Monday, October 27, 2014
I was recently offered the opportunity by Hamilton Beach to review their Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker. Every few years or so I get the urge to use one, so I thought "why not?" I responded to the offer and within two days I was looking at a brand new slow cooker.
Full disclosure: I have not had much success with slow cookers in the past, other than keeping Chili con Queso warm and dippable at parties. They are also good for cooking dried beans and making stock, but I have not been a big fan of any other dishes I have tried to make in them.
I think one of the reasons I was not a big fan of them for much else is because they tend to cook everything to the same consistency, and vegetables always came out overcooked with an odd taste that seemed to come from a lack of oxygen caused by the seal created by the process. I am sure that is not the case, but psychologically that is the best way that I can explain how it tastes to me - as if the vegetables suffocated for lack of oxygen. And because I did not like the way vegetables came out, I wasn't going to risk more expensive items like meat, especially if it was going to have that weird aftertaste. So I would use it for a few reliable dishes every now and then, try a vegetable dish, get put off by that weird aftertaste, and put it back into storage for another few years.
I was somewhat hesitant to take advantage of this offer for that reason, but then I decided maybe it would be good for me to try it. I know the technology has changed quite a bit since the last time I bought a slow cooker, so I decided to request a review model.
This is not new to the slow cooker world, but I have not had an oval model before and I liked that right away. It seemed to suggest meat, being shaped more like a roaster, so I decided to make my test recipe a meat-based dish, both to give it a fair shake and to meet the "fall cooking and bringing families back to the dinner table theme." I was also curious to try the probe, which allows you to program the cooker to switch to the warm setting once the dish reaches the desired temperature.
To give it a fair shake, I tried a few recipes to put it through its paces. I used the manual setting, the programmed setting, and the probe. I cooked a pork shoulder, chicken, and vegetables. The eggplant and peppers came out with that weird aftertaste I get with all vegetable dishes. I used the programmable setting for the pork shoulder and that came out just fine.
But what makes the Set & Forget worthwhile to me is the Probe setting. I used it for making the Honey Orange Chicken Drumsticks pictured above, and it was delicious. The chicken was cooked through but not overdone as my chicken so often is, since I did not have to worry about undercooking it.
I found the recipe in the May/June issue of Eating Well magazine. There were actually a few slow cooker recipes in that issue that looked appealing. It was easy to make and delicious. I served it over cilantro rice (which is my dill rice with lime and cilantro in place of the lemon and dill) with my Napa Cabbage Salad with Snow Peas and Toasted Almonds on the side. It was a big hit and the leftovers travelled well for workday lunches the next day.
The bottom line? While I wouldn't say that it is a necessary appliance and you should run out and get one right away, I am glad that I have it and will continue to use it, especially for braised meats. If you are a heavy slow cooker user and are looking for a new one, this would be a good choice.
I did not make any changes to the original recipe so that I could be more objective in my review of the slow cooker, so I will just point you in its direction. You can find it here. (My photo will definitely suffer in comparison to the original, but I can assure you that it had no impact whatsoever on the way it tasted.
Monday, October 13, 2014
The second spice-related potluck that I attended for the Spiced-Up Meetup group that I recently joined featured ginger. As with any theme-related activities in which I participate, I like to look for dishes that stretch my culinary skills and challenge my creativity. Often, that means I look for savory uses for those ingredients most closely-associated with sweet, and vice versa.
Ginger is one of those spices that straddles both sides of the sweet/savory spectrum quite evenly, so I was having a hard time choosing between sweet or savory. I finally decided to focus more on stretching my skills than on challenging my creativity and concentrated on finding something with which I had little experienced. I remembered that I had seen Nigella Lawson pull out some ginger marmalade for a dish she was preparing on her show and I was immediately intrigued by that, and just as immediately forgot about it. But now that I was racking my brain trying to think of something new to try with ginger, it popped back into my memory and I decided to take a stab at ginger marmalade.
When I started looking up recipes, though, I realized that I am not ready to tackle actual marmalade yet. I do see jams and jellies in my future, but I am just not there yet so I decided to make a quick ginger jam. There weren't a lot of recipes out there, but the one I found at livestrong.com looked viable. So I bought about a pound of ginger and got to work.
I peeled and chopped the ginger. I chopped it as finely as I could, but was not sure how fine it should be, as the recipe was not specific about that. I put it into a saucepan with the lemon and sugar and turned on the heat.
And it became almost immediately apparent to me that it was not going to turn into jam. Unlike fruit, ginger does not break down as it cooks. I realized then how much I rely on the breakdown of the fruit to determine the consistency of the few freezer jams I had made so far. So I cooked it, and I cooked it, and I cooked it some more. Because the ginger held its shape, I couldn't really get a sense of how thick the liquid was getting. By the time I realized that it was never going to come together in the way that I had been expecting it to, the liquid had cooked almost completely down and I was not sure what would remain. And there was a LOT of it. I had no choice but to put it all into a bowl and pop it into the refrigerator.
