Post # 105 Slow Cooking – Not a Crock At All

March 20, 2013 at 1:57 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Sometime back in the ’70s, slow cooking through crock pots was suddenly the “in” thing.  There were books and magazines dedicated to telling busy moms how to throw a few ingredients into the slow cooker and go to work all day to return to the evening meal done and waiting.  My mom had a crock pot (which is a trade marked name which has become synonymous with the whole movement; it was made by Rival.) and we made stew.  A lot.  In the southwest desert, particularly during the summer, you were always looking for ways to cook that didn’t heat up the entire house, and the crock pot filled the bill.  And as long as you knew what you were doing, the food was tasty and nutritious.  People were so into this craze there were even recipes for making cake in the crock pot.  I never had any desire to try that, and never knew anyone who had actually done it.  One of the wedding gifts my wife and I received was a slow cooker (as they are now known) and I used it for all kinds of soups and stews and sauces.  In particular, I would use it for spaghetti sauce which I made so often that I had it down to a science.  One time, when my wife and I were staying with her sister, I wanted to have spaghetti the next day, so I started the sauce in the slow cooker the night before.  Sister in law woke up at around 11pm to come out to see what was happening.

“That smells delicious!  It’s permeating through the walls right into my bedroom!”  She had to have some on a piece of bread even though it was nowhere near ready.

Having a slow cooker is certainly a convenience in any kitchen, and it doesn’t break the cardinal rule of single-usage.  The slow cooker can be used for a ton of stuff.  I knew one person who would use it to thaw out a frozen dinner.  She’d fill it with water, double-wrap the frozen dinner in plastic, put it into a waterproof plastic bag, and leave it in the slow cooker on low all day.  When she got home from work, the dinner would be ready.

Slow cooking can be done in many ways.  The crock pot style uses moisture which is why it’s so good for making soups, etc.  The oven can be used in either a moist or dry situation to accomplish whatever slow cooking you’d like.  More on that in a minute.  The stove top can be used with a lidded pot and the burner at its lowest setting.  The primary difference in each method is convenience.  How much oversight is needed for any particular method?

As I said before, the slow cooker is one of the most convenient.  Put your ingredients in, turn it on, cover it, and go away for a few hours.  The oven is almost as convenient.  Put your ingredients in an oven-safe pot, put on a lid, turn the oven on, put the pot in, walk away.  Don’t leave the house with the oven on, but certainly watch TV or read this blog!  Slightly less convenient is the stove top, where you need to simmer in a liquid and stir frequently to avoid scorching.

I like slow cooking because it allows the cook to use inexpensive cuts, older vegetables, and still arrive at highly flavored, tender foods.  One of the drawbacks to slow cooking, particularly in a liquid is that meats don’t brown, they turn gray.  Not appetizing.  As one celebrity chef said recently, “Brown foods taste good.”  The solution is to brown the food, usually meat, before or after cooking.  Browning before cooking helps seal some of the flavor in.  Browning after is problematic due to the fork tenderness of the foods.  One chef I talked to resolved that problem with a crème brule torch.  Not something I’d want to try.  Also, with slow cooking, you want to be sure to add the ingredients so they cook properly.  If you add tomatoes and potatoes at the same time as the meat and cook for hours, you’ll have meat floating in a wonderfully thick red sauce, but no vegetables, except some skins.  Also, herbs and spices lose their potency after long cooking.  There are solutions to all the problems, however, and I’ll tell you about those in the next post.

My favorite way to slow cook is in the oven.  It’s a method called Slo-Lo.  I typically use it for a medium quality cut of roast beef, but it can be effective for nearly any meat, except seafood.  Here’s my favorite recipe.

Brown a four to six pound roast on all sides to seal in juices.  In a large roasting pan, place half inch slices of onion, potato, carrots, and celery.  Sprinkle veggies with kosher salt, and add as many whole cloves of garlic as you like.  Add half a cup of beef stock and half a cup of hearty red wine.  Heat the oven to 250, then turn down to 185.  (If your oven doesn’t have a setting that low, go to the lowest setting below 250 available.)  Place the roast on top of the vegetables and place roasting pan uncovered in oven.  Do not open the oven door at any time.  Cook until the internal temperature reaches about 125 to 130, about 4-5 hours.  Take pan out of the oven and wrap the meat in foil.  Working quickly, strain the liquid from the vegetables through a wire sieve into a bowl.  Mash the veggies to remove all juices.  Place half the veggies in a blender and liquefy.  Add to the juices and put in a sauce pan.  Add 1/4 cup of beef stock and 1/4 cup of red wine and mix.  Bring to a boil then reduce by about a third.  When the sauce is ready, unwrap the beef and slice to desire thickness.  Serve with mashed potatoes and sauce for gravy.

