I thought the Slow Cooker and pressure cooker had gone out with the flood, but I was quite wrong. Having heard a recent BBC Radio 4 Food programme on the subject, I discovered that sales are booming once again.
Celebrity chefs are not exactly waxing lyrical on TV cooking programmes in the way they are embracing the Thermomix and Pacojet but the blogosphere is hopping. Real live, busy Mums and Dads have rediscovered these trusty cooking pots that between them tick all the relevant boxes. The slow cooker does wonders for cheap ingredients and uses a miniscule amount of electricity as it gently braises inexpensive cuts of meat to melting tenderness or of course it could be a plump chicken, a shoulder of pork or lamb, a bean stew… It seems to me that the slow cooker is the equivalent of a trusty friend that can literally have the family supper ready when you arrive home from work. What’s not to like about that?
The pressure cooker was the icon of the 1950s, but people of my age often have a very jaundiced view. The food that emerged could be quite samey in flavour although my Mum managed to cook many delicious soups and stews.
Nonetheless, to me as a child it always seemed to be a scary bit of kitchen equipment and we lived in fear of it exploding. Nowadays pressure cookers are much more sophisticated – state of the art stainless steel pots, with three, sometimes four release valves. They reach temperatures of 120º degrees and cook food 70 % faster on average than conventional pots. Apparently, iconic chef Heston Blumenthal swears by a pressure cooker to make stock so that’s worth contemplating. I was also astonished to hear that one can make delicious crème caramels or Parmesan custards – I would have thought they would have curdled but apparently not. Meat, game, bean stews and dahls are all cooked in a twinkling thus saving time and expensive energy. All of the above would appear to be enough to rekindle interest in slow cookers and pressure cookers items than many of us relegated to the back of our cupboards years ago. They both, save time and energy, do wonders for cheap ingredients and have made it possible to make homely comforting food, seems to me it’s time to go rooting in the garage or to invest or re-invest in these two unlikely heroes of our time.
Here are some recipes from Catherine Phipps terrific new book – The Pressure Cooker Cookbook – over 150 Simple, Essential, Time-saving Recipes – published by Ebury Press.
Catherine Phipps Channa (Red Lentil) Dhal
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2cm piece of root ginger, finely chopped
300g red lentils or channa dhal, well rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped coriander stems
200g tinned chopped tomatoes
coriander leaves, to garnish
sliced green chillies to garnish (optional)
1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve
For the Spice Blend
5cm piece of cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
1 mace blade
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon fenugreek seed, ground
½ teaspoon nigella seed
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the Temper
vegetable oil or ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 onion sliced
Heat the vegetable oil in the pressure cooker. Add all the ingredients for the spice blend and fry until they start to splutter and smell aromatic. Add the chopped onion, garlic and ginger and continue to fry until everything has started to turn a light golden brown.
Stir in the lentils and the coriander stems, add a generous pinch of salt and pour over 750ml water and the tomatoes. Close the lid and bring to high pressure. Cook for 1 minute only, and then leave to release pressure naturally. Alternatively, cook for 5 minutes and fast release.
Stir thoroughly as much of the dhal will be sitting on the top.
Meanwhile make the ‘temper’. Heat a 3mm layer of oil or ghee in a frying pan. Add the cumin seed and fry until it starts to splutter, and then add the onion. Fry until it is soft and brown. Pour the onion and cumin mixture into the cooked lentils and add salt to taste. Simmer until thick. Garnish with fresh coriander, green chillies if you want extra heat and wedges of lemon for squeezing.
Catherine Phipps Parmesan Custards
butter for greasing
50g finely grated Parmesan
150ml single cream
2 egg yolks
pinch of cayenne
salt and freshly ground black and white pepper
For the shrimp paste
100g cooked brown shrimp
50g butter, plus more spreading
Squeeze of lemon juice
Grating of nutmeg
4 very thin slices of robust white sour dough bread
Cut out four circles of greaseproof paper, using the base circumference of your chosen receptacle as a template. Butter the paper circles and also your ramekins or cups.
Reserve 1 tablespoon of Parmesan and put the rest into a heatproof bowl with the milk and cream. Place the bowl over a pan of boiling water and warm through, stirring occasionally, until the cheese has melted. Be patient, this will take longer than you would expect. Allow to cool completely, then whisk in the egg yolks, some salt and white pepper and the pinch of cayenne.
