Saturday, March 17, 2012

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

I currently have corned beef cooking in the crock pot and the house smells amazing, but I first tried a Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe back on November 9 because we received a cabbage in our organic delivery. I tried the one from the Gourmet Slow Cooker cookbook, but the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook also has a version that is a bit different and I'll have to try that one at some point Right now, I'm trying Corned Beef with Molasses-Bourbon Glaze, which I plan to serve with roasted potatoes and cabbage and a banana rum cake--the dessert isn't very Irish, but I have bananas that I need to use up--all with black and tans, of course.  And, it's all a surprise for my husband who has been off rock climbing in Kentucky for the last few days and has no idea what I'm planning for dinner tonight.

But anyway, back to the Corned Beef and Cabbage. I picked the recipe in this cookbook originally because it was simpler in the sense that it had fewer ingredients (and hence fewer things that I needed to buy).  Each recipe is simple in the sense that you just put everything in the crock pot and then cook it until it's done.  As you can see from the pictures above and to the right, this recipe calls for corned beef, carrots, potatoes, onions, and cabbage.

As you can also see from these pictures, even my 6-quart crock pot is a bit small for this recipe!  If I were to make it again, I'd probably put in one less potato and maybe only one and a half onions or just one onion instead of two and not just because of the fit -- I'll explain more later.

The only spices that you put in are a sprig of fresh thyme and a bay leaf.  And, of course, some water and a cup of Irish beer.  I chose to use Harp because I (shock!) don't really like Guinness (at least by itself, hence the black and tans) and whatever I purchased we'd have to drink eventually.

Now, this was the first chance that I had to try out the cook by temperature option on the new slow cooker so was for sure going to try it out.  Of course, the cookbook does not have a temperature that this should be cooked to, just a time (8 to 10 hours), but almost all the cookbooks have a temperature guide somewhere in the beginning that tells you what the safe cooking temperature for each type of meat is.  (The Gourmet Slow Cooker actually doesn't, so I used the one in the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook.)  From that, I set the temperature to 145°F (the temperature listed for beef cooked to "medium"). Apparently, the USDA guidelines say that corned beef should be cooked to a minimum if 145°F, so I'm glad I did that.

This is what the corned beef looked like right after I poured in the water and beer and right before I turned it on.

And this is what it looked like when it was done cooking.

Now the interesting thing about cooking by temperature is that it takes a lot less time than the book says it should take!  I think the meat was cooked in something like four hours... which of course freaked me out and so I left it on for another hour or so anyway. (I'm doing the corned beef I'm making today by time, not temperature, so we'll see if the texture is any different.)  After it has finished cooking, you remove the thyme and bay leaf, take the beef out and cut it into slices and put it into bowls with the vegetables and some of the cooking liquid.  This was pretty good, but the recipe comes out a little bland with only the bay leaf and sprig of thyme as spices.  The one in the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook has you put in the seasoning packet that comes with the corned beef, cloves, pepper, brown sugar, and beer so I'm interested to try that one at some point to see what the taste difference is.

Now, the picture of my dish in comparison to the picture from the cookbook isn't half bad.  The only thing that is different is the cabbage loses most of its color in the crock pot -- something that I've seen in several dishes that I've made... which is why I'm convinced that none of the pictures in these cookbooks were actually cooked in a crock pot.

I'm not really sure that I can accurately calculate the calories per serving of this recipe.  When I plug in the amounts, it shows 786 calories per serving, but there are several reasons why that's not accurate.  First, the calories listed for meat are usually by weight as cooked, but I only know the weight before cooking.  And I'm not about to go invest in a food scale just to figure this out.  Also, the cookbook says that you get six servings out of this -- and that's pretty accurate.  However, there is only one to one and a half slices of the meat in each serving--the dish is mostly the vegetables.  Also, we ended up with two servings at the end that had no meat in them (which is why I think it's better to cut down on the number of potatoes and onions you put in).  So, let's just say that this isn't the most healthy meal that you could make.

This is also not the cheapest dish to make in comparison to some of the others I've made.  Beef brisket is expensive and that really adds to the total.  I estimate that this dish comes out to about $5.45 per serving -- still not that bad (not counting the 2 veggie-only servings, of course).  I already had the cabbage and carrots, but those are relatively cheap items so as I made it, it was $4.90 per serving for me.  Still: corned beef and cabbage for about $5.00 per serving?  I dare you to find that at an Irish pub anywhere.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Salsa Meat Loaf

Most people think first of soups and stews when they think of slow cooking, but your crock pot is also a good way to make meat loaf!  As you may recall, I posted a recipe previously about meat loaf (Meat Loaf on a Bed of Potatoes) and said that one of the major difficulties was in trying to get the meat loaf out of the crock pot.  Well, I tried meat loaf again not long after I moved into my new apartment, back on June 28 of last year, and did much better.  The key is making a foil cradle (like in the picture to the left), which you will use later to take the meat loaf out.

