Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lessons from a Crock Pot

I know I say it all the time but I love my crock pot. I use it so often I'm surprised it hasn't gone ka-put! But the crock has schooled me on more than one occasion. Sometimes I'm so excited for a meal and by the time it's dinner we're all completely disappointed by a sloppy, weird textured pile of food on our plate. I know recipes don't always turn out as pictured but come on! I've made some hideous entrees! Here are a few crock pot failures that I've learned from:

1. Never put noodles in a crock pot. Really. I've tried it many different ways and I never like it. The noodles don't cook evenly or cook too fast so they get overcooked or they cling to the side and burn (crunchy noodles...yum). I've come across many recipes saying to add the noodles right away or later in the cooking process or at the very end. Quite honestly, I never think it tastes as good as cooking it the old fashioned way in a boiling pot. This especially goes for tortellini or ravioli - they turn to mush every. time. Big disappointment.

2. Season with caution. We don't eat a lot of salt in our family. At least not regular salt, we prefer herbs and garlic with an occasional sprinkle of Lawry's. But table salt? No, we don't use that much at all. So when I found a recipe for ranch chicken tacos on Pinterest that called for 1 seasoning packet of ranch and 1 seasoning packet of taco seasoning, I was hesitant. Against my better judgment I added both. It wasn't necessarily gross but it was so incredibly salty that I was thirsty for a week. When using seasoning packets I recommend NEVER adding more than one. You can always add but you can't take away - lesson learned! Unfortunately we were entertaining for that meal...sorry friends!

3. Don't add veggies until the end. I like my vegetables to have some integrity. Every time I've let a meal cook with veggies the whole time, they become so overcooked you might as well call it a puree. If it's a frozen bag of veggies, wait until 30 minutes before it's done. If they're raw, wait until an hour is left. The only exception would be soups. Typically for soups it's okay to have them in there the whole time.

4. Don't cut your sweet potatoes too small. Sweet potatoes cook much faster than regular potatoes. If you cut the sweet potatoes too small, they over cook and start disintegrating in the meat juice or sauce. It makes the texture of everything a little weird and makes the meal look sloppy. We're big sweet potato fans in this family but they have to be done right.

5. Don't freeze your dumplings. I love chicken 'n dumplings. And I have a great recipe here. But guess what I learned the hard way? Biscuit dough does not cook well when it's been frozen with a soup mix. The texture is thick and dense and doughy. These are best added straight from the refrigerator. If you are determined to freeze your dumplings, try tortillas. Yep, you heard me! Cut up tortillas and put them in your soup. They make great dumplings. I learned this from a friend who visited family in the South - and them Southern folks know how to cook!

6. Cook your meat on low. I don't care if the recipe says 8 on low, 4 on high (even if I told you), meat is ALWAYS cooked best on low. When you cook meat on high, even in a crock pot, even with enough liquid, it is likely to dry out and taste pretty amateur. If you cook your meat on low (especially large cuts) it will much more likely blow your family's mind. 4 on high works best if the meat in the freezer meal is already cooked or if there isn't any meat at all (example: chilis, spaghetti sauces, soups).

Part of the joy of crock potting is having an easy meal you know your family is going to love. These are the lessons I've learned from my crock pot to make certain meals more loveable.

Comment and tell me what kind of failures you've had in your crock pot adventures - I always love feedback!

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