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How (Not) To September 19, 2012

Filed under: Jenn-eral — jenntertainment @ 2:31 pm
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   A friend of mine was over the other day while I was “cooking.” I put “cooking” in quotation marks because what I was really doing was putting three ingredients in a crock pot moments before walking out the door. She commented on how she really wanted to learn how to use a crock pot, but had just never gotten around to it. My brain computer immediately switched to share-good-things-with-good-people-mode and told me to write her a friendly How To Crockpot Guide. (Do you like the way I used the word “crockpot” as a verb? I do.)

   As I started thinking about what might go in this unasked-for guide, I realized most of the things that came to mind were things not to do. So here it is. Jenn’s unofficial, unauthorized, unasked-for How Not To Crockpot Guide. Bon appetito. Or whatever.

1) Do not visit crockpot websites.

   I know, I know. We live in the information age, and if you want to learn about something the first thing you do is hit Google. DO NOT GOOGLE “CROCKPOT.” If you do, two bad things will happen. First, you will be disappointed that Google does not retort “did you mean crackpot?” like you were hoping they would. Second, you will be shown a plethora of websites run by crockheads; crazy people who crockpot as if their lives, nay, all of our lives depend on it. These are the women (there may be men out there who do this, but I have yet to see any), who “batch cook” and freeze a month’s worth of meals by chopping, slicing, dicing, portioning and otherwise slaving away in the kitchen for 48 hours straight. Some of the lies they will tell you include “it’s so easy!” and “it saves me so much time and money!” or “I only drink medicinally!”

   If you are like me, and if you’re reading my blog you probably are, these women scare you. They make you feel like a disorganized mess because you do not plan your meals 31 days in advance. They make you feel inferior because you do not eat as many vegetables or use as many exclamation points as they do. These women and their hyperactive crockpottery kept me from using my wonderful slow cooker for about two years, simply out of the fear that I was inadequate.

2) Do not overdose.   

   Crockheads are obsessed with their pot, and they want you to be obsessed with it to. They are pot pushers, and like your kindergarten teacher told you, the best defense is to “just say no.” Apparently, crockpot can be highly habit forming.

   That said, there’s nothing wrong with a little recreational use. Just like any other tool in your kitchen, the crockpot should be used only for certain things, like making something really delicious when you don’t have very much time or have lost the will to stand. Throw in a few ingredients, push a button, and walk away. No $1,000 trips to the grocery store to buy a year’s worth of ingredients all at one time. No marathon mincing. Just toss and go, come back and eat. Exclamation point!

3) Do not be worried that the house will slowly burn down while you slowly cook dinner. 

   I was really concerned about this. I don’t like to leave the house with the dryer running, and I really didn’t like the idea of leaving the house with something ON and COOKING unattended. But apparently it’s totally fine and people do it all the time. In fact, I was so concerned about the hazards of crockpotting in absentia that I Googled “crockpot deaths.” All I got were links to crockhead blogs mourning the demise of their favorite 20-year-old slow cookers and the obituary of the man who invented them, who, incidentally, was bludgeoned to death with a brass lamp by his grandson when he was 83. May he rest in peace. While this is not a scientifically supported statement, I would venture to guess that more people are endangered annually by brass lamps than by crockpots. What is a scientifically supported statement is that crockpots use about two-thirds less energy than your stove or oven when roasting or simmering, making them easy and economical.

4) Do not keep tasty recipes to yourself. 

   Many crockheads slow cook with reckless abandon. Some of their recipes say things like “place 1 lb of cooked chicken and 1 lb of cooked rice in the slow cooker with 1 can of mushroom soup and heat on low for 4 hours.” Excuse me, why would I put cooked food in a slow cooker? It’s a cooker and it’s supposed to cook things for me, not me for it.

   However, good recipes do exist, and in my opinion, the easier they are, the better they taste. I have done a few fancy recipes from magazines and Food Network, but for the most part I keep it simple. If I can’t memorize it from reading it once, it is too complex for me at my current stage of life. Here are some of our go-to dinners.

Mexican Chicken: 1 lb of chicken, 1 packet of taco seasoning, 1 small can of tomato sauce. Heat on high for 4 hours or low for 8. Shred, and enjoy! I love Mexican food, so I’ll double this recipe and use the meat for enchiladas, tacos, taco salad, chalupas, you name it. Muy bueno.

BBQ Pork: 1 pork loin, 1 bottle of your favorite bbq sauce. Heat on high for 8 hours. This usually gets shredded and becomes bbq sandwiches, although sometimes I will slice it and serve it fancy-style with microwave-steamed vegetables and crescent rolls and it looks like I’ve actually cooked something.

Turkey Breast: 1 boneless turkey breast smothered in your favorite herbs, 1 can of low-sodium broth. Cook on low for 8 hours, slice and have fake-Thanksgiving.

