Sunday, September 11, 2011

Slow cooking

I am absolutely in love with my slow cooker. (Sorry Michael....but you know you're in love with it, too.) One of my favorite wedding gifts is our huge, red Crock Pot. It makes life so convenient.

We registered for it on our Target registry but didn't get it right away (but we DID have a Crock Pot cookbook...), so the first little while we were married I tried to feed both Michael and myself by cooking over the stove. While we had some good meals, it was so tedious to have to slice different vegetables in varying sizes, prepare meat, simmer sauce before anything cook be cooked, coordinate which vegetables to put in so each are cooked at the same time...ugh!!! It's fine every now and then, but trying to make a good meal a few times a week was difficult. To top it off, when I finally had the meal done, it wasn't enough to feed both of us and there would be no leftovers, so I would have to do all of that vegetable cutting AGAIN next time we wanted real food. It was more time than I wanted to spend with us both working full-time, so consequently we've had our fair share of pizza, bowls of cereal, oatmeal, PB&J's, Raising Cane's, and mac&cheese for dinner. One's body really notices that a few days of that just makes it feel BLEH. What could be done??

The glorious day came when we received our beautiful CROCK POT!!! Oh what a happy day that was. Since then, I've made four recipes that have each fed us for days and days, and each recipe increases in tastiness as I get better at the "art of slowcooking." I love being able to cut up a bunch of vegetables and meat once, then throw it in the pot and have it be cooking while I work, study, run errands, or clean. Then, when I'm done, we eat our fill and have PLENTY left. Bliss.

  1. Chicken Noodle Soup: Our first Crock Pot meal. This was the one I choose because it was the only one we actually had ingredients for. I say "had ingredients for" not really truthfully, though, because I didn't have chicken broth, egg noodles, or bouillon cubes. But I DID have a can of cream of chicken soup and a pack of ramen noodles with chicken seasoning! I used those instead. (It also needed chicken thighs and celery, but I didn't deem them completely necessary.) I was so excited to use my crock pot for the first time, I threw everything in the pot and plugged it in, but two hours later I realized...I forgot to turn the knob on. So we had soup at 10pm instead of 7:30... Once it was done, it made a yummy meal as well as leftovers for a few nights. Michael, who is kinda "eh" about chicken noodle soup, nommed it up and said it was the best chicken noodle soup he ever had.
  2. Cajun Beef Stew: Very yummy, and very Cajun! I didn't have a Cajun seasoning mix, but I had something better: TONY'S! I even remembered to turn on the crock pot that time. :) This time we had stew beef cut into cubes celery, carrots, onions, potatoes, and peas (it called for frozen, but I just used canned peas we already owned) in the mix. I had to go buy corn starch for this one and simmer it separately before adding it. Does it actually add to flavor, or does it only serve to make the juices pretty?
  3. Spin on Cajun Beef Stew: We had left over beef and vegetables from the last one since I cut up so much it wouldn't fit in the pot. I also had my family coming in to town for Labor Day, so I wanted to show off my apartment AND feed them a meal we bought and cooked ourselves. I opted out of using corn starch because I didn't feel like it, and I put in some balsamic dressing I made the other night as a glaze for some asparagus. Then I threw in brown rice...and lentils. I wasn't sure if it was going to be yummy or weird! My dad absolutely loved it, and my mom (who apparently wasn't hungry enough for a big bowl) went for seconds! Halle (my wonderful 2-year-old niece) loved it, too, and wanted to each not only the rice, but all of the meat and vegetables. William liked it, but didn't like the texture of the "beans" (the lentils). Great success that could have been an odd failure.
  4. Pork Ribs: Not in the Crock Pot cookbook, but in the America's Test Kitchen recipe book I own (which is amazing). This was the first time I bought a huge chunk of meat from the store (5 lbs!), and was kind of intimidated by it. I just cut the ribs apart like I'd seen anytime I'd eaten ribs before, but it was SO WEIRD to see this rack of ribs and imagining it as part of a pig that was once alive. It's different when you buy chicken breast or pre-cut cubes of beef. This time we used great northern beans, barbecue sauce, sausage, sage, thyme, bay leaves, onions, and a can of diced tomatoes. The recipe called for browning the meat, simmering the tomatoes and onions with white wine, and more work, but I was lazy and just threw it in. The result was perfectly seasoned, fall-of-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth style ribs and tasty soup on the side. We're still enjoying this now.
The best part about cooking is figuring out what tastes good together and what you can do to alter a recipe. Well...the best part is actually EATING what you make, and having your husband love it, too. :)