Kitchen Gadgets

Product Review: All-Clad Slow Cooker

I got an awesome present for my birthday a few months ago and it has just totally rocked my world!  My parents bought me a slow cooker – I didn’t have one and didn’t really think that I needed one.  Wrong-o.  And they didn’t just buy me any slow cooker, they got me the Mac-Daddy All-Clad slow cooker!!  Oh the joy!

My Mom doesn’t buy things without doing the research so assured me that this was one of the best ones – better than the Lightening Deal one that I was considering buying on Black Friday from Amazon.  I would have to agree – I love this thing and am so glad I didn’t get the other cheap one I was looking at.

Waht I’m loving about having a slow cooker is the fact that I can have an awesome meal ready to eat when I get home from work as long as I through some stuff together the night before.  I mean, how easy is that?  And let’s be honest, some things just taste better when they’re slow cooked – like meat!  Check out these ribs and barbacoa pork from the slow cooker!

Outside of being excited about having a slow cooker, I really like this one in particular for a few reasons:

1.  Its huge.  This puppy holds 6.5 quarts.  Seriously, you can feed a small militia with this thing!

2.  Its easy to clean.  The insert comes right on out of there which makes clean up a cinch.  Technically you can put the insert in the dishwasher although I don’t do that because I’m weird about what I put in the dishwasher (its pretty limited to dishes, drinking glasses – NEVER wine glasses, and silverware).

3. Its programmable…about to 26 hours.  Okay, so 26 hours is probably overkill, but as someone who is gone for at least 10 hours every day the typical 8-hour timers usually found on slow cookers (if there’s even a timer) doesn’t really cut it for me.  I also like that as soon as the time is up, it flips over to the warm cycle and hangs out there until 26 hours are up or you turn it off.  Your choice.  You’ve also got three heat settings: Low, Medium, and High.  That’s really all you need – none of that fancy exact temperature setting that’s not really necessary on a slow cooker.

4.  This isn’t really that important, but its attractive.  I mean, I think I’ve actually used the term “beautiful” in a verbal conversation.  We’ll just stop there…

I’ve only found one kind of negative thing.  Sometimes you can find slow cookers with a cast iron insert that can go directly on the stovetop for searing off meet to lock in juices.  I mean, that would be nice, but hindsight is that I’m really only dirtying one pan to sear meat.  Not a huge deal.  If it is a huge deal to you, then you’re in luck because there is a much more expensive version of this slow cooker WITH the cast iron insert (not worth the ridiculous price premium if you ask me).  Tada!

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Cooking in a Small Space

I thought you might enjoy seeing what kind of kitchen I work in on a daily basis because it may make you feel better about your space (or teach you some tricks for maximizing the space you have).  I by no means think my kitchen has reached maximum efficiency, but its working!  We learned the very important lesson that you must be continually cleaning up while cooking or you’ll run out of room – our sinks are really small, so there’s not much room for stacking dirty dishes.  We’ve also learned the art of maximizing the height.  We have 9 foot ceilings, so we were able to hang our pots and pans which helps out tremendously as we have very minimal cabinet space.  We also gave up on trying to put all our dishes in the kitchen, so all the glasses and service-ware live in a hutch in our dining room (we have my parent’s first dining room set…okay, so our apartment is furnished mostly with furniture they bought when they got married 30 years ago.  Its vintage at this point!).

When I really need to be doing a lot of cooking and baking (like for Thanksgiving when I made a Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie, Cranberry-Orange Bread, Oyster Dressing, Sage Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin Bread Pudding, Coconut Macaroons, Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies, and a Pie Crust Cinnamon Roll in a 36 hour period), I drag my kitchen cart into the kitchen and cover half the sink with a bamboo cutting board to expand my counter space.  Another reason for the cart is the fact that my jumbo Kitchen Aid mixer, which I am in love with, can’t fit on my counters because the cupboards hang too low.

