Friday, March 25, 2011

Crock Pot Cuban

It kind of sounds like a band name, doesn’t it?

Doesn’t it?

Okay, maybe not.

This week we wanted to try something different. We had recently gotten Cuban sandwiches at a local deli and fell in love. The ham, roast pork, swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickle…what a magical combination. Grill and press the sandwich? Heaven!!

While browsing our cookbooks, I found a recipe for Cuban black beans and rice, aka moros y cristianos.

I was kind of excited. I’d had moros y cristianos (Moors and Christians) at a Cuban restaurant in Seattle several years ago with some gorgeous flank steak. I remember looking forward to the leftovers only to find that they had been stolen from the fridge at work. The meal was good enough that the bitter disappointment of not getting to eat those leftovers still lingers five or six years later.

So I thought, great! I’ll make this crock pot recipe and we can supplement with some protein. It will be fabulous!

A niggling doubt at the back of my mind about cooking rice in the crock pot was profoundly ignored. It must work, right? It’s in the cookbook. Someone must have tested it.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Well, it wasn’t as horrible as it might have been. It was actually rather tasty. The rice was cooked with chicken broth, cumin, onions, garlic and jalapeno. So it was bound to be flavorful. The beans were added in the last 20-30 minutes, so they wouldn’t be mushy.

But the rice? Oy, it was mush! Savory, slightly spicy mush. It lasted four nights, so it was great for feeding us all week. But I was definitely ready to trash the crusty, burned bits at the bottom by Thursday night.

Will we make it again? Actually, yes. But next time, we’ll make it in the rice cooker. :o) If that one works, I promise I’ll post the recipe.

Friday, March 18, 2011

When you're sick and all you want is soup

or Capsaicin - good for what ails you.

When I picked out this week's recipe for the crock pot, I didn't plan on being sick. No one plans that, right?

But when I finally got around to cooking on Wednesday, I was really glad I'd picked this recipe.

When you're sick, any Jewish mother, aunt or grandmother worth her salt is going to tell you you need chicken soup. Her chicken soup. It has magical healing powers. And even though I'm not Jewish, I believe it.

Okay, so it's not a Jewish mother's chicken soup. But I think it still has some magic in there.

In the book, it's called Chipotle Chicken Casserole. I was a little dubious, because so many of the things I'd made recently were heavy, even gummy in the case of the Thai Chicken. But, I thought, with the broth and the juice from the canned tomatoes, it will hopefully be light enough that it won't turn me off.

Here's the recipe:
From the Crock-Pot Recipe Card Collection cookbook

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 teaspoon salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 can (15 oz)navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz)black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14.5 oz) crushed tomatoes, undrained
1.5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup orange juice

Combine everything in a large crock pot and cook on LOW for 7-8 hours or on HIGH for 3.5-4 hours. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Let's get down to brass tacks, shall we? A couple of things attracted me to this recipe. First was the fact that I had chipotle in adobo in my fridge that needed to be used up. Second, it had two different kinds if beans, which I thought was interesting.

However, the orange juice? I decided to leave that out. Maybe some other time I'll try it, but I just can't see it being good here. Lime or lemon juice, okay. But orange? I just don't think so. If any of you have opinions on that, please, chime in.

By the time I got around to making this recipe this week, it was already Wednesday and I was home sick from work. Smelling the stuff cook, at first all I could smell was the onions and I thought, "Am I going to be able to eat this?" It had never really occurred to me how the aromas evolve during slow cooking. But as the day went on, things started to mellow and I got less worried.

When N got home from work and it was time to eat, the scent of this spicy, savory soup filled the house. It smelled divine. And it was just what the doctor ordered.

The little bit of kick from the chipotle and cumin bathed my sore throat in their warmth. Capsaicin, so 'they' say, can cure many ills. Arthritis pain, sinus problems, and sore throats. It might sting a little at first, but it helps seal sore throat tissue and allow it to heal faster.

The thigh meat was tender and moist without seeming overcooked. I think boneless chicken thighs are my new meat of choice in the crock pot. The onions had pretty much melted, so there was no slimy, weird pieces of onion to turn me off. And I'd added a red bell pepper, which added some nice color and a little more veg to the mix.

