Monday, February 11, 2008

The Crock Pot Chronicles (Parts I & II)

First an admission: I used to have a crock pot and I gave it away. It failed me too many times and I couldn't take it. It went into the little "good will pile" before I left Philly. There's probably a Philadelphian family eating out of it right now.

Then the other night I'm at this blogger dinner and I somehow win this raffle and end up with this cute little crockpot.

It's like getting a goldfish at the fair. You think, what do I do with this thing?

I brought it home and set it on the kitchen floor and it just sat there, begging me to make something. I kept thinking about it. And then I's just a slow braise. I'm fond of the slow braise.

In my mom's day the whole point of the crock pot was to dump everything in in the morning and have instant dinner by the evening. Usually it involved a can of cream of mushroom soup.

I didn't have to do that. I could brown the meat first, saute a few onions, use a spice rub, some wine. Let it cook for hours. And then adjust the sauce, boil it down, fix the seasoning.

I tried it for the first time last week.

My first mistake was doing this while I was home. Why use the crockpot when you're home? In the oven you have full control over temperature, you can add fluid or take it away, turn things, adjust how well it's browning or not browning.

In the crockpot there are two temperatures: high and low. And mine is this little squat thing, so it's hard to tell what's going on in the bottom.

Besides, the best use of the crockpot is to save you time. To be able to cook when you're not home.

The results were actually pretty good, but it didn't cook long enough. I made beef spareribs and they needed a few more hours. Of course we ate them anyway. Partly because the sauce was amazing--red wine, shallots, and the bits of the puebla mole spice rub that fell off the ribs, mixed in with the juices of the spare ribs.

Today I decided to go for the pork ribs. Increase the cooking time, decrease the liquid. I browned the ribs, and then coated them with the same puebla mole spice rub.

I discovered spice rubs this summer, they're my favorite for quick dinners. This one is mostly cocoa and chipotle, with oregano, marjoram, cloves, allspice, coriander and black pepper. You could make your own. Mix whatever spices you like.

So I loaded the crockpot, this time standing the ribs up so they didn't just boil in the liquid. I added carrots, sauteed onions, garlic, a little red wine. Turned it on high and walked out the door.

When we got home the house smelled WONDERFUL. The ribs were, admittedly, almost too well done. But they were succulent and flavorful. The sauce had an unforseen problem, too much grease from the cooking ribs. I don't have a separator so I decided to blend it all together. This worked fairly well, as the carrots soaked up the grease. The flavor was wonderful, but the texture wasn't what I was looking for. I made a little arugula salad and we were sitting down to dinner in 5 minutes.

I can't bring myself to post the actual recipe though, even if it is just in my head. It needs more tweaking. I promise, a few more crock pot mishaps, and we may have something. I just wish the little thing had a temperature gauge, I'd be in heaven.

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