Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/2/2011 (3891 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OVER the past two weeks of slow-cooker recipes, I've chatted with several readers about the "to brown or not to brown" question. For some cooks, the wonderful thing about the slow cooker is the easy prep and easy cleanup: Basically, you throw everything into one pot, put the lid on and forget about it. Other readers swear by the taste and texture of browned meat, and always sear chicken, beef and pork first, even if it means more cooking and cleaning steps.
Kathleen Blythe sent in a favourite recipe for Bolognese sauce, which involves browning the ground beef and softening the vegetables first -- in this case, a bit of labour that pays off with a rich, robust spaghetti sauce.
Susan Wellman is hoping to replicate Starbucks' holiday gingerbread loaf. While Starbucks keeps mum about its recipes, the Internet cooking community has been tinkering with gingerbread recipes, hoping to come close. This mild, moist gingerbread, with a cream cheese icing and a hint of orange, seems like a pretty good copycat.
With Feb. 14 coming up, please keep your favourite Valentine treats coming in. If you can help with a recipe request, have your own request, or a favourite recipe you'd like to share, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, fax it to 697-7412, or write to Recipe Swap, c/o Alison Gillmor, Winnipeg Free Press, 1355 Mountain Ave., Winnipeg, MB, R2X 3B6. Please include your first and last name, address and telephone number.
(Adapted from the Canadian Living Slow Cooker Collection)
500 g (1 lb) lean ground beef, pork or turkey
5 ml (1 tsp) fennel seeds
4 slices bacon, chopped
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
5 ml (1 tsp) dried oregano
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
5 ml (1 tsp) pepper
250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
1 x 796 ml (28 oz) can tomatoes
1 x 796 ml (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
250 ml (1 cup) dry red wine
30 ml (2 tbsp) tomato paste
1 bay leaf
50 ml (1/4 cup) fresh parsley, minced fine
In large heavy skillet, sauté beef over medium-high heat, using a fork to break into pieces, until no pink remains, about 5-7 minutes. Drain excess fat from skillet. Crush fennel seeds -- you can use a mortar and pestle or put in a baggie and bash with a rolling pin -- and add to skillet along with bacon, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, oregano, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium and cook until vegetables are softened, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in milk and continue cooking until almost no liquid remains, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape into a 4-6 litre (4-6 quart) slow cooker, along with tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, wine, tomato paste, bay leaf and sugar. Mash whole tomatoes with potato masher or fork until chunky. Stir.
Cover and cook on low for about 5 hours. Vegetables should be tender and sauce slightly thickened. Discard bay leaf, add parsley and serve with hot cooked pasta.
Tester's notes: This delicious sauce has a good, pasta-coating consistency -- not too thin, not too gloopy -- with a full flavour and just a hint of the lovely taste of fennel. My only problem? When I make stove-top Bolognese, I'm an inveterate stirrer, and the first rule of crock-pot cooking is, of course, no peeking.
Like Starbucks gingerbread loaf
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
10 ml (2 tsp) ground cinnamon
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground cloves
11 ml (2 1/4 tsp) ground ginger
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
113 g (1/2 cup) butter, softened
250 ml (1 cup) white sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) orange extract
orange zest (optional)
250 ml (1 cup) unsweetened applesauce
5 ml (1 tsp) baking soda
1 x 250 g package (8 oz) cream cheese, well softened
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
2 ml (1/2 tsp) orange extract
625 ml (2 1/2 cups) icing sugar
Crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 175C (350F). Grease and flour a heavy 22x12.5 cm (9x5 inch) loaf pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and salt. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat. Add orange extract and zest, if using. Mix baking soda into applesauce, add to butter mixture and beat. Add flour mixture and stir just until smooth.
Pour batter into loaf pan and bake for 40-50 minutes or until browned at edges and set in middle. Cool 10 minutes on rack and then invert cake onto rack to cool completely.
For icing, beat cream cheese until very fluffy. Add vanilla and orange extract and stir. Gradually add icing sugar, beating very well after each addition. Spread icing on top of cooled cake. Sprinkle with crystallized ginger.
Tester's notes: Like the Starbucks version, this is a light gingerbread, without the darker note of molasses. I cut down the cloves from the recipe I found -- I think cloves can overpower too easily -- but next time I might increase the cinnamon and ginger (or maybe add zip with some minced fresh ginger). Start watching the cake carefully at the 40-minute mark: Like many loafs, that moment when the middle is no longer squidgy and the edges aren't yet overcooked is fleeting.
Finally, the trick to lump-free cream cheese icing is to use very, very soft cream cheese. If the cream cheese is cold, nothing on Earth will ever get the lumps out (and in my time, I've tried blenders, food processors and pushing through sieves). But if the cream cheese is left to soften at room temperature for a good few hours, it's always smooth and easy.