What’s Brewing in that Witches Pot?

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.

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73 Comments

Jackie Rice

Hey – just wanted to mention I made that Tikka Masala and didn’t cut up the meat first… and it basically cut itself up over time. Worked out perfectly for the ultimate in lazy dinner making.

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M

I use my crockpot all the time for chicken stock – just use your exact same recipe, but do it on low overnight. Works brilliantly.

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Caitlyn

Woohoo! I’ve been looking for a trusted source for slow-cooker recipes and you’re it. Thanks!

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Emaly McLean

I rarely use my crock pot (except to transport hot food to teacher luncheons) but I do use it cook Phoebe’s Chicken Chili. Super easy to make in the crock pot and perfect for those days when I have zero time to make dinner. BTW-My girls love that recipe and it is on the menu for our Halloween dinner.

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Rachel

Re: Chicken Tikka Masala – You don’t have to cut up the chicken! If you buy your meat in a grocery store with a butcher counter, just take the package of breasts or tenderloins to the butcher and ask that they dice the chicken for you and repackage. I started doing this a few months ago and love the saved time (and clean up!) at home.

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Anna

Jenny! I made the Korean Ribs as tacos this past weekend! My friend from high school, Brigid, gave me the idea. And because it is a small world…Brigid is a former coworker of a college roommate of yours. Brigid bought your cookbook, too!! Per her suggestions, I served the Korean Ribs Tacos with shredded kale, cotija cheese, lime, avocado, and cilantro. Delicious!!!! Right now, my Crockpot is filled with eggplant, onion, garlic, a bit of tomato paste, & slow roasted tomatoes. I am serving it over cheese tortellini. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Jenny

Anna! how funny! we made the Korean ribs as tacos, too — and with a very similar slaw, minus the cotija cheese. But not in the slow-cooker. (Thinking next time with some kind of kimchi slaw or pickled cucumber slaw) They were amazing as usual. I can say that because the recipe had nothing to do with me and everything to do with you. Tell Brigid’s former coworker I say hello…whoever it is. 🙂

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Kathy

There was a time in the spring when I saved every scrap of food in what ended up in two large freezer bags….. Carrot peels, bottom knobs of celery, onion skins and knobs, tomatoes skins, etc. Everytime I threw these bits and pieces into one of the bags. I even had some Parmesan skins I had saved

Then after a dinner of roasted bone-in breasts for six and another day of lazy rotisserie chicken dinner… Out came the crock pot. There wasn’t much room for any liquid. I did it all day. Had to add water every once in awhile…. Which apparently is a no no…. Don’t lift the lid

It worked

But as it was spring most, if not all the veg came on a truck many miles… So as I’m straining the stuff… I’m suddenly struck dumb….. Duhhhh
Every veg was probably treated with nasty stuff and here I was making stock with the peelings etc

I suggest making stock from garden grown or organic stuff…..

Just something to remember

I ended up dumping it… Couldn’t bring myself to use it….. Somehow a random cartoon of gluten free organic broth was less trouble

What really annoyed me was using those Parmesan skins that ultimately went down the drain. Boohoo

Sorry for the length

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Mary

I don’t own a slow cooker either, but I’ve been thinking about getting one. Can you leave it on while you’re not at home? I’ll be interested to see more slow-cooker recipes from you as you figure out how to use yours.

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Janet

An even easier BBQ pulled pork sandwich “recipe”: pork tenderloin, sliced sweet onion, favorite BBQ sauce and some honey. Cook on high for 4 hrs, shred with 2 forks, stir it all around and let it go another 45 min or so. Pile on Hawaiian rolls.

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Jan @ Family Bites

I have tonight’s dinner in the slow cooker as I type this. I make a soup with onion, carrot, celery, kale, wild rice, chopped chicken, stock, and coconut milk. Add a little cumin, curry, and salt and 7 hours later it’s in bowls and on the table. SO good. I’m printing off the recipe for the chicken tikka masala and Korean beef tacos now….

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Nicole @ thejameskitchen

So glad to hear, that I was not the only one who did not own a slow cooker for years and stubbornly avoided getting one (same Dutch oven argument). I bought one a few months ago to cook porridge / oats in overnight for breakfast. Greetings from another convert.

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Kate @FramedCooks

If I could only have one appliance in my kitchen it would be an agonizing choice between my slow cooker and my Cuisinart, and I think the slow cooker would win. I make everything from bolognese sauce to chicken and dumplings to brownie cake. Last week I made chicken parm soup! Looking forward to this new batch of recipes…thank you! 🙂 And here’s a tikka masala recipe that doesn’t call for cutting up the chicken at the start, just shredding at the end which is SO much easier! http://www.framedcooks.com/2012/10/slow-cooker-chicken-tikka-masala.html

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Carrie

I’ll vouch for using the slow cooker to do brisket. I’ve followed Deb Perelman’s recipe from her Smitten Kitchen Cookbook twice and it’s PERFECTION–not to mention easy! The best part is that it makes your house smell divine all night while it cooks. Then you transfer the brisket and sauce to the fridge, let it rest all day, slice it up and reheat it a bit in the oven at dinner along with the sauce. Yum. I also use my slower cooker to do corned beef and it turns out beautifully every time.

