Bob Warden’s Slow Food Fast Review
This is Bob Warden’s second pressure cooking cookbook. For those of you who have an electric pressure cooker, you’ll be happy to know all of the recipes in this cookbook were written specifically for digital pressure cookers (recipes designated to be cooked at “High Pressure” can be cooked at 12 – 15 PSI (pounds per square inch) and those to be cooked at “Low Pressure” can be cooked at 5 – 8 PSI, so they can also be made in stovetop pressure cookers, but the instructions were written for electric machines). But for those like me who have 10 PSI pressure cookers, don’t despair, this cookbook will still work for you, despite the listed pressure range.
This cookbook is about recipes and big pretty, full page size photos of recipes. If you’re looking for a book that explains the foundations of pressure cooking, this isn’t the right choice for you – buy Pressure Perfect or Cooking Under Pressure instead. If you don’t care about the finer details about how pressure cookers work and just want easy, quick, no fuss basic recipes for your family, this would probably be a good choice for you. There are just a couple of explanatory pages at the beginning of the book – everything else is recipes and pictures.
For those who like to look at recipe photos, there are lots of beautiful, page size photos of the food, though I must also tell you they’re clearly pictures done by a food stylist, and they’re extremely stylized. By that I mean, if you just look to pictures for inspiration and to whet your appetite for a particular recipe, great, if you expect your finished dish to look exactly like the picture you may be disappointed. I’m not suggesting the recipes aren’t good or you won’t enjoy them, I just don’t want anyone to think they did something wrong or blame themselves when the photos and the finished dish don’t quite match up. For example, compare my picture of the Minestrone Soup with Tortellini Recipe with the cookbook photo. Although I obviously don’t have the professional lighting, expensive camera equipment and filters and the photographic skills that a professional photographer does, I do know what you can reasonably expect cooked food to look like. In the photo, the tortellini which supposedly have been fully cooked in tomato sauce are still white and for cooked pasta with a supposedly melted cheese filling, they have somehow retained their original shape, the tomato is a little too red, and no green vegetable is going to be that intense green color, especially once its been cooked in an acidic sauce (acid turns green vegetables an olive green shade). For the Traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe on page 40, that bright green color on the cabbage is what it looks like when it has been quickly blanched and then put in ice water to stop the cooking process, not what it looks like after having been pressure cooked for five minutes. Or look at the Chianti Pot Roast with Mushroom and Tomatoes recipe on page 49. Again, even though the instructions say to cook the tortellini in the sauce, they are pure white and clearly haven’t been, you can see places where the beef, mushrooms, tortellini and tomatoes apparently have no sauce on them, and where the sauce seems to have been brushed or dribbled on other places.
The recipes themselves consist mainly of simplified classic American favorites, comfort foods and familiar international fare. Most of these recipes are clearly designed to get a dish or meal on the table quickly, to involve as little meal prep as possible, and to minimize the number of ingredients and steps as much as possible. These are meant to be basic, quick, family size pressure cooker recipes. And that’s exactly what this cookbook delivers: no fuss, no frill basic pressure cooker recipes that don’t require a lot of cooking experience or knowledge.
Before I review individual recipes, I want to explain my approach. I always make the recipe exactly as written, without deviation. I want to review the actual recipe, not as I would interpret or change it. I’ll tell you how well the recipe was written, how easy the instructions were to follow, was it as quick to make as the instructions claimed, and how the finished product turned out. Once I’ve made it, however, I will tell you how I would change or improve it. If I feel the instructions could be clarified or improved upon, I will tell you what I would do differently, or any details that I feel were omitted that a beginner cook or pressure cooking newbie should know. You should also know that I’m a very picky recipe critic, it’s a rarity when I say I loved a dish, and my reaction to most recipes is a shrug and “eh, its okay”, which probably for most people would mean they thought it was good. I’m hard to please, and in expressing my reaction to recipes, and how they could be improved, it may come off as more negative than intended. My goal is to give you as much information as possible so that when you go to make the same recipes, you have no confusion, you can be confident in your results, and you get the best, most economical results possible. I also try whenever possible to have at least three taste testers for each dish, and since the Guinea Pigs (as my family likes to call themselves) have vastly different tastes and preferences, I feel our collective taste buds are fairly representative of the population as a whole.
And when I review the cookbook as a whole, I spend a lot of time reading the introductory sections in full, every word, so I know what information each will give you. I will make multiple representative recipes, as well as read over a substantial number of recipes I didn’t make, so I get an idea of how well in general the recipes are written, how good the pressure cooking timing is (did they do a good job of recipe testing, in other words), I even look at the timetables and I’ll tell you in detail what I liked and didn’t like about each cookbook. Every cookbook has its good and bad points, and every buyer has their own preferences and what they’re looking for, and I want to give you the best possible idea which cookbook(s) will best meet your particular needs and wants. And if you have any questions or want a recommendation regarding any recipes in this cookbook, please feel free to go ahead and ask me. Just let me know which cookbook the recipe is from, and give me the page number, if you can, so I can make sure we are talking about the same recipe. I’ll be happy to answer any questions or make any recommendations I can, whether they’re my recipes or someone else’s.
