This year, I made it in 35 minutes – from dried beans!

Black-eyed peas and greens for New Year’s Day.

Which brings me to another awesome feature of the Instant Pot – it’s multi-functionality! Although most recipes use the “pressure” setting, there is also an equally awesome “sauté” setting.

For example, before, when I made black-eyed peas in my crock pot, I would brown the onions and garlic and whatnot before adding them to the slow cooker.

With the Instant Pot, you can sauté the veggies, then add the rest of your ingredients and switch the setting to pressure to complete the dish! It saves tons of time in washing multiple pots and pans, not to mention that you are cooking the food in a fraction of the time.

Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes

The meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe from I Wash, You Dry is definitely going to be a weeknight supper regular for me. It’s so easy!

Meatloaf and mashed potatoes AT THE SAME TIME!

You place the potatoes and chicken broth at the bottom, then put the wire rack over the potatoes and place the foil-wrapped meatloaf on top. You can even cook a vegetable side dish in there, too.

Meatloaf and potatoes dinner

With only 25 minutes on pressure, and quick release, you can have a delicious dinner on the table in no time.

Sous Vide Eggs and Meal Planning

I usually eat breakfast on the go, and it’s hard to do that and stay healthy sometimes. Luckily, the Instant Pot is also great  for meal prep.

This is another cool Instant Pot accessory … a silicone mold. The Amazon listing says it’s for baby food and egg bites, among other things, but I use it mostly for eggs.

Sous vide egg bites

The most important thing to remember here is to not fill the cups all the way. I made that mistake my first time, and the egg mixture expanded and almost popped out of the container!

Ah well. They still tasted good!

This is a really great way to prepare an easy and healthy breakfast.

You can customize the flavorings (and control the salt and fat, etc.), and make a whole pan of these in less than half an hour – 8 minutes of pressure cooking (which means it will take a moment to get to the appropriate pressure) and then 10 minutes to let the steam naturally release.

The result is a pan of delicious and super-fluffy egg bites you can eat all week long.

Coming soon

In addition to some fun and useful Instant Pot accessories, I treated myself to a new cookbook, too!

I really adore Indian food, and I can’t wait to experience how much easier it is to make at home with the Instant Pot!

Coming up soon on Starbright’s Kitchen!

Please stay tuned to Starbrightskitchen.com to see the creations from Urvashi Pitre’s Indian Instant Pot Cookbook!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don Chido for San Diego Restaurant Week

I’ve mentioned a number of times how lucky I am to live in San Diego, which has some of the best food and restaurants in the world. Locals get to take advantage of this bounty several times a year during San Diego Restaurant Week, where some of the best restaurants give a sample of their most groundbreaking dishes for a great value.

I was already planning to visit more than one of the restaurants this week, when McFarlane Promotions hooked up this awesome pre-SDRW deal for local food bloggers. I won a visit to Don Chido, a really authentic and trendy Mexican restaurant in the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego.

I had already visited Don Chido once a few weeks ago for another event called the Toast of Downtown, where we got to sample small plates of food as well as each restaurant’s signature cocktails, and I really loved their lovely little street tacos.

This is one of those places where “handcrafted” is not just a slogan. You can taste it.

toast of downtown

One of the best things about SDRW for me is to see what dishes the chefs choose to highlight. It’s even great to go to places where you’re already a regular, just to see what foods the staff thinks will make newbies want to come back again.

Don Chido actually had a whole new menu for SDRW. For just $20 per person (a steal for dinner in the Gaslamp District!) you get three amazing courses:

sdrw menu

Being a good food blogger, I checked out the SDRW restaurant list online (each restaurant has their full SDRW menu posted). I was pretty sure I wanted to try the pozole and the stewed lamb.

Pozole (or posole) is one of my favorite soups ever —  I make a slow-cooked version of it at home with smoked chicken — so I was really excited to taste this one.

pozole de verdura

It definitely did not disappoint. Pozole, although traditionally pretty thin, was stuffed full of lots of hearty hominy and black beans, and the broth was obviously slow-simmered and well-spiced. You can also get it with chicken, but I kept mine vegetarian.

more pozole
My boyfriend got the empanadas, which were stuffed with pollo adobado and cheese. The masa dough was also obviously fresh and homemade (as are the tortillas, and pretty much everything else at Don Chido), and the pollo adobado was hearty and saucy but not too heavy for the dough. That might seem like an easy balance to achieve, but anyone who as ever tried to make their own empanadas knows better.

empanadas
For the main course, I got the Borrego en Mole Amarilla de Oaxaca, or stewed Colorado lamb shoulder with mole, rice and root vegetables.

stewed lamb shoulder

It was so amazing! The mole was really flavorful, yet it still allowed for the lighter flavor of the stewed lamb shoulder to come through. The meat was piled on top of spicy rice and root vegetables and covered in a delicious sauce. If you order this, tell the waiter he can keep the knife — you won’t need it.  In fact, if it wasn’t accompanied by crunchy fresh green beans, I don’t think you’d even need a fork.

Borrego en Mole Amarilla de Oaxaca

The lamb is extremely tender and juicy, and you can practically eat it with a spoon.

So, I have this thing called Entrée Envy. It’s a completely untreatable foodie disease, and it manifests itself at great dinners and lunches like this.

I see a menu.

I narrow my choices down to two or three.

I settle on one.

Someone else orders another one of the two or three.

We get our food.

No matter how delicious my dish is, I also want the one I didn’t choose.

Note I did not say “instead.”

I said “also.”

I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of my stewed lamb. But my handsome boyfriend got one of the other dishes I was considering, the seafood enchiladas, and I had to have a taste or two. (Note about the photo: they come with beans and rice, but he’s allergic to beans so had to get rice only.)

seafood enchiladas

These enchiladas were killer! Stuffed with scallops, shrimp, bites of fish and lots of cheese — and topped with a poblano cream sauce that made all of the rest of the ingredients come together beautifully.

I really can’t say enough about the poblano cream sauce. It’s not on any of Don Chido’s regular menu items, and when I spoke to the chef, she said it was a new sauce they came up with for this particular menu item — one that they will only have for SDRW.

The lovely chef was also kind enough to share: it’s just roasted garlic, roasted poblano peppers, cream, cheese, and salt and pepper. I will definitely be attempting to make this sauce for my next batch of homemade enchiladas, so I will let you know how it works out. In the meantime, I suggest you use your SDRW time to try it yourself at Don Chido. You won’t be disappointed: the way it combines with the seafood and the (obviously fresh and homemade) tortillas, it’s insane.

I say the tortillas were obviously fresh and homemade, as was the masa dough for the empanadas, because when you taste a freshly made tortilla, you just know.  In this case, you will know for sure when you taste them.

There were only two options for dessert, so my honey and I got them both: the dulce de leche cheesecake had dulce de leche IN the cheesecake and then a spiced caramel sauce on top.

dulce de leche cheesecake

The almonds on top are also a nice crunch that blends really well with the cinnamon and salt in the caramel sauce.

mexican fried ice cream

The Mexican fried ice cream was a fabulous twist on the traditional: it has toasted coconut and corn flakes forming the crunchy shell, and it comes with a slightly sweet strawberry compote. They’re both pretty small in size, but after the other two courses, good luck finishing your dessert anyway.

The whole meal overall was amazing, yet understated. This is one of the best options I have seen on the SDRW menus in a really long time.

 

* Disclaimer: This was a sponsored review, but the thoughts and opinions are all my own.