Free Range on Food: How the Instant Pot compares to a Dutch oven, this week's recipes and more.

Jan 24, 2018

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Hello, and happy Wednesday! Welcome to today's chat. Hope you're loving what you've been reading lately, including Alex Van Buren's lively look at the Instant Pot (putting it up against a Dutch oven); Ellie Krieger's one-year-later follow-up to our 5 Diets project (go, Bonnie, go!); Cathy Barrow's any-way-you-like-it lentil soup; and more. 

We have Alex joining us today, to talk about her Instant Pot experiments, so all you IP users (or wannabe users, or skeptics), pipe up! 

To entice you, we will have a good giveaway book today: Melissa Clark's "Dinner in an Instant." Also: "Power Vegan Meals" by Maya Sozer, source of this week's Weeknight Veg recipe.

And for your PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR5669 . Remember, you'll record and enter it at the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

Bonnie is at a photo shoot, but I'll ping her if a q comes up aimed at her (or that she can only answer -- which, well, might happen a LOT), and I'm sure she'll shoot some thoughts over if time allows.

OK, let's do this!


Thank you for the article on the instant pot! As someone who got one for Christmas, I'm having a hard time finding recipes that I'd want to make. I did make ribs and they turned out well. I also made a Mac and cheese that was pretty good. While the article's results said that traditional is better, in what instances do you think the IP would be better? Any sample recipes? Also, what about a pork tenderloin? too lean? I have one in the freezer that I'd like to throw in the instant pot, but I'm not sure if it will work... Thanks for any help!

Hi, thanks for reading! So glad you enjoyed it. 

It's a little bit of a steep learning curve right at the beginning if you're not accustomed to pressure cookers, which I was not. Ribs are a great idea. WAPO staffers are fans of this honey sesame chicken recipe and this braised chuck roast, which I'm excited to try. I also really recommend Melissa Clark's Instant Pot cookbook. Her salmon with savory caramel is just fantastic. And if you see a particular recipe gaining traction in social media, such as this lovely twist on Indian chicken makhani (butter chicken), it's usually for a reason! That's a great recipe. 

I also think it's wonderful for fast chicken and other bone stocks (about an hour), really any last-minute bean dishes (so long as you sauté the aromatics, such as garlic and onion, in the pot beforehand) and most slow braises. Our pernil was just a tiny bit better in the Dutch oven, but the crispy skin put it over the top. 

I wouldn't throw your tenderloin in there, per se; I worry that its lean qualities make it less of a great fit. But I could be wrong, and I see some recipes out there that look promising. Thanks for writing!

Instant Pot vs. Dutch oven: Which makes better food?

I'm looking for a recipe for oatmeal cookies that calls for oil instead of butter and results in chewy or soft cookies. No crunchy cookies, please! Can you point me to one that works?

Ding ding ding. You just described one of our favorite recipes in our database. You're gonna love 'em.

Corean's Oatmeal Cookies

RECIPE: Corean's Oatmeal Cookies

Sigh. Now I have to be dreaming of my favorite cookie on the planet (I'm serious!) before I've even had lunch.

The small cauliflower that I got in this week's CSA shipment has a good amount of leaves attached. Do you think I could slice them and mix them in with the cauliflower and chickpeas? They're still bright green and crisp, so I'd hate to see them go to waste.

Sure thing! Go for it. I'd put them in maybe halfway through the cauliflower's first roasting time? Try it and let me know!

RECIPE: Sweet and Sour Cauliflower

Hi All-- I'd really like to take a bread baking class somewhere in the DC area. Any suggestions of where to look? Thanks!

My go-to is always CulinAerie. I see they had a bread class earlier this month but not one coming up. I've also been intrigued by Knead & Know in Leesburg, but it looks like their classes tend to book up! (Seems like a good sign.) Anyone been, or have others to recommend?

After Carrie's comment last week, I purchased a Rabbit on Amazon for $13.99. It works fine and produced 4 clear cubes. It is a bit tricky getting the cubes out (must run hot water on the bottom of the tray to extract them), but they are clear and perfectly shaped.

Sweet! Glad it worked for you. I have the True Cube version which is a bit cumbersome but also works very well.

I am a pretty adventurous cook. I am in the middle of a move, truck shows up on February 3rd, so I still haven't opened my instant pot. What would be a solid recipe to make on February 4th, that will be a delicious welcome for my family and I in our new home?

Ooh, what a fun question! Good luck with your move; moving is so stressful. 

Honestly, I don't know that I'd use the Instant Pot right off the bat for your very first meal. I'm an avid home cook and food writer, but I found it to be a slightly steep learning curve. I might stick with a chicken-and-potato sheet pan recipe, or something similarly easy that you can do in one dish, like these fajitas

If you're feeling brave, though, I do love the Instant Pot variation on black bean soup and think that would be very homey (unless you live in L.A. or someplace very hot right now!) Just keep in mind that you will need the garnishes, and hot sauce, to really knock it out of the park.

Thanks for writing!

RECIPE: Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas

RECIPE: Black Bean Soup

I made oatmeal cookies, and they turned out hard and didn't spread. it has been a while since I've made them, but they didn't turn out wide, flat, soft and chewy like I like. I subbed chocolate chips for the raisins. The recipe called for 1/2 and 1/2 of shortening and butter. I used a palm oil shortening as a sub for shortening due to soy issues. I suspect the shortening substitution was the reason. If so, is there a different soy free, nut free, Crisco-style substitute that I can use in baked goods? I usually use all butter in recipes other than pie crust that call for a solid fat, butter or lard for pie crust, and canola or olive oil for recipes calling for a liquid fat. But I've seen so many comments that I shouldn't use all butter for cookies.

