October 15, 2008

The Lazy Chef's Guide to Crock Pot Cooking

I am the laziest cook on the planet. (Or at least a serious contender.) I love the idea of cooking with a crock pot because you can throw stuff in, go away, come back later and eat stuff. Simple.

Back in the 70s, there was a craze for crock pot cooking. (Presumably because it gave people more time to do macrame?)

Photo credit: Henna

Anyway, my mother got one, and for awhile we had stew for dinner quite frequently. Then, for some reason, the crock pot gradually made its way to the pantry, to a shelf easily within reach. Then to a shelf a bit higher up and harder to get at. The last I saw it was on the top shelf beyond the grasp of all but the tallest of brothers. Maybe it kept going up through the ceiling and ended up in deep storage in the back of a closet.

All I know is, the craze for crock pot cooking came and went faster than a streaker at a track meet. Loads of people have one -- in the back of their deepest cupboard.

I can see why it would be popular in theory... let the dang thing cook while you're at work, come home to dish it out and eat. If it came with a butler to serve and a maid to wash, it would be invaluable.

I think the reason people stopped using crock pots was because what you could make with them seemed extremely limited. (Unless you're one of those Ultra Creative people, a Martha Stewart type, the sort who create complicated recipes that involve putting in layers of wire frames so that you could cook one dish on the bottom, another on a middle layer, and a dessert on top. I used to see those recipes in magazines. The finished pictures always looked incredibly polished. Me, if I tried that, all layers would fall down onto the bottom layer, and I'd end up with pineapple upside-down meatloaf.)

I started using a crock pot because I want to eat healthy without doing a lot of work. So I've been using the throw-veggies-in system, which sadly results in P.D.B. food. (Pretty Damn Bland.) Healthy, mind you, but still. Yawn city.

That's where the cookbook came in. (Yes, I'm promoting a cookbook. Shamelessly.)

Brief tangent: Pasta Queen also wrote a post about Crock Pot cooking. (I was a bit miffed that she decided to use her psychic powers to read my mind and 'steal' the subject I was planning to write up, but I've decided it's wise not to be miffed at someone with such clearly superior psychic powers.) She mentioned a blog, A Year of Crockpotting, that has recipes online.

However, I've decided that this book is better because a) it's vegetarian b) the recipes are tasty as well as healthy and c) I bought it before I looked at the YoC blog.

I think mostly I love it because it's all vegetarian. I love the idea of trying to cook more vegetarian stuff. Even though I'm not really a true vegetarian, it seems sensible to eat less meat if you can. More economical, plus less saturated fat, plus the chance to feel smug about doing your bit to help global warming.

Smug and healthy? Who can resist a combo like that?

Take the crock out of crock pot cooking

Three things I learned from this book:

1 - Take five minutes to saute the onions first. Makes a huge difference in taste. (Or, if you're planning to contest my laziest chef title, roast onions in the oven for 20 minutes while you're sitting at the kitchen table with your feet up reading a good book. With this onion roasting recipe, you don't even have to peel the onion. It doesn't get any lazier than that. Then use the roasted onions in the crock pot.)

2 - Use vegetable stock. Either make your own or buy some. Easy enough to make your own.

3 - Bay leaves. Soup. Combine the two.
Yes, I knew theoretically that you could use herbs like bay leaves to flavor your cooking. But I'd forgotten. The book recommended using bay leaves, so I tried it. Then I read a bit further and added some fresh herbs, tomatoes, mushrooms... pretty soon, I was thinking Hey, this soup's starting to look like the ones you see in cookbook photos! Plus, it has some taste. Excellent.

Next lesson: how to make stuffing in the crock pot. I'm going to work my way through this book; methinks it will be a fun journey. Not sure about the recipe for making cheesecake in the crock pot, but it might be tasty.

Here are some sample recipes from the cookbook.

What do you think? Am I deluding myself? Is the 'crock' in crock pot justified? Or is it useful?

Should I go dig up that macrame project that I never finished in 7th grade?

photo credit: David Sifry


  1. Oh, I'm all about lazy cooking - and I love the crockpot. Umm, macrame - not so much.

    I confess I've never put many vegetables in the crockpot (other than wrapping potatoes in foil and putting them under the meat for super-lazy "baked" potatoes - does that count?) so this cookbook looks interesting to me - thanks!

  2. Crock pots are also great for lazy breakfasts. I love this 6-grain porridge... really good for winter!

    2 1/2 Tbs bulgur wheat, uncooked
    2 1/2 Tbs brown rice, uncooked
    2 Tbs amaranth, uncooked
    2 Tbs millet, uncooked
    2 Tbs cornmeal, uncooked
    1/4 cup rolled oats
    3/4 cup dried mixed fruit
    1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    3 cups water
    1 Tbs vanilla

  3. The year of crock potting website you referenced by way of PQ is a great one...good recipes with ratings and input from her family with every recipe. My current problem with the crock is that I seem to be gone too long and everything is getting overcooked even on low. Bummer!

