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A Tuesday, Oct. 16, class in Central Point will offer tips on how to get the most out of your Instant Pot — and your slow cooker too. (Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press)

Cook it fast or cook it slow

Marketed as mealtime magicians, multi-cookers such as the Instant Pot remain an enigma to a sizable number of consumers whose rush to purchase one a year ago broke online sales records.

“There still seems to be this aura of magical thinking around it,” says Michele Pryse, a master food preserver for Oregon State University Extension. “It’s not as magical as people think.”

Pryse urges disillusioned cooks to recast the Instant Pot and its ilk as kitchen servants, in league with another era’s tried-and-true counterpart, the slow cooker. With some savvy shopping, menu planning and partial preparation of ingredients, both appliances can prove their worth, she says.

A Tuesday class at Southern Oregon Research & Extension Center gives participants Pryse’s playbook for assembling freezer meals for slow and multi-cookers.

“You can turn out a week’s worth of meals in an hour or an hour and a half, and that’s such a great feeling,” says Pryse.

Just as each appliance has its unique features, preparing meals for each requires specific methods. With a little knowledge of how slow cookers and multi-cookers function, the process can become more intuitive, says Pryse.

The key difference isn’t just time but the cooking surface of each appliance. A slow cooker’s heavy stonewear insert distributes heat more evenly, while a multi-cooker’s thin, metal one gets searing-hot on the bottom, she says. Also, the pressurized vessel remains locked throughout cooking.

“You can’t see it working,” says Pryse, adding that cooks must transfer trust to the machine.

Transferring meal components from kitchen to freezer requires only a Ziploc or similar, resealable, plastic freezer bag if a slow cooker is slated to finish the dish. A multi-cooker needs plastic freezer containers specific to the appliance’s brand and size of its insert. They generally are available online.

While a slow-cooker meal should be thawed before consigning to the appliance for six to 10 hours, a multi-cooker meal can commence while still frozen solid and is ready in two hours, says Pryse. Each approach can “save the night” for time-pressed families, she says.

Far from a “few fun, flashy recipes,” this freezer-meals concept can be a cornerstone of any cook’s repertoire, says Pryse, regardless of preference for slow cooker or multi-cooker. Meals require no cooking — just slicing and dicing — prior to freezer storage for up to three months. They also contain whole, healthful foods with a focus on seasonally fresh vegetables.

And for cooks who have all but given up on mastering a multi-cooker’s functions, Pryse’s game plan gives the much-hyped appliance more play.

“It isn’t the end-all, be-all class,” says Pryse. “We’re not going to talk about how to make yogurt and how to bake a cake.”

For those multi-cooker highlights, Jackson County Master Food Preservers plan a class early next year. Participants can expect comparisons between models and a wide variety of techniques, from bone broth to risotto.

“Any inexpensive cut of meat gets much, much more tender,” says Rebecca Blackman, president of Jackson County’s Master Food Preservers group.

And cutting the time it typically takes to steam artichokes, boil corned beef and even bake potatoes redeems the multi-cooker, says Blackman. Risotto in 20 minutes — with no stirring — is her favorite Instant Pot recipe. Pryse prefers butternut squash soup in hers but confesses that she uses her slow cooker more often.

“My Instant Pot lives on the counter,” says Blackman. “My crock pots are way up in the cabinet.”

“Fast and Slow Cooking” is from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, at Southern Oregon Research & Extension Center auditorium, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Cost is $5. Register at http://bit.ly/JacksonFoodPreservationClasses, or by calling 541-776-7371.

Multi-Cooker Tarragon Chicken and Mushrooms

Freezer-container contents:

4 bone-in chicken breasts or 8 bone-in thighs

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 large onion, peeled and diced

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

3/4 cup white wine

1 tablespoon coconut aminos or low-sodium soy sauce

1 pound button mushrooms, halved, or 2 (7-ounce) cans sliced mushrooms, drained

For finishing sauce:

3 tablespoons arrowroot flour or cornstarch

1/4 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or chives, for garnish

Label a 64-ounce, round freezer container with lid. Note weight of chicken pieces on label and a “best by” date three months from today.

In order listed above, layer the ingredients inside labeled container. Do not worry about exact measurements of herbs; just sprinkle them in.

Seal container with lid. Freeze for up to three months.

When ready to cook, float container in warm water long enough to remove contents. Add to multi-cooker.

Place lid on multi-cooker and set to lock or SEAL position. SAUTE for 5 minutes. Adjust multi-cooker to MANUAL setting for 6 minutes per pound of meat.

Allow pressure to release naturally or carefully turn valve on top to VENTING position. Be careful not to position your face over pot while steam is releasing.

Lift chicken from pot to a covered bowl to keep warm while you make sauce.

Add the arrowroot flour or cornstarch to liquid in pot and SAUTE for 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the sour cream until smooth.

Spoon sauce over chicken portions and garnish with the fresh parsley or chives. Serve with pasta, sautéed spiralized parsnip or kohlrabi noodles and a spinach salad with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Slow Cooker Tarragon Chicken and Mushrooms

Freezer-bag contents:

4 bone-in chicken breasts or 8 bone-in thighs

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 large onion, peeled and diced

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1 pound button mushrooms, halved, or 2 (7-ounce) cans sliced mushrooms, drained

1 tablespoon coconut aminos or low-sodium soy sauce

3/4 cup white wine

1 tablespoon coconut oil

For finishing sauce:

3 tablespoons arrowroot flour or cornstarch

1/4 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or chives, for garnish

Label a gallon-size Ziploc freezer bag and include a “best by” date three months from today.

In order listed above, layer the ingredients inside labeled bag. Seal bag, squeezing as much air out as possible. Flatten bag to an even thickness and place on a cookie sheet to help it freeze flat. Freeze for up to three month.

The day before cooking, thaw bag overnight in refrigerator or float in warm water the next morning for 1 hour. Pour contents of bag into a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker and cook for 4 to 5 hours on low, until center of meat registers 160 degrees on a food thermometer.

Remove chicken to a serving plate and cover to keep warm while you make sauce.

Add the arrowroot flour or cornstarch to sauce in slow cooker; stir until smooth. Add the sour cream and stir to combine.

Spoon sauce over chicken portions and garnish with the fresh parsley or chives. Serve with pasta, sautéed spiralized parsnip or kohlrabi noodles and a spinach salad with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Recipes courtesy of Oregon State University Master Food Preserver Michele Pryse.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

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