This is a story about how I came around to my wife’s view on using a crockpot, and how I can be totally, egregiously wrong about things. Sometimes.
It dates back to when my wife was registering for gifts for our wedding. She mentioned to me that she wanted to get a crockpot.
“A crockpot! What the hell do we need a crockpot for?” I yowled ungrammatically. I was laughing out loud at all the 1950’s images rolling around in my mind: The grayish, boiled mystery meat, smushy vegetables, Marion Cunningham, June Cleaver, etc. You get the picture.
One of the ironies here is that I used to work on the housewares floor of a big (and now defunct) department store back when I was in college--that’s where I acquired a lot of my early knowledge about what kind of gear you need and don’t need in the kitchen. I errantly considered a crockpot to be on the “don’t need” list.
But I learned later that meals from a crockpot have enormous advantages for a busy cook. They tend to be simple and easy to make. There are very few crock pot recipes with more than one step. Just whip through the prep work (or outsource it), chuck everything into the pot, set it on low, and drag yourself off to that job you can't wait to retire from.
You can forget about it for the entire day, and when you come home, dinner is done and waiting for you. Note that this is a rare instance where you may bend my rule to stay near the kitchen.
If you’re looking for a good quality crockpot, I’d suggest the same brand that we have: Rival. If you click on the product link at the bottom of this post it will take you to one such crockpot on Amazon. Note that the word “crockpot” is actually a brand name owned by Rival, and products made by other manufacturers will usually be called “slow cookers.”
I wouldn’t bother with any of the annoying, fancy ones with zillions of settings. Just get one with a low, medium and high setting and keep it simple.
A couple of minor cautions about using crockpots: They take forever to heat up, so you can’t really lift up the lid and peer in at the food without costing yourself extra cooking time on the back end. Don't give into the temptation of looking in on the food while it simmers!
Also reheating food in the crockpot is a bit problematic. The crock itself is a brittle ceramic that under no circumstances can you heat on any direct heat source, like a stove. I learned this lesson the hard way and shattered one once… please don’t let me hear that you copied my mistake. You can’t really reheat it by turning on the crockpot itself because that can take an hour. And the high-walled ceramic dish doesn't work well in a microwave. So, you have to reheat your food the old fashioned way--by spooning it onto a plate and microwaving it.
There are literally TONS of recipes that are specifically designed for crockpot cooking, and I'll have a post coming up shortly with suggested sites to visit for recipe ideas.
Also when you buy your crockpot, be sure to look over the recipe book that comes along with it. We were surprised at how many good recipes there were in there. And finally, I've listed below one of our house favorites, chili, which can be made as spicy or as mild as your palate allows. It's a definite heavy rotation candidate!
Crock Pot Chili:
(Borrowed and modified without permission from our friend Karen)
Add to crockpot:
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 8-ounce can tomato paste
2 14.5-ounce can kidney beans or pink beans
1 lb ground beef, browned and drained of fat
1 onion, chopped coarsely
1 green pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup water
3 Tablespoons mild chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne or chipotle pepper (can also add Tabasco sauce to taste)
Stir ingredients, cover crock pot and cook 10 hours on low or 5 hours on high. Can serve over white rice.