  4. I haven't used my crockpot in a long time, which is a shame because it's awesome. It's a totally unsafe one from 1975 that totally looks both it's age and state. I heart it.

    Once I made baked apples in it, and they rocked...definitely time to revisit.

  5. I was just thinking about buying a crock pot the other day. I love stewy things and love the idea of dinner cooking all day on it's own.

    I just wish they'd invent one (and maybe they have) that would have a high enough setting to let you saute things like onions in the same pot, then turn everything down to cook all day.

    Part of the appeal of a crockpot is the "one pot" idea, and if you've got to get out a pan or a cookie sheet to brown the onions....

    Geez, I AM lazy!!!

  6. I am totally in love with my crockpot. I would recommend getting the new kind that lets you take out the pot to wash it otherwise they can be a challenge to clean. I hear they also have one with a built in timer so you can set it to start at noon and it'll be ready when you get home. Thinking about getting one even though mine is only about 5 years old.

  7. Crock pot good. It's especially good for when we spend the day hiking and have food ready when we get home.
    Excellent for rice and bean dishes as there is no fuss as such and ridiculously easy for meat and veggies.
    For the health-conscious lazy person crock pots are the best.

  8. I love my crock pot. It's especially good when we both go to school, and I have a heavier load than the average bear. but, we definately go through waves.

    They even have the ultimate lazy cooking where they have everything packaged for you together and you just throw it in. No veggetarian stuff that I've seen though :(

    I'm with MJB...no macrame here. We're just not that fun.

  9. I'm a fan of the crock pot. We have a rice cooker here, and BK tells me it does the same things, but we haven't had stew yet.

    My cooking strategy? Ask BK if he's hungry. He will then psychically know that I'm hungry, and being BK, will cook something yummy.

  10. Love my crockpot. Being a lazy cook, I splurg and brought one with a timer a couple of years ago. I brought a 5 qrt one thinking that someday I will have a family. Needlessly to say, that is also the reason why it is now in the cabinets because I do not have enough counter space in my small apartment. You cannot have too much counter space in a kitchen.

  11. I started using my crockpot again a few years ago. It is terrific on the days when I'm busy with other things!

  12. Excellent! Lots of people use crock pots, apparently. It's not just me.

  13. I have a crock pot that I think was made in the 70s...it's all green and orange patterns on the outside. I went through a crock pot cooking phase for a while. Even attempted chili, but I didn't thinking about sauteeing the onions first, so they were still crunchy and the chili was not that great. But I think I'm just not that familiar with how to cook with a crock pot. If I did it more often, I'd probably figure out how to make something yummy :)

    Thanks for the tips, Merry!

  14. im sooo lazy when it comes to cooking. way too lazy. more than 3 ingredients, or more than 1 heating process and i scratch it right off the list. not a big fan of crock pot food though: soups, stews, big slabs of meat. Maybe i just need to branch out a bit. oh, and buy a crock pot.

    Kelly Turner

  15. Slow cookers - I should use mine more...but it requires planning :)

    I do love a roast done in the slow cooker. No thought and the most amazing roast ever...it's my sneaky way of impressing my parent's when they come to visit. Makes them think I'm all grown up. Sneaky...

    I'm always looking for good slow cooker recipes. I'll have to check that out

  16. Dear Merry:
    You read my mind:)
    I LOVE the crockpot but don't have one at the new apt. Definitely need to invest in one of those! But my problem is that meat is so darn expensive I wouldn't want to buy it... and then you go and tell me all about a vegetarian cookbook that is full of healthy recipes!
    Major hugs and thanks.
    This is too wonderful.

  17. Yeah, I went through the crock pot stage too. Thanks for the good suggestions!

    Now, please, what do I do with all the Fondue stuff?

  18. I have two. 1 at my place and 1 at my BFs place. We use one or more of them atleast twice a week. Most recently we've made fabulous chicken wings, pulled pork, tortilla soup, mustard and honey ham, and BBQ beer ribs in these fine devices.

  19. No, I am the laziest cook in the universe, believe me. I do like the crockpot - mom definitely used it many times while we grew up (in the 70s too - I think we had macrame pretty much EVERYWHERE. And those strings of beads in the doorways??) With seven kids it was a lifesaver!

  20. I've got one and plan on using it this winter. It's just so easy and coming home to warm, bubbling stew is just so freaking exciting. I just have to shake off the Jewish neuroticism that comes with leaving an appliance plugged in all day while I'm away from home and I'm all set!

