Instant Pot Love – How to make yogurt, cheesecake, meatloaf and more

Do you have an Instant Pot yet?

It was apparently the hottest gift for the 2017 holiday season, so if you’re like me, someone who loves you bought you one of these babies.

Happy Holidays to me!

It’s really an amazing machine.

It’s a pressure cooker – but not one of those old and clunky ones that your grandmother used to have that made horrible noises and looked like it might explode at any moment.

This is a computerized cooking machine that is smart enough to remember your past settings and cook everything from hardboiled eggs to cheesecake to BBQ ribs.

After using this machine for a few weeks, I was able to happily donate my old slow cooker (because the IP has a slow cooker setting that doesn’t involve pressurization), my rice cooker (it makes all rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and any other type of grains in half the time of the best rice cooker on the market), and my yogurt maker.


Speaking of yogurt, you can literally make a ton of it at the touch of a button. I recommend setting it up before you go to bed at night, and you’ll wake up to yogurt!

All it requires is:

  • a gallon of milk,
  • a small container of plain yogurt (approx. 6 oz.), and
  • a 5 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk.

Put it on the “Yogurt” setting for 10 hours (or more) and then refrigerate.

That’s it.

Six quarts of homemade Greek yogurt.

That yields 6 quarts of yogurt.


Adapting Your Favorites to the IP

My first experiment with this machine was for a tagine recipe … one of my favorite Moroccan dishes with chicken, chicken livers, green olives, preserved lemons, and other veggies.

Instead of slow cooking this for 8-9 hours, or on the stovetop in a fancy tagine clay pot, I simply placed all the ingredients in the Instant Pot and pressure-cooked it for 25 minutes.

Instant Pot Moroccan chicken

I have to admit, I was still a little nervous. Would that be enough time to cook chicken? And to make sure all of the flavors were properly cooked in to the meat?

To my pleased surprise, it turned out beautifully. If you are trying to adapt your favorite recipes to the Instant Pot, check out this link.

I think the most important thing when adapting is to check the pressure release – a “quick release” of the pressure will let the steam escape right away and are for recipes that are not generally slow-cooked (see, for example, the meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe, below).

For a recipe like this chicken where you want the flavors to be infused into every bite, you will want to do a “natural release” method after the cooking time is over. It takes a few extra minutes, but it’s worth it. And it’s still ready to eat in a fraction of the time.

Sweet Dishes

One of the first rookie mistakes of the Instant Pot is to neglect the sealing ring. The IP comes with a clear ring that fits on the inside of the pressurized lid.

At the very least, you need to make sure the sealing ring is cleaned after every use, or the flavors from whatever you cook will stick to the ring and get into everything you cook later.

If you intend to use your Instant Pot for savory dishes (chicken, ribs, eggs) as well as sweet dishes (cheesecakes and desserts), then the first thing you need to do is buy at least one extra sealing ring. I got a pair of them on Amazon.

Now I only use the red sealing ring for desserts and sweet dishes.

I also purchased a springform pan that fits inside a 6-quart Instant Pot, and I can use this for cheesecakes and other desserts as well as lasagna.


I made a couple of different types of cheesecake to see how well it worked. Basically, you can make the crust however you like (crushed cookies with melted butter, or even a brownie that is only partially baked in the oven).

Oreo crust!

Then the filling recipe is simple:

  • 4 8-oz. packages of cream cheese
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

The most important thing to remember is that the cream cheese and eggs MUST be at room temperature. If not, they will not blend properly and will result in a lumpy cheesecake. Make sure all ingredients are blended and smooth, then pour into your springform pan.

Cook on the (high) pressure setting for 45 minutes, and use the natural release method (which will take about another 10-15 minutes).

Let it cool and garnish with your favorite toppings.

Oreo cheesecake with berries.

This is one of my favorite recipes because it’s so easily adaptable. Try it with lots of different crusts and/or toppings!

Turtle cheesecake with brownie crust

I have tried similar recipes in the oven before, and I even made some in the oven while I was making some in the Instant Pot, just so I could see the difference in flavor and texture. The pressure cooking makes the filling much softer and lighter!

