Saving Calories & Time–Air Fryers & Instant Pots

instant pot with tomatoes and vegetables

Maybe you got one of these popular cooking devices for a holiday gift, or are considering giving one of them a try. Here’s some info on each, and a few recipes to try.

Low Fat Frying

Pretty much everybody loves the crispy crunch and moist insides of fried foods. But they do make the guilty pleasure list. At 294 calories and over 14 grams of fat, a battered deep fried chicken breast is definitely not health food. Frying in fat turns an innocent little baked potato (93 calories and 0 grams of fat) into French fries containing 

319 calories and 17 grams of fat. 

The air fryer to the rescue!  It works like a super-hot (around 400 F) convection oven to move air around your food, browning and creating a crispy exterior and keeping the inside soft. You can choose to toss the food in a bit of oil before cooking and try some of your deep-fried favorites.

A Few Drawbacks

There are various models available and a few complaints. Users say they are bulky and do take up a lot of counter space. A really big one is necessary to cook enough food for a larger family. And, noise is a factor. It takes a powerful fan to move the air around and that makes the fryer as loud as a vacuum cleaner or dishwasher. Also make sure you get a model made of BPA-free plastic.

Air Fryer Recipes

Cooking Light offers lots of air fryer recipes, see them here.

Try the Cauliflower Tots, Chicken Tenders, Avocado Wrapped Bacon, and Air Fryer Spicy Chicken Taquitos from Delish.

Not Your Mom’s Pressure Cooker

Another hot item is the Instant Pot cooker. The Instant Pot is the most well-known brand but there are other manufacturers, like Breville and Fagor. They have become very popular in the past couple of years. The appeal of this type of cooking is not necessarily to cut calories – but to save time. They also are multi-taskers, not only are they electric pressure cookers, but also slow cookers (like a crock pot), they sauté, steam rice, and some make yogurt. And unlike the old pressure cookers they now have safety features that prevent the explosions and burns that did happen back in the day. 

How They Work

The pressure cooker feature is the real time saver, especially for meats. It works by creating a very tight seal which raises the boiling temperature of liquids up to as much as 266 degrees. This higher temperature, and the pressure in the pot forces the hot steam into the ingredients, cooking them much faster. If you are cooking meats for bone broth, or a pork shoulder for pulled pork, this is a definite shortcut. It also cuts down the cooking time for dried beans.

Melissa Clark, of The New York Times Cooking, was not thrilled with what her Instant Pot did for a whole chicken, leaving it “flaccid and unappealing.” She also says it doesn’t do crispy or crunchy well, and makes vegetable limp, with the exception of beets and artichokes. Here’s her Instant Pot How To, and list of foods best cooked another way. 

Instant Pot Recipes

Corned beef for a Rueben sandwich in 2 hours? Oh yes, find the mustard!

Here’s the recipe.

And while we’re on sandwiches that usually take all day – here’s BBQ Pulled Pork, also in 2 hours. 

And in this video are 4 easy Instant Pot meals to try.

This year more people than ever are in the kitchen cooking and trying something new. Cooking at home is a way to eat a healthier diet, and sometimes new tools and methods can be inspiring and fun. 

Hurray for Fermentation!

three containers of kombucha

When we hear the word we often first think of wine, beer, and maybe sake – all made from turning fruits or grains into alcohol using the natural process of fermentation.  

But hey, it was not invented just so we could have happy hour. 

Fermentation is an ancient technique that humans have used for thousands of years to preserve food and enhance flavor. It refers to the chemical conversion of carbohydrates such as starches or sugars in food by beneficial bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms into alcohol, acids, or gases. It is the alcohol, acids and salt that provide protection from destructive bacteria and preserve the foods, while making a friendly environment for good bacteria. 

There Are Different Kinds

Here are the basics:

Alcoholic Fermentation

Wine, beer, spirits, vinegar and kombucha (a fermented tea drink) are produced by alcoholic fermentation using yeast. 

Lactic Bacteria Fermentation 

This is a type of acid that’s produced upon the breakdown of sugar in an oxygen-free environment. Examples of lacto-fermented foods include products like:

  • yogurt, kefir, sour cream, buttermilk 
  • cheese 
  • meats 
  • sourdough bread 
  • olives 
  • sauerkraut 
  • kimchi
  • other pickled vegetables 

Mold Fermentation

Two common mold ferments are:

  • Koji kin is a mold that is used to ferment rice or barley in Japanese foods such as sake, mirin and miso. (Miso is a seasoning made from fermented soybeans, often used in soup.)
  • Tempeh is a mold culture from Indonesia used to ferment soybeans turning them into a hearty, savory protein.  

Microbes to the Rescue

These foods are apparently very good for your health. Although more research is needed, many animal studies have shown wide ranging health benefits from eating fermented foods. One main reason could be that fermentation also promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, known as probiotics.

Your Gut Biome

Researchers are learning a lot more about how essential the bacterial ecosystem in our gut is to our digestive health. Fermented foods are rich in beneficial probiotics and have been associated with a range of health benefits, starting with better digestion. To learn more about the benefits of probiotics and gut health read my blog Probiotics and the Gut Biome.

A 6-week study in 274 adults with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) found that consuming 4.4 ounces of yogurt-like fermented milk product daily improved IBS symptoms, including bloating and stool frequency. Fermented foods may also lessen the severity of diarrhea, bloating, gas, and constipation. 

It could be that fermentation helps make our food easier to digest by breaking it down before we eat it, making the nutrients more available for absorption. For example, those with lactose intolerance are usually okay eating fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir, because lactose, the sugar in milk, is broken down during fermentation into simpler sugars–glucose and galactose. 

More Possible Benefits

Mental Health: A few studies have linked the probiotic strains Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum to a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is because of the all-important brain gut connection. Both probiotics are found in fermented foods.

Heart Health: Fermented foods have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The process of fermentation can produce vitamins, anti-oxidants, and molecules that lower blood pressure and inflammation.

And They are Delicious

People have been happily eating these foods and drinking these beverages forever just because they taste good. Fermentation adds acid and usually salt which gives the food a special tang, and savory sourness. If you haven’t tried some of these foods, do give them a try. You may love them, and you’ll be doing your biome a big favor.