Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Slow Cookers

     I can't imagine any MCK that doesn't have a slow cooker of some description stashed away somewhere. The slow cooker strikes me a definitive middle-class kitchen appliance. I simply can't imagine walking into some fabulous opulent home, strolling into their commercial-grade kitchen, and seeing a crusty old Crock-Pot bubbling away on a gleaming marble counter. Think I'm joking? OK, let's take a run-of-the-mill obscenely wealthy person. How about Mitt Romney? Let's take a look at the kitchen in Mr. Romney's beach home in California.  Your challenge is to find a slow-cooker:
Mitt Romney Kitchen
Hint: There isn't one
     I keep two slow-cookers on hand for my cooking needs.  I have a five quart dented monstrosity for big jobs, and an absolutely awesome slow cooker with three individually controlled 1.5 quart pots.  Why are they such an invaluable part of my MCK? For one, they're easy to use. For most recipes you just chuck everything in there, set it to low, and go drink booze and smoke cigars (or something more productive) for 5-8 hours.  The other big sell for the slow cooker is that you can put absolutely abysmal cuts of meat in there and render them fit to eat.  Got a roast of questionable quality? Throw it in with some potatoes, carrots, onion, some beer and *POOF!* You have yourself a meal. Several, actually.

     That's the magic of the slow cooker. If you are using a five quart unit, you're going to want to fill it. My three station cooker ends up providing food for a week. One pot gets a soup or appetizer, one gets the main course, the third gets a dessert. Those will become lunches and dinners for the week. This helps keep the food costs down during the week.

     Cost is the big sell here. The meats and veggies that go into slow cookers generally have to be of the sturdy variety. Carrots, potatoes, onions, cabbage, etc. These are wonderfully inexpensive veggies. Meat is also a value. Throw the dark meat chicken in there. Get the roasts with a suspicious amount of words in their names. You know what I'm talking about: "Beef chuck shoulder eye of round loin face." It's still always a good idea to avoid the packages labelled "Miscellaneous By Weight."

     If you don't already have a slow cooker, I can recommend two.
Crock-Pot SCR-500SS

     This is the basic manual slow cooker. Just set the dial to "warm" "high" or "low". That's it. You can get these at most stores for under thirty bucks. If you want to entertain or cook for the week I suggest the following:
Bella Cucina 13490
     This bad boy has three independently controlled 1.5 quart slow cookers. Basically three smaller slow cookers on a single chassis. People are endlessly amused by this when I use it at my parties. If you're willing to shop around, you can find these for under forty bucks.
     If you need recipes, there's a ton of slow-cooker specific books out there. There's also a lot of solid recipes floating around on recipe sites on the net.  Just Google it.

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