I think your suspicions are right! Palm oil, and palm oil shortening in particular, are high in saturated fats. That means they are solid at room temperature and have a higher melting point. So, yeah, seems like that could explain why your cookies may have been hard.

I see no problem in using all butter in cookies! So many recipes do that.

As to a sub, you could look into coconut oil.

At an Asian grocery store recently I picked up a big package of Thai birds-eye chilis for my partner, who loves spicy food (I have very low spice tolerance but every once in a while I am nice.) There's no way we can use all of them at once, so I wanted to ask for recommendations on how to store them. Is it okay to freeze them in a freezer Ziploc bag? Also, do you have any suggestions for recipes to use them in? Bonus points if it is possible to make two different levels of spiciness (making 2 differently spicy sauces, for example). Thanks so much!!!

I freeze Thai bird chilis in a zip lock bag and use what I need straight from the bag. It's a perfect solution! As to your second question, I recommend making hot sauce from some of the peppers so your partner can up the Scoville!

One of my 2018 goals is to become an adept baker. I've had some excellent success with flatbreads and pizza dough so I've decided to up my game and go beyond active dry yeast: I've started a starter. I'm going by the King Arthur Flour instructions for a sourdough starter and it seems to be working but I'm overwhelmed by all the advice on the internet. I used whole wheat flour to start but do I have to switch to all-purpose for "feedings" or can I mix things up between different types of flour depending what I have laying around? Is there a fool-proof way to tell when my starter has the leavening power necessary? Can I increase/decrease the amount of starter used in a recipe depending on how vigorous Alfonso seems that day? (Yeah, he has a name already). I know a lot of sourdough baking is trial and error and that's kind of the fun of it... but y'all, my anxiety...

Alfonso is a great starter name. :) 

I've been experimenting with sourdough the past month, too, and have found this experience with Mike Francis (my starter!) to be much better than the last time I tried, with Fidough (RIP). I've been using Emilie Raffa's excellent book Artisan Sourdough Made Simple as a guide, and it truly does live up to the title. I'd also pay twice the amount of the list price to have such clear, easy-to-follow directions -- with pictures that show you exactly what you're doing! -- instead of scrolling through alllllll the ridiculous amounts of info and tips online. I strongly suggest getting this book.

To answer one of your questions, based on my experiences:

You can mix things up with feeding, but using unbleached all-purpose flour is generally recommended. (But once I ran out of flour once and used bread flour, then ran out of bread flour and used whole-wheat, and the starter is still perfectly fine.) Also know that you can turn some of your starter into a different flour-type, say, rye, if you want to try making a sourdough rye. (I'm working my way up to this Danish rye bread, for example.)

I started with a mature starter (given to me by a friend), so I'd defer to Raffa and her FAQ section on how to tell when your newly made starter is ready to be used. Ditto on the increasing/decreasing question.

(Also another thing about her book: She includes a chapter on what to do with the portion of starter that you discard -- I made some stellar yogurt flatbread with some the other night, and have some cracker dough waiting to be baked.)

One more thing that has markedly improved my experience this go-round: I got a digital kitchen scale, for ease of feeding and precision of measuring, and a Dutch oven, for baking the bread in. (Which Raffa also recommends.)

I love lentils and the soup recipe looks great. I've been looking at different lentil recipes and some seem very emphatic about using a certain type of lentil (I've found a bunch that call for french green lentils). Is there really a big difference or can I substitute with what I have on hand?

We get this question fairly frequently! There are some particularly unique lentils -- those little French duPuy ones are a good example. They stay firm, making them really good for, say, salads. The black beluga lentils are similar, so I'd say those can interchange easily, with little change outside of the color and a slight difference in cooking time. 

On the other side of the spectrum are the split red/orange lentils, which get meltingly soft, meaning they're fantastic in soupy/stewy/mashed dishes where that's what you want.

And in the middle are the brown/olive-green ones, which are particularly earthy tasting and get soft without falling apart.

Here's a little thing I wrote a few years ago on this subject.

Does this help? I guess the upshot is that you can often substitute, but if you use one of a very different type the cooking time might be different, and the texture.

What should you never cook in an Instapot?

Hi, there! Well, I'm a fan of experimentation and learning about your gadget as you go along. Generally speaking, though, experts agree that you shouldn't try to pressure-cook something that a) needs to be crisp or crunchy, or b) requires lots of finesse, especially along the way. Once it's locked in, it's locked in, and there's no futzing with it unless you unlock it, release the pressure, etc. All of that takes time. Thanks for your question!

I knew I enjoyed this weekly chat but not this much until I dreamed about it last night. A friend had baked a cake from his grandmother's recipe that he'd enjoyed as child. No matter how long he baked it, the cake never tasted done. It called for a specific brand of flour he'd never tried. He asked me if it could be the flour. Perhaps the product had changed since the recipe was printed many decades before. I told him I didn't know, but I bet who would! I told him I would submit his experience to Free Range Food for today's chat.

Wow! You know they say you know you're fluent in another language when you start dreaming in it, so ... you're fluent in Free Range! 

