January 10, 2005

A Giant Crock

Okay, here's why I will never be a successful foodie: I'm too freaking lazy. See, I have this theory about meal preparation: if it takes longer to prepare than to consume, you suffer a net time loss which is simply not worth it. For example--a nice steak with sauteed mushrooms and a baked potato and steamed broccoli or a salad on the side takes about 30 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to consume. You've eaten a nice meal and you haven't lost days of your life in so doing. The 30-minute rule holds true for most of the meals we eat. I do exclude baking time, however, because I can use that time to do something else. No, I don't think that's overthinking the process at all, but thanks for your concern.

Anyway, enter the latest Williams-Sonoma catalog. I love that store, even though all I ever buy from them is hot chocolate mix and rubbing blends for use in grilling. Just breathing the rarified air of Williams-Sonoma makes me feel as though I, too, could achieve effortless culinary masterpieces, casually tossed together in my All-Clad pans over my gas stove in my fabulously well-appointed kitchen. So when I got the latest catalog with its recipe for a Crock-Pot beef burgundy (or beef bourgeinnonneeeesss, or whatever), I was all excitement! I can do Crock-pot cooking! It doesn't violate the 30 minute rule! I can have my foodie cake (or beef bouregeingoengonsg) and eat it, too! Woo-hoo! I tossed the recipe at Hublet on my way to a hair appointment and told him to pick up the ingredients when he went to the store, with visions of an effortless gourmet meal on Monday evening dancing in my head.

Reality tried to intervene, really she did. When I canvassed the ingredients on Saturday afternoon I discovered that Hublet hadn't actually, you know, read the recipe. He'd bought wine and beef, but no veggies or spices. So okay, we had to go back to the store.

Which we did, on Sunday after church, when we were all tired and hungry. Since the local Food Lion doesn't sell Beef Glace', I just grabbed some consomme--it was all going to be cooked down, anyway. Right? So the vision wouldn't be perfect. So I had to make two trips to the store already. It would all be worth it in the end! We finished shopping, went home, had lunch, and retired to bed for the traditional Sunday Siesta.

The Sunday Siesta turned into a three-hour afffair, which threw the rest of the evening into disarray. Suffice it to say that I stood, catalog in hand, over my stove at 10:00 p.m. last night, surveying the paltry one pound of stewing beef Hublet had bought (the recipe called for 5). Arg! Math! And I was going to have to sautee' a whole bunch of crap that included CARROTS, which I HATE, and have to PEEL, and did I mention MATH? Dammit? And then the all purpose flour got out of control, and the garlic had gone bad, and MATH! DAMMIT! And hey, Williams-Sonoma? Sautee' THIS, you sons of bitches, selling me some unattainable dream of culinary delight with no regard for the fact that I'm a working woman with a toddler who won't even eat this crap anyway, and there's laundry to do, and dusting, and, and....OH, SCREW THIS!

And so a whole bunch of crap got dumped into the crock pot, including consomme', wine, onions, garlic, mushrooms, beef, and whatever spices I had handy that might have had something peripheral to do with the recipe, and then I turned it on, threatened Hublet with grievous bodily harm if he said One Word, poured the rest of the wine into a glass and retired to the den to play Spiderman2 on the PS2.

I hate you, Williams-Sonoma. Seriously.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at January 10, 2005 08:32 AM

I bet it's delicious.

The only things I follow a recipe for are fudge (that's the recipe on the back of a jar of marshmallow cream) and chocolate chip pie. Anything else that looks good I just approximate. If everything that goes in is edible, then the final product must be, right? I've never thought about your net-time rule but that must be what I'm going by.

My big time-saver is stir-fry using up whatever ends of meat and vegetables I have in the fridge, served with either rice or noodles, and tomato sauce, melted cheese, or soy sauce. I call it "nameless glop". My friend does the same and calls it "assemblage" for a little faux French culture. Our families love it every time.

Posted by: Laura at January 10, 2005 12:36 PM

"And so a whole bunch of crap got dumped into the crock pot..."

This is the beginning of wisdom. When making stew, brown the meat, chop whatever veggies are on hand and throw 'em in, add whatever spices seem like a good idea at the time (garlic: the ketchup of intellectuals) bring to a boil, simmer 'til done and thicken with flour or corn starch in the last few minutes. It's a good idea to mix the thickener with water before adding it to the stew; it avoids lumps.

