Saturday, March 1, 2014

Crock Pot Crazy

Crock pot-created vegetable curry mixed with tart yogurt and farro
I have been going crock-pot crazy lately. My busy schedule adores the “set it and forget it” mentality, and how the cauldron—indeed, the bubbling mix often reminds me of one—can accommodate vast quantities of ingredients, creating delicious meals that last the week. I first used my crock-pot—naturally, a Christmas gift from my mother—to make five spice chicken; luckily, the crock-pot masters themselves, i.e. my parents, were down in the City to instruct me in my crock pot debut. They also just so happen to bring two of my dad’s delicious chickens and five spice powder—so I can really only take credit for purchasing and chopping carrots, parsnips, onions, and garlic. I peeled and chopped the carrots, parsnips, and onions, making sure to cut pieces of uniform size, and lined the bottom of the crock pot with the colorful melee. Paul aka “Child” helped me prepare the chickens, washing them, smearing the inside with minced garlic, and dousing the outside with five spice powder, a wonderful mix of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds that is traditionally used in Chinese cuisine. We placed the chickens on top of the vegetables, breast down so that the tender meat and the vegetables would absorb the chicken juice. That was it! “Set it and forget it” for 4 hours and 30 minutes, just enough time to catch the last day of Anders Zorn at the Legion of Honor and enjoy a delicious lunch at Pagan (Thai and Burmese, 34th and Clement). The dish was heaven—the roasted vegetables tender and delicately infused with chicken juice and five spice flavor, the meat was cooked to perfection. I should also add that my very short stint with vegetarianism, i.e., 3 days, inspired me to beg my parents for animal protein and assistance. So this dish was especially appreciated, the first bites experienced after a Sunday afternoon of hard climbing and…a hard evening for the Denver Broncos. 
Lasagna with crock pot-made meat sauce
The next crock-pot edition was a delicious meat sauce: 2 pounds of ground beef—browned in a skillet with onions before addition to the crock-pot—from our friend Joe Vivio’s vineyard raised steer, carrots, celery, tomato sauce, red wine, oregano, rosemary. This classic meat sauce was rich and umami delicious, and contributed to an incredible number and variety of meals, most of them enjoyed ravenously post-climbing. We ate it with spaghetti, over farro, mixed in with Annie’s Mac and Cheese, and finally, I used the final two cups to make my first lasagna ever! I used this recipe, and I was pleased both with the flavorful result and the dish’s ability to span several meals.
On Sunday, Andrew and I decided to try our hand at vegetable curry. We went to the farmer’s market to pick up sweet potatoes, butternut squash (my substitutes for regular potatoes), carrots, onion, cauliflower, peas, and large tomatoes. Chop, chop, chop, mix in a bit of water and tomato paste, add curry powder and cumin seeds, wait for about 5 hours…We have been eating it with farro and a dollop of Pavel’s Original Russian yogurt, which provides a creamy tartness. We should initiate an Annie’s Mac and Cheese Crock Pot Cookbook. You’ll be the first to know!