I got this recipe, for Salsa Meat Loaf from the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, the same one I got the previous meat loaf recipe from.  Interestingly, when looking for where I had found this recipe originally, I looked in several of my cookbooks and not a single other cookbook that I own has a meat loaf recipe in it, while this one has five in the "Beef, Veal, and Venison" chapter and another one, made with ground turkey, in the "Poultry, Game Birds, and Rabbit" chapter.

To make the meatloaf, you mix together ground beef, an egg, oats, salsa, red onion, marjoram or oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper.  I'm pretty sure that I used oregano because that's what I had already.  And as most people know who are regular readers of this blog, I left out the salt.  Then you place it into the crock pot in one big lump, before shaping it out into a loaf shape that fills the entire bottom of the crock pot, as you can see in the image to the left.  Then it cooks on low for about 6 hours.  The cookbook says to cook it until "an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the meat loaf registers at least 160° to 165°F" so this would be a great recipe to do with my new crock pot which has the cook by temperature option, but as you can see, I made this recipe before I had that one so I don't know how well that would work.

Now, toward the end of the cooking time, about 30 minutes according to the cookbook, you mix some more salsa with some olive oil and then spread it over the meat loaf.  Now, this probably wouldn't work if you went the temperature route so you could also just wait until it was done cooking and then spread the salsa mixture on the meat loaf.  Regardless, you should cook it for another 30 minutes on low after adding the salsa mixture.

Now, the taking the meat loaf out of the crock pot process is really a two-person job, but with the foil cradle it is much easier than it was to take the meat loaf out in the first meat loaf recipe that I tried.  In this case, you use the foil strips and handles to get the meat loaf out of the crock pot in one piece.  Now, the cookbook says that you should slide out the foil strips and throw them away, but I find when you first take it out of the crock pot, the meat loaf is too soft to do that.  I just ended up serving it as it was and then taking away the strips when I was packing up the leftovers.

The good thing about my previous attempt at meat loaf was that it cooked over potatoes so you just needed to add a vegetable and/or a salad to have a complete balanced meal.  In this case, I didn't have that option, so I made baked sweet potatoes in the second crock pot I have (the dual one, but I only used one side in this case).  It seems a little ridiculous, of course, to make baked potatoes in the crock pot because they take 6 to 9 hours on low to cook and in the oven they'd only take about an hour.  However, I often think that I'd like to have a baked potato with dinner, but I tend to work up until dinner and by the time I get around to cooking at all, I'm really hungry and so I just go with something that is quicker.  So the crock pot baked potatoes are really good to start in the morning and then by the time you're ready to eat, they're already done!

It's also really quick and easy (as are normal baked potatoes too, I guess).  You just wash the potatoes, stab them a few times, wrap them in foil, and throw them in the crock pot.  In this case, I actually prepared and started the potatoes first because they take longer and then started making the meat loaf. When it was time to eat, I made some broccoli to go on the side (I suspect this was cooked from frozen because I don't have fresh broccoli listed on my receipt for the shopping trip prior to making this) and dinner was served!  The meat loaf was good too!  Not like the meat loaf like my mom used to make, but the salsa is a nice touch!

Now, in terms of all my calculations, here's the thing: I have no idea how many servings we got out of this.  The cookbook says 6 to 8 but this is another case where it all depends on how thick you slice it.  So, for sake of calculations, I'm going to assume that we got 8 servings out of it because I know that I tend to serve thinner slices.  In that case, the meatloaf alone only comes out to about 243 calories per serving.  The broccoli and the sweet potato are only about 115 calories total, so the whole meal is only about 358 calories.  So if you're like my husband, you may want to have more than one slice of the meatloaf, making it up to 601 calories.  In terms of cost, this is a little bit pricey (well, in comparison to other crock pot meals I've made, not in comparison to eating out) if you needed to purchase all the ingredients.  I calculated it at about $5.15 per serving if you needed to purchase everything, including the sides (it's $4.63 for the meatloaf alone).  Of course, I had almost everything (includin g the sides) so it was only $1.83 per serving -- really good on my grad student budget.