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Put that in your pot and crock it.

Whoever invented the slow cooker deserves a Nobel Prize. I’m not kidding. Economics, Peace, Medicine… any one of them would fit. You put almost any combination of things into it, and four to ten hours later (depending on your patience level) you have a delicious thing to eat that doesn’t bust the budget, and makes everyone feel good. Usually, there are even leftovers.

I’m probably preaching to the choir, right? YOU know.

So, consider today’s recipe for Pot Roast with Mushrooms as an ode to the slow cooker. It’s not necessarily an original, but it’s a go-to for me. It’s gotten a little bit of tweaking over time, so I feel pretty confident in guaranteeing a scrumptious end result, and if you’re lucky, enough leftovers for pot roast sliders later in the week.

Equipment:
1 Slow cooker
1 large saute pan
tongs or something to flip a large piece of meat
1 cup measuring cup
Knife (for slicing mushrooms, if you don’t buy the pre-sliced ones)
Possibly a can opener, if you get canned broth/stock
Mixing spoon or whisk
Large pot, if you intend to further reduce the mushroom gravy at the end.

Ingredients:
1 4lb chuck roast
Salt and Pepper
1 T olive oil (or canola, or any vegetable oil, really)
3 cups beef stock
2 1/2 cups mushrooms
1 packet onion soup mix
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme

Directions:
1. Season the chuck roast well on all sides with salt and pepper. Add the oil to the saute pan and heat until the oil is shimmery. Add the chuck roast to the pan and sear it well on all sides. You’re not trying to cook it through, just give it flavor and color. Remove from the pan and set aside.

2. Don’t forget about all those lovely brown bits on the bottom of the pan! That’s flavor, too, and we don’t want it to go to waste. Add about half a cup of your stock to the pan to deglaze, scraping up all the brown bits. Pour the deglazing liquid into the crockpot, along with the rest of the stock. Add the onion soup mix and stir or whisk to dissolve into the stock.

3. Stir the sliced mushrooms into the liquid, and add the fresh thyme. Then, nestle your roast into the crockpot, so that it’s covered by the liquid.

4. This roast can cook for pretty much whatever time is convenient for you, from 4 hours on high to 10 hours on low. I like to let it go as long as possible on low, if I have the time, because the longer it braises, the more tender and fall-apart-y it gets.

5. Once the roast is cooked through, remove it from the liquid, allow it to cool a bit, then shred it and put it back into the liquid. Alternatively, if you like a thicker, more gravy-like consistency for the sauce, pour it into a large pot, crank the heat to medium-high and allow it to reduce by as much as needed to reach the consistency you want. You can do this while you shred the pot roast, and then add the shredded meat to the gravy.

NOTE: If you decide to reduce the sauce, as described above, don’t add any additional salt until AFTER it’s reduced. If you add salt too early, your sauce flavor with concentrate and may end up too salty.

I served this with a super easy mashed sweet potato side.

Equipment:
Large pot
Potato masher, fork, or whatever you like to use to mash things up
Fork
Colander
Mixing spoon

Ingredients:
5 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into equal sized chunks
6 cups water
1/2 cup evaporated milk
3 T unsalted butter
2 T fresh ginger (the stuff that comes in the tube is fine if you don’t want to deal with fresh)
3 T maple syrup
2 tsp Salt plus more, plus Pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Add the water, potatoes, and 2 tsp salt to a large pot. Bring to a boil, and continue cooking until a fork pierces the sweet potato chunks easily.

2. Strain the water from the sweet potatoes, then add them back to the pot over low heat to help dry them out a little further.

3. Turn off the heat. Add the butter and begin mashing. Add the evaporated milk a little at a time as you mash until all large lumps are removed.

4. Add the ginger and maple syrup. Stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Dig in!

Kitchen Tech Saturday: New York Public Library Digital Collections

Normally, when we’re talking technology, we think of the future, as in, new technology. The latest digital, computerized whatchamacallit that will change the way we cook, or shop, or go out to eat.

But today’s Kitchen Tech Saturday is actually kind of a time machine… one that only goes backwards.

A few years ago, the New York Public Library put all of it’s digital collections online, for free, and available to the public. The collections grow all the time, and you can look up everything from old political campaign pins to pin-ups, but today, we’re talking about a couple of search terms I’ve been using lately: recipe and cookbook. I’ll warn you up front– this website can become quite the rabbit hole.

searchpage

Right off the bat, the word “recipe” will get you not only cool, old images from, oddly enough, a tobacco company, but also their corresponding recipes. Decades ago, tobacco companies were the source of a lot of collectibles… things like baseball cards, and obviously, recipes.

lemonbuns

lemonbunrecipie
But as you dive deeper into the search results, you’ll see everything from old advertisements for a variety of products, handwritten recipes, snippets from old cookbooks, recipe collection brochures and their covers.

tabletalk
For a real treat, also add “menu” to your list of search terms. You’ll see some really great menus from restaurants, events, and even hotel room service menus!

roomservice
If you’re a big culinary history nerd like me, you’ll find that this time machine also has the odd effect of also speeding up time. You sat down for a quick little poke around in the archives, and before you know it, it’s 2am, your tea’s gone cold, and some random infomercial for people who have a hard time with pancakes is playing in the background. Seriously. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Online digital archives are a real treasure trove of information, and the NYPL collection is definitely my favorite. There’s material in there on a huge array of subjects, although, obviously, this is the one I come back to time and time again for not only a NerdyFunGoodTime, but also some serious culinary inspiration.

