Cooking engineering, pt. II

I’ve already talked a lot about how great crockpots are, particularly when you are busy and you want something simple that will yield delicious results. However, while the crockpot does not need supervision to give you an amazing dish, it does require one thing: to mind the time. And while yes, you won’t burn your food if you let it go overtime, you might end up with really dry chicken.

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Now, there are crockpots that come with their timer, and that’s awesome! However, mine was a gift from my roommate (he didn’t know how to use it) and it’s a pretty old model. Really solid, but you can tell it has been around for a while.

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The solution was pretty simple, I’m not even sure I can call it engineering: use a christmas light timer. So I prepped it for the amount of hours I wanted, and went to bed without any worries in my mind. When I woke up, my almond meal was ready.

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The recipe was from Chrissy’s book, Paleo Slow Cooking: shaved apple (to provide humidity), almond flour (I actually used almond meal for coarseness – it’s an oatmeal substitute!) and water, and cooked for six hours. Strawberries for sweetness in the end. =)

Annatto life

One of the nice things about mexican food is the variety of spices it uses in its recipes. While not as big as, say, Indian food, it is something to be relished, and I have to say I have been learning much about it. One of the spices I found lately is Achiote, or Annatto, derived from the seeds of Bixa orellana, or Achiote (tree).

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Achiote is tangy, and a bit bitter, and usually sold in the form of paste that includes other spices such as pepper and chilis. This paste is usually dissolved in a bitter liquid in order to bring out the flavor of the spices. Traditionally, the juice of bitter oranges is used, but any variety of vinegar can be used as well, as long as it is not balsamic or sweet. I decided to splurge a little bit and try it with Maple Vinegar, to try and accentuate the wooden taste of the annatto instead of the spice of the chilis. It was a bold move, yes, since it would have been easier just to use apple cider vinegar, but I went with it. I mixed the paste with the vinegar (just a shot) and a couple of garlic cloves.

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I coated the chicken evenly with the sauce before putting it in the crockpot with the rest of it, and let it cook for five hours. The original recipe has the chicken in pieces wrapped in banana tree leaves, but I did not spend time looking for those. Since it came out a little bit dry, I will add an onion (sliced) to the bottom of the pot next time to provide a bit more of juice, and reduce cooking time a little bit.

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But the taste was so good, oh Sweet Gandalf it was delicious!

Hm… gravy

The convenience of the crockpot is that as long as you dump stuff on it and take care of it, it will cook it thoroughly without having to pay any attention to it. Bad thing is that if you forget about it, it can get overcooked, so you do have to be at least a bit careful. Otherwise dry chicken can happen.

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Michelle from Nom Nom has a recipe for chicken that makes its own gravy. We need to fry some onions and garlic in butter, to let them sweat, and let their flavors come out.

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We add tomato paste and we let it cook for a bit. Now, I know we are not supposed to use acidic food in cast iron because of leaching. I decided to take a risk since we had already added a decent amount of butter to the pan when sweating the onions.

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In the meantime, we rub the chicken. Michelle uses a prepackaged rub – I decided to use the rub I make when I put my chicken in the oven: mustard, thyme, salt and pepper.

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Rub it all over. In and out.

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We put the sauce in the bottom of the pan, and the chicken on top of it.

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And let it cook for four to six hours. After that we take the chicken out and we blend the sauce into a gravy.

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The amount of gravy was so much that I will use it with other chicken.

When lacking something, look at the ingredient list

I’ll admit that I’ve been missing some stuff from back home. My mom’s Mushrooms in Green Sauce is one of them, and I haven’t tried to emulate them just yet because the stores I frequent don’t carry tomatillo. Yes, I should go to the mexican store. When it stops snowing and I can bike there thank you very much.

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So when I was wandering in George’s site and found this Chicken Tomatillo recipe I was stoked. Now, he has two versions – one with home made salsa, which I’m pretty sure it’s a thousand times awesome (or at least, easier to manipulate) and one with store-bought salsa. I gave up and spent ten minutes in the aisle of Vitamin Grocers reading labels until I found a satisfactory salsa jar.

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Another thing that I loved about this recipe is how mexican it looks. Well, everything that has green, white and red gets classified as that, even though we share colors with Italy and I am babbling now and haven’t said anything about the recipe. Basically, a green pepper, a red pepper, a tomato and an onion, all of them sliced, tossed with mushrooms, salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, lime juice and the salsa.

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The chicken goes first – this is to allow the salsa to penetrate from the top into the chicken, and allow it to mix with the juices that will be released by the animal.

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Just like that.

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Six hours later (in low, like usual), the chicken comes out moist and tender… even probably to the point of destruction. That’s what happened to me, so I immediately took the veggies out, the chicken, and the sauce in three different containers, shredded the chicken and made lettuce wraps with the veggies and the sauce as sides. Awesome.

The difference between a pork chop and pulled pork

I love my crockpot. No, I will not marry it (seriously, people!) but it’s definitely a life savior and a marvel for the rushed cook. So whenever I read the recipes from My Paleo Crockpot I rejoice in the simplicity of them.

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I mixed honey and balsamic vinegar in a small plate until fully integrated. I decided to go with my gut a little bit in this case and rubbed the chops with salt and pepper, and then coated them with the mixture on both sides, making sure they were prefectly coated. Then I dumped them in the crockpot with all the liquid that I had left.

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Since I knew I was going to be out of the house for longer than the six hours indicated in the recipe, I added half a cup of chicken broth and set it on low. Seven and a halfish hours later, the chops were not only fully cooked, they were starting to fall appart as pulled pork.

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They go perfectly good with steamed greens, like broccoli and carrots.

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Or with sauteed broccoli stalks. Yes, they are edible.

Easy peasy not japanese

Even though the store associated with health by excellence -even if it’s because of a clever marketing campaign or something else, I truly don’t know- is Whole Foods, I love the fact that in the same strip mall I have a small hidden treasure called Vitamin Grocers, a store that is usually a hair cheaper and has a more interesting collection of items. The best advantage of this store is that everything is organic and all products are properly labeled, so it is easy to find allergens when looking for ingredients you rarely use, like olives.

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Another thing I love is crockpot recipes that can be prepared ahead of time. In this case, a lovely dish of stuffed olives, almonds, cumin, salt, pepper and turkey stock. I put it in a jar according to the size I was going to use, and put it in the fridge. When I finally cooked them, I took one jar out, a packet of chicken thighs and dumped everything in the crockpot.

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Easy, peasy, delicious. From My Paleo Crockpot

Excuses to buy condiments

So beef was on sale at Whole Foods. Not grass-finished: just pasture centered (Step 4), and while I know you lose some of the benefits when you are not certain is grass-finished, I had a budget and also, I’m going home so I was not going to expend too much on food this week -turns out I did.

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Two pounds of round chuck into the crock pot, with turkey stock (I still have lots and lots of that) and coconut aminos -I finally bought some- at LOW temperature for eight hours.

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This is what came out. I steamed some broccoli and riced some cauliflower to add to the meat.

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And this grogeous dish came out. However, it was supposed to serve six: I’ll eat the whole thing in two days, trust me. Just for dinner.
Recipe from My Paleo Crockpot