Thursday 8 December 2022

Advent 2022 - Fast Tracking #12

 Today's Challenge: Fast from... using the oven.

I use my oven a lot as a rule. I do a lot of baking in it and a lot of the things we often eat here spend a considerable amount of their time in it before arriving on the table - things like roasted vegetables, and slow-cooked casseroles (with or without meat). This is fine but heavy on fuel use and both for reasons of economy and being more eco-friendly it's not a bad discipline to have the odd day off from using the oven. 

The pressure cooker is my go-to ally here - it cooks efficiently and thoroughly in a fraction of the time that conventional cooking takes, either on the hob or in the oven and I am discovering from Modern Pressure Cooking that I can use it for a lot more things than I previously thought. Cakes, cheesecakes and rice pudding, for example. Even buns. Dishes with meat, or pulses, or both, that are conventionally cooked long and slow in the oven. As well as the staples for which I've long resorted to it, such as soups, stocks, sauces, vegetables and steamed puddings. 

The only drawback with the pressure cooker is that things don't reduce or brown during the pressurised cooking process so if you need to lose a volume of fluid, you need to add less to begin with (bearing in mind that the pressure cooker needs a certain minimum amount of liquid to function safely), or reduce it by boiling away some of the liquid in the open cooker after the pressurised cooking period has been completed, which takes extra time. Lack of browning can be rectified by a brief spell under a hot grill but you need to protect the handles of the pressure cooker from also being grilled and going brown (or worse!) so I don't think this is optimal. 

That said, I've found the pressure cooker invaluable today.

Today's oven-free menu is as follows:

tea with unsweetened soya milk
apple juice
citrus fruit salad
Greek-style yoghurt

eating up leftovers - sourdough crackers, soup, fruit, yoghurt

black tea

minestrone soup made with leeks, onions, fennel, carrots, potatoes, celery, tinned chopped tomatoes, homemade vegetable stock (made from the vegetable trimmings, herbs from the garden and salt) and pasta stellette cooked in the pressure cooker in two bursts, 3 minutes before adding the pasta and 5 minutes after adding it. 

homemade baguettes from the freezer turned into garlic bread with the addition of garlic butter and the strategic / opportunistic use of the top of the wood-burning stove as an impromptu hot-plate. 

I hope this doesn't qualify as cheating but we lit the stove anyway today as the temperature has barely scraped above zero all day and the house has felt very cold so I thought I would capitalise on the heat and use the top of the stove as an ad hoc baking aid without breaking the ban on using the oven. I love garlic bread but it doesn't like me so this was for the garlic-consumers. It was so cold today, even in the kitchen, that despite leaving the butter out to soften before mashing in the garlic I had to warm it up over a bowl of hot water. Perhaps the butter is trying to tell me something!

Anyway the woodturner-as-hot-plate idea worked beautifully - the garlic butter melted without burning and the baguettes heated through in about the same time as they would have taken in the oven. 

rice pudding cooked in the pressure cooker - short grain rice cooked for 15 minutes with milk, a split piece of vanilla pod, grated nutmeg, ground cinnamon, soft brown sugar and a pinch of salt. This was another experiment with a recipe from Modern Pressure Cooking. It certainly saved a lot of time and fuel - 15 minutes on the hob over a couple of hours in the oven but I wasn't entirely convinced by the result. It didn't look very appetising to say the least of it and although it tasted OK, the texture was not as good as if it had been cooked long and slow in the oven. On top of that, the mixture stuck to the pressure cooker base and lid so yet again the poor old pressure cooker had to be scrubbed to within an inch of its life this week! 

Some you win and some you lose...!

E x

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