Sunday, March 29, 2009

confetti salad

  • 2 cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 can white corn, drained and rinsed
  • green onions, chopped fine
  • fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar (I'm still using that bottle of Champagne vinegar I have, but any will do)
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Combine beans, corn, green onions and parsley in large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, lime juice and sugar, adjusting amounts of each to taste. Once dressing is to your liking, stir into larger bowl mixture, taking care not to break the beans. Serve cold.

The dish: Full and fair disclosure: I pretty much suck at science. I limped through my college science requirement by taking the extraordinary chemistry of ordinary things, which while remarkably interesting (we made polyester- it doesn't get cooler than that), was about as technical as reading the back of a cereal box. The course basically existed as a way to shuffle through finance majors who would never again think of science save studying the trading range of the pharmaceutical sector. I say this because if I tend to sound like I know something about the natural world, as I may have with the last bean salad I posted, it's only because I recently read all about legumes and how they react with our body. I typed out the recipe hoping that constant consumption of beans really helped with their side effects, but was not certain of that fact at time of posting. Kim and I both ate that salad as a part of our lunch last week, and lo and behold, the advice was true. Any discomfort or side effects that were there on Monday were all but a memory by Wednesday. If it seems like I'm going a little heavy on bean recipes recently, it's only because I'm giddy of this new found knowledge and feel the need to perpetuate this cycle as long as I am able. Fear not, I'm sure this is only a phase and as with all things when eating a diet rich in beans, this too shall pass.

chicken salad

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 large apple, cored and diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped fine
  • unseasoned sliced almonds
  • adobo
  • cumin
  • mayonnaise
  • Dijon mustard

Season chicken with adobo, cook until done, then chop into small pieces. In large bowl combine cooled chicken, apple, and celery with about two tablespoons each of mayonnaise and mustard. Season with a couple of shakes of cumin and 1 or 2 shakes of adobo. If salad appears too dry, add equal amounts of mayo and mustard until desired consistency is reached. Serve on your favorite bread with fresh greens or on top of a fresh salad.

The dish: Although they're stories for a different time, there were two separate weeks of my life where I lived on nothing but store bought chicken salad. Eat one thing for a week straight and you'll be amazed at how much of an expert you become on that dish. While tasty, I always found the bought stuff to be a little lacking in flavor and usually dripping with too much mayonnaise. I'm pretty sure I'm past the point of eating any one thing straight for a week, but I don't mind making a big batch of this as the unique flavors can be enjoyed for a while. Like tuna the longer this sits the better it becomes.

chili mac

  • leftover chili
  • 1lb macaroni or other short pasta
  • 1 can diced tomatoes

Heat diced tomatoes over medium high flame for 5-10 minutes. Add left over chili and simmer for another 10-20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of slightly salted water. Drain cooked pasta and stir into chili mixture.

The dish: Long before fusion restaurants began dotting the suburban landscape, offering unique amalgamations of different ethnic fare, creative home cooks have been fusing together the best of tex-mex and Italian in this classic dish. Chili over pasta makes for a hearty meat sauce with a stand out flavor. The extra tomatoes were added to stretch the batch a little as well as to make the mix seem more like a traditional sauce. Using "planed-overs" is a great way to save some time in the kitchen without making it seem like you're eating the same thing night after night.


  • 2 yellow peppers, diced
  • 2 orange peppers, diced
  • 1 lb ground turkey meat
  • 1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can small red beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small can diced tomatoes with chopped chilies
  • assortment of hot peppers, finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cans Coors Light (or other light domestic beer)
  • chili powder
  • unsweetened cocoa powder

In large skillet cook onion in a little olive oil for 3 minutes, add to crock pot when done. In same pan brown meat (I add a pinch of Chinese 5 spice, but if you don't have some don't buy it just for this recipe) over medium flame for 5 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks (if anyone knows a technical term for this action, please feel free to let me know), add to crock pot when done. Add beans, peppers (for the hot ones I used 2 habernaros, 2 red chili peppers, and 2 green chili peppers) and tomatoes to the onions and peppers in the crock pot. At this point the whole mixture should be pretty dry. Add a couple of generous shakes of chili powder and a heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder. Use as much of two of the beers needed to get chili to desired consistency while enjoying the Rocky Mountain goodness of the third. Cover and cook for 8+ hours.

