Things I Can’t Live Without #7: Crockpot, part 2

I have a frequent desire for tasty Mexican food–not from the average rotgut joint where chips and salsa is the highlight of their menu–but something more authentic, or at least where the meat is seasoned (that doesn’t seem like too much to ask). I’ve found the crockpot to be an antidote. I usually put a pound of ground beef in the 2-quarter along with a taco seasoning pack (like this one), some water and a healthy helping of salsa, and then cook it all day. The result is tangy and tasty.

Still, I’m always open to a twist on this or even an improvement and while grocery shopping on Monday stumbled across a line of “Gourmet Mexican Cooking Sauces” from Chef Rick Bayless who has a weekend show that airs on PBS. His food always looks incredible so I bought a taco skillet sauce and tried that yesterday, combining a pound of ground beef with an onion and a small potato and cooking it for four hours in the crockpot, then I poured in the sauce and let it cook for another four hours.

The directions actually called for the whole meal to be prepared in the skillet and in only thirty minutes or so but one reason I like the crockpot so much is that I put this all together early in the a.m. while the two boys were both messing around and when I still had energy. At 5:30 p.m., when I more resembled the walking dead, I just took the top off the pot, scooped some meat on a tortilla, added shredded cheese and tomato, and dug in. Mmmm, it was pretty flavorful (the Corona was nice as well), and a nice change from my usual recipe. Apparently, Bayless has a couple of packets actually oriented for the slow cooker so I’ll try those soon, too.


Things I Can’t Live Without #7: Crockpot

I am no cook and that goes double for the wife. However, I was given a 6-qt. crockpot a couple years ago, and then last year a 2-qt. one, and they have changed everything. All of a sudden I’m able to prepare dinner most nights of the week, and it’s really hard to imagine life without my crockpots.

The real genius of the crockpot is that it’s so easy and inexpensive. For instance, Mama’s sister gave me a beef barley bean stew mix for Christmas. I browned some stew beef I got on sale at Food Lion along with an onion and put that in the crockpot along with the mix and beef broth, plus some mushrooms and salt and pepper, six hours later I had a hearty, savory stew–the kind that might help you survive a frigid night in Alaska–that we ate for dinner the past two nights. I’ve got enough left over that I’ll freeze  the rest and dig it out later this winter.

Since the stew mix was a gift it was an exception to the recipes I generally use that are simpler and in smaller quantities. Often, I will look in the fridge and pantry to see what kind of ingredients we have and then simply Google that along with “crockpot” and some kind of suggestion will come up. For instance, I had a few slices of pork  in the freezer and after searching found a simple enough recipe. In the 2-qt. crockpot I added a can of baked beans and a little mustard and ketchup. Eight hours later, I had a surprisingly tasty pork and beans ready for dinner.

Occasionally I need a break from the crockpot fare–something that isn’t cooked for hours and hours and seeped in whatever it has brewed in–so we’ll have pasta or maybe carry out from a local eatery. I think that’s what we’ll do tonight, but then it’s back to the crockpot. Tomorrow, I think I’ll try some beans–perhaps Pinto, with some chili and garlic powder, an onion and a dash of red pepper. Too bad Mama won’t eat legumes, but we’ll figure out something, perhaps I’ll throw in a little sausage or ham to make it more appetizing. Voila!


Cooking With Baby

As much as I love my crock-pot there are certain things that don’t belong in there, basically anything with a bone (too much resulting grease). So when the old lady told me she had bought some split chicken for dirt cheap I looked up how to cook it online and came across this recipe. Last week, I followed it to a T, except that I left the birds in the oven an extra thirty minutes (I don’t mess around with undercooked chicken so just to be on the safe side…), and it was pretty tasty, baked in a little olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and cayenne pepper.

It went well enough that Molly got more and so I tried it again yesterday, but this time, in addition to the recipe, I drenched them in a garlic and pepper seasoning mix that also contains salt and sugar. And this time I had my baby G helping, strapped in the Bjorn, flapping his arms around while I cleaned the chicken, covered it in the various spices, and stuck it in the oven.

While the chicken cooked, B, G, and I ventured to the Monticello Trail to play in the tree trunks. A newly erected plaque informed us that the mammoth hollowed-out wood cylinders are from a Tulip Poplar that died in 2008 but is centuries old and stood to the left of the entrance to Monticello. Even though they’re not sure, the tree is thought to have existed when Thomas Jefferson was alive.

That’s pretty cool but immaterial for our purposes. What does matter is that one of the tree trunks is filled with various portals, where branches used to be, that are an amazement and wonder for a three-year-old. For more than an hour, B scurried inside and out while G slept in the stroller. I floated in between both until it was time to go check on dinner.

Back home, I opened the oven and was confronted with what looked like fried chicken, as garlic, salt, and sugar had crystallized in batches on the browned skin. I pulled the half-birds out, and even though G was screaming for his mother’s milk, grabbed a fork out of the drawer and jabbed it into the juicy meat. Delicious. Then it was baby’s turn to eat, but that’s a whole other post.


Turn It On

About a year and a half ago, I started to cook with a crock-pot. I don’t remember where it came from, it seems like it would have been a Christmas present. Regardless, it has changed our lives. Before that, we struggled to cook. I had a go-to meal or two, as did the old lady, but it was nothing special (sorry, Molly). Now, though, we eat like kings (a little bit of an overstatement), thanks to the recipes available online, the relative low cost of preparing them, and the ease of cooking with a crock-pot (basically, you just throw a lot of ingredients in the pot some time in the morning while B is playing and then turn it on for 8 hours. Steeped in the right elements it is delectable). Today, I tried one for Italian Sausage and Peppers and while I was missing a couple items—diced tomatoes and parsley leaves—it doesn’t matter. I just dipped a fork into the pot to taste and it’s delicious. The sausage is tender and juicy and there’s lots of flavor in the sauce. I can’t wait to eat tonight.