Chili: 1 lb of ground turkey, 3 cans of your favorite beans (drained), 1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes, 1 can of chiles in adobo sauce, 1 chopped onion, minced garlic, and whatever seasonings you like. We use chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne and sugar. Cook on low for 8 hours. Mmm.

5) Do not pick up the crock pot dish while it is still hot. 

   You will feel dumb. Just unplug it, eat dinner, watch Grey’s Anatomy and clean it out later. They even sell little plastic liners that you can just pull out and throw away, but I haven’t tried them yet. Usually I just spray the inside with non-stick cooking spray before I put in my other ingredients. So far I’ve had absolutely no difficulty cleaning it.

   So there you go. I hope you’ve learned everything you ever wanted to know and more about How Not to Crockpot, or How to Crockpot Like a Normal Person Who Doesn’t Have Much Time to Cook but Still Likes to Eat Good Food and Have Her Kitchen Smell Like She’s Been Very Busy. The end.


Homemade Marshmallows! February 27, 2012

After weeks of rabid pinning on Pinterest, I finally realized that I had yet to attempt a single project on any of my boards. Unless you actually attempt to do some of your pinned items, the whole thing is kind of like day dreaming. Sure, I’d like to visit Antarctica, recycle everything I own into a fabulous piece of furniture, and live by the moral code of E-Cards, but it’s impossible unless you actually step away from the computer and do something. In real life. With real objects.

Inexplicably, I decided that the first Pinterest Project I would tackle would be homemade marshmallows (click here for the recipe), and I announced to my husband that he needed to buckle his seatbelt because we were about to have homemade (almost) s’mores!

Except that’s not really the way it turned out. While marshmallow preparation takes about 12 minutes, marshmallow science take about 12 hours, so we had to go to sleep and dream marshmallowy dreams until this morning. When we awoke at the crack of 11:30, we had one giant 8″ x 8″ marshmallow sitting in our kitchen, just waiting to be divided into a bunch of miniature squares of fluff! But it turns out that there are a few things about homemade marshmallows, other than the tedious waiting process, that the recipes do not share with you.

Firstly, cutting a giant marshmallow into bite-sized pieces is trickier than one might think. If I were to guess, I would say it was kind of like cutting a slab of Silly Putty. As soon as you pull the knife out of the glob, it fuses itself back together. Try as I might, I couldn’t get an actual shape to come out of the pan. Thankfully, Vann stepped in and developed a sort of “press-and-pull” technique that worked pretty well. If it weren’t for his patience and precision, we would have a kitchen full of ripped shreds of marshmallow, like the remnants of some sort of Peep holocaust.

Another important thing the recipes don’t warn you about is this; after you’ve made them, waited for them, and used an entire day’s worth of curse words cutting them, no one is going to react to your homemade marshmallows with the kind of wonder and awe that they might reserve for other homemade treats. Show up at a party with homemade croissants or baked alaska, or, say, roast a whole lamb on a spit in your front yard, and people will praise you for days. Hand someone a homemade marshmallow and the reaction seems to be pretty much the same. “Oh, it tastes like a marshmallow!” Honestly, even the exclamation point is a bit of an exaggeration. The thing about homemade marshmallows is that, unless you’ve taken the time to make some fancy-schmancy-gourmet-vanilla-watermelon-and-sardine-vodka-infused variety, they just taste like marshmallows. No better, no worse. End of story.

The last piece of left-out information is this; jet-puffed, chemically-enhanced marshmallows are more microwave friendly than the homemade variety. I’m not quite sure why, but our little guys just couldn’t handle the pressure. Vann assembled all the pieces for his first s’mores attempt, and our beautiful little marshmallow went from a solid cube to a gooey puddle in exactly 3 seconds. No joke! One second it was there, the next it was gone. The top graham cracker didn’t even stand a chance; it just plummetted to the bottom, creating what amounted to a chocolate sandwich on a plate of marshmallow soup. Don’t get me wrong; we grabbed our forks and made the best of a gloppy situation. And then we did it again just to watch the marshmallow disppear, acting more like a vanishing Houdini than a slowly melting Wicked Witch.

Years ago, Vann and I resorted to melting a chocolate Easter bunny in our fondue pot because, well, we wanted chocolate fondue and he was the only specimen in the house. Whenever the subject comes up, we still laugh about the torturous way that we watched him sink into a pool of his own being, leaving just two little candy eyes floating on the surface. David Copperfield marshmallows are even funnier. Trust me.

In closing, if you have a free 12 minutes, make yourself some homemade marshmallows and go to bed. Then find someone who has a really great sense of humor and invite them into your kitchen for some ridiculously sticky fun. Try cutting the marshmallows with knives and then resort to scissors. Try heating them in the microwave, with a butane torch, and lastly, with a normal Bic lighter. Try eating them with a fork, with a spoon, with graham crackers, and with both hands. Ruin your shirt, get gelatinous sugar stuck in your hair, and finally resort to a shower. Then, settle down on the couch and watch GhostBusters. You’ll thank me later.

Homemade Marshmallow Face

Homemade Marshmallow Face