Monday, October 25, 2010

What we can learn from "My Cousin Vinny"

To be honest, I'm still a little mad at Howie for trying to "out southern" me with Joe Pesci quotes. There's just something so very wrong about that. And besides, it doesn't take that long to cook oatmeal either, but he cooks that in the crock pot. So why not grits? It's the same principal. The whole point is to slow cook them while you're asleep so you wake up to a yummy, warm breakfast that's ready to go. If you have no clue what I'm prattling on about, you should listen to show #6- The Crock Pot Show! We took a step back from the "gourmet" side of the culinary world and relaxed in the homier side of cooking. Crock pots are the original "set it and forget it" machines that can make meal time a lot easier.

I was a little worried about this one. It seemed that when we recorded, there was more of us goofing around than there was actual information. But somehow, by Howie's editing magic, this one came out great. I hope you have or will enjoy it!

I did want to mention something that got left out that I, personally, deem important when it comes to crock pots or slow cookers. So here we go...
Buying a crock pot- When I first starting thinking about this show, it occurred to me that a lot of people think all slow cookers are created equal. Nope! Not true. There are some things that are good to consider when purchasing a crock pot.
1. Buy the size suitable for your space. If you live in a small apartment with a teeny kitchen, chances are there are only one or two of you living in that space. There is no need for you to have a giant 7 quart slow cooker hogging the precious little counter space you have. A smaller 1.5 or 2 quart model ought to suit your needs well and can easily make enough to feed up to 4 people.
2. Buy a slow cooker with a removable crock. It makes life so much easier when trying to clean up. It's also handy when you've made a big meal and have leftovers. You can leave everything in the crock, cover it, and put in the fridge. When you want to reheat it, just stick it back in the heating element.
3. Look for temperature settings and timers. Newer models with timers and auto-function settings are awesome. But at the very least, your crock pot should have low, high, and warm temperature settings. I speak from experience on this one. I have a small crock pot with no temperature control. When you plug it in, it goes to whatever temperature it feels like that day. Uhg.
4. Think about what you'll be using your crock pot for most often and keep that in mind when going to purchase one. If you plan to use it for family meals, I recommend a simple model that is size appropriate. Keeping the controls simple will allow multiple family members to use it properly and perhaps give mom (or the head chef) a bit of a break. If you plan on using it for pot lucks, small catering events or anything where the food should be portable, consider a model with a tight fitting and/or locking lid. If it's just to hold meatballs, cocktail smokies, or nacho cheese warm on game day, I'd get a smaller one with simple temperature settings and a removable crock so you can let it soak for 2 days after your husband/boyfriend leaves it on high for the entire game and after the party. Or to avoid this disaster, buy a crock pot with a timer and set it to automatically turn off by the 3rd quarter.
5. Always buy a brand that has a decent warranty. Crock Pot, Rival, Hamilton Beach, Kitchen Aid, All-Clad...these are all brands that come with at least a limited warranty. As with any small appliances, follow through with your end of the warranty agreement. Send off what ever receipts and papers you need to. It might seem like a pain, but it ensures that you're covered if anything breaks or goes wrong. It seems like a slow cooker would be a sure thing, but knowing my luck? Something would go wrong. I always try to send in for the warranty.

I messed up my information a little during the show and would like to clear a few things up. I said that the running temperature for a crock pot is 190 degrees to 215 degrees F depending on your settings. I was a little off. The correct range is 175 degrees to 215 degrees (again, depending on what setting you have it at). I also kinda stumbled over my words when I was trying to explain why vegetables take longer to cook in a crock pot. Let me try that again. Veggies usually respond better to high heat methods of cooking like sauteing or boiling. It has a lot to do with water content and drawing out the water as fast as possible to preserve the color and nutrients of the vegetable, while still cooking it through. That's why steaming root vegetables, especially, takes forever. If you're going to cook veggies with your protein, place them at the bottom of your slow cooker (under the meat) so they will be immersed in liquid and cook evenly.