Food parties

During my first couple of weeks with the Instant Pot, I organized a few friends for a tamale party.

If you’ve never been to one, it’s basically a fun way to make a party out of something that can be pretty boring and tedious – making tamales.

Tamales are a popular dish around the holiday season, especially in the southwestern United States and Mexico. They are delicious concoctions of many types of fillings and masa (corn) dough stuffed into corn husks and steamed.

They are also a giant pain to make. Hence, a party.

Tamale party setup

Instead of spending hours doing all the work yourself, you get a few friends, everyone brings fillings and masa dough and corn husks (as well as a few bottles of wine and snacks to sustain you for a long afternoon), and everyone makes a bunch of tamales.

It’s a little bit of work, but everyone goes home with tons of tamales to eat (or freeze for later).

Tons of tamales. Literally.

As you can imagine, the Instant Pot made a ton of work a little easier.

The night before the party, I used my Instant Pot to make a vegetarian filling … literally a variety of vegetables and spices simmered for a few hours. Except that it literally took less than 20 minutes on the pressure setting. It took me longer to chop all of the veggies than it did for me to make a huge amount of delicious vegetarian filling.

Vegetarian tamale filling

I also made a chicken verde filling – literally a few boneless chicken thighs and a big can of salsa verde – that was ready in half an hour.

Saving the day at the tamale party

And, of course, tamales need to be cooked, too; and that usually takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours in standard steamer pot. But I actually brought my Instant Pot with me to the party (did I mention it’s very portable and has a handy handle on top?) and was able to steam a few batches right on the spot.

A full pot (I have a 6-quart) stuffed full of tamales steamed each one beautifully in 30-35 minutes. (Do a quick release afterwards.)

Weeknight Meals

Because the Instant Pot can make short work out of many dishes that would otherwise take hours and hours, it’s perfect for weeknight meals and holiday dinners.

For Christmas dinner I used it to make Brussels sprouts (in 3 minutes!); and for New Year’s, I made black-eyed peas and greens, a delicious Southern New Year’s Day tradition to bring good luck in the new year.

Usually it simmers in my slow cooker for 24 hours. This year, I made it in 35 minutes – from dried beans!

Black-eyed peas and greens for New Year’s Day.

Which brings me to another awesome feature of the Instant Pot – it’s multi-functionality! Although most recipes use the “pressure” setting, there is also an equally awesome “sauté” setting.

For example, before, when I made black-eyed peas in my crock pot, I would brown the onions and garlic and whatnot before adding them to the slow cooker.

With the Instant Pot, you can sauté the veggies, then add the rest of your ingredients and switch the setting to pressure to complete the dish! It saves tons of time in washing multiple pots and pans, not to mention that you are cooking the food in a fraction of the time.

Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes

The meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe from I Wash, You Dry is definitely going to be a weeknight supper regular for me. It’s so easy!

Meatloaf and mashed potatoes AT THE SAME TIME!

You place the potatoes and chicken broth at the bottom, then put the wire rack over the potatoes and place the foil-wrapped meatloaf on top. You can even cook a vegetable side dish in there, too.

Meatloaf and potatoes dinner

With only 25 minutes on pressure, and quick release, you can have a delicious dinner on the table in no time.

Sous Vide Eggs and Meal Planning

I usually eat breakfast on the go, and it’s hard to do that and stay healthy sometimes. Luckily, the Instant Pot is also great  for meal prep.

This is another cool Instant Pot accessory … a silicone mold. The Amazon listing says it’s for baby food and egg bites, among other things, but I use it mostly for eggs.

Sous vide egg bites

The most important thing to remember here is to not fill the cups all the way. I made that mistake my first time, and the egg mixture expanded and almost popped out of the container!

Ah well. They still tasted good!

This is a really great way to prepare an easy and healthy breakfast.

You can customize the flavorings (and control the salt and fat, etc.), and make a whole pan of these in less than half an hour – 8 minutes of pressure cooking (which means it will take a moment to get to the appropriate pressure) and then 10 minutes to let the steam naturally release.

The result is a pan of delicious and super-fluffy egg bites you can eat all week long.

