Don’t Press That Button | Crock Pot Express Diary, Part 3

Tuesday Revews-Day

This is an entirely unsolicited, unsubsidized review of the Crock Pot Express and a few cookbooks relating to the appliance. While there will be Amazon affiliate links, that’s as far as it goes.

Just joining us? Make sure to check out part 1 and part 2.

Day 4: Smooth Sailing

I was feeling pretty good about our working relationship by Friday night, and set about to prep the Beef Medley with Blue Cheese and Cabbage (Zinman, 60) without any hesitation.

It’s so nice to be able to saute the meat and vegetables in oil in the same vessel it will pressure cook in, though being on the shorter side it is, perhaps, a touch more awkward than preparing the same dish would have been on the stove.

Truth be told, I was feeling quiet comfortable with the new kitchen toy. Perhaps a bit too comfortable.

Day 5: Our First Error

Saturday’s supper wasn’t quite a set it and forget it sort of deal, the way the last few nights had been. The Orange Marmalade-Glazed Chicken Thighs (Stewart, 57) only needed 5 minutes under pressure (again, not specified, but I figured the Poultry setting would suffice–call it a hunch) and the lowest that preset will program is 15.

In this case, I needed to watch the display count down and then press the Start/Stop button to end the process, let the pressure release, and then serve up supper.

Sidebar: I wasn’t quite brave enough to try the pot-in-pot, 2 dishes in one setup that some sources say you can (in this case setting the steaming rack on top of the chicken thighs and placing the rice and water in a bowl above it. Maybe next time…

At any rate! The rice cooker must be feeling the pressure (oh, gosh, really bad pun, totally not intended) because I did set it up to cook the rice for the meal and it worked perfectly. I can hear it now “Please don’t throw me away!!!!”

Thinking I knew what I was doing, I did the start/stop, but then figured I could manually switch it over to Keep Warm. Exie set me straight with an E4 error code that that was a no go, ghost rider. Oops!

To clear the error I needed to unplug the appliance and let it cool down. Since that was the general plan anyway, dinner was not harmed due to my hubris.

And if I was worried that 5 minutes under pressure wouldn’t be enough to cook the chicken thighs, I needn’t have been. Those suckers were registering at 200 degrees F by the time  the pressure released sufficiently to check them.

Too bad a turkey won’t fit in there!

Day 6: Six Minute Soup

I’d expected Sunday to be rainy, with a bit of a chill, so the Thai-Style Sweet Corn Soup (Stewart, 323) seemed like a really good idea. Sunday actually ended up rainy and muggy, but the soup was still tasty!

Once again, the 6 minute pressure-cook time was less than the Soup preset would allow, so I had to babysit Exie and hit Start/Stop at the appropriate time to let the pressure start to come down. Once it had, I switched it back over to Saute so I could add the final ingredients.

It was a nice and easy coast to the finish line of our first week together. I still have a lot of functions to try out, though!

Once More for the French Chicken


I seem to be working on a theme, here, but it wasn’t intentional. Just one of those one-thing-led-to-another processes. This will, however, be the last dip into Escoffier for a bit. For me, the egg definitely came before the chicken breast, and now we’re tackling the whole bird; answering the important question:

Why did the chicken go into the oven?

Because there was a blanket of butter waiting for her, of course.

Roast chicken has been experiencing a bit of a revival among foodies. It seems that something so simple and satisfying still takes some sort of skill to pull off well. To that end, I submit Poêling (pronounced PWAWL-ing).

Poêling is roasting but it’s a particular type of roasting. Here’s what the chef, himself, has to say about the method:

Method for Poêling:

Place a layer of Matignon in a deep heavy pan just large enough to hold the piece of meat or poultry; well season, place the item on top of the vegetables and coast well with melted butter. Cover with the lid, place in a not too hot oven and allow to cook gently, basting frequently with the butter.

When cooked, remover the lid and allow the meat or poultry to become well coloured then remove it to a dish and keep covered until required.

Add sufficient clear well flavoured brown veal stock to the vegetables which should not have been allowed to burn, bring to the boil and allow to simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Strain, remove the fat carefully and send the gravy in a sauceboat with the meat which would normally be surrounded with a garnish.

So there’s the big secret: basting with butter.