I'm glad that was a dream, btw, because I would have no idea how to answer the cake-you-could-bake-forever-and-it-still-wasn't-done question... 

I see ads on TV for disposable liners to use with several kinds of slow cookers. I'm not sure if this includes Instant Pot or Dutch ovens but I do think it encompasses pressure cookers. Anyway, the liners obviously are supposed to make clean-up easier by keeping the pot itself unsoiled. But they look like plastic bags and I wouldn't want to cook in something that might leach chemicals into the food. What do you think? I have the same doubts about oven bags. Here's a link I just found.

Hi! Thanks for writing, and glad you asked. I definitely would advise against putting a liner in an Instant Pot or a Dutch oven. Some very specific "oven bags" are OK for things like roasting Thanksgiving turkeys, and you should always check the USDA site to make sure you're using a safe brand. (I personally don't feel comfortable putting my food in bags and then cooking it, but I don't have recent FDA and USDA studies at my fingertips, and would want to do more research; I realize some of that technology has changed.)  

For Instant Pot, I feel fairly certain that they'll advise against bags, but you can call them: 1-800-828-7280. They're very helpful. I find cleanup in the IP quite easy. In both the Instant Pot and a Dutch oven, you can deglaze to make things a little easier for yourself on the cleanup front. That entails adding a bit of wine, stock, water, cider, or bourbon to whatever fond (the brown bits leftover from cooking) is left in your Instant Pot or Dutch oven. Put it over low heat (or use the Sauté function), add liquid, and scrub away using a flat-headed wooden spoon, and you'll be on your way to a cleaner pan and a really simple,  delicious sauce-- almost by accident! (Read more about that technique here.) 

Thanks for writing! 

Hello! Froze some corn this past fall (about 2 quart bags). Looking for a recipe to use it all up and hoping it won't be mealy from being frozen.... any ideas? Thanks!!

I freeze corn every summer, too, and love how easy it is to enjoy it again at this time of year. My favorite recipes include corn fritters, cornbread (with whole corn kernels and jalapeno), and corn chowder. It's unlikely the corn has become mealy, but the structure won't be as firm as summer corn. In these recipes, you won't notice.

Nothing beats good ol' fashioned dutch oven cooking! I'm not surprised at the results of your blind taste test. I've been considering an Instant Pot, but I already have a Crock Pot and it sounds like the results are much the same, which means I would use it primarily for soups and stews. Which is fine, but I already have a set-it-and-forget-it appliance. Kitchen space is so limited; I think I'll just stick with what I have.

Hi! I hear you on that one; I have limited counter space, too. It's so crucial to make smart decisions. I'm grateful to have a pressure cooker, and was surprised I didn't stash it away in a cabinet, but I don't own a slow cooker, and the things I'm cooking (beans; stocks; etc) could arguably be made easily in a slow cooker.

Some pros have found, though, that you get more browning, and more depth of flavor, by using a pressure cooker.  (This story is a great deep dive about the Maillard reaction, and one pro's experiments with a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, and traditional cooking.) 

But I'd never advise someone to buy a new gadget when they're content when their cooking routine! Thanks for writing. 

How critical is the coconut? I have a relative who is allergic to coconut, so I leave that out of recipes that I prepare. Should I substitute something else, or can it just be left out?

I would look for another oatmeal cookie recipe that doesn't use coconut, rather than just leaving it out. This has been tested/calibrated to work with the coconut, and it's spot-on. 

These are another good one: They were our attempt to crack the code of the delicious salty oat cookies sold at Teaism.

RECIPE: Salted Oatmeal Cookies

My sympathies to the woman who wrote in last week who recently lost her husband and her cooking “audience.” I lost my husband eight years ago and cooking was a passion we shared. My mother would always say that watching the two of us in the kitchen was like watching choreography. As I moved forward, I learned that my happiest place to be is in my kitchen. Or really, in anyone’s kitchen. But in my house, as a single woman with no local family around, cooking gives me a sense of home. My husband was a terrific meal planner and I miss the variety and creativity of meals he came up with. The meals I cook for myself are less elaborate and are pretty much inspired by what I buy each week at the farmer’s market. I cook on Sunday afternoons for the week. Sundays can be long and sad, so spending three hours in the kitchen absorbs the emptiness and saves time during the week. And I use better / pricier ingredients – they’re just for one person so not that expensive in the long run, and everything tastes better, which is more noticeable when the meals have fewer ingredients. I hope the woman who wrote in finds her joy in the kitchen again cooking for herself.

Thank you for this. It's just lovely to read.

At the bottom of some articles by Food staff writers, I noticed this blurb: "We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites." Earn fees? Aren't you salaried? Wazzup??

The fees go to the company as a whole, not to individual staffers.

The kids are getting older and bigger and expensive to feed. If I just put out some salmon they devour it but I have seen if I put it in some sort of dish ( like a Thai noodle dish or something like that) I don't have to use as much. So...dishes that I could do that? One doesn't eat rice and one doesn't eat quinoa. Tho if I made a fried rice with fish I bet the rice phobic child would eat it (I don't make meat)

I recently acquired some espresso liqueur and wondered how to drink it just over ice? What are some good ways to use it? Thanks

Lots of possibilities, depending on your tastes!

You can certainly drink it over ice, maybe with a twist of orange expressed over it. You could also do that with some real espresso added to the mix, and sweeten to your liking with simple syrup.

