Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Learning to Love the Crock Pot

I went back to work full time recently, and as expected, family dinners have suffered. It's not that my family isn't helpful. In fact, they've stepped up to the plate more than I anticipated. It's just that I used to pride myself on always having dinner on the table, and since I've been getting home at 6 or later, sometimes it's kind of slap dash and not always as balanced as I'd like. (Wow, that makes me sound like some kind of super mom -- my kids eat Fruit Loops for breakfast, don't be fooled)

So I bought this cookbook from Cooks Illustrated a few weeks ago, "The Make Ahead Cook," thinking it might help. And believe me, it has. Not everything is fabulous -- and it's a lot of work even making ahead, but at the very least, it's given me some new ideas. One of the best sections so far is the "Come Home to Dinner" section. The other night I made the Slow-Cooker Garden Minestrone and it was fabulous. I believe part of the great flavor came from the Parmesan rinds I'd saved and thrown into the pot -- but it was also the recipe. I wouldn't say everyone was voting make again on this, but it was a good hot nutritious meal (mitigating the Fruit Loops in the morning) and a great lunch the next day. Whether they said so or not, I'm going to make again.

Slow-Cooker Garden Minestrone

1 onion chopped fine
2 T. tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. olive oil
1 1/2 t. minced fresh oregano (1/2 t. dried)
1/8 t. red pepper flakes
7 c. chicken broth
1 c. cannellini beans (dried)

To finish:
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise, and sliced
8 oz. Swiss chard, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 c. elbow macaroni
1 lb. tomatoes (cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces)
1/4 c. minced fresh basil

To Prep:
1. Microwave onion, tomato paste, garlic, oil, oregano, and pepper flakes in a bowl, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened (about 5 minutes). Transfer to slow cooker. Stir in broth and beans.

To Cook:
2. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 9 to 10 hours on low (6 to 7 on high)

To Finish and Serve:
Stir in zucchini, chard, pasta, and tomatoes; cover and cook on high until vegetables and pasta are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in basil, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Mashed Potato Miracle

I LOVE mashed potatoes. My husband, not so much. I used to make them on the nights I knew he wouldn't be home, or slip them onto the table after baking cookies so my stock was high and I had room to cheat a bit. Since I've been back at work full time, I've devoted myself to at least cooking a real meal on Sundays. After scanning through a few issues of Cooks Illustrated that were sitting around the house, I saw the recipe below for Garlic Parmesan Mashed Potatoes (cue the angel chorus) -- a miracle has happened. Everyone (including the boss) loved the mashed potoatoes! I can eat them once again!

Garlic Parmesan Mashed Potatoes
from Nov/Dec 2014 Cooks Illustrated

2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2" thick
1/2 t. garlic powder
4 T. butter
1 1/4 t. garlic, minced to paste
1 1/2 oz. Parmesan cheese (3/4 c.)
Salt and pepper
2/3 c. warm whole milk

1. Place potatoes in large saucepan and add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring water to simmer over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to maintain gentle simmer until paring knife can be slipped into tand out of center of potatoes with no resistance, 18 to 22 minutes. Drain potatoes

2. While potatoes cook, combine garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon of water in small bowl. Melt butter in 8-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in 1 t. garlic paste and garlic powder mixture; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and golden, about 1 minute. Transfer butter mixture to medium bowl and thoroughly stir in Parmesan, 1 1/4t. salt, 1/2 t. pepper, and remaining 1/4t. garlic paste

3. Place now-empty saucepan over low heat; set ricer over saucepan, mash potatoes.
Stir in butter-Parmesan mixture until incorporated. Stir in warm milk. Season with salt and papper to taste. Serve immediately.