I do this about four times a year and it never fails to impress and to please!

Enjoy!

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Post # 104 Veggies Fresh From the Garden!

March 18, 2013 at 3:40 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Okay, since I’m back in the land that raised me, I’m pretty familiar with what grows well and what doesn’t, around here.  So the FinL and I have decided to put in a garden in the back yard.  There’s already a spot for it laid out in a rectangle divided by brick walkways into four equal parts.

The first thing we had to decide was how to keep the Terrorist out.  He likes to chew everything, and from experience back in Oklahoma, I know he’ll chew plants down to the ground.  So, I’ve been looking at fencing options that are going to be sturdy enough to keep the dogs out, and do double duty by providing support for those plants that need it.  Haven’t made up my mind yet, still doing research.  Somehow, I just know that chicken wire is going to feature heavily in this.

Next, we had to decided what to plant.  We want vegetables.  We need vegetable that everyone is going to eat.  You may recall from a post last year that I did container gardening and created a sort of salsa garden where I raised tomatoes, Anaheim peppers, and cilantro (among other herbs.)  I’m doing that again this year, but since I have so much more room, I’m going to add things, too.  So, I’m going to have four cherry tomato plants, and four pear tomato plants.  That’s one quadrant filled.  I’m going to plant several herbs, definitely basil, cilantro, and chives.  So that’s the second quadrant filled.  I want to do green beans because there’s nothing better out of a garden than fresh green beans and they freeze beautifully.  And I want to do a couple of rows of carrots and radishes.  So there’s a third quadrant filled.  That leaves a fourth quadrant empty.  I thought about Brussels Sprouts, or lettuce, or cabbage.  Then I thought about peas, but I’m the only person who’ll eat them.  So I’m still pondering what to put there.

Finally, we had to decide when to plant.  We had a strange winter this year, and late frosts.  You have to wait for the frost to be gone before you plant.  But now, it appears that’s all behind us.  I bought a cherry tomato seed starter kit and have a ton of seedlings growing in my laundry room in the sun.  In about a week, I’ll thin those down to six healthy plants.  Two will be for my sister, and four are for us.  By the time the tomatoes are ready to go in the ground, it’ll be time to plant.

Things grow very fast in the desert.  Part of that is because the soil is so nutrient-rich.  This area was once the bottom of an ocean.  All we have to do is make certain that weeds don’t take over, and that we give them enough water and shade for those that need it, and we’ll be ready.

We’ll even be able to make two or three harvests of those we like.  Once we pull up all the radishes, we can plant them again in the same spot and get another crop in a few weeks.  Same thing for the carrots.  The tomatoes will produce as long as the freeze stays away so they’ll continue on into December.  The herbs will just grow like weeds like they always do.

So it comes down to what to grow in the fourth space.  And what to do with all the extra vegetables.  I’m looking forward to being able to walk into the back yard and grabbing veggies when I need them rather than having to go to the store.

I’ll let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, eat right and enjoy!

Post # 103 Baking Day Revisited

March 15, 2013 at 1:26 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 103 Baking Day Revisited

Okay, so I hate to admit defeat.  I hate that I can’t find a relatively easy donut recipe that tastes as good as the ones I can buy.  I hate that I followed a recipe to best of my ability and it didn’t work.  I hate the fact that I’m probably going out to buy a kitchen scale so I can actually weigh the ingredients.  It’s just irksome.

So, I’ll probably c0nquer this recipe, and I’ll probably be very happy with the results, and I’ll probably go to my grave eating donuts that I made myself.

But yesterday, I was still pretty pissed off that there was dough growing in the garbage can.

