That’s Not How This Works!

I just walked out of my bedroom and saw this. I think it’s supposed to be a chicken cooking in a crock pot.

I think.

How the hell is this supposed to cook? I mean, the bird is sticking out of the damn crock pot. The lid doesn’t close over the bird. All the heat is escaping before it gets a chance to cook the chicken.

This is dangerous, Sunshine. If you cook meat wrong, like my roommate it doing here, you’re basically just hanging a sign up that says “Bacteria wanted here”.

Salmonella. E.coli. These things live in improperly cooked meat. I’ve had E.coli before, and it is the opposite of fun. It’s fever and chills and crapping your insides out until you feel so weak you might pass out. It’s bloody poop, and bringing stool samples to your doctor. It’s pain and nausea weakness.

The worst part of that chicken “cooking” in my kitchen is that it is spreading germs all over the area it’s cooking in. When he’s done cooking that thing, I have to sanitize the counters, stove, surrounding appliances, everything. 

And this isn’t some young kid who has never lived on his own before who is doing this. My roommate is a 46 year old man who has lived on his own for years.

Do yourself a favour Sunshine: learn how to cook safely. Watch a little Gordon Ramsay or John Taffer and listen to their food safety rants. Google how to cook things. Clean up after yourself properly. 

You don’t want food poisoning. And you really don’t want to randomly be called out on your roommate’s blog either.

Fall In Love with a Crock Pot

I was never big on slow cookers. I mean, my parents had one when I was a kid, and sometimes we’d make meatballs in it. They bought two big ones for when they host our big New Years Day party, and they cook ham and keilbasa in them. But that was the only time we ever dug them out.

Even at my house, my roommate bought one and hardly ever used it. Again, it would be hauled out to make meatballs, and that was pretty much it. Why does everyone seem to want to make meatballs the second a crock pot is in the room?

Well, that roommate moved back home at the end of the summer this year, and had to pack all of his things into his car for the cross-country trip. He left behind anything he decided was a non-essential to him. So, while he made room for his pizza stone, he decided to leave the slow cooker behind, giving it to me.

And now I am in love.

It started with a can of refried beans, some chicken, and a very busy week. The boyfriend was working extra and in class, I had picked up some extra shifts, had a tonne of housework to catch up on, and had scored some interviews with a few temp agencies in town. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of coming home at 9:30pm after a closing shift, just to stand in the kitchen over a hot stove and make a whole meal. So, I started throwing random things into the slow cooker that seemed like they’d work well together.  I took a large can of refried beans, some chopped chicken breast, a can of green chillies, a can of corn, a bunch of hot spices, and some rice and just threw it all in there on low while I was at work.

This was probably the best dinner I have ever made in my life, mainly because it was delicious and I didn’t have to really cook it.

Next, I tried a bunch of beef, some mushrooms, and  broccoli.Then I just Googled “broccoli beef slow cooker” and started browsing. I somewhat followed this recipe with a few changes to it. I added all my veggies in the slow cooker right from the start. I also served it over egg noodles instead of rice. But again, an amazing yet simple meal.

I’m now becoming obsessed with my crock pot. I use it at least once a week. This makes me a large and easy meal on Monday nights, and gives me plenty of leftovers. This week I made beef stew, and had enough left over to have it for dinner last night and lunch today! Since I used fresh ingredients, it took me a bit longer to prep than usual (peeling carrots and potatoes is not something I’m particularly quick at). But still, I didn’t have to stand over the stove, keep an eye on anything, or even do anything more than make crescent rolls once the lid was sealed shut and the cooker turned on.

I’ve found that anything can be made in the slow cooker. Thanks to BuzzFeed and Google, I have about 97 million slow cooker recipes to choose from, too! So here’s a few tips on how to get the most out of your slow cooker.

  • trim as much of the fat off your meats as possible, and remove the skin from poultry. Leaving the fat on just makes it melt into your food. While that sounds utterly delicious sometimes, it leaves a runny and greasy mess both in your food and on your dishes.
  • if you’re using seafood, don’t add it in until the last hour of cooking. Putting it in there for hours at a time will just make it come out rubbery.
  • don’t throw in frozen meat. It will take longer to cook, and your sauces will turn out watered down.
  • don’t lift the lid unless a recipe tells you too! The whole point of the slow cooker is that it traps in the heat. Opening the lid lets that heat out. And once it’s out, it adds another 20-30 minutes on to your cook time. So only open it if you’re using a recipe that tells you to (since it will have that built right into the cook time).
  • using cheap cuts of meat works best. They tend to have less fat, they’re cheap (which is always a good thing!), and they absorb more of the flavour.
  • cooking for 1 hour on high is the equivalent of cooking for 2 hours on low. Keep that in mind if you’re trying to cook things a bit faster, or slower.
  • unless a recipe tells you otherwise, don’t add anything dairy until the last 30-45 minutes. Putting dairy in there for hours at a time will cause it to curdle, which is just nasty and totally unappetizing.
  • if you’re using fresh carrots and potatoes (like in my stew) and don’t want them coming out hard or crunchy, put them on the bottom of the pot. This will help them cook all the way through so you get a nice event texture that doesn’t feel raw.
  • if there’s too much liquid in the pot when your food is done, or your sauces didn’t thicken right, there’s a few things you can try. Cook it on high for 30 minutes with the lid off. This lets some of the liquid steam off. You could also try adding flour, corn starch, or potato flakes to your sauce. It will help thicken your sauce without loosing any to steam.
  • only fill the pot 1/2 to 2/3 of the way. NEVER fill it right to the top! Filling it up all the way increases your cook time a lot, and can damage some cookers.