Now, before anyone starts to talk about a certain Savannah food personality who will remain nameless, please note that I used less than 2 sticks of butter for this recipe and that the resulting gravy is de-fatted before serving. There is a difference between using just enough butter to get the job done and pouring the butterfat straight into ones arteries.

Let’s Poêle, Shall We?

Preheat our oven to 375° Fahrenheit and melt 7 oz of butter ( 1 3/4 sticks) and set aside.

Matignon igredients Prepare the Matignon. Combine your basic mirepoix (2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery) with ham, bay leaves and thyme and sweat together in butter until the ham begins to color a bit and the onions become translucent. 

I was, unfortunately, out of celery that evening so substituted a green bell pepper with no ill effects.

Matignon in the bottom of the casserole dish Add the prepared Matignon to the bottom of a roasting dish. My small clay baker was just a smidgen too snug and the turkey roaster overkill, so I went with a casserole dish deep enough to accommodate the bird, Matignon and the drippings and added a foil cover before placing in the oven.
The seasoned and butter-basted chicken ready for the oven. Rinse and pat dry your roasting hen (or whatever else you’d like to poêle). Tuck the wings behind the back (to prevent burning) and truss the legs closed. Season with salt and pepper (most of the flavor comes from the basting liquid and the Matignon below) and place on top of the Matignon.

Baste the bird with the melted butter, cover with either the lid for the roasting dish or tented foil (to prevent the skin sticking to it) and place into the oven. Baste again every 15-20 minutes until the thigh registers 150° Fahrenheit. By this point you should have run out of the melted butter and be basting with the liquid from the bottom of the roasting dish.

Finished Poeled Chicken Remove the cover from the bird and place back into the oven until the thigh registers 160° Fahrenheit. The hope is that in cooking those 10 additional degrees the outside of the bird has turned a lovely golden brown. Here’s the thing, though: it may be more golden, less brown, but take it out anyway because it’s better to have a pale, tasty bird than a pretty, dried out one. All told it took around 2 hours to cook our little 4-pound chicken.
Matignon and drippings being simmered into gravy Set the poêled chicken aside and reuse that foil to cover it, keeping in the heat while you make the gravy.Pour the Matignon and pan drippings back into your pan from earlier, add beef stock (no real measurement here, but I’d say no more than a cup–you should have plenty of liquid from the pan to work with, too), bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
Straining the Matignon from the gravy Strain out the vegetables, ham and bay leaf from the gravy and de-fat what remains. De-fatting can be accomplished by skimming or dipping the edge of a white paper towel onto the top of the liquid and letting it absorb the fat (though that way can take a little while). One of those fat-separating measuring cups would really come in handy with this step!

Check the finished gravy for flavor (the seasonings from the poultry should make additional salt and pepper unnecessary, but it’s always good to check) and serve.

Poeled Chicken and Gravy over Quinoa, with Green Beans

Poêled Chicken and gravy over Quinoa, with Green Beans

This made for a delicious Sunday supper for us and the carcass went straight into the freezer for gumbo in the not-too-distant future.

It All Started With Some Asparagus


I had picked up some beautiful asparagus at the farmers market and was trying to decide what to do with it. As great as it is steamed with a little salt, olive oil and lemon juice, sometimes you want to step out of your own little rut.

That’s when I remembered Marengo.

There are many things I remember from my 2 years at CCI, many excellent recipes, chefs and fellow students that I cherish. French Classical may not have been my favorite class, but at least it wasn’t at the bottom of the list (that honor goes to Garde Manger, in case you were wondering). One recipe in particular, though, does stand out from that class: Poulet Sauté Marengo.

And it used asparagus. At least, that’s how I remember it from class (the book says nothing about it, but that’s beside the point). So I decided that it was a perfect mid-week dinner.

Next time I decide to relive French Classical, it will be on a weekend.

Poulet Saute Marengo a la Scraps
Poulet Sauté Marengo (a la Scraps), with Duchesse-style Potatoes

Again, Escoffier doesn’t write recipes like we’re used to. Here’s his version of the dish:

3225 Poulet Sauté Marengo

Season the pieces of chicken and sauté them in oil. Drain off the oil and deglaze the pan with [5 oz] white wine and reduce by half. Add the roughly chipped flesh only of 2 tomatoes, or 1.5 tbs tomato purée, a touch of crushed garlic, 10 cooked small button mushrooms, 10 slices of truffle and [5 oz] Jus lié.

