Good Taste: Adventures in Crock-Pot cookery

Good Taste: Adventures in Crock-Pot cookery

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All ready to slow cook: chicken, linguica, rice and shrimp jambalaya in the Crock-Pot. — Photo by Kaylea Moore

My cooking confession: I’ve never used a Crock-Pot, until today. They intimidate me. I am not used to the “set it and forget it” mentality. I view cooking as much more active. I always thought of Crock-Pots relegated to the back corner of the highest cabinet, brought out for Swedish meatballs and grape jelly, taco seasoning creations. But the more houses I visit and the more people I talk to, I realize that Crock-Pots, or slow cookers as they are affectionately referred to, are all the rage.

I like the idea of throwing things into a pot and hours later upon return, voila, dinner is ready. But I wasn’t convinced. A lot of the recipes I looked at involved bottled sauces, canned soups, and packet seasonings, all of which I try to avoid. So I reached out to my Facebook friends for suggestions. They were overwhelming. Beef stew, chili, pulled pork, split pea soup, lasagna, brisket, pot roast, pork chops, soups, venison, gumbo, corned beef, pulled apple cider chicken, and pulled pork spaghetti (not sure about the last one), and the list goes on. The verdict, people love Crock-Pots. Where have I been all these years?

The idea for this article came about a few weeks ago on the boat where I met a gentleman who gave me a recipe for Chicken Vindaloo from “The Indian Slow Cooker,” by Anupy Singla. The book features 50 Indian recipes that can be made in a Crock-Pot. The woman sitting next to me joined in on our conversation, saying that she sets her Crock-Pot on most mornings and comes home to dinner already prepared. This got me thinking about why I had never entered into the realm of Crock-Pot cooking before.

I enjoy coming home from work and cooking dinner. It helps me unwind. I guess not a lot of people can say that. But I can see the allure of slow cookers. I can picture myself stuffing the pot on Sunday morning, going out for brunch and a walk and coming home to a warm meal just in time for kick-off. So I decided to give it a try.

My friend Maria Gaskill Allen recommended balsamic roast beef, which sounded perfect for the wintry day. She sent me the link to the recipe, which came from a website called addapinch.com. By the time I secured a Crock-Pot from a friend and shopped for the ingredients, it was nearly 4 pm. Oh great, I thought, I wanted to eat tonight. True to the recipe, you dump in the ingredients and turn on the switch. I usually don’t use recipes when I cook because I don’t like following directions. For me cooking is more about intuition. But not when it comes to the Crock-Pot; I was scared not to follow the recipe. What if I didn’t add enough liquid and it burned?

It said to cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 to 8 hours. Since I wanted to eat at a reasonable I hour, I chose the high setting. I left the Crock-Pot on the counter, performing its magic, and decided to look up more recipes and ideas for this article. As I started researching, I read that you always want to cook large tougher cuts of meat on the low setting, which makes complete sense, but I figured with the wonder of the Crock-Pot I could get the same results in half the time. Oh great, I thought again. I jumped up and reluctantly turned the switch to low. I guess I’ll be eating closer to 10 pm tonight.

Cooking to me is standing over a hot stove, tasting, stirring, tasting again while chopping something on the side. This felt strange and eerie, almost as if I were cheating the system. I kept peering through the glass lid, covered in condensation, hoping that the roast would transform into something delicious. I was tempted to lift the cover and take a peek but decided against it and muttered the mantra of the evening, “set it and forget it.” At the four-hour mark I flipped the roast and started poking and prodding, wishing for the meat to fall apart, the tell-tale sign that it was done. I couldn’t help salivating at the smell wafting through my kitchen, knowing that it still had a few hours to go. Finally at 10:30 pm, hours after I ate my dinner of whatever I could find in the refrigerator, I took a bite, and it was spectacular. Thanks Maria, for making my first Crock-Pot experience a positive one.

Round two

For my second dish I decided to join in the spirit of slow cookery and create a dish by throwing in a little of this and a little of that. I thought that a rice dish would be a fun experiment, something along the lines of paella or jambalaya, a dish in which the flavors have a chance to meld together. This was going to take a little more effort. I combined chopped onion, celery, garlic, and green pepper with chicken stock, brown rice, chicken thighs, linguica, and canned tomatoes and sprinkled with whatever seasoning I had on hand. This was more like the cooking I was used to. But I was apprehensive about the rice. Was it ever going to cook? I put on the lid and this time switched the knob to high. Fingers crossed!

My hope was that it would take three hours. After two hours, the chicken was cooked, but there was an abundance of liquid and the rice wasn’t even close to being done. I kept sampling, but the rice was still hard. Finally, after 3 and 1/2 hours, the rice plumped up, so I turned off the Crock-Pot, added shrimp, and let the residual heat do the rest. The rice burst with flavor, the chicken melted in my mouth, and the linguica added a depth of flavor.

Not bad for my first try. I was pretty impressed with my Crock-Pot concoction. I feel like someone finally let me in on the secret, that I’m part of some new club, though in reality I’m just late to the bandwagon. I just might be adding a Crock-Pot to my Christmas list.

Balsamic Roast Beef

Recipe adapted from addapinch.com

1 2-4 pound boneless roast beef (I used chuck pot roast)

1 cup beef broth

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

red pepper flakes

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 onion sliced

Salt

Pepper

Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Place the roast in your slow cooker. Mix together the remaining ingredients and pour over beef. Cook for 6 hours on low. Flip roast 2-3 times during cooking. The roast will be done when it is fork tender and falls apart. Take roast out and shred. Strain the remaining liquid and discard solids. Refrigerate until the fat forms a solid layer. Remove the fat and pour liquid into a pot. Reduce until desired consistency.

Kaylea’s Kitchen Sink Crock-Pot Jambalaya

1 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs

1/2 pound linguica, diced

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup brown rice

dried oregano

Old Bay

Cayenne

1 bay leaf

Salt

Pepper

3/4 pound raw shrimp, deveined, tails removed

Combine all ingredients except shrimp. Stir. Cook on high for 3-3 1/2 hours, or until rice is cooked. Turn off Crock-Pot and add shrimp.

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