This last month I discovered the existence of the crock pot.
No, not crack pots. Very funny.
I’m talking about the slow cooker, which, theoretically one fills with goodies at the beginning of the day, plugs in, and walks away while the veggies and the meatsies burble away until evening, when one wanders back in, lifts the lid, and says, “Mmmmm. Dinner’s ready guys!”
I played with the crock pot years ago, back when they were considered a modern convenience, but gave up because I wasn’t impressed with the sad gray mass of soggy drippings awaiting at day’s end.
Lately, though, with dinner more often than not consisting of graham crackers with peanut butter and a glass of milk, I started longing for a hot, savory meal, even a gray one, that would cook while I worked.
And when I stumbled on America’s Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution in the library, I was bought, sold, trussed and tied. There’s a picture of lasagna on the cover that looks nothing like graham crackers, and the photos inside had me reaching for the phone so I could find some place to call and order what I was looking at.
I spent a serious Sunday on the hammock reading every single recipe and making a list. I spent hours tracking down Thai green curry sauce, lemon grass, golden raisins and portobello mushrooms.
Oh, and I also picked up a crock pot. Not the $129 model that the book recommended, but the $20 special, which, as the book warned, runs a little hot, so that my Low is High and my High is Extra Crispy, and there’s no way I’ll put something on in the morning at any setting and recognize it by 5 p.m.
So it’s not a Slow Cooker, necessarily, as it is a Rather Quick Cooker, but since I’ve got the $20 invested, along with the groceries, I’m coping.
And we’re eating hot food again.
Thai, Mexican, Italian, German, Moroccan, Chinese, and Biblical, the latter being Shepherd’s Pie, and what’s more Biblical than that other than pottage, but who wants to eat pottage especially when it’s made in a crock pot?
Along the way I’ve discovered a novel concept that has never been a part of my cooking experience, and this is actually following the recipe. I learned to not follow a recipe from my mother when I was a teenager getting to know Betty Crocker:
“Mom? What are pimientos?”
“Are you making that tuna casserole recipe? For God’s sake, just put tuna in it. Pimientos are slimy things in jars and they don’t belong in tuna casseroles.”
“It calls for green peas.”
“Green beans will work.”
“Cream of Celery soup?”
“Don’t have any. Use Mushroom.”
“Noodles are noodles. There’s a half pack of macaroni in the back of one of the cupboards. Oh, and I don’t think we have any tuna. Use Spam.”
It’s a wonder that anything I make looks, or tastes, like the recipe title.
But since crock pot cooking carries the risk of being distressingly unappetizing even when you do follow the recipe, I thought it worthwhile to disregard my mother’s teaching for this one endeavor and slavishly do what I was told — by the cookbook, not my mother.
Now generally, when you disregard what your mother says, you pay dearly, but this time — this ONE Time — I successfully ignored my mother (don’t make a habit of this), followed the recipe exactly, even down to not replacing anything with Spam, and reaped compliments in abundance with happy smacky sounds, second helpings, and even verbal statements of approval.
At this rate, I may even try that tuna casserole recipe again — in the crock pot, and with pimientos, whatever pimientos are.