A tweak to this gets you a classic espresso martini: 2 oz vodka, 1 oz liqueur, 1 oz espresso, sweeten a bit if you like, then shake it with ice, strain it and serve it up in a coupe.

You can make Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski's White Russian (try an ounce of liqueur, an ounce of vodka and 3/4 ounces of cream).

And you could make a Revolver -- 2 ounces bourbon, 1/2 ounce liqueur, and a couple dashes of orange bitters. Tasty drink.

Hope this gets you started!

I have a bag of green lentils that are about a year past their expiration date. Is it possible to use them?

Yep, they'll just potentially take longer to cook. Dried lentils and beans don't go bad, they just dry out further. But lentils are comparatively quick-cooking anyway, so fear not and cook em up.

thank you! My husband asked yesterday for Valentine's Day gift suggestions; he's getting the link to Raffa's book as we speak :) fingers crossed for Alfonso's success!

Keep us posted! Always happy to trade notes.

I asked about immersion blenders after mine died, and one of the chatters said to get a corded one. I took the advice and amazed at the difference in power. I ended up with a Breville by the way. But this leaves me with an odd situation - the motor on my cuisinart is mostly gone, but I have the attachments. What can I do with them?

You can find somebody who has the Cuisinart immersion blender without attachments, and fill the gap? Or ... Goodwill? Or ... Freecycle?

Slice or chop them and put them in a clean glass jar and cover with fish sauce! They pickle and last forever and are great added to anything you want to resemble Thai food (I add them to lime-chili chicken Lean Cuisines that I've partially zapped and put into a microwave friendly container, into which I also put additional veggies and, after the zapping, lime juice; in summer, Thai basil goes in at the end too and voila! a reasonable facsimile of Thai food at a fraction of the calories.)

Yes! A basic take on nam pla prik. It lasts forever, indeed, in the fridge. When you get low on fish sauce, put more in; when you get low on chilies, put more in.

I totally believe you on the Dutch oven vs Instant Pot comparison. But as the owner of an old and treasured pressure cooker, the kind that can peel the ceiling paint when the release valve is opened, I also believe that some dishes are best when subjected to that kind of pressure, like if you want to break down soup bones and get that flavor in a broth. My question is, what's superior about a pricey Instant Pot vs my old workhorse?

Oh, my gosh, I hear you on broths! There's a lot to love about a pressure-cooked broth. The qualities we didn't love in the black bean soup-- that so much starchiness was extracted from the beans-- is what makes those bone stocks so wonderful. The collagen, marrow, etc produce such a dreamy broth. 

The Instant Pot was my first introduction to pressure cooking. If your "old workhorse" doesn't have sauté feature, or a steaming feature, I would suggest taking a look at the IP. The sauté feature is a game-changer because it allows you to brown and caramelize aromatics like onion and garlic right in the pot, saving you a dish. But if you're content with your routine, no need to buy something new! Thanks for writing. 

I have a coworker who adores her instant pot and will evangelize anybody who will listen. I always see them at Costco but I'm not convinced. I read the article and I'm still kind of on the fence. It seems like I'd still have to chop vegetables and whatnot so would it really save that much time on a weeknight? What am I missing?

Hi, thanks for writing! Yes, the Instant Pot evangelists are everywhere. If you like beans, eat a lot of soup, or love a braise, such as beef stew or the pernil we featured, you might consider a pressure cooker. (I got my Instant Pot on sale, and was glad I did!) 

If you really loathe chopping vegetables and own a mini-prep  food processor, I do recommend one, as it will likely help you make more onion/garlic/ ginger-based foods in a snap. I use mine for the base of curries, stir-fries, soups, bean dishes, etc. It's easy to clean and it makes short work of garlic and onions. 

If you're content with your cooking routine, I wouldn't suggest adding something new, but I do find that I toss seasoned chicken thighs in the Instant Pot to steam or pressure-cook, and then decide what to do with them. I throw dried beans in there with a bit of stock, or tomatoes, garlic and onions, and spices, and am almost always pleased with the (fast) result. It depends on what sort of cook you are; if you really love to futz and tweak as you go along, it's likely not for you. 

RECIPE: Pernil Asado

What would you do if you were a single person (i.e., no ever-hungry family to feed) with a 1/2 pound of ricotta left over from the making of lasagna? Sweet or savory, either would be fine. Thanks!

I like to whip ricotta in the food processor and use it as a spread/dip. You can take some of it sweet, some savory. So, with, say, half of it, add roasted garlic and salt (and/or maybe some of your favorite spice blend, like za'atar, or maybe smoked paprika); and for the other half, add honey, warming spices like cinnamon/nutmeg/cardamom. 

Or you can leave it plain and make this sandwich, which I have to say is killer.

RECIPE: Ricotta, Zucchini and Radicchio Sandwich

I understand that they may have a different "grind" but can i more or less use them interchangeably? And while you are at it - do you have any good recipes for them?

There are a few differences that are obvious, but I'll admit to using them interchangeably when in a pinch. Grits are usually made from white corn/hominy. So they are a pale, pleasing cream color. Polenta is ground from yellow corn and is sunny and golden. Most polenta is coarsely ground and most corn meal is finely ground, but that is not an absolute. I have seen a more finely ground polenta and very coarsely ground corn meal. 

Beyond breakfast cheesy grits, my favorite grits recipes include shrimp and ham

Polenta makes a perfect pillow for bitter greens or tomato ragus. 

I've got a polenta dish coming next Monday, coincidentally: Be on the lookout for it!