Farmer’s Market Dinner

Tonight’s dinner menu

Heeere fishy, fishy…

Hi ya’ll!

So, this post was going to be later this weekend, and about something else entirely; but then, I went to the grocery store and they had whole, fresh trout on sale. I’m kind of a spur of the moment cook, so just like that I changed my mind. The decision to share this little roasted fish adventure occurred as I started remembering all the people who have expressed to me a certain sense of paralyzing fear trepidation at the idea of cooking fish. They tell me it seems “complicated,” or that they’re afraid of messing it up. I can understand that. When faced with the sight of this little guy looking up at you from behind the glass, it can be a bit discombobulating. 

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You imagine that because it’s THE WHOLE FISH (zomg!) that there’s some special skill needed to turn it into dinner. Not so, my friends. Not so. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite. Most fish takes barely any effort at all to become something not only delicious, but also pretty damn impressive looking on a plate. Let me show you…

Trout is just about my favourite fish ever to eat. It’s flavourful, and super low maintenance, as I shall now demonstrate.

Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees. In addition to Mr. Trout, you’ll need:

– aluminum foil
– a baking pan or cookie sheet
– olive oil
– salt and pepper
– a lemon
– a spatula or fish spatula or the ability to flip a whole roasted fish onto a plate in one move (actually easier than it sounds)

Then, get yourself a piece of aluminum foil about two feet long and lay it in a baking pan. 

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I drizzled a little bit of olive oil on the foil and smeared it around a little bit. I used my (clean, of course) fingers, but if you don’t like to get stuff on your hands just use a pastry brush, or swirl the pan around until the olive oil is covering approximately a fish sized bit of real estate. Then, lay the fish down in the pan. 

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You might notice that this fish is cut open along the bottom, but he still has his little fins and his tail (oh yeah, and his head). I’m not squeamish about any of those things, but if you are you have some options: 

1) you can ask your fish guy to trim off some of that stuff. Most of them are happy to do that for you, and some will even do it without rolling their eyes. Ignore the ones who do that. They’re just being a judgeypants and you’re allowed to have your fish however you want it.

2) you can trim it up yourself. A good pair of kitchen shears will take care of the fins and the tail, and a sharp chef’s knife or a solid (like you mean it!) thwack with a meat cleaver will decapitate Mr. Trout quite handily. 

I happen to like the way the whole fish looks in presentation, so I let him keep his dignity right up to the moment I start picking him apart and devouring him. 

Whole fish also has bones. Tiny ones. If the bones are an issue for you, it’s easier to de-bone a fish like this after it’s cooked. The flesh will pull away from the bones and the spine in one or two pieces on each side, and all those little pin bones should come out pretty easily. If you’re going to serve the fish bone-free, just make sure you do your de-boning work under good lighting because some of them can be almost invisible. 

(“de-boning” sounds naughty and because i’m 12 years old on the inside, makes me giggle a lot.)

Let’s carry on…

Just as with any other protein, seasoning is super important. At the minimum, you’ll want to season inside and outside with salt and pepper. If you want to get fancy and use herbs (fresh or dried) or your favourite seasoning blend, go for it! I used sea salt and a citrus pepper blend from Savory Spice Shop here in Denver:

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A healthy sprinkle (again, don’t forget to season the inside, too!) of this stuff and the sea salt, and a couple of lemon slices stuffed inside, and we’re off to the races!

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All we need to do now is drizzle the whole thing with a little more olive oil, squeeze some lemon juice over it, wrap it up, and slide it into the oven.

When you wrap the foil, you want to keep it loose. I usually bring the two long sides together, fold over (not very neatly) once or twice, roll up the sides (also, not with any precision in the least), and then scrunch down the top a little more. Here’s what mine looks like all wrapped up. You can be neater if you need to, but as long as it’s got some room to breathe in there you’re good to go.

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Then, slide it into the oven. I let it roast all wrapped up like that for about 10-12 minutes, then I unwrap it a little bit to expose most of the fish body and slide it back in for about another 20 minutes so it gets a little more of that browned roasty look.

Annnnnd… here you go!

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As you can see, the olive oil and the lemon juice combine with the liquid that comes out of the fish to form a kind of sauce. It’s delicious. Don’t throw it away. I recommend drizzling it over the fish when you serve it.

I forgot to run the dish washer so I didn’t have a clean spatula. I just used a fork to make sure nothing was sticking on the bottom, and then slid the whole thing onto my plate. I served it with a kale salad dressed with some cherry tomatoes and a lemon juice-olive oil-sea salt concoction.

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This fish was about 8 ounces prior to cooking… and it yielded about 4.5 ounces of moist, delicious, flavourful fish flesh. 

So, seriously, not a lot of work at all, right? You can do this, right? I have faith in you. 

By the way, this isn’t the only whole fish that can be cooked using this method.  A 5-6 lb salmon cooked this way for about 45 minutes will serve 14 people with regular appetites, or 10 of the greedy kind. If you really want to wow your dinner guests, come to the table bearing a whole, roasted salmon surrounded by some equally fabulous roasted baby potatoes, on a big ole platter. Can you say high drama? They never need to know how very little work it was.