The holidays are here, and that means it’s the perfect time to put your Instant Pot to use – or get one if you don’t have one.
Thanksgiving through New Year’s, they’re generally on sale.
And, once you’ve learned how to use it, an Instant Pot can help relieve some of the pressures of prepping holiday dinners, said Los Angeles-based cookbook author Laurel Randolph, who’s in town this week to prepare a four-course feast with Spokane “Top Chef” Chad White.
Wednesday’s “Top Chef Meets the Instant Pot” cooking demonstration and dinner is sold out. The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club and Yoke’s Fresh Markets are hosting the event, in which Randolph and White will create a holiday meal for about 70 people using Instant Pots.
Randolph, author of the runaway best-seller “The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook,” and White, who competed on season 13 of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” teamed up to create a menu that shows off both of their skills.
White owns Zona Blanca, a downtown ceviche restaurant, and likes to cook with Latin flavors. Randolph, an Instant Pot expert, has been a food writer for 10 years. She’s written for Los Angeles Magazine, Serious Eats and Eating Well.
Her latest cookbook, “The Instant Pot No-Pressure Cookbook,” was released in May. That’s also when she made her first trip to Spokane as a special guest at the Dorothy Dean Home Cooking Show. This time, her visit is all about the Instant Pot with an eye toward the holidays.
“One nice thing about the Instant Pot is having another way to cook things in your kitchen when you’re cooking a lot of things for the holidays,” she said. “A lot of people end up with their oven full and their stovetop full. An Instant Pot is a good way to save some space or keep something warm. You can also make a lot of things in there for your holiday meal.”
Here, she shares a recipe for hot spiced cranberry cider as well as a quick Q&A about how you can put yours to good use this holiday season – or put one on your wish list. (Are you listening, Santa?)
What can – or should – you be cooking in your Instant Pot for the holidays?
I like having risotto because it feels special. You can also make soup or stew or cider or something to drink. It’s great for hot beverages. You can use it to make something or just keep it warm or to serve. It only requires an outlet, so it gives you more options if you’re having a party. You’re not restricted to the stove.
We’re making flan for our dinner (tonight) as our dessert course. Flan is not really a traditional holiday dessert, but it’s a great one. It’s gluten-free. And you can flavor it any way you want, with cinnamon or nutmeg or other holiday flavors.
If you were going to make risotto, I would make it last. You want to serve it kind of right away. If you’re going to make a big hunk or meat – a pot roast or lamb shanks or another big meaty centerpiece dish – you could make that (in the Instant Pot) first, and then your side dishes. Meat like that is better if you let it rest for a while before you serve it.
How or why should you use the Instant Pot during the holidays?
Definitely No. 1 for multitasking, for freeing up your stove or oven and being able to make multiple things at a time. I think that is pretty key when it comes to the holidays because there are usually so many moving parts if you’re entertaining or having a big meal.
You can also use it as a hot plate to keep things warm whether you made them in the Instant Pot or not. It’s a good way to keep whatever you made warm until it’s time to eat it or drink it.
It’s good for saving time. I feel like on the holidays there’s just a lot going on. There’s a lot of opening presents. There’s a lot of going to parties and shopping, and you don’t have a ton of time to cook necessarily. You should be spending that time with your friends and family. You can make some great dishes and cut down the time if you’re using a pressure cooker. I think those are the big ones.
For people who haven’t yet fallen under the spell of Instant Pot, why would the holidays be a good time to get one?
One reason is they’re usually on sale. People tend to buy them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And they tend to get a really good deal. If you’re off work for the holidays, it might be a good time to learn something new.
One of the reasons people don’t get one is because there’s a learning curve. (The Instant Pot) has all of these buttons. After the holiday rush is over is also a really good time to get to know it and figure out what you want to use it for. It’s adding another workhorse in your kitchen.
What’s the main takeaway you want Spokane home cooks to get from your visit?
What I like to emphasize to people whenever I give talks or events or classes is not to be afraid of their pot. I think a lot of people are intimidated by it. The majority of people I talk to own one but they’ve only used it once or twice. It’s very different from just turning on your stove. And if the first thing you make doesn’t turn out, it can be really disheartening.
I try to move people past that first hurdle to make it less scary and more fun and really show people what it’s good for and how it can make your life easier, including during the holidays.
What’s an Instant Pot not so good for?
I’m not paid by Instant Pot. I’ve written for them, and my books have been endorsed by them but I’m not on their payroll. I don’t want people to think (the Instant Pot) can do everything. Your microwave can’t do everything. Your stove can’t do everything. Your oven can’t do everything.
The Instant Pot is not only bad for frying, it’s dangerous. I always tell people that. You can’t deep fry in there. And it will not make anything crispy no matter what you do. That’s not what it’s made for. If you want something to be crispy or roasted, it won’t do that – ever. You need your oven or fryer for that.
I also don’t think it’s good for most baked goods. There are exceptions. It makes really great cheesecake and other things that get steamed in the oven or on the stovetop. If you want to make just a flat-out cake or pancake, I don’t suggest you do that. Technically, you can do it, but it’s not easier.
You can find a recipe to make pretty much anything in an Instant Pot online. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, though.
With or without an Instant Pot, what advice do you have for home cooks at the holidays, in general?
If you have time to prep, I think it makes a huge difference. We always have a holiday gift swap with our friends. I will make the cookie dough, for instance, a week before and just stick it in the freezer. Then (the day of the event) it takes half the time you would normally spend.
And you can do that with lots of dishes. You can make stew in the Instant Pot and freeze it. Whatever you can do ahead of time, I think, is great. And you can make something fresh to go with it. I just hate spending time cooking and cleaning when the people you want to spend time with are actually present.
Also, try not to do too much. I think people get a Martha Stewart or Bon Appetit magazine spread in their heads. But most guests don’t expect that and they don’t need that. They’re happy with a really good risotto and a small salad and a dessert. That still feels like a special treat because you made it and you made it with love. Pare it down, keep it simple and really focus on maybe three star things.
The Instant Pot has become quite the kitchen, maybe even cultural, phenomenon. How long will the novelty last? Is its popularity just a passing trend? Or is the Instant Pot here to stay?
I get asked that a lot, and I always say I have no idea. But it hasn’t slowed down yet, and I’ve been asked that question for a solid four years now.
I would say with most kitchen fads they are a one-season flash-in-the-pan. They’re here for one season and then fizzle out, and the Instant Pot hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. The Instant Pot community just keeps growing and people just keep buying them. I think it’s something bigger than a fad. I enjoy mine. I like it a lot. I think if people keep buying them then they will get even better. Manufacturers will be forced to improve on them, and they’re already pretty great. But there’s always room for improvement.
As long as there’s a market it will drive gadgets to get better and better and more people will use them. Instant Pots aren’t good for everything, but they are good for saving space in your kitchen and they are energy efficient. I think they are a worthwhile gadget, and it’s worthwhile to make them even better. But we’ll see. Who knows?
What are you working on now?
I’ve done a ton of freelance work this year. Hopefully next year I’ll be writing another book.
Hot Spiced Cranberry Cider
From “The Instant Pot No-Pressure Cookbook” by Laurel Randolph
6 cups apple cider
4 cups cranberry juice cocktail
3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 orange, sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
1 handful fresh cranberries (optional)
Add the cider, cranberry juice, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange to your Instant Pot. Secure the lid. Cook at high pressure for 8 minutes and use a natural release. Remove the whole spices by straining or using a slotted spoon. Add brown sugar to taste and serve hot garnished with cranberries (if using).
Yield: 8 servings
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