So this was the thing about the crock pot. It was a gift, which I'm thankful for, but I also had a sort of prejudice against it...against crock pots. Almost every recipe I've ever seen for them involves meat and/or beans. The boy-fiance is more or less vegetarian and he's allergic to most beans. And it doesn't seem like there are too many vegetables that would fare very well after 4 or more hours in a slow cooker. So the poor crock pot has been collecting dust for a year.
But things change, and in the past few months I've been trying really hard to bring my lunch to work instead of going out and buying it every day (I could actually do a whole post just about that). It occurred to me a couple of weeks ago, that maybe using the crock pot to make mass quantities of food for myself would be a good idea. If it's just for me, it can be meat or beans or whatever I want! So I turned to the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen folks and I bought their slow cooker book.
I know a lot or recipes for the crock pot are basically dump ingredients in, turn on, and dinner is ready 8 hours later. I figured that the recipes in Slow Cooker Revolution wouldn't be quite that simple, and they're not (though they do point out which ones are "easy prep"). There's some microwaving involved and some browning of meat involved and even some recipes where you line the crock pot with foil (for lasagna!). But I'm willing to go through a couple of extra steps if it means my crock pot is going to produce something fantastic.
Last Sunday I tried a tamale pie recipe. It sounded good, and it had a short cooking time. A perfect first recipe for the crock pot. I had to chop an onion and microwave it with some spices, and I had to microwave some instant polenta for the topping, but other than that it was a lot of opening cans and dumping them in the pot. Once everything was in, I put the lid on and set in on low for 4 hours.
I figured everything would be fine, but I kept going in the kitchen to check on it. About half way through, I noticed that the "sauce" was bubbling up over on the topping. Whatever was cooking in my crock pot DID NOT look like what was in the photo next to the recipe. And then I remembered. I couldn't find a 10oz can of enchilada sauce...only a 14oz can. I had added the whole thing because I didn't want to throw away 4oz of sauce and I knew if I saved it, I'd just forget about it in the fridge. I also figured since I would be eating this as leftovers, the extra sauce might help the left overs be less...dry. So now I was a little concerned. Maybe there was such a thing as too much sauce?
Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. My tamale pie may have turned out a little saucier than it's supposed to be, but it's really good! I've been eating it for lunch and dinner this week and I'm still kind of glad there's a little bit left. There's not a lot of leftovers I'd say that about.
So how do I feel about the crock pot now? Well, it made a large amount of food, and I didn't have to make a huge mess for it to happen. The ceramic pot part of the crock pot was super easy to clean, which was really nice. AND the fact that it just sat there on the counter bubbling away meant I had time to make us a nice Sunday dinner of tilapia fish sticks (I bet you were wondering about that photo up there)!
I've been won over, and I think that crock pot is finally going to get some use. I've already got a bunch more recipes bookmarked to try.
Oh, and those fish sticks were also pretty easy. They might even pass for a weeknight dinner. If you want to give them a try, the recipe is over here on the Eating Well website.