It's not Mable's fault, really, it isn't.
Dinnertime couldn't get more pathetic around my house than it had lately. My miserable attempt at balancing a new job with domestic responsibilities was failing. When faced with the decision of whether to cook or bake, I often chose the latter and quite frankly, my family was growing tired of eating cookies for dinner.
I have a long, uncomfortable history with crock pot cooking but, in the spirit of "If at first you don't succeed..." I decided to give it another go. I dusted off the oval vessel with the mid-70's floral motif, and set to work. I failed once. I failed twice. So, I drove to the bookstore.
It was there that I decided upon Mable Hoffman's Crockery Cookery--the five-million copy bestseller. If five million readers were successful, surely this would be a no-brainer, right?
Besides, truth be told, I always thought I was too cool for crock pot cooking. In my mind, I would be giving in to this pedestrian cooking technique, simply because I didn't have the time to flaunt my seasoned culinary chops.
I collected my thoughts and then collected a week's worth of recipes which included the likes of Sorrento Chicken Roll-ups, Sloppy Joe (not to be confused with Sloppy Jane's appearing on the adjacent page), Black Bean Chili with Pork, Beef Stroganoff (this one claimed to be fool-proof), and my first (and last) crock pot dessert--Grandma's Rice Pudding.
There was spring in my step as I navigated the supermarket for the required ingredients. I suspiciously searched for something called "round steak" for the Beef Stroganoff recipe. Most of the ingredients however, were readily available and familiar to my cupboards (one of the very reasons crock pot cooking is so popular).
I followed each recipe to the letter and the directions were short and simple. Basically, each recipe required only that I chop, drop and roll (chop/dice ingredients, drop them into the crock pot, cover, set time/temp., and head to work). My initial thought: too easy. My final thought: too easy.
I won't burden you with my subjective analysis of the results. I will simply say this: I wasn't fully aware that chicken could have such an uncanny resemblance to cardboard in both appearance and taste (and yes, I've tasted cardboard, haven't you?). The flavor of our Sloppy Joe's was right on the money, eerily reminiscent of middle-school cafeteria fare, which caused a love-hate reaction at first bite. With each experiment, I became more frustrated-- until one evening when I observed my husband pouring heavy cream on a gelatinous mass I tried to pass off as rice pudding. It was then that I knew I was loved. It was then that I knew I had been defeated. Score:
Crock Pot: 5
Michelle: Zilch, Zero, Nada.
I spent a great deal of time on the internet in the weeks that followed. I engaged in numerous chats about crock pot cooking with seasoned professionals--home cooks who included the crock pot, that wonder of electricity, in their culinary repertoire. I read one success story after another. And finally, I decided to hang up the condensed soup and surrender. In my humble opinion, those mysterious cuts of round steak are best left to the brave. Clearly Mable is cooler than I am and so is the crock pot.
I don't want to die with enemies, but that crock pot? Dead to me.
Besides, oatmeal cookies can't be that bad for dinner, can they?
And on a happier, more successful note, I have posted the recipe below for the Apricot Cream Cheese Scones that I discussed a few posts back. I intend to make the Almond Scones soon and I will report back on that experiment.
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This is how I received the recipe; note that the baking process is interesting as it requires you to turn the oven off and leave the scones in for a period of time. I'm not sure why this is necessary, but who am I to mess with a good recipe?
Apricot Cream Cheese Scones
4 1/4 Cups Pastry Flour or AP flour (not self rising pastry flour)
1/2 cup sugar ( honestly, I use a generous half cup)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 (8 ounce) pkg of Cream Cheese
8 TBS (1 stick) chilled butter (unsalted)
1 Cup Diced or Slivered Dried Apricots
1 Large Egg
1/4 Cup Milk- plus more for brushing
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (or 1/2 tsp. Flora di Sicilia--I have never used this)
Sparkling white or pearl sugar for topping (I use Sugar In The Raw--which I believe is Turbinado sugar, for topping)
Preaheat oven to 425 degrees. In medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the cream cheese and butter, using your fingers, a pastry blender or a fork, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the dried apricots. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, 1/4 cup of milk and the vanilla. Combine the liquid and dry ingredients and stir JUST UNTIL THE DOUGH BECOMES COHESIVE--BEING CAREFUL NOT TO OVERMIX. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat dough into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle. Cut out scones with a round plain or round fluted cookie or biscuit cutter. Place scones about two inches apart on parchment lined baking sheet. You may gather scraps and re-roll dough for additional scones, however, doing this more than once may result in tough scones. Try to use as much of the dough from the first roll as possible. Brush the tops of the scones lightly with milk and sprinkle generously with sugar.Bake scones for 8 minutes (on middle rack). Turn off oven and leave oven door closed and allow to bake for 8 minutes more until light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on rack (or serve slightly warm).
My notes: I discovered after making these a couple of times that I had to use my largest baking sheet and place the entire batch on one sheet if possible--this is to avoid having to re-light the oven for the second sheet. I suppose one could bake both sheets for 8 minutes separately, then turn oven off and place both racks in oven on top and middle shelf and allow to bake for remaining 8 minutes, but I have never done this. If my memory serves me correctly, this recipe makes approximately 15 decent size scones.Alternatively, you could pat the dough into a 3/4- inch thick circle and score scones traditionally into triangles and bake as such. Once baking is complete, cut through scored lines into triangles.
***For my Cherry Vanilla variation on these scones, I omitted the dried apricots and added
1 1/4 cup of dried cherries (I like Target's Archway Farms brand). Before adding the sugar, I scraped the seeds from one whole vanilla bean and worked it into the sugar with clean hands (surprisingly, this does make a difference). I increased the vanilla extract to 1 1/2 TBS. Follow the remaining recipe as posted above.
***For more information on this scone recipe, see post: "On the Topic of Scones and Job Security."