Thursday, January 15, 2015

Why I Love My Slow Cooker - Plus, My Bone Broth Recipe

Now that I've transitioned to working (primarily) from home, I've been without an excuse not to trying to cook more frequently.  There is really nothing quite like the smell of something glorious cooking and emanating through every crevice in your house, made better only by the taste and your husband's reaction to the taste of melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  Which brings me to...

Reason #6:  Everything, and I mean everything, turns out juicy and succulent.
In a slow cooker, *usually* you have some kind of liquid, that over the course of several hours, just braises the meat and veggies sooooo nicely.  I have not been able to attain that level of succulence (yes, it's a thing) via any other cooking modality.  With the slow cooker?  Every. single. time.

Reason #5:  Prep work can be done whenever you have time. 

You can "make" Friday's dinner on Thursday morning, if that's most convenient for you.  You can prep a big Sunday meal Saturday night, and simply press a button on your way out to Mass.  What always made me punchy was making dinner after a long day of work - I wanted, and craved something delicious and nutritious, but the time that would have needed to be invested (while the hunger pains grew stronger) was just not appealing in the least, leading me to resort to many a "quick fix" tuna or chicken salad, eggs, or take-out dinner.  Not that there's anything wrong with any of those options, but when you're on a budget, and you want to have a variety of nutrients on your family's plates, it just wasn't cutting it.

Reason #4:  The smell, ohhhhhhh the smell! 

Ok, granted, I'm pregnant.  Food smells like nectar to a honeybee to me all the time.  But, I've always loved food, and I've always loved the smell of GOOD food.  Now, instead of only an hour or 2 max, I get to enjoy that smell for somewhere between 4-8 hours!!  Yes, please!!

Reason #3:  It's not just one meal!

I have one of the largest capacity crockpots, so I am usually making recipes that serve 4-6 people, or I even double the recipe if it's something that requires a ton of prep work (which is worth it in the end!!) so that I can freeze whatever is left, if there is anything left.  Many times the intention was to freeze the leftovers, but we enjoyed it so much we WANTED to eat it again for lunch the next day, and dinner for the next two nights!  Point being, you can cook in bulk and because the finished product is so juicy, it tends to freeze beautifully.

Reason #2:  Minimal to no clean-up afterwards.

I've always been a "wash as you go" cook, I hate having a ton of pots and pans and whisks and spoons and ladles sitting in my sink just as my meal is coming out of the oven.  When I "serve" dinner, I much prefer everything to be cleaned, already, so that I can also relax and enjoy the meal.  Of course, even with my most valiant efforts, I had serving platters, or the pots/pans that the meal had cooked in, sitting in the sink during dinner.  The slow cooker eliminates much of that - while I do still make cooked side dishes from time to time, most of the recipes I make in the slow cooker have a ton of ingredients including meat, and a variety of veggies- making a cooked side a bit superfluous.  In the end, if I serve directly onto the dinner plates, I have only the slow cooker to clean afterwards, with the dinner plates and utensils.  Soooo much nicer!

Reason #1:  Even if you're not a great cook, the slow cooker can turn you into one.

There's really not a way you can truly screw up a crockpot recipe.  Of course, some of the recipes require a bit more culinary know-how (pre-searing meat or sautee-ing veggies in fat, deglazing the pan, etc.) but for the most part you can always find a recipe to meet your needs, experience, and comfort level.  And once you begin making food in the slow cooker, you begin to learn more about cooking times, herbs that complement and augment certain meats and veggies, liquids that work and don't work with others, fats that combine perfectly... before you know it, you'll be making those quick, easy breakfasts and lunches on the stovetop or in the oven that would have taken way too much time and prep and turned out not-so-hot, previously.

Plus, there is nothing better than setting down a delicious meal in front of your husband and saying, "I slaved away over this dinner for NINE HOURS!"

One of the things I make most often in my crockpot is homemade bone broth - so incredibly healthful, with amazing healing properties, AND can be enjoyed alone, as I do with breakfast every morning, or in a MULTITUDE of other slow cooker recipes.  It freezes perfectly in mason jars or Pyrex, just don't fill them too high!  You can find the recipe online, and again, cater it to your needs, but I will post below what I do every time, and it always yields a delicious finished product.  Important:  use the bones of PASTURED animals only for the full benefits (grass-fed, grass-finished beef and veal, pastured pork, chicken, lamb).

