Small Things Like These

VeloAsia’s gift to the Vietnam cyclists

It was 22 years ago that our son, Travis, and Andy travelled to Vietnam with the tour company VeloAsia – and bicycled from the north to the south of Vietnam. When they arrived in Dalat on Christmas Eve, tired and dirty, they were asked to immediately sit down to an elaborate dinner at the Dalat Palace (5-Star) Hotel; this little hand-made bicycle was the favor each received at that dinner. It’s been in our workshop – unloved and under-appreciated – until this last Christmas, when Andy got it out to show it (again) to Travis…and to reminisce about their trip.

Here’s the route Travis and Andy rode

No, the German-made wool felt mice were not part of the original. We added them in January of this year, thanks to the wonderful Kenwood, CA Swede’s Feeds and their amazing selection of unique little gifts (in addition to big gifts, plants and pet food). I am particularly fond of the arrangement of the mice in the bike. The petite orange mouse (surely it’s a girl mouse) is in front and enjoying leading the way. But the larger, handsome and happy purple mouse is right behind her. He (surely it’s a boy mouse) has got her back and will always be there if she needs him. Maybe he even gives her shoulder and neck massages when she gets a little tense as they travel along. He’s probably glad he’s not bicycling alone and she really loves his calming presence.

This mouse and bike combo – now at home on our kitchen table – is a small thing – but it makes us smile each time we sit down to eat.

Speaking of small things, Andy in today’s Andy’s Corner writes about some small things in our daily lives that may seem innocuous but if ignored can lead to big trouble.  

Seems like small things can have huge impacts.

I think I’m not alone in feeling that the last three years have left many of us a little overwhelmed and not always operating at full speed. For example, I’ve always loved to read but the unread books are piling up; I enjoyed Hilary Mantel’s first two novels in her Wolf House trilogy – but The Mirror and the LIght, with its tiny print and 784 pages, just overwhelmed me. I’m trying to get into The Books of Jacob but am afraid I’ll be at death’s door by the time I get through all of its 992 pages.

Painting by Alejandra Villegas from Oaxaca, Mexico

Maybe that’s why these two recently purchased books by the Irish writer Claire Keegan appeal. They’re so short and small that they barely qualify as novels or even novellas; they’re kind of long short stories. And – better yet – the print is so big I can read them without reading glasses! 🙂

I ordered the 2010 novella, “Foster,” by Keegan when I saw it listed as one of the top 50 novels of the 21st century (according to the Times of London). I think I can be forgiven for not reading it sooner, since it wasn’t available in the US in book format until this past November.

“Small Things Like These” was short-listed for the 2022 Booker Prize

And then I bought “Small Things Like These” (how could I be so lucky as to get a book with the exact title of my blog?!).

These two little novellas – about Irish families in the 1980’s – are both a good read, but I have to say that “Foster”, narrated by a young girl, was my favorite. I loaned it to my neighbor Deb who reports “Wow! So simple yet powerful. Being inside this young girl’s head and being a part of her journey…her life tools were so minimal and yet under the veil of care and goodness, she blooms, ever so slowly.”

And there’s still one more small thing that’s making us smile. It’s our tomato seedlings, which finally sprouted after a long, harried wait and are now almost ready to transplant. After enhancing our soil with soil amendment, buying some Happy Frog Tomato and Vegetable Fertilizer and a small grow light to help the seedlings grow – and paying an outrageous amount for about 20 teensy, organic unusual-variety tomato seeds, I figure each tomato we may be lucky enough to harvest will have cost probably $10! Maybe more! 🙂

As for food, there are lots of small – yet delicious – individual-sized desserts, and eating itsy bitsy desserts frees you from guilt about eating sweets. For winter you can’t go wrong with our little Louisiana Pecan Tassies. But spring is here and these petite blueberry cheesecakes are perfect.