Yesterday was March 14.  Written out in numeric format, it was 3-14.  It was National Pi Day.  The value of Pi starts with 3.14 and goes on forever.  Some scientists say that the value of Pi is the true definition for a random number set.  On the ‘net and FB and other social media, it was hailed as National Pie Day, and there were pictures of very creative pies utilizing the value of Pi.

I didn’t have any ingredients for pie.  But because of the Great Donut Debacle, I wanted to bake something to prove I still had the chops for baking.  I thought about chocolate chip cookies, but there is no challenge in them anymore.  Then I thought about the basic chocolate cake and wasn’t really in the mood for that.  Then I remembered the Tunnel of Fudge cake.

The Tunnel of Fudge Cake is an impressive Bundt-style cake where the center doesn’t cook enough and turns into a fudgy mass that circles the entire cake.  It has to be made in a tube pan of some kind or it doesn’t work.  It’s based on the basic brownie recipe, but it goes postal after that.  So I decided that if I had the ingredients, I was making the cake.

First, I looked up the recipe on the ‘net.  I reviewed three and selected the one that looked the most reliable.  The recipes were basically identical, with very minor differences, like the addition of vanilla, or the omission of nuts.  Based on memory, I was pretty sure I had everything, although I was a little uncertain of the powdered sugar.  You need 2 cups for the cake, and 3/4 of a cup for the glaze.  I knew I had some, but I wasn’t sure how much.

After printing out the recipe, which was an undertaking of its own (ever notice how much computers and peripherals control our lives?), I looked through the pantry.  I had everything, but even though I was looking at the bag of powdered sugar, I still wasn’t sure if there was enough because the bag was open and some had been taken out.  Oh, WTH, I decided to just do it.  Nike would be proud.

The recipe didn’t really say was machine to use to mix the ingredients so I decided on the stand mixer.  Next time, I’ll use the hand mixer.  Also, I didn’t let the butter come to room temp before creaming with the sugar.  Next time, I’ll let the butter come to room temp before creaming with the sugar.  I’m not a big fan of nuts in cake because I don’t really like my cake crunchy.  But the recipe insisted that the two cups of walnuts were essential to the success of the cake and after the Great Donut Debacle, I decided to err on the side of caution.  I didn’t have to.

I decided to make a project of it and poured myself a glass of wine and put on the “Wicked” soundtrack.  Everything moved simply from start to finish, but there were some “ick” moments.  The butter and sugar mixture was still cold when I added the eggs so they didn’t really blend all that well and clumped on the paddle.  You need six eggs added one at a time for this recipe and by the time I finished adding all the eggs which weren’t combining with the butter too well, it was a soupy mess, looking treacherously close to the donut mixture from the day before.  Only this mess was yellow, not brown.  But, fortified with wine, I forged ahead.

Turned out I had more than enough powdered sugar.  And the cake came out of the pan perfectly.  The glaze turned out great.  Once it was done, it was a show piece.  The trouble with a Tunnel of Fudge cake is you can’t really check it until you’re serving it.  You don’t know if it was successful until that first knife cut.  But it looked beautiful!

Later, in the early evening, Partner/Spouse and I went over to my sister’s house, just two houses away.  Thursdays are a potluck gathering there, but really only one friend turns up every week.  We don’t usually go over because Partner/Spouse’s schedule is erratic and we never know exact arrival times.  But last night we went over, and I had a glass of wine with everyone.  She had not heard of the Great Donut Debacle so I entertained them with that story and concluded it with “So today, just to prove I could, I made a Tunnel of Fudge cake.”  She said that I had to do some other cooking besides baking.

But she was happy to help eat the cake.  Here’s what’s left.

tunnel of fudge

I’ll post the recipe I used this weekend for anyone who want’s to try it.  It’s really very good!  Enjoy!

Post # 102 Baking Day

March 13, 2013 at 6:50 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Today was baking day.  It’s not set day of the week, just when I happen to do the weekly bread baking.  On that day, since I’m going to be in the kitchen for a time, and the oven is on, I tend to try to do any baking I want to get done all at once.  This follows a tradition going back hundreds of years, and pretty much for the same reason.  The house gets got only once a week.  In the days before a/c that was critical.

