Half Baked Harvest Irish Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese
CNN  — 

So, you got an Instant Pot over the holidays. You weren’t the only one: The multicooker was Walmart’s best-selling product of 2019 and has been one of Amazon’s top items for three years in a row. But now that you own one, it’s time to take it out of the box. Unlike a slow cooker that works at low heat over a long period of time, the Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker, working for a short time at a higher heat, and also features a slew of programmable features that range from steaming and sautéing to making yogurt and rice.

  • Instant Pot Duo Mini 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker ($79, originally, $99.95; amazon.com)

We asked five popular food bloggers to share a few of their best Instant Pot recipes as well as their game-changing tips and tricks. Whether you’re in the mood for Instant Pot chili or chicken recipes like ramen or pho, these picks are all proven crowd-pleasers. (Wishing you had an Instant Pot right about now? Find the one that’s right for you.) Creamy pasta, squash soup or pumpkin lasagna soup sound good? It’s time to get cooking.

Tieghan Gerard, Half Baked Harvest

Gerard’s Half Baked Harvest blog features seasonal recipes using whole foods. And her latest cookbook, “Half Baked Harvest Super Simple,” is full of dishes perfect for time-crunched cooks, including those using the Instant Pot.

“What I love about cooking with the Instant Pot is just how quick, simple and easy it is to use,” Gerard tells Underscored. “The Instant Pot can magically cook potatoes in minutes, cook up a tender, not at all dry chicken breast, and in general save me so much time in the kitchen. I love taking my usual low and slow recipes and turning them into 30-minute Instant Pot dinners. It’s less mess and less time.”

Gerard says she loves using her Instant Pot to make soups, stews and curries. “These are all dishes that usually benefit from a longer cooking time, but can be made simpler and faster by using the Instant Pot and yet they don’t lose any flavor,” she says.

Intimidated by the device? Don’t let it scare you, Gerard advises. “It’s very user-friendly and once you start using it you will not be able to stop,” she says. “My biggest tip is to always make sure you have enough liquid in the Instant Pot throughout cooking. If the amount of liquid gets too low you can get a burn error message and the Instant Pot will stop cooking.”

Here are Gerard’s tips for three of her Instant Pot recipes:

Pesto Zuppa Toscana: “The perfect cold-weather dinner for nights when I’m craving Italian, but want something warming, too. It’s hearty, full of greens, and so delicious. Cooking this in the Instant Pot takes only 30 minutes, so this is great for just about any night of the week. And the leftovers the next day make for the best lunch.” Get the full recipe.

Irish Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese: “I like to call this the easiest mac and cheese ever. With some bacon on top for extra flavor, and some Brussels sprouts mixed throughout for balance, every bite is cheesy, creamy and perfect. The key is to first crisp up the bacon on the sauté function before adding the remaining ingredients. Then only minutes later you have perfect, creamy mac and cheese!” Get the full recipe.

Chicken and Spinach Ramen: “This is the quickest bowl of homemade ramen with super-tender chicken due to the Instant Pot locking in moisture while cooking. This is my favorite winter soup when I need something quick, healthy and delicious, too.” Get the full recipe.

Instant Pot DUO60 6-Quart 7-in-1 Programmable Cooker ($79, walmart.com)

Underscored IP DUO60 6 Quart 7-in-1

Walmart’s best-seller of 2019, this Instant Pot model (also the brand’s most popular series) serves as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker and warmer and can also steam and sauté. Choose from 14 programmable buttons to cook soup, meat, porridge and more.

’Half Baked Harvest Super Simple’ Cookbook ($18.77; amazon.com)

Underscored Half Baked Harvest Super Simple Cookbook

This New York Times best-seller includes 125 simple recipes, including dishes made to be cooked in an Instant Pot. Learn how to cook perfect pressure cooker eggs, mashed potatoes and more.

Michelle Tam, Nom Nom Paleo

Tam went paleo in 2010, and started Nom Nom Paleo, her popular blog, six months later, posting recipes, offering tips for dining out and reviewing her favorite cooking gadgets, which include the Instant Pot.

“Pressure cooking in the Instant Pot is a game-changer — especially for busy home cooks like me,” she tells Underscored. “When I’m short on time but hankering for dishes that usually take forever to cook — bone broth, tough cuts of meat, braises, and stews — I turn to my Instant Pot. You can set it and forget it like a slow cooker, but the resulting dish is tastier!”

