Our Verdict: Dinner in an Instant

Maureen: I was really happy to find another cookbook for my pressure cooker since the instructions are in French. What did you think of this cookbook, since you have an instant pot?

Kirstin: I thought it was good, but I thought some of the recipes could have been better written. The yogurt recipe, for example, was a complete disaster the first time, but now I am victorious.

Maureen: But only after you had to do additional research on the Internet.

Kirstin: Yes, I found a new recipe for yogurt with much better instructions and then it worked great. I’ve made it once a week since.

Maureen: I feel like this was a little bit rushed and maybe the the recipes weren’t as thoroughly tested as in her last book.

Kirstin: I totally agree.

Maureen: And as I said on our Facebook page, it wouldn’t have killed her to just have a page explaining how an instant pot is different from a pressure cooker, but how you could adapt the recipes to use with your pressure cooker. Instead, she just insults pressure cookers in the introduction, which was unnecessary. I mean, some people, like me, still use them and like them.

Kirstin: I’m glad I bought the Instant Pot. The salmon I made is now our new favourite fish recipe. I make it every week. Would I be using my Instant Pot in the summer? Probably not, unless it’s for yogurt. Will I be using it next winter? Absolutely.

Maureen: So you’re pleased you purchased an Instant Pot?

Kirstin: Yes.

Maureen: Are you enjoying your ride on the wave of the zeitgeist?

Kirstin: I am. It’s been a revelation.

Maureen: I am pleased that I used my pressure cooker more. So all in all, it’s been a mostly successful month.

“Dinner in an Instant”
Overall Grade (A- F): B (Kirstin)  B (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Vietnamese Caramel Salmon. Maureen: Garlicky Cuban Pork.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  B.
Any disasters? Kirstin: Yogurt, but I fixed it. Maureen: Macaroni and cheese. What a disaster. Never again.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: High-rotation Bookshelf. There’s still more I want to investigate. Maureen: Low-rotation bookshelf. There’s some good stuff in there, but I can’t see any of it getting into the regular rotation.                                                             Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Yes, if they had an instant cooker or a pressure cooker. I suspect it’s one of the better books on the subject.

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Our Verdict: Dinner in an Instant

“Indian Butter Shrimp” from “Dinner in an Instant”

One of the places where pressure cookers, and by extension, instant pots, excel is when making curries. Pressure cookers are apparently standard kitchen kit in Indian kitchens, because it enables you to make a curry much faster.

Even the New Yorker(!), of all publications, earlier this month published a profile of Urvashi Pitre, the “Butter-Chicken Lady”, who found her fame and fortune by originally posting a recipe for butter chicken on a Facebook group for Instant Pot fans. The article went on to be the most popular ever in the group, which led to her getting a publishing deal. Her cookbook, “Indian Instant Pot Cookbook,” published in September 2017, has already sold more than 100,000 copies. You can read the New Yorker profile here.

But still I approached this recipe with some trepidation. You see, it’s not that our family doesn’t love curry. We absolutely do. The problem was that we had our fair share of curry in 2017, what with Tim working in India for three months in the autumn, and the rest of us visiting him there for two weeks in October. We all returned home vowing to not eat another curry for a fair few months.

I shouldn’t have worried about making this. The delicious curry sauce overrode any qualms we may have had about eating curry again. The dish may have been boosted by the couldn’t-be-more-legit garam masala spice that Tim bought at an Indian supermarket and brought back for us. Also, since we were eating prawns/shrimp rather than chicken, this was a super-fast dish to make. Not Jamie Oliver 15 minutes fast, mind you, but still pretty quick.

Needless to say, our family is back on curries again. Next up? Butter chicken, from the Butter-Chicken Lady herself. (The New Yorker helpfully included the recipe at the end of the article. Check it out here.)

“Indian Butter Shrimp” from “Dinner in an Instant”

“Korean chile-braised brisket” from ” Dinner in an Instant”

Kirstin: 2018 is the year of Korean food, or so I’ve been told by all the food columnists at the end of 2017 (K-Beauty was all the rage in 2017 but that’s another story). So when I saw this recipe I knew it had to be mine. Thankfully I already had the Korean chile and gochujang in the cupboard. And I asked Tom to buy some kimchi to accompany the dish too.
It’s a very simple recipe and always yummy (we’ve had it 3 times already). The Korean flavours are perfect with the fall apart delicious beef. There’s a lot of liquid that is produced when you make this recipe and Melissa doesn’t mention how you should manage it. I would love to make it thicker in some way, but have yet to figure that out. That won’t stop me making it again though because it really is quite something special. YUM!

“Korean chile-braised brisket” from ” Dinner in an Instant”

“Hummus*” from “Dinner in an Instant”

*Hummus is how the Americans spell it, and thus how it’s spelled in this cookbook, since Melissa Clark is a New Yorker. Here in England, you know the place where the ENGLISH language was CREATED, we spell it Houmous. So can decide your own preferred spelling. But obviously it should be spelled houmous.

One of the things that a pressure cooker and instant pot excel at is the preparation of dried beans. Where usually it would take an overnight soak and some cooking to get 500 grams of dried chickpeas ready to eat, with a pressure cooker/instant pot, it took only 50 minutes total.

Because my pressure cooker was an impulse buy in France– as you do– my instruction manual only came with French instructions, which meant I remained clueless about how to hydrate beans. I did try to do some Internet research to figure it out, but I was always reluctant to try given that I still have a small fear that my pressure cooker will one day explode in my kitchen. This is purely down to the fact that one of the anthems of my childhood was, “Be careful of the pressure cooker!” rather than any tangible fear that the pressure cooker I bought in the 21st century would explode.

