Monday, October 27, 2008

Autumn Sausage Casserole and the Crock Pot Paradox

About two years ago, I attempted to make slow cooker baked beans from a Fix It and Forget It cookbook. After prepping the spices, readying the legumes, and mixing everything until well-blended, I threw it on “low” for a few billion hours and waited, fork in hand. That night, apoplectic over the prospect of three quarts of beany goodness, I dug into it with something approximating religious zeal.

And it was TERRIBLE.

Awful. Catastrophic. Traumatically bad. I doubt even my brother would eat it, and I’m fairly certain he’d eat hair if it wouldn’t clog up his throat. Yet, I saved everything despite the horror, because I couldn’t bring myself to chuck 14 metric tons of beans. The tupperware sat untouched for three days, until my friend J and I semi-drunkenly gave the dish one last shot.

And it was FANTASTIC.

I don’t know what kind of bewitchment befell our refrigerator, but those beans (which were thiiiiis close to being Hazmatted three days prior) had morphed into ambrosia. Magic beans, if you will. The two of us polished off half the container before passing out, tipsy and satisfyingly full.

In the years since, I’ve found this is pretty standard when it comes to slow cookers. Right out of the pot, it’s rarely very good - edible, maybe, but the meal will almost never knock your socks off. Then, 48 hours later, the kitchen gnomes work their sorcery, and the be-crocked leftovers morph into WONDERFOOD.

And therein lies the paradox: meals that are cooked for half a day don't reach their full potential until they've been cold for another half a week. It's bizarre. Mind-boggling. Possibly not even a paradox, really. (I’m a little hazy on the definition.)

The most recent example of this was Autumn Sausage Casserole, whipped up this past Saturday. I got the recipe off the excellent A Year of Crockpotting blog, where Stephanie tries a different slow cooker meal every night, then rates it the next morning. It was definitely pretty good, and made the apartment smell like … well, way better than it usually smells. Still - nothing to write home about.

Now, it’s two days later, I just had the leftovers for lunch at the office, and HOLY MOLY. I wish I had packed more. Seriously, my coworkers are jealous. It’s mushy, but filling and delicious (both the casserole and the envy). Even better, it's insanely low in fat, which lies in sharp contrast to the all-fat diet I’ve adopted the last few days.

In the end, this recipe - and perhaps all slow cooker recipes - come down to one simple idea: eat this. But wait a little first.

Autumn Sausage Casserole
Makes 4-5 servings
Adapted from A Year of Crockpotting.

1 pound sweet turkey sausage, uncased, crumbled, and browned
1 large, or 2 small apples, chopped (no need to peel)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped carrots
3 cups already cooked long-grain rice
1/2 cup raisins
1 T dried parsley flakes
1 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup chicken broth or water

1) Add every ingredients into a 3-1/2 or 4-quart crock pot.  Stir pretty gently until everything is thoroughly combined. Cover. (I assume this is a given with slow cooking, but hey - you never know.) Cook between 5 and 7 hours on LOW, or between 3 and 4 hours on HIGH.

2) If possible, let this sit in the fridge overnight before serving. The flavors will meld beautifully. If not possible, serve immediately and know that it will be better the next day.

Note from Stephanie: "This will not stick together like a gloppy casserole; it has the consistency of fried rice. Use bowls to serve rather than plates."

Note from Kris: Mine did stick together, but I think that's because I made it with newly-cooked rice. If it had sat in the fridge for a day beforehand, it would have been different.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
Four servings: 411 calories, 8.9 g fat, $1.02
Five servings: 329 calories, 7.1 g fat, $0.81

Calculations
1 pound sweet turkey sausage: 560 calories, 32 g fat, $1.98
1 large, or 2 small apples: 110 calories, 0.4 g fat, $0.32
1 yellow onion, chopped: 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.38
1/2 cup chopped carrots: 26 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.22
3 cups cooked long-grain rice: 616 calories, 1.3 g fat, $0.52
1/2 cup raisins: 217 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.35
1 T dried parsley flakes: 4 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.03
1 T brown sugar: 34 calories, 0 g fat, $0.03
1/2 tsp allspice: 2 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.04
1/2 tsp cinnamon: 3 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
1/4 tsp black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/3 cup chicken broth or water: 26 calories, 0.9 g fat, $0.18
TOTAL: 1644 calories, 35.4 g fat, $4.08
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 411 calories, 8.9 g fat, $1.02
PER SERVING (TOTAL/5): 329 calories, 7.1 g fat, $0.81

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4 comments:

Marcia said...

Why is that? I made a split pea soup in the crockpot last week. It was "eh" on day one but delicious on day 3.

And the same with any soup, really. I have a delicious pressure-cooker Moroccan lentil soup recipe...that I make on the weekend and don't eat until at least a day and a half later.

Heather said...

Wow, Kris! I just made the same recipe late last week, and it was pretty good straight out of the crockpot, just too moist. I ate the leftovers tonight, and it was much better than I remembered it. Still too moist but the flavours were delicious and wonderful.
Conclusion.. is a crock pot really worth the trouble if you have to wait another week to eat the food? :-)

Money Maus said...

Hmm... what crock pot/slow cooker brand would you recommend for beginners? (I love leftovers!) :)

Kris said...

MM - Rival's always been a reliable brand (it's what I have), and Hamilton Beech seems to rate pretty well, too. This article might help:

http://www.oregonlive.com/foodday/
index.ssf/2008/09/no_crock_
slowcookers_full_of_u.html

Heather - that's nuts! I agree with the moist thing, too. It was a bit mushy.

Marcia - agreed. I've had the same experience with soups and chilis in general, where they're okay the first day and dang skippy later in the week.