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Carrie

I also just tried making stock last week for the first time, and using the crock pot for it was the way to go. So easy!

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Emily T

My fave slow cook recipes

1. Italian sausage and/or meatballs
2. Lasagna
3. Greek Spring Chicken Stew from Cooking Well
4. Whole bone in chicken-breast with a tiny bit of water, on high for 4 hours: perfect for any shredded chicken recipe
5. “Lion Meat” (beef bourguignon but in the slow cooker instead of the oven)
6. Anything from “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker.”

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Megan

I am excited that you are dipping your toe into the crockpot arena because I have as confession to make….I have only found one meal EVER that tasted good in the crock pot. Everything else I have tried, either tasted burnt/overcooked (chili and meatballs) or the meat was completely bland and flavorless (though a lot of the sauces/liquid by itself was rather tasty). HELP.

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Maureen

One of my favorite crockpot recipes is your Braised Short Ribs recipe that appeared in Bon Appetit so long ago. Works SO WELL in the crockpot!

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Awads

I don’t use my crock pot all that much (b/c as you say, it’s too easy! i love to COOK!), but it can be a real life-saver in a pinch. i look forward to what you test for us 🙂

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Sarah | (Cooking for) Kiwi & Bean

Confession: I kinda hate most things that come out of my crock pot. The only successful things I have made involved either (1) a lot of sauteeing and searing, or (2) a lot of soya sauce and sugar. Even crock pot oatmeal sucked (it stuck to the side and was kinda liquidy and burnt tasting). Sigh. But I am DETERMINED to do a little intensive slow cooking immersion kinda thing before this year is up so that I can find some simple stuff that actually works. This list of recipes will be very helpful. Thanks!!!

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Linda S

You will love this thing, Jenny. It’s not a total time saver, b/c everything does taste a LOT better if you can brown the meat & saute the alliums before you toss it all in the crock, but still. My 11-y.o.’s favorite: pulled pork sliders (pork butt or shoulder in the crock, dump a bottle of root beer over, cook. When you’re ready to eat dump out the root beer, shred the pork, and mix up w/a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce). Super easy & delicious & no cream of mushroom soup 😉

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Linda S

p.s., great in the fall/winter when you want hot, stewy things, but also for hot summer days–I put it out on the patio & let it go all day & my kitchen stays cool.

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Karen

Check out the Slow Cooker Revolution books by America’s Test Kitchen. Yes – most recipes require more prep than simple dump and cover, but EVERY recipe I’ve tried tastes amazing, plus the batches are big enough I get 2-3 more dinners in the freezer for the future. Doing any precooking/prep the night before also makes mornings easier. Volume 2 is all easy prep meals too.
Totally changed my perspective on slow cookers, and I use a lot of their tricks to adapt other recipes. Can’t recommend them enough!

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Carrie S

I keep trying to be a slow cooker convert, but so far all I can make that has been eatable is chili. How do you avoid the bland, steamed, mushy taste that everything seems to get?

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MaryG

My favorite slow cooker meal hasn’t even been mentioned yet – pot roast. With or without searing – LOVE.

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Kristin J.

I just made the chicken tikka masala last week! the Kitchn has a ton of great slow-cooker recipes. I agree – don’t think you need to cut up the chicken. I also use mine to (rather quickly…as those things go) cook dried beans. For pinto or black, just rinse, put them in the slow cooker, cover them with a few inches of water, add seasonings if you want, and cook on high for 4-6 hours. No soaking required (crunchy mama tip – I sometimes add a small piece of dried kombu seaweed which helps the beans be more digestible. Just fish it out when they’re done).

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Kate

Pears poached in white wine for any dinner party.

Highly recommend the Canadian Living slow cooker book. Delicious and reliable.

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MikasMinion

Hmmm, I use my Crock Pot for exactly two things; pot roast, and beans. I used the heck out of it when I was a college student but these days I either feel like actually cooking or have waited too long and have to do something quick. Perhaps I should branch out again.

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Sara from Sabzi

I don’t own a slow cooker either, for similar reasons. But I agree with you that the ones with browning capabilities seem to be missing the point. I’m on the fence about this…

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MemeGRL

Best crockpot pulled pork ever:
http://memegrl.blogspot.com/2008/10/best-crockpot-pork-roast-ever.html

From my friend Jody. I find it falls apart so we just adapted and get rolls and make it pulled pork. It’s two nights if you click through and get her bbq sauce recipe to make it the second night. But I’m sure you have a good bbq sauce recipe so I am just including this crazy-easy one for you here. So so good.

