My stove died. Right in the middle of baking cookies with my daughter. Of course, it’s 2020. What can I expect? It’s been such a challenging year that a small inconvenience like having no stove or oven didn’t really faze me, and I sighed as I called the service department of the appliance store where I purchased this stove less than a year ago. The technician couldn’t come to my house for a few days and, adding on time for parts and repair work, I estimated I’d be sans stove for about 10 days.
I posted the requisite GIF of a dumpster fire on social media when I reported the death of my stove and my friends cheered me on, saying this was the perfect excuse for takeout and a cooking vacation. I admit, I was tempted to give up and rely on curbside service of some tasty local restaurants. But my family was just recovering from tons of takeout and fried food during our most recent vacation at the Cape. Also, I like to reserve takeout for those desperate nights when I’m fed up with feeding my family and exhausted from a busy work week. Finally, ordering out is expensive! So I decided that I would use my creativity to see how I could cook without my stove for the next week.
Every generation has its iconic kitchen gadgets that seem to define the cuisine of that era. For our moms, it was the slow cooker and the fondue pot. In the 80s, many of our families got our first microwave and spent most of our time staring into that little window before our parents caught us and lectured us on the dangers of eyes getting zapped. In the 90s, college students and novice cooks everywhere rejoiced over the ease of the George Foreman grill. During the Aughts, coffee lovers everywhere were thrilled with the Keurig and health nuts loved turning any vegetable into “noodles” with the Spiralizer.
Well, now it’s 2020 and two gadgets dominate the cooking scene: the air fryer and the InstantPot. If you aren’t a home cook or don’t keep up with the latest kitchen trends, the air fryer is essentially a fancy, mini-convection oven. Many ovens already have a convection setting, but those can be a bit intimidating and most people don’t bother. An air fryer is a convenient, countertop appliance that crisps up your food without the grease and the oil.
An InstantPot is basically a pressure cooker and slow cooker combined into one convenient appliance. Many people have slow cookers but complain about the required meal planning for using it. Pressure cookers have their own dubious reputation, with nightmare scenes of sauce splattered on the kitchen ceiling after models from the 1970s would erupt without warning. The Instant Pot combines the best of both of these devices and has developed a devoted following on social media. Facebook groups are dedicated to Instant Pot recipes and troubleshooting issues for newbies.
Being the kitchen gadget obsessive that I am, I own both of these. I also love to grill in the summer. Thankfully, the weather seems to be holding out into September so I can still fire up the grill and get dinner ready before it gets dark. Of course, working at the library, I am never at a loss for cookbooks. In fact, our extensive cookbook collection contains thousands of recipes that maximize the unique features of each appliance.
Mark Bittman specializes in the basics of cooking, and his book “How to Grill Everything” is no exception. He features simple, flavorful recipes that never take longer than 45-minutes to prepare and cook. I especially appreciated the section which focuses on the basics of grilling poultry and features different ways to add flavor to boneless, skinless chicken breasts, a weeknight staple in my house. Most of his recipes also include tips for variations depending on what spices or herbs you have on hand.
Another attractive grilling cookbook is “The Big Flavor Grill” by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, which claims to have “no marinade, no hassle recipes.” This appealed to me because I often fail to plan ahead and so many grilling recipes contain complicated marinades that require lots of time to add flavor. Most days, I arrive home at 5 p.m. and then quickly scan my fridge for dinner items I can cook in a relatively short period of time. Much like Bittman’s book, this title features central recipes with two or three spin-offs per meat type. I’m keen to try the lamb chops with roasted garlic vinaigrette.
I’m also a fan of my air fryer, and so picked up the Good Housekeeping “Air Fryer Cookbook” to find more recipes. Air frying goes behind french fries and wings. This handy little gadget is a great way to cook up vegetable sides without turning on your oven. Unlike roasting or traditional frying, most recipes call for less fat when using the air fryer, making it a healthy option for families. The recipe for roasted sweet and sour brussel sprouts is amazing and makes a difficult vegetable extremely tasty.
Now that the weather is turning a bit cooler, I’m ready to put my Instant Pot back on the counter. Recipes for the Instant Pot require a bit more planning than the air fryer or grill so I tend to use it on the weekends for family dinners and store the leftovers for weekday lunches. “The Instant Pot Bible” does look a little overwhelming but I like that it contains recipe modifications for different Instant Pot models and directions on how to either slow cook or pressure cook your favorite dish. I’m fairly traditional when it comes to making my own homemade pasta sauce but desperate times call for desperate measures. I’m going to attempt making sauce in under 4-minutes in my Instant Pot and see if the buttery marinara sauce, a take on the Marcella Hazan recipe, can hold a candle to my regular stovetop, slow-cooked sauce.
While I love these gadgets, I do miss my stove. Stovetop and oven cooking are still the most convenient and often fastest ways to get a meal on the table. But I’m going to soldier on and get the most out of my underused kitchen appliances. Hopefully, my stove will be back in service by next week. If not, I’ll just keep plugging along, trying new recipes. And if all else fails, there’s always takeout!
Kate Tigue is the head of youth services at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood.