Sunday, July 5, 2009

On the ability to cook an entire meal in just under a day

All told, I don't buy too many food gadgets. I have a stove, a microwave, an assortment of pots and pans, and the other things you'd expect to find in a modern kitchen. But I've never owned a toaster-oven, nor a Magic Bullet, or any of the other devices Ron Popiel and his spiritual progeny have presented to us over the decades. A mandoline slicer sits unused on the shelf of our Ikea kitchen organizer once I realized I could still cut onions faster and smaller than it could, and retain the tips of all ten fingers. Even the terracotta garlic roaster I lusted after for so many years collects dust as several attempts to use it resulted in small vaguely garlic-scented charcoal briquets.

I'm no luddite, I just try to buy things I'll actually use on a regular basis. I bought a food processor back when I first married The Wife that sat in its box through three moves and two decades. It only just came back into use lately to help grind her usually coarse rice flour into a fine powder that works better in her assorted gluten-free recipes. Her breadmaker joined the family of appliances a year or two back after she realized that the vast majorty of gluten free breads out there either tasted like foamcore, or was stupidly expensive and still only tasted slightly less like foamcore. She's become quite the baking machine herself, whipping out brownies, blondies, hamburger and hot dog buns and all manner of tasty yet non-gastric-distress-inducing yeasty comestibles. She's making a trip to see her Mom next week, and she wondered if her assorted flour mixes will be available in the local shops, and maybe she should bring her own. I calmly suggested that it might be a poor plan to take a series of plastic bags filled with white powder in her luggage.

More and more plug-inables has joined the kitchen since our move to PA and the larger kitchen it provided. A countertop griddle proved far more controllable than our electric stovetop (do NOT get me started) so pancakes became a regular thing for us, including at least one try of the truly ridiculous but actually pretty good pancakes-in-a-spray-can Batter Blaster. A waffle maker also allowed other breakfast pastries to be enjoyed, mainly Alton Brown's Sweet Potato Waffles. Our coffee maker fell to lime scale rot last week, so I upgraded to an iced tea maker, which is really nothing more than a coffee maker with a larger single-batch capacity, but since The Wife makes iced tea more than I make (iced) coffee, it seemed to make sense. They're all in heavy rotation, and we've gotten the use of all of them.

And then there's the Crock-Pot non brand-specific slow cooker device.

About three years ago they were having a chili cook-off at my company, and I decided to participate. Realizing I'd need a heated pot of some type to keep said chili warm, I went to my local Mega-lo-Mart and picked up a cheap one. The chili was well-reviewed, and when I got home, I had a new device at my disposal.

My mother, bless her, was of Scots ancestry, a people who never progressed past boiling in food preparation technology. Her parents were also apparently very ascetic in nature, and shunned things like spices and herbs. Likely they thought they could lead to dancing. So "boiled" was usually followed by "to death" in my mind.

Soon I learned that pot roast could actually be tasty, not to mention a number of other meat products prepared low-and-slow. Pork roasts, often selling two-for-one at our local supermarket were usually either cooked on the BBQ or in the oven, but I wondered how it'd taste cooked for hours in a bath of pork-n-beans. I only wish all my idle wonderings were as succeessful and delicious.

Another local shop regularly offered pork shoulder at a buck a pound - I figured it too would be good in beans.


It didn't cook, it disintegrated. I pulled the bone from it like one would prise loose a baby's tooth. In a few stirs it became this porky-beany sluice of wonderful. It's now the single most often thing cooked in our trusty cooker.

Last winter, Tatiana EL-Khouri posted an article at Michael Davis World (where I am a frequent kibitzer) singing the praises of her slow cooker, and the freedom it allowed her. I agreed, but complained there was one thing I couldn't seem to find a good recipe for, tho - the pork and beans/baked beans themselves that I'd use as a cooking medium. We'd usually just mix up a devil's brew of canned pork and beans, baked beans and usually a can of black beans for some diversity, and cook away. But I wanted to try one that I could make from scratch, prepare in bulk and pull out when we needed it. Searching the electric-type Internet, I was amazed at how many recipes I found started with "Open a can of baked beans and...". None seemed to have what I was looking for.

Well, this weekend I lost my patience, took the ingredients from three or four recipes that looked promising and bashed together my own. And not to pat myself on the back, I think I knocked it out of the park. In the tradition of making everything available for free on the Web, I present it here.

Vinnie's Slow-cooker baked beans

5-quart slow cooker
1 pound each of dried white northern beans, navy beans and black beans
Tabasco / hot sauce of choice
4 tsp salt
1/2 lb salt pork (preferably slab)
1/4 cup each red and vidalia onions, diced
1 tbsp diced garlic in oil (+ 1 tbsp oil)
1 1/2 cups molasses
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 cans (14.5 oz size) finely diced tomatoes
4 tbsp barbeque sauce
1 tsp cumin

  • Soak beans overnight in large pot of water plus 5-6 squirts of hot sauce. Next morning, drain beans, refill pot with fresh water and salt, and simmer at gentle boil for one hour.
  • Cut salt pork into 1-inch cubes (or 2-inch slices if pre-sliced)and cook/render in pan. Remove from pan with slotted spoon and set aside. Cook garlic and onions in remaining pork fat. Set aside.
  • Drain beans, reserving bean water.
  • In (cold) cooker, mix tomatoes, molasses, brown sugar, BBQ sauce cumin, and another 4-5 shakes of hot sauce until sugar is dissolved.
  • Add pork, onions/garlic and mix.
  • Add beans (to about 1 1/2 inch under rim) and mix thoroughly.
    (N.B. - three pounds of soaked and boiled beans results in about three cups of beans more than a 5-qt cooker can handle. Save the remaining now-cooked beans for other recipes or dishes - about two snack-sized zippy-bags full. Great for minestrone or salad)
  • Add bean water to fill cooker and mix.
  • Cook at high for as long as you can stand it (7 hours min), stirring infrequently, about once an hour.

    Near end of cooking process when it's at a solid boil, makes a great medium for cooking hot dogs.

Eventually, I want to buy one of those stick blenders, and that Kitchen-aid industrial stand mixer just calls to me every time I see it.


  1. Very cool article!

    I'm definitely going to have to try out your recipe and let you know how it goes. :-)

  2. I can vouch for the scrumpdillyishousness of your new baked beans recipe, as well as your other fine comestibles! These, as well as my GF goodies, prove that with good old American know-how and determination, you can truly--as the Burger King ads used to say--have it your way! :-)

  3. Since I re-posted this recently, I should point out that I have since gotten a Kitchen-Aid, and oh my god is it wonderful.