So do you guys know about these things called slow-cookers? Get this: you throw a bunch of s#*t into a pot, press a button, and ten hours later, dinner is ready. It’s like magic!
I’m kidding of course. I think at least half of the nice people who read my blog have emailed me at some point in the past few years to ask WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY DON’T YOU WRITE ABOUT SLOW-COOKER DINNERS? WHY THE HECK DO YOU NOT OWN A SLOW COOKER?
Would you accept the answer: Because it’s too easy?
Last week, I finally bit the bullet and purchased one. When I turned to my all-knowing crockpot community on Facebook for advice (My request: “I don’t need the Cadillac of Slow-Cookers, a nice dependable Honda will do just fine”) I got a lot of suggestions, but ended up one-clicking The Original Crockpot. This one, you told me, is the one I want. It’s oval, so accommodates different cuts of meat; it’s durable, programmable, reasonably priced, and best of all, fits in a cabinet. I did consider the ones with browning capabilities, but eventually ruled them out for two reasons: 1) they tended to be more expensive and 2) I don’t see myself using a slow cooker for browning. I’m not after a hands-on technique-driven cooking experience here. (That’s what my Dutch Oven is for.) All I want out of a slow-cooker is the permission to be artless and brain-dead about dinner when I know I’m headed for a hectic evening — or when the idea of cooking is about as appealing as an IRS audit.
I began my education in artlessness at 7:00 am, the morning after my crock pot landed on the doorstep. The goal? To not spend more than two minutes putting something together, and to use what I had in the fridge and pantry — no shopping allowed. It was a Thursday, so pickin’s were slim, but after scanning some of your recipe suggestions (thank you Facebook friends!) I decided to go with a version of this Santa Fe Chicken. I used onions instead of scallions, fresh garlic instead of garlic powder, a single dried guajillo pepper instead of cayenne, and, for good measure, threw in some chile powder, a pinch of cinnamon, and oregano. I didn’t measure a single thing and other than the onion, didn’t chop anything either. I pressed the 10-hour low function button and went about my day.
I wish I could say that was the last I thought about dinner until we sat down 10 hours later (to a delicious meal, btw). But it was quite the opposite actually: With dinner out of the way, and subsequently, with all my dinner-making psychic energy freed up, I found myself scrutinizing every meal I saw (on instagram, in magazines, on blogs and menus) wondering “Would this work in the slow cooker? Would that work in the slow-cooker?”
In other words I think I’m beginning to understand why you guys are so obsessed with this thing. I don’t know how often I’ll end up using it, but I’m certainly excited by the possibilities. And I’m particularly grateful that I caught on just as Halloween approaches — we usually make a big witch’s cauldron of something self-serve-y to keep on the stovetop, like Andy’s Second Place Chili or Rich Man’s Franks & Beans. Something quick and easy for the kids who want to be done with the business of real food so they can begin their pursuit of Supersize Milky Way Darks, and also something a weary grown-up chaperone might appreciate when they ring our doorbell. (That’s one of my most favorite things about Halloween — inviting parents in who I haven’t seen in a while.) I’m thinking this time I might go with one of these. As always, suggestions are welcome!
1) Chicken Tikka Masala Only problem here is that the recipe calls for cutting the chicken into pieces. But might be worth it because I know my eldest will flip over this recipe.
2) Korean Beef Tacos Or I might also just make Anna’s short ribs (which are so popular, they are also in Playbook.) Note: Anna posted Top 10 Slow Cooker Meals for Parents on her blog and I plan to work my way down that list as well. (Hello Indian Butter Chicken…)
3) Holiday Brisket So my sister makes this fantastic brisket every year for the High Holy Days that involves a can of Coke. The idea of pouring that into the pot is kinda great.
4) Barbecued Pull Pork Sandwiches My kids would freak.
5) Chicken Mole I’m going to avoid all the pre-pureeing and see what happens. I mean, how can it be bad.
6) Lentil Soup with Garlicky Vinaigrette From the always dependable Catherine Newman. Now if I could only figure out how to get my kids to like lentils. (Warning: It involves some sautéing in the prep work.)
7) Sweet-and-Sour Country Ribs This is one of the first up.
8) Thai Chicken Soup So up my alley.
9) Slow Cooker Cassoulet I’m not kidding, I remember Bittman writing this story (and this recipe) in 2003 — that’s how long I’ve put off this purchase. (The short rib pasta sauce looks pretty darn good, too.)
10) Lastly, not a full-on dinner recipe but…Chicken Stock! In the words of my friend Robin Z: “It’s not a sexy recipe, but let no organic chicken carcass go to waste! Immediately after roasting, put the bones, water, etc, in the pot & cook all night on low. Drain, refrigerate, skim fat, freeze or use as you go.” Love that idea. Thanks Robin! See you Saturday!
Because my daughter would never forgive me if I passed up a chance to use a Roz Chast cartoon.