Friday, February 15, 2008

Slow Cooker Adventure

This week's mystery cookbook adventure took place over two nights. I've been trying to cook my meals "from scratch" now that I'm not working and of course I have so much to do that several afternoons this week I wasn't home. My trusty slow cooker has helped me out before and this time I decided to try the "Light" companion to my favorite slow cooker recipe book, Fix it and Forget It. FI and FI has never failed me. Every recipe that I've tried has been a winner so I thought that the Fix it and Forget it Lightly book should be a sure bet. Wellll. Yes and no. Those of you that know me and those who've read the cooking posts before this might rightly guess that I'm a down home cooking kind of gal and not so much the gourmet type. After all, I did run a school lunch kitchen for all those years. But I was willing to branch out and try some new flavors. Well not so much new flavors as new combinations of flavors. So I tried the Mandarin Orange Chicken on page 21. I had all the ingredients on hand, didn't have to change anything and made it straight up. Maybe that was my problem - I never make anything without changing it beyond recognition! Anyway, the combination of poultry seasoning and mandarin oranges didn't do anything for me. You might have another opinion of this recipe - the Compadre in his generous way said "it's not so bad". OK, he read this and said "I liked it". But I didn't and I'm the cook so that's that. He even went so far to say that he liked it better than the recipe that follows.

To give the book a second chance I tried a recipe that looked pretty standard to me. Minestrone Soup on pg. 192. No unusual foo faa for this one. And surprise, surprise I loved it. Oh, and yes I altered the recipe.

Here's what I put in it:

About 1# lean gr. beef
A large onion, chopped
Minced garlic to taste
2 cans diced tomatoes
Kidney beans (1 cans worth)
1 can corn with liquid
2 ribs celery sliced
A couple of carrots sliced
1 cup uncooked macaroni
beef bouillon
Salt to taste
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 1/2 cups water

And here's what I did.

I found all the ingredients, substituting carrots for the zucchini called for in the recipe. But I was short the can of kidney beans and had no other canned beans (other than pork and beans - yuck) but I always have on hand various dried beans. Hmmmm. Need beans now, have to leave soon, what to do? I called upon my trusty pressure cooker and cooked those dry kidney beans in a mere 20 minutes. The standard way to make beans involves soaking overnight and cooking for hours. The pressure cooker takes some care and knowledge be useful. It's used to speed up the cooking time in situations where you want to incorporate liquid into the food. Tough cuts of meat come to mind - and beans. Now your grandmother might tell you to never cook beans in the pressure cooker and it's true it takes some care. But it can be done and I've done it many times and I live to tell about it. The key is to watch the cooker to make sure that the stopcock (the thing rocking on the top) doesn't stop rocking and that foam doesn't start to come out of it. If it does turn it off immediately and let it cool down. And here's the other key - don't fill it more than about 1/3 of the way, and that means you can't make large amounts of dried beans at a time. But hey, it only takes 20 minutes so make more later.

Anyway, I browned the meat like the recipe said and added everything to the slow cooker. I didn't bother to dissolve the bouillon in hot water because 6 hours in a slow cooker better be enough time to dissolve that bouillon or I've got some baaad bouillon! Now, I should have known better than to put the macaroni in at the beginning. It ended up almost mush and that's what the Compadre didn't like about it. I'll know better and put it in about 15 minutes before we want to eat next time. Oh, and I added more water at the end. All in all, a good hearty soup for a cold, cold Minnesota day.

Stay tuned for next week's installment to see if I get brave and try anything else out of my comfort zone.


Miss T said...

I can't imagine what poultry seasoning & mandarin oranges tastes like--sounds wrong. But your other dish sounds good!

metime said...

It sounds to me like your best bet is to conduct an independent, 3rd-party making 3-4 of your favorite dishes and having some of your friends (like...knitting friends!) be the judges!!

I am NOT a cook at all, but I agree with Miss T - those combos don't sound like they'd go together. Then again, my husband swears that adding tapioca pudding to his pork chops (with cream of mushroom soup) is going to make it perfect. Again, the idea of pudding and soup together... but I trust him!

Compadre said...

But I liked the orange chicken! Really. You don't see the leftovers in the fridge, do you?

Kayla said...

More of those slow cooker recipes please. I only seem to find the funky ones like the oranges with poultry seasoning. I am always asking people for their best - easy - slow cooker recipes!

I will thank you and my family will thank you! :)