“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.

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“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”

“Spice Rubbed Spatchcocked Chicken” from NYT Cooking App

Kirstin: Melissa Clark is VERY keen on spatchcocking chickens. So this is not the first time I have been inspired to make one of her recipes with the exciting part of spatchcocking beforehand. I’m definitely getting better at the part where you remove the backbone of a chicken, put it that way. Also the squashing part. And, as Melissa says in her video for this recipe, it is SUCH a good word! SPATCHCOCK! I particularly love it when she has all her utensils out and ready to use in the video. She is brilliant.

(And another small digression: I didn’t have any of the ancho chile powder for this recipe, so I found some of the dried whole peppers and ground them down in my new grinder which was very exciting, as you can imagine!)

And now to the recipe itself. The spice combination itself smelled incredible as I put it on the chicken. It’s one of the Top Ten recipes made from the New York Times this week and I could see why as I rubbed the spices on. However. There is just something about me and these spatchcocked chicken recipes that I am not getting right. Is it the temperature of the oven? Is it the length of time to cook? There is something that I continue to get wrong every time. While the chicken was not pink, it was chewier than usual despite me effectively burning all the spices on the top and also leaving the chicken to rest for a full ten minutes, or in fact longer as Tom had to edit something which took longer than I had anticipated. And I note that she adds olive oil before she cooks hers on the video, but not in the recipe. Maybe that made a difference.

So, the question is would I make this again? No. Would I try spatchcocking a chicken for Melissa? Probably not. No, not even butterflying one. But I might try spatchcocking for someone else’s recipe to see if I could get it right. And yes, that might be just so I could use the word again!

“Spice Rubbed Spatchcocked Chicken” from NYT Cooking App

Our Verdict: “Dinner, Changing the Game”

Kirstin: I just want Melissa Clark to move in to my house and cook with me. With all the jalepenos

Maureen: I could see how that would work. She would be fun to cook with and I also think her attitude would be, “Don’t stress. It’s just dinner.”

Kirstin: All the sticky tabs I use to mark the recipes I want to make are no longer relevant because I just want to make everything.

Maureen: Every time I open the book I find something else I want to make. I feel bad because due to a variety of factors, I wasn’t able to post everything I made. But there were no disasters, which is always the sign of an excellent cookbook.

Kirstin: She is so good at flavour combinations. Everything is so tasty.

Maureen: But they were all made with easily sourced ingredients. Other than my experience with daikon radishes, though enough people told me they thought I’d easily be able to find them in London. I still haven’t seen them in any of the greengrocers or supermarkets I use regularly, but I’ve not given up hope.

Kirstin: I’ve loved this book so much that I’ve already given four copies away.

Maureen: If that’s not a sign of a good book, I don’t know what is. The thing I loved about this book is that it was all attainable deliciousness. It’s not overly cheffy in that it involves multiple steps and multiple bowls. They were all pretty straightforward, but absolutely delicious, which is all you really want, in the end.

Kirstin: I think this is my favourite book ever.

Maureen: High praise indeed.

Kirstin: You know how much I love Gwyneth Paltrow and Bill Granger. They do lovely Italian and Asian dishes, which is what we love most in our house. But Melissa Clark does those dishes so much better than they do.

Maureen: This is a very, very, very good book. I don’t know if it’s my favourite cookbook ever, but I don’t know what that would be. That’s going to take some thought.

Kirstin: This cookbook is just the business. Everything has tasted so amazing. It’s made me really get back into the kitchen and enjoy being back in the kitchen.

Maureen: I think it’s made me a better cook overall. I really started to think about what we should have for dinner, what would taste good with it, what extras I could make. Not in an over the top way, but in a more thoughtful way than I usually do, and I put it down to this book.

Kirstin: If I could only have one book on my shelf, it would probably be this one. This is my Desert Island Cookbook.

Overall Grade (A- F):  A* (Maureen)  A***** (Kirstin)
Best recipes:  Korean Bulgogi (Kirstin) There were so many good ones, it was hard to pick one. But maybe the Za’atar Chicken. (Maureen)
Grade for Photography (A-F): Kirstin: A
Any disasters? (Kirstin and Maureen) Absolutely not.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? High-rotation bookshelf.  Kirstin: This one might have its own bookshelf.
Would you give this to a friend?  (Maureen) Absolutely. (Kirstin) Indeed. I’ve given it away four times already.

Our Verdict: “Dinner, Changing the Game”

“Pizza with Broccoli Rabe, Ricotta and Olives” from “Dinner”

Kirstin: We love pizza. We have it every weekend and having played around with the dough recipes, we’ve decided the best one is the Roberta’s recipe from the New York Times. But then that leaves the question of the toppings!

Tom: Nduja know what my favourite topping is?

Kirstin: I knew you were going to say that.

Tom: I’m just trying to do Nduja right thing. Anyway, you were saying…

Kirstin: So I liked the look of this recipe with broccoli, ricotta and olives. Normally we don’t cook the toppings — we just use olives, prosciutto, passata, garlic…

Tom: And Nduja!

Kirstin: Yes, and that. Anyway, this recipe involves cooking the broccoli, garlic and chilli flakes, and then you chop it up and add the olives.

Tom: And then bung that on the pizza, plus ricotta and olive oil. And salt. And a few more chilli flakes. It was fab!

Kirstin: I loved it. I would do that again. Would you?

Tom: Amazingly, yes. Normally I don’t like pizzas without meat, but this was great!

Kirstin: I think I would add some jalapeño. I’m surprised she didn’t.

Tom: Everything is better with more jalapeño!

“Pizza with Broccoli Rabe, Ricotta and Olives” from “Dinner”

“Steam Clams with Spring Herbs and Lime” from “Dinner”

Kirstin: This might be my favourite clam recipe ever. I think it was the combination of lime zest, lime and butter in the juice which we mopped up with bread that really made my day. And we cheated by having this for lunch. With a gin and elderflower sherbet because it felt like the thing to do. Gah, I’m sooooooo going to miss this book.

“Steam Clams with Spring Herbs and Lime” from “Dinner”

“Harissa Chicken” from “Dinner”

Kirstin: This recipe is featured on the cover of this cookbook. And I have to admit chicken and harissa is a total win in this household. Ella actually told me that she loved the harissa potatoes with this too, so that’s even better. Not as amazing as our favourite harissa chicken recipe from Gwyneth’s book, this is a very yummy and much easier version if you feel need for a little bit of Middle Eastern in the middle of the week. Also make sure to make the yoghurt garnish because it is just wonderful. And spread it on everything.

“Harissa Chicken” from “Dinner”