Tam says the best things to cook in an Instant Pot are stews, braises, soups, hard-cooked eggs and spaghetti squash. “Stews and braises cook in about half the time it takes to simmer them conventionally, and they’ll keep warm until you’re ready to serve them,” she notes. “However, I don’t recommend cooking anything in an Instant Pot that you can quickly make in a frying pan or a delicate protein that might be overcooked, like fish fillets, scallops, etc.”

If you’re just getting started cooking with your new Instant Pot, Tam advises watching a few online videos to see how to use the appliance properly. And don’t forget about Instant Pot add-ons. Tam says she loves using her silicone egg steamer to make hard “boiled” eggs, as well as a simple metal trivet she uses to prop up whole chickens in the appliance. (Here are more of our favorite Instant Pot accessories.)

“Also, it’s important to choose a well-tested Instant Pot recipe and to follow the directions carefully before you start experimenting,” she adds. “Once you get a few recipes under your belt, you’ll gain the confidence to use the Instant Pot all the time and create your own dishes.”

Here are three of Tam’s favorites to get you going:

Chicken Pho: “I love that you can plop a whole chicken, some seasonings and a few dried spices into an Instant Pot and end up with a super authentic Vietnamese Chicken Pho broth at home. It’s pho-nomenal!” Get the full recipe.

Butternut Squash Soup: “By using an Instant Pot, you can speed up the cooking process and concentrate the flavor of the butternut squash — which means you can skip the extra step of roasting the squash that many recipes call for. Plus, this recipe includes flavor and/or texture boosters — crispy bacon bits, Magic Mushroom Powder and aged balsamic vinegar — all of which will level up this winter soup to dinner party-worthy fare, even if the only fancy pants person slurping it up is you.” Get the full recipe.

Ground Beef Chili: “No matter the weather, the Instant Pot is the best way to make a fool-proof and (mostly) hands-off chili! This meaty ground beef chili is inexpensive to make, packed with robust flavors, feeds a crowd, and — if you make it in a pressure cooker — keeps your kitchen (relatively) cool in the summer.” Get the full recipe.

Instant Pot Silicone Egg Rack ($9.88; amazon.com)

Underscored IP Silicone Egg Rack

Cook up nine hard- or soft-boiled eggs in a snap using this Instant Pot accessory that’s dishwasher-safe. When you’re done, use the tray as a trivet for cooling or serving.

Instant Pot Silicone Roasting Rack ($10.39; amazon.com)

Underscored IP Silicone Roasting Rack

Use this nonstick rack when roasting meat, fish or veggies to keep your food elevated, allowing fats and grease to drain, thus keeping your meal healthier. It’s compatible with 6- and 8-quart cookers.

Nisha Vora, Rainbow Plant Life

Vora is a lawyer turned foodie, and her popular blog, Rainbow Plant Life, her Instagram feed and her YouTube channel feature elevated vegan recipes, plus healthy lifestyle tips and tricks. Her cookbook, “The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook: Wholesome, Indulgent Plant-Based Recipes,” debuted last year.

“The Instant Pot simplifies a lot of cooking by making it hands-off,” she tells Underscored. “You don’t have to babysit a dish on the stove and wait for it simmer or boil; you don’t have to stir anything while it’s pressure cooking; you don’t have to check the oven to prevent something from burning. So you can leave the kitchen while dinner cooks, which means you can gain time back into your life that you didn’t know you could have. You can squeeze in a workout, play with your kids, or catch up on Netflix while dinner cooks.”

Vora also loves using the Instant Pot for meal prep. “I batch cook a few different types of ingredients — lentils, beans, grains such as rice or quinoa, vegetables, sauces — in the Instant Pot and then I can make quick, mix-and-match meals throughout the week,” she says.”

Instant Pot buying guide: Find the one that’s right for you

And she especially loves the appliance for cooking beans. “Freshly cooked beans are so much tastier than canned beans, but it’s kind of a drag to cook them on the stove,” she says. “The Instant Pot solves that problem and makes it foolproof. And I love making curries and stews in the Instant Pot. You can achieve a rich depth-of-flavor that would typically take an hour or more of slow simmering on the stove in a fraction of the time.”