Two-Night Pork Roast

For the first night, take a 3-4 pound pork roast. Put it under the broiler for about 15-20 minutes, with a little pepper and kosher salt. (I add some poultry seasoning as well but it’s not necessary.) Then it goes in the crock pot on high for 5-6 hours with:
a sliced onion (I often use several as they taste so good)
1 clove garlic, pressed (I sometimes use the stuff from a jar)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup water, and
1 to 2 Tablespoons soy sauce.

After it cooks, remove the meat and most of the onions (and bay leaf), and whisk in flour and a little butter to make gravy from the drippings. Serve over mashed potatoes.

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Josephine

Welcome to the dark side!
After dithering over whether we needed one or not, we bit the bullet earlier in the year (southern hemisphere autumn) and bought a slow cooker. We have two young boys (4 and 2), and three days a week I pick them up from daycare after work around 5pm, and they’re starving and whingey, and making dinner, no matter how simple, is a real punish. I bought the slow cooker with visions of coming home to a ready-made meal! But my two little darlings are such picky eaters, they are highly suspicious of anything that comes out of the cooker – sigh. HOWEVER, that slower cooker has paid itself off many times over for the quality chicken broth it helps me make – and the boys willingly eat chicken broth and noodles (no chicken though!!!)
I made a killer thai beef curry with it just last week: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1977653/thai-beef-curry – I didn’t bother browning anything before, and it was the business. I’ve also used it for slow roasting pork to great effect.
Enjoy your crock pot!

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catherine

tonight’s dinner: pork butt, jar of tomatillo salsa, few onions and a splash of broth (previously made in slow cooker as described).
shred meat; make tacos. working mom’s dream

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Hilde

I remember the original Bittman slow cooker recipes, and have been using them for years! I bought my slow cooker because of that article, and in the span of a few weeks proceeded to make all of the recipes, culminating in the slow cooker cassoulet on Valentine’s Day. Then, my husband had his bloodwork done for his annual exam, and even though we were in our late 20s it came up high, I am convinced, due to the short ribs and duck legs all within a narrow time frame. The thought of it still makes me laugh.

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MemeGRL

@Megan–your crockpot might run too hot. I loved my first crockpot and thought I upgraded to my second, but it runs way too hot and I have to adjust most things. This might be your situation too.
@Sarah (Kiwi & Bean)–try doing the oatmeal in a pyrex bowl in a water bath in the crockpot overnight. I have only done that with steel cut oats but it is fabulous. Any that spill over are so diluted, they don’t stick, and for whatever reason, the pyrex is easier to clean than the crockpot insert. Plus it is a more manageable amount of oatmeal! (Depends how many you are cooking for, I suppose.)

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Renee P.

Looking for a good slow cooker recipe book? I second the earlier comment about the ATK Slow Cooker Revolution books – awesome! In Vol 2 there is an awesome recipe for chicken mole – it’s on our menu again for this week! Dump everything in and don’t puree until it has all cooked.
And please, don’t cook your chicken too long! 4-6 hours, max (thanks, ATK, for that tip!).

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molly

HOOORAY!!!! I’ve been following your blog for years and secretly pining away for you to create this EXACT post. Totally made my month! i loooove my slow cooker – especially for the ultra simple dump-it-all-in-and-run recipes. have fun!!

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Katie

Yay for joining the world of slow cookers! One of my favorite things is letting beans (pinto are my fav) just soak all day in whatever spices I want too. They freeze perfectly and are great in your bean burrito recipe. Also, the Pioneer Woman does an amazing Dr. Pepper pulled pork. You add some adobe chili in there too so it’s a bit spicy. Heaven! Enjoy your new kitchen toy!

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Andrea Howard

I cook all my dried beans in the slow cooker. Soak 2C. dried beans the evening before. Cook overnight (okay, 8-10 hours, more sleep than I get!) in 6 C. of water on low. Next morning, drain and add the sauce and seasonings from the recipe, and back into the slow cooker. It’s a long process, but requires almost no attention. The beans turn out great and cost only pennies!

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Jos

Love my slow cooker big time. I ‘roast’ chicken in it these days – put a rack in or scrunch some foil, rest the bird on it, throw over some wine and stock and loads of garlic cloves and herbs – set it to low and away you go. Just before you’re ready to eat – pull that succulent bird out – bang her under the grill/broiler to grill her up and tada .. the most divine roast chicken you could ever feast on.

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Bernie

I need to expand my repetoir beyond Pot Roast & Beef Stew…but, oh my, they do make the house smell wonderful by mid afternoon!

