Warning: Slow Cook in the Kitchen (#203)

My kitchen at the height of Baking Season: Christmas.

When we get new neighbors, I usually take them a plate of baked goods. If they’re lucky, the newbies moved in between October and December, which my husband dubbed “Baking Season.” Baking Season starts with cream cheese sugar cookies shaped like fall leaves and moves onto maple cream pie, apple pie, maple sugar rugelach, and candy cane meringues.

The new neighbors usually bring back an empty plate and sexist mouthful of compliments. “You’re a fantastic cook! Your husband is so lucky!

“Thanks. But actually,” I explain, “my husband Andy is the real chef in our house. You should taste his pot stickers or homemade ravioli. I only bake.”

“Uh, er, um, really?”

“Yep. I’m a whiz at the oven, but terrible on the stove top.” I tell them.

And off they go, perhaps contemplating their default assumptions about women in the kitchen. Or maybe they make the distinction between baking and cooking for the first time.

I, on the other hand, have been pondering the differences between baking and cooking for years.

Because while I can make a Devil’s food cake with poured ganache frosting to die for, I really, really suck at cooking.

And I hate sucking at stuff.

*****

If you don’t follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you should. While this blog is mostly a memoir, my Instagram account and Twitter feed are relatively current.

Currently, Andy is disabled (gruesome pictures on Instagram).

Two months ago, Andy tore his quadriceps tendon. Maybe he was trying to one-up my torn quadriceps muscle. Maybe Andy’s just got problematic tendons, since he already ruptured his Achilles tendon. Maybe all Chinese-Americans have problematic tendons, cuz look what just happened to poor Jeremy Lin.

Andy’s immobilizer.

Whatever the cause, the result is brutal: surgery involving drilling holes in Andy’s bones to reattach the tendon, then months with the knee immobilized, raised and iced. Once his knee returns to being orange-sized as opposed to melon sized, he can expect 6-12 months of physical therapy.

Worst of all, he can’t cook. (I say this is the worst part. Andy disagrees. You can probably guess what activity he can’t do that’s got him super upset.)

My siblings understood that the loss of the household chef was a calamity of the highest order. We all grew up with food issues; we all married people who are amazing in the kitchen. My sibs chipped in and sent a generous GrubHub certificate. Several of my girlfriends also dropped off dinner.

I picked up a lot of take out. But eating out is expensive and often unhealthy.

At some point during Andy’s lengthy recovery, I would have to cook.

God help us.

*****

My first night in the kitchen, I burned the rice. In the rice cooker.

Andy fretted over the fact that he’d put off mounting the fire extinguisher in the kitchen. I rolled my eyes at him. “A fluke,” I insisted.

My second try was pasta Carbonaro. I underestimated the size of the pot necessary for the noodles and dumped them in the water too fast. Some flipped out of the pot, fell into the gas burner, and caught on fire.

I put out the fire with an oven mitt and the cat squirter bottle. Then I sheepishly got the fire extinguisher out of the garage.

I retreated from the kitchen for a few days, then returned with a meal I’d made before.

My spicy Thai tofu wasn’t burned or flambéd, but it wasn’t spicy.

“I don’t get it,” I groaned. “I’m using the same recipe! How can it not taste like yours?!”

“It’s fine, honey” Andy assured me.

“You mean it’s EDIBLE,” I corrected him. “Edible is not the same as fine. Especially not when your husband thinks edible includes everything from sheep’s brains to cold jellyfish.”

“I think maybe it’s not quite spicy enough.”

“But I used SO MUCH red curry paste!”

“Yeah, the paste sometimes lacks the proper punch. If it doesn’t taste spicy after simmering for a few minutes, I throw in a jalapeño.”

“Wait. You taste it? Before it’s completely cooked? Isn’t that unsanitary?”

Andy shrugged. “Maybe it’s unsanitary. But it’s necessary.”

“Easy for you to say! You have that cast iron Chinese stomach!” It’s true. The man never throws up. Partially cooked Cantonese cuisine weeded out weak stomachs centuries ago. Andy and I can eat the same questionable restaurant meal and I’m the only one lying on the bathroom floor for the next 24 hours.

“It’s only tofu, honey. Not raw meat.”

“But you taste the meat stuff, too, don’t you?! That’s why your food is so much better! You have an unfair advantage!”

Andy was unimpressed by the light bulb that was practically visible over my head. “All chefs taste as they go.”

I thought about this as I washed the dishes. I didn’t do much tasting when I was baking. Baking is chemistry, really – you carefully measure ingredients, add them in strict order, and heat to transform them. You can’t be tasting a cake halfway through the baking process and adding more sugar.

So if I was going to play to my strengths, I needed a style of cooking that was front loaded like baking. A style where there’s measuring, prepping, browning, and then the food gets shoved in the oven. Food is forgotten until a timer goes off, and then comes out delicious.

You know what that style is?

The slow cooker.

And here is the book that saved the day.

I’d actually gotten Lynn Alley’s The Gourmet Slow Cooker for Andy after my brother-in-law made the Italian pot roast and served it over polenta. The meal was delicious. I wanted it again. In a fit of subtlety, I gave Andy the cookbook and a crock pot from Costco. A few times a year, Andy made the Italian pot roast.

He never tried any other recipes, though. Andy is partial to his pots and wok and gas burners.

The first recipe I tried was the split pea soup. I baked some homemade bread to go with it (i.e., so at least we’d have something edible in case of failure).

Andy said, “Huh. Not bad,” and ate his entire bowl.

Next up, was Tuscan bean soup (and more bread, in case the first success was a fluke). Andy had two bowls.

I branched out with beef burgundy. Andy eyed it with trepidation at first, but then had three helpings.

