So I promised Jules I would write about the Sunday dinner I made this past weekend. I guess it was awesome or something (I say that in a way that’s trying to be humble, while knowing deep inside that it was indeed awesome). I’ll try to remember everything that was in it; partly for ya’ll, and partly because I would like to make it again sometime.
So, who doesn’t love cooking in the crock pot? I don’t know who invented the crock pot, but I’d like to give them a hug. One of my favorite winter time cooking techniques is braising (cooking something with a small amount of liquid for a long time). Braising is basically what the crock pot is trying to imitate, and I think it does a good enough job in most circumstances. Plus, braising requires a few extra steps and a mildly watchful eye, so the low maintenance aspect of the crock pot is too attractive to disregard, especially for Sunday dinner.
Ok, so I don’t have step-by-step pictures, so I’m just going to show you the final product, then tell you how I did it. Check it.
The first thing I want to say is, if you ever want to make a meal feel special, plate it yourself. And I’m not talking about the 3-point landing plating (a 3-point landing is when you have your protein, starch and vegetable on a plate in 3 different sections, often avoiding any contact from one to another). When you plate food, try stacking. Lean things against each other. Even if it ends up looking ridiculous, it still sends the message that you took the time to make it look unique and people will appreciate it.
For my purposes today, though, you don’t need to pay any attention to the plating. It’s actually quite “culinary school,” and a little amateur. But I want to focus on the food. Pork spare ribs, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans (to add the illusion of caring about balancing the meal). Groundbreaking, don’t you think? No? Perhaps not, at face value. But the flavor was something special, and the key to a good slow cooked meal is to use fresh ingredients and your braising liquid in a way that they complement each other. Let me tell you about my braising liquid (or crock pot liquid, I guess). Here’s about how it went. I didn’t measure anything, so I’m totally guessing with the amounts.
2 cups Martinelli’s sparkling cider
1 Tbsp horseradish
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes (tomato sauce would work, or a small amount of tomato paste mixed with water)
1 cup water mixed with 1/2 tsp chicken base
maybe 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Pinch of salt
maybe 1 tsp green Tobasco sauce (or any hot sauce you want to use. I like green because it’s mild and a little sweet)
Dash of chipotle powder
Dash of ancho chile powder
1 Tbsp of bbq sauce
You may be thinking, “How did you come up with this? It all seems so random.” Well, it is pretty random, but it started with a few ingredients that pair really well with pork; apples and horseradish. If you aren’t a horseradish fan, you don’t need to worry. Cooking horseradish in a crock pot for a long time gets rid of the sharp, harsh flavor (which I actually love, but I realize it’s not for everyone) and leaves you with a smooth taste that I’m confident you’ll love. As far as the other ingredients in the liquid go, it was all about finding a balance of sweet and spicy, also taking into consideration the fresh ingredients I was going to add to the mix. Speaking of…
1 onion, sliced
1 apple, peeled, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled, sliced
1/3 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, sliced
Even though most of the heat from a jalapeno is in the seeds and ribs, when you put them in the slow cooker, all of the oils that are locked up in the green will marry into the rest of the liquid and actually intensify. So it’s a delicate balance. If you aren’t a fan of spicy foods, I would say leave the fresh jalapeno out, because it’s hard to predict, since some jalapenos can be mild, and some really spicy, and there’s no real way to tell beforehand.
When I cook in a crock pot, I like to layer. I put down 1/3 of my fresh ingredients, then 3 spare ribs, another 1/3 of the fresh ingredients, 3 more spare ribs, and the rest of the fresh ingredients. Then I added the liquid, set the cooker to high for 7 hours and went about my day. When we came home from church, the entire house smelled like happiness and a quick inspection of the crock pot solidified my confidence that this meal was going to be good. I made some quick garlic mashed potatoes and a gravy from some of the cooking liquid (oh yeah, and the green beans) and we were set to go.
I sometimes feel like I get caught in routines, and dinner is no exception. But every meal is a chance to try something you haven’t done before, and I’m glad I took advantage of that this weekend. Feel free to give this “recipe” a try or, better yet, come up with a new mix of your own to try. Sure, it could turn out horrible. But it could turn out pretty awesome, too.