This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
The reduction of heat means the reduction of fuel. Every time a food can be adapted to top-of-the-stove-cookery, instead of the oven, there is a distinct saving, whether the cooking be by gas, kerosene or electricity.
With gas and kerosene stoves cheap in price, and with gas plates and small kerosene stoves still cheaper, there is no excuse for any woman saying, "I cannot afford this kind of cookery." As a basis there must be two burners for a small family of three or four members, more burners for the large family. But here, as in everything else connected with the furnishing of the kitchen, too much space and too large quantities lead to carelessness, and, in this case, waste of fuel.
The equipment for the cookery may be as inexpensive as one desires, but, if possible, it pays to buy the best quality in everything. The first purchase should be an adequate steamer, the size depending upon the family, but it should be large enough to make possible the cookery of several things at a time. There is nothing better in this line than the old-fashioned square cooker, equipped with shelves and a whistle which tells when water is needed. This cooker or steamer can be found in any large house-furnishing store, from about five dollars and upwards, according to the grade of materials used. There are less expensive steamers, round in shape, which are equipped with shelves, and which can be used with good results, if one is careful to put the food demanding longest cookery on the bottom shelf, and the one which will be done first on the top shelf to make removal easy. Then there is a good combination, aluminum steamer, which consists of a base that can act as a roasting pan, a top with shelves on which the steaming is done, and a lid on which cookies can be baked. For short time steaming this gives excellent results, but it is not so good in the cookery of things demanding a long time, because the base-pan is shallow, so that the water evaporates quickly.
These utensils are adapted only to steaming, which means that the oven must be used for baking. There is, however, a steamer on the market in which either one of these processes may be carried on. It is a pressure cooker, made of iron or cast aluminum and fitted with a cover which clamps tightly into position. It is equipped with a valve, which makes possible the emission of steam before removing the lid, thus avoiding the possibility of even a slight scald, and it is so constructed that there is no danger of an explosion, no matter how much steam is generated, for when the pressure reaches twenty-five pounds, an automatic spring valve releases the steam. It takes only a few moments to bring this to the temperature of the oven, and bread, cake, meat, or whatever is to be baked, may be put in a pan, set on a rack and completed as in the oven, for the heavy heat makes .possible an even radiation. In pot-roasting or braising, the meat is simply seared in a little extra fat, put on the rack, and a very little water, plus the other desired seasonings, is added. For soup stock it is invaluable, only in this case, as in all others, where water is added, care must be taken not to put in too much, as there is very little evaporation. In case it is desirable to steam a pudding and two or three vegetables at once, a small amount of water is put in the bottom, the rack is adjusted, and the pudding in its mould, together with the vegetables in their various utensils, may be put in the cooker together. When the water is once boiling, the gas-flame may be reduced one-half. Sometimes one desires to pot-roast veal or lamb. In this case the meat is started at the proper time and the other vegetables are added according to the time it will take them to cook.
An Adequate Steamer.
The general type of utensils best suited to cookery by steam, or in these improvised ovens, is the one which will absorb the heat most quickly, or the one which, when the heat is once absorbed, will hold it longest. Aluminum is the best example of the first type, and the new glass cooking ware of the second. This glassware may be used for almost anything which is to be steamed: for instance, possibly peas are to be cooked in this way - they can be put into a glass utensil suited to the service, a little water, a few grains of sugar and a bit of butter may be added, and the whole steamed, covered or not, as desired. Possibly swordfish is to figure as the main dish of a dinner. In this case the fish may be put in a suitable utensil, dotted with butter, a little salt and pepper, and a dash of lemon juice may be added, and the whole steamed until tender and flaky, about thirty minutes for fish cut three-quarters of an inch thick. If closely covered, other things, no matter how delicate, may be cooked in the same steamer with it, without absorbing the odors. If one only thinks, it is surprising to find how many foods may be steamed to good advantage.
Most of us, when preparing a cereal, correctly start it over the direct heat, and, after fifteen minutes, set it into a double boiler to cook the remaining time, usually from one to four hours, according to the kind that is being cooked. At the same time it is necessary to replenish the cooking water frequently. There is no reason why the cereal cannot be started as usual, the cooking being completed in the steamer along with some prunes, steamed apple sauce, an old fowl which demands long cookery to make it tender, a meat loaf or fish for the next day, or even some potatoes for the supper salad. There is no better way to save time and expense in cookery than to learn to do two or more things at once.
In case a stove is not equipped with a warming closet, the steamer may be used for this purpose whenever hot dishes are needed, and, if some members of the family or guests are late in coming to a meal, the foods may be kept hot in the steamer, with no more deterioration than in a hotel steam table.
It is not necessary to use specific recipes for steam cooking, any of those which are in ordinary use being adaptable, with this exception. In steaming puddings instead of baking them, it is necessary to add a little more flour or bread crumbs, according to the type of puddings to be made. Oftentimes, if one desires a brown dish, as in making escalloped tomatoes or fish, the actual cookery may be accomplished in the steamer, the dish being set for a minute or two under the gas flame to brown over. However, the demand for this browned appearance is largely esthetic, and may be gained by strewing over a few fried bread crumbs, or the dish may be garnished with a little finely-minced parsley, a few sprays of watercress, a little sliced, hard-cooked egg, some finely-minced celery with tips, a few slices of tomato, some pickles cut fan-shape, a whole olive or two, etc., according to the kind of dish that is being prepared.
The following tables give a list of suggestions centering around standard recipes of foods that may be steamed:
Fruits: Apples, pears, peaches, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. If the fruit is desired whole, make a sugar syrup of one cupful of sugar to one-half cupful of water, boiling them together for five minutes. Pour this over the prepared fruit and steam until tender. Liquid, or powdered, spices, or lemon juice may be added as desired. Brown sugar is delicious with pears. If the fruit is desired broken up, it should be occasionally stirred during the cookery.
Meats: Old fowl, steam five hours and remove the skin before slicing. Chicken, brown in fat and steam an hour. Shoulder of lamb, brown in fat and steam an hour and a half. It should be boned and rolled. Pork chops, brown quickly in fat and steam an hour. Rump of veal, brown together with onions and carrots, and steam an hour and a half to two hours, etc. All seasonings should be added when the meat is put in to steam, and, if possible, the meat should be in a covered utensil. All kinds of meat loaves may also be steamed.
Fish: Salmon, haddock, codfish, lake trout, swordfish, or bluefish. The thicker fish, as salmon, may be cut in steaks, seasoned and cooked, dotted with bits of butter, as described, or whole fish of more than three pounds may be laid in the utensil together with a tea-spoonful of pickle spice, a little vinegar, salt, pepper and water, and may be cooked in this. All kinds of fish loaves may also be steamed.
Vegetables: Corn in the husk, peas, beans, succotash, corn in milk, spinach and other greens, with or without bacon or salt pork, turnips in broth, if desired, carrots, carrots and peas combined, whole tomatoes, summer squash, winter squash, cauliflower, cabbage, etc. The vegetables should be seasoned before putting on to cook, with the exception of green corn.
Desserts: All kinds of fruit bettys, tapioca, corn starch and cereal puddings, cottage pudding, bread pudding, all kinds of custard mixtures which it may be desirable to solidify. Chocolate puffs made of any good chocolate-cake mixture plus a little more flour, all kinds of fruit dumplings, and the usual boiled puddings made of stale cake, stale bread, suet, etc.