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Posts Tagged ‘slow cooker’

Photo courtesy of Budget Bytes

That was fast.

Just a week after I took up the pursuit of an easy homemade alternative to store-bought pasta sauce, I think I’ve found my go-to recipe.

Over at Budget Bytes, Beth posted a recipe for a slow cooker marinara sauce in November (gotta give kudos to Pinterest for helping me find it). She noted that the long, slow cooking process (eight hours on low) carmelizes the sugar in the crushed tomatoes. Carmelization gives the sauce a depth of flavor that jarred pasta sauce simply cannot replicate. It’s got the hint of sweetness that a good tomato-based sauce should have without the artificial, overpoweringly syrupy sweetness offered by most manufactured sauces these days.

It was a cinch to make, too. I diced an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic the previous night and dumped everything into the 4-quart slow cooker crock the next morning. The husband texted me at lunch to let me know that it smelled delicious.

I browned a little ground beef to make a simple meat sauce and served it over two small servings of penne. (And while I’m talking about pasta, let me recommend that you cook half the recommended serving size listed on the box. The suggested serving sizes are obviously calculated to make you buy more pasta, not maintain a healthy weight.)

I might add some crushed red pepper next time for a more piquant sauce, but other than that, I’m very satisfied with this recipe. Like other tomato-based sauces, it’s going to freeze well, meaning that I’ll now have ready-to-serve pasta sauce in the freezer instead of the pantry.  It’s going to be versatile, too: Besides meat sauce, it’s going to be a great topping for ravioli and a good dipping sauce for the husband’s homemade calzones.

Next goal: A go-to, not-too-salty soup recipe to keep in the freezer.

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This meal was full of so much win that I don’t know where to start.

First of all, I found the recipes on Pinterest, a “virtual billboard” that lets you point people to interesting products and ideas you find online. Yes, other sites let you do the same thing, but Pinterest does it with pictures. Pretty, pretty pictures.

I have a Pinterest board called Enticing Eats where I pin links to foods that I actually plan to make. Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? Not so far.

Two recipes caught my eye within a couple of days of each other: Slow-Baked Mac and Cheese and Baked Zucchini Fries. The macaroni and cheese called for the slow cooker, a promising release from using the oven or stovetop on these 90-plus-degrees days. The zucchini fries had to go in the oven, but I used my small countertop convection oven, which gives off less heat. Best of all, I got to use up some zucchini from the CSA box.

As an aside, when I leave Alabama, I want to move to a place where squash is not the default CSA vegetable.

I halved the recipe for the macaroni and cheese simply because the original called for 12 ounces of Fontina cheese and my Publix only sold it in 9-ounce blocks. I could live with 3 ounces of leftover cheese a lot easier than I could live with 6 ounces of leftover cheese and a bill for TWO 9-ounce blocks of fancy cheese.

Had I not halved the recipe, I would have had a lot more mac and cheese than I needed, although I guess it would probably freeze well. So far, we’ve eaten it for dinner on two nights and I have enough left for one of us to have a generous lunch. Likely me, since I seem to be in charge of consuming leftovers.

The husband gave the dish the ultimate compliment: He said he would eat it again even if the slow cooker was a pain to clean (he’s appointed himself head washer of the slow cooker vessels since they’re so heavy and I’m so [ahem] dainty).

It was creamy and cheesy, as expected, but the eggs gave it an unexpected casserole-like texture. I browned some homemade breadcrumbs (more on those in a minute) in a little olive oil and sprinkled them on top before serving. Fancy.

The zucchini fries were an excellent match. The original recipe called for panko breadcrumbs, and I didn’t even have a container of regular breadcrumbs on hand. I took a few slices of bread out of the freezer and whirled them around in the food processor until they seemed crumb-ish, then mixed them with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and Parmesan cheese, as the original recipe advised.

The breadcrumbs soaked up a lot of the egg mixture coating the zucchini fries, so I had a big mess by the end of the process. Luckily, I had sort of followed the author’s admonishment to lay out only a couple tablespoons of breadcrumbs at a time.

So, while the fries could have been prettier and crunchier and more thoroughly coated with breadcrumbs, they were still quite impressive. They were the first thing the husband smelled when he came down the stairs, and he was one happy diner. The original recipe says to serve them with pizza sauce or ranch dressing, but they were delicious without any sauce whatsoever.

So, the lessons of this post include:

  1. Head to Pinterest and request an invitation (I can probably round up a few for readers who make a good case).
  2. Follow my boards to see the cool stuff I post and let me know that you’re posting cool stuff too.
  3. Make these two dishes.

UPDATE: I made the zucchini fries again, only I rolled them in a paper towel to absorb excess moisture and tossed them in the oven while it preheated to dry them off a little more. I also sprinkled them with plain old store-bought breadcrumbs. With some of the moisture gone, they were crunchier.

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I love it when a plan comes together. Or, more specifically, when a half-baked idea actually works.

One of my go-to slow cooker dishes is Pepperoncini Beef, which is pretty much a 2- to 3-pound beef chuck roast stuffed with a few cloves of slivered garlic, topped with a 16-ounce jar of pepperoncini and simmered on low for eight hours. We make roast beef and pepperoncini sandwiches on sub bread; topped with cheese and baked in the toaster oven for about three minutes, these are more than mere sandwiches.

Problem: 2 to 3 pounds of roast beef leaves us with WAY more leftovers than we can possibly stand to eat in one week, and it doesn’t freeze well.

Yesterday, while filling the grocery list with ingredients for another slow cooker recipe, I found the solution. Household fave Cowboy Stew, from the Year of Slow Cooking blog, calls for a pound of browned hamburger meat.

In the end, what’s the difference between a pound of ground beef and a similar amount of shredded roast beef once you mix it all up together and cook it for eight hours?

It was delicious, plus it saved me nearly $5 and the guilt of tossing out perfectly edible food. Kitchen WIN!

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I spent nearly 30 minutes Sunday afternoon chopping vegetables. Homemade pico de gallo is a harsh mistress.

Admittedly, it probably should have taken only about half that long. I’m slow and accident-prone.

Still, it gave me a long time to ponder the psychology of food preparation these days.

I grew up in the ’80s, when moms were going to work in droves and the buzzword in cooking was “timesaving.” Jars of spaghetti sauce and boxes of brownie mix became standard pantry supplies.

The divide between male and female roles was never more apparent. Women became fully aware that they were working a second shift after their 9-to-5 job ended, and many resented every minute of it.

Cooking became a chore made easier by letting somebody else do the grunt work. Convenience was our mantra, and we bought into the pursuit of better living through chemistry.

Somewhere along the way, we went too far. There seems to be a couple generations of people who think nothing of buying a week’s worth of meals from the freezer case. There are likely teenagers who think French toast only comes in sticks, and that “homemade” cookies come from rolls of dough in the dairy case. There are 30-somethings who cannot navigate the meat counter, not because they’re vegetarians, but because the only meat they ever buy is pre-seasoned and pre-cooked.

I’m no cooking saint or food snob. There’s a jar of spaghetti sauce in my pantry and a big bag of Costco meatballs in the freezer, and I’m not afraid to use them.

But I’ve also made my own sauce and meatballs from a recipe passed down through my Italian mother-in-law’s family. I’ve melted three different kinds of chocolate to make brownies that would make anybody eschew the boxed stuff forever.

I, ladies and gentlemen, have made a souffle.

While there has been a foodie revolution gaining momentum over the past decade or so, the quality of many American diets seems to have gone down.

For some, it’s an economic issue. You can buy a couple of cheap hamburgers if all you have is $5 in your pocket, but that $5 won’t cover ground beef, buns, condiments and veggies to make a better version.

Note, however, that if I see you with a cart containing a $6 carton of organic milk AND a stack of Lunchables, you’re doing it wrong.

I don’t always have 45 minutes to make my own pico de gallo and fajitas, but I do have a slow cooker and mad planning skills.

All in all, I don’t mind cooking on the second shift (though I must add that the husband makes an excellent calzone and superb oatmeal cookies). I deserve proper nourishment, as does my husband and anybody else I’m feeding. More than that, though, we deserve delicious nourishment, and the way to delicious is sometimes marked with a sharp knife and zen-like concentration.

By choosing what we eat based on convenience, we stand a chance of shortchanging our bodies and our tastebuds. Avoiding that outcome is never a waste of time.

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