I’m not used to it yet, at least not at this writing. I can get a little bitchy about the weather when the heat rolls into midtown, I admit. I am equally as celebratory when the first cold snap hits. It has been beautiful around the Port City as of late, but the heat has been breathtaking.
Normally I’d park a patio chair a few feet from the grill and pop open an ice cold bottle of questionable decisions, but the last few sunsets have found me peering at the Weber Spirit from the kitchen window. I found myself intermittently sprinting across the back porch to check the grilling meat for doneness and returning to my perch, safely behind the glass and wood-framed door.
Why not cook inside, you ask? Well, for one, the Weber is on her last grilling season. Even new burners and tents were nothing more than Band-Aids on bullet wounds. The ignition works halfway, the regulator hisses unless you twist it just right, and there isn’t enough oil in Danny Zuko’s hair to reinvigorate the cast iron grates. She’s fading, but I’m determined to get her through the summer before we put her down. I’ll use her as often as I can. Secondly, the oven and gas range are heating up the “bought air” with as much cooking as we do, and I hate seeing the power bill rise.
It got me thinking about alternate ways to cook indoors that don’t (totally) involve a microwave. Keeping the kitchen cool is the main objective.
French for “under vacuum,” this method of cooking is finding its way into fine dining restaurants as well as happy homes. The food is placed in a vacuum-sealed pouch and cooked submerged in a water bath at a lower temperature for longer cook times. The temperatures are incredibly accurate to ensure even cooking. Your steak may take a bit longer and you may sear it afterward for a crust, but it’ll be perfect.
My friend Sven uses his often. I think he even sous-vided some cookies once. I recall a time when we had poached eggs for a brunch at his house. Perfect. Every egg was spot on. I was beginning to think Sven was an egg master. He says the low and slow of the machine does the work for you.
They don’t generate much ambient heat. One of Katie’s coworkers once cooked a steak at his desk. A steak. In an office. At a cubicle desk. She witnessed the magic of sous vide right before her eyes. It’s the “new” slow cooker. You can drop some real dough on a fancy model, but there are highly rated wands that fetch around $80 new and fit any pot. All you have to factor in is the expense of tap water versus charcoal and propane.
Ah, the “old” slow cooker. That’s right. The Crock Pot doesn’t fill the kitchen with dreaded waves of pain. You’ll hardly know it’s there. I hardly know it’s on my top pantry shelf right now. I don’t think about it much until some kind of holiday party or dip recipe comes to mind. If it doesn’t burn you out of a dorm room, it shouldn’t run you out of an otherwise cool kitchen. There’s also no smoke if you do it right.
If you’re thinking this locks you into evenings of crappy bag meals from the frozen food section and dinners of canned goods, you’re missing my point. There are plenty of gourmet meals with fresh ingredients coming from slow cookers these days. You don’t even have to comb the corners of the internet to find them.
I would recommend “Not your Mother’s Slow Cooker: Recipes for Entertaining” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman. It will open your mind. The old-fashioned slow cooker can do more than I ever dreamed. Risotto Milanese, twice-crocked stuffed potatoes with macadamia nuts, veal ragoût with artichokes, brandied raisins and crème fraîche sound intimidating, but aren’t so bad if you can find the ingredients. The chapter on puddings, cakes and breads is worth the cost of the book.
I’m no stranger to hot soup in the summer heat with the air conditioner running full blast. Even summer chili can make an appearance, especially on a hot dog, and I don’t mind a little Rotel dip here and there. Seek out the recipes for something Crock-exotic and you’ll be cooking, no sweat.
Remember Christmas of 2016 when everyone (except me) got an Instant Pot (Instapot is one of the brand names)? It was the new revolution of countertop cooking, supposedly. You could brown and sauté on most of them with lightweight aluminum materials.
People were cooking dried beans from start to finish in 40-45 minutes. Jambalaya, pot roast, chicken and dumplings and more could be done in record time with the pressure cooker feature. The downside was it still wasn’t an oven. Anything needing to be browned on top was out. But time has proven this to be very versatile if you know what you’re doing. I leave that one up to Katie.
We haven’t even touched on fancy quick heating (and quick cooling) toaster ovens, Snackmasters, sandwich presses and celebrity boxer indoor grills. Magnetic cooking tops that cool nearly immediately, air fryers and other present day gadgets can relieve some of the stress when the heat is on. I hope you have the counter space.
It’s almost sunset here at MacDonald Manor. I’m about to traverse the deck to check the steaks on the Weber. Let’s hope she’s got a few more meals left in her. I better get a sous vide machine with my next paycheck just in case.
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