The dish: Chili is a pretty loose term that can mean a number of different things, but this variation is pretty close to what most people think of when they hear the term. You can add or omit things as they suit your tastes, don't like beans- don't add them (but I think you'd be doing a bad thing). The finished product was a little spicy, but not uncomfortable to eat. The real key here is the beer and the chocolate. Don't be scared of either as you won't taste them, but they'll give a rich taste that will make your chili a standout.

Monday, March 23, 2009

lamb and pepper fried brown rice

  • quart of cooked brown rice (take out works great)
  • 2 yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 orange bell peppers, seeded and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 pound of leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and bone and cut into bite sized pieces
  • fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • wok oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • tablespoons soy sauce (I had some leftover ginger soy so I combined it with regular)
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • pinch of ground chili pepper

In a small bowl wisk together sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, mirin and chili pepper, set aside. Heat wok over highest flame you got for about 5 minutes. Add a swirl of wok oil and toss in the peppers stirring frequently, cook for about 3-5 minutes. Add another swirl of wok oil and add lamb, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes or until lamb appears fully cooked. Add another swirl of oil and add rice stirring mixture for additional 3 minutes, or longer if the rice was cold. Remove wok from heat and continue stirring for 2 minutes. Right before serving stir in mint and sauce into mixture.

The dish: My mother is a schoolteacher and as such growing up there was always a healthy emphasis placed upon reading. To this day I have a well worn library card and love to read books I would never want to own, but enjoy going through. The inspiration for this dish came from a book on Japanese pub cuisine (who knew such an animal existed), where it was done as more of a stir fry and without the same sauce and mint. The idea for the sauce came from mostly stuff I had lying around, you could omit a few things or just use a prepared wok sauce and be fine. Inspiration for the mint is also rooted in my upbringing; a few times a year my mom would make lamb chops and always serve them with mint jelly. I only eat lamb about once a year or so but have a hard time enjoying it without something mint, so I threw the fresh stuff in for good measure and it worked great, just be sure to add it at the last minute as the flavor quickly cooks off. In addition to learning, thrift was another virtue present in my childhood home and I'm proud to say that Hannaford has yellow and orange peppers on sale this week and I've already made two things using them, count on at least one more.

turkey with mixed spring greens and apples on rye

  • thin sliced turkey breast (I roasted and sliced my own)
  • 1 red delicious apple, slice thin
  • mixed greens of your liking
  • good quality mustard
  • good quality rye bread

Assemble sandwich in this order: bread, mustard, turkey, apple, greens, top piece of bread. My many years in deli work have made me nutty with always making sure that condiments go on the bottom and veggies always go on top. Any greens will work, but if you're near a Hannaford pick up the spring mix with herbs. Likewise, use whatever mustard tickles you, I had some spicy brown Grey Poupon which rocked. I roasted and sliced my own turkey breast, but if your kitchen doesn't look like the inside of a deli any good turkey will work, but I avoid Boar's Head like the plague as their meats are nothing but a celebration of funk and salt.