Once it had cooled and I could taste it and analyze it, I realized that what I had made was more candied ginger than ginger jam. Super sweet and biting hot, it was one of those times where it was a happy event, however, and I realized that I could still use it with my intended dish, just not exactly as I had intended it.
I had planned to make ginger scones and top them with a dollop of creme fraiche and the ginger jam. I couldn't really use the ginger as a jam, but I realized I could combine it with another fruit, so I threw together a batch of strawberry jam to which I added about a tablespoon of the ginger. It was quite tasty, and a big hit at the potluck. It was such a big hit, in fact, that it disappeared before I could put one together for a picture.
I did have scones left over, as I had made a double batch), so I was able to enjoy the scones with creme fraiche and some of the candied ginger by itself, which was delicious as well. I was able to manage to snap a photo of that, as you can see.
I am so happy that I have discovered how easy it is to make candied ginger. I had a lot of it, but there is so much sugar in it that it stores well and I can dole it out in small amounts whenever I want to indulge in a little sweet treat. I also was able to gift a few fellow bakers with some and still have enough to last me a while. It's a huge payback for such a small effort.
1 lb ginger root, peeled and diced into small pieces
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat slightly and cook until the liquid has basically boiled down and just covers the ginger. Let cool.
10/27/14 based on recipe found at http://www.livestrong.com/article/449479-how-to-make-ginger-jam/
Monday, October 06, 2014
And just like that, summer is over and fall is on the way. Even though the weather will continue to periodically climb up into the seventies, the sun is already visibly lower in the sky and the winds have changed and the leaves are starting to fall.
And apples are back at the Green Market which makes me oh so very happy!
This Flageolet Beans with Lamb is a riff on the White Beans with Lamb (Etli Kuru Fasulye) that I made the winter before last. I had the lamb chop in the freezer and some flageolet beans (which are quickly becoming one of my favorites), and I was in the mood for a some good hearty beans for lunch. This method of adding meat to beans is a great one, because I already had the beans cooking on the stove before I decided to add the lamb. It added no time to the overall dish to sear and braise the chop while the beans were still cooking and then add them all together at the end.
The method I used to cook the beans is one that I adapted from the oven-baked no soak method I wrote about here. I quickly realized that the method should work just as well on the stove top, and it seems much faster and easier to do it this way. I will usually just cook up a batch of some kind of beans a few days before I need to think about what to make for work lunches, and then I will come up with the idea for how I want to use them by the time that I need them. And if I do not need them, they freeze well so I will have them on hand and available if I want them and don't have time to cook them.
It's about as close to having canned beans on hand as you can get without actually buying canned beans. I highly recommend it. Dried beans are so much cheaper than canned, and you know from whence the ingredients came.
As with most bean dishes, this travels extremely well for work lunches. In fact, it actually works well for school lunches as well. I have taken to not putting my lunches in the refrigerator when I get to work, and by lunch time they are warm enough to eat without re-heating. I am sure some of you will gag at the thought, but I have found that most dishes are just as tasty this way and I don't have to worry about microwaving in plastic (which I avoid) or getting an extra dish dirty when I transfer the contents to a glass bowl so I can microwave it. Obviously this does not work for everything, but I am re-heating less and less of my lunches at work. YMMV.
Home Cookin 8.59 Chapter: My Recipes
FLAGEOLET BEANS WITH LAMBMakes 6-8 servings
1 cup (about 1/2 lb) dried flageolet or other white beans, or 3 cups cooked
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil oil
1 6-oz lamb blade chop
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp Spanish sweet smoked paprika
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
Sort through the beans then rinse them well and drain them. Place them into a 3-quart saucepan and add half a tablespoon of salt. Cover with cold water up to two inches over the top of the beans. Bring to a boil over high heat and let boil for a good minute or so before lowering the heat to a simmer and covering the pot. Cook the beans over the low heat until they have all settled down to the bottom of the pan and are tender, anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half (start testing after half an hour). If you are using canned beans, you can skip this step (obviously).
While the beans are cooking, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a 10-inch skillet. Add the lamb chop and brown it, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the lamb from the pan and set aside.
Adding more oil if necessary and lowering the heat to medium, add the fennel seeds to the skillet and cook until they are sizzling and have released their aroma. Be careful not to let them burn. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes and season with the salt and pepper. Cook until the mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes, still stirring occasionally.
Add the wine, thyme, smoked paprika and the water. Place the lamb chop back in the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover, lower the heat, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the lamb is fork tender. Take the lamb chop out of the skillet, remove the meat from the bone and cut it into bite-sized pieces, then return it back to the pan. Add the beans and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes.
adapted from Stewed White Beans recipe from Saveur Magazine Number 120
Exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (www.mountain-software.com)