December 7, 2009

Slow Cooking

Living the way we do, we are outside a great portion of the day. It's so nice to come inside to a meal that's hot and ready, especially on a raw winter day. Crockpot meals are great, but some of our favorite dishes don't adapt well to a crockpot. Starting these when I get back inside means that we would eat much later than we are used to.

I experimented last night with wild rice, which needs to simmer for 30 minutes. Before going outside, I brought the water/butter/rice to a boil, then put the lid on the pot and turned the heat off. When we came back inside, the rice was nearly done, and required just a few more minutes of simmering until it was tender.

Using a crockpot is the best-known way to prepare long-cooking foods. Some people do not like to leave a heating appliance turned on when they are out of the house though. And what if the power goes out when you have a meal half-done in the crockpot?

One alternative is to use a solar cooker instead of a crockpot. These are easily made from cardboard boxes and aluminum foil with a piece of glass on top, or you can buy a more elaborate model that will last a bit longer. Search online for "solar cooker" and you'll find a plethora of styles and information.

If I had a meal cooking in the crockpot when the power went out, or if it were a cloudy or rainy day not conducive to solar cooking, I'd use a "straw box cooker" or "hot box" to rescue my dinner. Basically, you heat up your recipe and transfer the pot or pan very quickly to a box and surround the pot with straw or blankets or similar insulating material. Wrap it all very well and leave it for the day to cook slowly. When you come home from work, or in from the fields, your meal is ready.

My latest and newest crockpot meal was this Herbed White Bean Soup. I used a ham hock instead of the chopped ham, and added chopped potatoes at the beginning instead of the mashed potatoes at the end. I made half of the recipe, because we usually have a lot of leftovers when I make bean soup - but this was so good we ate it ALL. I wish I'd made the whole amount and canned the extra, now that I'm no longer afraid of my pressure canner.

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