Food & Drink | April 2017

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Introducing the Instant Pot

The first meal that Allison Dungan cooked in her new Instant Pot was — water. Just a pan of water.

“You cook water first to learn the settings, all the acronyms,” Dungan said. “You want to make sure it’s going to seal and that it releases. That was the first thing, and it worked.”

The Instant Pot is all the rage in kitchens these days. There are Facebook groups dedicated to sharing Instant Pot recipes. The device warranted a story on the front page of The New York Times food section on January 31, and there are approximately 4 billion Instant Pot recipes on Pinterest.

The Instant Pot is a programmable pressure cooker that its makers say will speed up cooking time and still deliver healthy, delicious meals. Dungan, a kindergarten teacher at Hewitt Elementary School, sort of agrees.

“The word ‘instant’ threw me off a little bit,” she said. “I expected it to be superfast. It is, in that it made things go faster. The recipe may say food will be ready in nine minutes, but it still takes about 10 minutes to build up pressure before that nine-minute countdown begins.”

And, after the timer says food is ready, it takes another few minutes for pressure to release so the lid can be safely removed.

Still, for Dungan, the fact that she doesn’t have to stand at the stove and babysit a dish makes the Instant Pot worthwhile. In addition to her teaching job, she’s also taking graduate classes at Tarleton State University through the University Center at McLennan Community College. She and her husband, Kirk, who works for NEI Datacom, are parents to 2-year-old Emmalyn.

Dungan said she regularly cooks chicken breasts in her Instant Pot, which was a Christmas gift from her sister. She shreds the cooked chicken and keeps it on hand throughout the week, adding salsa to it for quick tacos or tossing it with buffalo sauce to make chicken sandwiches.

Dungan also said she’s had success at cooking hard-boiled eggs in the pot, which “sounds crazy,” she admits, but they come out so perfectly “I can peel them with one hand.”

On a blog, Dungan found a recipe for Rojo Fiesta Chicken, which she said was a hit with her husband.

“He can be kind of particular about new recipes,” she said. “Like, ‘What is this new contraption?’ and ‘Is this chicken going to be cooked all the way through?’ But it was definitely a keeper.”

Dungan said the best thing she’s made in her Instant Pot were chocolate lava cakes: “They were to die for. They were melty, warm and gooey.”

For our foray into the world of Instant Pot, we borrowed one of the devices from Jordan Rowan Fannin, a friend from church. She also received it as a Christmas present, but it remained in the box until we borrowed it.

“My children are actively using the box [with the Instant Pot still in it] as a table for playing Old Maid and Go Fish, as well as hosting the occasional tea party on it,” Rowan Fannin said in a Facebook post responding to my query for Instant Pot users. “We also once used the unopened box to secure a blanket fort for a solid week.”

So we got to break in her Instant Pot, which we did for a recent Friday dinner. A day or so prior, we made a cheesecake, which turned out rich and dense and moist. The key to the cheesecake, Abby said, was to use a 7-inch springform pan. A bigger pan won’t fit into the cooker. (This may vary depending on which model of Instant Pot you use. The one we used was an IP-DUO60 6-quart version.)

The day of our dinner we made macaroni and cheese, which was just as good — dare I say, even better? — than the standard stovetop version. And we also fixed a slab of ribs in the Instant Pot, with the promise that it would be scrubbed extra-clean when we returned it to Rowan Fannin, whose family sticks to a vegetarian diet.

(And, since it was a Friday evening, we enjoyed a cocktail on the front porch prior to our dinner.)

While the ribs tasted fine, they definitely were lacking the smoky flavor a grill imparts. They also came out of the Instant Pot looking a bit pale. So we slathered on a bit of Dr Pepper Barbecue Sauce and finished them on a hot grill for a few minutes on each side to give them some color.

Before using an Instant Pot, read the instruction book. There is definitely a learning curve with this appliance.

The Recipes

Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs

  • 1 rack baby back ribs
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Dr Pepper Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)

Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs and discard. Season the ribs generously with salt and pepper.

Place 1 cup water and the trivet in the Instant Pot. Place the ribs on top of the trivet. Close and cook on high for 16-25 minutes. (A shorter amount of time leaves the meat with some “chew” to it; a longer amount means fall-off-the-bone meat.)

In the meantime, heat a grill on high heat.

After the preferred cooking time, turn off the heat and follow Natural Release instructions. Carefully open the lid. Remove the ribs and liberally brush them with the barbecue sauce. Place the ribs on the heated grill long enough to give them some color and a bit of char, if desired. Turn them over and repeat. Serve with more of the barbecue sauce. Makes 3-4 servings.



Dr Pepper Barbecue Sauce

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • One 12-ounce can Dr Pepper
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter. Sauté the onion and garlic in the butter until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the flavors have blended. Continue cooking until the sauce begins to thicken, for about 20-30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

Let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes. Puree with an immersion or traditional blender, then let the sauce cool.

Makes about 5 cups of sauce, which will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.


Macaroni and Cheese

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons dry ground mustard
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Add macaroni, butter, water, mustard, salt and pepper to the Instant Pot. Secure the lid and select Manual and High Pressure. Cook for 4 minutes.

After the cooking time, use Quick Release. Carefully open lid and check that the pasta is completely cooked. If not, select Sauté and cook for another 2 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked.

Add all the evaporated milk and the cheese, a handful at a time, and stir until all the cheese is melted and creamy. Makes 6-8 servings.



New York Cheesecake

For the crust:

  • 10 graham crackers, crushed
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour

For the cheesecake:

  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 16 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs

To make the crust, heat oven to 325 F. In a small bowl, mix together graham crackers, butter, salt, brown sugar and flour. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a 7-inch springform pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

To make the cheesecake, in a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch, salt and sugar. Place cream cheese in a larger mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer and beat until smooth. (This shouldn’t take long if the cream cheese is at room temperature.) Add half of the sugar mixture to the cream cheese and beat until incorporated. Add the rest of the sugar mixture and repeat. Scrape down the side of the bowl as necessary. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat until mixed well. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, scraping the side and bottom of the bowl before adding the second egg.

Pour the mixture onto the cooled crust in the springform pan. Smooth the top and gently tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles.

Pour 1 cup cold water into the pressure cooker. Place the cheesecake on the trivet and lower into the cooker. Put the lid on the cooker and lock in place. Cook on high for 26 minutes with Full Natural Release, which should take another 7-9 minutes. Once it has released, remove the cheesecake from the cooker and cool on a wire rack until it’s room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4-8 hours or, preferably, overnight.

When ready to serve the cheesecake, run a butter knife under hot water. Then slide the knife along the side of the cake to release it from the pan. Unlock the springform and remove the sides. Makes 8 servings.



Mailbox Cocktail

  • 1 ounce bourbon
  • Blood orange soda, grapefruit soda, ginger ale or carbonated Italian soda

Fill an old fashioned glass with crushed ice. Add bourbon to glass and top with the soda of your choice. Makes 1 drink.


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