The dish: I really miss the 90s sometimes. It could just be short term nostalgia but things really seemed so much newer and brighter in the decade that introduced us to cell phones and Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Although one part of the 90s I certainly don't long for anymore is what I like to call Seinfelditis, the tendency in almost any conversation for someone to make some analogy using an episode of the fabled TV show: wow, you like junior mints too? this is just like that time on Seinfeld... In the decade since Jerry has gone the way of the beanie baby and the phenomenon has mostly died out. That is of course until someone finds out I own a deli slicer, and then I always get remember the Seinfeld where Kramer feed the cat with the slicer? I'm not much of a TV person to begin with and the show never struck a chord with me, but the slicer episode is one of the two I've actually seen (the junior mints one being the other) and it was pretty funny, but slightly tragic when Elaine leveled her heel with the blade. Truth be told, the occasional bout of Seinfelditis is a small price to pay for the convenience of owning a slicer. Whether it's making my own lunch meats, slicing vegetables, or cutting perfectly even pieces of crostini for fresh bruschetta, the slicer is a must have for the red room. I highly advocate picking one up, just like Seinfeld you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.

black bean salad

  • 4 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 yellow pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 orange pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • fresh cilantro, chopped fine
  • juice of half a lime
  • good quality olive oil
  • good quality balsamic vinegar

Place beans, peppers, tomatoes and cilantro in large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice with close to equal parts of oil and vinegar, about a quarter cup total. Use very good quality of each, you know, those bottles you got on close out (vinegar is a preserving agent, it's not going to go bad). I had some scallion oil that I used as part of the oil and it added nicely, but regular olive oil works fine. Stir whisked dressing into beans and toss to coat. Serve cold.

The dish: Beans are popular in almost every culture on the globe, and with good reason, they're plentiful and healthy, packed with protein and fiber with no fat and very few calories. Beans are a powerful weapon against high cholesterol, diabetes, diverticulitis, constipation, even cancer and a host of other health maladies. If you tend to avoid them because of their most notorious side effect, begin eating a small amount of them on a frequent basis, maybe a bite three times a day. This will help your body produce a beneficial bacteria (which is all that Beano is) that will help in dealing with the complex sugars (complex is the key- your body will burn them for energy but not store them as fat) that cause gas. Draining and rinsing is also key here; what you're doing is washing away extra sugars that cause discomfort, as well as the lions share of the sodium.

smashed carrots

  • 3-5 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter

Boil carrots in unsalted water until tender, about 15 minutes, drain and transfer to large bowl. Smash carrots using potato masher until creamy with few small lumps remaining. Stir in butter to taste. Season with Kosher salt, also to taste.

The dish: I lifted the idea of serving carrots this way from a local Irish restaurant. I was amazed at how easy it is to prepare and how perfect they are alongside of a traditional corned beef dinner. At first glance it may seem like an unhealthy way to enjoy carrots, but it's actually much better for you than the popular glazed method as it uses less butter and no sugar. Go easy on the salt, it's really not too crucial here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Guinness corned beef

  • 2 corned beef rounds
  • 4 cans of Guinness
  • bay leaves
  • mustard seeds
  • whole peppercorns
  • caraway seeds
  • dried mustard

Pour one can of beer into Crock Pot and add a couple of shakes of dried mustard and stir. Add another can of beer and add the bay leaves, peppercorns, mustard and caraway seeds, stirring to combine. Place corned beef and whatever seasoning it came with in Crock Pot and cover with remaining beer, making sure to stir mixture and cover beef. Cook on low for 8+ hours. Scrape any seeds off meat before serving.

The dish: Everyone has a secret about their heritage and here's mine: I'm Irish and I can't stand Guinness. I constantly hear its praises sung, but to me it tastes like malted 10w-40. The meat certainly doesn't wind up tasting like a pint of the thick stuff, but rather has a full flavor that reminds me of the way corned beef is supposed to taste. The other key is to add plenty of seasonings, that anemic little pouch of seeds that comes with corned beef is no where near enough to really impart flavor. For the Puritans reading this, any alcohol in the beer gets cooked off which makes this dish family friendly and perfect for leftover sandwiches, just make sure to pack a flask with your lunch as the Guinness has lost all its potency.

