A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Weekend Plans: Implementing Reader Ideas

Right now in the American Northeast we are in the middle of the dreariest time of year.  For the past several weeks, the temperatures haven't gotten above the low thirties. . .the memory of which is going to seem balmy in retrospect over the coming weekend, when the temp is expected to dip down near the single digits.  Brrrrrrrr!  And, to top it all off (literally), it snowed again last night:

The wintry view from my kitchen window this morning

During these dreary, sunless months until spring finally arrives, we have to find alternative ways to bring brightness and warmth into our lives.  Luckily, many people in my circle have been contributing their own rays of sunshine this week.
For example, Peter's mom visited a couple of days ago, entering with a big bunch of tulips and the pronouncement that we have to have colorful flowers to combat the winter blahs.  I agree, Sonia!  How could I stay grumpy around these bold, red-and-yellow beauties?

Ahhhh — fresh flowers!
My day ended yesterday with a warm, happy moment, this one courtesy of my little sister, Sara, who texted me to say she was enjoying the blog.  I didn't even know you were reading, Sara, but I'm glad you like what I'm doing!  Have a great day in sunny L.A.!  Congratulations on your recent passing (1st attempt) of your social work certification test!  (I have another brilliantly smart little sister, Beth, and we are all lucky that we have remained close — in spirit, if not always geographically — into adulthood.)

Cold weather calls for warming foods — am I brilliantly smart too or what, to have figured that out? — and my readers have inspired some hot hot hot cooking ideas that I am going to implement this weekend.  Many of you have touted the convenience of the slow cooker, and my sweet D.P. (=domestic partner, the closest thing to marriage available to us in our state) went out shopping (on Amazon, anyhow) and bought me one.  It arrived yesterday, entombed like Tutankhamun in a series of 3 (!) nested boxes.

Here she is, excavated from her sarcophagi and situated on the shelf I cleared for her in the kitchen:

What a beauty, adorned with her snazzy spoon chapeau, which is apparently there for when she makes appearances at potlucks, for which there is also a cheesy but cute label holder and a sheet of pre-printed labels included in the package:

Hot wings?  Belgian Beef Stew?  Asian Spareribs?  I just don't see myself contributing any of these delicacies to the next potluck I attend.  (What in heaven's name is Belgian Beef Stew, anyway, and is it so common a dish at potluck suppers that it would make the top-ten list for this sheet of labels?)  There are some blank labels included, too, and these might actually come in handy, because what I DO tend to contribute to potlucks often needs some explanation for the uninitiated.  (e.g., the silver foil is edible.)

Anyway, back to my plans for creating warmth this weekend.  I am going to christen the slow cooker with some kind of soup, I think, possibly the split pea soup for which treadle27 contributed a recipe recently.  (If I can find some ham hocks, or maybe even if I can't.)  I'm actually a little unsure of what kind of things to make in a slow cooker, never having used one, and would appreciate readers' suggestions/recipes.

One of my main questions is, did we buy too big?  There are various sizes of slow cookers, and the Amazon comments on the smallest-sized one indicated that many people found it TOO small, so we upgraded our original plan for the small-family model to the full-size Hummer which is now parked on our sideboard.  The crock is intimidatingly huge — how am I ever going to fill that at least half full, as the instructions recommend?  And then what are 2 skinny guys with 2 micro-dogs going to do with all that food?

We have a potential trade already lined up, in any case.   Peter was talking to a fellow member of our raw-milk cooperative at yesterday's pick-up (Amish cottage cheese — Yum!) and discovered that she has a small slow cooker but is interested in having the larger model.  We'll see. . .after this weekend's experimentation, I should have a better idea of our needs.  I'll let you know if we need to trade, Angela!

And my other weekend plan is to make stock from my frozen stock-pile.  I haven't amassed much yet in my container inspired by pikojiko's mom, but L.H.C. assured me that I can do worthwhile small batches.

Next week, you'll be able to read all about my adventures in the kitchen this weekend.  I only wish that I could share the smells that will soon be emanating from my slow cooker and my stock pot. . . .

I wish you all warmth — especially the inner kind that comes from friends and family — whatever season you are experiencing outside your kitchen windows at the moment.

[A service for my readers: Peter's blog entry from today — in which he models his "new" WWII-era wool one-piece bathing suit — could provide another means of raising your temperature a few degrees.]