Small-Little-Mini Blueberry Cheesecakes

Small-LIttle-Mini Blueberry Cheesecakes

  • Servings: makes 24 mini size
  • Print

You can easily double this and make standard cupcake size cheesecakes. Recipe adapted from Southern Living

  • 24 paper mini baking cups
  • 1 c cookie crumbs made from any crisp gourmet cookies (such as Lotus Biscoff)
  • 3 1/2 T butter, melted
  • Pinch of Diamond kosher salt
  • 1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 1/2 T fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 c blueberry preserves (Bonne Maman Wild Blueberry Preserves is a good choice)
  • 1/2 c fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 325°. Place paper baking cups in 1 (24-cup) mini-size muffin pan.

Stir together cookie crumbs, butter, and pinch of salt. Firmly press about 1 tsp crumb mixture into bottom of each baking cup (I used a glass jigger to help press evenly)

Bake at 325° for 6 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Beat cream cheese, sugar, lime juice, and vanilla at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Add the egg, beating until mixed in well.

Divide mixture among prepared baking cups, filling each cup almost to the top. You may have some batter left over.

Bake at 325° for 15 to 20 minutes or until just set. Cool on wire rack 30 minutes. Remove from the pan, cover and chill for a few hours before serving. If you have extras, they can be frozen.

When ready to serve, top each cheesecake with 1 tsp. preserves and surround with a few blueberries.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.

Free to Be…You and Me

Gender stereotypes? Weren’t they paying attention all of those times I played them Free to Be…You and Me?
Female voice:
They're closing' down Girl Land
Some say it's a shame.
It used to be busy,
Then nobody came.

Ringmaster voice:
Welcome to Girl Land, my good little girls
Admission's a wink, and a toss of your curls
There's fun for all, from eight to eighty
You go in a girl and you come out a lady...

Wonderful Girl Land...
The island of joys!
Where good little girls
Pick up after the boys

So, come on in… and look about…
You go in a girl,
And you never GET OUT!! HaHa!....

Female voice:
And soon, in a park that was Girl Land before
You'll do what you like, and you'll be who you are
As you wander in, and wander out
And pretty soon, forget all about

Girl Land, Girl Land, beautiful Girl Land

Girl Land” “Wiliam’s Doll” “Don’t Dress Your Cat in an Apron,” and “Lady’s First” (which our daughter remembers terrified her) are just some of the songs on the Marlo Thomas’s children’s record Free to Be…You and Me, which she produced just over 50 years ago. Our daughter was 1 1/2 years old when it came out – November of 1972. Our son was not even a blip on the horizon. We bought the LP – and it was played over…and over…and over in our home – for many years to come. Andy, au contraire, says he doesn’t remember hearing it played that much. Could that be because he was at work – while I was at home cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids? 🙂 To Andy’s credit, he does remember spending “quality” time playing a game with our grandkids that could have corrupted their moral fiber. You can learn about all of that in today’s Andy’s Corner.

Listen to the song “Free to Be…You and Me” (by the New Seekers) here

Marlo Thomas remembers that when she was planning the album she “gathered these people around and I said to them, if you could have anything said to you in your childhood, what would you have wanted it to be? And Herb Gardner said, ‘I would’ve liked to have been told that it was all right for a boy to cry.’ And I said, I would’ve liked to have been told that at the end of every fairy tale, the girl, the princess, doesn’t have to marry the prince and that she doesn’t have to be a blonde all the time.”

You’ll get a huge kick out of watching this: It’s All Right to Cry. Rosey Grier – played pro football (NY Giants and LA Rams -1955 -1967; took away the weapon from the assassin Sirhan Sirhan – 1968; sang “It’s All Right to Cry” for Free to Be…You and Me – 1972; wrote the book Needlepoint for Men – 1973.

The song that got me fixated on the topic of freedom is “Baraye,” which means “for” or “because of” in Farsi. Written and sung by Shervin Hajipour, the 25-year-old Iranian who won a 2023 Grammy for Best Song for Social Change, the song repeats messages posted online regarding protests in Iran. Hajipour was arrested in Iran after the song’s release but later parolled. One of the concluding lines – “For women, life, freedom” has become a rallying cry in Iran – and elsewhere.