  21. I'm trying to figure out how strings of beads would be a lifesaver with a large family ;)

    Seriously, I can relate. Large family, crock pot meals, strings of beads in the doorway... wait a minute, did you grow up in my house? :)

  22. I worry about leaving it plugged in while I'm gone too. I'm pretty sure it's perfectly safe, but that doesn't stop me from worrying.

  23. Perfect timing - I've actually been thinking lately about getting another Crockpot. Ours didn't just reach the high shelf, it reached the giveaway bin. I want that cookbook too!

  24. I love crock pot cooking. On a lazy day, I'll wrap a handful of potatoes in foil, throw them in the bottom of the crockpot, and then rub some fresh rosemary between the skin & meat of a whole chicken. Put that on top of the potatoes 7 cook on low all day (6-10 hours). Easy, delicious - and the leftover chicken bits & throw in a pot, cover with water, add some stuff (carrots, onions, celery, bay leaves) and simmer & strain for broth.

    I love my crockpot.

  25. Thanks for the recipe ideas! They sound really great...I may have to succumb to your shameless plug and buy that book.

  26. Even though PQ beat you to it, I am glad you posted on the crock pot subject as well. I'm also glad you "plugged" the book because I could always use another resource.

    I use my crockpot about once a month, but that should change once I get that new cookbook. I only ever seem to cook a whole chicken in it. The veggies get mushy and everything turns out the same color, a grey-ish brown. Ugh. It seems that while it makes the house smell good, the visual results are less than appealing.

    I'll keep trying, perhaps once a week instead of once a month.

  27. um..when did people stop using crock pots? Everyone I know has one and uses it.

    I am using mine later this week to make tortilla soup.

  28. The two things I fear about crockpots.

    1. Fire--with the pot being plugged in and left on for so long.

    2. All the nutrients will leach out of the veggies. (I'm not one for sopping up the juice, even in soups.)

    Still, the cookbook looks interesting as I have a few vegetarians in the family.


  29. Hmm... vegetarian + crock pot = heaven. I must must find that cookbook!

  30. I gave away mine, you can't really get one small enough for one person. Yes, I could freeze left overs, but, I can bulk cook just the meat portions in my electric skillet and freeze that, then add fresh veggies or pasta when I go to eat it. I can also change what goes with the meat each time that way.

  31. Irene, when I read PQ's blog, the commenters all said that they had crock pots buried in the back of the pantry, or that they knew someone who'd been given a crock pot as a wedding present. (Frequently the crock pot lasted longer than the marriage.)
    I think it's great that you know people who are using them. I'm having fun using mine :)

    Reb, I agree that as a single person, you'll have to be prepared to freeze portions for later. But I'm so lazy that warming something up in a microwave seems easier than using the stove/oven to actually cook. I'm a bum.

  32. I love my crock pot. chili, spaghetti sauce, pot roast... I'll have to get that cookbook, sounds loads better then the fix it and forget it ones.

  33. A vegetarian cookbook for the 'Pot?? I MUST HAVE IT! Thanks for the head's up!

    I use my crockpot pretty much every weekend, for anything and everything. I have 3 of different sizes (and yes, there is one that is small enough for one person - an oval 1.5-quart that can be found at... Chef's Corner I think (nayy) and there is a cookbook for small 'Pot cooking) and I've made dessert (including a dump cake), fruit butters, pear honey (ZOMG!), soups, casserole-type stuff, stews, overnight oatmeal....

    Love my crocks! :-D

  34. I have another vision of the future. In it you are stuffing twenty dollar bills into a stamped envelope and mailing it to me. Yes, I see it very clearly :)

  35. Crockpots are good for the environment to. They use a very low level of energy.

  36. Gabrielle, I hadn't heard that. Good to know.

    Pssst! Crabby! She'll take (20) 1-dollar bills instead! I told you we didn't need to mail $100 dollar bills!

  37. I have one of those 70s crockpots and its lime green lol. I used it for years then put it away like your mother did but got it out again last winter and have been using it ever since. A good recipe, you are right make a big difference, and I also endorse browning the onion for recipes and using bayleaf.

  38. I wanted to thank you for the link... but then I read that you liked the Vegetarian Slow Cooker book better...

    hmph. :-)

    thank you for the link. xoxo
    I've made cheesecake. It's excellent---you should totally give it a try.

  39. Ack! I do like your blog, honest!

    Oh drat. Me and my big sense of humor.

  40. Use my crock pot nearly every day! We Farm and use also use lots of wild game, wild harvested plants and shrooms.. All of which are better cooked "low and slow" not to mention that it gives us a good deal of flexibility for meal times, I can let things sit in the crock pot and if we are later getting in from the field, no harm done.. and I don't have to fiddle with cooking when I am already tired. Just started a batch od pear honey this am made with free pick up pears and apples :) sheesh, I've actually worn out 3 and am on number 4!


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