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Get an air fryer or Instant Pot for Christmas? We have some tips

Every year, there’s a hot kitchen gadget or two.
The Instant Pot Duo Nova model
The Instant Pot Duo Nova model [ MICHELLE STARK | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jan. 6
Updated Jan. 7

Air fryers and pressure cookers were popular Christmas gifts this year, with good reason. The handy kitchen gadgets have their own social media followings with devoted fans swapping recipes.

Now that you have one, what to make first? We have some easy beginner recipes from veteran users of these gadgets. But first, just what are these things taking up counter space?

Air fryers are small ovens with a highly concentrated heat source and powerful fan that moves the hot air around to crisp french fries or leftover pizza with little to no oil involved in that nice “fried” finish.

15-Bean Soup, made in the Instant Pot.
15-Bean Soup, made in the Instant Pot. [ MICHELLE STARK | Tampa Bay Times ]

Instant Pot took the cooking world by storm via word of mouth and a strong social media following to become the “it” appliance of 2016. And it’s been gaining steam ever since, with cooks gushing over the time savings (it takes 15 minutes to cook dried chickpeas versus 90 minutes on the stovetop) and the intense flavor that comes from the pressure cooker.

But we also have some cautionary tales of mistakes we’ve made, including thinking these gadgets can meet all your cooking needs. They can’t. They are tools that make some tasks easier, but they aren’t miracle workers. Here’s what you need to know.

Instant Pot

The Instant Pot has come a long way from that rattling pressure cooker on your grandma’s stove that sometimes sent pea soup flying. It’s as easy to use as a slow cooker, and it’s a huge time saver for long-cooking items like beans or stews.

Start simple. Save that multi-ingredient, multi-step recipe for when you are a little more familiar with the machine. Also, know that the word “instant” in the title can be misleading. For a 20-minute beef stew, it first takes 10 to 15 minutes for the unit to heat up enough to create steamy pressure and another 15 minutes for the steam to naturally release when it’s finished. That’s still better than the three hours it would take on the stovetop or all day in a slow cooker.

What it doesn’t do: People who fall in love with the IP, as it’s known to fans, want to use it for everything — but that’s a mistake. Cook a steak on the grill. Bake a cake in the oven (though cheesecake does come out lovely in the IP, but you need to buy a special pan for that). It may not do everything, but when it comes to soups, stews, beans and long-cooking pieces of meat, the pressure cooker is your friend.

Expert tips:

• Consider buying an extra set of sealing rings (about $12 for two) because the silicone rings tend to hold onto the smells of previously cooked dishes, like curry. Some people use separate rings for sweet and savory dishes.

• Familiarize yourself with different ways to release the pressure that builds up when cooking in your Instant Pot. “Natural release” means you leave the machine alone and let the steam slowly release on its own, which takes about 15 minutes. “Quick release” means you open the vent and let it blast. Spare your cabinets and move the unit to an open area to release the blast of steam, which can damage wood surfaces.

Air Fryer

A 7-quart GoWise USA air fryer.
A 7-quart GoWise USA air fryer. [ GABRIELLE CALISE | Times ]

For those who live in small homes or lack central air to cool things down after using the oven, the air fryer is a godsend. It’s useful for making proteins, roasting veggies and even baking desserts, all without heating up your entire kitchen. Some people even use it to toast bread.

The air fryer can be used to make lighter versions of fast-food favorites. It shines with snacks from the frozen food aisle. (Think french fries, spring rolls and Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange chicken.) It also rejuvenates leftovers that have gotten soggy in the fridge, reviving pizza slices and melty sandwiches to their former glory.

What it doesn’t do: While the air fryer can create healthy dupes of your greasy, deep-fried favorites, don’t expect the food you cook in it to be identical to the original dishes. You’ll get the crisp and the crunch, but things don’t taste exactly the same without all that oil.

