Instant Pot Ultra Thoughts

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I recently received the newest Instant Pot model, the Ultra, thanks to the kind people at Instant Pot HQ. Note that I did not receive it in exchange for a review or any other coverage, I just thought I’d share my thoughts about the Ultra for those that are considering upgrading or are comparing versus an older model. So here we go!

Steam release — There are two major upgrades to the Ultra, and one of them is the steam release. Instead of a single steam valve that you turn to seal or release, the Ultra has a separate button. This is great for two reasons:

  1. You don’t have to touch where the steam is releasing, making it a little safer and less likely to scald
  2. It automatically resets to sealing when you open the lid. Even though I’ve used the IP a bazillion times, I still forget to close the valve sometimes on the old model. The Ultra makes this impossible by closing the vent automatically.

Note that when you press down the button for a quick release, it takes longer to release the pressure than older models. You can force it to release steam quicker by pressure down the button harder, but then you’ll have to stand there the whole time pressing the button.

Cooking Options — The Ultra has even more automated cooking settings, which is all well and good, but I rarely use any of them other than Pressure, Sauté, and Yogurt. But! With the Ultra, you can make some over-arching settings to the whole machine, as well as on a per-use basis. I’m a big fan of these options:

  1. You can turn the sound off. You may not want to turn the sound off, but with the amount of recipes I make in my IP and the amount of beeps it makes (especially the Ultra), sometimes I just want some peace and quiet. Note that it won’t beep at all, even when food is done cooking, so this is not for everyone/all the time.
  2. You can disable the Keep Warm function. I pretty much never use this function and the vast majority of the time I want it turned off, so as to not inhibit the release of pressure or scald delicate items on the bottom of the pot. Unfortunately you can’t turn off the function universally, but you can turn it off beforehand each time you cook something.

Backlit Display and Knob — The most obvious differences are the backlit display (which was already available on the Duo Plus) and a knob that you turn and press to make all selections. The knob takes a little getting used to, but for no specific reason I like it. I think with all of the options on this version of the IP, you need a knob instead of a million buttons to push.

Another Thing I’ve Noticed — In my experience thus far, pressure takes a lot longer to release with the Ultra than the older models. Just keep this in mind when budgeting time for a recipe. I honestly sometimes end up slowly releasing the pressure when I just can’t wait any longer.

All-in-all, the older models still work great, and it’s up to you if the jump in price is worth it. As someone who uses an Instant Pot all the time to test recipes, I’ve very much appreciated the revised steam release and the extra adjustables. But I also still use my old IP all the time. Long live pressure cooking, regardless of what cooker you choose!

Instant Pot Ultra Thoughts

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

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When cooking at home, I dabble with vegan baking in an effort to make things a bit healthier/I’m too lazy to run to the market for eggs. One vegan recipe that never fails me is chocolate cake. It’s super easy to make, doesn’t take any weird ingredients, and turns out moist and delicious. If I’m making chocolate cake at home, 95% of the time I’m making a recipe like the one below. Even if you’re not vegan (I’m not) try it out! So good.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes
adapted from Chowhound
makes 10-12 cupcakes

1/2 cup plain almond or soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup room temperature coffee
1/3 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line one muffin pan with liners.
2. Add the milk and vinegar to a large bowl and mix. Let sit for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, coffee, oil, and vanilla and whisk until well combined.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, soda, baking powder, salt).
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in a couple of batches and whisk until no large lumps remain.
5. Fill the liners 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely before icing or eating.

I used this vegan chocolate frosting recipe. Cut the recipe by 1/3 if you’re making the recipe above as written.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

Chickpea and Edamame Quinoa Salad

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While continuing my lifelong struggle to prep easy lunches ahead of time, I returned to a recipe I’ve been making version of for close to 10 years now. I’ve since lost the original, but it combined couscous, tomato, edamame, chickpeas, and feta. In the past I’ve mixed it up by using other, healthier grains, adding other veggies, and leaving out the cheese. The iteration I made today is pretty similar to the original (from what I can remember) and is full of protein. It will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge, and tastes equally great hot, cold or room temperature.