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Rocky

Added benefit of slow cooker: it’s super easy for kids to use them. My daughter loves to make dinner by throwing a bunch of stuff in there in the afternoon that we eat at night. With a little bit of direction, it produces something we can actually enjoy.

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Wendy

I actually make your Pork Ragu in my slow cooker when I’m craving it (always!) and I don’t have time to dedicate to it and it’s delicious!

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Alexia

Jenny we must be slow-cooker kindred spirits!!!
I have been putting off buying one for years for exactly the same reason. And last Thursday, mine arrived on the porch. The Cooks Illustrated recommended one, because what else? I took it for a test drive on Sunday with Anna’s Korean BBQ (country-style pork) ribs. OMG yum. And have Anna’s Butter Chicken simmering away, for a nice delicious meal when everyone gets home at 630. Can’t wait to see what else you make, but that list looks pretty good to me!

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Anne

I love using mine to make stock overnight but it is somewhat disconcerting to wake up in the middle of the night to the the fantastic smell of chicken stock and even worse when getting up for breakfast!

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Naomi

I’m SO grateful for this list! I love the idea of the slow cooker, but since I stay home during the day I find it’s just more hassle than using my dutch oven when it require the same amount of chopping and prep. On the other hand, all the dump-and-cover Pinterest crock pot recipes involve super-processed ingredients that are not my speed. I am going to make my way through this list now. Let us know when you find keepers!

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louise

Thanks for re-posting the 10 crockpot recipes, but I am confused about the Holiday brisket recipe which is NOT for a crockpot.

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Rosa

Slow Cooker question….I have a 3.5 quart slow cooker. Most recipes are for 6…could I take that recipe and simply halve it for my slow cooker? Wasn’t sure if there would be a potential liquid ratio issue. Thanks!!

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Lex Apostata

I, too, have been a slow-cooker spurner, but my kitchen is about to be renovated and out of commission for at least six weeks and so I will have to learn to make dinner in a slow cooker and a microwave.

I envision not using the slow cooker all that much after the new kitchen opens, but I do make a lot of rice — and my rice steamer doesn’t work.

I have seen that there are combination slow-cookers/rice-steamers and I was wondering if any of the Loyal Readers have any experience with these appliances. Even post-renovation my kitchen will be small and I would like to get double-duty out of any appliance that will be sucking up cabinet space.

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Starr

You pretty much never need to cut up chicken before putting it in the crockpot. Just shred it after it’s done.

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Dianne

I, too, avoided the crock pot for years. I think I was traumatized because my mom used to use it and nothing good came out of it. (my brothers actually called it the “crap pot” Sorry mom!)

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Kelly Holmes

I attended a conference earlier this year, in which a prominent Portland restaurateur spoke about the need for a return to “Mother Food.” Food made from real ingredients, slowly cooked, to be eaten together as a family. Most of us don’t have time to babysit a meal for hours, so the crock pot is the perfect example of how to balance our hectic daily lives with bringing back Mother Food. Bravo to you for taking the plunge!

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CJ

Made Korean short ribs AND second place chili this week…to rave reviews. Thanks for the continued inspiration!

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Deborah

Hi! Just wanted to add an extra why-I-love-my-crockpot note… we use ours fairly regularly to pinch hit on busy weekdays, but my favourite save-the-day tip is to haul it out for huge family dinners and gatherings… the kind where every burner and oven available is already in use. Ours has held butternut squash or gluten-free stuffing at Thanksgiving… mulled wine at New Year’s… and beef bourgignon at Christmas… it’s awesome because you can p[lug it in anywhere you have a space 🙂
Cheers,
Deborah

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Marla

Check out Smitten Kitchen’s Tangy Spiced Brisket slow cooker recipe. Omit cooking the broth/sauce mix, just pour on top of brisket and onions and press on. Foolproof, delicious and tastes just like my grandma’s holiday brisket.

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Mona

Made #8 on your list tonight – the Thai chicken soup. Turned out so good! Just before tasting it, my husband asked why I would try to make Thai food when take-out is so easy. After his second bowl, he declared it the best non-restaurant Thai food!

Now, can someone please make the Bittman cassoulet and let me know how it goes??

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Jessica

I made #8 and was disappointed. Any tips?? It lacked any kick and it seemed the red curry paste didn’t get a chance to blossom the way it does when you sautee it first. Thoughts?

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Ann

Jenny, I can’t remember if you linked to it or TheKitchn, but I have Mark Bittman’s cassoulet in the crock pot and it already smells amazing. Low prep too. I’ll report back if it’s worth adding to your list!

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Ann

So it was good, but maybe not amazing. Pretty brothy and I should have trimmed all the fat off the pork shoulder.

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