Once you understand what the Instant Pot buttons mean and how to use them, it’s incredibly easy — and safe — to use, Vora adds. But resist the urge to just dump in your ingredients, turn on the pressure cook setting and hope it works out, she cautions.

“There are some of these ‘dump-and-go’” recipes in my book and blog that are great,” she says, “but, generally speaking, to get the most flavor out of your food, try using the sauté setting on the Instant Pot first. For instance, if you’re making a soup, sauté your onions/carrots/celery/garlic with salt and pepper for a few minutes until lightly browned; then add in your remaining soup ingredients and select the pressure cook setting. It’ll infuse more flavor into the soup.”

Vora also recommends a few Instant Pot accessories for even more versatility: a deep steamer basket to allow for steaming a lot of veggies at once; a 7-inch springform pan or 7-cup casserole pan so you can do pot-in-pot cooking; additional silicone sealing rings for your lid; and a steamer rack with handles if your Instant Pot came without one.

Here are three Rainbow Plant Life recipes to try at home:

Instant Pot Cheesecake: “If you love traditional cheesecake, you’ll be wowed by this vegan Instant Pot version. Traditional cheesecake should be baked in a water bath to prevent the cake from drying out and cracking. However, the Instant Pot acts as a giant water bath of its own and steams the cake, resulting in a cake that is tender, moist and light.”

Special equipment needed: steamer rack with handles (one usually comes with the Instant Pot); a 7-inch springform pan (fits 6- and 8-quart Instant Pots). Get the full recipe.

Chinese Takeout-Style Tofu and Broccoli: “Enjoy everything you love about Chinese takeout food with this lightened-up version. With bold flavors from ginger, Sriracha and toasted sesame, and a sticky-sweet sauce, this dish is finger lickin’ good! Some tips: Be sure to press the tofu thoroughly, as it significantly improves the texture and helps the tofu hold its shape. While it’s being pressed, prep the rest of the ingredients for this dish. And since broccoli cooks very quickly in the Instant Pot, this recipe calls for pressure-cooking the tofu first for a few minutes, then opening the pot and adding the broccoli for just one additional minute (remember to cook the broccoli at low pressure to avoid sogginess).” Get the full recipe.

Pumpkin Lasagna Soup: “This soup features everything you love about lasagna and pumpkin flavors and is the perfect cold-weather comfort food. Thanks to the Instant Pot, it’s incredibly easy and quick to make, making it perfect for weeknight dinners! Some tips: Use traditional lasagna noodles and break them up into smaller pieces to ensure they cook evenly and don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. And don’t stir the pumpkin puree into the soup before pressure cooking it; instead, just scoop it out on top of the rest of the ingredients. When you add very thick or viscous ingredients to the Instant Pot, it can stick to the bottom of the Instant Pot’s inner pot and trigger the machine’s burn sensor.” Get the full recipe.

’The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook’ ($19.80; amazon.com)

Underscored Vegan IP Cookbook

Nisha Vora’s cookbook features 90 vegan recipes all made with the Instant Pot. From coconut yogurt to miso mushroom risotto to red wine-poached pears, it’s full of colorful plant-based meal ideas.

Salbree Steamer Basket ($12.90; amazon.com)

Underscored Salbree Steamer Basket

Use this stainless steel design with built-in legs to steam everything from veggies to tamales to baby back ribs to eggs. The handle makes removal a breeze.

Instant Pot Sealing Ring Two-Pack ($11.94; amazon.com)

Underscored IP Sealing Ring two-pack

Instant Pot recommends replacing your sealing ring every 12 to 18 months. “They wear out after regular use,” Vora says, adding that they can trap aromas from the foods you cook. “I like color-coded rings so I can use one color for savory dishes and the other for sweet dishes.”

Lindsay Ostrom, Pinch of Yum

Ostrom’s blog, Pinch of Yum, is filled with healthy and fresh recipes, including several that use the Instant Pot.

“Cooking in the Instant Pot means that your meal is 100% hands-off, which is amazing,” she tells Underscored. “After you’ve added all your ingredients and set it to cook, you can clean up the dishes, prep the other parts of your meal, or sit back and watch Netflix. Even with the short cook time, everything is still perfectly cooked and flavorful.”

