The calendar says the first day of summer is nearly a month away on June 20. Join me in a hearty laugh, Floridians.
Yes, the season of high A/C bills is already upon us, and among other things, that means nobody wants to stand over a hot stove or oven right now to produce a good meal.
It's time to make the rest of your kitchen pull its weight. We're talking about those smaller appliances that litter your countertop: toaster ovens, microwaves, pressure and slow cookers. Yes, they're all capable of making the dishes you usually cook on the stove or the oven.
Trust me, it can be done. Between college dorm creativity and a few rounds of fighting to get gas supplied to my current home appliances, I've had some hands-on experience thinking outside the range. From fudge in a microwave for my roommates to sausage tortellini and broccoli with a toaster oven and rice cooker for the man who would become my boyfriend, I've done my share of improvising. And I've never steamed a vegetable on a stove.
Use all of this to save yourself some sweat, too.
The first step is having the right equipment — and knowing what it can do.
Electric pressure cooker
The new whiz kid on the block is bringing back time-saving pressure cooking. The electric pots have more safety measures in place than the stovetop sort (which still cut down on time with the oven on), and most of them can take the place of slow and rice cookers. If you've got one like mine, a 7-in-1 Instant Pot ($119 from Amazon or Walmart), it can even cut out stovetop steps like browning meat with its saute function.
Pressure cookers are also good for quick steaming (hello, 1-minute asparagus!), and that includes a surprising number of things you would normally boil or bake. Using the cooker is generally easy once you learn the different release methods, such as natural (letting it go down on its own), quick (turning a valve to let pressure off immediately) and 10- or 5-minute (letting pressure go down on its own for a set amount of time, then quick releasing).
In 2015, I wrote about my 30-year-old hand-me-down Crock-Pot (Davey Crockpot, he's called) and all the marvelous and surprising things he can do, like making bread and yogurt and gooey brownie desserts. (Find those recipes at tbtim.es/dlz.) Plus, those pork and pot roasts that cook while I'm at work and overnight black-eyed peas don't hurt either.
Besides making rice effortless, rice cookers are also good for steaming and for cooking other grains, such as quinoa. While I hear the complaint that rice is already easy, I like not having to turn on a stove at all, or having to dedicate a burner to rice when my stove is already busy. But it wasn't until I encountered the cookbook The Everyday Rice Cooker by Diane Phillips that my eyes were opened to the rice cooker's ability to make entire one-pot meals, even quick versions of usually complicated dishes like paella and biryani. Yes, it actually works.
Besides being able to make toast, a good toaster oven can save you the heat of turning on a full-sized oven. I wouldn't trust it to heat evenly enough to bake a cake, but it can roast veggies in a snap. Mine is also big enough to barely hold a 2.75-quart Pyrex dish, which has made countless casseroles and cobblers.
These can do a lot more than heating up your leftovers, you know. Microwaves work by spinning water molecules, which means they can steam things pretty easily, too. Also, they can melt chocolates and cheeses easier than a double boiler or an oven, with a lot less excess heat.
A steaming tray or basket is essential in many pressure and rice cooker recipes. A lot of rice cookers even come with steaming baskets, but if yours didn't, you can buy one separately. I have a stainless steel collapsible basket that fits in just about anything and runs about $10 to $14.
Back to basics
Here are a handful staples you can easily make sans extra oven or stove heat.
In a microwave: This is how my mom always did it, so I didn't learn until college that most folks use the stove. (Really.) You just need a good microwave-safe dish that has a lid and can release steam, either through holes or a loose lid. (My mom used a Corningware casserole dish with a glass lid.) Add the usual two parts water to one part rice and a pinch of salt. Microwaving time will vary by machine, but about 15 minutes should do the trick.
In a pressure cooker: Most electric cookers have a rice button that automatically sets the timer (mine goes eight to 10 minutes), but be mindful that time, water-to-grain ratio and pressure can vary by type of rice. In most cases, let the pressure go down on its own.
In a rice cooker: Self-explanatory: rice, water, plug in the cooker. Voila.
Hard-boiled in a pressure cooker: Add about a cup of water to the pot of the pressure cooker and lower a steaming basket in. Add as many eggs as desired to the basket, cover and cook at low pressure for 5 minutes. Let pressure subside for 5 minutes, then release any that remains. To stop cooking and get a perfect yellow yolk, dip the basket with eggs into a bowl of cold water.
Scrambled in a microwave: Scramble eggs as you normally would in a microwave-safe bowl or cup. Microwave on high for 45 seconds, stir, then microwave 30 to 45 seconds more. Let sit (and set) about a minute before eating.
Hard-boiled in a rice cooker: You can do this two ways. To cook eggs by themselves, add a cup of water to the cooker, place a steamer rack on top, lay the eggs in the rack, turn the cooker on and set a timer for 20 minutes. To cook eggs with rice, simply prepare the cooker to cook rice as normal and set the egg in with the rice to cook simultaneously.
In a microwave: Yes, you can buy the prewrapped kind, but you can also microwave regular ol' potatoes in a dish. Rub the potatoes down with melted butter or olive oil, salt and pepper; poke several holes with a fork; and then place in a microwavable dish. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, flip the potatoes and microwave about 3 to 5 minutes, to desired doneness.
In a slow cooker: Poke potatoes with a fork, then rub with melted butter or olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap the potatoes in foil, place in a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. Don't let them sit longer — they'll burn.
Corn on the cob
In a microwave: Don't shuck them first! Using a serrated knife, cut about an inch off the bottom, through husk, kernels and cob. Microwave 3 to 4 minutes. Handle with care, but the corn should slide right out of the husk and silk.
In a slow cooker: Put a shucked ear of corn in a piece of foil and season as desired. Wrap tightly. Place in dry slow cooker, seam side up, and cover. Cook 4 to 6 ears on high for 2 hours or low for 4 hours.
Contact Caitlin E. O'Conner at [email protected] Follow @CaitOConner.