“Creamy Macaroni and Cheese” from “Dinner in an Instant”

Sometimes, you really ought to follow your instincts.

In this case, when I first saw this recipe, I thought, “Why in the world would you want to make macaroni and cheese in a pressure cooker.” Quickly followed by the second thought, “How does it work? I’m so intrigued I want to try it.”

Melissa Clark even says in the introduction, “Why make macaroni and cheese in an electric pressure cooker when it’s so easy to do on the stove? You’re not necessarily going to save any time with this method, but cooking it all in one pot does make things more convenient.”

Having now made this recipe, I respectfully disagree. This was a disaster.

We definitely are experts when it comes to judging macaroni and cheese in this house. By my count, we’ve tried at least six via this blog. Our favourite, perhaps even a Desert Island Dish, would be this version from the New York Times. Delivers every time. For when we have less time, I’ve also made this version from Melissa Clark’s previous cookbook, “Dinner.” It’s also a winner. (It’s also very quick. It only takes about 15 minutes to make.)

Honestly, I should have just stopped considering it when my initial thought was that you couldn’t really cook macaroni and cheese in a pressure cooker. I mean, technically, you CAN, because we did end up with a dinner of macaroni and cheese. But I won’t bother to do it this way again.

The reason, quite simply, is that clean up requires a monumental effort. Not surprisingly, no matter how much butter you put on the bottom of the pot, it’s still going to burn when it’s cooking on a high heat for six minutes. Once the macaroni and cheese was taken out, we found a pot that was completely black at the bottom, which required a huge multi-day cleanup effort. It’s funny how the picture above does not accurately reflect the level of burning that went on, but trust me, it was significant. At least there was enough non-burnt macaroni and cheese to feed everyone.

The burning had a secondary effect as well: the macaroni and cheese ended up with a distinct smoky taste. Smokiness can be excellent in a variety of dishes, but not in macaroni and cheese, which should deliver the creamy goodness we know and love.

Would I make this again? I think you all already know the answer to this question.

Macaroni and cheese in a pressure cooker? Just don’t do it.

“Creamy Macaroni and Cheese” from “Dinner in an Instant”

“Garlicky Cuban Pork” from “Dinner in an Instant”

One of our favourite meals out of our pressure cooker is pulled pork. It’s a recipe I found on the Internet, scribbled on a scrap of paper, and now said scrap piece of paper is still kicking around in the kitchen and pulled out every few months for a yummy Sunday lunch.

So when I saw this recipe for Garlicky Cuban Pork, which, let’s face it, is just a variation on a theme, I knew this family would be happy to give it a go.

I wasn’t wrong. The yummy marinade, which you then use to cook the pork in, really gives it a good kick. Unlike the pulled pork that we usually have, the citrus and garlic marinade gives it a more subtle, and dare I say better, flavour than the pulled pork we usually have.

I made homemade salsa and the always faithful cowboy rice to have with it and the whole family happily dove in for seconds, and in some cases, thirds of everything. I’d call it a win.

Even with the pressure cooker, though, it took a fair amount of time to get this on the table. We had planned to have it on Sunday, but events conspired against us so we had it on a weeknight instead. Really, this would work better on a weekend but if you work from home and can plan ahead (while the first is true for me, alas, the second is not so much), you could still pull it off for a weeknight.

Another caveat: this cookbook is written primarily for Instant Pots, which are electric pressure cookers. Our pressure cooker is a stovetop version (purchased in France, an impulse buy I’m still happy about, even though I had to talked into it at the time) so I’ve done a fair amount of reading to figure out if or how I need to adjust to the stovetop version. Unfortunately, I still don’t have a definitive answer to that, so I’m just winging it.

5 out of 5: Would enthusiastically eat again and again.

“Garlicky Cuban Pork” from “Dinner in an Instant”

What We’re Eating Again: Baked Ziti from the NYT Cooking App

Winters in London can sometimes be a bit depressing: short days, damp, rainy, fog, dreary with VERY occasional snow showers. So the only answer on days like this is to have some comfort food, and if you ask me, you can’t get more comfort than baked ziti.

Having grown up in Northern New Jersey– where people take their Italian food very seriously with an Italian dish of one kind or another featured on every buffet table– I love Italian food (even if I am of Irish-German extraction). In the past, I’ve tried to make baked ziti without a recipe, but didn’t have much success doing so. But when I gave this one from the NYTimes a try, that all changed.

This reminds me so much of the ziti I was raised on– cheesy, tomatoey goodness. When I made it recently on one of the aforementioned December days described above, I added a new feature of smoked bacon lardons. It did not disappoint. It was just the thing this family needed to propel us toward another dreary December day.