This was the perfect thing for us to have this week, given the virus that whipped my ass the last few days.

No, it's not your mother's homemade chicken soup, bubbeleh. But it is a satisfying, healing bowl of soup. Or maybe it's a stew. It sure as hell isn't a casserole, no matter what the title of the recipe says.

Now, I hope you won't mind a digression from all things crock pot here. Remember this week's subtitle? Capsaicin, right?

I've been drinking a lot of tea with cayenne in it the last few days. I learned several years ago in a local production of Singin' in the Rain a never fail recipe for helping sore throats, especially if you can't give yourself vocal rest because you're in the middle of a show. Our Lina Lamont was sick and losing her voice and this is what got her through it.
We got it from our stage manager, Stacy. We called it Citrus Ass Tea, but I'm not sure I ever knew the real name. And I'm not sure I have the real recipe right, but this is how I make it and it works for me.

Peppermint tea
lemon juice
cayenne pepper

Brew the tea, add lemon juice and honey to taste and as much cayenne as you think you can stand. Keep a spoon handy to keep the tea stirred up, otherwise the cayenne will sink to the bottom and you will get a hell of a surprise in those last couple of swallows!
It's not all that pleasant to drink, really, but it doesn't taste all that bad and it sure as hell works.

And now, since I have to sing tomorrow night (for only about 20 minutes, but still), I'm going to make myself some Citrus Ass Tea. Because it's good for what ails me.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Who Knew You Could Do That With Salsa or Crock Pots - Not Just For Dinner Anymore

If you remember last week, dear readers, I talked about cooking in the crock pot with salsa. And I mentioned the Thai chicken we were going to make this week.

Well, I gotta tell ya. It was definitely interesting.

It was intended to be, essentially, rama chicken, chicken with spicy peanut sauce. In order to make this happen with minimal effort, the recipe called for mixing a cup of hot salsa, a quarter cup of peanut butter, a couple of tablespoons of soy, fresh ginger and lime juice. Mix, pour over chicken pieces (I used boneless thighs) and cook on low for 8-9 hours.

I will say it was tasty. We ate it over rice and fresh spinach, taking the swimming rama thing as far as we could. Would I call it an unqualified success? Probably not.

Because the chicken was so tender, it fell apart in the sauce, so it looked a bit more like goulash than rama. Also, the salsa I used was more chunky than saucy, so there wasn’t quite enough liquid to keep things moist. That meant the sauce burned a bit on the sides and when I first peeked into the crockput when I got home, the top looked, well, kind of like vomit now that I look back. Kinda brown and chunky. I’m not really selling this, am I? ;o)

This time we were glad that it only made enough for two nights worth of dinners. It wasn’t bad. If it was that bad, we would have tossed it out. But it was heavy and not in a good way. Definitely not something I could eat more than twice in a week.

Thankfully we have a lot more recipes to try. Next time I come around to this one, I'll use some soupier salsa and play around with more soy and lime and maybe some coconut milk. I do love me some peanut sauce.

But enough about dinner. Let’s talk about a meal that doesn’t see enough slow cooked love. Breakfast.

The first time I heard the words ‘crock pot oatmeal’, I thought, “Are you crazy?” That would turn the oatmeal into gluey mush.

I was still among the uninitiated. Then.

Granted, this past week wasn’t my first time. Thanks to the advice of friends and the genius of Alton Brown (rumored to be the love child of Mr. Wizard and the Galloping Gourmet), I tried the overnight oatmeal a few years ago. His recipe is delicious and you really should try it. It’s right here. Do it. I dare you.

When I opened one of our little cookbooks and saw they had an oatmeal recipe, I decided to give it a whirl. We already had the steel cut oats in the pantry. All we needed to get were a couple of apples and some slivered almonds. You dump everything in the pot before you go to bed, turn it on low, et voilá, you wake up to breakfast. Set up the coffee pot on the timer and you don’t have to do a damn thing except dish up and pour in the morning!

This recipe wasn’t quite as good as Alton’s, I must say. Next time, I won’t mess with perfection. I’ll stick with the genius. Still, I’m looking forward to taking the leftovers tomorrow, making them into little cakes and frying them in butter.

And someday I’ll try the bacon and egg breakfast casserole. Because who doesn’t want to wake up to the smell of bacon?

