Appetizers
January 7, 2013
A morning of opposites -- warp speed and slow speed --in the test kitchen

I'm cooking two things in two very different ways today, utilizing the pressure cooker to make chicken thighs and rice in all of 10 minutes, and simultaneously loading up the slow cooker to make a whole chicken with fingerling potatoes and olive tapenade in 10 hours. Productivity experts might say that multitasking is a bad idea, so I'm counting this as a single task, albeit a slightly confusing one.

Pressure cooker II.JPGFirst, the pressure cooker. I am working on a story about these great and under-appreciated kitchen appliances, so I have been testing a variety of recipes with my Fagor Duo pressure cooker. This one, though, is for the three dogs. Yes, I'm also testing a book of canine recipes -- "Feed Your Best Friend Better" by Rick Woodford -- so I thought I would combine them this morning.

As some readers may recall, I did hard-boiled eggs in the pressure cooker, based on a technique I learned about on the excellent website Hip Pressure Cooking, which Laura Pazzaglia maintains from her home outside Rome, Italy. I have since done these eggs regularly, keeping some cooked eggs in the fridge for a quick, healthy protein snack. Check out Laura's work at www.hippressurecooking.com.

But this time, with Oscar, Macy and Abbey looking on with noses twitching, I made arroz con pollo for dogs -- boneless chicken thighs, a bell pepper, rice, oregano, rosemary, garlic powder and water. With the pressure cooker, this takes about 15 minutes, including some prep work.

Pressure cooker III.JPGThe standard method would be 45 minutes to an hour. I started cooking for the dogs a few months ago after gradually becoming dissatisfied with mass-produced packaged dog food, even if it was supposedly high-end kibble. I began cooking for the dogs with a product called Happy Dog Food, which is based in Salinas (locally, it can be purchased at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op). The food is uncooked, containing pearled barley, brown rice, split peas, sweet potatoes and several other healthy things for dogs. You cook that with meat you buy on your own. The dogs love it, so I thought I would explore other healthy things they can eat.

So I had the arroz con pollo dog food going quickly, while the human food I wanted to go slowly. As many of you know, cooking at home involves planning and, more importantly, timing. Because Lynn and I often like to do a workout after work, as well as go on long walks with the dogs, we're often pressed for time if we also want to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Sound familiar?

The beauty of the slow cooker is that you can make time work for you. The problem many people have with the slow cooker is that the recipes turn out to be disappointing -- soggy vegetables, uninspired meats, bland flavors. At The Bee, we recently received a copy of a new book that sounds promising, "Mediterranean Slow Cooker" by Michele Scicolone. I'll be trying several recipes in the days ahead in preparation for a short story in The Bee about this book.

slow cooker.JPGThe first recipe, roasted whole chicken with tapenade, is quite simple. I bought a so-called "Smart Chicken" and fingerling potatoes at Compton's Market this morning. You mince some garlic and fresh rosemary, mix it into an olive tapenade (from a jar or you can make it yourself). You put half of this mixture into the cavity of the bird and rub the rest onto the outside. You put the chicken on top of the potatoes in the slow cooker, put on the lid and you can go on with the rest of your day.

I set the cooker for 10 hours, meaning that it can simmer and stay warm longer than that. After work, we can do what we need to do, get our workouts finished and not feel rushed. Then we can eat -- after, of course, I feed the dogs their arroz con pollo, which is waiting in the fridge. To be honest, this is the second time I've made this recipe for the dogs, and it smells so good I almost grabbed a serving for myself!

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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