Mar
04
2011

  Gaining Crock-Pot Competency

I'm trying to use up what's currently in the freezer in order to make room for new dishes that I'll pull out starting in June. Also I'll need to make room for the summer harvest after that.

I found some beef short ribs that had been in there quite a while, and decided to use them up today. I made my second foray into crock-pot braising. I didn't use a recipe, since I'm pretty sure the amount of short-ribs (just 4) was less than any recipe would call for anyway. So I just browned them this morning just before noon, and lightly sauteed some chopped onions, too. Then I threw them all in the crock pot and poured a beer in there as the only liquid. I wanted to eat them for dinner, and figured I'd better set the pot to high to be sure it'd be done in 5 hours (a lot of the recipes I've seen for meat seem to call for 4-6 hours on high, 6-8 hours on low).

We actually didn't eat until 5:45pm, but the meat was good. I probably could have set the pot on low for that small amount of meat, it seemed to me just a tiny itty bit overcooked, but with braised meat it's probably a difference few people would notice (just the chef). T thought it was great, and W ate it, so that' the important part.

I'm starting to get an idea of the best way to use the slow-cooker for my family. A lot of what's in the cookbook I got isn't really going to work for us, since we don't care for what a lot of others consider "comfort food". Gourmet food is our comfort food. We still miss dining out in NYC, the nicest restaurants in Cville are like our "weeknight" places in the city, and there just isn't really an equivalent for the really good places in NYC. But I do the best I can at home. Using really good quality ingredients is a large part of it.

So I'm not likely to make too many of the dishes that call for dumping a can of cream of x soup atop non-browned meat of any kind. But I am finding that anything I'd make in a low-heat conventional oven can be pretty conveniently make in the slow-cooker. I don't know that it's any easier to use the slow cooker than to braise foods in a dutch oven (because putting a lid on the pot and sticking it in the oven for several hours isn't exactly difficult, either), but it probably uses less electricity. It is easier to check to see if the meal is done, since it's already on the counter and I don't have to lean over and take a very heavy pot out of the oven (and potentially replace it for longer cooking). So I guess for late pregnancy it wins points for alleviating some heavy lifting and bending over on my part.

Sam's Club was running special on beef ribs, so I got a huge rack for the future. It's in the fridge now, but I'll divide it up into crock-pot-sized servings and freeze them individually. Those I will use with the barbecue sauce method I tried out the other day. I will wait for a sale on short-ribs to buy them in bulk for regular alcohol braising (sometimes I use beer, other times wine). We may check out some local farms for a source to buy beef in bulk. We're happy with our lamb guy, but haven't yet found a beef guy, although it might make sense to strike a deal with the farmer who runs his cattle in our pasture, although he's not in the business of "finishing" the cattle, so I'm not sure about that.