Sunday, January 23, 2011

Crockpottin' Around

When you are a homeowner, or anyone that is out on their own in the world, sometimes your wish list isn't filled with things like shoes or new outfits. Sometimes, that shiny bauble at the local jewelry store calls to you, but you know instead it's time to go buy replacement air filters or Swiffer dust pads. The weekly bills don't often reflect time eating or socializing on the town as much as they do the purchase of groceries and laundry detergent.

Even so, I find some serious thrill in the management of a home. Keeping things in order and running smoothly makes me happy. I am less and less tempted by the shiny "extras," and more and more tempted by awesome things that are really going to make an impact on my everyday life.

Enter the CrockPot. This wonder of an appliance has been at the top of my wish list for the last year or so. The only issue (besides money on hand) was that most basic crockpots aren't made for people that are out of the house for more than the 8-hour maximum cook setting. Being a person that is often gone for 10-12 hours a day, that wasn't going to work for me. I couldn't be turning on the food at 7am and having it shut off at 3pm, when I wasn't getting home until 6:30.

So when this baby arrived under the tree this year, I was thrilled. The original Crock-Pot has this great programmable Designer Series that come with an automatic "warming" feature. Instead of shutting off at the end of the 8 or however many hours, these guys switch over to "warm" for up to 6 hours. That means that when we get home at the end of our 12-hour days, the food is ready and hot and perfectly cooked.

We have used the crock-pot at least once, if not twice, each week since the holiday. One thing that has been a challenge is learning how to actually best use a crock-pot. There are some basic strategies to pick up before you start in with recipes, so I thought I'd share some of my takeaways here. For all of you crock-pot veterans, this is old news, but I bet a lot of you are rookie crockpotters just like I was :)
  • You don't need to use much liquid. Too much liquid, and you end up stewing the meat, and it gets tough. Less than a cup of broth, beer, wine or water is really all you need to steam things up and tenderize the meat.
  • Lean meat doesn't work. We made this mistake with a lean cut of beef. Pick up the fattier pieces of meat that have lots of marbling. That all breaks down during the slow cook time. Too lean, and you end up with jerky-consistency. Betty Budget Tip: the fattier cuts are usually cheap-cheap-cheap. $4 for a huge hunk of that kind of meat can often feed your family for at least two meals!
  • Brown the meat before it goes in. This especially goes if you are a visual-eater and want your meal to look pretty in the end. It also helps to sear in flavor during cooking.
  • Fresh herbs should be added at the end of cook time. Their flavors disappear during it, otherwise. Dried or ground herbs, however, can be added in the beginning.
  • Get creative. We have been adding in all sorts of vegetables and meats and liquids to ours. A surprise winner so far was a pork shoulder that we roasted with broth, onions and celery. Shredded onto marble-rye bread with some apple-vinegar slaw to top it off, these became easy and healthy Reubens. Yum!
As part of my weekly recipe recaps, I now will be able to start incorporating more slow-cooker recipes. I can't wait to share with you what we learn about dishes made in these genius and easy ceramic cookers. I have one of the Fix It and Forget It books on hand for reference as we create and ideate with ours.

If you don't have a slow cooker yet, consider getting one as both a way to vary your cooking experience and a method of controlling your budget and nutrition goals. Plus, how can you go wrong with something that cooks the food for you? :)



Unknown said...

I got a programmable crock pot for my bday in October and despite my best intentions haven't used it yet. BUT, I finally bought all the stuff I need for crockpotted pulled pork this weekend, so this is a well-timed post. Looking forward to seeing what fun recipes you find!

Unknown said...

Ariane - that's awesome! I can't wait to hear how it goes. It's so ridiculously easy.