"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Friday, February 2, 2007

My Crock Pot: A Love Story

It took me approximately three thousand years to get around to doing it, but I finally got myself a Crock Pot. Not your generic "slow cooker," but an actual, bona fide Crock Pot-brand slow cooker. It's even got a black round pot insert and a brushed aluminum outside, so it doesn't look ridiculously out of time alongside the food processor and the stick blender and what have you. See, isn't it pretty? I think they are still making these things in Goldenrod and Avocado with the little line drawings of vegetables and flowers on them, and so on. You know, like the one over there:

So I got the thing home and realized that I had no idea how to use it. The little instruction booklet comes with recipes for basic chili and pot roast, and warns you that liquid doesn't evaporate like it does with stovetop and oven cooking, so you have to adapt your recipes properly. I went out and armed myself with a couple of Better Homes and Gardens slow cooker cookbooks. There turns out to be a lot of good stuff in there, though there is a higher percentage of recipes calling for things like a can of Cream of Mushroom soup than I'm used to dealing with. I do love the simplicity, though, of recipes for barbecue ribs that call for:

1. Ribs
2. A bottle of barbecue sauce

Instructions: stick in pot and cook for a bunch of hours.

My first effort was a batch of baked beans. They turned out fairly tasty, but a little dry. So much for underdoing the liquids. They also had a little too much molasses flavor, and not enough bite. Next time I'll use some brown sugar with the molasses, and put in more mustard.

A North African beef stew was awesome. I set up the pot the night before, which really only took a few minutes, then stuck it in the cooker before I left for work. This was a labor-intensive Crock Pot recipe -- it required stirring in some dried fruits at the last half hour of cooking, so I did that when I got home, as well as did up some whole wheat couscous in chicken broth (fr0m a box, plus a dash of allspice) in the microwave. It came out wonderfully -- tender beef chunks, sweet and tangy sauce from the dried fruits and sweet potatoes. Mr. Gateau, naturally, sat there and picked out the dried fruits. Young Master Gateau scraped off all the sauce. Oh well, at least I ate heartily.

The next effort was also easy, and this one pleased everyone. I cut up some pork shoulder into chunks (this was the most labor intensive part of the dish), stuck it in the pot with a cheesecloth bag of garlic, oregano, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and bay leaves, and put it in the fridge. In the morning I poured a box of chicken stock over, and put it in the Crock Pot on low until I got home from work. That evening, I took out the meat with a slotted spoon, shredded it with two forks, and dressed with lime zest and lime juice. We ate it stuffed into soft tacos, with some guacamole and roasted tomato salsa from the supermarket, standing up at the kitchen counter before we ran out to catch a movie. The remaining pork (I had cooked 4 lbs. of it) disappeared in days, as Mr. Gateau, the babysitter, and I all dipped into it regularly. I think it would be really good for a fun group dinner.
Next thing up is going to be a sort of cassoulet adaptation using chicken, navy beans, and kielbasa.
I got one of the fancy new-wave slow cooker cookbooks that is I guess supposed to make hipsters and foodies feel cooler about using their Crock Pot, but honestly, I'm kind of digging the good old-skool BH&G one better. First of all, the slow cooker is for times you want things to be simple and easy, and very homey food suits that mood. Second, the more fashionable recipes try to expand the range of what the slow cooker can do, so they tell you to use it to do things I'm not convinced you really need it to do -- like most of the fish dishes, sauces, and things like poultry stuffing. If you have to cook for an hour at one temperature, do something to it, and then cook for another 3 hours at another temperature, what's the point of using a slow cooker? Ditto things that require a bunch of stovetop sauteeing and browning before they go into the pot. (Though I can see the benefit of giving meat a good browning before it goes in for a long braise). One thing I do want to try, though, from the "gourmet" book is risotto. Even with the sauteeing of stuff to get started, I bet the slow cooker is a great way to have the risotto slowly cook, while you make the other parts of the meal, especially if you have a lot of people over and want to hang out with them, instead of stirring a pan for 45 minutes.
Anyway, if it comes down to it, I think I would leave my husband for my Crock Pot.
UPDATE: Made the chicken/kielbasa cassoulet and it came out way better than I'd expected. I was skeptical all day that the beans (that had been quick cooked in advance) would actually cook evenly, and that the sauce would have enough flavor. Everything came out great, though the sausage lost a lot of its texture.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

i must get myself a crock pot soon!