Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Slow Cooking Season is Here

Last spring my fifteen-year-old Crock Pot started smelling wretched whenever it was plugged in for over an hour. Seriously, it was like some toxic chemical had suddenly permeated the glaze. The odor was so strong it overpowered all the good cooking smells. Obviously, something was wrong, perhaps even dangerous. So I dumped it in the garbage, not even donating it. Recipes I normally would have stewed up in the slow cooker went into a cast iron Dutch oven and cooked in a low oven for the afternoon. 

But now fall is here, and time has been at a premium lately. A free standing slow cooker takes less energy than an oven even at 200 degrees F. So I broke down and got a brand new Crock Pot, all stainless steel and black. It's digital, programmable, has a warming feature, and rated high with America's Test Kitchen.

It's been going great guns ever since I got it. First I dumped in a pile of tomatoes along with some minced onion, chopped garlic, a sprig of thyme and a bay leaf and let the mix melt down all day while I'm writing. Then I ran the result through an old fashioned food mill (five minutes), returned the herbed tomato broth to the pot and added zucchini, carrots, leeks, some spicy Italian sausage from Jodar farm, a can of garbanzo beans and a handful of macaroni, and dinner was fresh garden minestrone. 

As was lunch for two for the next three days.

Right now the house is fragrant with the scent of chicken stock. Yesterday morning I tossed a frozen bag of chicken feet (yes, feet -- I took a picture but frankly, those feet are just too weird looking to post), into the oven with a bag of frozen stock vegetables I'd gradually saved -- tough or limp carrots, celery trimmings, a few onion skins and the dark green part of a some leeks. 

Then I went out and walked four miles, sifting the day's writing through my brain. By the time I got back the chicken and veg bits were sufficiently roasted, and I transferred it all into Ye Olde Crock Pot, covered with water, took a shower and settled into work. The stock has been cooking down for twenty-four hours, now a golden dark yellow, infused with intense flavor, and ready to cool into gelatinous chickeny goodness in mason jars. 

I see chicken noodle soup on the docket for my cousin who is visiting tomorrow. Yum. That's all. Just Yum.

It may take a long time, but my actual work time is practically nil. I feel like I'm taking care of myself and my loved ones with good food while not having to spend much time doing it.

And speaking of America's Test Kitchen, they have a book called Slow Cooker Revolution that I love. So many slow cooker recipes are either gloppy messes, often made with canned soup, or so complicated that the whole idea behind using a slow cooker for convenience is utterly lost. Not so with this cookbook. They have tips and tricks for infusing flavor ("blooming" aromatics in the microwave, adding soy sauce to deepen meat flavors, mixing ground meat with other ingredients to keep it moist during long cooking time, lots of stuff) and still keep things easy and simple. Everything I've made from that cookbook has turned out well. 

I'm just getting started, though. Life's too full to spend too much time in the kitchen, and life's too precious not to eat well. So coming up: cider braised red cabbage, Irish oatmeal, meatloaf, and baby back ribs. 

1 comment:

  1. I love crock pot meals, but I really should get a good cook book and branch out and try more things besides chili and pot roast. That minestrone sounds yummy.