There was a time when the concept of cooking seemed as foreign to me as climbing Mt. Everest. In my younger years my idea of cooking was throwing a bland TV dinner into the microwave and hoping I’d heated it all the way through. There were several occasions when I failed in even that attempt…my fork hitting a roadblock of ice in the middle of a scorching-hot entree. As the years passed my culinary curiousity got the best of me and I bravely attempted a few real, honest-to-goodness-from-scratch homemade dinners. Basic, simple dishes at first…spaghetti and meatballs, Italian meatloaf, chicken parmesan, skillet stir-fries, etc. My oven, lonely and collecting dust for so long, was revived and brimming with savory aromas as my creations got bolder and tastier. The realization dawned on me that yes, I really could cook! And although I made rookie mistakes along the way, each one was a learning experience that only served to enhance my cooking knowledge in the long run.
But as my life became busier and time to cook became scarcer, I realized that I needed to strike a balance between managing my daily workload and cooking fresh, healthy meals for my family. I found the answer in a slow-cooker, the Original Crock-Pot brand.
While browsing the selection of slow-cookers at the store, I admit that it was the aesthetics of the $39.99, 6 qt. oval-shaped portable Crock-Pot that first caught my eye. The sample on the shelf was a deep, metallic red, with a thick glass lid and shiny black handles. Very pretty, and there were other pleasant colors and designs as well, but I chose the red one. The interior ceramic unit detaches from the main pot, which makes it easy to wash by hand or on the bottom rack of the dishwasher. The ceramic is smooth and glossy, and I’ve found that very little food sticks to it, adding to the ease of clean-up. The entire unit is somewhat heavy though, so care must be taken to avoid dropping it when lifting, transporting, and cleaning it. Occasionally food will drip down into the exterior pot while cooking, however the amount is minimal and easy to clean out. The settings are simple and precise: Off, Low, High, and Warm. The unit does get quite hot, so small children should be kept away while it is in use. However, the handles remain cool, so transporting the pot while it is still hot is possible. Most recipes instruct you to set the Crock-Pot on High at first, then on Low after a few hours, and Warm to maintain a consistent temperature when the meal has fully cooked. Some water or broth is usually recommended to create steam and aid in the cooking process. For thick cuts of meat like roasts and hams, browning them before transferring into the Crock-Pot helps to create and retain a natural browned, seared-meat appearance, though this step is not neccessary for safe cooking; it is simply a visual bonus.
If there was a time when slow-cooker recipes were few and boring, that time has clearly passed. The Crock-Pot comes with a small recipe pamphlet along with the user instructions, but there is a vast array of slow-cooker recipes out there, both on the internet and in books specifically geared for slow-cookers. Yet a big plus about the Crock-Pot is that it’s so versatile and easy to use that a specific recipe isn’t always needed to cook up a great meal. I’ve tossed in a spur-of-the-moment batch of chicken thighs with celery, carrots, and onions in the Crock-Pot, poured a little chicken broth over it, sprinkled my seasonings on top, and six hours later I had a savory meal ready. All of the recipes I mentioned above can be adapted to cook in the Crock-Pot. Homemade soup is a popular slow-cooker staple, and even desserts can be successfully baked in the Crock-Pot. It most definitely comes in handy on those busy days when you simply don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen. The results still taste as though you did!
- Simple to use
- Thick glass lid latches securely.
- Cooks food evenly.
- Features a “Warm” setting which keeps food warm and safe to eat for hours.
- Perfectly suitable for pot-luck gatherings.
- Easy to clean.
- Relatively non-stick interior bowl.
- Safe to leave unattended while cooking,
- Attractive colors and patterns.
- Recipe booklet included.
- Nearly all conventional-oven recipes can be adapted for use in the Crock-Pot.
- Multiple ingredients can be cooked together at the same time.
- Entire unit is heavy.
- Exterior pot gets quite hot (keep small children away).
- Some food occasionally spills over into the exterior pot while unit is on, requiring extra clean-up.
The Original Crock-Pot is most definitely a worthwhile and affordable investment. Even the most novice cook can create a hearty, homemade meal using the Crock-Pot, and nearly all recipes intended for the conventional oven can be adapted for use in the Crock-Pot. It is excellent for those days when spending hours in the kitchen is not an option, as the ingredients can be readily thrown in and left to safely cook unattended for hours. Slow-cooker recipes abound on the internet and in cookbooks specifically tailored for them. Because of the long cooking time, meats cooked in the Crock-Pot turn out tender and juicy. Meats, vegetables, and potatos can be placed in the Crock-Pot together and cooked all at the same time, a definite bonus for the busy cook! The Original Crock-Pot has expanded my culinary horizons while lessening my time in the kitchen. It’s a small investment that reaps big rewards.