The first recipe I made was the Southern Seafood Gumbo. It was a really easy to make one pot meal: just dice up the vegetables and throw everything in the pressure cooker. Couldn’t be much simpler. The two clarifications the instructions need are: (1) the recipe didn’t specify whether the juice from the diced tomatoes should be included or not; and (2) the instructions don’t specify the size of shrimp to use – I had smaller shrimps (mediums) in the freezer, so that’s what I used, and personally, I thought they were a little overcooked, but nobody else had a problem with it. I would recommend going with larger shrimp because of the length of time under pressure. In short, it was a hit with the family: the first comment I got was “That’s a winner” and even the fussiest Guinea Pig (who shall not be named) wanted to have the leftovers, when given the option. As for what changes I would recommend, I would say use Fish Base instead of chicken base, if you have it. Secondly, if you want soup, the consistency is fine, if you’re looking for a stew consistency, there’s too much liquid. The author keeps to the ratio of base to water recommended in the Better Than Bouillon instructions. But that ratio is based on conventional cooking methods, and likely assumes a significant amount of evaporation that simply doesn’t happen when pressure cooking. Rather than thickening it as the author recommends, I would suggest adding the juice from the diced tomatoes and either reducing the water by 2 cups, or you could add 1 – 1 ½ cups of white rice to the pot.
The second recipe I made were the Swedish Meatballs. This recipe has the nice touch of giving you the option of using frozen meatballs, or making your own with a provided recipe, which is what I did. They were delicious. In fact, they were so good, we ate them all before I managed to take a picture of the finished product. And when I made them a 2nd time, the same thing happened again. I’ve given up trying to take a photo of the completed dish, because we can’t keep our hands off them long enough for me to orchestrate a decent photo shoot. Even making the meatballs from scratch, it was a really quick and easy recipe. The starch from the breadcrumbs releases into the cooking liquid and thickens it, and that alone is pretty tasty, even before you add the sour cream. My only criticism would be that the meatball instructions didn’t specify how big the meatballs should be made (that affects cooking time) so I just made them the size most commercial meatballs are (about 1″ in diameter), and that worked fine.
The Two Can Cola Pork Roast was the third recipe I tried. It was okay though I liked the Cola Cooked Ham with Yams recipe from Miss Vickie’s Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes better. My problem with this recipe has to do with the ingredient list, which calls for a 2 – 3 pound pork loin, shoulder or butt. Pork loin is a very different cut of meat from the other two: it’s a different kind of muscle, the best cooking method is different, the cooking times are different, and you’re going to get a far leaner, drier, less flavorful result than with pork shoulder or pork butt. Not only is pork loin a much more expensive choice per pound than either pork shoulder or pork butt, its not optimally suited to pressure cooking, and you’ll get a much more tender and flavorful result if you do as I did, and use one of the other two kinds of pork roast.
Frankly, I’d be afraid of my results if I pressure cooked a 2 – 3 pound pork loin for 40 minutes. The instructions then tell you if the roast isn’t fork tender, to cook it an additional 10 minutes under pressure. Problem is, if you’ve already overcooked a pork loin at this point, it won’t be fork tender, it’ll be tough, and if you don’t realize that and now cook it even longer, you could make it even worse. So unless you are an experienced enough cook to know the difference between an undercooked and an overcooked pork loin roast (use a thermometer), stay away from pork loin for this recipe. Pork shoulder and pork butt (both bone in and boneless) are both far more economical and much better suited for this kind of cooking method anyway, and they are far more forgiving if you overcook them. Also, regardless what cut of meat you use, you’ll get a much juicier roast if you allow the meat to rest in the liquid for at least 15 minutes (rather than as the instructions direct, remove it and have it rest under tin foil) before you thicken the gravy. As the meat fibers cool down, they relax and unwind, and the meat will reabsorb some of its own juices and the cooking liquid. The pork will still be hot enough for service, particularly if you put the pressure cooker lid back on top, but it will also be moister and juicier that way. Once its rested, you can remove the roast and thicken the gravy per the recipe instructions.