Crockpots. Not just for dinner anymore.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Who knew you could do so much with salsa?

Okay, so remember those grocery store checkout stand cookbooks I mentioned last week? Well, we have three of them and, as I said before, we’ve been eating very well out of them for several weeks now.

One of the most surprising things about the recipes we’ve read and tried is the unexpected use of ingredients like salsa. Before this, I thought salsa was just for chips (with or without the Velveeta. But that’s an entry for another day ;o)) But I’d never thought of using it to cook meat in a crock pot. Until now.

My favorite recipe is still one of the first we tried. Beef carnitas. I loaned the book out, so I don’t have exact recipe handy, but I do remember most of it. Two pounds of stew meat, some salsa, beef broth, cumin and chili powder in the crock pot for 6-8 hours. No browning or chopping. Just dump it all in and turn it on low. Fabulous!

When I got home that night, the house smelled glorious. The beef and salsa and spices filled the place with a dark, rich aroma. I couldn’t wait to taste it!

Serving suggestion was corn tortillas, sliced avocado and cheddar cheese. Wanting to make this as easy as possible, I purchased some premade guacamole from Trader Joe’s (Avocado’s Number, which makes me giggle every time I see it!) along with the tortillas and got some pre-shredded cheese.

The result was succulent morsels of spicy beef with a delicious, brothy sauce, wrapped in slightly chewy tortilla and creamy, cool guac. The beef was lean and flavorful, thanks to the hours stewing in the slow cooker. And thanks to the pre-packaged accoutrements, it was easy to put together. A little messy to eat, but neither of us minded.

Fast forward to about a month later. We were now contemplating a chicken chili verde. This time, the only liquid in the recipe was a 16 oz. jar of salsa verde. About two pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast, the salsa, a little cumin and oregano, and some chopping. I was mildly annoyed that I had to actually use some kitchen skills to make this dinner happen, but really, only mildly. I was intrigued by the prospect of cooking meat in nothing but a jar of salsa.

I chopped and diced the onion, yellow pepper and garlic the night before so I could do what I love to do the next morning, throw everything in the pot, turn it on and let it do its magic. The last hour, you add beans, which for this recipe were shelled edamame. Interesting. Not sure I would do that bit again. If I thought it needed beans (which I’m not convinced it does), I’d probably add cannellini or Great Northerns. The edamame were a little toothsome for my taste and didn’t really seem to go with the rest of the dish.

While admittedly not as surprisingly delicious as the carnitas, it was very tasty and satisfying in its own right. I added the cilantro the recipe called for right before serving and also squeezed over a little fresh lime juice to brighten things up. That was my own afterthought. But really, would you do all that and not want to squeeze some lime on top? (Hmmm…suddenly I want a shot of tequila.)

The recipe got a little fancy and gave instructions on how to bake one’s own fresh tortilla chips. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray (I used canola oil spray), arrange fresh corn tortilla wedges in a single layer, spray the wedges with more oil, then bake them at 400 degrees for around 4-6 minutes. Watch them, carefully, though, because they go south very fast! Sprinkle a little salt on when they’re still hot, and presto! Fresh chips! Add a little shredded cheese on top of the chili and you’ve got a rather yummy meal.

Both recipes stretched at least three nights. I think the chili verde actually lasted for four, which was just about the time I get tired of leftovers.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about the use of salsa in these dishes. I mean, they’re essentially variations on Mexican food. But the next recipe we try that has salsa in it truly had me doing a double take.

When I saw the Thai Chicken title, I thought, “Oooh! What makes it Thai? And how can you do it in a crock pot?”

Honestly, I’m a little skeptical. The recipe calls for hot salsa and peanut butter (along with some lime juice and cilantro). That doesn’t sound good at all. In fact, it sounds a little scary. And yet, I’m going to try making it. So far those little cookbooks haven’t steered me wrong!

I want to say thank you to everyone who commented on Facebook last week. Thank you for reading!

But the biggest thanks goes to my partner, Nancy, who declared Friday night Blog Night. She closes bedtime with our son and I get to skip cleaning the kitchen so I can exercise my writing muscles. Thanks, Baby. You rock!

Next Week: It made how much?