Freedom. Without getting overly-philosophical but acknowledging that “freedom” is a pretty complex topic, I think FDR’s hand-written note about the Four Freedoms is worth a read. He wrote it as he prepared to give his January 1941 State of the Union address to Congress. “Freedom from fear” would be very high on my list.

Freedom. Just as I was dancing through the house singing “you and me are free to be you and me” Andy casually suggested that I might want to delve a little deeper into the subject and re-watch this video from 1980’s The Blues Brothers. Aretha Franklin’s hysterically-funny song and dance is entitled “Think” – but it might as well have been named “Think about Freedom.” Mrs. Murphy, Aretha’s character, freaks out when her husband, a blues guitarist, announces he’s leaving and rejoining Jake and Elwood’s Band.

Here’s a link to the lyrics. And here’s one of the best lines: You need me (need me);And I need you (don’t you know); Without each other there ain’t nothing people can do, oh.

Freedom. Jon Batiste’s 2021 video Freedom is a far cry from the humanitarian intensity of “Baraye” or the political philosophizing of FDR or the sassy feminism of Aretha Franklin, but it’s the perfect ending for my blog. N’awlins. Upbeat. Fun. And on point. I think I may be in love with Jon Batiste.

I just reminded myself that this is a food/life blog, not a music/dance/life blog. For the food aspect of today’s blog – freedom wins again. Freedom to make a recipe into what you want and like. Freedom to add to, take away, make it yours. We’ve got the basic lentil soup – but you can make it Persian or Creole or be wild and crazy and go for German or Mexican. You can make it vegetarian or vegan – or not. Be free.

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Cool Beans

This award-winning cookbook’s author, Joe Yonan, is Food and Dining Editor of the WaPo.

My very favorite TV and movie producer, Danielle Renfrew Behrens, first introduced me to that expression – “Cool Beans!” Danielle is also our honorary goddaughter and Bestie of our daughter, Sara. Speaking of Danielle, if you haven’t been watching Poker Face, you should! Peter Travers from ABC News calls it a “fabulously addictive mystery series;” other critics remark that Natasha Lyonne, the star, plays the role of an updated Columbo (I have to add two asides here: 1. we went back and watched the first Columbo, which debuted in 1971; the similarities between Charlie, Lyonne’s role in Poker Face, and Lt Columbo, Peter Falk’s role in Columbo, are hysterical; 2. after watching clips of the fascinating Alex Murdaugh trial, we were amused at someone’s comment: “Where is Poker Face when we need her?!”).

What’s the connection with Danielle and Poker Face? Though filmmaker Rian Johnson (think Knives Out and Star Wars) is the creator, writer, and director, the series’ co-executive producers are Danielle and Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph – through their Animal Pictures production company.

Here’s Sunset Strip in L.A. on a recent Sunday evening – and Poker Face…twice! Maybe that’s because it was just renewed for a second season?

Danielle is cool; Poker Face is cool – but how cool are beans?

A recent article in the Washington Post refers to a study published last year in PLOS Medicine that found that the average person could add years to his/her/their life by switching from a typical Western diet to a healthier diet — and that the foods that produced the biggest gains in life expectancy were beans, chickpeas, lentils and other legumes.

“Figure out how to get a cup of beans into your diet every day,” says Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones American Kitchen. “Just one cup gives you half of all the daily fiber you need.”

Thinking about beans, Andy claims that beans remind him of sea serpents and gremlins from his dark past. Check out Andy’s Corner for more on this and for another of Andy’s riveting video productions.

