My Facebook page transformed the night of November 8. A feed that had once been filled with trivial photos of kids in Halloween costumes had already evolved into silly but empowering pantsuit selfies. Overnight it became a steady stream of shock, fear, disbelief and grief — name a negative emotion and we were all feeling it in my little bubble.
It was weeks before glimmers of non-election posts began to appear amidst the relentless outrage. I found myself pulled into sagas of personal triumph, devastating failures, hard-earned advice and streams of unfiltered images. The more I clicked the more they appeared on my feed (thank you, weird Facebook algorithms), sandwiched between politically charged news reports and calls to action.
No, it wasn’t a community of progressive pantsuit wearers extending me a lifeline of hope. It was a group of self-described potheads — more than 222,000 pressure-cooker fanatics within the Instant Pot® Community.
My electric pressure cooker was a birthday gift that I requested on a whim. I had zero experience with this method of cooking, which relies on steam pressure to tenderize meats, soften beans and create complex flavors in a compressed amount of time. All I knew about pressure cooking came from traumatized Indian mothers comparing notes about their exploding stovetop devices. (To be fair, modern stovetop pressure cookers are quite safe, but images of dal-splatted ceilings make an impression.)
More than anything, the pragmatist in me was seduced by the idea of an all-in-one kitchen gadget. It can pressure cook and slow cook! It can sauté! Make rice! It. Even. Makes. Yogurt.
Instant Pot is the brand du jour, but there are a number of high-quality multi-cookers out there. In the beginning, I tentatively tested out a few simple dishes, relying mostly on Google for direction: tossing in raw chicken thighs and chuck roast, both in frozen and thawed states; browning meats, not browning meats; thickening with corn starch versus cooking off the liquid. While I was impressed by how tough cuts emerged tender after a few minutes in the pot, I saw myself falling into the same rotation of meat-heavy stews that had already taken luster out of my Crock-Pot.
But as those Facebook posts kept appearing, I was inspired by these people’s passion, humor and endless curiosity about cooking. I spent one night absorbed in a long thread about the value of pressure cooking a retired hen who no longer laid eggs. When someone announced his weight loss after eating only Instant Pot soups, the community was motivated to share own tales of transformation and healthy recipes. Non-crafty people like me were suddenly motivated to make holiday gifts of dulce de leche in pretty jars and real vanilla extract made in minutes instead of months.
In this insular little world of home cooking, politics don’t matter and there are no egos to bruise. Debates are limited to homemade stock versus bone broth and what to do with leftover whey. The only insider jargon is NPR (natural pressure release), QR (quick release) and PIP (pot in pot). I don’t know who any of these people voted for and, the first time in a long while, I don’t care to find out.
From this community, I’ve encountered six incredible ways to use my Instant Pot, each one simple enough to that I can forget about the state of the world for a few blissful minutes at a time.
Dulce de Leche – A rich, caramel-like spread that’s ideal for dipping apples or spreading on toast. You can pressure cook condensed milk straight in the can, but a classier touch is to decant it into glass jars before cooking.
Eggs – It sounds ridiculous, because why wouldn’t you just boil eggs in a pot of water? Because you can pile a dozen or more into a pressure cooker and it only takes about a cup of water. Also, the shells peel off so easily (not the case with farm-fresh eggs) that you’ll find yourself snacking on whole eggs at odd hours.
Spaghetti – This one is such a no-brainer that you don’t even have to stir before cooking. Brown the meat on the bottom, pour in a jar of sauce, a jar of water and pasta on top. Cook, stir and eat.
Beans or bean soup – Not a plan ahead type? No worries. There’s no need to soak dried beans ahead of time when you’re plunging them into a pot of broth and forcing in massive amounts of steam pressure.
Cheesecake – Again, someone may ask why use a pressure cooker when there’s a perfectly good oven nearby? Because you can! Because you can fit several mini springform pans into an Instant Pot to make many little cheesecakes and they each come out perfectly smooth and creamy. (One tip, make sure the eggs and cream cheese are at room temperature or you’ll get creamy-yet-lumpy cheesecakes.)
Yogurt – Technically, you’re not pressure cooking the yogurt. It’s more of a culturing process that involves only a small amount of plain yogurt, a gallon of milk, and a strainer or cheesecloth. In case you’re wondering what came of the “what to do with the leftover whey?” conversation, turns out you can swap it for water in oatmeal, smoothies, or brownie mixes, or simply feed it to your backyard hens before their time is up.