So far as peeling carrots (or anything else) is concerned, don't do it; tell yourself the best part is on the outside. This is much too useful a rationalization to waste and may even be true.

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at January 10, 2005 12:49 PM

Oh, yeah, I get the whole "fix time" equals "dinner time."

Became buddies with the concept a few years ago when I spent an hour in the kitchen making this great dinner and the 3 boys ate it all in about 15 minutes.

Then it was "May I please be excused?" and I was left alone at the table.

Now if I can't time-bake it or fix it on the stove top in 30 minutes or less, they don't get it (except on Thanksgiving).

Posted by: di at January 10, 2005 01:48 PM

Don't blame the recipe; focus on a little remedial reading training for hublet.

Crock pots are an absolutely wonderful invention. As your friend from Porlock noted, you can put a whole bunch of stuff in and it will come out like a gourmet. (Really! Try it sometime!)

And the best part? Crock pots are cheap. So if you really don't want to clean one (after cooking, putting the whole pot in the fridge, cooking/reheating, repeat at least twice), just pitch it and buy a new one.

Posted by: Claire at January 10, 2005 02:30 PM

The Budget Gourmet Swedish Meatballs are pretty good, if you want fancy and don't mind clogged arteries.

I make rice, chick peas and salsa for ordinary occasions.

You can press the rice steamer into making hard boiled eggs for the dog and you in the morning.

I only mention it because, being a guy, I've gone years and years without a food crisis. What was it Wittgenstein said -- the maid wanted to know what he wanted for lunch, and Wittgenstein said he didn't care, so long as it was the same thing every day.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at January 10, 2005 05:30 PM

Let's set the record straight.

First, this one scores about a 75% on the hyperbole scale. Granted, that's on the restrained side for BAW, but 75% nonetheless.

Second, I was given very muddy (or perhaps "stewy") instructions - I heard "beef and pinot noir" - as BAW flew from the house to attend her hair appointment, and as I was trying to play gentleman by talking to neighbors who were in the yard with us at the time (not to mention trying to keep their one-year old from taking a bat in the head from my three-year old at the batting tee).

Third, under no circumstance would I have bought five pounds of beef stew, even if I had brought the recipe with me. Granted, I'm manly and require much protein. But, that would have taken a week to eat, and two weeks to digest.

Posted by: Husband of BAQ at January 10, 2005 07:26 PM

Yep, BAW, Williams-Sonoma is a menace, almost as bad as its insidious sibling, Cook's Illustrated. Hey, I'm the child of two biochemists; how can I not be fascinated by "food science"? But when it ends up stretching your 30-min. rule into more like an all-day rule . . .

One of the Cook's Illustrated spinoff books has a dandy recipe for roasting a duck that (a) doesn't end up greasy; (b) doesn't end up hardened into dry, crispy duck-nugget; and (c) doesn't fill the house with duck-scented smoke. Great! Of course, it does involve subjecting the duck to a spiced-salt rub, air-drying it for several hours, then steaming it for an hour or so, then roasting for 40 minutes or so, after having cooled it back down to room temperature first.

Mind you, all this is easy, and barely outside your 30 mins.; you have to make the spice rub, then it sits, and you go do something else. You throw it on a rack over boiling water in a covered wok for an hour, and during that hour you do something else.

No, the problem is carving the damn thing. I swear it gets more difficult every time I do it, despite the nice, clear diagrams in the book. This is the bit where you banish your husband from the kitchen so that he doesn't see your caveman-like tearing of flesh. "Hey, hon, it tastes terrific, just don't look all that closely . . . please?"

Posted by: Michelle Dulak Thomson at January 10, 2005 07:33 PM

Sounds to me like you should be watching the Food Network. One show in particular "30 minute Meals" with Rachel Ray. Lots of good ideas there that will not mess up tour time equalization goal.

Posted by: Steve Scully at January 10, 2005 08:57 PM

(Resolutely looking away from the *ahem* six shelf collection of cookbooks on the bookcases adjacent to the kitchen)
The various Sunset cookbooks--- especially the ones with quick recipes--- are a little less daunting, actually. Someday, I may come up with my own cookbook creation, though: "Sgt Mom's Working Woman Quick Gourmet For Two Low Calorie Occassionally Vegetarian Cookbook"...

Posted by: Sgt. Mom at January 11, 2005 03:06 PM