This ciabatta was toasted in an air fryer.
This ciabatta was toasted in an air fryer. [ GABRIELLE CALISE | Times ]

Expert tips:

  • Air fryers do need a little oil, but aerosol cooking sprays like Pam can strip the nonstick coating in your fryer basket. A kitchen spray bottle you fill with your own oil is a great alternative for coating the fryer basket and your food. Opt for avocado oil or another oil with a low smoke point.
  • Accessories can help enhance your air frying experience. Invest in a few silicone baking trays and ramekins, or use whatever small oven-safe baking dishes you have around.
  • Unlike slow cooker or Instant Pot recipes, most meals made in the fryer will require you to keep an eye on things. You’ll probably have to shake the basket or flip your food so it cooks evenly. If you have a smaller machine, you may also need to work in batches to avoid overcrowding the fryer basket.
  • Just like using a traditional oven, you’ll want to preheat your air fryer and chop chunks of food into similarly sized pieces for even cooking.
  • Parchment paper protects your basket from grease when cooking fattier foods, but be careful. If your paper piece is too big or gets loose, the edges could touch the hot whirling fan blades above the basket and catch on fire. A hefty piece of food can act as a paperweight that holds the paper down.

Air Fryer Recipes

Air Fryer Breakfast Potatoes

5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (Yukon Gold works best)

1 tablespoon oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon black ground pepper

If time allows, peel and dice the potatoes several hours ahead, or the night before, and soak in water.

Preheat the air fryer for about 2 or 3 minutes at 400 degrees. This will give you the crispiest potatoes.

Meanwhile, toss the potatoes with oil and breakfast potato seasoning until thoroughly coated.

Spray the air fryer basket with a nonstick spray. Add the potatoes and cook for about 15 minutes, stopping and shaking the basket two or three times to promote even cooking.

Transfer to a plate and serve right away.

Source: Let the Baking Begin

Air Fryer Pineapple Chicken

1 tablespoon butter, melted

¼ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

2 raw chicken breasts

½ cup pineapple juice

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce

1 clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)

⅛ teaspoon ground ginger (or 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 teaspoons water

Chunks of fresh or drained canned pineapple (optional)

Preheat air fryer to 380 degrees.

Add melted butter, salt and pepper to a bowl and mix. Coat the chicken breasts with butter mixture on both sides and place in the air fryer, cooking for 10 to 15 minutes and flipping halfway. They are done when they hit 165 degrees internally. Let chicken rest for at least 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, start putting together the pineapple sauce. Mix the pineapple juice, brown sugar, soy sauce, minced garlic and ginger in a small saucepan on medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Mix together the cornstarch and water in a separate bowl and mix into the sauce. Let simmer for 1 more minute while stirring, then remove from heat.

Slice rested chicken into long strips and either coat chicken entirely with sauce or pour the sauce over top of the chicken and serve.

Add chunks of canned or fresh pineapple if desired.

Source: everydayfamilycooking.com

Pumpkin spice hand pies are a fun project to assemble before baking in an air fryer.
Pumpkin spice hand pies are a fun project to assemble before baking in an air fryer. [ GABRIELLE CALISE | Times ]

Pumpkin Spice Hand Pies

1 package premade pie dough

½ cup sugar

1 egg

1 cup pumpkin puree

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

½ cup powdered sugar

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 to 2 tablespoons milk

Set out the pie dough and allow it to come to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg until smooth.

Add the pumpkin, cinnamon, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice. Whisk until well blended.

Unroll the pie dough and use a 3-inch round cookie cutter to cut out 20 circles.

Place 10 of the pie dough circles on a flat surface.

Spoon a small amount of pumpkin mixture into the center of each pie circle. Leave ⅓ to ½ inch of dough overhang around the edges. Dip your finger in water and run it around the edge of each pie dough circle.

Place the remaining 10 circles on top of the pumpkin mixture.

Use a fork to seal the pumpkin pies by pressing the fork around the edge of each circle.

Place three to four pies in the basket of the air fryer. Make sure the pies don’t touch so the air can circulate.

Cook the pies at 360 degrees for 14 to 16 minutes. Turn the pies halfway through the cook time. Continue cooking in batches until all the pies are cooked.

When the pies are finished cooking, whisk together the powdered sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and 1 tablespoon milk. If you need to thin the glaze, add additional milk slowly until you get the desired consistency.

Drizzle the glaze over the top of each pie. Allow the glaze to set before serving.

Source: The Simple Parent

Instant Pot Recipes

Here are my favorite recipes for newbies, from the ridiculously easy to moderately complex, that you really must try.

Hard-boiled eggs

Put the eggs on the trivet, so they aren’t touching the bottom of the Instant Pot, and add 1 cup of water. Press the Manual button and input the following times on the high pressure setting:

Soft-boiled: 3 minutes (2 minutes for very runny yolk)

Hard-boiled but a little softer (like for deviled eggs): 4 minutes

Hard-boiled: 5 minutes

Cook eggs according to desired time. When time is up, do a quick release and dump the eggs into an ice bath. The shells will slip off with ease when done.