Finish cooking together then arrange the pieces of chicken in a deep dish and coat with the sauce and garnish. Surround with 4 heart-shaped Croûtons of bread fried in butter, 4 trussed crayfish cooked in Court-bouillon and 4 small French fried eggs. Sprinkle with coarsely chipped parsley.

I, of course, made a few adjustments both to ingredients and procedure. One was to substitute roasted red bell peppers for the tomatoes (it lists flesh-only, by the way, to mean leave out the seeds) and skipped the mushrooms and truffles altogether (the former as Todd’s not a big fan and the latter for lack of availability). The other was to make the sauce with the chicken still in the pan. I have two reasons for this:

  1. I despise the practice of cooking something and then letting it sit out on the side to cool (and toughen) while the rest of the meal cooks. In most cases I find it completely unnecessary. We call this hokey-pokey chicken at home and avoid it whenever possible.
  2. Cooking the sauce with the meat, when possible, adds additional flavor to the protein in question. Who wants more flavor? We do. I bet you do, too (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this).

Preparation is key with many dishes and this recipe was popular back when there were full kitchen brigades to handle the various steps. Thinking ahead will save you much anxiety when you’re trying to get dinner onto the table.

Start by chopping everything you’ll need for the entire process: chop the peppers or tomatoes and mushrooms if you’re using them, crush the garlic, stem the asparagus and shape the croûtons.

Next, make the Jus lié that you need for the sauce. Jus lié is a shortcut (even the great ones used them!) for demi glace–the concentrated veal stock that adds so much flavor. It’s gravy. Start with double the amount of stock you need (in this case, a cup and a quarter of beef stock) and reduce it (by boiling) by half. Make a slurry of cornstarch and water and whisk this into the reduced stock, cooking until it thickens and set aside until needed.

Steps to Marengo

Steps to Marengo--it sounds like a dance, and that's NOT far from the truth!

French cooking is notorious for being both complicated and messy. Remember what I said about kitchen brigades? Precisely. I prefer to combine steps and reuse pans whenever it won’t hurt the finished dish in order to keep my kitchen from looking as much of a wreck as it could.

For instance, the croûtons called to be cooked in butter. I figure I’m going to need a pan for the chicken, later, and it uses oil (olive, in my house), so why not start the croûtons in oil, first, set them aside to cool, and then move straight onto the chicken? No good reason not to, so on we go.

The chicken is seasoned with just salt and pepper–the flavor (as with many French dishes) comes from the sauce. Get them nice and golden brown on each side and then add the wine to the pan and deglaze it all together. Once the wine has reduced, push the chicken to one side (in this case, I stacked one pair on top of the other) and add the sauce ingredients to the pan until combined. Once the sauce is set up, spread the chicken around so that everything gets nice and cozy together and let it cook while you handle the rest of the ingredients.

While the chicken and sauce cooks, get your steamer set up for your asparagus and combine the crawfish tails with a little stock and seasonings to perk them up. I allowed 6 per serving, so about half a cup of tail meat. Set the crawfish on low—they’re already cooked, we just want them nice and warm.

Oh, right, now you need to do the French fried eggs! Go ahead and make those up while the sauce sauces and the asparagus steams. The idea is that everything comes together just before serving.

Building the Plate

Building the Plate

Now, I’m not usually one for architectural food (a dish piled so high you have to dismantle it before you can eat it) but, in this case, the stacking serves a purpose.

Beginning with the croûton, build the dish in layers: a croûton, a chicken breast, a large spoonful of sauce from the pan, asparagus spears, the crawfish tails and a single French fried egg. Add your side and you’ve got a beautiful dinner to share with someone special (or keep all to yourself—no one’s going to judge you, here).

Now, the point of the stacking rests solely on that French fried egg. See, you make your first cut down the center of the tower, egg to toast, and the yolk flows down, combining all the flavors into one lovely, rich sauce. It’s simply amazing.

An Aside on A Side (dish)

Originally I was going to go all out and make Tourné Potatoes as a side dish for the Marengo. Tourner is a cutting style that makes the vegetable look like a little football with 7 equal sides and blunt ends. A favorite for knife skills exams and fru-fru potato salad.

