Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Low and Slow

I've never been big on crockpots. I don't know why but sticking meat, veggies and seasoning in a pot and leaving it alone for 8 hours has never been my thing. I like to make souffles. I like to make lasagna. I bake my cookies from scratch (although I do use pre made pie crust because really - what's the point?). I like things that are difficult and complex and challenging...I like things that are, well, kinda like me. And so I'm just not a crockpot kinds of girl.

But if there's one person who can make crockpots (and one day probably Jazzys) sexy, it's my dear friend Modern Matriarch. Seriously - she's got TWO of them and they are frequently featured in her Tweets and her blog and she's always got some amazing sounding recipes or glorious food porn shots or both and well how much of that can one girl take before she finally caves?

It's not like I woke up one day and rushed to the store and said: I'm gonna buy me a crockpot. It was more like I found myself in Wal-Mart (2 days before Christmas) shopping for a Dirty Santa present and I was over in the kitchen section and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a 5-quart portable crockpot for $17. $17 people. I spend more than that on wine. So I was all - what the hell I'll get it and I did and then I immediately Tweeted to Modern Matriarch that I had aged 10 years purchased a crockpot and could she send recipes STAT.

My crockpot lost its virginity on Christmas Eve. I had purchased a whole chicken with the intention of roasting it but instead I threw it in the crockpot with some onion, lemon, carrots, chives, seasoning and a bottle of Stella Artois and voila - Crockpot Beer Chicken.

One slight problem. Ok - two.

The first was that Modern Matriarch had originally told me it would be done in 4 hours so I didn't get it started til mid-afternoon. 3:30 to be exact. But then she said something about 8 hours and I was all like WTF? I'll be having tuna fish and pretzels for Christmas Eve dinner because I can't wait til 11:30pm to eat. And she said No just set it for 8 hours but stop it after 4. And I'm all - why wouldn't I just cook it for 4 hours. And oh yeah by the way: Who's on first?

So as it turns out there's the universe of $17 crockpots (which have 3 options: Keep Warm, Low and High) and then there are the non-$17 crockpots which actually have time settings like 4, 6 and 8. Once this confusion was settled, I felt relieved that I wouldn't be eating canned fish for dinner. But then the second problem set in. Well - the second and a half.

You see - I'm an Instant Gratification kind of girl. I'm also an I Like To Be Involved kind of girl. The notion of just leaving the chicken and the beer to it's own devices for 4 hours was basically anathema to me and I pretty much checked the crockpot every 15 minutes. I don't know why. I don't know what I thought I would accomplish but I just could not. Let. It. Go.

The chicken ultimately came out the delicious as did the OMG so decadent creamed spinach I made to go with it (which involved a microwave, a saute pan, a Cuisinart and an oven - my kind of side dish).

I began Round 2 of my crockpot adventures on Christmas morning when I made a batch of Modern Matriarch's It's-All-Fun-And-Games-Til-You-Lose-An-Eye Chili for an impromptu gathering Chez Rougie on Saturday.

I have never made chili before but it seemed like an easy enough way to start. And I was home all day which meant I could stare at the crockpot all day and will it to cook faster at the assigned times I could stir or add seasoning or stir or add roux. Eight and half hours I let that chili cook. And at the end of that interminable time period, I looked at the picture of the chili in Andrea Anna's recipe and I looked at my crockpot and...WTF? My chili looked like soupy Alpo...not like chili.

I panicked. Mildly. Because OMG - aren't crockpots idiot proof and what kind of girl can whip up a cheese and broccoli souffle with one hand tied behind her back (oh yes I totally can) but can't fucking cook meat in a pot?

Thank God for Twitter (and iPhones) because suggestions on how to remedy my chili came flying at me. Nice to know you people didn't sacrifice technology for Christmas.

Very long blog post short...the chili thickened overnight but thinned out again once I heated it up the next day - despite the addition of some extra roux. I was pretty much ready to dump the chili, stick my head in the crockpot, set it on low and wait for a slow and agonizing death when my first guest arrived.

"Smells great," the Angel said.

"Yeah," I said dejectedly. "Smells great but take a look."

The Angel went into the kitchen and lifted the lid and gave the chili a twirl with the spoon laying on the counter. "What's wrong with it?" she asked entirely too chirpily for my darkening mood (because Oh Yeah - the pie I had made for dessert has not worked out either and while I was sure it wasn't a total loss it was not what I was shooting for. Sigh.).

"Look at it," I moaned. "Just look at how thin it is. It's like water. Isn't chili supposed to be thicker? Heartier?"

The Angel looked at me like I was high an idiot: "No. This is what chili is supposed to look like."

Despite her reassurances I didn't actually believe her (Because you know - I'm such the chili expert.) and so I made her cover the pot and continue its quest to thicken while I plied her with some of Lilsaej's holiday cheeseball.

It took 2 more guests arriving and 2 more reassurances that my chili was *normal* (as much as anything is ever normal in my life) before I would let someone sample it.

The conclusion: BEST CHILI EVER. WOO-HOO.

And no don't ask me how I made it because despite following Modern Matriarch's recipe I made some changes and some adjustments and OMG the seasoning. Who knows how much of what I used to season it. But it was DELICIOUS. And so was the pie. In fact by the end of the day both the crockpot and the pie plate were totally empty (10 hours and no leftovers? WTF?) and my guests were happily stuffed.

As for me, I've got issues. Clearly. Also? I love my crockpot. Really.


AndreAnna said...

I'm glad it all worked out! The biggest problem with roux and constarch clurries is that they need to be brought to a near-boil to thicken properly (it's science!) so what you can do if your crockpot is on low is make a roux in a saucepan and then use a ladle to get some of the "watery stuff" from the chili and put it in the saucepan with the roux, rather than the other way around.

Add "chili broth" to the roux on high as it boils until it's quite thick and then add THAT mixture BACK into the crockpot.

Um, make sense?

P.S. Glad you liked everything. You should try my Sweet N Savory Moroccan Beef Stew next. It's fancy but easy and SO good!

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