Ask Peter: Cooking without a kitchen
I am about to “camp” in a spare room/laundry while my kitchen is being renovated. I won’t have a proper stove, but I still want hot meals after a weekend of DIY, not just takeaways. I’m working with a slow-cooker, an electric frypan and a panini press, and wondered if you could give me some ideas for meals I can prep and enjoy. Sam
Well, the fact you have three different cooking options hardly means you’ll be suffering. In fact, you’re better set up than most people in a campervan and some student flats I’ve seen. A slow-cooker is one of life’s great joys, I feel. You can literally throw in chopped up veges, meat and spices, turn it on and walk away. Everything just seems to come out tender and moist and I’ve yet to have a bad meal from one. Also, dishes are kept to a minimum and, unless it turns itself off, it’s a safe-to-cook, safe-to-leave-on, piece of kit.
The key when braising and stewing in them is to make sure you skim off excess fat as it rises. The fat will add a lot of flavour to your dish, but too much (from a pork belly or similar) can be a bit overwhelming.
For a lovely mutton stew for six, place 2 red onions, peeled and thickly sliced, into the cooker along with 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, 2 carrots, peeled and sliced, 2 parsnips, peeled and sliced, 1 can chickpeas, rinsed, 2 cans chopped tomatoes, 3 cans of water and 1kg diced mutton leg or shoulder. If you have the bone at hand, throw that in as well. Add whatever spices you like — I’d suggest 2 tsp toasted cumin and 1 tsp toasted fennel seeds and as much sliced red chilli as you fancy. Add 4 Tbsp soy sauce (instead of salt), then turn it on and leave it to cook. I’d serve it with cauliflower, thickly sliced through the stem, brushed with oil, and cooked in the panini press until golden on both sides. Plus a watercress or rocket salad.
Electric frypans are great as well, and much underrated, although it’ll depend on the size of yours and the shape as to what and how much you can cook in it. I’m a fan of one pot meals — but unlike the slow cooker you can do meat and three veg without having to have it all stewed together. Assuming you like a steak for two, here’s what I’d do.
Heat pan to full and place steaks in with a little oil or butter and colour on both sides. Don’t cook more than bleu at most. Take from the pan and sit on a plate. Lower heat to medium and saute 2 medium red onions and garlic, both peeled and sliced, in oil or butter until caramelised. Add chopped sage, rosemary or thyme. Cook until fully caramelised and sticky and remove to a bowl. Don’t wipe out the pan, but add 2 large potatoes or kumara, skins scrubbed and diced. Cook over medium, stirring to help lift the pieces stuck to the pan, then add . cup water, some salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Put the lid back on and cook until the potatoes are almost done. Stir a few times as they cook. Clear a space in the middle and put the steaks back in (don’t add the bloody juices yet) and cook to your desired stage, turning once. Take the steaks out and place on warm plates (use hot water from the tap to warm them up). Add the leaves and stalks of silverbeet, washed and shredded, the onions and steak juices to the pan and cook until the juices have evaporated and you have a sort of bubble and squeak. Serve with the steaks alongside some salad leaves dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.
The other thing that is great made in an electric frypan is risotto. Have a kettle of boiling water to hand and use that to top up the stock as it cooks. Rice pudding for dessert, made like a risotto, is also great — especially if you stir in some frozen berries at the end and add a big dollop of mascarpone.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.