Tag Archive: everyday


On Slow Cookers and Brisket

Most of the time, I am pretty busy. And it can be hard to balance a love of cooking and a deep appreciation for warm, long-cooked meals on cold Winter days with a busy life .

Just when you’d think I’d give up and spoil myself with take-out, think again. Here comes the slow cooker.

(If you like 30 Rock, you undoubtedly read that as “here comes the fun cooker!” because, despite its lack of a ham button, that’s what goes through my head every single time I take it out of the cabinet.)

I once thought of this small appliance as something that people with minimal kitchen skills used – a very passive approach to meal preparation and a way to escape the need for actual cooking skills. But then I had my third child and all of my negligible free time disappeared. If I cooked, she was on my hip and, if she wasn’t on my hip, she was screaming. This posed a problem. How the hell was I supposed to make dinner?

So, I asked my friends: “What do you make for dinner when the baby wants to be held all the time?” After about a million “make reservations!” punchlines, one friend looked at me and said, “Oh my god, Cori. How come you don’t have a slow cooker?” I sheepishly admitted my own snobbery and was summarily set straight. “Remember that delicious stew I made the last time you came over?”, she said, “Slow Cooker!”

Off to Target I went. Off to change my life forever.

Since then, I’ve become adept at slow-cooking different stews, soups, and beans, but was initially hesitant to use it for meat. I started slowly, with a basic recipe for bone-in chicken with white wine, tomatoes and herbs. It was fine, but I wasn’t wowed. Then came a pulled pork recipe, which was much better. I tried lamb shanks next, with fantastic results. The lamb and pork became permanent fixtures in my dinner-making recipe rotation, but after nearly four years of owning this contraption, I had yet to use it for beef.

As if on cue, I read this post and learned of the slow-cooker’s magical powers over brisket.

“BRISKET!”, I thought to myself, “It would be a disappointment to my Jewish people if I didn’t try this.” (Though, admittedly, less of a disappointment than happily eating pork and shellfish on a very regular basis.) So, I went to the market and picked up the ingredients for my mother’s brisket recipe, put them in the slow cooker, and let it cook on low overnight.

The results were amazing, like the culinary equivalent of seeing god. The brisket was almost criminally tender. I had never experienced brisket without a little bit of toughness, so I couldn’t believe that it was literally falling apart with the slightest touch. And it was absolutely delicious, too. All briskets should aspire to be that good.

Now I had a problem. I only had two brisket recipes – my mother’s and the one posted on Smitten Kitchen. That definitely had to change, so I started experimenting with different spices, sauces, and techniques in order to bolster my brisket-making confidence.

So far, the best brisket variation I’ve come up with is this barbeque-style concoction, which is now the recipe that everyone in my house refers to when they ask me to make brisket. I threw it together by mixing elements of my mother’s sweet, tangy, broth-based recipe with a lot more seasoning and a lot less liquid. It took a few tries to get the flavor balance right, but we certainly didn’t let the mistakes go to waste. It was still tender, slow-cooked brisket, after all, so no one cared too much that it needed more heat, salt, or seasoning. We just added some hot sauce and gleefully allowed our cholesterol levels to rise with the beefy tide.

It’s so funny to think that I’ve come to rely on a once-shunned appliance for making really good, really craveable dishes.  Four years ago, I would have laughed in disbelief if someone had told me that I’d use this contraption on a regular basis and that it would be the ONLY way I’d ever cook brisket. But, they would have been right and I would have eaten slow-cooked crow. Nowadays, the slow-cooker comes out at least twice a month and, when it does, it’s greeted by happy children who want to know what’s for dinner.

Joy and rapture usually follow if I tell them that I’m making this:

Sweet, Smoky Brisket

  • Brisket – 6 pounds
  • vegetable or olive oil
  • 3-4 large onions, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1.5 C ketchup
  • 3/4 C white or cider vinegar – to taste
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 2 T molasses
  • 3 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 3 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 T worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T mustard (I use brown deli mustard, but yellow or dijon would work, too)
  • 3/4 tsp liquid smoke
  • a few shakes of hot sauce (optional, but I like Trader Joe’s Jalapeno hot sauce)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Season brisket generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy skillet and sear the brisket on all sides over medium-high heat.  Place seared meat in the slow-cooker insert or a dutch oven/covered casserole dish and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add some more oil to skillet. Saute onion and garlic until soft and almost caramelized – about 15 minutes – stirring occasionally, lowering the heat as needed so they don’t burn.

While the onions and garlic cook, combine the last 12 ingredients in a large bowl and pour over the seared meat, making sure to coat it thoroughly.

