Ah, the SECOND week of September! We have successfully made it through the transition from laid back summer vacation lack of schedule to a more rigid, back to school, “everything must be on the calendar or it won’t be remembered” strategy! I am a calendar person (actually a “write it all down or I’ll never remember a thing” person). I like to look on my kitchen wall calendar and see exactly where everyone should be at any given time, and who will be here for supper, with the latter being of greatest importance. It makes a big difference if I’m cooking for just Robert and myself or if both starving teenage boys (and possibly a girlfriend or two) will be here!
I always look forward to fall meal planning. After a summer of grilling and more casual 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 our schedules are usually crazy, we might only have 20 minutes when we are all in the house together, so I don’t want to waste the time preparing food, I want it ready to serve! There is nothing better than walking in the house at the end of a long day to already smell 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 should not be used. For example, you should never put frozen food into a crock pot (with the intension of letting it thaw then cook in that long period of time). Food should always be thawed first, under refrigeration, and then placed in the crock pot. It should not be started frozen to be thawed then cooked under a slow heat, as this could increase the possibility of bacteria growth in the raw
food. 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. 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 bacterial growth, as well as simply deteriorate the integrity of the food’s 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 the meat in a skillet over a high heat first to brown it, as well as to give it a little extra flavor boost. Long cook times also give you an opportunity to infuse the meat with flavors such as herbs or spices, or to add additional cooking liquids, like wine or juices.
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 cut dry red wine
- 1 t thyme
- 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.