Chapel Hill food writer and teacher Sheri Castle tends to shy away from trendy, bulky kitchen toys.
She often spends her time developing recipes that can be recreated by home cooks. And when the deadline approaches for a cookbook or other publication, she relies on her quality pots and pans and technical skills, not wanting to waste her time with magical implements that promise to eliminate the drudgery of cooking.
But then came the Instant Pot. The popular appliance and other multicookers can cook food under low or high pressure, in slow cooker or sauté mode, and can - dare I say, magically? - take dried beans from bag to dinner table in under an hour. Depending on the make and model, it also can produce tangy yogurt or foolproof crème fraîche while you're at work or asleep.
"I was a latecomer because I didn't think I needed one. But there are some things it can do that just blow me away," says Castle, whose mastery of multicooker-cooking is on display in " Instantly Southern," a new collection of 85 recipes published this month by Clarkson Potter. "I'll never cook poached or hard-boiled eggs on the stovetop again."
Castle will extol of the virtues of multicookers at Southern Season Oct. 19 at 9 a.m. as part of the TerraVita Food & Drink Festival Sustainable Classroom workshop. She will be joined by acclaimed chef Ian Boden of The Shack in Staunton, Va., who quit mocking the devices after Castle challenged him to give them a try. (Note: This writer, a confessed member of the Cult of the Instant Pot, will facilitate the session.)
Castle counters naysayers who dismiss multicookers as trendy gadgets by defending their innovation and ability to support so many different cooking techniques. They also are considerably safer than old stovetop pressure cookers, whose misuse became the stuff of many family legends.
"We all grew up hearing stories about grandmother's pressure cooker blowing up, but I am telling you, these will not leave a Rorschach-test of exploded beans on your ceiling," Castle said. Multicookers, she said, "represent a new generation of countertop appliance.
"It's not a gadget," she said. "It's a great addition to a well-stocked kitchen, and a godsend to people with practically no kitchen at all."
Whether one cooks in a spacious kitchen, a dormitory or the cab of a long-haul truck, Castle believes that multicookers of various sizes and settings empower anyone with a single electrical outlet, a few pantry items and some fresh ingredients to prepare healthful, satisfying food.
"It doesn't replace cooking but I believe they can be very useful to people," says Castle, who credits " Cooking In An Instant " by New York Times food writer Melissa Clark for helping to "legitimize" multicookers as a valid kitchen resource.
On Oct. 16, Clark published a sequel to last year's bestseller with " Comfort In An Instant."
Castle made space for three multicookers in her kitchen by relocating her slow cooker and other large, less-used devices to the attic. That's down from the six she owned during the intense, two-month period in which she wrote the book and tested the recipes earlier this year.
She urges anyone planning to buy a multicooker to choose one with high and low pressure settings, at minimum, and a sauté function that can be set at different heat levels. A yogurt function is essential if you want to try Castle's recipe for cottage cheese.
When Castle tested different ways to cook greens, she discovered that a 2-minute blast at low pressure kept young greens "bright, pliant and just tender enough" - without overly shrinking the volume.
"I literally clapped my hands with delight the first time I made them and lifted the lid to see how it turned out," Castle recalls with a laugh. Greens typically are cooked low and slow.
"For me, it was a complete game-changer," she said.
While some multicooker cookbooks and blogs focus on the speed of cooking at high pressure, or the convenience of being able to cook frozen chicken or other dump-and-go ingredients, Castle focuses on teaching readers how to build flavors by using time-honored techniques, like searing meats for greater depth of flavor. She also relies on the low-pressure setting for more delicate ingredients, such as eggs or shrimp.
She also cautions that some foods simply should not be cooked under time-saving pressure, like her deliberately slow-cooked pulled chicken or pork. "It isn't as quick," she writes in the recipe for the pork, "but once the pork is prepped and in the pot, you can ignore it for hours."
Castle was not satisfied with any pressure-cooker recipes she tested using lean chicken breast, but includes several using richer dark meat. Her luscious take on Country Captain, the classic Lowcountry dish with an appealing curried tomato sauce, is simple enough for a weeknight supper. It's also company-worthy, needing just a handsome platter to elevate presentation. When guests toast the chef, feel no need to mention that dinner took less than an hour to prepare.
Castle ably demonstrates that multicookers can produce stunning desserts, ranging from Red Velvet Cheesecake and Pineapple Upside Down Cake to Salted Caramel Banana Pudding and Quick Lemon Cream with Fresh Berries. The lemon cream, her "favorite in-a-rush dessert," deploys lemon curd and crème fraîche, both made in the multicooker, and berries. Assembly, she writes, "requires three ingredients, two minutes and one bowl."
Soon after the official release of "Instantly Southern" on Oct. 2, the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) named it an " Okra Pick," an honor given to books that are part of a "strong selection of Southern titles not to be missed each season." "Instantly Southern" is the only cookbook in the current crop.
