One of the most popular kitchen gadgets of the year is the electric pressure cooker, better known as the Instant Pot. In many ways, the contraption is a modern-day homesteader’s dream come true: It can cook just about anything with little to no safety concerns. It sure beats your grandma’s pressure cooker, and it’s way more versatile than your average slow cooker. It cooks fast, it cooks slow, and it’s a one-pot wonder, making meal-prep cleanup easy.
When I first heard the hype around electric pressure cookers, I knew I’d need to try one, if for no other reason than to cook dry beans. (I’ve never managed to get dry beans soft enough.) And while it has definitely helped me in that arena, I’ve learned that you can do nearly anything with an Instant Pot. If you seek another way to put yours to use, here are some things you can try.
For all these products, make sure the Instant Pot vent is sealed unless otherwise stated. For safety purposes, please read your Instant Pot’s user manual before starting.
1. Vanilla Extract
Homemade vanilla extract is a great gift. Making it is simple—it’s basically vanilla beans soaked in alcohol—and using an Instant Pot speeds up the process.
Choose your favorite liquor to get started. Being from Kentucky, I like to use bourbon, but rum and vodka are other common choices. Use one vanilla bean for infusing one cup of alcohol. You can put the alcohol and beans directly in the stainless steel pan, or to prevent off flavors from other things you’ve cooked, infuse in canning jars placed on a trivet with lids screwed on finger-tight. (If you do the latter, add one cup water to the pan to surround the jars.) Cook on high pressure for 30 to 60 minutes, and allow the pressure to naturally release completely before opening the cooker. Allow the extract to cool before removing the beans and bottling for gifts.
Once you’ve mastered vanilla extract, use the same method for making other flavored extracts including mint, almond and orange peel.
2. Hard-Boiled Eggs
Like me, you’ve probably made that batch of hard-boiled eggs that are impossible to peel, but Witney Hilterbran, Family Consumer Sciences agent at the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, offers the 5-5-5 tip to get perfect, easy-to-peel hard-boiled eggs: Load your Instant Pot with 1 cup water and a dozen eggs placed on a trivet inside the cooker. Pressure cook on the manual setting for 5 minutes, allow the pressure to naturally release for 5 minutes, and then let out the remaining steam and place the eggs in ice water to cool for 5 minutes. You’ll never cook hard-boiled eggs the old way again.
3. Rise Dough
Baking bread is a perfect winter activity when you’re cooped up inside, but I have trouble getting the dough to rise because my home’s temperature sits well below the ideal 75 to 85 degrees needed for ideal rising. Enter the Instant Pot.
Follow the recipe for your bread, pizza dough or cinnamon rolls. When you reach the rising stage, put the dough into a glass container (a 1.5-quart Pyrex bowl works perfectly), place it on a trivet in the Instant Pot, close the lid, and turn on the yogurt setting. It will take about 30 minutes to get beautiful, bubbly dough before moving onto the next step.
If you like what the Instant Pot can do to rise bread, try baking your bread in it, too.
4. Herb-Infused Oil
Infused oils are delicious for dipping bread (perhaps bread that you cooked in your Instant Pot), but I infuse oils for all sorts of things, including herbal salves, lip balms and lotions. While my favorite infusion method is in a sunny windowsill, it takes about a month to get an adequately infused oil this way. If I’m pressed for time, the Instant Pot offers a quicker option.
Place your herbs and oil of choice in jars, and then place the jars on a trivet in your Instant Pot. Secure the lid, and turn on the yogurt setting. Allow the oils to infuse for one to three days depending on the desired strength, then strain the herbs and use the oils as desired.
I love preparing the farm-grown popcorn I get from our local orchard. Not only can I avoid all the nasty chemicals found in microwave popcorn, I can customize the seasonings with my choice flavors. However, I don’t have any fancy popcorn-popping equipment, so I usually end up popping it on the stovetop, meaning many of the kernels don’t pop, some get overcooked, and some end up popping all over my kitchen floor. By using the Instant Pot to pop popcorn, you can avoid these conundrums.
Add your choice oil to the Instant Pot, and turn on the saute setting. Allow the oil to heat up, and then add 1/2 cup kernels. Secure the lid, and keep the vent open so that steam can escape while the popcorn pops. Turn off the Instant Pot once popping slows, and carefully remove the steel pot, as it will still be hot when you are ready to serve your popcorn. Top with your favorite seasoning, and enjoy with your next movie night.