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Crock and Wok

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You live alone. Empty pizza boxes and take-out containers are piled upon the kitchen table. In the fridge is another empty pizza box, a grizzled brown orange, sour cream blooming fuzzy green stuff that looks all too natural, and a jar of mayonnaise you don't even want to think about. The cupboard contains a few plates, a few bowls, a few glasses, one old frying pan, and a Crock-Pot that you picked up somewhere and have been toting around for years; maybe it's even still in the box.

It's no secret that food is the hub around which much of human social interaction revolves: dinner dates, dinner parties, power lunches, cookouts, clambakes, awards banquets, ice cream socials, etc.

But food can be a worthy nonsocial tonic as well. For those who live alone -- or eat alone more often than not -- the act of cooking, and eating, can revive the constitution, warm the walls of workaday subsistence.

"But, it's just me," you say. "I don't want to go through all the fuss."

There's nothing to it. One can eat a wide variety of delicious, economical dishes with just a crock pot and a wok. Neither medium requires the skills of some high-flautin' gourmand.

The great thing about a Crock-Pot is that it provides hands-off cooking. You don't even have to be there. You can put ingredients in before you go to work in the morning, and when you get home, chances are you'll be greeted by the smell of a wonderful dish beckoning before you even get in the door.

Crock-Pots are great for soups, stews, chili and spaghetti sauce, both vegetarian and otherwise. An advantage of the slow-cooking method is that less expensive cuts of meat can be used.

Personal favorites in the Crock-Pot are two meat dishes. The first is for easy barbecue sandwiches. Take a roast (pork or beef, or chicken can be used) and put it in the Crock-Pot. Add onion and green pepper and about three-quarters of a bottle of ketchup. Then fill with ginger ale until the meat is covered. Cook on low for about eight hours.

One spicy favorite I call Greek Beef. Simply take a bottom round or London broil roast and put it in the Crock-Pot. Add one large jar (including juice) of hot pepperocini peppers and cook for about eight hours or until the meat can be flaked with a fork. Serve with feta cheese, black olives, fresh tomatoes and pita bread.

For meals with more of an al dente snap, there's the wok. You can stir-fry, of course, but eggs and pasta dishes, goulashes, stroganoff and chili also work well in the wok. The design of the wok is such that it cooks at high temperatures, requiring little oil, with the reward of tasty food in minutes.

For the most part, Crock-Pot or wok cooking is one-pot cooking -- a bonus when it's time to do the dishes.

Three simple rules should be applied to the aforementioned dishes:

One: Have fun. There's no pressure. Fourth-century Chinese philosopher Ko Hung, musing on contentment, said it best: "The cook creating a meal with his own hands has as much honor in his eyes as a famous singer or high official. He has no profits to gain, salary to lose, no applause, no criticism."

Two: Accessorize. All the above- mentioned dishes are complete meals when combined with salad and fresh bread.

Three: Make more than one portion. Rarely is it feasible or even necessary to make only one portion. With Ziplocks and some sealable containers you can cook a whole week's worth of meals at one time. Many of the above-mentioned dishes actually taste better after a few days.

And if you don't want to store it, you can always share it. But beware, sharing fine food has been known to cure the single life.

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