When my 40th birthday rolled around, I was still too deep in the newborn haze to think about travel or restaurants. So I randomly asked for an electric pressure cooker called the Instant Pot. It wasn’t anything I had been dreaming about, but it sounded interesting and my trusty Crock-Pot had long lost its luster. (Literally. There’s still old stew crusted around the edges.)
When I first unboxed my pressure cooker, I set the mammoth device on my counter and walked away. It was too big, too intimidating and I harbored fears of the lid blowing to pieces.
Once it was finally set up, I tentatively began experimenting. Various one-pot dinners have come out of it, but what kept pulling me back to the behemoth was the ultra-simple stuff: Sliced apples and pears emerge fork tender, a half dozen eggs cook perfectly and peel like a dream, steel-cut oatmeal, which used to come out like horse feed after boiling for half an hour in a regular pot, is now creamy and light after just a few minutes in a pressure cooker. Did I mention that this machine also makes rice?
A few days into it, I realized I'm not channeling my inner Julia Child mostly because I don’t have an inner Julia Child. What I am doing on a regular basis is making baby food. Real, made-from-scratch baby food that takes next to no energy to create. It’s packed with nutrition because vitamins aren’t being leached away by liquid. With no water to boil over or pots to burn, it’s completely foolproof and given my usual state of mind, that’s worth gold.
I'm not channeling my inner Julia Child mostly because I don’t have an inner Julia Child.
There’s an unexpected sense of pride with having a fridge filled with tiny containers of fresh food, ready to be heated on a whim. It’s the simple mom hack I didn’t know I was looking for, and somehow, I've found myself feeling a lot more in control of this whole child-rearing thing.
What kind of baby food can you make in this thing, you may ask? Everything! Here's one of my favorite go-to recipes:
Baby’s Go-To Lentil Mush
Often overlooked in baby-food aisles, lentils are amazingly loaded with protein, iron and fiber. Traditionally, they can take up to 45 minutes to cook, but in a pressure cooker, that time can be reduced to about 15 minutes. Red lentils tend to cook even faster and end up softer than green lentils, so they’re a good choice when baby is just starting out with solids. Green retains their texture a bit more which can keep things interesting for wee palates.
You can gussy up this recipe by first dicing and sautéing onions and carrots in a touch of oil in the pot. If you’re feeling really creative, add chopped apple. Or simply do what I do and drop in half a cup of dry lentils. (No need to soak them ahead of time, but you should do a quick sort to ferret out any small stones or grains.)
I find a basic 1:2 ratio of green lentils to water works well. Salt and pepper as you wish (or not at all). Turn on the pressure for 12 minutes and walk away.
Seriously, that's it.
When the timer goes off, let the pressure release naturally for about 10 minutes. Once opened, you'll discover a steaming pot of stuff that's definitely good for your baby. Now, high five yourself for your domestic awesomeness.