While researching recipes and clever trivia for the show, I came across a wonderful site. I'm sure it's one of hundreds of crock pot websites but I really enjoyed this one. It's got a lot of good ideas and recipes.

Speaking of recipes, it's that time again!

Howie's "Pot Roast"
3-5 lb chuck roast, shoulder roast, london broil... whatever roast-type beef is on sale or that you prefer
8-12 oz. white button or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cumin
additional spices*
1/4 C. olive oil
1/4 C. red wine (or white if you prefer)
1/4 C. Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Salt and Pepper for seasoning the beef

Place mushroom caps at the bottom of your crock pot, stem-side down. Heat a large skillet with about 1/8 C. olive oil. Trim the roast as needed and season the beef on all sides. When the skillet is hot and the oil is just starting to smoke, sear the beef on all sides. When the meat is caramelized and seared, place it on top of the mushrooms. Add the onion to the same pan and cook until translucent-about 3 minutes. Then, add the garlic and continue cooking for about 2 minutes more. De-glaze the pan by adding about 1/4 C. red wine. Allow to simmer for about 2 minutes, then pour the onion mixture over the beef and mushrooms. Add the remainder of the olive oil, spices, balsamic vinegar, and both cans of crushed tomatoes. Cook on your crock pot's low setting for 6 to 8 hours.

*Howie always uses salt, pepper, and cumin in this dish. You can add whatever spices suit your taste. If you'd rather go a more Italian/Greek route, I recommend rosemary and oregano.

After that great meal, what about dessert? I got ya covered.

Basic Bread Pudding (please personalize this any way you'd like)
3 C. day-old French bread*
3 large eggs
1 C. heavy cream
1 1/2 C. whole milk
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. Whiskey, Brandy, or Bourbon
1 tsp. cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, ground
1 C. fresh or frozen berries, stone fruit, bananas, apples, chocolate chips, or what ever flavorings you'd like
2 Tbsp. butter

Grease the crock with 2 Tbsp. butter. Cube or tear bread into 1 inch pieces and place in the crock pot. Sprinkle the flavorings of your choice on top of the bread pieces. Whisk together cream, milk, vanilla, liquor, salt, and spices. Pour over the bread and flavorings. Cover and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours. Raise the heat to high for another 30 minutes. You'll know it's done when you insert a knife into the middle and it comes out clean.

*If your local market has an in-house bakery, chances are you can get the "fresh baked" left overs from the day before at a discounted price. Any bread with a chewy, soft texture will work. Avoid using loaf bread or something too hard like a baguette.

I'm currently in the testing phase of my Swedish Meatball challenge. When I've got it where I'd like it, I'll let you know. For now I'd just like to share my ideas again. Typically, the "Swedish Meatball" most of us are used to is a basic beef meatball cooked in cream of mushroom soup mix, milk, and maybe a little allspice. This dish is often served over egg noodles. I've had it before and it's edible, but Howie challenged me to make it better. Here are my thoughts so far:

Instead of a standard beef meatball, a combination of ground veal and lamb would be much more flavorful and meaty. I'd also like to add some vegetables to make this more of a complete dish. My choices right now are mushrooms and fennel. Then to replace the cream of mushroom soup, I think a bechamel sauce finished with some nutmeg would be a good alternative. I would most likely keep the egg noodles as the starch for this dish. It sounds good, right? Experimenting and testing is the only way to know for sure. Like I said, I'll keep you posted.

Well, there you have it. 6 shows down with (hopefully) many more to go.

We do apologize for how slack we've been lately. Life seems to be giving Howie and I, both, a swift kick in the pants. We had a lot of momentum for this project in the very beginning and then all of a sudden, everything seemed to stutter to a halt. We're working to get back on a semi-normal schedule that we can both live with. Thanks for your patience. We haven't forgotten about our listeners. Please don't forget about us. Even if there isn't a blog post or a show posted, there are still discussions on our Facebook page and our inbox is always open at

<3 Elle

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