Coming soon

In addition to some fun and useful Instant Pot accessories, I treated myself to a new cookbook, too!

I really adore Indian food, and I can’t wait to experience how much easier it is to make at home with the Instant Pot!

Coming up soon on Starbright’s Kitchen!

Please stay tuned to to see the creations from Urvashi Pitre’s Indian Instant Pot Cookbook!










Tamale party!

This weekend, I finally got to take part in my first tamale party. I’ve been wanting to do one of these for years and never had enough people willing to participate, and someone to let us use their kitchen, since I live in a tiny beach apartment. It was awesome!


The idea behind a tamale party is twofold: First and foremost, everyone loves tamales. Secondly, tamales are way too labor-intensive to make in small batches and by yourself. They’re not technically difficult to make, they just take FOREVER. If you make your own filling, and you make your own masa, it can take several hours of active work.

Long hours.

Standing up.

I am all for slow-cooking — in fact, I love slow-smoking meats and slow-simmering chilis and stews — but those kind of recipes take maybe 15-30 minutes of actual work, and then the other 5-6 hours of work are being done by the slow cooker or smoker.

Before this party, I made tamales exactly once. I made one dozen, and it took me about three hours from start to finish. Frankly, I don’t even know why people make recipes for one dozen tamales, because it’s simply ridiculous. If you’re going to make tamales — if you’re going to put a whole afternoon or a whole day into it — you better walk out of that kitchen with dozens of tamales. (Don’t worry, you can eat them now, or freeze them for later.)

tamale party

The plan was for all of us to show up with pre-made fillings (we all brought different types, more on that later), plus masa, lard, corn husks and some munchies and drinks to share.

From there, we’d make masa, fill the husks, and enjoy each other’s company over a few drinks while we stood around stuffing and rolling for a few hours. It’s a great way to make a ton of food of any type, but especially something as simple as tamales.

tamale party

How to make tamales:
Step 1: Prepare fillings and masa dough. Pre-soak husks.

Step 2: Spread masa on clean, dry corn husk.

Step 3: Spread filling on masa dough.

Step 4: Fold and roll the tamal. (Optional/Recommended: wrap in parchment paper.)

Step 5: Steam tamales for 45 minutes to one hour over boiling water.


Obviously the process is much easier if you take a few shortcuts. Luckily, I live in San Diego, which is a foodie paradise for many reasons, not the least of which is its proximity to Mexico and complete access to impeccable Mexican food. A local Mexican farmer’s market has its own premade masa for tamales …

premade storebough masa dough

… and an amazing selection of husks. I guess ’tis the season.

corn husks at the store

So it’s not hard, but it’s time-consuming … However, making tamales doesn’t have to be a tedious process. Here are a few things I would recommend to make lots of tamales without such a headache.

Premade dough: To save time — seriously, saving like half of the time — we used the premade masa dough, but here is a good and simple recipe if you can’t find premade dough, or you just really want to make the dough from scratch. If you buy it premade, I’d recommend adding some good butter to it to make it creamier, tastier, and easier to spread.

Parchment paper, preferably pre-cut: especially if you’re a beginner and you have husks of various sizes, it’s very hard to make uniformly sized and shaped tamales. To keep the fillings intact and the cleanup easy, every time you wrap a tamale, wrap it in a sheet of sandwich paper or parchment. You can steam them in the paper, too.

parchment paper

Colored string: eventually you will forget which filling went into which pile of tamales. Tie them with different-colored strings (embroidery thread works great) to indicate which filling you used.


Freeze them uncooked: tamales aren’t done until they’ve been steamed for 45 minutes to an hour. But if you’re making lots of them at a time, you can wrap them individually in parchment and freeze them in plastic bags, then steam them after defrosting. They’ll keep for months uncooked in the freezer.

Kitchen assistants: have lots. You’ll need all the hands you can get to help soak, rinse, dry and separate husks, to make sure the masa is mixed and tasty, to cut threads, spread fillings, pour wine, roll tamales, everything. Get the kids. Get the neighbors. Everyone can have a job to do.

sous chef Ben

Prep work: do as much as you can ahead of time. Pre-soak your husks for at least an hour, make your masa if you’re not buying it, and make your fillings the day or night before so they will be cooled and easy to use when you’re ready to spread them on  the masa.

