Garden Diary - December 2019

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The Ultimate Instant Pot® Cookbook for Two,
a book review

Sunday, 15 December 2019

There I was, standing in Costco and gazing at an Instant Pot® display, on sale for $69.99. I've been thinking about getting one ever since last April. We were having a 3-generation vacation in Sedona, Arizona. My husband and I flew from New Jersey, our granddaughter and her husband from Texas. Our daughter also took a plane. Her husband? He drove, so he could tow a trailer with his UTV and go off-roading. As long as he was driving the Texas trio loaded him up with various things they were not sure our Air B&B would supply. Including an Instant Pot®. Very necessary, I was assured, so we didn't eat dinner out all the time. And it's true that Sasha's chicken with salsa verde was a winner. So I'm standing there, staring at the display when another customer came by and told me I should buy it. She had gotten one for significantly more money when they first came out, and has never regretted the purchase. O.K. I'm convinced. Put the box in my cart and went to do more shopping. Another customer congratulated me, said I'd love it. She has two boys and uses her Instant Pot® almost every day.

But I figured that an Instant Pot® would have a fairly steep learning curve. It's way different from my sauce pans, more complicated than a crock pot. Online information is uniformly enthusiastic but not always clear about when to do what to set things up and start cooking. This, I decided, could be for those times when the day got away from me and dinner needs to get on the table.

photography by Marija Vidal, image courtesy Rockridge Press

Janet Zimmerman must have understood that Instant Pot® newbies were dithering because The Ultimate Instant Pot® Cookbook for Two is a lucid, easy to follow guide to get us started. There's only two of us so I don't necessarily want large recipes with leftovers. She defines terms, not alphabetically but in the sequence that they'll most likely be used. Cooking is described as first do this, then do that. A two page spread with different Instant Pot® parts and inserts carefully labeled. I have the pot I have because that's what Costco had. Turns out there's a mini, a 3-quart, a 6-quart, even an 8-quart. But it's not a matter of just one size if you're cooking for two, other than the mini which is fine for small batches, rice or other grains but problematic for pasta. I really like the section on "how much for two" - are you cooking grains, then 1/3 to 1/2 cup for two average to generous servings. Beans - now here's an ingredient I expect to love cooking in my Instant Pot®. They still must be soaked for 6 to 8 hours before cooking but then it goes more quickly than in a saucepan. Now on to the recipes.

The Breakfast chapter offers some interesting options. The first that caught my attention was for steel cut oatmeal. Instead of remembering to start the oats soaking the night before, the recipe suggests 40 minutes from start to finish. Several recipes for eggs, a treat-yourself or company suitable apple-cinnamon French toast cups, a chorizo and green chile breakfast casserole, and more. Recipes often offer "use it up" suggestions - reserve extra chorizo for the pinto beans with chorizo, for example.

Next up, a dozen recipes for Vegetables and Sides, from German potato salad, served warm, to a lightly pickled carrot and celery salad with steamed vegetables, and a roasted beet and sweet potatoes that finished in the oven to crisp and lightly brown. I'm not clear why browned butter risotto is placed here since it would seem to fit in the next chapter, Beans and Grains. There are several rice dishes here - two different rice pilaf, and brown rice with broccoli cheese casserole. Some interesting ethnic recipes such as North African chickpea stew, Jamaican rice and peas, Greek salad with bulgar wheat.

Meatless Mains run the gamut from a Korean inspired spicy braised tofu and carrots, an Indian vegetable korma, from pasta to polenta, soups from minestrone to curried cauliflower, and rice appears with an artichoke and spinach risotto. I am puzzled that directions for the mushroom stroganoff directs that you can Double It: double all the ingredients, but reduce the cooking time from 5 minutes to 4 minutes. Entrées are sensibly divided so Fish and Poultry are in one chapter, Beef and Pork in another chapter.

Desserts range from the anticipated custards and mousse to mini chocolate marble cheesecake, a ricotta cheesecake with balsamic strawberries, even a carrot cake. The last chapter offers a handful of recipes to stock your pantry: chicken stock, mushroom stock, marinara sauce, basic beans, basic white or brown rice, small batch yogurt (makes 4 cups), small batch applesauce, and mixed berry compote. There are several pressure cooking time charts before the recipe index, categorized as fish, poultry, meat, beans and legumes, grains, and vegetables. These offer the ingredient, minutes under pressure, high or low pressure, quick or natural release.

Christmas is coming. If you asked Santa for an Instant Pot®, tell the elves to include this book. If some lucky person on your gift list getting an Instant Pot®, you could be the "elf" to pair it up with this cookbook. They might even invite you to dinner!

It's a damp December day. Things feel chilly. Soup will be very welcome.
I decided to try the Creamy Mushroom-Barley Soup on page 90.

The recipe calls for one small onion and a clove of garlic, diced, then sautéed in a little olive oil in the inner cooking pot. Slice one carrot, one stalk of celery, and 8 ounces of mushrooms. Add to the pot along with a bay leaf, some thyme, a little salt and fresh ground pepper, a half cup of pearled barley and two cups of stock. Lock the lid, pressure cook on high for 20 minutes.

Let naturally cool for 10 minutes, then quick release.

Finish with a splash of Worcestershire sauce and some cream.

I made two adaptations. The recipe calls for low sodium vegetable broth. It's after Thanksgiving and I had turkey broth (made in the Instant Pot® with a fresh, meaty turkey back I hasten to add) so that's what I used instead of vegetable stock. Heavy whipping cream is specified, but I used half-and-half. The flavor is good, the barley is perfectly cooked. However I prefer soups such as this with a little more liquid in proportion to solids. Next time I will try adding an additional 1/2 cup of stock. And there will definitely be a next time for this recipe.

The Ultimate Instant Pot® Cookbook for Two
by Janet A. Zimmerman
published by Rockridge Press, Emeryville California
Soft cover, $16.99
ISBN 978-1-64152-388-2

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher

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