We also have come to terms with the fact that a lot of our small appliances just aren’t going to fit in the kitchen and/or dining room, so those live in the cupboards in the basement.  Some examples include our ice cream maker, deep fryer, fondue pot, and mixer attachments.  We also moved our 150-bottle wine rack to the basement because the temperature down there doesn’t swing as wildly as it does on the main floor (we get as low as 55º F in the winter and as high as 85º F in the summer – our duplex is 70 years old and not the most energy efficient place I’ve ever lived).

Our humble kitchen is proof that you can do great things in a tiny place, you just need to take the right approach!

The picture below is taken from the doorway from the dining room looking into the kitchen.  Seriously, you’re looking at the entire kitchen.  Swear.

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Branden’s Pulled Pork with Homemade BBQ Sauce: Part II

So now for Part II: setting up the gas grill to act as a smoker.  This was a really funny process as an innocent bystander, but Branden is still a little salty about it a month later.  First, we forgot to rub the meat until about midnight the night before, so our 2 a.m. goal of getting the meat on the grill was kind of crushed.  Then Branden stayed up late per normal with a goal of getting it on the grill around 4 a.m. before he went to bed, but ran into problem after problem getting the grill and thermometers configured to what you set above and ended up angry and burnt (from the water AND the fire…he definitely had some singed arm hairs!).  All issues aside, the meat finally got on the grill at 6 a.m. and Branden finally turned in to bed.  I was up at 8 a.m. (doggone internal alarm clock) and stayed on meat monitoring duty for the next several hours poolside…someone had to do it!  This was definitely a little more eventful than it needed to be, but worth it in the end.

The key to tender pulled pork that falls apart when you touch it is low and slow.  Remember that: low and slow.  It doesn’t matter how hungry you are or when you think the meat should be done, let it do its thing (low and slow) and you will be rewarded.

You’re going to need some hardware for smoking on the grill:

  • Smoker Box
  • Applewood chips
  • Aluminum roasting pan
  • Two meat thermometers (the kind with the probe that you leave in the meat)

Branden removed one of the grill grates so that he could put the smoker box as close to the heat source as possible.  He then placed a generous handful of  wood chips in the smoker box.  The left side of the grill was the only side with burners on as we didn’t want the grill to get too hot.  On the right side of the grill, we filled a tin roasting pan with water and then placed the meat on a grill rak on top of it.  This seems weird, but its used mostly for temperature control.  Every time you open the grill, you loose a lot of the heat.  The water acts kind of like a stabilizer and helps the grill temperature to not fluctuate so drastically.

For those meat thermometers, go ahead and jam one right into the heart of the pork butt.  Crumple tin foil around the probe of the other thermometer and set it inside the grill.  We want to be able to really monitor the internal grill temperature to make sure it doesn’t get to hot and cook our meat too fast.  We used a thermometer that had an alarm on it and set it to beep if the temp got too hot.

In terms of good cooking tips, Branden plans on 1.5 to 2 hours per pound (our 6 lb. hunk of heaven was projected to take 12 hours).  How did Branden arrive at this timing?  Check out this link for some details that I think are best from the source.  He’s done a lot of research on this topic and found this information really helpful (if you really know my husband, you know how he loves to research!).  Bottom line is, you want to keep your grill temp steady around 250° until the internal pork temp reaches 180º.  It will stall out for a long time at around 150º, but don’t be tempted to crank up the heat!  Leave well enough alone and walk away.  Just walk away…

After the pork has reached 180º, let it set for about an hour (covered) before pulling it.  Branden just used two forks to pull it and after 13 hours on the grill, the meat literally fell apart.  Most folks will eat it on a bun with BBQ sauce, but not me!  I took mine bunless (why waste the room in my stomach?) and smothered in sauce.  Delicious and well worth the wait!

Need some more tips and details?  Check out this link for grill setup or this link for information on smoking.  Got questions for Branden?  Click on the “Contact the Author” page and shoot me an email- I’d be happy to ask him and get back to you!


