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 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!


Outrageously Delicious Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce

I don’t do meatballs.  Don’t like to eat them.  Don’t ever, ever, ever make them (plunking my hands into a bowl full of cold raw meat is, well, do I really need to elaborate?)

Color me not-meatball girl.

Which is why it was so surprising that I found (and actually tried!) a recipe for what turned out to be outrageously delicious meatballs.

Sam Sifton’s recent New York Times article, Comfort Food Grows Up, was so interesting that I decided to actually make homemade his turkey meatballs.  I’m not sure if what grabbed me was the description: “vaguely North African tomato sauce zipped up with orange juice and warm spices, then toped with feta and mint.”  Or that Mr. Sifton said his kids beg him to make these meatballs. Or the promise of a short cook time: “you can cook it in an hour’s time, not all of it spent working.” (Which, by the way, was a BIG FAT LIE – unless, I guess, you’re a professional/near-professional chef.)

Probably all three (aren’t you intrigued now too?)  Check out the article: the recipe is from a chef called Suzanne Goin — it’s a dish she’s served at her LA restaurant A.O.C. and modified for the menu of a West Hollywood charter school’s “Edible Schoolyard” program.

TurkeyMeatballSpicedTomSauce_TrayIn any case, I made a tray of 20 of these turkey meatballs. Though not pretty — this is not a fancy-dinner-party dish — this tray of meatballs was, without a doubt, the absolute best dish I have ever made.  Ever.

I wasn’t going to make the sauce – but you must.  As you can see in this photo, the meatballs, after you sear them in a broiler (or stovetop) bake in the sauce — and it’s the sauce, I think, that really makes this dish. Don’t use jar sauce (and this from someone who always uses jar sauce).  Make this sauce – it’s easy to make — and the cumin, cinnamon, orange juice and zest make it both unusual and insanely delicious.

TurkeyMeatballSpicedTomSauce_ServedAs the article (but not the recipe!) suggests, I served them over pasta ‘slicked with olive oil’ the night I made them.  For leftovers, I then ate these meatballs over the pasta every meal thereafter. For four days in a row. Michael chose to vary things up for each leftover meal: twice he had these on a bulkie roll and twice he enjoyed them warmed up next to a side salad. FYI: the recipe says you can serve it with pita or bulgur or couscous.

Basically, these were so good you could serve them with just about anything.

Here’s s link to the recipe: Lamb Turkey Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce.  A PDF version is on the Lo-Co recipe page.

And here are a few pointers, from my experience:

  • First and foremost, I can’t imagine how anyone other than a chef could prepare these in 1 hour. Allot at least 1 1/2 hours  — or 2 to be really safe.
  • To that end, I used already-diced onions to cut down prep (and cry) time. Though truth-be-told, I didn’t read the recipe closely enough – you need diced onion for both the meatballs and the sauce so make sure you buy enough!
  • For lowest cholesterol, I used turkey – and they were fabulous.  Am sure that lamb or turkey and pork combo as per the article would be equally fantastic.
  • Do follow Sam Sifton’s suggestion to run these under the broiler rather than searing on a stovetop – it’s far less mess/cleanup. I had also never once used a broiler (!) and it was easy.  That said, his directions weren’t clear about how long to cook in that broiler – it says 5-7 minutes, turning once or twice.  I turned them ONCE only, and did 6-7 minutes PER SIDE.
  •  I had trouble judging how big to make the meatballs, and ended up making them probably a bit bigger than his “a little larger than golf balls” (inane, IMHO) direction. Basically, I made them bigger so they’d fit in my Pyrex 9×12 baking dish!
  •  A 3 inch strip of orange peel was not easy – be sure you either have a tool for this (I could not find mine – nor can I remember it’s name!) or leave yourself time.
  • The feta cheese is vital – the mint not so much, IMHO.  OK, fine. I’ll fess up: I forgot to buy mint.  Didn’t matter – though if you love mint, am sure it’d be great.
  • I usually like a lot of sauce and was concerned this didn’t make a big vat of sauce.  No matter – atop pasta ‘slicked with olive oil’ and just a few tablespoons of sauce, it was plenty flavorful.

I plan to input this recipe into My Fitness Pal to find out it’s nutritional value, but even without that, give this one a whirl. You (and your family) will be glad you did.