So today I set out to make the bread for the rest of the week, and I decided to try a recipe that I haven’t done before.  Anyone who has known me longer than a day, or has read every single post on this blog, knows that I like donuts.  My favorite is the plain old-fashioned, sometimes with chocolate icing.  I’ve been looking for a good recipe for this for a long time.  A couple of nights ago, one of my favorite tv chefs was on making the exact donut I’ve always wanted to learn to do.  I recorded the show and this morning, while the bread was proofing, I took copious notes from the show.

Now this guy, he has a scientific explanation for everything.  So all his measurements were in ounces rather than cups, etc.  He explained why and it all seemed reasonable, but not reasonable enough for me to rush out and buy a kitchen scale.  So I went to the website and found the recipe with conversions.  There were also reviews and I only glanced at one which said the donuts were good, but the recipe was misleading.  I wish I had paid more attention to it.

So I went through the steps, which on the surface were very simple.  Bloom some yeast, heat some milk (which I naturally didn’t have and had to go to the store to buy), melt some shortening, grate some fresh nutmeg, add it all together with flour, salt, and sugar.  Using the stand mixer with paddles and dough hooks was supposed to make the process painless.  Well, that’s where I floundered.  You see, the review said that the recipe needed much more flour than it actually called for, but didn’t specify how much more.

So, following the cooking show guy’s instructions, I ended up with a brown, goopy, soupy mess.  I decided to keep plugging through, hoping some miracle would occur and eventually everything would come together.  It didn’t.  So I decided to add flour in quarter cup increments.  Each time I added the flour, it would start acting like I was expecting it to and my hopes would soar.  I’d soon have fresh donuts!  Then emotions were dashed as it devolved into soup again each time.  When I got to twice the amount of flour originally called for, I gave up.  I turned it into an oil bowl, covered it, and left it rise for an hour.  Twenty minutes later, as I was walking past the counter where the bowl was, I saw that the goop had indeed risen and was overflowing the bowl and plastic wrap, and was quickly set to take over the counter, sink, and floor.  Spreading a large amount of flour onto the counter, I scraped everything on the flour and started patting the sticky mess into something resembling order.

After another full cup of flour did not alleviate the sticky sodden mess, I’d had it.  I scraped everything into the trash can (with a liner) and set about cleaning the mess that I’d created.  Our sink does not have a garbage disposal, so we have to be very careful about not letting solid waste into the system.  So I had to use nearly an entire roll of paper towels to get as much of the dough off utensils and out of bowls as possible.  In the midst of this, I got called away to assist in some small chores around the yard.  An hour later, I returned to finish cleaning.  I’d had the foresight to fill each bowl with hot water so the floury mess had dissolved.  I was able to clean everything quickly.  Then I went to throw something away.

The dough mass in the trash had expanded and was nearly ready to overflow!  It had incorporated every piece of trash in the process.  All I could think was “You will be assimilated.”  Shaking my head, I poked my finger in the middle of the mess (mass?) and it deflated rapidly with a delicious aroma.  I only wish the donuts had worked!  So I took the bag out of the can, tied a knot in the top, and threw in the big canister in the alley.

So much for donuts.  But the search goes on!

Post # 101 A Funny Food

March 11, 2013 at 1:44 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Who remembers “Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner!  That is what I’d truly like to be!  Cuz if I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner everyone would be in love with me!”?  How about “Hot Dogs, Armor Hot Dogs.  What kind of kids eat Armor Hot Dogs?  Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rock, tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox!” ?  And who knows that Ball Park Franks plump when you cook ’em?

Hot dogs are good stuff whether you call them hot dogs, franks, wieners, sausages, or anything else.  They’ve gotten a bad rap over the years because quality tends to vary from brand to brand.  They’ve got a reputation for being made from leftover parts of the pig and cow, but that’s not strictly true.   Sometimes, they’ve even been accused of being made from real dogs.  My mom used to tell the joke about the two immigrants sitting in the park eating their first American food, hot dogs.  One looks at the other and asks what part of the dog he got?

Hot dogs can be cooked in about a billion different ways.  They can be steamed, boiled, baked, fried, deep fried, nuked, open fire, in a quiche, in an omelet, grilled, stuffed, in a pie, and bunches of other ways.  Recently, I saw three ways of cooking them that I’d never seen before and all three made me laugh out loud.  So here they are with apologies.  Hope you enjoy them.  Let me know if you make any of them!  Enjoy!

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