The fourth recipe I tried was the Ground Beef Stroganoff. It was reasonably good, certainly far better than you’d get from a Hamburger Helper ground beef stroganoff mix and at a better price per serving. It was quick and simple to make, and I liked the fact that it added beef base to increase the beef flavor (for whatever reason, ground beef in my opinion doesn’t quite have the full rich beef flavor that chuck roast, tri tip, or bottom round have). If you grew up eating ground beef stroganoff, you’ll probably be quite happy with this recipe: as it turns out, I am apparently irretrievably prejudiced in favor of actual traditional beef stroganoff, and that it must have brandy in it (this recipe does not).
One omission the instructions made and should have included is don’t add the sour cream immediately after releasing the pressure, but let the mixture cool down before doing so. Sour cream, like all milk products, is an emulsion, and if you add it to a hot dish like this, the emulsion will likely break, it will curdle, and you won’t get the creamy results you expect. Let it cool down perhaps 5 – 10 minutes before adding the sour cream and final seasonings. The stroganoff will still be quite warm enough for service. When reheating leftovers, be sure and use very low heat, a low simmer, don’t bring the mixture back up to the boil, or again, the sour cream will break.
The fifth recipe I tried was the Minestrone Soup with Tortellini. Again, it was reasonably good, but I feel I should point out that even though the recipe itself notes that minestrone ingredients have never been set in stone, this isn’t really minestrone, most of the ingredients have little if anything to do with authentic, traditional minestrone. An Italian probably wouldn’t even recognize this as having any resemblance to minestrone. The instructions are basic, simple and clear, and the recipe is quick and easy to make, even without any prior cooking experience. If I were to make this again, however, I’d add 1- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and two tablespoons of vodka to the pot for a richer, deeper tomato flavor (some of the flavor compounds in tomatoes are only soluble in alcohol, which means the only way you will taste them is in the presence of alcohol). Vodka will give you a cleaner taste, where you won’t taste the alcohol, but if you wanted to use red wine instead, I’d add a ¼ cup of red wine and reduce the vegetable broth accordingly.
Of all the pressure cooker cookbooks available on the market, the two Bob Warden cookbooks (this cookbook and Great Food Fast) provide the simplest, easiest, most basic pressure cooker recipes available. Each recipe is a page or less, consists of a few steps, and for the most part, doesn’t involve much in the way of preparation and cooking times. These aren’t the kind of cookbooks that involve a lot of extended food prep, chopping and sauteeing vegetables, browning cubed meat, etc. For the most part, it relies on canned and frozen ingredients to speed up prep times, common pantry seasonings and condiments for additional seasoning and flavor, and what I particularly approve of, concentrated chicken and beef base, to provide additional flavor without the excessive salt of bouillon cubes and the additional liquid provided by canned broth. These will be the closest you can get to pressure cooker “dump meals” that involve a minimum of prep effort. The recipes were also written specifically for electric pressure cookers, which as far as I’m concerned is a bonus for most beginner pressure cooker users, but they can be used with stovetop pressure cookers as well. And although this cookbook, like most others, is heavily meat centric, and main dish centric, there’s a nice mixture of comfort foods, traditional American dishes and family favorite international dishes, as well as some unique recipes I haven’t found in other pressure cooker cookbooks like Cornish game hens, boiled peanuts, and recipes that would be great for traditional holiday meals like green bean “casserole”, candied sweet potatoes with pecans, wild rice almondine, turkey tenderloin with cranberry orange glaze, loaded scalloped potatoes, apple brown rice stuffing, several different kinds of cheesecake (including pumpkin cheesecake) and several different bread puddings. I’m looking forward to trying some of these recipes over the next few months.
What don’t I like about this cookbook? Well, while I applaud it for trying to deliver quick recipes with as few steps as possible, in trying to simplify, I feel they sometimes have oversimplified the instructions, and left out details that those with less experience in either cooking or pressure cooking might miss where problems could arise. See for example, my remarks about the not specifying the size of shrimp for the Southern Seafood Gumbo , not warning in the Ground Beef Stroganoff recipe (and for that matter, the Swedish meatball recipe) that you have to allow the mixture to cool some before stirring in the sour cream. Also, as noted above in discussing the Two Can Cola Pork Roast recipe, pork loin is NOT the same as pork butt or pork shoulder: it doesn’t cook in the same amount of time, it is a much leaner, tougher, drier cut of meat, and frankly, pressure cooking isn’t the best means of cooking it. Likewise, there are numerous recipes that call for “beef round steaks” which is an imprecise term that could lead to confusion. You’ll get vastly different results based on whether the “round” cut you buy is top round or bottom round. If you buy a bottom round, your meat will be a leaner version of chuck roast. If you buy top round, its going to be tough, and you’re probably going to be very disappointed. That being said, if you’ve read this review, you now know to always buy “bottom round” and can avoid potential problems.
