The Crock Pot Conumdrum
Grill pan, your summertime friend
Tony Shifflet asked the following question:
Now, I do have a question for you -- you being a cooking buff. Now, as a guy trying to save money for my own place when the bubble pops, I've quit eating out. I have a crock pot and a wok. I tend not to like the wok as much, because I find it creates a mess -- although I can cook in it. Crock pots are much better.
My question is, do you know of a good cook book for crock pots? I went to borders, and damn, there are like, fifty!
I have no idea. I just figured a cooking guru like yourself would know better. I do fine myself, but am getting more and more ambitious as the weeks go on. Several weeks ago I tried potato soup, which turned out to be a miserable failure. I do fine with informal, simple shit when I cook in it, but seem not be be able to do more complicated stuff.
Any ideas? Thanks for your help, if you have any to offer.
Ah, it's time for Steve's guide to the kitchen, the press of business has delayed me writing this.
First of all, a crock pot is an accessory, not something to be used in mid-summer. Nor is a wok. Which you really need a turkey fryer to get to the kind of wok heat you need to sear the food. But that is,well a bit much. We need a much more basic assesment of your kitchen.
First, look around your kitchen. What do you have? Good knives? Decent pots?
If not, you need some basics. An 8" chef's knife, tongs, a cast iron pan, a non-stick frying pan, an a soup pot.
You should have this and a basic set of dishware, which means four matching plates, at least four good glasses.
If you lack this, there is one place which will solve this for you.
You could go to Bed, Bath and Beyond, but all that will happen is that you will be overwhelmed by the choices. No, Target is where you need to go. It has a nice, basic selection of cookware, and their budgetware line of plates is great for every day eating. Get the dishes, the bowls and use that for your every day eating.
Once you have a basic set of tools, and you can just buy a basic knife set. glassware set, with glasses for booze, and a set of decent dishes for guests.
Once you have that, then we can talk appliances. You should have a microwave. You should get a blender and a food processor if you don't have them.
All together, we're talking $200. A toaster oven is a nice add on. You like Quiznos? I do. With a toaster over, you can make your oven grilled sandwiches and save them cash.
Now, let's talk about the crock pot.
Unless you want to eat a lot of chili, it's summer. Who wants stews and pot roasts now? Set it aside for winter.
Now, get a grill pan. This will be your summer crock pot. Unless you can grill outside, this will make your life easier.
How do you shop?
Do you shop?
OK, what I would recommend is that you plan on two shopping trips a week. One on Sunday, one on Wed evening. Why? Because you need to buy small, not big.
On Sunday, I would get the cans, the frozen food, the ice cream, the juice and milk, all the things which will keep for the week. And bread. You can also buy meat, fish.
You should use this day to stock the fridge with the items which will keep. After a couple of weeks, you won't need to buy so much. Your larder will be filled.
On Wed. evening, you would restock fresh fruit, greens, pick up any wine, beer and liquor for the weekend and more bread and milk as needed.
So if you shop twice a week for a while, then once a week once you have a store of goods, you should always have food around.
So how many cookbooks do you have? Considering that you probably do not want a diet of stews, you might want to pick up one or two. My personal favorite for the beginning cook is Cooking for Dummies by Bryan Miller, the former Times food reviewer. It is simple and has a range of information and recipies.
My advice on actual meal preperation is this: plan to have a variety of things you can fix quickly. Rachael Ray's 30 minute meals is a great place to start. But I would keep things like a couple of steaks, some frozen salmon, sausages and frozen meatballs. With pasta, canned tomatoes (which can be turned in to a much better sauce than Ragu) and rice, you can get a meal up and running in a few minutes.
One idea for a good, quick meal is this:
Slice two Idaho potatoes into fries. Soak in water overnight (or until you return from work), buy a sirloin steak or other decent cut and have the butcher grind it into ground meat. Get a set of patty makers, they usually come six to a package. They're so people can store hamburgers. Store the meat in these and toss it in the freezer. Take one or two out before you go to work. when you get home, take the grill pan, heat it up. You can fill a medium pot with oil. You should have a thermometer. Drain the potatoes. Dry them. toss them in the oil for a minute or so. pull them out and drain them on paper towels. Put them in again. until they brown. Cook your meat on the grill pan. Add toppings and bread and you have a pub burger and real french fries.
You can do this with steak, chicken or fish.
The idea is that you create a pantry which you can look around in and cook without spending insane time over the stove after work. Kielbasa heroes and cold beer can brighten up any day.
Also, keeping tacos around with taco sauce and canned salsa (available from the Mexican aisle) can turn that ground meat into tacos, empenadas or burritos. Beans can make it a quick chili.
The goal should be to set up your kitchen so that you can come home, cook quickly, and eat. A crock pot is not the solution, planning is.
posted by Steve @ 12:00:00 PM