  1. I have 2 crock pots--the smaller one comes up to heat faster than the large one, a nice consideration when taking food to an event. That being said, be careful not to go too small. You'll need head room in the pot. Enjoy! They're great for soup etc.

  2. I've only used my slowcooker for turkey chili and to keep chicken marsala warm at a family thing, but my mom used to make potroast in hers. I do find, even though it looks big, we never have a problem filling ours or emptying it either. I'll be tuning in to find out what you do with yours!

    If it makes you reel any better about the snow, there's plenty here in MA today. We're out of school for the third day in just over a week.

    Lastly, I didn't get a new item note on my Google Reader for you today. I only knew there was a new post because of Peter's entry. My son watched the dogs on the treadmill twice already, and I'll be surprised if he doesn't ask to see it again today!

  3. Nice gift! Your soup will go with the grilled cheese sandwiches Peter is turning out with his new toy. ;-)

    I tend to just make up stuff for the crock pot, but I also will skim recipe sites for basic ideas and then adapt them to what I have on hand. Since you're new to crock pot cooking, maybe reading some recipes will spark some ideas and also give you an idea of ingredients ratios and cooking times. www.slowandsimple.com is one. (I'm selfishly hoping you make up something curry-like as one of your first tries. I've been wanting to do that, but have no idea where to start.)

    As to size, bigger is always better with a crock pot, especially for a freezer aficionado such as yourself. Don't be tempted to trade down.

    Love the tulips and your silly expression in the labels pic. And Peter posted a new Willy/Freddy video — your turn.

    Stay warm!

  4. Actually, you could combine your plans, crockpots excell at stock making. Anything that takes long slow wet heat is their forte:

    Corned beef
    Pot roast
    Pork vindaloo
    Stews of all kinds
    Soups of most kinds (not cream ones for obvious reasons, or egg thickened ones either come to think of it)
    Dried bean dishes

    Smoked ham hocks are one of the preserved meats, I find them here in the semi-boonies, so I can't imagine them not being available in NYC!

    Good luck :)

  5. A crockpot is also an excellent way to cook stocks prop the lid open with a wooden spoon to allow extra moisture to escape. My late Aunt would use hers to thicken [homegrown] tomato juice into wonderful sauces & paste. She could do other projects around the house without worrying about scorching her sauces or stocks.

    There is a blog you might want to check out, the writer vowed to crockpot something every day for a year. She wrote about her adventures here: http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/

    One of our favorite crockpot foods is baked beans cooked very thick. I prop the lid just a bit at cook all day. The best result was the day I forgot about them & the next morning discovered my mistake the next morning. Everyone raved about how good & thick those beans were...of course they were supposed to cook all night. :)

    Happy adventuring!

  6. I'm from Belgium and I don't even know what Belgian Beef Stew is. Maybe regular beef stew with some Belgian chocolat in it? :P

    Love the tulips by the way!

  7. I also like crock-pots for mulled wine or hot apple cider at potlucks, if you drink enough you won't care if the rest of the food sucks. I have somewhere a good pot roast recipe for an asian style pot roast made with black bean sauce, very good. I will try and unearth it from my massive pile of cookbooks and clippings. Wish me luck.

  8. Hey I just wanted to say a few things. Thanks for starting your blog, I read your DP's blog because I am a sewer myself. And coincidentally I really like slow cooked food. I wanted to let you know about the Crockpot Lady's Blog http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2007/12/alphabetical-listing-of-recipes.html She has a really funny writing style, tons of ideas, and if you really get to liking her there are two published cookbooks out there from her. She also lists which size crockpot you should have for each recipe.
    Have fun on your little warm food adventure.
    Sincerely, Sarah

  9. The view from your kitchen window is very nice. You can even see a tree! Mine is all white, with sticks poking through it, having just gotten another 6" last night. The high schooler is in hog heaven - 2 snow days and 2 delays in one week!

  10. @Kathleen: You laugh, but my chili recipe actually calls for a square of unsweetened baker's chocolate. Maybe it's Belgian chili!

  11. I thought Belgian stew was beef stew with beer as the cooking liquid. Not sure how it's exactly Belgian, as it usually calls for a stout or other 'heavy' beer.

