The weekend is approaching, meaning that it's time to start planning menus. Before doing that, though, let's have a look at what we ate last weekend.
Last Friday, I felt that I was working in a commercial restaurant as I prepared several meals simultaneously. The programme was to eat sweet and sour chicken on Friday night (but cook it as late as possible), cholent on Saturday and prepare another batch of stir fried chicken and vegetables for me to eat during the week. I cooked the meals in reverse order to them being eaten.
First I chopped chicken breast and divided the pieces into two: one batch went into the fridge 'naked', and the other batch was covered in breadcrumbs, oregano and ginger before being shaken and then stored in the fridge. Then I prepared the vegetables: for 'my' meal, I diced yellow and red peppers, courgettes, carrots, pumpkin and onion, whereas for the family meal I left out the courgettes and carrots. I also added some pineapple chunks from a can of pineapple.
When everything was ready, I poured a little canola oil into the wok and turned it on (my wok is an electric wok). When the oil began to smoke, I poured in the chicken pieces and let them cook for a few minutes until all the surfaces had changed colour, turning them every minute or so. Then I add the vegetables, along with half a container of bean sprouts, let that cook for a few minutes whilst continually mixing the contents. When all the ingredients were mixed, I reduced the wok's heat severely and covered the wok. This allows the water in the vegetables to cook them (as steam) instead of the wok. Every five minutes I would open up the wok's lid and turn the ingredients again. After about twenty minutes, I deemed the dish cooked, and transferred the contents of the wok to a casserole dish which I stored in the fridge.
Whilst the wok was steaming, I was preparing the ingredients for the cholent. My wife had bought about a kilo of beef (cut number 8 in Israel, "shrir" or muscle, apparently called 'shank' elsewhere); this cut is ideal for stews as it contains a large amount of collagen which is broken down to gelatin during the cooking process. This cut is both relatively cheap and also low fat, although the pieces that my wife had bought seemed to have a comparatively large amount of fat which I had to cut off before cooking.
After the beef was cut up into cubes whilst removing most of the fat, I fried it lightly in order to 'brown' or 'sear' it. As 'Cooking for Geeks' tells us, this application of high temperature allows the Maillard reaction to occur, thus creating the familiar 'cooking meat' smell. The reaction occurs at around 160 degrees Celsius, whereas the slow cooker holds the temperature at around 65 degrees; if the meat were cooked solely in the slow cooker, this reaction wouldn't occur and there wouldn't be so much meat flavour.
Once the meat was browned, I put it in the slow cooker, along with potato chunks and peeled hard boiled eggs. Normally I would add 'white' beans to the mixture; I had indeed soaked the beans in water the previous night, but somehow the beans started fermenting, creating a very bad taste, so I had to throw them out. I used a can of baked beans instead - these beans are smaller and of course come in tomato sauce (not necessarily a problem). I also added onions fried in the oil in which I had previously browned the meat. This is an idea from 'Cooking from Geeks' and whilst I can understand the logic behind it, in practice it doesn't work too well as the onions took much longer than usual to caramelise. I think that next time, I'll fry the onions in clean oil.
So: in the slow cooker are meat, potatoes, eggs, beans and onions. I added a few handful of frozen stir fry vegetables (it would have been better to defrost them first), a small container of tomato paste, spices (salt, pepper, paprika and oregano) and water to cover. I turned the cooker on and left it ... until Saturday lunchtime. The dish was superb, although it had a slight 'edge' which might be due to the oregano.
About an hour before we were due to eat, I prepared rice; no secrets here. I also prepared the sweet and sour sauce by taking the pineapple juice from the can of pineapple and adding to it vinegar and brown sugar. I should have added a little ginger, but instead added water which turned out to be superfluous. I heated this mixture until it boiled, whereupon I turned off the heat. I mixed (not very well) some cornflour in hot water and added this in order to thicken the sauce. I will have to practice my cornflour techniques as the powder did not dissolve at all; I had to remove most of the lumps, which is why the sauce did not thicken.
When we were ready to eat, I heated up the wok again, lightly fried the uncoated chicken pieces, added the vegetables and the other half of the bean sprouts and stir fried the mixture for about ten minutes altogether. I did not steam it this time, but instead served straight from the wok. This also turned out very well.
Anyway: yesterday evening, I bought a kilo and a half of beef - much better looking pieces than the previous week's - and set a bowl of white beans to soak in water. This evening I will make cholent again, learning from last week's experience. This time I will put the beef on top of the beans and cover it with the potatoes - last week, the beef was on top, and some of it dried out.
I think that my wife is going to cook chicken thighs in the oven on Saturday, otherwise I would be cooking chicken thighs and prunes in the slow cooker.