Every few years I go to NYC and buy a bunch of "cheap" tongs at restaurant supply stores. They are maybe 3$ a pop. I've always found them MUCH better than any of the fancy tongs, especially the locking kinds.

Thanks for the article. I won’t be buying one. I value taste more than speed. I rather have perfectly prepared short ribs on a weekend

Several Italian cookies use it.

I just spoon out a serving, stir in a couple teaspoons of sugar, and yummmm! It's dessert.

I have a hunk of leftover London broil, pretty rare, and I'm looking for something to do with it other than beef stroganoff or hot beef sandwiches. I'm glad the meat is rare so it doesn't get too tough when I reheat the leftovers. I thought about shepherd's pie or beef pot pie, but I'm afraid the baking would overcook the meat -- any suggestions?

Why not make a wedge salad into a steak and wedge salad? That's my favorite thing to do with really good, rare beef. Start with this recipe and toss on a few pieces of thinly sliced steak. 

I’ve never had a scone that I like, possibly I haven’t tried “real” ones…Can you suggest a recipe for traditional British scones? Also, for the clotted cream…can I make it in a Insta Pot or slow cooker or leaving the oven on the whole night is the way to go?

Whew, for a minute I thought you wanted to make the scones in the InstaPot and I almost died inside.

But, yes, I do have a perfect British scone recipe that I included in my afternoon tea story from last year. So, so good.

British Scones

RECIPE: British Scones

ARTICLE (with scone video!): The no-frills, very British way to host an afternoon tea

I have to confess, I just buy my clotted cream in a jar. Locally, I've snagged it at World Market and most recently my good ol' neighborhood Safeway. There are plenty of recipes out there for making your own clotted cream. I've just never tried any.

Hi, thanks for asking! I have not made clotted cream before, either traditionally or in an Instant Pot. (But Melissa Clark's book contains a great-sounding ricotta recipe, which would also be yummy on scones.) Instinctively, I think you'd want to use the slow-cooking function on the IP rather than the pressure-cooking one for this. It seems that low and slow is what's required for making clotted cream. But there are abundant Instant Pot recipes out there for it, so I'd go with google! Good luck!

Hi Free rangers! I just looked at the salted oatmeal cookie recipe link that you used to reply to an earlier question. It says to use the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. I don't have a stand mixer - what could I do instead? And can I leave the cinnamon out? My hubby hates cinnamon. Thanks!

You could handle it with an electric hand mixer, I'm sure. And yep, leave out the cinnamon, sure.

Joe, I saw the Facebook video of you, Jacques Pepin, and his granddaughter Shorey when they came to DC last month. You interviewed them for the Smithsonian later, which I unfortunately didn't attend. Do you have any stories about that day that you'd like to share? The two of them seemed quite engaging.

Jacques is one of my favorite people, so I always love being with him, and Shorey is honestly one of the most poised teenagers I've ever met! My favorite exchange of the evening happened during the audience Q&A when someone asked Shorey if she ever gets the VIP treatment in restaurants when she dines with her grandfather. She replied that it sometimes happens, but that she'd prefer that it didn't, because she would rather experience the restaurant the way it's meant to be, for "regular" diners. I paused and said, "WHO ARE YOU?!" which got a laugh. I mean, what a mature mindset from someone of her age!

Excellent soup (yes, I rated it on your site - 5 stars). I had leftover glazed carrots in the freezer so I used those instead of fresh carrots and skipped the honey at the end. I'm moving in a few months, so great to find a recipe to use up the frozen veggies.

I admit that my IP sat in the back of my pantry for a while, but now I'm a devotee. One of the things I love about it (which rarely gets mentioned) is the the "fix it and forget it" aspect. You don't have to worry about stirring ingredients or pots boiling over (same with a slow cooker, but the IP is, of course, faster). My other two cents is that new users should know that it takes a while for the IP to come to pressure, so a 20-minute cook time doesn't mean your dish will be ready in 20 minutes. Sometimes it takes even longer than that for pressure to be reached, so be sure to take that into account.

This is such a great point, thank you! And yes, I often find myself warning people about the "come to pressure" time. Thanks so much for writing.

I love my cast iron, I love my Dutch oven, and I'm getting to know my Instant Pot. I feel like it shines in a lot of prep food (eggs, beans, chicken, rice), but what are recipes where the final product really is the *best* way (not just the fastest way) to do it? signed, a parent who still loves the ethos of cooking :)

Hi! So far I'm *loving* the broths I make in my Instant Pot. It's so simple: just whatever roast or unroasted bones you have, plus a piece of onion, some whole garlic, a piece of carrot and/or celery, a clove, a bay leaf, any sprigs of herbs (thyme; dill; parsley; cilantro), a couple tablespoons of cider vinegar, black pepper or peppercorns, and a tablespoon of coarse sea salt if you want the broth to be already salted somewhat and ready for pasta al brodo or pasta e fagiole or whatnot. Cover 2/3s with water. High pressure for one hour, then a natural release. This is a riff on Melissa Clark's great recipe in her book. I'd argue that generally these are better than what I make in my Dutch oven, and the volume is much greater because you don't lose anything to steam! And although I don't crave risotto as much as some do, I've heard it's a dream in the Instant Pot. Good luck!

I bought a bag of dried Morels the other day, not realizing how expensive they are! So now that I have them, I want to put them to their best use. Suggestions? I'm a vegetarian.