My other problem is with the general pressure cooking timetables. They’re hit or miss. Some of the times given are right, some are wrong. For example, the times given for a 3 pound brisket and a 3 pound chuck roast are 45 minutes and 60 minutes, respectively. Having pressure cooked many of each, I can tell you that brisket takes longer to cook than chuck roast does. I would reverse the cooking times given for boneless turkey breast and turkey legs as well. As dark meat, turkey legs (as well as turkey thighs) have more connective tissue that needs to be broken down, and more fat to provide moisture, so they can take longer cooking times and still come out moist and tender. Turkey breast, which is even lower in fat than chicken breast, can overcook far more easily, and needs a much briefer cooking time. Or the instructions for cooking white rice, which call for increasing the cooking time and the amount of liquid for medium and short grain rice. This is inexplicable to me. The shorter the grain of rice, the more easy it is to overcook it. Increasing the cooking time and the amount of liquid increases your chance of over-gelatinizing your rice and turning it into a sticky, mushy mess. If you’re looking for a pressure cooking cookbook with good general timetables, I would recommend either Pressure Perfect or Miss Vickie’s Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes, which as far as I’m concerned are the gold standards for pressure cooking timetables.
Soup Recipes include minestrone soup with tortellini, ground beef chili, chicken and sausage gumbo, cabbage soup with Polish sausage, butternut squash soup, Southern seafood gumbo, cooled cucumber and coconut soup, spinach and lentil soup, crab and corn bisque, cinnamon spiced turkey chili, black bean soup, split pea and bacon soup, Brunswick stew and cream of chicken soup with gnocchi dumplings.
Beef Recipes include perfect pot roast, ground beef stroganoff, sweet and sour meatballs, traditional corned beef and cabbage, orange pepper steak, beef brisket roast, steak Diane, Swedish meatballs, chianti pot roast with mushrooms and tomatoes, beef goulash, wine braised short ribs with prunes, sloppy Joes, beef and barley stew, BBQ brisket and beef burgundy.
Poultry Recipes include chicken piccata, chicken thigh osso bucco, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, chicken pot pie, Cornish game hens with garlic and rosemary, southwestern ground turkey mac, chicken cacciatore, peachy keen chicken, turkey tetrazzini, creamy chicken curry, chicken breast coq au vin, honey dijon chicken thighs, chicken marsala, turkey tenderloin with cranberry orange glaze, paprika chicken and sour cream gravy and teriyaki chicken wings.
Pork and Ham recipes include two can cola pork roast, pork vindaloo, pork loin chops with apple and sherry, pulled pork sandwiches, baby back ribs, mojo marinated pork roast, ham steaks with pineapple cherry glaze, pork loin with milk gravy, beer brats and sauerkraut, pork souvlaki, pork pot roast, sweet and sour spareribs and Italian sausage peppers and onion hoagies.
Veal and Lamb recipes include braised lamb shanks with lemon and mint, veal parmesan, osso bucco, olive infused lamb chops with red wine and veal Francais.
Seafood recipes include paella, honey pecan Salmon steaks, shrimp scampi, Mediterranean scallops, mussels fra diavolo and cheesy one pot tuna “casserole”.
Beans and Legumes recipes include black eyed pea salad with bacon and bell pepper, one pot black beans and rice, honey baked beans, spinach and artichoke hummus, curried lentils, buttery lima beans with sweet bacon and southern style boiled peanuts.
Vegetables and Side Dishes recipes include ratatouille, sweet red cabbage with sour apple, herb “roasted” summer squash, green bean “casserole”, cauliflower with cheese sauce, skillet red bliss potatoes, red skinned potato salad with dill, Maple butter glazed carrots, herbed green beans carrots and cranberries, “kettle” sweet corn on the cob, loaded scalloped potatoes, candied sweet potatoes with pecans and hominy breakfast hash with ham.
Rice and Risotto recipes include asparagus risotto, jambalaya, seared cherry tomato risotto, wild rice almondine, apple brown rice stuffing, portobello risotto, risotto with Gorgonzola and walnuts, sesame fried rice and roasted garlic and lemon risotto
Pasta recipes include most excellent macaroni and cheese, orzo primavera, Moroccan couscous, penne alla vodka, cheese tortellini alfredo with ham and bacon and tomato rotini with peas.
Sauces recipes include bolognese sauce, tzatziki sauce, puttanesca sauce, strawberry sauce, horseradish cream, stick to your ribs BBQ sauce and cranberry sauce.
Desserts recipes include vanilla bean cheesecake, rum raisin bread pudding, coconut custard, cinnamon apples with granola and ice cream, key lime cheesecake, banana nut bread pudding, white chocolate rice pudding with raspberries, caramel cappuccino flan, pumpkin cheesecake, gingersnap pear bread pudding and lemon pudding with cookie crumb swirl.