I started doing these blogs after reading about how many ordinary people just cannot cook for themselves. Thinking about them and about the people I know now who are perhaps two or three generations away from either cooking lessons at school or maybe even at home inspired me to just write about what I do. If it helps anyone ever, even if I never know, then that keeps me going.
Today’s photo shows one of my favourite bits of kitchen kit- a steamer set bought from Ikea a few years back. Not that long ago. 5 years maybe? The shame is that they don’t seem to make them any more. I am still going to tell you why I think they are great.
These came in two sizes and the layering baskets could all be bought separately. You could build your set as finances allowed. It is good quality stainless steel, not flimsy at all and the sections all have a good seal when they are stacked up so they don’t let too much steam escape from the sides during the cooking process. Before I found this one, I had invested rather more money than was wise in something from a well known company that was utter rubbish. A lot more steam escaped into the kitchen than found its way into the food. Note to self- read the reviews before impulse purchase.
I have been cooking in this sort of pan now for many years and have developed a rhythm, an instinctual feel, for when to put different sorts of veg in and for how long. This is my basic run down for a meat, potatoes and two veg dinner. Or “Dinner-Winner” as my husband calls them.
- If cooking any sort of meat that likes to brown-beef, pork chop, chicken breast- I put my big, cast iron skillet on the back burner of the cooker on a mid heat to start to warm the pan. Meat into a cold pan creates all manner of problems and variable results.
- I put about 2-3 inches of water in the bottom part of the steamer pan, put the lid on (yes, it does come to the boil quicker) and put that on my little induction hob to come to a boil.
- I then scrub potatoes and peel as necessary depending on style of serving. I do peel before boiling for mash, for instance. These are put in the first flat steamer pan and rinsed before putting on the steamer bottom. On the induction hob, the water is usually boiling just before I get this step done. It’s pretty fast. Reduce hob to medium. You don’t need to fill the kitchen with steam to get this cooking done.
- I now put my meat in the iron skillet and season with salt and pepper. Amazing how just this simple seasoning is often all that is needed. Have your cooking thermometer ready (photo and description in coming post).
- I then prep the next layer. I do this in order of how long it takes to cook things- potatoes needing the longest and the next layer might be carrots. Whatever goes into the next layer doesn’t have to go on straight away if you think it is going to cook too fast. Just get them ready, one by one, and put them on the steaming stack when you inner cooking voice (yes, I believe we all have one!) says NOW. There will be a learning curve but that’s okay.
- I do use frozen veg quite often as I feel the quality is good and certain things, such as green beans, are frozen really quickly, in season, having been grown here in the UK and not flown halfway across the world. Green beans, sweet corn and peas are my frozen standbys and I almost always cook more than I need on purpose. What to do with the leftovers in a coming post.
- All during this veg prep process I am keeping an eye on that meat. By warming the iron pan before and raising the temp a bit before putting the meat into it, I need use no fat in the pan (which is well “seasoned” and rarely sticks) and the meat seals and then gradually takes on the brown caramelization that makes for good flavour. Having sealed it a bit on both sides, turn the heat down to cook gently, usually without lid as you probably don’t really want it to be steamed, which is what happens with the lid on.
- At about this point I put my smaller grilling oven onto the lowest setting and put my plates in to warm. They are porcelain and are cold when they come straight out of the cupboard. Putting hot food onto a cold plate means a trip to the microwave halfway through eating, which, while sometimes needed and useful, changes the textures of the food and can make the cook very grumpy indeed.
- Back to the veg stack. Steam cooks very quickly and the things on the bottom usually get there first. If a small knife stuck into the potatoes now deems them to be “ready” I take that layer out (oven gloves a MUST, please) and put them either on one side or just rearrange the stack. I have a look at the rest and judge how close they are to being ready. PLEASE don’t get hung up about timings. Learn to use your instinct and it will serve you well. You will start to feel and know: by the way things look and taste, by testing with that small knife you used on the potatoes, by many small changes, but you will just learn to know. Trust me.
- Test the meat with your digital thermometer. As I said, more soon about this item.
- At this point I shout for my husband to come and do his two “things” while I finish off and make sure the table is set, etc. before serving up. His first thing is mashing the potatoes if that is how we are having them. He is the Potato Masher Maestro and I don’t even look to see how much butter and milk he is putting into his creation. All I know is that his mash is always wonderful so I let him get on with it with no undue interference from me. The other thing I get him to do is make the instant gravy. Bisto Gravy Granules…that sort of thing…whatever…I have no use for the stuff myself but he is a Birmingham boy who grew up in the 60s and 70s and it is not a “Dinner-Winner” (in his opinion) with out being covered in the requisite amount of brown, steaming gravy. To each their own. If he is happy, I am happy and the look on his face as he sits down to eat is all I need to know. And, an added point that keeps me happy- if I have not made it then any lumps in said gravy are nothing to do with me!
Now, this may feel like a long and complicated amount of info to get your head around if you do not already have a routine that works for you. Easier to pop a microwave meal in and collapse in front of the telly, surely? Be honest. How many times have you eaten a microwave meal that you can say has satisfied you in any way whatsoever? I am not meaning to be a purest or snobby or anything like that. We all have times when we need to get the job done in as short a time as possible and move on. But, ready meals are not cheap at all for what you are actually getting. The ingredients are often the cheapest end of what manufacturers can get away with and, as for saving a lot of time, I can get the meal described above on the table from the moment I step into the kitchen and don my trusty blue apron to done and ready to eat in about 30 minutes. I know what is in it, and, to my mind, the very most important ingredients- love, care and attention- are cooked right into the meal. You will never find those ingredients listed on the back of a ready meal but you will know they are missing by how happy and satisfied, or not, the food makes you feel.
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