"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Crock Pot Chronicles, Part Deux

I was deeply in need of beef yesterday, so I figured I'd give the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook the old college try. Although, as I've mentioned below, I'm a little dubious of getting all gor-may and fancy with the Crock Pot, they did have a terrific brisket recipe.

Now I will digress and note that my mother is adamant that good old Jewish brisket should be flavored with onions and wine, and should not have a hint of sweetness. She makes all kinds of remarks whenever anyone serves a sweet and sour brisket when we're invited over for a holiday dinner elsewhere (after we leave, I should note, not in front of the hosts). I myself happen to love sweet and sour foods, so on this point (along with countless others) I buck the parental preferences.

This recipe struck the balance perfectly. The brisket is well seasoned with salt, pepper, and paprika, then given a good sear on both sides and set aside. In the same pan, you then fry up a good amount of slivered onions. The brisket is slathered with a mix of tomato paste, garlic, brown sugar, dry mustard, cider vinegar, and worcestershire sauce, and sandwiched between layers of the onions in the Crock Pot, then cooked on low for 5 hours. The result is oniony, tangy, and flavorful, with a surprising amount of gravy, considering no significant liquid is used. You could add more sugar and raisins to make it sweeter, or leave out the sugar altogether, though I really enjoyed it as is. And look forward to eating a sandwich of the leftovers tonight, on a Kaiser roll I bought for this exact purpose. The beauty part: will not have to share with mom.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Yes, I have no life

Today is the happiest day of my life because I went down to my office cafeteria to grab a late lunch, despairing of what would be on offer, and found that it doesn't matter any more what I eat, because I will be able to wash it down with an icy cold COCA-COLA CHERRY ZERO. Yes, friends, the good people at the Coca-Cola Company have taken the best diet soda this side of Fresca and added cherry flavor to it (and not that nasty cough syrup-like Cherry Vanilla nonsense they've been pushing lately). It tastes like a real cherry Coke.

Friday, February 16, 2007


From time to time, we will update you on our current food fixations. In the past, these have included Now 'n' Later candies, dried pineapple slices, Rice Krispies treats, bacon bits, and the Great Wasabi Pea Obsession of 1997 (A Happy Gift From the Earth).

Currently, I am going through a snack phase that centers on Trader Joe's Chili Spiced Mango. It's slices of dried sweetened mango, pretty well crusted with paprika, sugar, salt, citric acid, and cayenne. They're sweet, tangy, salty, and hot all at once, and I have been going through bags of them at a fairly steady clip for a couple of months now.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My life does, indeed, have meaning

Young Master Gateau, as faithful readers will learn, is not of the great eaters. So I was pleased this evening that he said for dinner he would be happy to have a scrambled egg, toast, and tea (yes, my five year old drinks tea, has since he was a baby). I asked if he would also like bacon. Oh yes, he would. How many pieces would he like? "Oh, just one, two, three, four, five." I suggested he have two. "Two to start," he concedes.

My child is immoderate in his desire for bacon. If I never impart any other moral fiber, I can feel at least that sense of accomplishment. (Also, since I was firing up the frying pan anyway, why not a few pieces for myself!)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lazy dinner, two versions

The Foodie Version:

I cooked some organic whole wheat penne with flaxseed, then tossed with some organic extra virgin olive oil, julienned sundried tomatoes, and some pesto made from the basil in my garden, frozen since late summer. The taste of summer in February.

The Cookiestuffs Version:

Mr. Gateau was working late, and the two mini-Gateaus were driving me insane. But I knew I would not tough it out until after they went to sleep without eating something, so I managed to cook some pasta, and while that was cooking, defrosted in the microwave a cube of pesto I'd made in September with the herbs from my garden that had gotten so overgrown while I was pregnant and on maternity leave that the place looked like an international weed museum. In the five seconds I had without a kid in my arms, I hacked up a few very dessicated sundried tomatoes, and pulled the olive oil out of the pantry, where it had gotten too cold against the uninsulated wall. Discovered that we are, in fact, entirely out of Parmesan cheese. Managed to drain the pasta and toss this all together while holding the baby, then dumped it into a dish and ate it whenever I didn't have somebody drooly hanging off me.

Either way, it actually was quite tasty.

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Great Grape Soda Experiment

Miss Cake and I went away for a weekend not that long ago, and in addition to demolishing way too many Cadbury caramel eggs, Rice Krispies treats, and "natural" Cheetos, we also performed an important taste test comparison on grape soda. The contestants were:
  • Diet Rite white grape
  • Classic Welch's
  • Stop & Shop house brand grape soda

These were the varieties available in cans. We also got a six pack of Dr. Brown's diet black cherry, just so we'd have something reliable to drink.

The results:

The Diet Rite white grape is excellent. It looks like ginger ale in color, so it's not embarrassing to drink in public. It's a little drier than other grape sodas, but still pretty grapey. And they use Splenda, so diet aftertaste is diminished.

Stop & Shop beat out Welch's on color, taste, and sweetness. Welch's is more artificially purple and a lot sweeter. And the Stop & Shop comes in cute little half-size cans, plus there is a diet variety.

