Happy fall, ya’ll! I can’t believe that we are nearing the end of September! We have successfully made it through the transition from busy summer madness to not quite as busy change in season chaos (those of you with school aged kids know all about that). With the glorious weather we have been enjoying for the last week though, it is hard to believe we are nearing October, but the calendar does proclaim just that.
I don’t want to think about it, but “sweater-weather” is just around the corner and with that comes comfort food!
I always look forward to fall meal planning. After a summer of grilling, cold salads and simple grab and go type meals, I am anxious to turn on the oven and smell dinner cooking. This is also the time of year that I start thinking crock pot meals. Since my schedule is usually crazy, I don’t want to waste the time preparing food when I get home, I want it ready to serve when I walk in the door! To me, there is nothing better than walking in the house at the end of a long day, smelling supper cooked and ready to go on the table. I’m all about easy, and crock pots and oven timers are invaluable!
The inventor of the crock pot obviously had working families in mind. There are a few things to remember when planning what you put into it, however. The primary idea – slow cooking – is great for most things, but there are a times when it care should be taken. For example, you should never put frozen food into a crock pot with the intention of letting it thaw first, then cook in that long period of time. Food should always be thawed first, under refrigeration, and then placed in the crock pot. Starting food frozen, with the intent to let it thaw, then cook, under a slow heat, could increase the possibility of bacteria growth in the raw food, and the cooker typically will not reach a temperature high enough to kill any bacteria that may have grown. Also, slow cooking is not intended for extreme long duration (cook times exceeding 12 hours). Many slow cookers now have “keep warm” settings that follow the scheduled cook time, but while this will keep your meal warm if you find yourself running a little late, again, if food is kept at very low temp (“keep warm”) it will, over time, invite bacteria growth, as well as simply deteriorating the integrity of the foods’ flavor.
A great benefit to slow cooking is that many inexpensive cuts of meat are perfect for long cook times (multiple hours in the oven or all day in the crock pot), as long, slow cooking not only improves flavor, but will tenderize some of the toughest cuts. A note regarding those meats, however. Since the slow cooking process does not bring the meat in direct contact with a high heat at any time, I always like to sear my meat in a skillet over a high heat first to brown it, as well as giving it a little extra flavor boost. Long cook times also give you an opportunity to infuse the meat with flavors by adding fresh or dried herbs or spices, or by adding flavorful liquids, like wine or juices. I find that a quiet Sunday afternoon is a perfect time to prep my weeks’ worth of meals to be crock pot ready. A couple of hours’ worth of slicing, dicing, chopping and browning will leave me with a weeks’ worth of crock pot ready meals. I simply fill my individual crock pot bags (or gallon size zipper bags) with the ingredients for a meal, seal and tuck them in the fridge. This way, each morning I can simply pull out a bag, plop it in the crock, push a button and be on my way. Dinner’s done and I’m a happy camper!
Now is the time to pull out a cook book and your crock pot and plan your weekly shopping list with dinner time convenience on your mind!
Braised Beef Short Ribs
- 3-4 lbs beef short ribs (cut into individual bone portions)
- 2 cups diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
- 2-3 carrots, cut into 1” pieces
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, cut into 1” pieces
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
- Salt and pepper to taste
In hot skillet, brown beef rib pieces a few at a time.
Put beef in crock pot and top with remaining ingredients. Cook all day (9-10 hours) on low setting. Serve over rice or hot buttered noodles.
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