But her favorite thing to make in the pressure cooker? “Soup for sure! Most soups in the Instant Pot have the shortest cook time, and are always comforting, delicious and — usually — wholesome and healthy,” she says.

Patience, however, is key when learning to use it, she notes. “At first, you’ll follow recipes to a T and play it safe, but then, over time, you’ll be able to convert most recipes to the Instant Pot,” Ostrom says. “It’s a game-changer to be able to make some of your favorite recipes in half the time — with no hands at all!”

Cauliflower Curry: “Tender cauliflower, butternut squash and red lentils cooked in a coconut-creamy red curry sauce and poured over a mini-mountain of steamy rice. All you have to do is dump in all your ingredients and set your Instant Pot for five minutes. Stir and done!” Get the full recipe.

Italian Beef Sandwiches: “Just a few minutes to prep and totally hands-off to make. Tender shredded beef, crusty buttered bread, melted provolone, salty tangy giardiniera and broth to dunk it all in. The Instant Pot cooks the beef, and leaves you with the broth/au jus to dip.” Get the full recipe.

Hawaiian Chicken Tacos: “Juicy pineapple and spiced chicken crisped under the broiler, tucked into tortillas, and rolled up with creamy jalapeño ranch slaw. The secret trick: Cook your chicken in the Instant Pot, and then broil it in the oven for crispy perfection.” Get the full recipe.

Goldlion Steam Diverter ($11.99; amazon.com)

Underscored Goldlion Steam Diverter

Ostrom recommends this Instant Pot accessory that redirects the hot steam from your pot to prevent it damaging your cabinets.

Gina Homolka, Skinny Taste

Since 2018, Homolka, a busy mom of two, has been sharing healthy, family-friendly recipes on Skinnytaste, and, she tells Underscored, she loves the convenience of cooking in the Instant Pot.

“Food cooks faster, and has more flavor,” she says. “Tough meats in stews come out more tender than cooking on the stove.”

Homolka adds that beans, soup, oats, rice, stews and yogurt are among her favorite dishes to prepare using the device, along with hard-boiled eggs. “They practically fall out of their shells,” she says.

Tips for those just breaking out their Instant Pots for the first time: “Read the manual before you start so you know how much liquid and time is required, then buy a good cookbook for the Instant Pot as a guide.” She also recommends picking up steamer baskets and racks to cook multiple foods, as well as a metal springform cake pan for cheesecake and porcelain ramekins for egg bakes or desserts.

Indian Chicken Pulao: “The great thing about chicken pulao is that it’s easy to adapt — you can make it as spicy or mild as you wish, and use whatever spices you prefer. The cilantro and squeeze of lemon at the end is a must, it really brightens the whole dish.” Get the full recipe.

Buffalo Chicken Dip: “I’ve been making this buffalo chicken dip for years because it’s always a hit when I serve it at any party. It’s much lighter than most Buffalo dip recipes out there, but you would never know!” For the Instant Pot, cook the chicken covered in water or broth for 15 minutes on high pressure. “Once you shred and drain, set the Instant Pot to the slow cooker mode, combine ingredients and proceed.” Get the full recipe.

Steel-Cut Oats: “Steel-cut oats are chewier and coarser in texture than rolled oats, because they are less processed. The oats are cut with steel blades, hence the name ‘steel-cut,’ and take longer to cook than instant, ground or rolled oats. Using the Instant Pot reduces the cook time, for a breakfast porridge that is nuttier in flavor and chewier in texture than quicker rolled oats.” Get the full recipe.

Instant Pot Large Mesh Steamer Basket ($19.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)

Underscored IP Steamer Basket

Made for 6- and 8-quart cookers, this footed basket can be used to steam seafood, veggies and more. Bonus: It works as a strainer, too.

BIA Porcelain Ramekins, Set of Four ($8.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)

Underscored BIA Porcelain Ramekins

Use classic 8-ounce ramekin bowls in your Instant Pot (place them on a trivet) to make everything from cheesecake to chocolate lava cake to egg dishes.

Hiware 7-inch Springform Pan ($10.99; amazon.com)

Underscored Hiware 7 inch Springform Pan

Make your favorite cheesecake in your Instant Pot with this 9-inch springform pan that fits in 6- or 8-quart pressure cookers. Nonstick, with an easy release, it makes cleanup easy.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.