Thursday, September 30, 2010

Crock-Pot sauce.

Yes, I made two batches of sauce tonight. The small batch was for dinner. I wanted to make this batch to last us for a few days or a week, as leftovers or for lunches, while Ariel was in school, and I was busy with work at the shop.


The big 5 for pasta sauce, in my mind, are onions, meat, garlic, bell peppers, and tomatoes. The rest is mostly sauce and seasoning.

Other ingredients:

Yes, all this food will fit into that pot.
-Pasta Sauce.
-Chili powder
-Salt and Pepper
-Sweet Italian Sausage
-Hot Italian Sausage
-Bay Leaves

Because of all of the stuff that was going into the pot, I figured it would be a good idea to start by cooking the onions down a bit, to caramelize them a bit, and reduce the volume. Apparently 2.5 large onions is the most I can fit into my small food processor... it all came out like a sand castle.
I got going by laying a bed of flavorful stuff in the bottom of the crock pot. Convection currents will carry the flavors up and around the pot, allowing them to soak into everything. I fed a bunch of mushrooms through the food processor. I used the cuisinart mixing blade to handle a mix of more mushrooms, garlic cloves, and half of a jalapeno pepper. I also made a separate mix of a tomato and some olives. The mushrooms and both mixes went into the crock pot, with 8 bay leaves.

I sliced bell peppers into spears and fed them through the food processor. The main reason for doing it this way is to make sure that they go through the slicing disc at 90 degrees. If they have room to squirm in the chute, they'll bend over, and the slices come out a lot longer. It's a minor issue, really, but it helps.

Next big ingredient was the sausage. They were uncooked from the store, which means they were going to be very hard to slice. The easiest thing to do is to cook them... so I threw them into a frying pan to get them started. Once the sausages were a little bit cooked on each side, I pulled them out, cut them lengthwise, through the uncooked part, and started slicing them into smaller chunks. Having the cooked section helped to stabilize them enough that I was able to slice them more easily, and once that was done, I threw them all into the crock pot.

Next I chopped up some tomatoes and threw them on top of the sausage. On top of that I tossed in the sliced bell peppers. On top of all of that, I put a small pile of ground turkey. And then I added a jar and a half of store-bought spaghetti sauce. I put a little water into each jar to rinse out the dregs of the sauce that remained, and poured all that into the pot, too.

You may be noticing a theme here: "I cut this up, and threw it into the pot." Or, the more complicated version, "I cut this up, cooked it a bit, and threw it into the pot." This is one of the things that makes the crock pot so nice to use in a small kitchen. You need enough space to cut up one thing at a time, and space enough for the crock pot itself.

Tip for the mess-conscious. Even fi you have a butcher-block topped counter-top, or island, it's best to still use a cutting board. The reason why is pretty simple. At this point I'd cut up a bunch of vegetables, smeared the cutting board with sausage grease, then cut up tomatoes, which is both wet, and hard to do on a lubricated board... and so on. In short, the surface was a greasy, wet mess. Having a work surface that can be carried to the sink and washed off is much better than something that's going to sit there and absorb the grease and whatever else through the knife cuts in the surface. The last thing you want is a permanent kitchen surface that's contaminated with old grease and bacteria.

Last step was to add carrots. This is a tip my mother taught me, apparently it helps reduce the acidity in the sauce. It's worked for me so far, so I cut up some long spears, and shoved them all the way through to the bottom of the pot.

 Last step: cover, turn the crock pot on, and wait.


Crock pot cooking is an entirely different animal from regular meal cooking, because the crock pot is a slow cooker. The problem tonight was that I should have gotten going on prep a lot earlier. The pot was finally topped off around 9, which means I'll be up for a while waiting for it to be done. The original plan was to start the whole crock pot early enough to eat some of it for dinner. Instead I made dinner, and then got going on the crock pot full of sauce. I started laying out the ingredients for this sauce pretty much as soon as tonight's dinner was in the frying pan and simmering. 

This is something that is better left for the week-end in general, because there's all day to work on it. That, or prep the ingredients the night before, refrigerate overnight, and start the pot in the morning. Dad used to stew pot roast that way, and be able to come home to an awesome dinner that had been cooking all day. Another day, sometime soon.

Last thing that bears mentioning... filling a crock pot takes a fair amount of stuff. And even cutting things up one thing at a time, there's still a need for a surface that will hold everything that's not currently being chopped up, processes, cooked, or whatever. While the active surface required only has to be big enough to hold the crock pot and the cutting board, there is a need to store everything else nearby.

--------------------Next Morning-----------------------

So, I shut the pot off after 3 hours. I probably could have left it on low overnight, but since I was leaving the sauce in there anyway, I figured it would continue to cook with just the heat that was in it already. I was right.

Final yield:

Now that's a sauce that looks like a meal...

Filled both Jars to the right, as well as that huge tupperware bin. Jars went in the freezer, bin went in the fridge.

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