Slow Cooker Part Deux – A Failure and A Find

A prevalent pet peeve is how Facebook distorts reality. With frequent postings of party and vacation pictures plus endless boasting about kids and jobs, it’s easy to conclude that more fun is being had by everyone else. Which is of course not true.

At least, I hope it’s not.

But all this bragging led me to consider recipe blog posts. It’s an apt corollary as the vast majority of recipe blog posts are about successes. Indeed, I do it too. I hadn’t realized until I looked, but to date, all my recipe blog posts have been about recipe successes. So with this post I am bucking the trend, because this post is about a lo-co cooking failure. And I think that it’s an important topic because cooking lo-co is tough enough without the false belief that everyone else’s dishes turn out well all the time. Because they do NOT.

Case in point: last week I tried a slow cooker recipe for Char Siu Pork Roast that had huge promise, but that failed. Miserably. Actually, it was absolutely awful.

This dish was so appalling I threw it out and ate cereal for dinner. Worse, I could not get the stench of this dish out of my house fast enough (challenging when it’s sub-freezing outside, but open the windows I did!)

I was particularly disappointed in Char Siu Pork Roast because: a) the recipe was from Cooking Light, and I always (now nearly-always) have good luck with their dishes; b) it was listed in an article with the promissory title of, “100+ Slow-Cooker Favorites“; and c) there were 108 reviews and it got four stars.  FOUR STARS. OUT OF FIVE. (I went back to see if it was four starts out of ten, but nope, four out of five).

I don’t know who these 108 people are, but their collective tastebuds are very different from mine. Not only that, my easy-going husband didn’t like it either. The problems were many. The five-spice flavor was overwhelming; several ingredients seemed to flavor-fight with each other; and worst of all, it was dry, dry, dry.  I guess I should have paid more attention to the several reviewers who panned this recipe; my experience was eerily similar.

So. A lo-co failure. I should have taken a photo, but there wasn’t time as I could not throw it out fast enough!

And then – another fail – I bought a pork tenderloin a few days later but accidentally grabbed one that was seasoned with pepper when what I wanted was plain.

Sigh. I am not a fan of peppercorn-marinaded anything.

pressure-29744_640But I didn’t want to throw away a perfectly good pork tenderloin, so that inspired a search for a slow cooker recipe that would mask the massive pepper. I readied the cereal boxes in case it was another failure… but was pleasantly surprised last night with “The Best Crock-Pot Pork Tenderloin” dish. Especially since the recipe was from a site I’d never seen before (usually I only cook from Cooking Light or Epicurious).

This WhiskingMama.com site must have really great SEO — the only reason I clicked on this “The Best Crock-Pot Pork Tenderloin” recipe is that it was the #1 result in my search for “pork tenderloin crock-pot recipe.” I decided to try it because I already had the (wrong) tenderloin, these ingredients looked like they’d cover up the pepper, and I happened to have all the ingredients on hand (with a few substitutions: dijon for yellow mustard and garlic cloves instead of garlic powder).

This dish was easy, quite tasty, and while it might not be the “best” crock-pot pork tenderloin recipe (I mean, who’s to judge?), I’d make it again. The cereal’s been put back in the pantry for breakfast as we’re planning leftovers for dinner tonight.

Here’s the recipe for “The Best Crock-Pot Pork Tenderloin” if you prefer a PDF to clicking on the link above. I made it with a one-pound tenderloin instead of two-pounds, and just read this morning in Sam Sifton’s A Simmer View of the Slower Cooker article that I should have cut the marinade in half. Mr. Sifton’s quote refers to different recipe/ingredients but the basic tenet is the same:

“The most important thing is not to have too much liquid in the pot. For a small slow cooker, use a smaller cut of meat and a proportionately smaller amount of fish sauce, hoisin and water.”

The next time I make this Crock-Pot Pork Tenderloin recipe I’ll use regular rather peppered tenderloin and will either cut the marinade in half OR, more likely, I’ll make it with two pounds of tenderloin because it was delicious enough to want leftovers.

So one recipe to avoid – and one to try!  Feel free to send me your lo-co recipe failures or favorites!

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A Thai Lo-Co Crock-Pot Winner

Before today’s blizzard that thankfully didn’t hit where we live in CT (strange to be thankful for 6″ of snow and counting), the weather last Saturday was atrocious. I had decided to try a new crock-pot recipe so we would be treated all day to the enticing aroma of curry while stuck inside catching up on a long list of household chores.

And it both looked and tasted delicious. Which is a big thing, because my easy-going husband usually does not enjoy crock-pot casseroles.  A huge shame given the easiness of crock-pot cooking, but there you go.

But this one was a hit. On the plus side, it was relatively easy and quite flavorful. On the down side, it uses beef.  I may try again with chicken but had decided a little beef on a cold, miserable day seemed a fine plan.  And while it does have more cholesterol than I usually go for (50 mg/serving) that really isn’t too bad.

