Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Secret Weapon

I have a secret weapon – not a bat mobile, not a web shot from my inner wrist, not an iron suit – think domestic secret weapon.

It’s my crock-pot and in fifteen minutes of prep time – I can create the illusion of having slaved in the kitchen for the last ten hours. Magically this appliance takes raw meat and vegetables and creates a main dish, a side and gravy. This satisfies my meat and potato men (separate sides of the plate, please) and my casserole (one dish, less clean-up) mentality.

I’ve heard the concerns about crock pot cooking: the appliance doesn’t cook hot enough to be safe. What if it malfunctions (which has happened and we ordered take-out that night)? What if it sets off a fire when I’m not home? I’m willing to take the risks as I do with all the other appliances plugged into my house. Thankfully no one has gotten ill from one of my crock-pot adventures, and I have yet to burn the house down.

I own about fifteen slow cooking cookbooks, and always looking for a new take on my stainless steel wonder. One of my family’s favorites is pork BBQ. It is stupidly simple and can spawn multiple varieties. One pork butt roast with bone intact (don’t know why the bone matters but it does). Put the roast in the slow cooker ten hours in advance of dinnertime. If I remember, I try to put a liner in the cooker to ease my clean-up. Pour one bottle of BBQ sauce over the top and cook on low for 10+ hours. I keep this one very simple with just meat – but I usually add vegetables to my other slow cooker recipes such as pot roast, chicken and dumplings, (bastardized) chicken cacciatore, or beef stew.

At the end of cooking time (and this works well overnight for lunch, too), all the meat falls off the bone into juicy, tangy ribbons of pork which are easily draped over a sandwich roll. I like it by itself with vinegar BBQ sauce. Throw together some salad, fruit or baked beans, and I have a meal. Turkey or chicken can be substituted for less time with good results.

The best part ….the whole house smells like I’ve cooked all day. Heroically I can serve dinner at 6PM sharp with clean-up by 7. Not faster than a speeding bullet but according to 19th century French chef and author Urbain Dubois, "the ambition of every good cook must be to make something very good with the fewest possible ingredients."


  1. I love practical recommendations like this one.

    At first glance I thought you were saying you owned fifteen slow cookers. This impressed me.

    Please recommend a specific slow cooker and your favourite cookbook.

  2. Any of the Fix It and Forget Cookbooks are good. Have also found good recipes in the $4.95 cookbooks by the register on the way out of the grocery store. I have 2 crock pots - the most recent is one of the bigger Rival brands. I use both of them during the holidays.

  3. I so completely agree with this post. I could not survive without my crock pot! A couple of add-ons I've found helpful...

    Crock pot recipes usually yield lots of leftovers. I put 2 servings of a leftover dish into a vacuum-seal bag and seal it with the vacuum-sealer. I label the bag and put it in the freezer. When I can't get home or if I don't have time to cook an entree that night, I yank a bag or two out of the freezer and heat them up. Instant entree, and my husband can do this when I'm late at the hospital.

    On weekends that I'm off and we're not out of town, I'll make 3 or 4 different entrees in the crock pot and freeze most of them in this way. This allows me to have a large variety of frozen entrees to choose from on busy nights.

  4. I would love to learn how to wield a crock pot. We got one as a gift and I just haven't had the motivation/energy/time (how appropriate) to figure out how to use it or what to make. My inertia has always been frightening.

    But you are inspiring me to make that bbq pork!

  5. You can do the same thing with a pot roast and have BBQ beef. A sliced onion in there helps it.


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