Source: Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tampa Bay Times

Deviled eggs stuffed with smoked salmon make a delicious appetizer that's ready in less than an hour. You can make hard boiled eggs in the oven or a pressure cooker, and they turn out exceptionally well and are easy to peel.
Deviled eggs stuffed with smoked salmon make a delicious appetizer that's ready in less than an hour. You can make hard boiled eggs in the oven or a pressure cooker, and they turn out exceptionally well and are easy to peel. [ LYNN KESSEL | Times (2014) ]

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

4 to 6 red or Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cubed (my preference is skin-on but peel if you like)

3 to 4 garlic cloves, diced

1 cup broth of choice

1 tablespoon butter

¼ cup chopped fresh chives or parsley

Salt and pepper, to taste

Splash of milk, more as needed

Sour cream (optional)

Put potatoes, garlic and broth in pressure cooker and cook on manual high pressure for 5 minutes. Do a quick release of the steam when done.

Add butter, parsley, salt and pepper, milk (add more if potato mixture is too thick) and sour cream, if using, to taste. Stir well. Potatoes may look a little soupy at first but will be thick and creamy after you mash them and add the rest of the ingredients.

Source: Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tampa Bay Times

Macaroni and Cheese

Four cups of water is just enough to cook 1 pound (16 ounces) of pasta. No draining is necessary; the water will be absorbed by the pasta. If you have a smaller box of pasta, such as the 12-ounce and 13.25-ounce sizes common for whole wheat pasta, cut the water to 3 cups. Everything else can stay the same.

1 pound (16 ounces) dried elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

1 tablespoon kosher salt or 2 teaspoons table salt

4 cups water

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded Gouda cheese

1 cup panko bread crumbs

Stir the macaroni, butter, mustard, hot pepper sauce, salt and water into the pressure cooker. Lock the lid and cook on manual high pressure for 4 minutes. When the cooking time is done, quick release the pressure and remove the lid.

Turn the cooker down to Keep Warm mode and stir in the evaporated milk. Test a piece of pasta by taking a bite. You can simmer it for a few minutes more if you like it more tender. Stir in the cheeses one handful at a time, stirring constantly.

Preheat the oven broiler on high. Pour the macaroni into a 3-quart broiler-safe dish. Sprinkle the panko over the macaroni and cheese in an even layer. Broil until the bread crumbs are toasted, about 5 minutes.

Source: Adapted from DadCooksDinner.com

Vegan Chickpea and Sweet Potato Tikka Masala

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, diced

1 large sweet potato, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon cardamom

Pinch of cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas

1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Basmati rice, for serving

Heat olive oil on saute mode, then add garlic and onions. Saute until onions become translucent. Add sweet potatoes, ginger spices and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn off the Instant Pot and add the rest of the ingredients.

Turn the pot back on and cook on manual high pressure for 8 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally, which will take about 10 minutes, or you can do a quick release. Either way is fine.

Stir and serve over cooked basmati rice.

Source: Adapted from Love Real Food by Kathryne Taylor

Urvashi Pitre’s Butter Chicken

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes (do not drain)

5 or 6 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground paprika

2 teaspoons garam masala, divided

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken (breasts or thighs)

4 ounces butter, cut into cubes, or ½ cup coconut oil

½ cup heavy (whipping) cream or full-fat coconut milk

¼ to ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 to 3 cups cooked rice

Mix the tomatoes, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cayenne, paprika, 1 teaspoon garam masala, cumin and salt in the Instant Pot. Place the chicken pieces on top.

Cook for 10 minutes on manual high pressure. Let the pressure release naturally. Carefully remove the chicken and set it aside.

Using an immersion blender in the pot, blend together the ingredients into a smooth sauce. Let the sauce cool for several minutes.

Add the butter cubes, cream, remaining teaspoon of garam masala and cilantro. Stir until well incorporated. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon when you’re done.

Remove half of the sauce and freeze it for later, or refrigerate for as long as three days.

Add the chicken back to the sauce. Heat the Instant Pot by selecting saute, then adjust to less for low heat. Let the chicken heat through. Break it up into smaller pieces, if you like, but don’t shred it.

Serve over rice.

Source: Urvashi Pitre