Thai Red Curry CrockPotThe recipe was from Cooking Light – my go-to for new, healthy recipes – and it was in an article entitled, 100+ Slow-Cooker Favorites. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure we’d like it as I’ve tried a few I didn’t love from recipes in this trove, but gave it a go and was glad I did. My plate of Thai Red Curry Beef didn’t look as pretty as the picture on the recipe, but hey, I’m no food photographer. What I can tell you is that it was quite tasty.

If you like curry, give this a try. Before you do, be sure to read the recipe and ALSO read the reviews so you can adjust to your taste, especially vis-a-vis spiciness.  A few things I’d suggest if you give it a go:

  • I used one whole jalapeño with seeds because we like very spicy – and it was very, very spicy.  When I make again, I’ll use only half the seeds …
  • Based on the reviews which said the sauce was thin, I debated dusting the beef with cornstarch before browning it as some suggested.  But that seemed hard. So instead I made a cornstarch and cold water ‘slurry’ (same as if making gravy) and spooned that in after the spinach. Easy and effective.
  • They don’t say to use cubed stew meat – but that’s what the picture looked like so that’s what I did. Buy or cut the meat ahead of time, even though that’s not in the recipe.
  • I did dice some carrots as you’ll see in my photo above (but not in the recipe photo) and that worked well. I cut 4 carrots into relatively big bites and added them when the crock pot had about 1 hour left.  They were great – not mushy; cooked just through.
  • I wish I’d added mushrooms.  Will do next time.
  • I bought freshly diced onion from Trader Joe’s to save time and highly recommend that. Probably would NOT use frozen diced onions as they’d release too much water to a broth that some considered watery.

For today’s blizzard-that-wasn’t I bought some fresh arctic char which I enjoyed last night with several glasses of wine… See recipe for Baked Arctic Char on my recipes page. So easy, healthy and delicious.

For tonight, we’re having chicken breast with bok choy and quinoa. I wish instead I’d bought a whole chicken to roast: my friend Michaela (a talented author who prefers writing to cooking) raves about this whole roast chicken recipe, which I keep meaning to try. She just emailed me to say, “You should try. It is fabulous and I’m an indifferent cook at best! But the bird is completely juicy and the skin crunchy.”  OK, the skin is a lo-co no no, but still – I bet it’s great. And with a name like How To Make The Best Roast Chicken Of All Time – and with video instruction on how to truss a chicken – how could you go wrong?

I’ll let you know about the whole roast chicken – but if you like curry and are of a crock-pot mindset, give Thai Red Curry Beef a shot.

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Healthy, Delicious and Easy Vegetable Curry

In this frigid tundra we call Connecticut (will it EVER stop snowing this winter?), I needed a break from the salad thing.  Something hearty and filling and warm.  Something that I could make for dinner that would yield lunch leftovers.

Casting about for a new Lo-Co recipe to meet these demanding criteria, I turned to one of my favorite sources, Cooking Light.   There I found a crock-pot recipe with 53 reviews and 4 stars (my minimum requirement for trying any new Cooking Light recipe) that looked interesting.

Then I hesitated.

First of all, this vegetarian recipe has 19 ingredients – 20 if you include the garnish of lemon wedges.  But a solid read-through revealed all was OK because I recognized each of the 19 ingredients (as opposed to the sunchoke (?) potato soup recipe I also considered).   Plus, all this recipe required was chopping — and many of these ingredients I could buy pre-chopped, so really, it was just mixing.

Totally do-able.

But still I hesitated because I’ve tried crock-pot cooking many times, always with mediocre results.  While dealing with the drudgery of eating salads I was in no mood for chopping and mixing 19 ingredients if there was a chance the result could be boring.

My worries were unfounded: this Vegetable and Chickpea Curry recipe is hands-down the best thing I’ve ever made in a crock-pot.  It’s hearty, creamy and so delicious that my husband, who was enjoying a pizza dinner with our son (way too many vegetables for broccoli-only-boy to try), pushed aside his slice and gulped down a bowlful.

Then we both had it for lunch the next day, and my husband asked when I was making it again.  I’d call that a huge recipe success, made even more delightful since not only is this recipe low cholesterol – it has NO cholesterol.

If you’ve never read Cooking Light, have a look at this recipe and its reviews on their website: Vegetable and Chickpea Curry. I took the advice of reviewers and added MORE curry (I like Penzeys Spices Sweet Curry Powder) and substituted sweet potato for baking potato.

Other modifications I made: as I detest green peppers, I went with red instead.  And since I accidentally purchased a jalapeno instead of a serrano pepper, I just opened a can of diced green chili peppers instead.

Way easier.

Plus, there is no need to measure all 19 ingredients carefully, which I love.  For example, I just diced one red pepper and one sweet potato, and tossed in most of the can of diced green chilis – and ignored the precise measurements listed.

For the recipe with my modifications, download the PDF on my Lo-Co Recipes page or here: Vegetable and Chickpea Curry, Modified.  As it just started snowing again, I think I’ll make another batch this weekend.

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