I want to include some cooking or signs that cooking is a part of my life on my portfolio. Originally, I had planned on having one recipe per category. However, as the portfolio developed the recipes looked out of place. I don’t want a single page/section of cooking, at least at this moment I don’t want to do that. At this moment, I am toying with using the introduction (here is a link to a different intro) and advice section from FU! Crockpot. Give the intro and advice a read and let me know what you think. I am still on the fence, and I have some time to go a different direction.
The Kitchen Upstairs
One man’s quest for sanity and good food in the face of adversity
This is not your typical cookbook. There are recipes, plenty of them, but along with each recipe is the story of how this all came to pass. Let me start with, we cooked every at least once and we liked them. No need to give you recipes for food we did not even eat, and let me tell you there were plenty of those.
The only equipment required for these recipes is a slow cooker (3 quart), a small George Foreman Grill, a cutting board, and assorted tools-knives, cheese grater, forks, and spoons (ours were all plastic). A measuring cup or two would be great, but we did not pull one of those out of storage until 2 months in. Finally, if there is an ingredient we had difficulty finding we will tell you where we found it. Lemongrass comes to mind.
How did FU! Crockpot come about? A little back-story. First, the original title was FUCK YOU! Crockpot. I was complaining about having to cook dinner in the crockpot in a room that would make most dorms giggle. Over time and discussion, the titled morphed into The Kitchen Upstairs and back to FU! Crockpot.
Second, my wife was looking for a new college to finish her Pharmacy Degree. At the time, we had an apartment with plenty of room to cook. Barb found a college, unfortunately, due to timing we needed another place to live until we moved to the new college. Her parents were nice enough to let us move in with them and that was the extent of it. We had talked about cooking for them as a way to pay for our stay. Barb’s mother declared that she “loved” to cook and would not share the kitchen. This was fine with me after I saw the kitchen, if there was a single space without grease, mold, thick layer dust or debris on it, I might have considered cooking, but since there wasn’t, my wife and I decided it was best to avoid the kitchen.
After a couple of months of eating out and blowing a lot of money, I was not happy, and we were no longer healthy like when I used to cook all of the time. Desperate for an answer that would result in us saving money, which we needed for the move, and to get all of us feeling better, my wife suggested we use the small crockpot. Since we could not use the kitchen, I began cooking in our room on the second floor.
Let me tell you that first meal was like a slice of heaven. At least three nights a week with enough leftovers to last for days. Suddenly, bills were paid off, there was money in the bank, and we were feeling better. We added a George Foreman Grill, mini-fridge, and cutting board to allow me to do more than use the slow cooker. Slow cooked food was our primary diet for those months. I wrote down recipes and kept notes. When we finally moved out of the kitchen upstairs, I had a desire to put our experiences into a fun cookbook. You are holding the fun.
I learned everything you are about to learn by reading or through firsthand experience. Seriously, several dozen slow cooker cookbooks and months of experience later and this is the advice you get from me.
The lid is clear for a reason. There is no need to take the lid off to “see” the food, to “smell” the food or to “taste” the food. I am horrible at all three; you will find me constantly checking the dish, usually “taste testing.” Here is the “official reason” why, each time you open the lid, you add 20 minutes to the cook time. Sounds long, the reality is opening the lid does increase the cook time. However, it is not 20 minutes per instance, more like 20 minutes overall. If you are like me though, you will still open the lid to see when the dish is “done.”
Preheating is not just for stoves. This was both a revelation and a “Duh!” thing to learn. Until I learned that piece of advice, I tossed everything into the crockpot and then turned it on. Turn the crockpot on before you toss stuff in, dishes cook in the right amount of time and burning is lessened because the food is sitting a shorter period of time.
You can boil water in a crockpot. You can boil water in a crockpot. Seriously. It takes a lot of time and is not effective. If you, like us, find yourself stuck in an area without a usable stovetop, this works. Turn slow cooker on HIGH, put water in, and ignore for a long time. Eventually, the crockpot will get hot enough for the water to start a low boil. Put anything in the water and the boil will go away, but give it some more time and it will start up again.
Noodles! Noodles are a pain in the ass! We have done several dishes that had noodles and a few that we thought could use noodles, the results were mixed. The best advice that I have is to follow the recipe and it should work out. Egg noodles turn to a thin mush very quickly. If you decide to use them, add them near the very end of the cook time; last three minutes or less and watch closely.
Pork Fat RULES! Despite what you may think, you can cook bacon in a crockpot. Whole strips are a pain because they will stick together and to the crock. When you try to stir or move the bacon around it breaks apart. Slicing thick-cut bacon into smaller pieces works better and cooks evenly.
Elbow Grease: If I had to choose one feature that I like best about crockpots, it is they clean up easily. I don’t care how badly charred, burned, or otherwise stuck to the sides a dish got, with a few minutes of soaking in hot soapy water, and some scrubbing, the crock is clean as new. However, this does lead to the thing I like the least you cannot season it.
Cleanliness..: Is everything. Wash your hands! Wash your cutting board! Wash everything! Clean hands, tools, and dishware after handling any raw food. Do not use utensils that touched raw food on cooked food. Keeping things clean will keep you from getting yourself and others sick.
Measurements are..: Guidelines, not hard and fast rules. If you like more of one ingredient, use more, but in small increments. Do not just double up. Add a little more, taste, and repeat until you get the flavor you want. You CAN double up or halve an ENTIRE recipe if you need to make more or less.
Times are..: even more of a guideline than ingredients. Every crockpot, every piece of equipment, is different and you know how it works. Our crockpot, for example, cooked everything 1 to 3 hours FASTER than the recipes stated. Our George Foreman Grill had a “sweet” spot where everything cooked at the right temp and a “suck” spot where it took forever to warm up. So get to know your equipment and use that knowledge when cooking.