Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Crockpot, My Self

The way some women rave about their crock pot, you’d think it was the latest greatest invention since the vibrator.

"If you’re a lazy cook, the crock pot is your best friend," a friend of mine gushed. "You just throw food in it and when you come home after work, it's done."

Yeah, but is the food any good?

I decided to find out for myself. I ordered a crock pot (a.k.a. slow cooker) online. Once it arrived, I let it sit in the box in the living room unopened for several days (the cat used it as a perch). Avo began counting the days before I put the crock pot up for sale on eBay.

I refused to let my crock pot fear get the best of me. Using a recipe from Betty Crocker's "Slow Cooker Cookbook," I whipped up "Lentil and Mixed-Vegetable Casserole."

It didn't make the crock pot my best friend.

Avo wasn't surprised the recipe was a bust.

"Here's a cooking hint: never cook a recipe that calls for a can of condensed golden mushroom soup."

I fear that the crock pot has begun to come between us.

"Please get rid of it," Avo begged.

I can see his point. For one thing, we don't have any room for it. For another, we haven't found a slow cooker recipe that doesn't suck. But I'm not ready to give up.

In a last ditch effort to save my crock pot, I decided to give this vegetarian chili recipe from Food Network a shot.


1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can white (cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen baby lima beans or regular lima beans
1 cup chopped onion
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced pickled jalapeno (from can or jar)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano or regular oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce (I'd go with two).
1/3 cup couscous (I used closer to 2/3 cup).
1/2 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese (I'd say more).
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients but the couscous, shredded cheese, cilantro and salt and pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.

Five to 10 minutes before serving (depending on temperature of slow cooker) add couscous, cover and cook, until couscous is tender. Season, to taste, with salt and black pepper.

Just before serving, top each serving with shredded cheese and cilantro.

According to Food Network, this should take just 15 minutes of prep time, but, of course, that depends on how fast you can locate ingredients, seed, chop, mince, open cans, and shred.

"I'm cooking!" I thought to myself as I headed out to pick up the girls at school and to take Ruby to dance class.

I made a mental note to check on the chili at 5 pm (since I put it in the slow cooker on high at 2 pm). But by 6:20, the chili was still mostly liquid. In an attempt to change the consistency, I added more couscous than the recipe required and crossed my fingers. Lo and behold, the couscous trick worked. All of the sudden, it actually looked like chili.

Unfortunately, it was pretty bland chili.

"This tastes like the sort of thing you might find at Anjelika Kitchen," Avo said, which was sort of a compliment (Anjelika Kitchen is a successful restaurant) and sort of not (their food is super-healthy, but not so tasty). Once you top it with the fresh cilantro leaves, Monterey jack cheese and douse it with hot sauce, it's not so bad.

"You know why I made this recipe, right?" I asked Avo.

"Yes, you wanted to use the crock pot so I don't throw it out. The problem is you've become emotionally attached to the crock pot, so now you need to find a reason to keep it."

He's right. I don't want to feel like a failure.

"Will you eat the chili for leftovers if I freeze it?"

"Perhaps," Avo answered.

Guess I'll have to keep looking for the crock pot recipe that will justify its existence.

Any suggestions?


Lorraine said...

That chili recipe looks like a hell of a lot of work.

And why a Crock Pot recipe calls for canned beans is a mystery. For me, the whole raison de Crock Pot is having the Pot on hand to cook beans.

The Crock Pot is also great for bean soups like pasta fagioli, and split pea soup.

You might try this Two-Bit Navy Bean Soup with Pan Fried Potatoes.

This soup DOES taste better if you saute the onions and carrots first, but if that's too much work, just dump them into the Crock Pot after the beans are cooked.

You must, however, pan-fry the potatoes and add them at the end.

Good luck.

Bernie Bernstein said...

It's Me, Mom - I don't know, I'm usually one for gadgets, but the Crock Pot never interested me. The recipes usually have loads of ingredients and, if you have to cut, dice, saute first you might just as well read a book while the food is cooking on the stove or in the oven. And you know me, I'm afraid to leave things cooking while I'm away from the house. Something could go wrong and the house would be on fire when I got back. I never even pre-set my oven to cook while I was away for fear something would go wrong.

By the way, Dad makes the most awesome chicken chili...without a crock pot. Ask him for the recipe.

@Foodtopia said...

I've also had the same issue with crock pots. Mine sat unused until my neighbor (and honorary mom) gave me this recipe for macaroni and cheese. So easy, so good. It's worth keeping the crock pot around.

-1 box of macaroni noodles, cooked
-1 can of cheese soup
-1 large can of condensed milk
-2 1/2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
-2 eggs

Dump the cooked noodles into the crock pot. Mix in the cheese soup, condensed milk, shredded cheese, and eggs. Take the empty condensed milk can and fill it up with regular milk. Add that to the mixture. Cook on medium for 2 1/2-3 hours.


Undomesticated Me said...

Thanks for the recipe suggestions. I'll give them a try. It does seem silly to use canned beans in a crock pot, now that you mention it.

Marion said...

The Gourmet Slow Cooker by Lynn Alley.

And generally lots of tough meats require braising, which is essentially slow-cooking in an oven, so anything you would braise is easily done is a crockpot. Tonight, in fact, we're having a pot roast done in a crockpot. Easy prep and it will be super-tender and juicy. It also has the advantage of welcoming you home in the evening with a house already smelling like dinner is ready.

Next up: Intro to the pressure cooker. Essential equipment.

Lorraine said...

Dear Undomesticated:

Just saw this Caribbean Chicken Crockpot Recipe tweeted by @Caribbeanfoodtv and thought of your plight.

It looks yum if you like West Indian food...