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Save yourself some sweat: How to cook without your stove and oven

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 equipment

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).

Slow cooker

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.

Rice cooker

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.

Toaster oven

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.

Microwave

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.

Steaming basket

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.

Rice

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.

Eggs

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.

'Baked' potatoes

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 coconner@tampabay.com. Follow @CaitOConner.

easy

Slow Cooker Grandma's Chocolate Cake

Slow Cooker Grandma's Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ½ cup strong coffee, room temperature
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

  1. Spray a 7- by 7-inch springform pan. Crumple a long (about 2 feet) sheet of aluminum foil into about a 7-inch ring. Place the ring in the bottom of a large, round slow cooker.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a separate microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate chips for 30 seconds on high. Stir and continue to microwave in 20- to 30-second intervals until chocolate is melted. Do not overcook.
  4. Whisk in the sugar and oil until blended, then add the egg and whisk well.
  5. In another small bowl, combine coffee, buttermilk and vanilla.
  6. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to the chocolate batter, stirring or whisking smooth after each addition.
  7. Pour the batter into the springform pan and place atop the foil ring in the slow cooker. Cover the cooker and bake on high for 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours, until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  8. Transfer the springform pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Then remove the outer ring from the pan and let it cool completely. Top with a chocolate frosting.
Source: Slow Cooker Desserts by Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore

easy

Slow Cooker Butter Chicken

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 pounds chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads (optional)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons cashew paste (optional, though highly recommended)
  • 1 ½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 to 2 serrano chiles, minced
  • ¾ teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar or honey (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the chicken and the butter in the slow cooker and turn to high, allowing the butter to melt while preparing the other ingredients. This takes about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the cream and saffron and mix well. Add the tomato sauce, rinsing the can with the water to get all of the sauce into the slow cooker. Add the cashew paste, ginger, chiles, spice powders, salt, sugar (if using) and fenugreek and mix well. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook 6 to 8 hours, or cook on high 3 to 4 hours.
  3. Serve with naan and basmati rice. Serves 4 to 6.
Source: Adapted from The New Indian Slow Cooker by Neela Paniz

easy

Microwave Mac and Cheese

Microwave Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup shredded yellow American cheese
  • 1 cup shredded pepper Jack or Monterey Jack cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. Stir the macaroni, 1 cup of the milk and salt in a microwave-safe 4-quart bowl. (It is important that you use a bowl large enough to prevent the milk from boiling over.) Cover tightly with plastic wrap; cut a small slit in the center with the tip of a paring knife. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Uncover (be careful to avoid the hot steam) and stir. Cover and microwave on high until the macaroni is about two-thirds cooked, 1 ½ to 3 ½ minutes.
  2. Add the remaining cup of milk, cheeses and mustard. Stir well, cover tightly and microwave on high until all the cheeses have melted, about 4 minutes. If there are still some pieces of unmelted cheese, microwave again, covered, in 30-second increments. Sauce will continue to thicken as it sits.
Source: Food Network Kitchen

easy

Microwave Nutella Pistachio Fudge

Ingredients

  • 1 (10-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 8 ounces unsweetened chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Nutella
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup shelled pistachios
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Instructions

  1. Prepare an 8- by 8-inch baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray and lining with parchment paper.
  2. In a microwave-safe bowl, add the condensed milk, chocolate chips, butter, vanilla, Nutella and salt. Microwave for 1 minute on high, then stir. Keep microwaving in 30-second to 1-minute intervals until the chocolate is melted.
  3. Quickly add the pistachios to the bowl and mix them. Pour the chocolate over the parchment paper and level it out so that the top is nice and even. Sprinkle with the sea salt.
  4. Refrigerate the fudge until its set, about 2 hours.
  5. Cut the fudge into preferred size, with a knife that has been run under hot water and dried off.
Source: Adapted from jocooks.com

medium

Pressure Cooker Creme Brulee

Pressure Cooker Creme Brulee

Ingredients

  • 6 large egg yolks
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 teaspoons sugar (for the topping)

Instructions

  1. Add 2 cups water to pressure cooker base; insert steamer basket.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until sugar dissolves. Add the milk, cream and vanilla, whisking just enough to combine; do not whip.
  3. Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into six 4-ounce ramekins or cups. Cover each tightly with tin foil and arrange so mixture is level in the steamer basket.
  4. Lock the lid of the pressure cooker. Cook at high for 5 minutes (or up to 9 if you use larger cups). Wait 10 minutes for pressure to subside, then release any remaining pressure. To check for doneness, remove the foil and tilt a cup to see if the center is mostly solid or mostly liquid; it should be mostly solid. You may also insert a toothpick into the center; it should come out clean.
  5. At this step, you have a fine custard that can be eaten warm or chilled. For full creme brulee, chill for 4 hours after it has cooled. Sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar evenly on top of each custard and arrange on a baking rack. Slip under the broiler for about 3 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelized. (I opted for my toaster oven broiler, which didn't caramelize everything evenly, but it still tasted just fine.)
  6. Serves 6.
Source: Hip Pressure Cooking by Laura D.A. Pazzaglia

easy

Pressure Cooker "Barbecue" Brisket

Ingredients

  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 pounds brisket, well trimmed

Instructions

  1. Whisk the tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and spices together in a large bowl until sugar and tomato paste have dissolved.
  2. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker and brown the brisket on both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Pour the sauce mixture on and around the meat.
  3. Lock the lid on the pot and cook on high pressure for 50 minutes in a stovetop cooker or 80 in an electric cooker. When time is up, remove from heat or turn off and let the pressure release on its own, about 25 to 30 minutes.
  4. Transfer the brisket to a carving board and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing against the grain.
  5. Serves 6.
Source: The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarborough

easy

Rice Cooker Jambalaya

Rice Cooker Jambalaya

Ingredients

  • ½ pound smoked sausage
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 ½ cups long-grain rice, rinsed
  • 2 ½ cups chicken broth
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped

Instructions

  1. Set a medium rice cooker to the regular cycle. Saute the sausage until it renders some fat. If your sausage is too lean, you may need to add a small amount of oil. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic and spices. Saute for 3 to 4 minutes, or until onion is translucent. Add the tomato paste and stir to blend. Stir in the rice and chicken broth. Add a sprinkle of salt to taste.
  2. Cover the rice cooker and reset to the regular cycle. At the end of the cycle, stir in the shrimp. Set a timer for 10 minutes with the cooker left on warm. You can keep an eye on it, as shrimp may be pink and done sooner. Garnish with green onions.
  3. Serves 6.
Source: Adapted from The Everyday Rice Cooker by Diane Phillips

easy

Rice Cooker Vegetable Biryani

Rice Cooker Vegetable Biryani

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 fresh cayenne pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoon garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium potato, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 cup green beans, cut to 1 inch
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets, cut to 1 inch
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup peas (defrosted if frozen)
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped for garnish

Instructions

  1. Set a medium rice cooker to the regular cycle. Heat oil and add ginger, garlic and spices. Saute about 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until seeds begin to sputter and oil is fragrant. Add the onion, potato, green beans, carrots and rice and stir to coat. Add cauliflower and gradually add chicken broth, stirring again.
  2. Cover and reset the rice cooker to the regular cycle. At the end of the cycle, stir in the peas. Allow the biryani to continue steaming for 5 minutes on the warm setting. Garnish with cilantro.
  3. Garnish with cilantro.
  4. Serves 4 to 6.
Source: Adapted from The Everyday Rice Cooker by Diane Phillips








Save yourself some sweat: How to cook without your stove and oven 05/23/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 3:36pm]
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