Monday, November 21, 2011

Cooking for Carnivores (on a budget) - Crock Pottery

Taco Soup
Crock pots!  I LOVE my crock pot.  There are a million and one websites and cookbooks extolling the virtues of crock pots, and rightly so.  I'm not going to try to rehash all that info here.

I will make a couple of points here, though, to do particularly with cookng for carnivores and also to do with cooking with children underfoot.

First, slow cooking is a splendid way to cook inexpensive cuts of meat.  Any cheap cuts usually wants to be cooked a long time over low, moist heat - which is exactly what the crock pot delivers.  Pot roasts, stews, chilis, and chicken thighs all do very well in the slow cooker.  A word of caution - in my experience, pot roasts in the slow cooker need to cook significantly longer than most recipes say they do.  I usually do mine for the full time the recipe says for low temperature - but I do it on high.  That way I get the moist, falling-apart pot roast that makes my kids crazy.

In my family, the slow cooker is one of the best ways to serve beans.  My family is a bunch of bean-haters - but they do like chili.  And they do like taco soup, and picnic beans.  These are all great options for busy days.

For me, the place where the crock pot (are you wishing I'd make up my mind?  Slow cooker?  Crock pot?  Sorry.  I call it both in my real life, too.)  Anyway.  The best thing about the whatever-you-want-to-call-it is the ability to be really flexible on when you do the actual cooking.  Insane crazy day in the works?  Load it up in the morning and forget about it.  Crazier than that?  Load it up the night before and leave it in the fridge.  In the morning, get it out and turn it on.

With a young baby, you can do the cooking whenever baby's schedule - or lack thereof - allows.  You don't have to follow the cooking times slavishly.  I have never heard anyone recommend this, but here is what I do, and I have never had a problem:

On most slow cookers, the "low" setting takes twice as long as the "high" setting.  So, a recipe will say to cook it for 8 hours on low or 4 on high, etc.

If you have the kind of life that makes it occasionally difficult to get a meal done on time, that doesn't always change if you are trying to meet a deadline that is 8 hours before dinner!  What if the time that is good for you to prepare the meal is 5 or 6 hours beforehand?

Just turn it on high part of the time, and then turn it down.  If I am cooking something that wants to have 8 hours on low, but I only have 6 hours left, I will do the first 2 hours on high.

Since 2 hours on high is the same as 4 hours on low, I've now taken care of 4 hours worth of cooking in just two hours.  Now I have 4 hours left until dinner - so I'll turn it down to low for the rest of the time.

Make sense?  You can do this for any amount of time between the times for the high and low settings.  Just remember that high is twice as fast as low, and you can take it from there.  Also remember that slow cookers are very forgiving.  Not only do they not mind if you can't decide what to call them, they also won't overcook your food unless you leave it in way, way longer than you are supposed to.  An extra hour won't hurt anything.

Need some recipes?  I found a whopping list of them here.

Happy crock pottery!  (Or merry slow cookery.  Whatever.)

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