Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dinner in 29 minutes or less? Reviewing the Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker

I do want you to know, that despite the fact that I was a Pampered Chef consultant for 3 years, this is a completely un-biased review ;)

At a recent Pampered Chef show I hosted, I got a ton of cool kitchen gear. I can't remember if I shared pics here or just on Facebook, and of course now I can't FIND the pics. But anyway, I digress. I got the Deep Covered Baker, which is a $69 glazed stoneware piece, and I adore it. I also got one of the "29 minutes to dinner" cookbooks (I already had the other one but hadn't made anything out of it yet) and the quick little recipe cards, I think they are Dinner Done with One meaning a one pot recipe. Anyway. The baker was on backorder because it was so popular, and so I received it in mid-May and then while camping over Memorial Day weekend I planned some meals using the recipes that would work in the baker. I got groceries for all the ingredients... and this week I started. We have had three meals in the baker, and so far I have had a great experience. Let's break this down by recipe!

Easy Tortellini Toss- Weekday Dinners, Done! Recipe Card Collection
This recipe calls for simple things like a slice of precooked ham (think the big oval ham slice that has a bone in it, and is wrapped in plastic) frozen cheese tortellini, and fresh spinach. Then you add garlic, flour, butter, milk, parmesan, pepper, and chicken broth to make your "sauce." It's really really quick and awesome tasting. What's great about many of these recipes, is that while the one ingredient (often the meat) is cooking in the baker, you are prepping and combining the other ingredients. Then you often add everything to the baker and cook together for another short amount of time and you have your meal. The tortellini toss was a HUGE hit. I will definitely make it again, although next time, I will probably double it, because it would be nice to have leftovers of, especially for the kids' lunch the next day.

Orange Glazed Sticky Ribs- 29 Minutes to Dinner Volume 2 (cookbook)
This recipe was a completely new experience for me. In the 12 years that we have been together, I have never made Ribs. Ever. I have never made ribs in my life. I had only EATEN ribs for the first time about a year ago. I, as a rule, do not like BBQ sauce, and because all the ribs I have ever seen are BBQ, I have avoided slathered up ribs like the plague. I had an interesting time picking out Baby Back Ribs at the store. I was excited to try. I love how these cookbooks have a neat little blurb on the righthand side of each recipe that tells you a little bit about the ingredients (especially if they might be something you have not used before) and gives you little tips about the recipe in general. I always learn something from them. The tips are titled "Chef's Corner" and this recipe described how to remove the membrane that is under the rack of ribs, which I didn't even know EXISTED. This was the most difficult part of the entire recipe. That and the fact that ribs smell TERRIBLE when raw and when cooking. And remember, you are talking to the girl who spent her college years touring slaughterhouses and packaging facilities, and being surrounded by butchers and fresh hanging meat. I don't understand why the ribs smelled so terrible, but my husband agreed. It was almost bad enough that I couldn't eat them.... almost ;) I rinsed the ribs THREE TIMES with cold water to try to get some of the smell to go away. Ick.

Basically you remove the membrane, separate the ribs, and cook them in the baker. This is the recipe that I ran into trouble with cooking times and meat temperatures. Because my mom is in food service and has a sanitation license, I have learned to be a stickler for how well my meat is cooked, and to check temperatures. Using TWO different quick read thermometers *one by Pampered Chef and one NOT by Pampered Chef* I repeatedly tested the meat's internal temperature while continuing to microwave the ribs. I had to nearly TRIPLE the cooking time that Pampered Chef recommended before I got the internal temperature to 160 degrees. This made me nervous, especially with the smell of the ribs. The last thing I wanted to do was poison us.

The glaze consisted of Orange Zest, honey, apple cider vinegar, spicy brown mustard, garlic, salt, and cayenne pepper. The ribs were also coated in cayenne pepper, and I *may* have overdone that part as the ribs were awfully spicy (but certainly DELICIOUS!) My husband ate a ton of them and even the kids ate them. Marek's entire forehead and around his eyes turned red with the heat of the first few bites. When I look back at the recipe, it says to use 1/2 tsp to coat the ribs and I think I missed that part because I just picked up each rib individually and coated it with cayenne. LOL. No wonder they were hot!

The recipe calls for Cole Slaw, but I despise slaw, and the kids don't really eat it either, so I made Fresh Buttered Asparagus (which I also steamed in the baker- YUMMM!) and Angel Hair Pasta. This recipe was a huge hit. The prep was actually lots of fun, because I love recipes with zest and I especially appreciate any excuse to use my Micro Grater. I adore that thing. The coolest was explaining to Ardyn what Zest was. She climbed up on her stool and I described how an orange has a peel and when you rub the orange across the grater, it shaves off the peel and the fine pieces that result are called Zest. She was thrilled.