Categories: American, Entrees, Kitchen Gadgets, Recipes | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Uncharted Territory: A New Kitchen Toy

I’m so excited to share this!  First of all, you should know that both Branden and I are suckers for kitchen gadgets and cookware.  We have zero self control in stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table.  Seriously, this is a real problem because we have a really, really tiny kitchen (I’ll have to post photos sometime because its truely unbelievable given the amount of cooking we do).  Anyways, back to the real reason for the post…Branden and I are on the email list for Today’s Kitchen Store and were quite intrigued by last week’s email about a new product demo for a  “Stovetop Smoker.”  What could this contraption be?  I’ve eyeballed The Smoking Gun for awhile now for creating smokey food without a grill, but at nearly $100 needless to say, its not part of our kitchen gadget repertoire at this point.  Bottom line: we had to check this demo out (plus they offered food samples made in the smoker, so that’s always a bonus).

Formally the Gourmet Smoker by Camerons Products, this is a pretty cool product.  Although we haven’t tested it out personally yet, I figured I’d talk about it so when I do finally post a recipe made with it, I’m not rambling on for days about the gadget AND the food created.  We did however sample some potatoes, stuffed grape tomatoes, chicken breasts, and brie that were made in the Smoker and were so happy with the results that we clearly left the store with one of our own.

The Gourmet Smoker is basically a stainless steel box with a wire rack and drip tray underneath which you place tiny wood chips that begin to smoulder when placed on a hot stovetop.  Place your food inside, wait to see a bit of smoke, and cover with the stainless steel lid; you’re that much closer to smoky-flavored food.  Thankfully, to ease some anxiety over using this basic box, a cooking guide comes with your purchase complete with cooking times and suggested wood types. 

The Gourmet Smoker comes in two sizes: mini and full size.  We purchased the mini since we’re a family of two and didn’t think we had a need to cook multiple pounds of meat at once.  Besides, $60 was a big commitment for a product that we had only sampled food from but the $40 for the mini that will still hold a good pound or so of chicken was easier to swallow.  Wood chips for this simple contraption weren’t too bad, $4.50 for the container shown and you only need 1.5 TBS of wood chips per use.  I have a feeling we’re going to have these wood chips forever, especially as we add other “flavors” to our lineup…

What are the other “flavors” of wood chips you ask?  Well let me share (excerpts from the Gourmet Smoker Cooking Guide)!

  • Alder: Famous in the Pacific Northwest for smoking salmon, this mild wood is the chef’s smoke choice when looking to create a delicate smoky flavor.  Use with seafood and veggies.
  • Apple: This fruitwood is more complex than alder, yet is still quite mild.  Excellent for game fish and poultry.  This wood also works quite well when soaked in water then sprinkled over the coals of your BBQ when grilling chicken or steaks.
  • Bourbon Smoked Oak: (Branden and I purchased this one) Infuses gentle bourbon flavor.  Great with ribs, brisket, and other red meats. 
  • Cherry: Rich in flavor, yet very smooth.  It is a killer with Cornish game hens, duck breast, and vegetables.
  • Hickory: This is a classic hardwood that creates a lot of depth in its flavor yet is not harsh.  A perfect choice when using BBQ sauce on pork ribs or chicken.
  • Maple: Creates subtle flavors and is perfect for creating just the right balance of taste in delicate foods, especially when smoking cheese and vegetables. 
  • Mesquite: Flavor of the Southwest, from smoked chicken tacos to smoked chile rellenos.  Overuse can make foods bitter!
  • Oak: The backbone of smoking flavor.  Oak is widely used in commercial smoking and works well mixed with other woods.  Wonderful with apple for smoking homemade sausages.
  • Pecan: Made popular by being used for President Bush’s Inaugural Dinner.  This is really a fun flavor that adds a lot to the taste of pork, game, and lamb.  Pecan is excellent when mixed with other woods to provide a well-balanced flavor.

Like I said earlier, I’m really excited to try out this new toy and will be following up this post with my personal review of the product from a usage standpoint.  I can’t imagine I’m going to have much bad to say about this as long as the owner of Today’s Kitchen Store wasn’t totally yanking our chains (we’ve grown to like and respect them, so I’m pretty confident that he wasn’t).  Bottom line, the food we sampled was delicious and if this little metal box holds up to the hype, we finally have a simple way to create smoky foods without breaking out the charcoal grill.  Hallelujah!

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