Not only is it a slightly wasteful cutting style (unless you’ve got something to put those peelings into afterwards) it’s also a pain in the ass, as I was so quickly reminded when it took 30 minutes to get a dozen cut and they weren’t exactly perfect.

Tourner Potatoes

the trimmed potatoes, a tourné knife, and the "discards"

So I just diced the rest of the potatoes and planned to par-boil and then saute them. A bit of a punt from the original plan, but it would work.

Well, it would have worked had I not let them boil a smidgen too long and they started to mash on their own when I went to saute them. So, out came the butter and milk and some garlic and mashed they were.

But mashed potatoes would look so… wrong beside the Marengo that I went for a Hail Mary: I turned on the oven, grabbed a pastry bag and humongous open star tip and piped out the potatoes Duchesse-style. 30 minutes in the oven and their little top edges were just starting to brown.

(Note: Duchesse Potatoes also include an egg yolk to be correct, but mine had olive oil from the botched sautéing and were fine.)

Agnolotti with Garlic-Spinach Sauce

Agnolotti with Garlic-Spinach Sauce

Agnolotti with Garlic-Spinach Sauce

Fresh pasta is a treat. And while I do enjoy getting elbow deep in the semolina from time to time, it’s not convenient for your average weeknight dinner. The happy medium? Fresh pasta in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store.

We recently had the opportunity (read as: coupon for a free package) to try Buitoni’s Riserva Quattro Formaggi Agnolotti. Translated, that’s a 4-cheese stuffed pasta that look like half-round raviolis.

Having just had beef the night before, we paired it with chicken but didn’t relish looking at two beige-colored items on the same plate. Time to get creative.

First, I made a sauce of pomegranate liqueur, tequila, mustard and other savory ingredients and applied it to both sides of the rice flour-dredged chicken breasts as they cooked. Meanwhile (and as the pasta cooked–remember fresh pasta doesn’t take nearly as long to cook as dry) I melted butter as a base to a garlic and spinach sauce. Everything was ready at just the right time and dinner was delicious.

The Quattro Formagi Agnolotti are very tender (another hallmark of fresh pasta in general) with a creamy filling that pairs well with a simple oil or butter-based sauce. The addition of spinach definitely brightened up the plate a bit but, with the cheese filling, was almost like an inside-out creamed spinach (or would that be outside-in?).

According to the label, each 9-ounce package serves 2; that’s 6 agnolotti a piece. At 360 calories per serving, the addition of a nice sauce and a salad and this could be a dinner portion and not just a side dish. As an accompaniment, you might be able to get three smaller servings out, but there’s not really enough in each agnolotti for 4 servings in a single package.


Garlic-Spinach Sauce

1/2 c Butter, melted
1.5 T minced garlic
1.5 c cooked Spinach
1 T Salt
Fresh-ground Pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a small saucepan and saute garlic until golden brown. Add cooked spinach, salt and pepper and toss with cooked pasta.

Pomegranate-Mustard Chicken

2 T Spicy Brown Mustard
2 T Pomegranate Liqueur
1/2 T Agave Nectar
3/4 T Tequila
1/2 t Lime Juice
4 4-oz Chicken Breasts
3/4 c Rice Flour
Salt & Pepper
2 T Olive Oil

Combine mustard through lime juice in a small bowl, stirring to combine. Adjust flavors as needed. (Pomegranate juice can be substituted for the pomegranate liqueur and the tequila skipped if you’d prefer to not use alcohol.) Dredge chicken in rice flour seasoned with salt and pepper and brown on both sides in the hot oil. Spoon or brush the pomegranate-mustard mixture over each side of the chicken and continue to cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free coupon for this item. All opinions and observations of this product are mine alone.]

Almost Meatless Experiment


It was my turn to cook this week and, as the cookbook testing is mostly done, it was time to find some new inspiration. In a stack of books under my bedside table was Almost Meatless by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond. I’d picked it up as part of a book club last year, given it a cursory glance and set it aside to be completely forgotten until a week or so ago when it surfaced as I was looking for a different reference.

The premise of the book is cooking with a more mindful attitude towards ingredients and less of a dependence on animal products without going strictly vegetarian–a nice compromise for us omnivores. The inside flap touts the benefits of the book as “health-, budget- and eco-conscious” eating without sacrificing flavor. Sounds good to me!