For me, thinking about beans brings back vague memories of visiting Washington D.C. as a child in the early to mid-1950’s. My grandmother and grandfather (aka “Mom and Pop Hill”) were living in an apartment there, since my grandfather was then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The one thing I remember most from that visit is going to lunch at the House cafeteria and being introduced to the Speaker, Sam Rayburn (“known affectionately as ‘Mr. Sam,’ Rayburn was a House institution who exerted his influence through skillful persuasion and humor rather than arbitrary rule.” Ahh, those were the days.)

Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy gather in 1961 for Sam Rayburn’s graveside funeral service.

And I remember the House Cafeteria’s bean soup.

The 1955 House Restaurant Menu back, featuring the famous recipe for House Bean Soup

Somehow that recipe has been remembered as “Senate Bean Soup” – with a few added ingredients (isn’t the Senate a little fancier than the House? 🙂

Maybe eating all that bean soup helped the Congressmen (were there Congresswomen then?) live long lives.

Because Andy and I are still obsessing over ChatGPT, I thought I’d see if it could give me a little more flavor-filled recipe update for the “Senate” soup. Here’s what I got (in an instant):

Not bad ideas, ChatGPT – but a little short on specifics

When asked about the origin of the phrase “cool beans,” ChatGPT responds: the exact origin of the phrase “cool beans” is uncertain, but it is believed to have originated in American slang in the 1960s or 1970s….Regardless of its origin, “cool beans” has become a popular expression used to express agreement, a sense of satisfaction, excitement, or approval.

I think we’d agree that there’s nothing better – or more satisfying – than a bowl of steaming-hot soup, a blazing fire, and a captivating TV series on a cold March night. Make a batch of bean soup ahead of time. Reheat – then relax and enjoy it all. Cool beans!

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Let’s Have a Little Chat

I’ve had some extra time lately and decided to play around with drawing instead of cooking. What do you think of my attempt to create a humorous rendition of our fat cat, Choco, and Wynn, our funny little Cardigan Corgi, hanging out together…in the style of Rodrigue’s Blue Dog? Art has never been my forte but it’s fun trying.

Obviously, I have a long way to go until I get as advanced as this amateur artist, Jason Allen, who won a 1st place prize for art at the Colorado State Fair last year.

As you can guess, our blog takes a lot of time, so I’m enjoying this little break. Which reminds me…some friends of friends asked us recently whether it makes any sense to start a blog – especially when you’re well into your 70’s (or, in Andy’s case, almost 80!). Here’s an excerpt from our response:

Many popular food blogs are connected to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Food bloggers are generally young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 years old. Preventing food poisoning is a primary concern for most food blogs. Additionally, many food blogs become more informative and educational as the author ages.

Not many bloggers are over 79 years old. The oldest known food blogger is 98-year-old Lella Aksutow from Kazakhstan. She started her blog at the age of 77 and now has over 1,000 subscribers on her channel. Food blogging can be a good hobby for people in their 80s and 90s. People in this age group tend to lose interest in things quickly, which makes food blogs a good way to stay active. Food blogs provide a good way for older people to stay active and find interest in new things without losing interest in them quickly. Additionally, food blogs can provide an avenue for older people to market themselves and launch new careers.

You’re onto me, aren’t you?! Everything above in bold and italics was generated by Smodin AI, which is similar to the more sophisticated ChatGPT, and which allows computers to respond to ordinary language. My lord it’s scary. FYI: ChatGPT’s parent company, OpenAI, is headed by Sam Altman, a 37-year-old Stanford grad.

Andy and I are both old (right!) teachers and can’t even fathom how the world of education will deal with all of this. Or the world of food. Or the world of art (see DALL-E 2, which I used for my “art,” or Midjourney, which Allen used for his Colorado State Fair entry and which Sondra Bernstein, owner of the popular Sonoma restaurant girl & the fig, uses. Her work is on display now at the restaurant).

Meanwhile, Andy in today’s Andy’s Corner throws down the gauntlet to AI over a breakfast burrito. It’s a battle you’ll not want to miss.