If you’d like to give a try, the recipe can be found by clicking through this sentence.

What We’re Eating Again: Baked Ziti from the NYT Cooking App

“Meatballs with Orzo” from “At My Table”

I was very much looking forward to cooking this recipe, as Nigella created a similar dish in “Nigellissima” that is eaten by this family so often that it’s practically in our food canon.

“Fake Risotto” (see the original post here and see the follow up post here) is so beloved that I’ve already taught 18-year-old Andrew how to make it so when he’s at university next year, he’ll be able to make it for himself.

Alas, this recipe had big shoes– or should that be bowls?– to follow, and it didn’t quite fill them.

To be sure, it was delicious. However, given that you make the meatballs and then poach them in the tomato sauce before finally adding the orzo, it takes more than an hour from start to finish. If I wanted to do something that labour intensive, I’d just make our very favourite meatballs and tomato sauce from Polpo.

It was good, I just won’t be making it again. I’ll either make the original fake risotto if I only have 15 minutes, or Polpo’s meatballs and tomato sauce if I’ve got more than an hour.

“Meatballs with Orzo” from “At My Table”

“Cheesy Garlic Bread” from “At My Table”

I’ve got to say that it seems a bit of a cheat that Nigella is including a recipe for cheesy garlic bread in this cookbook. Surely everyone knows how to make cheesy garlic bread?

This is how I usually do it: 1. Make garlic butter. 2. Cut french stick horizontally. 3. Spread garlic butter liberally over each side of bread. 3. Sprinkle mozzarella (again, liberally) over the top of the garlic bread. 4. Put under broiler and watch like a hawk to make sure it doesn’t burn. 5. Eat with gusto.

I suppose we could call Nigella’s version a slightly more sophisticated take on this dish, as rather than banging two slices under the broiler, which is much quicker, you cut the bread vertically and then stuff the garlic butter and mozzarella between pieces. You wrap the whole thing up in aluminium foil and then roast it at 220C/400F for 30 minutes.

Is it better? I’m not sure. It definitely takes longer, and it looks nicer. But usually when I’m having cheesy garlic bread, I’m having it with pasta and that only takes 10 minutes to cook. So this version takes a bit of advance planning, which I’m not convinced is worth it.

But no matter how you make it, cheesy garlic bread is ALWAYS delicious.

“Cheesy Garlic Bread” from “At My Table”

“Roast Red Hot Salsa” from “At My Table”

This recipe is peak Nigella: delicious and simple– so simple that I bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t thought to do this myself.

Essentially what you do to make this recipe is you put a load of tomatoes, red chillies, red onion, red bell peppers and garlic on a roasting tray, toss them in sea salt and veg oil, roast it for 40 minutes and then whizz it– either in a food processor or with a stick blender. See? Easy.

Nigella recommended 50 grams of red chillies, but I knew that was probably more heat than the boys could bear, so I only put in three. It still was hot, trust me. But also very yummy.

Would I make this again? Absolutely.

“Roast Red Hot Salsa” from “At My Table”

“Pizza” from “The Magic Fridge”

An important thing to know about our house: Pizza is a religion.

(As it happens, this is also true at Kirstin’s house, which is one of the many reasons why we are such good friends. We swap pizza tips, such as the time she told me about the steel plate for the bottom of her oven she bought for Tom to make better pizza. I then sourced my own type for Tim, which he got for Christmas. Everyone wins.)

We take it very, very seriously. Tim is the Pizza Maker in Charge, but as late I have found that I need to take over this serious responsibility as work demands have sent him half a world away until December. Tim now has an extremely complicated dough and yeast system that I can’t even begin to fathom, so I was quite happy to see this recipe for pizza in Magic Fridge.

The recipe is fantastic. Good instructions and the dough turned out great. Where things went horribly wrong– and this truly was operator error, rather than the fault of the cookbook– was when it came time to bake them. I was distracted by “Strictly Come Dancing”, so I just set the timer for 10 minutes and left the kitchen.  This was a mistake.

When I returned, the pizza on the top shelf was burned on the top, the pizza on the aforementioned steel plate was burned on the bottom, but the pizza in the middle was one for Goldlilocks because it was Just Right. But I vowed to fix the problem.

So when I made pizza the next time, I put the timer on for only 8 minutes and I didn’t leave the kitchen. I also checked on them periodically during the baking time. Guess what? They were perfect*. Another win for “The Magic Fridge.”

*Still not as good as Tim’s, but you can’t have everything. He just needs to come back and resume his pizza-making responsibilities.

“Pizza” from “The Magic Fridge”