Top meat and sauce with the caramelized onions and garlic. If using a dutch oven/casserole, cover tightly with foil, then place the lid/casserole cover over the foil to seal tightly, cook in a 350-degree oven for 3-4 hours. If using a slow cooker, which is definitely the preferred method, cook on low for 7-8 hours.

I like to make this recipe at least a day in advance. When the brisket is done, I usually move it, along with the sauce, from the slow cooker insert to a large, covered casserole dish and chill it in the fridge overnight – at least 12 hours. (Obviously, if you’ve cooked it in a casserole, you can skip this step and just stick it in the fridge.)

The following day, about an hour before you want to serve the brisket, remove and discard the solid fat that has settled on top. Slice the cold brisket to your desired thickness. If you prefer a smoother sauce, puree or strain the sauce and then put in back in the casserole. Add the sliced brisket back into the sauce and reheat in a 325 degree oven until the sauce bubbles and the meat is heated through.

Serve as open-faced sandwiches with coleslaw or over egg noodles with a big, green salad on the side.

Lilah turned 8 last month and this is what she chose for her birthday dinner. We made open-faced sandwiches on onion rolls and ate them with sweet potato fries, cole slaw, and grilled asparagus, followed by chocolate cake for dessert, of course. A yummy celebration, indeed!

Where I’ve Been.

Hi.

I know, I haven’t blogged in awhile. Life gets busy and, with three kids, even the laziest days are filled with distraction and demand. But that’s not really why I haven’t been writing here.

I started feeling really awful over the Summer. My energy level took a huge dive and there were some alarming changes in my breast tissue. As I’m normally a healthy, fit person, I couldn’t imagine what was wrong with me – the vapors, early menopause, disco fever, cancer?? After endless blood tests, ultrasounds, and doctor’s visits, I was told that my hormones were in a precarious state of imbalance (in my mind, this looked like St. Bernard on a high-wire) and that it was probably due to a combination of insulin resistance and ovarian cysts. Not knowing the root of the problem was the psychological equivalent of walking around all day, everyday, with a sharp pebble in my shoe, so finding out it wasn’t something super serious was a huge relief.  I’m managing everything pretty well with meds, diet, and exercise. Trying to adjust to a life without sweets has been hard, but totally worth the effort. I feel a lot better now.

(Actually, disco fever sounds pretty awesome and I wish it had been the cause of my troubles. Any excuse to wear this.)

Other than being preoccupied by my own imminent decrepitude, time moves fast. The days bleed into each other like, well, like bleeding bloody days.  The kids are getting bigger and most of my domestic energy is spent trying to stop them from becoming more grown-up. This is obviously an exercise in futility, but like a pit bull, I won’t loosen my jaws until the struggle itself becomes futile.

This will be all too soon, in Noah’s case. He started 5th grade this year and turns 11 in March. He’s doing well in school and is enjoying his steadily increasing independence. His life is all about friends, school, camp, music, and fun these days. When he’s not busy with those things, he’s eating, growing, and taking things apart just to rebuild them.

The girls are good, too. Lilah is 8 now and still a wise, creative soul with an incredible amount of common sense. She’s super bright and expects a lot from herself, which is both a blessing and a curse. She loves to read and draw for the most part, but her feistiness comes out when she’s horsing around with her friends or playing soccer.

Aviva is almost 5, which blows my mind. She’s in that stage between preschooler and big kid – still biologically drawn toward cuddles and comfort, but unwilling to hold my hand when we cross the street. She’s a sassy, clever girl who loves preschool and playing with her friends. We’ll register her for kindergarten next month, which is something I’m not at all ready to accept. In fact, my insistence on keeping her small runs so deep that I’m planning to spend most of August at home with her, enjoying lots of carefree fun during the last few weeks before she starts elementary school.

See? Pit bull.

Now that I’ve bored you with a quick update, here are the highlights of the past 7 months in short order:

– Yoga. I started doing it because I lacked the energy to do my normal, cardio-heavy workouts and now I’m hooked. And really, really strong. Because my schedule is pretty packed and I can’t make it to a live class with any regularity, I take my classes online through Yogaglo. I love it.

– Noah went to overnight camp in Maine for 3.5 weeks over the Summer. We missed him like crazy, but he had an amazing time – learned lots of new things, made lots of new friends, and was really sad to leave when we picked him up. To cheer him, we ended his month-long Jewish indoctrination by taking him out for some delicious Maine lobster on our way home. Sacrilege never tasted so sweet.

– Aviva is learning Chinese in preschool. She’s picking it up so quickly that I’m thinking about hiring a tutor to help her continue the language when she starts kindergarten. She loves trying out her new words on actual Chinese people, so this comes in very handy when there’s a long wait to be seated at Hei La Moon.