  12. Hi, Michael. I use the slow-cooker for roast. It's good, but not as good as an oven roast. I love to make pulled pork for sandwiches in it. I've made lasagna with differing levels of success. I have a slow cooker cookbook and sometimes try things from it. It would be a great place to start for ideas anyway. Lane

  13. I have both, a older round one and a newer jumbo version. The bigger one really heats up fast and things cook more quickly than in the older model, especially with smaller food volumes.

    Enjoy your new gadget.

  14. I just wanted to say that your blog has quickly become one of my absolute favorites! It always makes me happy, and you've inspired me to do more "improv" cooking myself. Thank you for all of the time and effort you put into this! :)

  15. I don't have any slow-cooker wisdom, but I do want to say that, from what I've seen on MPB, Sonia seems like such a sweet ray of sunshine! Those flowers look so pretty! Stay warm!

  16. I have a big family size crock pot, and a smallish family of two (also fairly skinny) adults and two little kids. I find that recipes will usually feed us all for two nights, and I agree that a freezer-lover such as yourself should keep the big one. :-) As for the stylish cards, I wonder if the recipes for some of the dishes are included in an instruction book, and that's why they included those specific cards. You probably would have found that by now, though.

  17. As a fellow freezer-lover and singleton, I have a HUGE crockpot that's always got something in it. I heart the 365 Crockpotting lady, too. The only recipe I've used of hers that didn't turn out was that danged yogurt.

    Keep the big crockpot! You'll be glad you did.
    Enjoy the gorgeous flowers from Sonia! And stay warm!

  18. I love my slow cooker. One word of advise, be real careful of rice recipies. The rice will turn to mush in 30 minutes.

    My favorite recipe is take a round steak, dredge in flour, salt and pepper. Put in bottom on CP. Throw in a chopped onion, chopped carrots, and (a lot!) of garlic. (potatoes are good too, but I like mine boiled and mashed) Cover everything with a can of tomato sauce, sprinkle with a little basil and more pepper. Let cook for about 5 hours on high. Yummm!

  19. @Jenny: You're brilliant! In this day and age, one has to go onto the manufacturer's website to find the recipes. When I did, there they all were, the hot wings, the maple baked beans, everything.....including the previously mysterious Belgian Beef Stew, which does contain beer, btw. Mystery solved!

    @Everyone: Thanks for your outpouring of advice, recipes, and appreciation today. I can't wait to try it all out. Given my predilections, I might follow Debbie's request to create something Indian on my virgin voyage on the seas of slow cooking. (OK, that metaphor did not pan out — no pun intended — as well as I expected.) I know that I am definitely NOT going to start out with the dratted yogurt project that still has Darci's bloomers in a bunch.

    I'm glad to know about rice turning to mush. That will come in handy when I make slow-cooked Congee, which is a, well, mush composed of beans and rice cooked in much more liquid than normal. Some version of congee is popular in most Asian countries....it gets flavored with whatever is locally traditional and available.

    Stay tuned for updates on my slow-cooking progress. All the information you are all sending my way has me a little overwhelmed at the moment, though; I may just go out to dinner tonight!

    I ❤ you all!

  20. I'd be tempted to wear those potluck labels as name tags!

    This Times recipe would probably work well in a slowcooker:


    (This is fantastic using diced goat shoulder, by the way.)

    The advantage of the larger cooker is that you can freeze extra portions, but freezer space might be at a premium now that you're saving scraps for stock. (Coffee cans would take up too much room, I think - I find large ziplock bags easier to squash around everything else.)

    On the stock front: turkey bones make the most fantastic stock for chicken soup.

  21. I got a crockpot a few months ago and love it. Besides the usual soups and stews, I put a layer of vegetables on the bottom and then a small but whole chicken on top with some seasoning (and liquid). It was very good. I use the chicken carcass to make stock afterward.

  22. Like Susan, I layer the bottom with veggies and top with meat and seasoning. I can usually get several days worth of meals out of one slow cooker session. I also use mine to make fruit butters and preserves. The heat starts out slow before getting very intense inside of the cooker, but without the immediate danger of boiling over or burning. Not that you can't burn things in it!