Start with enough bones to cover the bottom of your crockpot and up about halfway.  You can either do straight one animal (all beef bones, for example) or a mix, they all taste great but I do prefer to mix pork bones with beef because the pork broth isn't my favorite tasting.

If the bones were from a previous recipe (already cooked), just toss them in the pot as-is (don't worry about cleaning off bits of meat, herbs, or anything else from prior meals!)
If they were unused bones you purchased, for everything but poultry, you'll want to roast them for about 30-45mins at 400degrees.
Poultry bones can go in as-is, but roasting the red meat bones will help the nutrients come out more from the marrow AND make your broth much stronger and flavorful.
(Doesn't matter if bones are frozen or not, follow the same procedure.)
Along with the bones, if you have any chicken feet or necks, throw a couple of those in, as well (it adds more nutritious collagen).

Pour COLD filtered water over the bones, enough to cover all of the bones.  Then pour a few Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into the water.  (This again helps extract more nutrients out of the bones and into the water.)  Let sit for about 30 minutes.

Then, add your onion (quartered), carrots (1 large or 2 medium, cut into pieces), celery (2-3 long stalks, with leaves even better), and herbs and spices.  I generally add rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, kelp, and turmeric, but you can add whatever you like!  Be aware some herbs can have an overwhelming taste in the finished product, so use things like dill or oregano sparingly.  LOTS of black pepper, at this time, too - but DO NOT ADD SALT.  You can always add salt, if need be, when drinking or using the finished product in recipes.  But I have never needed to.  Also, hold off on the garlic, until later.

Once everything is in the crockpot, pour more water to bring the level just below the top, turn the slow cooker on LOW for 12 hours (mine has a max time of 12 hours, so I just set it again once it's winding down to 0).

Cook times:  For poultry-only broths, try to do 24 hours maximum, as the poultry bones are more brittle and will fall apart with too much cooking.

For everything else, or for a mixture of bones, you can go up to 48 hours, or even beyond.  I typically do 36-48hours for my beef and veal broth, depending on when I can get to it.

In the last 30-60 minutes or so, add your garlic.  Don't be stingy :)  I love me some garlic.

Once done and ready to jar, fill your sink with icy cold water and place your crockpot (just the pot, not the base!) into it.  You want to cool it down quickly, not slowly, to allow less time for bacteria to grow.  Then you can begin sifting through with a big sifter to remove the bones and large pieces of veggies.  (You can save the bones and make another 1-2 batches of broth, but since I always cook mine for so long, I tend to toss them after the first batch.  HOWEVER, if you have any bones where you can get to the marrow, EAT THAT!!!  Soooooo good!)  Once all the big stuff is out, and pot is now cooled, pour through a more fine sieve into your storing containers and let sit a while with the tops not tightly on (the broth will still be quite hot at this time).  Once they get to room temp, it's safe to put them into the freezer, or fridge if using within the next 5-7 days.


Today's meal, cooking now...

Borscht.  My very favorite winter meal :)


Deb said...

Love this tutorial! I often make "perpetual" broth (Google it) when doing chicken broth in my crockpot. After 24 hours, I ladle/strain what liquid I can into jars and refill the crock with fresh filtered water. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I've been able to get at least 8 quart jars full of broth this way, just from one chicken carcass! The color/flavor of the broth is much richer by day 3 but does start to lighten a bit after that. A dinner-now roasted chicken from the store for $5 is the meal that keeps on giving :)

JoAnna Wahlund said...

I have Pork Chops with Apples & Sweet Potatoes in the crockpot right now :)

Mike Brummond said...

I need to use my crockpot more!!!

Anonymous said...

Love my slow cooker! I have a big one too, but the only issue is that since it's not programable and I work full time, I've had a few dry chickens. So... now I only use it one weekends to make something big that lasts for a few days. Never heard of Borscht before and I really want to try it! Is the recipe you linked to the one you use? Do you think it will be good without the sugar? We're doing paleo and trying to be as sugar-free as possible.

Amy @ This Cross I Embrace said...

Yeah, actually I use that recipe as a "guide" but take away some things and add others. I never used sugar in it, before, but this last time I tried just a bit of coconut sugar, which was delicious. I also always add lemon juice (it helps the beets retain that red color and not bleed it all into the juice of the stew).