Chickpea and Edamame Quinoa Salad
Serves 5-6

1 1/2 cups quinoa
3 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can diced tomatoes, no or low salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can chickpeas
1 cup frozen edamame, defrosted and shelled
salt and pepper
1/2 cup feta or queso fresco cheese, crumbled

  1. Combine the quinoa and the water in a medium pot and cook according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, Add the olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the chickpeas and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the edamame and cook for a few more minutes, stirring.
  3. Add the cooked quinoa to the skillet and stir. Season to taste. Add the crumbled cheese and stir. Serve hot or chill and serve cold. Keeps for up to 5 days in the fridge.
Chickpea and Edamame Quinoa Salad

Easy Vegetarian Bibimbap

 

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I love bibimbap. Or, at least, the versions I’ve tried in NYC and LA. It’s comforting and flavorful and fun—I love stirring a raw egg into the crackling hot rice and veggies. If you’ve never had the Korean dish, it consists of rice, sliced meat like beef bulgogi, and quick-cooked veggies like spinach, carrots, mushrooms, and bean sprouts. The ingredients are lovingly arranged on top of the rice in separate piles with a raw egg cracked in the middle. Quick, stir up the hot mixture (that’s often served in a hot stone bowl) and watch as the egg cooks and the rice gets crispy. Eat!

I make a simplified, healthier, and bastardized version in my kitchen at home. This is not an authentic bibimbap, but rather a new dish that is highly inspired by the Korean dish. While brown rice finishes cooking and my eggs come to room temperature, I cook each vegetable separately, adding garlic, sesame oil and seeds, or soy sauce to flavor to each. I also cook up some tofu in lieu of beef. Then, instead of serving the dish individually, I arrange lovingly in a single (heated) pot. I crack the eggs on top, have everyone take a look at my masterpiece, and quickly stir the mixture up, cooking the egg. If your pot is hot enough, you’ll get some crispy rice around the edge, too. Serve it quick! A little gochujang or sriracha add a bit of welcome heat.

Note: You can swap out the veggies as you please. Just don’t over-cook them.

Easy Vegetarian “Bibimbap”
serves 4

1 1/2 cups brown rice
grapeseed or canola oil
2 large carrots, julienned
1/2 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3/4 cup chopped snow peas
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds (plus more for garnish)
2 cups loosely packed spinach
1 large garlic cloved, minced
1/2 brick firm tofu, drained and cubed
2 eggs at room temperature
Gochujang or Sriracha, optional

Cook the rice according to the package directions. In the last 10-15 minutes, begin to cook your vegetables.

In a large skillet, add a glug of grapeseed oil and heat over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the carrots and stir, cooking 1 minute. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender-crisp (about 3 minutes). Season with 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce and freshly-ground pepper. Deposit the carrots and onions in a bowl or on a plate.

Return the pan to the heat. Add the sesame oil followed by the snow peas. Stir and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until crisp-tender (about 3 minutes). Season with sesame seeds and empty onto a plate or in a bowl. Wipe out or rinse the pan if needed.

Meanwhile, put the rice pot back on the heat on medium-low. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce and stir well.

Return the pan to the heat. Add a small amount of grapeseed oil and then the spinach. Stir until it begins to wilt and add the garlic. Cool until wilted and the garlic is cooked (about 3 minutes). Put on a plate or bowl.

Return the pan to the heat one last time. Add a glug of grapeseed oil and add the tofu. Season with salt and pepper and toss until lightly browned on all sides (3-5 minutes).

Turn the rice pot heat up the medium-high. Add each ingredient in a circular pattern (as seen in the photo above) on top of the rice. Crack two eggs in the middle and allow everyone a moment to ooh and ahh. Quickly stir up until the egg is mostly cooked and serve in bowls with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and chili sauce.

Easy Vegetarian Bibimbap

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

 

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I totally forgot to take a photo, so I drew this picture.

A craving for Italian food + watching The Godfather = this recipe for eggplant parm.

After a trip to my homeland of Tennessee, my husband and I were anxious to get back to a healthy diet after a week of splurging. There’s nothing like nonstop buttery and fried food to make you yearn for a salad. Cut to a few nights into our “cleanse” and I was jonesing for Italian food, but didn’t want to indulge in heavy bread or pasta. I picked up a big eggplant, some canned tomatoes, and found frozen riced cauliflower in my freezer and breadcrumbs in my pantry. Done and done.

This recipe seems a little complicated but it really isn’t. You can easily be doing two things at once throughout the prep, and it all comes together and bakes for less than 30 minutes. The eggplant is roasted for optimum texture and flavor, and the cauliflower bechamel makes it luxurious. It’s soul-warming total comfort food with lots of veggie power and without all the fat (it barely has any cheese at all, but you won’t miss it).