I tried chicken tarragon next. Only I realized partway through the cooking that tarragon smells like licorice, which I hate. So I replaced the offending tarragon with rosemary (which grows on our patio) and thyme. The chicken turned out well, with only a hint of licorice in the potatoes.

Did you know you can do pinto beans in the slow cooker? Once you have beans, you can do burritos or nachos, easy.

After pinto beans, I made Irish potatoes and plum pork.

We had Mr. Picky for dinner. Mr. Picky is a huge fan of meat and mushrooms. He’s also a huge fan of Andy’s beef stew. I’m pretty sure he wanted to bail once he figured out I’d be cooking.

I made beef burgundy.

He loved it. He said, “This is even better than Andy’s stew!”

I shall glory in those words forever and I shall never let my husband forget them. The slow cooker rocks.

Best of all, I haven’t had to use the fire extinguisher once.

Yeah, I made that beef burgundy. Nom, nom, nom.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

39 thoughts on “Warning: Slow Cook in the Kitchen (#203)”

  1. As I started reading this, I was yelling “use the slow cooker” at my screen. No need. You figured it out. I’m pretty sure I have that book but I’m checking. This method fell out of favor because it can be bland but you can do a great meal if you work with it. I am so sorry for Andy. I knew he was having issues, I didn’t realize the extent. I hope he did it doing something exciting.

  2. I am a mess in the kitchen. Well I don’t create a mess there, I clean the mess up other people leave behind but that is another story…
    When it comes to cooking I am not gifted. In Germany is a saying which ends with “At least I am pretty good with boiling water” (the straight translation would be “cooking water”). However I do have some dishes I can prepare rather well such as Lasagna and few pasta dishes. But “traditional” German/ Finnish food -> not a chance and it would get even worse with Chinese dishes which I have thankfully never attempted, I guess noone would be alive after trying that.

  3. I hope Andy is ok! Poor guy! That really sucks!!

    And good job with the slow cooker discovery! I think it’s something not many Asian people use, so I never grew up with one. My best friend gave me one for Christmas and she has to yell at me to use it, haha. I’m definitely going to pick up that slow cooker book you mentioned and finally put mine to good use!

    I think great bakers are detail oriented, precise and reliable people (they can follow a recipe and don’t miss the small details!). I remember the first time I baked I treated it like cooking… oh, the mix looks a little wet, let me add in more flour!… and more!… and… yeah, cookies are ruined, haha. I wish I had the baking skills, I am very jealous of you! Just the other day I burned cookies using a mix out of the box the other day, it was very embarrassing :/

    1. Well, burning mix cookies is up there with burning rice in the rice cooker, so I guess we are in good company! Yeah, the slow cooker is much more flexible than baking — should be right up your alley. (Been waiting for that pun on the author’s name all day!) But anyone who can make acceptable Chinese egg and tomato has decent cooking skills. 🙂

  4. You make me want to buy a slow cooker. Those are some good sounding recipes. Your baking sounds even better.

    Poor Andy! It’s amazing how a small accident can turn into such a big, long-lasting problem. My son-in-law had an even more embarrassing accident. He broke a bone in his foot playing basketball with ten year olds. It, too, took a long time to heal.

  5. I’ve never had a slow cooker and didn’t even know such thing existed until people started mentioning it online recently. I looked up the beef burgundy and it takes 8 hours to make? How do you do it, you keep it there all night? I love the idea, though, put everything and just let it do its magic. I do a similar thing with a couple of traditional Spanish recipes (one with lentils and another with chickpeas) but it just takes 2-3 hours on the stove.

    I don’t think I can fit any more things in my kitchen. Do you think the rice cooker could do slow cooking things? xD

    1. Rice cookers are evil. They burn stuff. 😉

      I usually make the dishes in the morning and let them cook all day. You could probably make several of them in the oven or on the burner like your lentils.

  6. Congratulations. Miss my ‘ol slow cooker, the damn thing really is brilliant. I hope Andy enjoys a speedy recovery and enjoy your home cooked meals 😉

      1. Hahahahhaa. Well, it must be rough for him. I can’t imagine sitting down all day. It would be tortureous. Ugh. Sending you both lots of patience!

  7. I would love to get you over here as a baking consultant. I only bake one thing (brownies) but even after 8 years I struggle to get them right because of: 1) the crazy Joburg altitude; 2) butter doesn’t come in sticks here and it’s almost impossible to get the quantity right; and 3) oven thermometers are in celsius (enough said). Also there is no such thing as unsweetened baking chocolate in SA so I have to import it. (Cocoa powder just doesn’t work.) I’ll bet you would enjoy the challenge!

    1. I HATE cooking at altitude. Even cookies are difficult. If I remember, you increase the flour and baking soda, but it changes the taste. So When I visit my dad in Utah for Christmas, I bake all the cookies at my house the day before we leave. And figuring out celsius at the same time?! What a nightmare. No wonder you don’t bake.

      And yeah, proper brownies need unsweetened chocolate. Although a lot of recipes use chocolate chips now because they are ubiquitous. At least in the U.S.

  8. Two posts in a row about planning for children… and now this? I had to reach for the ice cream for some comfort. And it doesn’t help.
    Best recovery!

  9. It seems everyone is raving about the slow cooker these days and your post has got me even more curious about it. Never tried it before. Congratulations for cooking something beyond edible and I am sure in no time you will try every recipe in that book 😀

    I have to agree with Andy on cooking – taste as you go. I taste the curry chicken to see if I burnt the spices. Taste the bacon mashed sweet potato to see if it needs more pepper. Poke the meat patty to see if it’s still red raw inside. I am opposite of you with baking. Just can’t do it very well. I do think my baking tastes better if I taste the batter or cookie dough as I go along.

If you liked this, let the white girl know!