Overall, a great dish, we WILL make this again, but I was only upset by the tripled cooking time of the ribs. It still only amounted to about 28 minutes of cooking time, but the recipe is supposed to be start to finish in 28 minutes, and I don't know if the problem is that my microwave isn't brand new or what. I also wasn't a huge fan of having to grill the ribs in the grill pan after already cooking and glazing them in the baker... but the result was awesome. To me it was just another dish to dirty, and I was trying to also get side dishes made (since I didn't like the slaw) and so I had Evan come in and do the grill part for me while I proceeded to the sides.

And aren't they pretty?

Glazed Teryaki Meatballs and Noodles- Weekday Dinners- Done! Recipe Card Collection
This was a great recipe. Ardyn's favorite part was rolling meatballs. It was great for her hand eye coordination, and she was so pleased with herself. She counted them as she made them, and was so excited to actually eat them. There were a few things about this recipe that I did not like, and that I will change next time I make it.

For starters, you make your meatballs- egg, bread crumbs, raw ground beef, onion, and Pampered Chef's Asian Seasoning Mix (which I happen to have.) This is all fine, but it takes TWO TABLESPOONS of Asian Seasoning Mix. This is a large amount in my mind, especially considering the price of the seasoning. Evan thought the meatballs were too spicy, and while the kids and I seemed fine with them, I think that next time I could cut that amount almost in half and still be satisfied. The second thing that I wasn't thrilled about was the "prepared teriyaki glaze" in the recipe. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to MAKE that, or BUY that... but I decided that I would just get the bag of stir fry veggies that comes with the frozen pouch of teriyaki. that worked fine. Except I think there wasn't quite enough. I think there was enough in the pouch, but I don't know that it was really enough to coat the noodles and veggies to our taste. The other thing was that I couldn't find veggies with teriyaki glaze unless there were lo mein noodles frozen in with them. I didn't really realize that at first, but when I was making my spaghetti noodles (which were to be substituted for the lo mein noodles that you would traditionally find in a chinese recipe as such) I was disappointed in how sticky they were. They weren't coated with enough teriyaki, and I had to dirty TWO More pans in addition to the Deep Covered Baker in order to boil the noodles and then "fry" the noodles with the garlic and the sauce. So you are looking at FOUR large dishes/stoneware/cookware items that are dirtied, plus your measuring cups, and the food chopper.... I was not thrilled with the "ease" of this part of the recipe. If I were to do it again, I WOULD buy the Lo Mein noodles with the frozen stir fry veggies and the Teriyaki packet. I would then cook the whole thing in the baker (meatballs first, then add the veggies/noodle mix and the glaze) and avoid the spaghetti altogether (both for the mess, the ease of prep, and for the fact that the Lo Mein noodles taste better anyway!) I would ALSO be sure to cook the meatballs thoroughly before adding the veggies to the baker. The recipe calls for cooking the meatballs alone for 5-7 minutes until the outsides are browned, and then to add the veggies and cook the whole thing 4-6 minutes until the meatballs are done to 160. Well, I did 7 minutes, and then another 6 minutes, and although they browned on the outside, after that time the veggies were done, but when I checked the meatballs (especially those on the inside of the baker) they were not even to 100 degrees yet and the insides were still pink. I cooked them for another 12 minutes on high before they were DONE inside and by then the veggies were a little overdone. I don't think that was the best way to do the recipe. Why not make sure the meat is completely finished before adding the veggies? 4 more minutes on cooked meat isn't going to ruin the dish, but having to put the veggies through 12 more minutes of microwaving certainly could ruin them.

So, overall the recipe was delicious but could use some tweaking and again- some longer cooking time for the meat. My microwave is a Kemore, it is about 9 years old, and it does have a turntable. I have never in any other recipes had an issue with cooking times, but have been consistently having issues with the meats in the Pampered Chef recipes that I have been testing out.

The baker was overall a very awesome purchase. I have stressed to my husband that I want to take exceptional care of the baker, being sure that it is hand washed immediately and that it is not dropped or chipped, because not only does it cost $69, but it is now a hostess ONLY item and so therefore I could only replace it if I hosted a new show (or checked eBay!)

I have also had the Rush Hour Chicken Fajitas in the baker, but because I didn't personally make them either time, I can't exactly review the recipe except to say it was easy looking and delicious. :) More to come perhaps, as I have several more to try!

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