Improving the spoonie kitchen…

Last year I bought a new cooker – not that I actually cook much (when I’m able to I tend to cook for the freezer; to be clear, DWP snoops, I cannot, if provided with the ingredients, cook on demand), but the old one was a bugger to clean. The new one, with solid rings, is very easy to keep clean, but it’s unfortunately rubbish at simmering, the heat simply won’t go low enough.

As a result, I got a slow cooker but, as I’m getting progressively weaker (I can circle my left forearm, well above the wrist, with the thumb and middle finger of my right hand, I’ve lost so much muscle, something I’ve not been able to do since my early teens) , the weight of the heavy earthenware crock became a liability when it came to cleaning the thing. I needed an alternative.

That turned out to be a single induction hob. Lakeland have one for a whisker under £70, but I was unhappy with the fact that it had a large control knob perfectly placed to be swamped if a pan boiled over, and its recessed design makes it impossible to clean if that happens. For a couple of pounds more, Nisbets have one, intended for light, semi-commercial use, which has a sealed control pad, so I treated myself.

Click pic to go to store.

As you can see, it looks a tad industrial, which is no bad thing, as it also looks robust, more so that the pretified Lakeland one.

You can, by the way, pick these things up for silly money – don’t. I researched the market thoroughly, even though I knew what I wanted (am I good to you or what?), and the cheap ones are, without exception, crap, and prone to early failure. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.

The manual is a little unclear at first, but basically you can control it by temperature, or by power (up to a maximum of 1.8kW), though I’m not sure why you’d want to, as using the temperature control automatically adjusts the power to suit. It also has a three-hour timer, which you can choose to use or not. If you leave it turned on, as long as there’s not a pan on it, it’ll come to no harm and, anyway, will turn itself off after 2 hours.

It has an overheat cut-out but, given the large and very enthusiastic cooling fan, that might not be an issue. The black glass surface is marked with concentric circles labelled Minimum, Frying, and Cooking, which actually mean nothing (apart from the minimum size of pan) – what they’re for is to enable pans to be correctly centered. The glass hob will get hot through conduction from the pan, but not otherwise – induction hobs heat the food.

So far I’ve just boiled water – pretty fast – and checked the controls. It simmers nicely, but I didn’t know the correct temperature at which food is simmered (so I can set the temperature and just leave it, knowing it will be maintained at that temperature). The simmering temperature is considered to be 94C (200F), at sea level, with a little tinkering needed if  you’re significantly above that. A stew will simmer more consistently that plain water, as the solids retain heat, so you can test with water and get an approximation, as I did, but you’ll actually need to cook something to nail it down exactly.

Once you have the simmering temperature established (the point at which the surface just shimmers, with the occasional bubble), all you need do is bring it to the boil, reset the temp to simmer, and leave it. Not only will the hob maintain that temperature, it will reduce the power consumption while it does so. And is for any reason the temp drops below that set (lifting the lid, or a draught), it’ll bring it back up. All you need do is stir occasionally.

Stews, soups and some sauces (a ragu, for example), benefit greatly from long, slow simmering as, of course, do cheaper cuts of meat, which are often tastier than more expensive cuts, but with a tendency to be tough if not treated properly.

I stopped using pans last year (except for a small one mostly used for heating canned soup), switching to lightweight stainless steel casseroles (but with heavy bases) – having two handles they’re much easier to, er, handle than pans. Fortuitously, these are induction-friendly, as is my pressure cooker, and a very big, stainless steel two-handled pan that gets used only occasionally. I might replace the small pan with one suitable for the hob, as it uses less power, and heats faster, than the cooker.

A caveat:- If you have a pacemaker, these things aren’t for you.

As I said, I’ve not cooked with it yet, but it seems set fair to do exactly what I want it to do. It’s also light, so can be used anywhere you have space and a spare socket. In my case it has a permanent home on my wooden kitchen trolley next to the cooker and, as it’s a couple of inches lower, it’s rather more convenient to use.

The first thing I’m going to cook, when I feel up to it, is mince and veggies – simple and a good dish to get the hang of it, as it’s impossible to do it any harm  as long as I don’t burn it. Plus I like mince.

I’d also planned to make faggots in gravy, but went down with food poisoning about 10 days ago, from which I’m still recovering. The recipe will be posted once I’ve made them, thought right now I’m not sure when that will be. Unlike sausages, faggots can be made with meat that’s been frozen, as they’ll be cooked before being refrozen.

Currently I’m living on Tesco’s ready meals, and they’ve turned out to be surprisingly good. Only one failure – Ham Hock and Leek Potato Gratin. The leeks were far too coarsely cut, and didn’t cook in the allotted time. A bit stingy with the spuds too – no excuse, they’re cheap enough. They did use the white part of the leek, though, for which they get brownie points.

There have been some unexpected – and some unwanted – effects from the food poisoning. On the downside, it’s set my ME back about 5 years, meaning it’s incredibly hard to stay awake during the day, and even harder to sleep at night – if I get to sleep before 03.00 I’m doing well. And my memory has gone to hell.

On the other hand, my appetite, which has been pretty much gone for most of this year, is back with a vengeance, and my diuretics, which have been as much use as Smarties for about the same period, are now working as they’re supposed to, which is just as well as my legs, from knee to ankle, are so swollen with fluid my trousers are skin tight.

And – I’m not sure whether this is good or bad – I’ve completely lost my taste for beer. The thought of spending an afternoon in the pub, swilling beer, just doesn’t interest me. It’s quite remarkable – and not a little scary – how much that improves my bank balance.

So, since I’m not splurging on beer, I’m buying books, Blu-ray discs and foodie goodies – at least I’ll get more out of them that just a hangover!