I made four different fillings: a simple corn and cheese filling, a sweet pineapple filling, a smoked ribeye and mushroom filling (my ode to the classic British steak and mushroom pie), and roast duck and kale.

The last one was the simplest: I chopped some kale and marinated it — or, rather, stuck it in a freezer bag with fish sauce and black pepper on the way to the tamale party, then picked up a roast duck from my favorite dim sum restaurant and added the fatty, crispy duck to the salty kale.

roast duck and salty kale

The duck and kale tamales were delicious with homemade tomatillo salsa.

duck and kale tamal
Hickory-Smoked Ribeye and Mushroom Tamales

A few hours before the party, I seasoned some thinly sliced ribeye steaks and smoked them over hickory wood chips.

hickory smoked ribeye

I also marinated some mushrooms (again with the baggie) in some balsamic vinegar. I wanted to copy a steak and mushroom meat pie, and I think this finished tamale was my favorite.

steak and mushroom tamale

  • two (2) 1-pound ribeye steaks, very thinly sliced
  • 1 lb crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 1/2 lb soaked wood chips for smoking (I used hickory wood)

Season the steaks with pepper and place on a piece of foil with a small amount of oil. Smoke over soaked wood chips for at least one hour at 350 degrees. Chop the mushrooms very finely and place in a freezer bag with balsamic vinegar and a few teaspoons of pepper. Once the steak is smoked, chop the meat finely and blend with the mushrooms (don’t forget the meat juices inside the foil).

Dessert tamales are some of the best varieties. Try this one (and others with fruit) topped with brie or mild goat cheese. This is a delicious one, it tastes like tepache. Mmmm …

Pineapple Tamales

pineapple tamales

  • one whole pineapple, cored, peeled and diced
  • one cone of piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar)
  • 2 tbsp each of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and ground allspice
  • 1 vanilla bean, split

Place the diced pineapple in a large bowl with vanilla bean and spices. Place the cone of piloncillo in a small nonreactive pot with 2 cups of water (enough to cover the cone) and bring to a boil. Simmer until the piloncillo is dissolved. Pour over the spiced pineapple mixture and let sit at room temperature for at least one hour. Drain liquid before adding to tamales.

cheesy corn tamales

Cheesy Corn Tamales

cheesey corn tamales

  • 2 12-oz packs of frozen yellow corn
  • 2 whole jalapenos (optional)
  • 1 lb Oaxaca cheese
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper

Put the corn, jalapenos, butter and spices in a large pot over high heat until the butter is fully melted, the jalapenos are cooked and the corn is starting to char. Season well (and taste to make sure). Add a hunk of Oaxaca (or thick, mild melty, cheese) while assembling your tamales.

tamales recipe card

Of course, you can’t properly enjoy tamales and good Mexican food without good salsas and hot sauces. In addition to my homemade sriracha and curtido, I also make a mean tomatillo salsa. If you like it can be totally mild, or with an added kick of jalapeno.

tomatillo salsa

Bonus recipe: Tomatillo Salsa

This recipe is a variation on one of my faves, this tomatillo salsa and crockpot carnitas recipe from 100 Days of Real Food. Mine is totally similar except I use red onion instead of white (just a personal preference), I add garlic, too, and I roast my veggies first.


  • 3 lbs tomatillos
  • 2 red onions, halved
  • 2 whole garlic heads
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 2 jalapenos (optional, or just scrape out the seeds for less heat)
  • salt and pepper

Roast the tomatillos, onions and garlic uncovered, except for the garlic (put that on some foil and drizzle them with olive oil), on your grill or roaster. They need to char slightly over high heat until the tomatillos are soft. Let cool completely, for at least 20 minutes after removal from heat. Peel, chop, and mix together the tomatillos, onions and garlic, then season well with salt and pepper and add lime juice. If the mixture is too chunky, place into a food processor or chopper and puree until smooth.

tomatillo salsa recipe card