I used these very things in a paella a month ago or so. I based it on the techniques in a Penelope Casas book, so I don't have a good recipe to share...

A friend's husband worked with him quite a few years ago at KQED in San Francisco, and thought he was fantastic. Unfortunately, my friend got a huge, unrefusable job promotion in another part of the country, so the husband had to quit his job in order to be a trailing spouse.

What's the origin of her name?

I believe it came from her parents. ;-)

My dad used to love fried cornmeal mush. My mom would cook the cornmeal, pack it in a loaf pan, refrigerate overnight and then slice and fry it for breakfast. Isn't polenta basically the same thing?


A new neighbor, from China, is named Tong. She introduced herself at a party by walking around with tongs and saying "Hello, I'm Tong" or "How do you do, my name is Tong" and then holding up the tongs and adding, "Yes, like tongs!" I nominate her for most inventive use of a kitchen gadget outside the kitchen.

"I believe it came from her parents." Oh c'mon, Joe, what's the origin? No one likes a smart aleck when asking a serious question.

Lighten up, please! If I knew where the name came from, I would've said, dontchathink?

You linked to this recipe in an article a few days ago, and I'm eager to try it, because it looks so easy. I was just wondering what would happen if I used less salt than the 1 1/2 teaspoons called for in the recipe. Would that have any effect on the quality of the dough, or would it just taste less salty?

I wouldn't reduce it. Salt does more than flavor dough. It helps with structure, fermentation and color. Here's a persuasive page from King Arthur Flour.  

No-Knead Pizza Dough

ARTICLE: It’s cool if you order pizza. But here are some ideas if you want to make it at home instead.

This is not a criticism, truly an interest in how one says she doesn't eat meat but eats the flesh of fish. That is meat. What is the distinction? What makes one okay and the other not? Again, just curious. Thank you.

Are you sure this isn't a criticism? The OP is the only one who can answer about her decisions, but plenty of people use "meat" to mean non-seafood animals.

Doesn't get enough credit for having to play the role of the uninformed viewer in those TV shows. I felt fairly certain she knew way more than she pretended to.

I’ve been in and out of the country for the past 5 months and my sourdough starter is just lying in a corner of the fridge. Do I need to start all over? Is theres a way to know if its alive?

Try to feed it in the normal fashion. It may take three or four rounds of feeding to reinvigorate it. If, after two feedings, it's still entirely dormant, you may wish to have a memorial service.

My lovely sister in law gave me about 100 red thai chili peppers. I am SO excited because I love spicy foods (in fact, at hers and my brother's restaurant, I frequently order food "thai hot"). Do you have any suggestions for meals? Also, a second question: I've tried some red curry soups before but it's wayyyy too sweet/creamy. Is it too much coconut milk? I don't mind SOME creaminess but it almost feels like I'm drinking coconut milk. Do I need to rely more on vegetable broth instead? Would that give the same effect?

When I make red curry soups, I add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup coconut milk for every 1 cup of broth or water. Water is just fine, especially if the other ingredients have some body (eggplant, mushrooms, onions) Make sure to taste as you go. If you want even more punch, use the mushroom broth "trick" in the lentil soup recipe from today's section. 

RECIPE: As You Like It Lentil Soup

Not sure if you guys would be able to help with this, but I'm working on making a chocolate dessert bread using dutch process cocoa powder (I'm adding chocolate as well). If I add vital wheat gluten so that it equals about the equivalent of the amount of gluten in the same amount of AP or bread flour (10-15%) should the cocoa theoretically act like flour?

I started going down a rabbit hole on this. Adding gluten is a good start to make up for what you're losing from the regular flour. But I'm also seeing some threads suggesting the cocoa powder will sop up moisture even more so you may need to compensate with additional liquid. This page on Food52 might help. I take it you're a somewhat experienced bread baker, based on your question. If you're accustomed to how bread dough should feel and look as you knead, you can probably tweak a bit as you go along. Much easier than with, say, a cake.

I made your Watercress Soup recipe using frozen spinach instead (because that's what I had on hand), and it was tasty and hearty on a wintry day. Do you think a lot of other vegetable soups could be made with the same base, including shredded green cabbage, small-diced steamed carrots, cut corn, peas, chopped asparagus, diced frozen artichoke hearts, etc.? Other possible substitutions?

Yes, this is a great recipe to play with, adding whatever vegetables are hanging out in the refrigerator. 

I have an instapot and use the pressure cooking to make beans all the time. But I'd love some set it and forget it vegetarian meals I can throw in before I leave for work and slow cook so that they'll be done when I get home. But so many vegetarian slow cooker meals only need to cook for 4 hours, not the 9 I'm at work. Are there any resources (or do you have any recipes) that would fit the bill? thanks

Ah, so interesting. I don't do a ton of slow cooking, but there are some wonderful new slow cooker cookbooks on the market. Hugh Acheson, who we profiled a few months ago, is a great recipe writer, and his new cookbook has a recipe for a butter bean minestrone that happens to be online! He finishes it with a basil pistou (sort of a pesto) that sounds darned dreamy. And Sarah DiGregorgio, formerly of Food & Wine (and an acquaintance of mine!) also writes great recipes, and has a new slow cooker book. Good luck!

What does a content strategist DO (besides strategize content, whatever that may mean)?