DALL-E 2 generated photo I asked for. See my next sentence 🙂

But let’s make hay while the sun shines. I’m still enjoying my free time, so I’ll just have ChatGPT tell you some ways you can be more efficient as far as cooking and meals – and manage to get some of that precious free time. I actually think the suggestions are helpful ones. Good goin’, AI!

And, really, why should I take the time to search for and experiment with recipes when ChatGPT can do it for me? You may remember from a much earlier blog that I’ve been on the look-out for years for the perfect Dan Dan Noodle recipe after enjoying them at Cafe China in NYC. I’ve probably made about 10 renditions – and none has been perfect.

First I asked ChatGPT for the recipe from the Cafe China and got this response: I’m sorry, but as a language model, I do not have access to specific recipes from specific restaurants. However, you can find many recipes for dan dan noodles online or in cookbooks.

So I followed up with “Can you give me a good recipe for Dan Dan noodles?”

In about 2 seconds I got this recipe back. Will it be more perfect than any I have worked so hard at finding? I’ll give you my thoughts at the conclusion of today’s blog.

Note: This is the first of 3 different recipes for Dan Dan Noodles that resulted by asking exactly the same question of ChatGPT…which has interesting implications for trying to determine if something is AI generated. So glad I’m not still teaching!
ChatGPT’s recipe for Dan Dan Noodles 😦

I wasn’t sure whether it was my expectations or the ChatGPT recipe that was at fault for my being very disappointed with the meal. So I consulted with Grace Young, better known as The StirFryGuru. We’ve known Grace since our daughter Sara and she became friends years ago. Grace has written 3 excellent cookbooks on Chinese cooking and is now all over the news (like here and here) for her work toward helping the Chinatowns of our country survive, for her James Beard Foundation’s 2022 Humanitarian of the Year award and the 2022 Julia Child Award for her dedication to preserving and sharing Chinese culinary traditions. Are you impressed? I surely am.

With Grace’s help – and by using up my free time searching for recipes – I tried yet again to make the perfect version of Dan Dan Noodles. You’ll find the result below.

When you, too, have a free moment, we think you should all try ChatGPT or one of its competitors. It’ll give you lots to think about. And maybe worry about. Or maybe even be excited about. And it’s a fun way to waste a little time. And then try making our Dan Dan Noodles!

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Dinner in an Instant (with or without Pressure)

If you have a vintage pressure cooker you want to get rid of, take note: this just sold on eBay for $75 – with $89.35 SHIPPING CHARGES (how could that possibly be?)

Last week we put a lot of pressure on some of our BigLittleMeals contributors to give some instant feedback on their use (or non-use) of pressure cookers and instant pots. Here’s Charlie, our friend and former LSU colleague, with his take on the subject. And Charlie’s remarks are followed up by 9 other BigLittle Meals contributors – all letting their steam off on the subject. And if that’s not enough, Andy in today’s Andy’s Corner takes pressure cooker ambivalence to new heights. The only consensus appears to be that there is no consensus.

Confessions of a Pressure Cooker Snob – by Charlie in Houston

“I loved my pressure cookers (large and small). Don’t tell me you only had one. I loved the way the valve on top rocked back and forth and spewed merrily along. I also loved the way pressure cooking speeded up tasks like making broths, stocks, soups, and stews. As long as I was nearby and vigilant in regulating the temperature, all was well.

In the fullness of time, along came multi-cookers. Every young cook I know discovered cooking under pressure with these new contraptions. But, they were only learning what us veteran cooks had known for years. And, we sure didn’t need some fancy electronic thing to carry on with our traditional method. Who needs all those bells and whistles?