– Lilah blocked all shots in goal during the Spring and Fall soccer seasons. Hell yeah!

– August brought us an ancient scourge: head lice. There is truly nothing like the moment when you realize that your child – your child with super thick, curly hair – has a head full of bugs. Thankfully, for me and for my children, this moment occurred in public, so I couldn’t fly right into screaming banshee mode. The delayed reaction proved to be advantageous because when I got home, I was able to just skip the hysteria phase and go right into the heavy drinking phase of head lice coping techniques. I only reverted back to the banshee phase once, when close inspection revealed that all three kids had it…and that I had it, too. The next 6 days were spent spinning through an endless cycle of combing, nit-picking, laundry, and stupid movies. Was it the end of the world? No, definitely not. Do I ever want to go through it again? Fuck no. In fact, if given the choice between Louse House: The Sequel and a non-serious injury, I’d take the injury…unless it was a bug-related injury, of course.

– We barely celebrated the high holidays this year. Our house was still somewhat disorganized from the lost week of lice, I was exhausted, and the kids had just started a new school year. We weren’t up for hosting Rosh Hashanah dinner for our extended family like we usually do, so we didn’t.  In hindsight, I missed it and plan to make up for it with a huge, fun Passover seder.

– Michael and I went to The Rally to Restore Sanity back in October. My parents had already planned to have the kids at their house that weekend anyway, so we went for it! It was the first time in five years that we’d been away without the kids.  It was a whirlwind of a weekend, but we had an amazing time – saw some sights, went to some museums, ate some fabulous food, and rallied sanely. It also made us realize that we should spend a weekend away without the kids at least once a year. Grown-up travel is much more relaxing than family travel.

– Lilah turned 8 last month. We celebrated by getting her a fancy new bike and letting her host her very first slumber party. Seven extra girls invaded our house and, even though we braced for chaos, everyone behaved really well. The giggles tapered off around midnight and we didn’t hear another peep until 7am. This has led me to conclude that these children could stand to spend some time with 8-year-old me and my 2nd/3rd grade friends. We’d teach them to raise some sleepover hell. None of this “asleep at midnight” malarkey.

-The December holidays were good. Chanukah was fun, as always, and the surrounding weeks were punctuated by visits with dear friends. We welcomed the new year at home with the kids, playing games and dancing.

Happy 2011 to the handful of you who read this blog. I hope to be here more often this year.

Routine Bedtime

“I am weddy for the soap!”, Aviva announced from the shower.

“Ok, Sweetie. Here you go.”, I said, squeezing soap into my hands and gently scrubbing her little four-year-old body.

“Oh! Oh!”, she cried as she rinsed off, “My skin! My skin is just SHOUTING OUT!”

“It’s shouting out?”, I stifled a laugh. “What is it shouting?”

She grinned at me, then answered,

“It’s shouting out: AAAAAAARGH! I’M ITCHY AND I NEED SOME LOTION!”

——

A few moments later, she was out of the shower and standing on the bathmat, hurriedly demanding, “I’mcold! I’mcold! I’mcold! Pleasepleaseplease get me a towel and WARM ME UP! Huwwy up! Pleasepleaseplease!”

I quickly wrapped her up and gave her a squeeze.

She sighed happily, kissed my forehead, and theatrically gushed, “Oh THANK you, my love-ah-ly mother!”

——

After putting lotion on her shouting skin, we went upstairs to get pajamas and read some bedtime stories. Aviva quickly lost interest in the chapter book I was reading to Lilah, so she decided to climb into bed with one of her many Curious George books and “read” aloud to herself…

“This is Curious George. He is a cwazy monkey. He has an owner with a lellow hat and lellow pants. He likes to go sledding down big mountains, which is very fun and a little scawy! He cwashed into a pole and got a little scrape, but he is OK. He loves to climb and swing and jump through trees because he is a monkey. He stoled a pizza plate and sat on it and turned it into a weally fast sled! Wheee! He go’ed down the hill. He knocked over the skiers and winned a prize and the skier was not even mad and they didn’t get a bwuise. Everyday is a good day for George the monkey.  The End.”

By the time I finished reading with Lilah, Aviva was more than ready to be tucked-in. “Hello, Miss Aviva, “, I said quietly as I crossed her room, “That was some good reading I just heard!”

With a drowsy smile, she nodded, and said, “We need a pet monkey. And a pizza sled! Whoosh!”

(beat)

(yawning) “I know, Mama. I am soooo silly!”

Then she closed her eyes and fell asleep before I had the chance to agree.