So why not try out a slow cooker? There are some fantastic models out there that are cheap. You can also usually find older models in thrift stores (just be sure to check the cord for shorts). Even if you don’t use it weekly like I like to, you’ll be sure to get some fantastic meals out of it, sunshine!

Meat Balls – Part 1

I don’t know why, but everyone seems to make meatballs in slow cookers. Is that what they were invented for? My parents made them when I was a kid. It seems like every pot luck I’ve ever been invited to had at least one slow cooker full of meatballs at it. And the first, and possibly only, thing my roommate ever made in his slow cooker was meatballs. And they’re not even fully done in the slow cooker half the time. You have to prep them in the oven first, so they get that yummy crispiness on the outside first. Then you slow cook them in sauce, so they absorb it and burst with delicious yumminess.

But, since this is like THE thing to make in a slow cooker, I guess I’ll have to try them out some day. I mean, they ARE delicious. I always loved making egg noodles, and pouring on big ladles full of meatballs and sauce. And there’s so many different types of meatballs you can make!

So here’s a basic recipe, showing you how to make the meatballs themselves, and then make the sauce in a crock pot and let them simmer in it. AllRecipes is a great place for beginners in the kitchen, as a lot of their recipes are quite simple, yet impressive and delicious.

Later, I’ll throw on another recipes for one of my all-time favourites, Swedish Meatballs! And later on this month, I’ll throw in a few more meatball recipes. The great thing with these is you can either make your meatballs from scratch using the recipe below, or you can buy a box of them and throw them in the slow cooker. Either way, when someone asks if you cooked this, you can honestly say “yes”!

Your Basic Meatballs

Ingredients

1 h 45 m 

Directions

  • Prep 20 m

  • Cook 1 h 25 m

  • Ready In 1 h 45 m

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, egg, water, bread crumbs, and minced onion. Roll into small meatballs.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, turning once.
  4. In a slow cooker or large saucepan over low heat, blend the cranberry sauce, chili sauce, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Add meatballs, and simmer for 1 hour before serving.

These meatballs are your basic cocktail meatballs. They’re what you would find at a pot luck, with little cocktail swords stuck in them.  If you’re not a big fan of the sauce, that’s ok. The first three steps in this recipe show you how to make the meatballs themselves from scratch. You can now use that recipe with OTHER meatball recipes, in place of store bought meatballs that so many recipes tell you to use.

Now, one of my favourites is the Swedish Meatball. As a kid, I was a HUGE fan of the Swedish Chef. He was one of the many Muppets who started my great Muppet obsession. I was convinced that anything that had Swedish in its name would be as awesome as him. As it turns out, both Swedish Meatballs and the candy Swedish Fish ARE delightful!

These meatballs also helped me through a tough time. My baby brother (he’s in his mid-twenties now, so I should really stop calling him that) moved away to teach in Sweden for a while. He and I have always been pretty close, and his leaving hit me hard. I think that’s why my roommate made meatballs in the first place: to help me handle that.

Anyway, I’m rambling about Muppets and family again. Now this is a delightful Swedish Meatball recipe from the folks at Yummly. You may have to sign up for their website in order to see the recipe, but it’s a free site (as far as I can tell. I’ve never been billed for using it) and has some delicious recipes on it.

Swedish Meatballs

Ingredients
  • 1 (10¾ oz) can cream of mushroom soup
  • ½ cup fresh sliced mushrooms
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • ½ onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp A1 steak sauce
  • dash of paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 (28 oz) bag frozen meatballs (this is around 33 meatballs)
  • 1 c sour cream
  • prepared mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles
Instructions
  1. In your slow cooker, combine the soup, mushrooms, beef broth, onion, garlic powder, steak sauce, paprika, salt, and pepper.
  2. Add meatballs and toss to coat.
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours.
  4. Before serving mix in sour cream and serve with mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles. Serves 6.

Again, you can use the meatballs in the recipe above for the meatballs here. Or, you can just buy them frozen if you really want. No one will judge you for not hand-forming 30+ individual balls of meat and then baking them, especially if you are short on time and/or patience.

So, have a little fun with your slow cooker this weekend. Have a (meat)ball, sunshine!