roasted cabbage with bacon

  • 1 head of cabbage, cut into bite size pieces
  • 4 strips of high quality bacon, finely diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (sorry Mike and wizzz, when I pasted in from word it showed as "4000"). Place chopped bacon in bottom of large casserole dish, I like either ceramic or cast iron, cook in oven for 5-10 minutes. Add cabbage and toss with the bacon, spreading around all that bacon goodness, return to oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until cabbage appears well cooked. Season with Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

The dish: Everything really is better with bacon, and cabbage is certainly no exception to the rule. Roasting the cabbage gives it almost a sweet flavor without turning into the normal soggy mess that most people think it's supposed to be. If the bacon is a little lean and things look a little dry you can always add a little olive oil, but this batch didn't need it. Don't wait for next March, cabbage is cheap and great for you and this is a variation that even people who don't like cabbage seem to enjoy.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Champagne crab cake sandwich

  • 1 can lump crab meat (I used chicken of the sea)
  • 1 pouch fresh crab meat (it will be refrigerated)
  • 2 packages imitation crab meat, chopped finely
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2/3 cup of bread crumbs
  • Dijon mustard
  • 2 large eggs
  • mayonnaise
  • fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • old bay seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar (or any white wine vinegar)

In a skillet over medium heat brown the onion for 3-5 minutes in a little olive oil or until just opaque. Combine all the crab (making sure the imitation is chopped finely), onion, bread crumbs, a tablespoon of mustard, eggs, old bay and vinegar in a large bowl. Mix together and form into sandwich sized patties. Using same skillet as onion, cook each crab cake over a high flame in a little bit of oil until just browned. Transfer cakes onto lightly greased cookie sheet and bake uncovered for 20 minutes at 350. Stir together equal parts mayonnaise and mustard and add parsley. Serve crab cakes on nice rolls with shredded lettuce and sauce.

The dish: Imitation crab stick, as the name implies, is not crab at all. I refer to it as "bologna of the sea", but that's not really accurate either. Beef bologna is made from the parts of a cow that you can't sell in any other way. The crab stick has no crab at all in it (even the undesirable parts) and instead is ground up Alaska Pollock, a plentiful, flavorless whitefish that's in crazy abundance up in northern Alaska and Japan. It's not at all bad for you and can really work well in a dish if done right. I use it in the crab cakes because it's as cheap as the breadcrumbs and gives a great texture and flavor without being too fishy. The Champagne vinegar was a bottle I got on sale at Marshall's and have just been looking for ways to use it, but any white wine vinegar would work well. This recipe made 8 BIG crab cakes, so unless you need a lot you might want to cut back, but like meatloaf, this recipe is very forgiving about not using exact amounts of ingredients.

Beyonce fries

  • 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into fry shapes
  • cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons high quality maple syrup

Toss fries with salt, pepper and olive oil. Spread out evenly on a large baking sheet and cook in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until desired doneness. Stir syrup into sour cream and mix thoroughly. Dip fries into sauce and enjoy (was this sentence really necessary).

The dish: I work two days a month in an office that has a plethora of People magazines. If I'm there and I get a lull I often thumb through one and catch up on what's happening with the stars. One of them reported that Beyonce was trying some new diet that didn't involve much other than eating cayenne pepper and maple syrup, something about the different tastes satisfying cravings. I think it's a great example for all of her young girl fans that she should be so concerned about her body image and turn food (something that on patches of this planet is still in short supply) into the enemy. Hopefully Ms. Knowles realizes that eating is not the issue, but rather what and how much you eat. Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins A, B6 and C, as well as fiber and a host of antioxidants, and when you "fry" them in the oven in olive oil you cut out the really bad sat fats. I never really cared about the differences of maple syrup before I married a girl from Canada (pretty much) and she got me hooked on the good stuff, adjust it to your taste here. If you want perfect cut fries go to Bed Bath and Beyond and spend $12 on a fry cutter, otherwise any shape works.

vegetable beef soup

  • 3 cans tomato soup
  • 1 box good quality beef stock
  • 1.5 pounds stew beef, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 large bag of frozen mixed vegetables (or two small ones)
  • fresh or dried green herbs

Place all ingredients in crock pot, season with salt and pepper, cook on low for 8+ hours. If using fresh herbs, wait until the last hour to add them. I used a little dried basil and fresh parsley.