  23. I love pulled pork done in the crockpot, or corn beef and cabbage (St. Paddy's day is coming...) Not that you probably need another cooking device, but my latest aquisition has made a big splash in my kitchen...a stove-top smoker as seen here http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=stovetop+smoker&tag=mh0b-20&index=aps&hvadid=55532070&ref=pd_sl_70lm81slvw_e I've made ribs, halibut, salmon, veggies and the smoked flavors are amazing! Beats going out in the cold to use the big smoker! I really enjoy your blog Michael...thanks for writing!

  24. if i can't eat your food, i can at least read about it...
    sorry, but i have no helpful cooking advice at this time!
    your littlest sister and biggest fan,
    Sara L.C.S.W.
    Liscensed Clinical Social Worker

  25. My name is Jacki and I'm a crockpot addict. I have five. Sorta like Peter with his sewing machines, I guess. I'm single, and usually only cooking for one. I have pretty much every size from the teensy little appetizer dip pot to the huge BBQ Pit. The other three are more practical sizes.

    I have a handful of recipes that I just use over and over. Minestrone, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes and ham, shredded chicken for fajitas, stroganoff, shepherd's pie, roast beef, "Greek" pork that you use for amazing sandwiches. I recently tried baked potato soup in the slowcooker for the first time. Loves. That one's going in the favourites file too.

    Have fun with yours!

  26. Hello, Jacki! I admire a woman with an obsession, I mean a passion like yours. Someone who dives deep into a topic and explores all the possibilities. Now I know whom to consult when I have questions!

    Baked potato soup sounds intriguing....are the potatoes cooked before going into the crockpot? I may need that recipe, as I am a potato addict myself.

  27. I make Irish steel cut oatmeal in my slow cooker. Then when we wake up, our oatmeal is ready. Also we make spiced cider for parties. If you can't find a ham hock, just use some cut up ham - that's what I do. It works

  28. Hi Michael! I live in Saskatchewan, where winter stretches interminably and it's not uncommon to wake up in January to temps that are -20F or lower. There's nothing lovelier than returning to my igloo ;-) after a hard day's work to the smell of yummy warm comfort foods. Thus my obsession.

    I did bake the potatoes first. I adapted the recipe from here: http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/baked-potato-soup/Detail.aspx My major changes were to leave out the salt and switch dill for the basil. I also used no-fat sour cream instead of half and half (seemed more appropriate for baked potatoes), and added the sour cream and flour at the end, shortly before serving. Otherwise, cook the bacon, onions, and garlic as directed and then dump all ingredients into the slowcooker. Takes about 8-10 hours on low.

    Salt aficionado that you are, you may still find that salt is not necessary in the slow cooker. Most recipes don't call for it. You get a pretty marvelous flavour from slow cooking from that long. Maybe a way to compromise with Peter? Anything in the slowcooker is low sodium; anything not in the slowcooker is fair game?

  29. @Jacki: Hello up there in the Northlands! I don't think I would do very well with the winters in Saskatchewan....and the Chihuahuas would have to be fitted for parkas.

    Your info about not needing salt in slow-cooked food is interesting. I love the idea that the long cooking time teases out more flavor from the ingredients. I already added a bit of salt to my first crockpot experiment; I hope it doesn't turn out too salty. Will let you know.....

  30. Michael: My beagles have snowsuits :-D I can't imagine making a chihuahua go out there in -20. Talk about pupsicles!

    Do let me know about the salt. You probably won't find it salty, but why not experiment sometime and see how it works without? The only time I need to add salt at the table is when I make lentil stew. I suspect the problem is the recipe, and I'll keep trying different ones until I find one I'm happy with.

  31. Slow cookers can be very time/labour saving as long as you ignore any directions to brown meat before adding. Just don't bother! It will be fine! As early in the day as you can manage, put whatever combination you fancy of protein (legume or meat), vegetables, seasonings and liquid in the slow cooker. Turn on, leave the house, come home and make rice or pasta. These carbs are preferable to potatoes because they don't require peeling. I go for rice, because it doesn't require draining and won't burn even if you like totally forget about it as long as you cook it in the microwave. Serve, taking full credit for "cooking" so your DB (dearly beloved, gender irrelevant) will clean up the kitchen and do the dishes. If you work at home, you need to steadfastly resist the impulse to stir/taste your concoction, because each time you do this increases the required cooking time by 30 minutes.

  32. Thanks, Mae — you crammed a whole tutorial into that comment!