My daughter, one of those young cooks, gave me an Instant Pot for Christmas. I smiled politely and planned a possible home for it in our storage unit. But, she also gave me a very good recipe book. The book saved the gadget (more on the book below). In following the book’s instructions, I discovered the ultimate advantage:  one can walk away from this electric pressure cooker—it regulates temperature itself and will turn off after a set time has elapsed. And, you can tell it to keep the contents warm (or not). The jargon that we old pressure cookers had used (e.g., “quick release” vs. “natural release”) was now common language among 20-somethings doing it all quickly in a single vessel. Many related tasks were simplified, if not automated. The younger set was sauteing (over various heat levels), steaming, boiling, baking and, of course, cooking under pressure. All was not perfect, though. The multi-cooker was not a very good slow cooker, and it did not do rice nearly as well as my rice cooker. That left me heading to the storage unit to retrieve those devices when needed. Rather than exiled to storage, the now indispensable Instant Pot occupies prime in-house cabinet space.

The latest generation of multi-cookers has new features that substantially improve on the early models (see the America’s Test Kitchen January 2021 review on YouTube). If you remain Instant Pot-less, it is time to take the plunge. A few enhancements are tempting enough for me to consider replacing my trusty first-generation multi-cooker and maybe also letting go of the slow cooker and the rice cooker. We shall see.

Hardware aside, the difference maker for this snob was Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant. Her status as a food writer for the New York Times was legitimating enough to get my attention. But, the recipes cleverly showed a range of pressure cooking applications that goes way beyond making stocks and broths. Shrimp in the multi-cooker? Really? Stand by for rubber shrimp! Nope. See why Clark’s recipe below is a favorite.

Our tried and true BigLittleMeals helpers do not all support Charlie’s views on this controversial topic. Even his own daughter has some caveats. And a practically universal response is that these multi-cookers take up too much room. (Editor’s note: each contributor’s approximate age is included since we thought it would be fun to see if age impacts reactions to multi-cookers.)

From Rachel in Houston (age 40+ and daughter of Charlie in Houston age 70+):

I like my instant pot but find that I need to choose recipes carefully so that they are flavorful and the ingredients are not just cooked to smithereens. I appreciate that it can hold things at warm temps for a long time (it’s great for mashed potatoes for a crowd). I think it works best when you are planning to shred meat, like in this recipe for salsa verde chicken:

From Nancy in Santa Rosa (age 70+):

I don’t have either of those appliances and really can’t comment because of that. I’m even too lazy for convenience appliances and I’m short of counter space,  but have been thinking of trying an Instapot.

I’ve become a spoiled prepared foods purchaser 🙂

If Nancy is concerned about counter space, here’s CNet’s recommendation for a 3-quart one. It measures 11.4 x 11.2 x 10 inches. Kohl’s has it on clearance sale for $39.99.

From Sara in San Francisco (age 50+):

I’ve never had either! But I did use an Instapot once and found that the whole experience of cooking was lost, no matter that it was easy. I like to smell things, I like to stir things, I like the process. So the romance of that is replaced with convenience. 

Simultaneously I’ve always thought a pressure cooker seemed like a cool thing to have because I love braises so much. Just not ready for more things to put on my counter.

If Sara wants a pressure cooker, Food & Wine recommends this 6 qt Presto – which can be purchased at Home Depot for $79.99 (and free shipping)

From David in Albuquerque (age 76 and almost 2 months):

I don’t have and have never used an Instant Pot. These sound like something that might be useful for someone who doesn’t have a kitchen, maybe, but I have no place for one and no confidence that I’m smart or patient enough to figure out how to use the electronics. I have been tempted to get an air fryer because though fried air doesn’t sound especially tasty it must be very low cal, but I don’t have a place for one. And a friend recently talked up a sous videoutfit, but I figured that would meet the same fate as the vacuum sealer for leftovers that fell into my cart at Costco a few years ago, now out of bags and lost in the back of a cabinet somewhere.

I do have and sometimes use a pressure cooker and often a rice cooker, both of which have homes under the counters. My mom used a pressure cooker, so that seems normal to me. She used it to save time, but I cook mostly to get away with wasting time. Sometimes I’ll use it to cook the bejesus out of a dried out ham hock or some other kind of gnarly meat or bones to make stock, and sometimes to cook beans, but the fact is that I use it seldom and could get along fine without it. As in so many endeavors, less is more. It looks like I’d pay heed to that principle when it comes to writing, eh?