Baked Eggplant Parmesan
serves 3

1 large eggplant, cut lengthwise into 1″ steaks (see this article)
kosher salt
1 can crushed tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 cup riced cauliflower
1 cup (plus extra) milk or non-dairy milk
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons of finely grated parmesan cheese
fresh basil (optional)

  1. Place the eggplant slices on a wire rack or a couple of layers of paper towels. Salt well on both sides, rubbing it in with your hands. Let sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Combine the tomatoes, 2 cloves of minced garlic, and season with salt and pepper. I blended mine with a stick blender to make it easy to distribute. No need to cook.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When the 30 minutes is up, use paper towels to dab all excess moisture from both sides of the eggplant slices, and then to wipe off any extra salt.
  4. Give both sides of each slice a coating of olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. In the meantime, prepare a large (9×13 or larger) baking pan/casserole dish by greasing with olive oil.
  5. Also meanwhile, place the riced cauliflower and milk in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Cook, bubbling but not boiling too much, until the cauliflower is tender, or about 5 minutes. Add the garlic in the last 30 seconds, add a glug of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Use a stick blender to blend until smooth, adding milk as needed. It should have the consistency of a hearty alfredo sauce.
  7. When the eggplant is done, remove the pan from the oven and reduce the temperature to 375. Add a little bit of each sauce to the bottom of the pan and coat. Add the eggplant slices, toasted side up. Add the rest of both sauces, covering the slices.
  8. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan, a pinch of salt and pepper, and enough olive oil to coat the crumbs but not leave them dripping. Sprinkle over the top of the eggplant.
  9. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and cook for 10-12 more, or until the eggplant is tender and the sauce is a little bubbly. Serve with salad.
Baked Eggplant Parmesan

To a Whale of a Wife Ice Cream Cake

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For this installment of my monthly “Cooking The Simpsons” series, I tackle a whale of an ice cream cake. Check out the article to hear all about the backstory and read my detailed instructions for making what is essentially a Fudgy the Whale cake.

The layers of chocolate ice cream, fudge, chocolate cookie crumbs, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream make this cake very nostalgic and classically delicious. But don’t stop there! Below are some other flavor combos for really mixing things up. You can use my basic instructions and simply replace the ingredients with the ones listed below. Woo hoo!

  • Strawberry ice cream + Chocolate cookie crumbs and fudge + Vanilla ice cream = Neapolitan
  • Chocolate chip ice cream + a layer of chopped cherries and fudge + Chocolate chip ice cream = Chocolate-covered cherry
  • Vanilla ice cream + Caramel sauce + Chocolate ice cream = Milky Way
  • Mint chocolate chip ice cream + Chocolate cookie crumbs and fudge + Mint chocolate chip ice cream = Grasshopper
  • Strawberry ice cream + Chopped strawberries and vanilla cookie crumbs + Vanilla ice cream = Strawberry shortcake
  • Coffee ice cream + Fudge + Vanilla ice cream = Mocha

The only limit is your imagination (and some general rules about flavor combinations)! Make one for your Memorial Day gathering and kick off summer in the most drool-worthy way possible.

To a Whale of a Wife Ice Cream Cake

Paul and Linda McCartney’s Lentil Soup

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My latest Cooking The Simpsons is up on Paste Magazine, and first of all go here and check it out.

Done? Okay cool. Paul and Linda McCartney’s backwards lentil soup recipe is just fine the way it is, but a great thing about lentil soup is the many ways you can personalize it. Really mix things up, bean soup style!

I’ve provided you a list of the many ways I like to modify Paul and Linda’s recipe, some vegetarian and some definitely not (sorry Lisa). With all of these options, I can make a big pot and eat lentil soup for lunch practically all week every other week and not get bored.

Mix-ins:

  • Chopped up roasted or grilled eggplant
  • Crumbled or sliced sausage, any kind
  • Wilted spinach
  • Cubed, cooked potatoes or sweet potatoes
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Shredded roasted chicken
  • Roasted and cubed butternut squash
  • Spices like cumin, smoked paprika, or curry powder

Toppings:

  • Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
  • A dollop of ricotta cheese
  • A dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream
  • Fresh chives
  • Fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro
  • Crisp-cooked bacon or pancetta
  • Micro greens
  • Fresh jalapeno or chili
  • A squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Mix and match! Go nuts! Live that lentil life.

veggie pow wow

Paul and Linda McCartney’s Lentil Soup