Divide the mixture between the ramekins and cover each with a buttered circle of greaseproof paper – it needs to be touching the custard, not sitting above it, but there is no need for any additional cover. Put the steamer basket, upturned, in your pressure cooker. Place the ramekins on top and carefully pour boiling water around them. Close the lid and bring to high pressure. Cook for five minutes for a very soft set (I favour this), or 6 minutes if you want it slightly firmer, then remove from the heat and release pressure quickly.
While the custards are cooking, make the toasts. Puree together the shrimp, butter, lemon juice, nutmeg, salt and black pepper in a blender or food processor. Spread this over half the slices of sourdough and cover with the remaining slices to make this sandwiches. Butter the outsides of the bread and put in a heated sandwich maker, or grill both sides in a frying pan. Cut into soldiers.
Catherine Phipps Moroccan Spiced Lamb with Mint and Watermelon Salad
2 kgs lamb or mutton shoulder boned and cut into 4 pieces
100ml plain yoghurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
250ml pomegranate juice
250ml chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon rose water
3 small cucumbers topped tailed and sliced into ribbons
¼ large watermelon, seeded and cut into fairly small chunks
3 dried rosebuds crumbled (optional)
finely chopped mint to garnish
For the Ras el Hanout
large pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground mace
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 dried rosebuds, crumbled
To make the Ras el Hanout, grind the saffron strands to a powder with a pestle and mortar. Combine with the rest of the spices and the rosebuds.
Put the meat in a non-metallic bowl or container. Mix the Res el Hanout with the yoghurt and massage well into the meat. Leave to marinate at least overnight (If you don’t have time to marinate, omit the yoghurt and just rub in the spice mix)
When you are ready to cook the meat, remove as much of the marinade as possible. Heat the oil in the pressure cooker and brown all the meat until seared and well caramelised. Pour over the pomegranate juice, stock and rose water. Close the lid then bring to high pressure. Cook for 45 minutes, remove from the heat and allow to release pressure naturally.
Remove the meat from the pressure cooker. Return the cooker to the heat and simmer the cooking liquor until it has reduced to the consistency of a light syrup, then strain it. While the liquor is reducing, shred the meat with a couple of forks.
Arrange the cucumber and watermelon on a large serving platter and sprinkle over all the shredded meat. Pout over some of the reduced cooking liquor and keep the rest in a jug on the side. Decorate with finely chopped mint and crumbled rose buds (optional)
Catherine Phipps Lemon Surprise Pudding
50 g butter
100g golden caster sugar
Grated zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
2 eggs separated
25g self-raising flour
25g ground almonds
¼ teaspoon almond extract
Butter a round 18 – 20cm soufflé or pie dish. Cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat the egg yolks into the creamed mixture, one at a time. Fold in the flour and almonds, then gradually pour in the milk and lemon juice. Don’t worry if the mixture curdles! Whisk the egg whites until dry and stiff, then fold into the lemony batter.
Pout into a prepared soufflé dish. Cover tightly with two layers of greaseproof paper. Place in the pressure cooker on top of the upturned steamer basket. Pout water into the pressure cooker until it is just short of the top of the basket. Lock the lid and bring to full pressure. Time for 5 minutes then remove from the heat. Slow release at room temperature. Serve hot or cold, with cream.
Book of the Week
Flamboyant Irish potter Stephen Pearce has just published his auto biography, Warrior Spirit. It documents the story of a colourful life from his childhood in Shanagarry to the excitement and challenges he encountered in his roller coaster adventures through the decades. Available from Stephen Pearce’s website www.stephenpearce.com
I’m a big fan of hardwood timber chopping boards. Buy a good one and you’ll have it for life. Sacha Whelan makes 1 inch plus hardwood boards which would make a gift which will literally last a lifetime. I recently came across Gertie McEvoy boards. She makes a range of boards of all sizes in her workshop in Abbeyleix, good looking, practical and chic –Sacha Whelan – 087 2618754 Gertie McEvoy 0868258201
To Celebrate Terra Madre Day ‘Saving Endangered Animal Breeds’ there is an East Cork Slow Food Event at Ballymaloe Cookery School. The story of the Bilberry Goats from Waterford is a fascinating one, Martin Doyle who rescued and saved them from extinction will join us on Thursday 28th November 2013 at 7:00pm. Proceeds to go towards fundraising for the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project. 021 4646785.
They say the best time to start a business is in a recession – lots of new restaurants opening recently. Perry Street Market Café on Perry Street is causing quite a stir in Cork – we enjoyed a frittata made with O’Connells Smoked Haddock and Ardsallagh Goats Cheese and an equally delicious fish pie. 021 427 8776. Pop your head into Best of Buds flower shop next door for beautiful blooms. 021 427 4783.