Now you know the ugly truth.

My Crock Pot: A Love Story

It took me approximately three thousand years to get around to doing it, but I finally got myself a Crock Pot. Not your generic "slow cooker," but an actual, bona fide Crock Pot-brand slow cooker. It's even got a black round pot insert and a brushed aluminum outside, so it doesn't look ridiculously out of time alongside the food processor and the stick blender and what have you. See, isn't it pretty? I think they are still making these things in Goldenrod and Avocado with the little line drawings of vegetables and flowers on them, and so on. You know, like the one over there:

So I got the thing home and realized that I had no idea how to use it. The little instruction booklet comes with recipes for basic chili and pot roast, and warns you that liquid doesn't evaporate like it does with stovetop and oven cooking, so you have to adapt your recipes properly. I went out and armed myself with a couple of Better Homes and Gardens slow cooker cookbooks. There turns out to be a lot of good stuff in there, though there is a higher percentage of recipes calling for things like a can of Cream of Mushroom soup than I'm used to dealing with. I do love the simplicity, though, of recipes for barbecue ribs that call for:

1. Ribs
2. A bottle of barbecue sauce

Instructions: stick in pot and cook for a bunch of hours.

My first effort was a batch of baked beans. They turned out fairly tasty, but a little dry. So much for underdoing the liquids. They also had a little too much molasses flavor, and not enough bite. Next time I'll use some brown sugar with the molasses, and put in more mustard.

A North African beef stew was awesome. I set up the pot the night before, which really only took a few minutes, then stuck it in the cooker before I left for work. This was a labor-intensive Crock Pot recipe -- it required stirring in some dried fruits at the last half hour of cooking, so I did that when I got home, as well as did up some whole wheat couscous in chicken broth (fr0m a box, plus a dash of allspice) in the microwave. It came out wonderfully -- tender beef chunks, sweet and tangy sauce from the dried fruits and sweet potatoes. Mr. Gateau, naturally, sat there and picked out the dried fruits. Young Master Gateau scraped off all the sauce. Oh well, at least I ate heartily.

The next effort was also easy, and this one pleased everyone. I cut up some pork shoulder into chunks (this was the most labor intensive part of the dish), stuck it in the pot with a cheesecloth bag of garlic, oregano, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and bay leaves, and put it in the fridge. In the morning I poured a box of chicken stock over, and put it in the Crock Pot on low until I got home from work. That evening, I took out the meat with a slotted spoon, shredded it with two forks, and dressed with lime zest and lime juice. We ate it stuffed into soft tacos, with some guacamole and roasted tomato salsa from the supermarket, standing up at the kitchen counter before we ran out to catch a movie. The remaining pork (I had cooked 4 lbs. of it) disappeared in days, as Mr. Gateau, the babysitter, and I all dipped into it regularly. I think it would be really good for a fun group dinner.
Next thing up is going to be a sort of cassoulet adaptation using chicken, navy beans, and kielbasa.
I got one of the fancy new-wave slow cooker cookbooks that is I guess supposed to make hipsters and foodies feel cooler about using their Crock Pot, but honestly, I'm kind of digging the good old-skool BH&G one better. First of all, the slow cooker is for times you want things to be simple and easy, and very homey food suits that mood. Second, the more fashionable recipes try to expand the range of what the slow cooker can do, so they tell you to use it to do things I'm not convinced you really need it to do -- like most of the fish dishes, sauces, and things like poultry stuffing. If you have to cook for an hour at one temperature, do something to it, and then cook for another 3 hours at another temperature, what's the point of using a slow cooker? Ditto things that require a bunch of stovetop sauteeing and browning before they go into the pot. (Though I can see the benefit of giving meat a good browning before it goes in for a long braise). One thing I do want to try, though, from the "gourmet" book is risotto. Even with the sauteeing of stuff to get started, I bet the slow cooker is a great way to have the risotto slowly cook, while you make the other parts of the meal, especially if you have a lot of people over and want to hang out with them, instead of stirring a pan for 45 minutes.
Anyway, if it comes down to it, I think I would leave my husband for my Crock Pot.
UPDATE: Made the chicken/kielbasa cassoulet and it came out way better than I'd expected. I was skeptical all day that the beans (that had been quick cooked in advance) would actually cook evenly, and that the sauce would have enough flavor. Everything came out great, though the sausage lost a lot of its texture.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

A few words about Cookiestuffs

So, we are the Cookiestuff bloggers, or as we like to call ourselves, the Ladies of Cake. We are Mlle Gateau and Miss Cake, two old friends who have been blathering about food together for more years than we care to think about.

What you will not find here: advice about where to find the freshest, tiniest heirloom baby vegetables; rhapsodies about the very latest hottest restaurant; our very exclusive foie gras purveyor; or fusion recipes involving 56 ingredients, 50 of which can only be found at specialty stores in two cities in America.

What you will find: hot food chat about our favorite things, things that might be slightly embarrassing to talk about, were we not completely comfortable with our particular food vices. We will embrace the lowbrow. We will cook from supermarket shelves. We will consume copious amounts of bacon.

We hope you enjoy.