From Moss in San Francisco (age 17+):

I’ve never used either one! They seem very cool to have. I know you can make yogurts and soups. Some have searing options (InstaPots). You can make things very quickly In pressure cookers. I think it’s so versatile and interesting. If I had my own place and more money I would get one! I know you can can stuff and also sanitize things. It isn’t only limited to cooking. You can grow mushrooms in a sterile environment with the help of a pressure cooker and start seedlings in an InstaPot. Very fun. 

With spring on its way, a new and different approach to starting seedlings sounds like fun.

From Deb in Glen Ellen (age 65+):

As for pressure cookers, my mom had one, and I remember not so much the meals, but the sound and rhythm of the mechanism that released pressure, I loved it!  Thinking about the food/meals that were actually produced from the pressure cooker, other methods of cooking, roasting, sautéing, even steaming made the food way more individually authentic and delicious, instead of the seemingly homogenized single taste of one pot cooking.  These tools  might be timesaving, but create food that is just not as interesting.  

I did own a pressure cooker for cooking legumes early in my cooking career, after having the regulator blow off and coat the ceiling with pinto beans, I was done with it.  Lastly, the storage space required for either of them, weighed against the food they create, does not justify a place for them in my kitchen!

From MountainWestBob in Albuquerque (age 75+):

We use an InstaPot and have had it for maybe 4 years. We love it for its slow-cooker features, for the sturdy stainless-steel liner that’s so easy to clean, and so-on. It’s doing chili con pollo for tonight right now, and there will be copious leftovers to enjoy later this week. (Note: here’s a link to Bob’s acclaimed instant pot recipe for Chili con Pollo.)

As for the pressure-cooker feature, fuggeddaboutit! We’ve ruined beef short ribs, a couple of beef roasts and some chicken. Even though the meat is standing in juice and veggies, it comes out dry and tough. We haven’t used the pressure cooker function since those tragic early experiences.

The pressure thing is too much for too little.

From Hannah in Brooklyn (age 35+):

I wish I’d appreciate the instant-pot more, but I’m not a gadget person, so I haven’t taken the time to experiment, and in turn lack the confidence to take advantage of its full functionality. It does make homemade broth and soups incredibly easy/efficient, which alone makes it worth keeping it around.

From Diane in Los Altos (age 75+):

Cooking is my hobby as well as my favorite pastime. A few years ago, I bought an instant pot, because it seemed to be the thing to do, and it was about the only kitchen tool I didn’t have. I’ve never used it. There isn’t room for it in my kitchen, so I would need to get it from a shelf in the utility room. And I never think about it. Now that I’ve been asked my opinion, maybe I should try it. Not for cooking rice, steaming, warming, or sautéing. Maybe as a slow cooker, probably not as a pressure cooker. 
I think I shouldn’t have given away my crock pot. 

If Diane is shopping for a new crock pot, Target has this 4.5 qt one for about $25!

True confession: Andy and I (ages 78+) have neither a pressure cooker nor an instant pot. And though Andy grew up knowing about all the trials and tribulations of a pressure cooker, I don’t even share that. My mom never used one (and my dad didn’t cook). I even had to look at a YouTube video to hear the much-mentioned ominous sound of the pressure releasing.

I guess it “boils” down to how many kitchen tools do we need. And what are the must-haves. If you’ve decided to move ahead and update your current pressure cooker or multi-cooker or buy your first one, here’s a good recommendation:

Serious Eats and J Kenji Lopez-Alt pick this 8-qt Instant Pot Pro 10-in-1 as the best multi-cooker for most people. It was released
in 2021, so it’s a “late generation.” You can get it at Crate & Barrel for $169.95. A 6-qt version is also available and Epicurious recommends that size.

And here’s the recipe that our guest blogger, Charlie, loves – and so do we. D-lish!

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