The Instant Pot

Q: I see pressure cooker recipes claiming things like a “30-minute meal” with a 25-minute cook at high pressure, but my experience is that when my Instant Pot is fairly full, the time to get up to pressure ends up being almost as long as the cooking time. (So that “30-minute meal” is more than 50 minutes from pressing “start” to having the cooker signal done.)

Is there something wrong with my cooker (or my strategy) that’s causing things to take so long to get up to pressure? Or is that one of those things that recipe writers just kind of glide over when talking about how long things take?

A: Ding ding ding! You’re right. I think many people gloss over or leave out how long a pressure cooker takes to come up to pressure. You’re not doing anything wrong. It can take a while when the pot is full. Soldier on, read the recipe carefully and factor in the extra time if it doesn’t say. On the other side, people may not add in the time needed for a natural release or the time they want you to natural release before the quick release.

— Becky Krystal

Q: I cooked some freekeh, following the directions carefully. It came out... chewy. This is somewhat unexpected, but not unpleasant. Thinking it was not done, I simmered it another half an hour, but there was no appreciable change. The grain remained toothsome. Is this right? I was expecting it to be more like barley. This might be a good substitute for rice in soup, since it apparently does not get soft and mushy. Still, did I do something wrong, or is this just how freekeh is?

A: You’re doing fine, that’s just the texture!

— Kari Sonde

Q: Looking for a shortcut, I bought a jar of chopped garlic in oil. Those are the only two ingredients listed. It tastes nothing like garlic or like anything delicious. Have you come across any uses for this stuff? I’m sure garlic bread is not one of them. I only used maybe a half a teaspoon so I’m stuck with almost a full jar.

A: Yeah, the problem is, as soon as something like garlic is chopped, it loses potency. Same issue with spices. I’d blend it up into a vinaigrette or throw it into a marinade.

— Joe Yonan

Q: I needed to bake some cookies for work at the last minute and of course, my brown sugar was a brick in the back of the cabinet. Microwaving it under a wet paper towel ended up softening up the edges so that I could hack off enough for the recipe. But is there any reason for me to ever buy brown sugar? I read that it’s just white sugar and molasses. Can I just keep those two things on hand and “make” it whenever I need it? It seems like it would be easier and less of a mess than the microwave thing, and it’d be a lot cheaper than throwing it out. I’ve tried the slice of bread trick, but it was moldy by the time I needed to use it again.

A: You can totally just mix white sugar and molasses for brown sugar: 1 cup white sugar + 1 T molasses — light brown sugar.

— K.S.

Q: I kind of gave up on lentils a long time ago because I could never get anyone to tell me if I was supposed to cook them in just enough water for them to be done when the water was absorbed (like rice) or in plenty of water for set amount of time and then dumped and drained out of the pot (like pasta). Care to clarify for the record? Is it true for all beans? Or do you use difference techniques for different ones?

A: It’s the latter, really. The problem with trying to cook them in just enough water to be done is that they might absorb more or less water depending on their age. So I use enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches if they’ve been soaked, 3 inches if they haven’t, except for when pressure cooking, when I use 3 cups of water for every 1 cup of beans.

— J.Y.

Q: How do I make homemade bread taste yeastier? I know it’s not just by using more yeast. Is it longer rising times, more times proofing, adding gluten even to bread flour, more/less salt, more/less sugar, or some other technique?

A: Yes, longer/more proofing times will definitely help. Using a sourdough starter or a sponge/poolish/biga/quick starter will help too. For the latter, you typically mix up a first batch of water, flour and yeast and let it hang out for a few hours or overnight, and then add more. That way you get a jump on fermented flavor.

— B.K.

Q: I don’t cook with beans because of the gaseous effects. Is it possible that there are some kinds of beans that don’t produce as much?

A: Yes, absolutely I encourage you to experiment with different varieties and see what affects you more or less. It’s pretty individualized, really. And it depends on what else you’re eating. For me, chickpeas and lentils have never been as, er, musical, as other beans. But if you use kombu and the pressure cooker, you will be reducing the gaseous effects. Also, try starting small and adding 1/2 cup of beans to your daily diet. Studies have shown that people who did that reported a decrease in flatulence after a couple weeks.

— J.Y.

Q: I have just found out I’m expecting my first kid, which is exciting and also terrifying. I know me and good food is my personal key to happiness and healthiness (read: I’ll be a mess if I don’t have semi-regular decent meals), so I’d like to fill my freezer before the kid arrives. I currently have great luck freezing individual ingredients (ground beef, pulled pork, chicken cubes for curries, etc., shredded zucchini) but not such good luck with casseroles, enchiladas, or other finished meals — the texture tends to suffer. Any suggestions for meals that endure freezing and re-heating, or general tips? Healthy options are great but so is cheese.

A: Welcome to impending parenthood! Expect that mix of excitement and terror to last, well, the next few decades? I’m 2.5 years in, and it’s still there.

I make a lot of black bean burgers (uncooked) that I thaw and then cook in the skillet. Fully cooked black bean burritos work well, and then get crisped up in the skillet. Mac and cheese freezes, too. Lots of stews. I also keep plenty of base ingredients in the freezer, such as pesto, tomato sauce and homemade broth. And, of course, batches of cooked beans.

— B.K.

Q: How do you freeze butter and for how long? Please answer for regular and European butters. Also, which are the butter substitutes that tastes most like butter (not Country Crock!) and also are lower in saturated fat than butter — and hopefully lower in calories, too?

A: Just freeze it in the original package before the sell-by date, and butter freezes very well and lasts safely for more than a year, although it will be at its peak within six months for unsalted and a year for salted. This is true for both regular and European butters.

My favorite vegan butter is Miyoko’s cultured vegan butter, but it doesn’t have lower saturated fat than dairy butter, I’m afraid.

— J.Y.

Q: One of my favorite childhood dishes is my mom’s white bean/beef/carrot/onion soup. It’s so comforting, warming, and satisfying. If you could choose only three types of beans to eat for the rest of your life, which ones would they be?

A: My desert-island bean is the chickpea. So versatile! (But I really want electricity on this desert island, too, for the IP!) The other two? I’d say black beans and ... oh, this is tough: I’m going to go with gigante beans!

— J.Y.

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