The dish: Congratulations, you just made the easiest dinner that you'll love and everyone will swear you put in much more effort than simply combining ingredients. There's really no need to brown the meat ahead of time on this one as it picks up some nice flavors and comes out really tender. This soup is my version of the great vegetable beef available at Denny's. It took a few batches to perfect, but close to equal amounts of beef stock and tomato soup is the key here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

rigatoni with roasted cauliflower and asiago cheese

  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
  • asiago cheese
  • bread crumbs
  • fresh curly parsley, chopped fine

Combine cauliflower and garlic with a generous amount of olive oil, roast for 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven, stirring occasionally. Boil rigatoni in salted water until just done. Add breadcrumbs and parsley to cauliflower, season with kosher salt and fresh pepper, stirring in more olive oil as needed. Continue cooking until pasta is done. Place pasta on plate, sprinkle asiago cheese on top, drizzle with good quality olive oil and top with cauliflower mixture.

The dish: If you're a faithful red room reader (which I think you might be because I'm pretty sure it's only Kim and I reading this) you know my feelings on olive oil: cook with really cheap stuff and drizzle with great stuff. Cauliflower is one of those super veggies that has all kinds of good things going on and this was an easy way to enjoy it. If you want to make it a little healthier you can omit the breadcrumbs, but they really added a nice touch.

rice with chicken, cashews and gloden raisins

  • 2 cups white rice, cooked
  • 1/4 cup chicken, torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup halved cashews
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • fresh curly parsley, chopped
  • Mrs. Dash seasoning

Combine first five ingredients. We used leftover chicken and we nuked it in a little chicken stock because we had some of that left over. Season to taste with Mrs. Dash and fresh ground pepper and kosher salt.

The dish: Kim really believes that she can't cook, which is not the case, and as a result she's a little pensive in the red room. I was working late and we had some leftover chicken so we planned on her putting this dish together and it came out great- the mix of flavors really worked. We normally just buy rice from the local Chinese place, but she used Uncle Ben's enriched boil in the bag and the texture was perfect. I enjoyed it cold the next day for lunch- this was a great way to stretch a little left over chicken.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

green beans almondine

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, caps snapped off
  • sliced almonds, unseasoned
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 lemon

Boil green beans in large pot for 4 minutes or until cooked but still crisp. Drain and rinse with cold water (to stop them from cooking further). Saute almonds in butter for three minutes over medium high flame. Add green beans, squeeze juice of lemon over mixture, and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

The dish: Two keys here: 1. Make sure that the green beans are cooked, but not too much. You want them to be firm with a snap and a bright green color. 2. As always, fresh lemon juice is imperative. That bottle in the fridge is OK for emergencies or when baked into a dish with many ingredients, but with so little going on in this dish you want to make sure that each component shines. No matter what the label says, that stuff in the bottle is not made with real lemons, it's made with some crazy chemicals in a plant along the Jersey turnpike that looks like it should be producing something much different than food flavorings.

mashed potatoes with leeks and thyme

  • 3 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
  • 4oz fat free sour cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • fresh thyme
  • 1 large leek

Slice potatoes and boil until tender in salted water, drain. Chop thyme and white section of leek finely, saute in a skillet with a little bit of olive oil for 5 minutes over medium flame, stirring occasionally. In large bowl combine cooked potatoes with leeks and thyme and add remainder of ingredients. If you like very smooth whipped potatoes beat with a hand or stand mixer, otherwise a spoon works just fine. Once mixture is at your desired consistency, season to taste with kosher salt and serve.