Good question! I have worked in book, online, and TV media for 20 years, so I help media companies figure out their social media strategies, what they want to cover as a brand, their "voice," their approaches to the content that they run online and in print, etc. It's fun work. Incidentally, my dad had the same question! 

This may go back to pre-Vatican II when Catholics were banned from eating meat on Fridays, but could have fish and other seafood.

I have all of the pantry staples to make this dish except coconut aminos. I know you suggested tamari or Bragg Liquid Aminos, but is there any reason soy sauce wouldn't work?

Nope, go for it. 

Growing up I was friends with a family where they ate the same thing on each day of the week (i.e. Tuesday was taco night, Wednesday was spaghetti and meatballs). It was a large family with many children, so the mom devised this plan to make shopping and cooking easier for her. I'm trying to think if I could do this to make it easier on myself. Like Tuesday is pasta, Wednesday is fish, Thursday is stir-fry day, etc. Do any of you plan your meals that way for the week? Do you have any better ideas?

I kinda love that idea because it gives some semblance of order and makes each night a little special occasion. Might be fun to do once my son gets older. At the very least, I'm thinking pizza Fridays will be happening.

But currently I don't do that. Usually my meal planning consists of picking one or two dishes that my husband and I make on the weekend so we have leftovers we can quickly reheat in between getting the baby home from daycare and putting him to bed.

I know a lot of people put stock in making elements of dishes in advance that can be used in a variety of ways later in the week. So a roast chicken, pot of beans, pulled pork, etc.

Anyone have a system they love?

Just please be clear - people use their words loosely. I'm actually a vegetarian - no fish no meat but I hear people say oh I'm a vegetarian and the eat chicken. Brits tend to say 'I'm a pescatarian' if they eat fish. It makes things easier.

I'm doing a reno and I'm leaning towards Gas but my wife likes induction. Can you offer a suggestion or a nice pro/con list. We do have small children and she says induction is safer.

I used induction for almost five years at home when the townhouse I wanted didn't have a gas line coming in. I really liked the responsiveness and speed, which are the main pros -- along with the energy-efficiency. I'd say the cons are that you need to make sure your pans work (although that's much less of an issue now than it used to be, as so many manufacturers now make sure their pans are induction-ready), and you have to get out of the habit of moving your pans around a lot (picking them up for sauteing, etc.), because depending on the pan you can scrape the glass, and because you break the magnetic connection and so the heat will go off for a second or two, although it should restart as soon as you make contact again. The number settings take a little getting used to, too, if you're accustomed to judging heat by the size of the flame...

The question re: flesh as meat was not a criticism. I don't understand it and was hoping to have it explained. There are no dumb questions, right? This is a forum for asking questions, yes? Thank you for taking this in the spirit that was intended.

Fair enough.

I have an old recipe somewhere that uses pineapple juice instead of sugar. It was delicious and I thought it tasted like the S&S sauce in restaurants.

Here's mine: 3 cups flour 1 1/8 cups water 1 tsp salt 1/3 cup sugar 1 egg yolk 2 TB butter 2 tsp yeast 3/4 cup chocolate chips (can leave out of course) Mix knead and shape any way you like...dough should rise twice and will double, only takes abot 40 minutes for the final shaped rise. Bake at 375 to 400 to 190 degrees or so internal temperature. It is TERRIFIC and people love it.

I'd rather hear "I don't eat meat" than "I'm a vegetarian who eats fish."

I sometimes make enough of a dish for three dinners for us, then serve the leftovers every second or third night, alternating with some other entrée. This works especially well for soups and stews (some of which improve upon refrigeration multiple days).

What do you do to retain the texture of pasta in a soup? If we eat the entire pot of soup as soon as it is made, the pasta is fine. If we refrigerate or freeze it, the pasta soaks up the broth and/or falls apart. Yet when I eat a canned soup like Progresso, the noodles are in good shape -- rotini, egg noodle, etc. How does that work?

Noodles or rice will always soak up all the broth, so when I make a large quantity of soup with the hope of leftovers, I make and store the pasta (or rice) separately.

in fact, there's a large and lively Facebook group on how much Indian and Pakistani cooks use the IP.

What is the best way to make lentils for salad so that its not soft but flavorful?

Don't overcook, and add lots of good seasonings!

Try this one:

RECIPE: Caramelized Brussel Sprout and Lentil Salad

Thank you for using "futz" and "futzing" in your replies. You brought a smile to my heart.

It really isn't your business the origin of a person's name or what a person chooses to eat (e.g., fish but not beef, etc.). This is a marvelous forum for learning cooking skills, learning about foods someone else enjoys even if it isn't something that appeals to me, exploring new ideas, sharing tips, etc. The staff does a great job keeping things moving. But please, people, let's remember some basic manners. You really aren't entitled to know the answer to every question that flits across your brain.

People are really judgy about what goes in other people's mouths.

I'm a lacto-ovo vegetarian, but some people will incorrectly use the word "vegan," which means no egg or dairy products whatsover. I'm pretty strict about my L-O regime, but don't sneer at almost-vegetarians who still eat a little meat every so often. They're still easier on the environment than the three-times-day carnivores!

I was interested the article on Instapots vs. dutch ovens. I've heard my friends rhapsodizing over their Instapots and received ribbing for sticking to my treasured dutch ovens. Reading the side by side comparisons with recipes that I also love has given me something to point to when I get razzed again - beyond pointing out how they would lose out on my no knead bread. Thank you for the ammunition. :)

Sure thing! :) I will say that I do quite like having a pressure cooker, but man, you could *never* make no-knead bread in an Instant Pot and get that crispy, crackly crust! (I also make that bread, and I do love it.) Thanks for writing.