Castle's first collection of recipes, "The New Southern Garden Cookbook," was similarly tagged in 2011 and went on the win the organization's Cookbook of the Year prize in 2012.
Castle recreates a recipe from that book in "Instantly Southern." The Collards Pesto served with her risotto-style Hoppin' John, a classic New Year's dish, has long been one of my favorites. With collard season around the corner, and a new way to fix this scrumptious sauce in under 10 minutes, I won't be waiting for 2019 to enjoy some.
Here are Sheri Castle's upcoming appearances.
▪ 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 19: "Under Pressure: Cooking With the Instant Pot," a Sustainable Classroom workshop of the TerraVita Food & Drink Festival, at the Southern Season Cooking School, Estes Drive, Chapel Hill (fee includes samples of recipes prepared by Castle and chef Ian Boden of the Shack in Staunton, Va.) For details, go to terravitafest.com.
▪ Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20: "Instantly Southern" recipe tasting and book signing, Parker & Otis, 112 S. Duke St., Durham (free)
▪ 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21: "Instantly Southern" release party and demonstration at McIntyre's Books, Fearrington Village ($95 fee includes samples of four recipes, a glass of wine and a copy of the book)
▪ 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27: "Instantly Southern" book signing, McIntrye's Books, Fearrington Village (free)
▪ Noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11: Book signing and recipe tasting, Quail Ridge Books, 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh (free)
▪ 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13: Holiday Dinner in an Instant, Southern Season Cooking School ($60 fee)
▪ 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28: Family-style dinner at Piedmont restaurant in Durham will feature dishes from "Instantly Southern" and other Sheri Castle cookbooks paired with beer from Fullsteam Brewery. Go to piedmontrestaurant.com/events for details.I could barely contain my delight the first time I cooked leafy greens in a multicooker. After only 2 minutes, they emerged bright green, pliant, and just tender enough. Unlike greens sautéed in a skillet on the stovetop, they don't lose their volume and shrink away to nothing. This technique works best for leafy greens of medium sturdiness, such as kale, mustard, turnip, chard, mixed braising greens, very young collards, and the like. The leaves should be sturdy enough to not dissolve or turn slick when cooked (as spinach does), and yet tender enough for quick cooking to be sufficient. Quick greens are plenty delicious served as a warm salad with nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil and a little salt and pepper, but when you want something a bit more elaborate as a finishing touch, turn to one of the recipes that follow. A steamer basket is necessary for some multicooker recipes. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but a tall mesh basket that nearly ﬁlls the pot is my pick. The basket's large capacity means it can hold the most food without any of it tumbling into the water, and a sturdy hinged handle makes it easiest to move in and out of the pot.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Pour 1 1/2 cups water into the pot. Place the greens in a deep steamer basket and lower it into the pot. Cover and cook on low pressure for 2 minutes. Quick release the pressure. Lift the basket out of the pot and shake gently to remove any clinging water.
If using the greens in one of the following recipes, set them aside until needed. If serving them now, pour into a bowl and season with oil, salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup pine nuts
Set the greens aside in the steamer basket until needed. Empty and dry the pot.
Stir together the raisins and vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside so that the raisins plump in the vinegar. (To speed up the absorption, microwave for 30 seconds.)
Warm the oil in the pot on sauté low. Stir in the garlic, pine nuts and pepper flakes and cook until the garlic and nuts are golden and sizzling, about 3 minutes, stirring often. Do not let the garlic burn.
Add the greens in large handfuls, tossing with tongs to coat. Mix in the raisins and vinegar. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve warm or pour onto a serving platter and let cool to room temperature.
Set the greens aside in the steamer basket until needed. Empty and dry the pot.
Cook the bacon on sauté medium until crisp and rendered, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a bowl, leaving the fat in the pot.
Stir in the onion and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the vinegar, brown sugar and pepper flakes.
Add the greens in large handfuls, tossing with tongs to coat. Stir in the reserved bacon. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve warm or pour onto a serving platter and let cool to room temperature.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2⁄3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the topping: Pour the melted butter into a 7-inch round baking pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter, stir gently to moisten and then spread in an even layer. Arrange the pineapple rings and cherries in the pan, as desired, pushing them gently into the brown sugar mixture. Set aside until needed.
For the cake: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cardamom and cinnamon in a small bowl.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter and granulated sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with half of the milk, beating only until smooth after each addition. Quickly beat in the rum and vanilla.
Pour the batter into the pan, taking care to not dislodge the fruit. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Pour 1 1/2 cups water into the pot. Set the pan on a metal trivet with handles and lower them into the pot. Cover and cook on high pressure for 50 minutes. Let stand for natural release for 10 minutes, then quick release the remaining pressure.
Remove the cake from the pot, uncover and let stand for 10 minutes. Place a large serving plate over the pan and invert the cake onto the plate. Gently pry off any fruit that might have stuck to the pan and replace it on top of the cake. Let cool to room temperature before cutting and serving.