The dish: Potatoes are a great canvas to run with and add pretty much anything you can dream of. The thyme and leek combo worked well, but I've added all kinds of crazy things to the mix. You can omit the sour cream and add pretty much any creamy dairy that suits you; more milk, heavy cream, butter, buttermilk or even yogurt if you get down with the active cultures. I made this mix a little creamier than I would have normally, but I wasn't sure when we'd be eating and as with pretty much everything but our own bodies mashed potatoes tend to firm up as they sit around.

chicken with mushroom and parsley gravy

  • 4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms, I used baby bellas
  • gravy master
  • wondra flour
  • fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Season chicken with kosher salt and fresh pepper. Add swirl of olive oil to a hot skillet (cast iron works best) and cook chicken through, about 4 minutes each side. Once cooked, place chicken on plate loosely tented with tin foil. Add stock to skillet and reduce heat to medium high stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, after 3 minutes add mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes. Add two dashes gravy master to the mix and whisk in two healthy shakes of the wondra. Add parsley and more flour as needed. Turn off heat and continue whisking until gravy is correct consistency, spoon over warmed chicken and serve.

The dish: I read an article in the Wall Street Journal awhile back about a chef at some ridiculous restaurant in NY or LA or Tokyo or some such place where a meal probably cost more than most of the cars I've owned in my life, and he had a confession: every sauce and gravy he makes begins with a dash or two of gravy master. He said that he couldn't get the right color or flavor without it. I went right out and bought some and I'll be damned if my next batch of gravy I made wasn't my best. I became a huge proponent of the stuff and Kim even got me a gravy master t-shirt, don't ask me where, she has her sources. The other half of good gravy is using wondra flour, not as exciting as the master but it won't clump.

Monday, March 2, 2009

happy husband

  • fresh baby spinach, rinsed
  • 1 large egg
  • sausage patty
  • roll or bagel

Cook sausage patty (our favorite is Morningstar Farms meatless patties, we're carnivores and love these things- great flavor with almost no grease), place on bread. Fry egg to your liking, we do over hard. Place egg on patty and top with spinach, letting the heat from the sandwich slightly wilt the leaves.

The dish: In addition to my lovely wife's full time gig as a math teacher in a middle school, she also moonlights as a college professor once a week and teaches two Spin classes a week at our local gym. Yes, you read that right- three jobs, I tell her one more and I can be a kept man. She has a real passion for teaching Spin and I love being part of her Monday evening class, but her Saturday morning class begins at 7:15AM and I just feel like that thin line between Friday night and Saturday morning is almost non-existent at that hour. She also makes it too easy not to go to her class, bringing me the paper and breakfast in bed when she returns. She's experimented with all different variations on the breakfast sandwich theme, and this one's the winner- it's satisfying without being greasy and it's a great way to begin the day.

German potato salad

  • 5 pounds red potatoes
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • dried mustard
  • kosher salt
  • 5 strips bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 1 large white onion, diced

Peel potatoes about 80% (I like to leave some skin on, but not too much) and cut into similar bite sized pieces. In bottom of crock pot whisk together vinegar and sugar with a generous shake of dried mustard. Add potatoes, bacon and onion to pot, stir and season with salt. Cook on high for two hours, then cook on low for 8-10 hours. Add parsley in last 20 minutes of cooking. Serve warm.

The dish: Keeping with the "you can cook anything in a crock pot" theme comes this warm potato salad. This was cooked in my crock pot which is about 5 years old. Depending on the age of yours you may need to adjust cooking times slightly. This dish is best done the first time while you're home and can keep an eye on things, making sure the potatoes cook. As you can see in the picture I got cocky and went out for the afternoon and came home to slightly mashed potato salad, no big deal though. I advise against using any slow cooker that's not a real Rival Crock Pot, many cheaper knock offs cook unevenly and don't seal as nicely. There are a few higher end cookers from companies like Kitchen Aid, but I can't see dropping $100 on something that's an imitation of the $40 namesake.