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26 October 2011 @ 05:21 pm
Fall Cooking  
I have always been a fan of crock pot, or slow cooker, cooking. There is nothing quite as awesome as coming home after work to find a home cooked dinner already made, and smelling delicious to boot. But my crock pot has always been something of an issue. Brand new, it seemed to have exactly two temperatures, no matter how many choices it supposedly came equipped with - boiling hot, or luke warm. Last year, a friend used it when we were all of a trip together. Halfway through her tried-and-true recipe cooking, she came to me and asked "Why is it boiling?" My response - it always boils. Is this not the norm? No, no it is not. 

My crock pot had a little accident on the way home from that trip, and rather than mourning its loss, this provided me with the perfect opportunity to buy a new one. One that would, theoretically, cook the way a slow cooker is meant to. I did research, and decided on this model by Hamilton Beach. I have always had Rival crock pots before (just an FYI, I use "crock pot" and "slow cooker" interchangeably, regardless of brand. Sorry if that bothers you.) However, given that my last one had issues, I decided to branch out. Consumer reports gave that model the highest overall rating, and honestly, my history with picking good ones has been spotty. I went with it, and the numerous good reviews for it on Amazon helped seal the deal. I also like that it has a temperature probe you can use to automatically have the cooker shut off when meat had reached a particular internal temp. 

It is by far the fanciest crock I have ever owned. It is digital, it has a timer, the afore mentioned temperature probe...and a lid with a gasket you can seal for travel, so no more "accidents" in your car with that chili you made for your workplace potluck - not that I'm speaking from personal experience, or anything. Just know that anything tomato-based is hell to get out of car upholstery. 

Anyway, so last night I searched through the many pages of recipes folks have posted at what_a_crock, which I have quietly been lurking on for over a year. I made this one, pork sirloin roast w/apples. It turned out very well, indeed. My husband, Mr. I-eat-ketchup-on-my-ketchup, aka, plain meat-and-potatoes (and ketchup) man, thought it was "just okay", but what does he know? It is a constant source of pain to my pastry chef mother (for real, for those of you who haven't been reading me long enough to know. My mother and sister both graduated from a prestigious culinary school, and my mother really is a fancy pastry chef). She tries and tries to broaden his horizons, as she calls it, and to be polite, he tries what she makes, but always he is happier with the basics. I blame his mother. One of the nicest, sweetest women you will ever meet. But most definitely not the most culinary-inlcined. In any case, he often complains at my attempts to make something new and different, beyond our usual steak-spaghetti-stew-roast-hamburger meals. But I get tired of eating the same thing over and over. I also get tired of cooking the same thing over and over. I thoroughly enjoyed the above recipe, and will likely make it again when we have company, since he will not eat any of the leftovers. 

This year, new crock pot in hand, I have vowed to make more crock pot dinners. One, they are easier and quicker, overall, while usually producing excellent results. Two, nothing is quite as homey and comforting as slow cooking in the fall and winter. Given my husband's response to last night's meal, I decided to go with something much more basic for dinner tonight: meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I usually avoid mashed potatoes, because they can be a lot of work, and trying to time them exactly with the rest of the meal so they're still warm can be problematic. That's why I used my slow cooker. 

On the surface, it seems like something of a waste, but I've heard of putting mashed potatoes in the crock pot for awhile now, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Up front, I will say it is NOT less work. You still have to boil the potatoes, and put them together with butter, sour cream or cream cheese, or whatever you like to use. Then you put that in the slow cooker, and let it cook on low for 3 or 4 hours, after which it can sit at warm pretty much indefinitely, keeping them ready for your meal. This is often used for holiday get-togethers, because it allows you to prepare them ahead of time, and then free up your stove/oven for other things. Having done it now, I can see why this would be appealing. I made my mashed potatoes today around noon. Put them in the crock, and turned it on. Tonight, they are wonderfully creamy and yummy. Any lumps left from the potatoes not quite cooking perfectly are smooth and melt in with the rest. And, even though it is taking my meatloaf slightly longer than projected to finish cooking in the oven, I don't have to worry about the potatoes going cold. They are "just right", to quote a children's story. I see myself using this at the family Thanksgiving get together. 

For those curious, this is the recipe I used:

8 yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cubed, and boiled in salted water
added to them after draining:
1/4 cup chicken stock
half a stick of salted butter
one small container of cream cheese with chives
salt & pepper to taste

They are very yummy. :) I can't wait to eat them with my meatloaf, which should be coming out of the oven about...now, actually. 
 
 
 
"Connoisseurs of Difficulty"kistha on October 27th, 2011 05:52 am (UTC)
Mmmmmmmm Meatloaf. Mashed in the crock hmmm. Interesting. If I ever had family stuff to cook for maybe I'll use this method.

And isn't it fantastic when the crock cooks correctly?

Also, speaking of fall - your LJ is still set to summer. :)