So I made Melissa Clark’s hummus/houmous. The table was in agreement that while this recipe was good, we thought the one from “Jerusalem” was better. However, the lovely Ottolenghi’s recipe requires some serious forward planning and requires far more time. You have to soak the beans overnight and then cook them before you start blending it with the tahini and other ingredients.

This version doesn’t take nearly so long, so it’s nice to have options. But more importantly, now I know how to make dried chickpeas into edible ones in under an hour.

“Hummus*” from “Dinner in an Instant”

“Mashed Potato” from “Dinner in an Instant”

Real truth here: I was well into adulthood before I discovered that mashed potatoes could be made in something OTHER than a pressure cooker.

This, of course, is an embarrassing admission. But it’s true. (To be fair to me, I was also younger and a less experienced cook back then. But still…) The only way my Irish-American family ever made mashed potatoes, and being Irish-American we had them A LOT, was in the pressure cooker. I think I knew how to make them in the pressure cooker even before I had hit double digits in age. The first cooking lesson I ever had probably intoned, “Don’t ever, ever forget to put water in the bottom of the pressure cooker, otherwise, it might EXPLODE.” Given that this was the late 1970s and early 1980s, this was definitely true.

However, when I had my first apartment, I did not have a pressure cooker– this being the 1990s by then, they definitely had fallen out of favour– so I learned how to make mashed potatoes the old fashioned way: by boiling the potatoes in a pot full of water. I’ve been making mashed potatoes this way ever since– from dinners for two to Thanksgiving banquets for 30.

When I saw the recipe for mashed potatoes made in a pressure cooker in this book, I figured it might be nice to take a trip down memory lane and make them in the method that sustained by childhood. Surely, they would be just as good as I remembered them, right?

Well, you know what they say about not being to go home again. I mean, sure, the mashed potatoes were fine, but they weren’t the ambrosia of my childhood. They certainly get cooked a whole lot quicker– 10 minutes versus 30 minutes– so that’s a plus. But the downside is by doing them in the pressure cooker, you’re really steaming the potatoes rather than boiling them, and what we found was that they ended up having a very gluey consistency, which is less than ideal. It’s possible there was operator error in play here, but we all liked the traditional (read: Slower) way better.

Would I make them this way again? Maybe, but only if I was super short of time.

“Mashed Potato” from “Dinner in an Instant”

“Plain Yoghurt” from “Dinner in an Instant”

Kirstin: One of the reasons I bought my instant pot was because I wanted to make my own yoghurt. And cheese, come to that. I’ve always been curious about making dairy products and I’ve always been inspired by my mother who made her own yoghurt back in the day. However, there is a reason why the image for this post is of the machine. And that’s because after many, many hours of doing whatever the instant pot needed to do (Melissa’s directions are often less than helpful with this recipe unless you’ve made yoghurt before) and FINALLY reaching the YOGT nirvana on the display, I was more than a tad disappointed to find that the “yoghurt” was only vaguely behaving in a yoghurt-y manner. And no more so after it had been left in the fridge overnight. Now, there are a huge range of possibilities for why I failed to make yoghurt. Maybe I used the wrong kind of yoghurt, maybe I just interpreted the instructions incorrectly. Who knows. Whether I can be bothered to have another go is really the problem here because it was quite a lot of faffing. And while I like to think I have time to cook during the day, I can also easily go to our local supermarket and buy any number of delicious yoghurts (with gorgeous, yummy full fat milk for those in America who are stuck with fat free varieties). But hey. I even bought the muslin cloth to make Greek yoghurt, so maybe I’ll have another go. Maybe…

“Plain Yoghurt” from “Dinner in an Instant”

“Creamy Macaroni and Cheese” from “Dinner in an Instant”

Sometimes, you really ought to follow your instincts.

In this case, when I first saw this recipe, I thought, “Why in the world would you want to make macaroni and cheese in a pressure cooker.” Quickly followed by the second thought, “How does it work? I’m so intrigued I want to try it.”

Melissa Clark even says in the introduction, “Why make macaroni and cheese in an electric pressure cooker when it’s so easy to do on the stove? You’re not necessarily going to save any time with this method, but cooking it all in one pot does make things more convenient.”

Having now made this recipe, I respectfully disagree. This was a disaster.

We definitely are experts when it comes to judging macaroni and cheese in this house. By my count, we’ve tried at least six via this blog. Our favourite, perhaps even a Desert Island Dish, would be this version from the New York Times. Delivers every time. For when we have less time, I’ve also made this version from Melissa Clark’s previous cookbook, “Dinner.” It’s also a winner. (It’s also very quick. It only takes about 15 minutes to make.)

Honestly, I should have just stopped considering it when my initial thought was that you couldn’t really cook macaroni and cheese in a pressure cooker. I mean, technically, you CAN, because we did end up with a dinner of macaroni and cheese. But I won’t bother to do it this way again.

The reason, quite simply, is that clean up requires a monumental effort. Not surprisingly, no matter how much butter you put on the bottom of the pot, it’s still going to burn when it’s cooking on a high heat for six minutes. Once the macaroni and cheese was taken out, we found a pot that was completely black at the bottom, which required a huge multi-day cleanup effort. It’s funny how the picture above does not accurately reflect the level of burning that went on, but trust me, it was significant. At least there was enough non-burnt macaroni and cheese to feed everyone.

The burning had a secondary effect as well: the macaroni and cheese ended up with a distinct smoky taste. Smokiness can be excellent in a variety of dishes, but not in macaroni and cheese, which should deliver the creamy goodness we know and love.

Would I make this again? I think you all already know the answer to this question.

Macaroni and cheese in a pressure cooker? Just don’t do it.

“Creamy Macaroni and Cheese” from “Dinner in an Instant”