Friday 15 October 2010

It's pretty much the kitchen sink, without actually being a kitchen sink.  Though the removable parts are easy to clean ;o)

I'm talking about this here new toy I have - the JML Star Chef Deluxe.

As it says on the Weight World web site "The JML Star Chef is a 5-in-1 cooker that allows you to steam, boil, slow-cook, fry or bake. The large capacity, non-stick bowl gives you enough space to cook up a large meal for the whole family.".  And it really is very versatile.

The first thing I cooked in it was some salmon fillets.  I was initially worried that they'd not be crispy, given that the lid of the cooker is closed during cooking which I thought would result in a build up of steam, stopping the fillets from getting crunchy.  That just didn't happen though.  The salmon came out really nice, flavour nicely kept in and steam let out without stinking up the house and setting off the smoke alarm.  You see, I love pan fried salmon fillets, but whenever we cook them, the house reeks of smoked salmon for days afterwards and during cooking our extremely over-sensitive smoke alarms -will- go off if the kitchen door is opened even a crack during cooking.  You only have to think about using the toaster and the bloody things go nuts!  So it was a much less stressful experience pan frying this way.

The next try-out was a test of the timer and slow-cook facility - a casserole of sausages.  And I got it wrong.  I didn't read the manual and assumed the Star Chef wasn't as clever as it really is.  Wanting dinner to be cooked by about 7pm and the casserole to be cooked for 4.5 hours, I set the cooking time to 4.5 hours, the "preset" to 06:00 and pressed "start".  When I got home... it hadn't done any cooking.  The display still read "06:00".  Hm.  Checking the manual educated me that the preset is the actual clock time you want the food to be finished cooking.  Argh!  So it would finish at 6am the next day!  I got it right the next day and we had a really tasty sausage casserole.  Even better, I had mine around 8pm and left half in the Star Chef on its "keep warm" mode for Mr TOTKat when he got home.  Nicely hot sausage casserole for him two hours after I'd had mine.

So, the manual.  The manual is quite sketchy, to be honest.  I think that's maybe why I didn't bother checking it with respect to the "preset" setting.  It tells you how to set the clock and gives a few examples of how to use the menus, but isn't detailed and doesn't explain each setting at all.  I think that could result in people using it incorrectly and not getting the best out of it, but maybe I'm not crediting most people with as much common sense as I think it needs to operate it without a more comprehensive manual.  Perhaps there was a good amount of user acceptance testing, but it doesn't feel that way.  Apart from messing up with the preset once so far, I don't seem to have gone far wrong and given how versatile the menus and functions are, I'm sure that there is plenty of scope to make a right pig's ear of it.

Anyway.  I then tried rice.  And got the amount of water wrong when I scaled the recipe down from a huge amount of rice to a manageable amount for two.  So I got rice that was crunchy on the bottom, a bit dry and a layer of thin, crispy starch on the base.  Rice needs another go then.

Stew time!

Beef stew for four healthy appetities (or two and freeze some, in this case).  The handy bit on this one was that I browned the beef using the frying option and didn't have to dirty any more pans to do that part before whacking everything else in to stew.  I certainly wouldn't use the frying option to fry/sear/brown any meat without making sure that the bowl was hot -before- putting the meat in as the gradual heating up does result in the meat boiling in its own juices rather than frying as the juices start to run out before the heat has had a chance to sear the outsides.  That's the same as doing it in a pan/hot plate on the hob but it's easy to forget that when you have to set the machine to fry for a certain length of time.  Easily remedied by setting the fry option for longer than you need to allow for heating up first and then just hit "stop" when you're done.

5 hours of cooking the stew with the odd sneaky peek and noms arrived.  No splattering over the hob or oven or drying out.

And finally, I got around to trying it to steam stuff.  I've never steamed anything before, so it was a totally new experience for me.  And it wasn't hard.  I ended up with slightly al dente, tasty broccoli.  I did need to look up how long broccoli needs to steam, but that was the only "difficult" part.

The only actually annoying drawback that's cropping up so far is when you come to serve the food.  Obviously the bowl is very hot and when it comes to serving the last couple of inches of food from the bottom, having it still in the Star Chef makes it hard to do that part.  So, I have worked around that thus far by serving the majority of the food, then using a tea towel to pick up the bowl and serve the rest.  Not perfect, but perfectly fine.

As for cleaning it, most of the removable parts can go in the dishwasher or wash nicely in the sink by hand with little fuss.  I've not had anything result in food bits that I couldn't get off easily with a scrubber sponge and hot, soapy water.

Overall, had I known that one of these combination appliances existed and was as easy to use (despite the lack of detailed manual) and clean as this has been so far, I'm pretty sure that I would have bought one.  I'm pretty mean and stingey when it comes to buying things for the home (though usually prefer to buy decent quality products than something cheaper that may not be as well made, usable or last as long) and I am nothing if not honest when asked my opinion of things (which has been known to make life a bit difficult sometimes as I don't like upsetting people almost as much as I don't like giving praise where it is undeserved).  So.  It's a proper thumbs up for the JML Star Chef from me and you can be sure there will be more slow-cooking and steaming recipes to come as I try them.

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