“OMG, you have to try the Instant Pot,” a friend texted me in early December.
“The wha..? You know I don’t smoke,” I replied, wondering how well she really knew me.
“Ugh, no. It’s a machine that works as a pressure and rice cooker, plus you can make yogurt in it,” she replied.
A magical machine like this actually exists? Sold.
I can’t lie: The machine is a bit intimidating. So many buttons and settings; so many things to screw up. I joined a few Facebook groups dedicated to the wonder gadget and devotees make everything from steel cut oats to steak in their Instant Pots—many in a fraction of the time of regular cooking, thanks to the pressurization process. I was inspired not only by the promise of easy cooking, but also by the beautiful recipes I found on food blogs and Pinterest. (Case in point: The beautiful pot roast recipe above by Mellissa Sevigny of I Breathe I’m Hungry.)
Most of my cooking is edible, but photos won’t be making it to Instagram unless they’re tagged with #foodfails. My lack of culinary skills has been a roadblock in my quest to be a better meal prepper, but I’ve worked around that by using a rice cooker to whip up my trusty meal of chicken, broccoli, and rice. Until it broke. So I figured this would be the perfect time to try the Instant Pot.
Could I do the same as the food bloggers? There was only one way to find out. I decided to go balls to the wall and cook every meal in my new Instant Pot for a week.
Day 1: Eggs and pasta
I went into the week with no real plan, other than to not burn everything I made. The Instant Pot instruction booklet (which comes in the box) recommends making hard-boiled eggs as the first experiment, so I found a recipe, unloaded a dozen eggs into the stainless steel pot, and cooked on low pressure for 13 minutes.
The result? An easy, quick win! Hard-boiled eggs are a staple in my diet, but peeling them is such a drag. Not in the Instant Pot. I’m not sure why, but the shells easily peeled off, making it easy to eat three for breakfast, along with half an avocado, pepper and toast. I also sliced a few eggs and tossed with some arugula, tomatoes, olive oil, and cucumbers for a light lunch salad.
I was starved for something new by dinner, so it was on to the next challenge: pasta. Following the instructions, I used the sauté button to brown ground turkey and garlic before throwing in the sauce, pasta, and water, and cooking for 7 minutes on high pressure.
Another easy win with enough leftovers for the next few nights.
Days 2 and 3: Yogurt fails and triumphs
My successful first day had me feeling pretty cocky as I ventured into day two. I conquered pasta and eggs, so why not jump to yogurt? I already spend a small fortune on Greek and skyr yogurt each week, so the idea of making my own with simple ingredients (and little sugar) was pretty enticing.
The problem: the Instant Pot’s recipe book does a terrible job of explaining how to make it—and how long it takes. Or, maybe I was just blinded by all the visions of delicious yogurt in my head. Either way, this one was a serious fail on the first try. I didn’t get the milk up to the right temperature during the boil cycle (it needs to hit 180 degrees for best results), so it wasn’t quite ready for the next step, the incubation. Finally, I didn’t let it sit in the refrigerator for long enough for it to thicken, so all I had to show for my time was frothy milk.
Also, making yogurt in the Instant Pot takes 12 or so hours for the cooking process alone, which I didn’t realize. My pot was tied up all day in my failed yogurt attempt, so I couldn’t make anything else. At least I had my leftover pasta and eggs.
I didn’t cry over crappy yogurt, though. I managed to create something edible on day three with a gallon of milk and a freeze-dried yogurt starter I picked up at my neighborhood health food store. It still took over 18 hours from start to finish, but the taste made it worth the wait.
Days 4 and 5: Getting the hang of it
I always keep it pretty basic when I cook for myself. Not because I’m not an adventurous eater, but because I know the more complicated the meal, the more likely I am to end up getting takeout. That’s why my main meal for day four was an attempt at my go-to meal: chicken, rice, and broccoli. The whole process in my trusty rice cooker took about 50 minutes total since I could cook all three parts in the steamer basket.
Not with the Instant Pot. My machine didn’t come with a steamer basket or any other accessories, so I had to cook the chicken and broccoli together in about 8 minutes on high pressure, then the rice separately for 25 minutes. Still less time than the rice cooker, but more tedious to prepare them separately. The good news: There are accessories available separately to make cooking things together easier, like steamer baskets, springform pans, and stainless steel stands.
Day five was dedicated to applesauce—tons and tons of applesauce. It’s really simple: peel apples, cut them into small chunks, add to Instant Pot with a little water and cinnamon to taste, and cook for 11 minutes on high pressure. Once it was done, I blended the chunks with an immersion blender. It was the best applesauce I’ve ever had, hands down.
Day 6: Down, but not out
I spent much of day six in bed with a nasty cough and sinus infection, but I still had plenty of chicken and pasta left, thanks to the previous days’ work. I did cook a can of soup in the Instant Pot to kinda keep with my week’s theme, though.
Day 7: My pesto achievement
I left my piece of resistance for day seven: pesto chicken pasta. Making pasta twice in one week might sound like a cop out, but this one was a challenge because I had to adapt a regular recipe for the Instant Pot. I was still able to do everything in the Instant Pot—including cooking the chicken—thanks to the sauté button. Once the chicken was finished, I added the rest of the ingredients to the Instant Pot, cooked for 5 minutes, and crossed my fingers.
And it turned out pretty great, if I do say so myself.
It took a little trial and error, but in the end, using the Instant Pot cut a lot of time out of my cooking process.
Is the Instant Pot the end-all, be-all of cooking appliances? No, but it does make meal prepping a whole lot easier, which is important for me and my healthy diet and lifestyle.
My next step is to actually make a weekly meal plan centered around dishes I can make in the Instant Pot with more spices and riskier ingredients, thanks to my newfound confidence in the kitchen. I didn’t break any ground with the recipes I made during my week-long challenge, but that’s the beauty of the Instant Pot: You can make simple recipes (like pasta and eggs) and then turn around and create some really decadent meals and desserts (like ribs and cheesecake) a few minutes later.
And let’s be real: It’s going to pay for itself in no time, thanks to my new yogurt-making abilities. That alone will save me $20 a week. Sorry, Fage.
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