Hi Free Rangers! I have a bottle of tomato passata in my pantry that needs to be used. Any ideas on what to do with it?

Hi! I just bought my first bottle of this, too. Though I'd want to do a deeper dive to absolutely be sure of this, I believe it's pureed tomatoes strained of their skins and seeds. Although generally it's used in Italian dishes, Indian cuisine often calls for it, too. I used mine in my Instant Pot recently, making this riff on Indian butter chicken, and it was delicious. (There are traditional cooking recipes out there for it, too.) Generally speaking, it's amazing when spun with coconut milk, amped up with spices like garam masala, garlic, cumin, etc, and added to any protein. Happy cooking!

I know that in India, vegetarians don't eat eggs and egg dishes usually wind up in the meat section of Indian restaurant menus. These terms are loose and amorphous!

I wasn't asking to be obnoxious. I thought perhaps Joe knew the answer, and that it was an interesting story.

I didn't find the question obnoxious!

I like to assign days of the week to different food regions or preparation technique. E.G., Monday is Indian night, Tuesday is Pan-Asian night, Wednesday is Soup night, Thursday is a "bowl" night and Friday is Italian night. It leaves room for recipe variety ("Asian night" could be stir fry, Thai curry, peanut noodles, etc.) while also gives structure! Keeps me sane-ish

Any idea where I can buy fresh epazote in the DMV area?

Panam Intl market on 14th St NW almost always has it.

I have seen it at the PanAm market on 14th St., at H Mart, and randomly at Snider's in Silver Spring.

I'm starting to delve into making pizza dough at home for cheese calzones for the kids' Friday night dinner. I want something that just uses AP flour. I've read some recipes that need to be made 3 days ahead and sit in the fridge and I'm wondering why.

Longer rests in the fridge yield better flavor and structure. And dough takes longer to ferment in a cool environment than a warm one. Kenji from Serious Eats hit on 3 to 5 days as the perfect length for pizza dough in the fridge, but you can certainly find plenty of good recipes that do an overnight rise. 

I've been trying to make bread ever since I followed the suggestion in a past chat to buy the no knead bread book. I love the book but every time I make bread my husband (and I to some extent--I don't mind less salt) finds it to be too "unsalty." Also, when I made the bread it was dense. Am I proofing it too long or too short? It takes enough of an effort for me to make the bread that I'm nervous about trying again and getting the same result. Should I add more salt than the recipe says or is that a "recipe" for disaster? Lol. But really.

Hi! Thanks for writing. I think you need the right recipe *edit* for the no-knead bread. I really like this one. And you're right; that recipe is to my palate undersalted, too; I add 2-3 extra grams of salt. I recommend getting a scale, too, and make sure you're not proofing in a cold environment. (Try inside your oven, with it off, covered in plastic wrap.) Good luck! 

Yup yup. But the chatter seemed to be interested in developing their own!

How do I reliably judge the best cooking method for a cut of meat (beef, pork, whatever) that is unfamiliar to me? I thought I had a pretty good grasp on this until this weekend. Our grocer had a tremendous sale on sirloin tip roast (2.5 lb cuts) and I thought I could use it to make a pot roast. But the more I read, the less certain I became because this cut is low on the fat and connective tissue that I think are what make for a tender braise. I’d like to understand how you would think through this. FWIW, the Beef Council recommends braising or roasting this cut, which seems to me to be two completely opposite approaches. This is part of the reason I am questioning what I think I know.

Of course, the simple answer is "ask the butcher", but that's not always possible. Or ask the farmer, if you buy at the farmers market. As a rule of thumb, big muscular pieces need long cooking which can happen by braising or by brining and smoking/slow roasting. 

I don't have an IP however I do have a pressure cooker and a crock pot but I'm looking for low carb, healthy but good recipes. I am a meat and potatoes type of girl but as someone who's very newly pregnant (6 weeks) I need to watch my carb intake. If something has a ton of veggies and no meat I will not likely eat it. Chicken and beef are the only meats I will eat however I limit red meat to once a week. I'm getting tired of chili. Help!

First, congratulations! 

I've been recommending this Indian butter chicken recipe, which is quite popular and delicious, and staffers at WAPO love these beef and chicken dishes. Good luck!

What about the second part of the question? How does Progresso make their noodles stay firm?

Industrial voodoo, clearly. (And clearly this means that we don't know!)

At least one reader thought the inquiry was out of line.

The problem is most schools (at least my two kids' two schools) all serve pizza for lunch on Fridays which kills pizza dinners on Fridays!

Tony Bourdain had a fun few paragraphs about one of his associates in Kitchen Confidential - he was out sick and he was always calling on someone to "Go feed the B....!"

Well, you've let the pressure release naturally, so you know what that means -- bleep/bloop, we're done! 

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Alex, Cathy and Carrie for help with the a's!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who posted our very first question about what to make in the IP will get "Dinner in an Instant." The one  who asked about adapting the Watercress Soup recipe will get "Power Vegan Meals." Send your mailing info to, and she'll send you your book!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Cathy Barrow
Cathy Barrow's first cookbook is "Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving" (W.W. Norton). She blogs at
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Alex Van Buren
Alex Van Buren is a writer, editor and content strategist who lives in Brooklyn.
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