Thai Coconut-Curry Soup

Thai Coconut-Curry Soup

We took one recipe from each chapter and worked our way through the book, beginning with Thai Coconut-Curry Soup. It’s a very light soup and I was a little concerned about the lack of body as it relied on chicken stock with just a little bit of coconut milk as a finish. In fact, this was a downside to the recipe as it did not use a full can of coconut milk and it’s a bit of a pain to store leftovers–I’d much prefer a recipe to use items in their whole units.

It was the same with the chicken–she called for a single bone-in breast which then got shredded. For economy, we purchase our boneless, skinless chicken breasts in large packs, break each over-large breast in half and repackage them 4 to a pouch before freezing them. Since we’d just purchased chicken the week before it was simpler (and less wasteful) to use a package of our own in total (since defrosting and refreezing is ill-advised), about a pound, which we used cut into chunks instead of cooked and then shredded.

Smoked Turkey Nachos

Smoked Turkey Nachos

Minor quibbles aside, the soup was perfect for a summer supper–nice and light with plenty of flavor from the basil, mint and lemongrass. Rice noodles do a good job of bulking out the soup into a satisfactory meal (though I suggest you break them up quite a bit before adding them to the broth so that you only need a spoon and not also a fork to try to manage the over-long noodles). The soup was even better the next day, for lunch, as the flavors had developed even more overnight.

The second recipe we tested was the Smoked Turkey Nachos. In a bit of culinary synchronicity we’d just had a smoked turkey breast the previous weekend and there was MORE than enough leftover to shred for this application (even if the recipe called for smoked turkey legs). I’d originally thought this better for a weekend supper but it was certainly substantial enough for dinner during the week. Layers of tortilla chips, sauced turkey, black beans and cheddar cheese baked in a casserole were easily eaten with the fingers, fresh out of the oven, but better with a fork the next day when the chips softened a bit and it became more of a taco salad idea.

Pineapple Fried Rice

Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice

Next was the Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice. A fair amount of prep goes into this dish–making the rice ahead, chopping the vegetables and cleaning the whole pineapple into two bowls. Now, even though it’s supposed to serve 4 (and it does, quite generously) the directions call for splitting the pineapple in half, lengthwise, and carving out two bowls. Only 2 bowls? Unless they are supposed to be large enough to act as serving dishes (mine were not) it seems a bit unfortunate that only 2 of the diners get the benefit of this presentation. As we were only two, it wasn’t much of an issue. And we had a delightful time demolishing the remaining pineapple in the hull of the bowl for dessert.

The rest was held for the next day’s lunch. Here’s where we run into a bit of a bump: the leftover rice became quite mushy–to the point I couldn’t stomach it–because of the enzymes in the fresh pineapple. This was very disappointing. In the future we’ll do either 1 of 2 things: hold out the pineapple destined for the lunch portions and mix it in just before re-heating or use canned pineapple which, I suspect, would not do as much damage. Just as canned pineapple can be used in gelatin whereas fresh cannot (the heating in the canning process destroys the enzyme, allowing the gelatin to gell), it might hold up better in this preparation as well.

Sweet Potato Chorizo Mole

Sweet Potato Chorizo Mole

Finally, Sunday night’s supper was Sweet Potato Chorizo Mole. Another casserole with just a touch of meat (in this case, chorizo) but fist-fulls of flavor! Again, we’d had chorizo in something else during Todd’s menu so already had enough in the fridge for this recipe. We also still had some Mexican chocolate with chilies leftover from our cruise the previous year. Sweet potatoes are always a favorite at our house, along with corn and black beans. It takes over an hour in the oven to cook the slices of sweet potato through, but the wait is worth it. Served with lime wedges and creamy slices of avocado, it really doesn’t need anything else.

Another way to do it, if you’re in more of a hurry, would be to prepare the mole sauce as directed but cube the potatoes, boil them as the mole simmers and combine them into a stew. Top with cheddar cheese once in the bowls and the time for this recipe could go from 1.5 hours to, maybe, 30 minutes.

We’ve still got 3 more recipes to try this week: Shabu Shabu Soup, Springtime Spaghetti Carbonara and Albondigas.