Ninja Cooking and Jalapeño Black-Eyed Peas
Ok, I’ll admit that I am late to the slow cooker party — by decades. I received one of the early models for a wedding present, you know the one, yellow gingham pattern, glass lid and a three setting switch, off, low, high. I remember attempting a couple recipes and just didn’t have the knack of getting the liquids, timing and such quite right so it was relegated to chili-cheese dip and spiced cider for holiday buffets. Then the lid broke and it has been hiding on a shelf ever since. Over the last year I’ve been rethinking slow cookery and investigating, researching recipes and modern cookers with a good amount of skepticism and curiosity. Enter the dragon, bold black, all metal and reinvented, the Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System.
Imagine my surprise that the Euro-Pro company decided to premiere this new product while I was attending the 2012 International Food Bloggers Conference in Portland this summer. Their session featured Stephanie O’Dea the queen of 365 Slow Cooking as their chipper, high-spirited spokesperson demonstrating a number of the products features. My first impression was that it was well constructed, had an intriguing heating system that allowed for steam roasting, stove top style, slow cooking and baking. The stove top mode alone is fantastic as a time saver for sautéing, searing and reducing. All the better, like Santa Claus Euro-Pro sent one to any attendee if they simply filled out the 3 x 5 card with mailing info.
Since that launch, I happened to tune into the informercial which targeted the company view of a typically harried, busy young mom with two hungry kids saving them from dire hunger with a quick dump of water, dry pasta, frozen meatballs and a jar of sauce. Dnner ready in 30 minutes. Not necessarily my style of cooking and it didn’t seem to me to actually promote the actual features of the system (which by the way at $199.00 is quite spendy compared to other crockpots, slow cookers.) However, I still appreciated the partial segments on health, versatility and quality the product had to offer. With anticipation, I waited for the arrival of my unit to test drive for myself.
The big box arrived with the Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System starter kit including: Ninja Cooking System, Roasting Rack and Multpurpose Pan, Owner’s Manual and a thirty page recipe booklet, “Ninja Inspiring Healthier Living Easy and Delicious Recipes.” I was glad to see the variety of dishes and handy tips for one pot cooking, steam infused roasting, steam infused baking, and slow cooking. The recipes ranged from Scampi, Lasagna, Ribs, and Sweet Potato Lentil Soup to cheescakes, and yes the one pot spaghetti and meatballs in 30 minutes. Recipe directions were clear, easy to follow and the photos made each look delicious. That was just enough to get me started!
My first dish was simple chili beans with lean ground beef and a couple of cans of dark red kidney beans. I used their Buffalo Chili recipe as a reference with added chipotle chilies. I immediately appreciated the size of the non-stick insert and the ability to sear and brown the beef before adding the onions and other vegetables. It takes a while for the Ninja to heat up (as does any electric device) so the advice to pre-heat 3-5 minutes is well given and even on High it will not replicate your High on your stove so cooking time may increase a bit (i.e. 20 minutes for 2 lbs of ground beef.) The result in 1 1/2-2 hours later was delicious, the canned beans were not cooked to mush and the flavors melded quite nicely. Clean up was a breeze.The insert is lightweight, but just the right thickness on the bottom for searing. Note: the handles do get hot while cooking and you should always use a mitt or potholders when touching the metal surface.
Since then I’ve prepared a bone-in pork roast with a spice rub and steamed in beer for pulled pork sliders, and a slow cooked beef roast with caramelized onions and mushrooms, red wine and beef broth. I made enough stock that I could prepare french onion soup later in the week. Slow cooking is a easier than ever. Just searing the beef roast on all sides, caramelizing the onions and mushrooms, add stock and let’er cook for 8 hours. It was very easy to adjust the time on the dial. I have also steam roasted herbed chicken thighs with wine, rosemary, Dijon mustard and lemon slices. The prep on that was about 20 minutes and I set to oven 350 degrees for an hour with the chicken on the baking rack. The meat was infused with flavor, tender and nearly falling off the bone. I was surprised that the liquid reduced so much that I only had about 1/2 cup remaining to drizzle. The only thing that wasn’t my favorite was that after all the effort of searing and browning the chicken skin, it was chewy, over-moist at the end. Best to just remove it before serving (which is healthier for you anyway.) If you want crispy, steam roasting is not necessarily your method. The only thing I’ve yet to try is steam baking – I didn’t have the right sized vessels for this.
For 2013 New Year’s Good Luck
Somewhere in my California heritage I have a Georgia connection that shows up when it comes to beans, cornbread and biscuits. For New Year’s Day it is very traditional to put on a pot of black-eyed peas and ham. Here’s my take with a few jalapeño’s thrown in to spice it up a bit, cooked Ninja style.
- 1 16 oz bag dried black-eyed peas
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoons dried oregano
- 4 cups hot water
- 2 teaspoons Chicken “Better than Bouillon”
- 1 ham bone with meat on (about 1-1 ½ lbs) or a couple of ham hocks
- 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes with jalapeño
- Rinse and pick through dried beans to remove any stones or badly formed beans.
- Soak in water 30 minutes – 1 hour or overnight. (Many folks have their own preferences on how to prep beans for cooking.)
- Wash vegetables and cut up in uniformed dice of about ½” chunks to cook evenly.
- Preheat Ninja 3-1 Kitchen System on Stove Top setting High for 3-4 minutes.
- Mix Bouillon concentrate in 4 cup of hot water.
- Add olive oil to pre-heated Ninja insert and cook the carrots, onion, celery, bell pepper and jalapeño until just softened, about 10 minutes.
- Add garlic and continue cooking 2 more minutes.
- Add chicken broth, ham bone, bay leaves and oregano to pot.
- Drain black-eyed peas and add to pot. Cover and cook for 4 hours on Slow Cook setting High.
- At 3 hours, remove ham bone and cut off meat, rough chop in bite-sized pieces and add back to pot and add the can of diced tomatoes with jalepeño peppers. Cover and continue cooking until time is up.
This is truly an step up from your standard slow cooker. The system is well thought out and is of quality construction. The Triple Fusion Heat™ technology provides the power to cook from heat on the bottom and sides and a mechanism for super heated steam for juicy meats and baked goods with half the fat. The non-stick insert is very easy to handle and clean (watch out when it is hot!) and I appreciated the large size. The dials and setting operations are easy to figure out and intuitive. The small recipe guide is enough to get on on your way. This is a big unit with a hefty price, but considering it roasts, bakes, cooks slow and acts as an extra stove top all in one I would make the investment — if you have space and if you will make the effort to use it. Like the after holiday diet and exercise guilt that send us to the gym, rush to buy exercise equipment or join diet clubs — it is how you make use of these from now on that will determine their ultimate value.