Friday, February 25, 2011

Beginning Again

I’d say this is a beginning, but the beginning of this blog was a couple of years ago as a result of a trip to Vegas. Hence the “Culinary Hedonism”. The time we spent in Sin City was really just an excuse to eat very, very well. We didn’t care about the gambling, though we did find the slots entertaining. We aren’t gamblers. Unless, of course, you count taking a chance on a celebrity chef’s cuisine gambling. Some would.

Nearly three years after this blog began, I find that the hedonism has kind of leaked out of my culinary life. I suppose that’s what happens when you have a day job and a toddler. You give up hedonistic pursuits for more practical things like, say, sleeping.

That’s not to say that one can’t still have adventures, though. And part of the title of this blog is about adventure. For a while it was our semi-monthly veggie and fruit bins, which we have given up on for now. I miss the twice-a-month challenge of what I could do differently with the chard or kale that was in the bin. But working and taking care of a 15-month-old, it’s hard to have time to cook during the week. And the weekends? I’d rather spend them playing with my family.

Given the lack of intensive time to spend at the stove, we’ve turned to a time-honored, middle-American kitchen must-have, the crock pot, to keep us from pissing away our mortgage on delivered pizza and Chinese food.

Crock pot? An adventure? Seriously?

Yes. Seriously.

Until recently, I’d only ever cooked pot roast in my slow cooker. A family staple growing up, it’s the simplest and one of the tastiest memories from my childhood. A 2-3 pound top round roast, a can of cream of mushroom soup and an envelope of dry onion soup mix. Put it in the crock pot on low. Eight hours later, you can shred the meat, mix it into the gravy and serve over toast, rice or mashed potatoes. I’d say it was a slice of heaven, but the meat is too tender to cut. It falls apart if you look at it funny. So maybe a big old spoonful of heaven.

After the turn of the new year, my partner and I decided we needed to work harder to feed ourselves decent food instead of relying on frozen chicken strips and mixed vegetables all the time. We needed to stop eating only foods that could be taken out of the freezer and thrown in the microwave for four minutes or less.

If eating Bobby Flay’s mashed potatoes with cilantro pesto or the hanger steak at Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak was hedonism, then this was utility eating at nearly its worst. We had not yet resorted to boxed mac and cheese or Top Ramen. Yet being the operative word.

So we picked up a couple of grocery store checkstand cookbooks with slow cooker comfort foods in them. One of them was from Prevention, which is a magazine my doctor recommends, so I figured, what the hell?

It’s been an exciting month or so since we started doing something in the crock pot every week. We started with beef carnitas, which is still my favorite, though everything has been delicious so far.

We’ve had turkey sausage cassoulet, pulled pork, beef pot pie, and this week’s adventure, chicken chili verde.

My initial expectations of these recipes were that they would basically require you to dump all the ingredients into the slow cooker, turn it on and leave, returning to the house hours later to the mouth-watering smells of dinner. So when I had to chop onions or brown something before it went into the cooker, I had to ask, is this really saving me time? But being able to come home to find dinner at least mostly ready for me? With still very little preparation? Let’s just say I believe it is saving my sanity. What little of it there is left to me.

I feel a deep-seated responsibility to feed my family. I’ve been doing it since I was about twelve years old when my dad first taught me to make Hamburger Helper. When all else fails, I can always feed people.

It had begun to really stress me out that I had a hard time getting home from work with our son, watching him and keeping him out of trouble, and having something ready for dinner by 6pm. We needed to eat about then to be able to get our son ready for bed by 7pm. And my partner generally wasn’t getting home until 6, so we really couldn’t wait for her to get home to cook.

What a relief it is to come home and have dinner ready to serve. Or be able to take leftovers out of the fridge and heat them up quickly. We’ve had have several weeks of satisfying, tasty meals with relatively little prep time or cleanup. Frankly, it’s been a bit of a revelation.

So all hail the crock pot. It’s not the most hedonistic thing to escape from the ‘70’s, but it is certainly turning into an adventure.

Next week: What yumminess we have wrought.