Right before we got married, Abby and I received a wedding gift from the ladies in my mom’s Sunday school class at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church. It was a Crock-Pot. A slow cooker is not the sexiest kitchen appliance, nor is it the hot, new thing, but we appreciated it nonetheless.
Its roots can be traced back to a countertop bean-cooking appliance sold by West Bend in 1952. It cooked beans in a ceramic pot using a heating element. It wasn’t much of an improvement over cooking beans using the traditional method on the stovetop, but it was the first incarnation of the slow cooker.
The Crock-Pot, as the bean cooker was rebranded after some improvements, made its debut in 1972, and it sold for about $25. Many slow cookers today can be purchased for about that same amount, though some of those have lots of features and a price tag creeping toward the $100 mark.
The cooker we received as a present found a temporary home in Abby’s apartment on Sanger Avenue before we joined households. The first thing Abby was going to make in the new cooker was a batch of chili from a recipe found in the cookbook “Some Like It South!” from the Junior League of Pensacola, Florida, a book she’s had since 1988. We were talking on the phone as we planned the meal, and Abby told me what she was planning on cooking. I was shocked.
“You can’t use the Crock-Pot,” I said. “It was a wedding gift, and we’re not married. You’ll be cooking in sin!”
I’m sure she laughed at my joke, but neither of us can remember if she actually made chili that night or not.
We have, however, used that slow cooker for many other batches of chili, most of them made from a recipe that was created by Woodway Mayor Don Baker. We found that recipe in “Food From the Fellowship,” a cookbook published by First Baptist Church of Woodway, where we were members at the time. Hot chocolate is also a slow-cooker favorite for us. We’ve made the pot roast taco and French dip sandwiches — the recipes are below — many times. The bread pudding recipe featured here was a new one for us, and it worked well. We also offer two non-slow cooker recipes — one for caramelized onions and one for corn muffins — to accompany the others.
There are a couple of tips we’ve learned over the past 19 years since we got our first slow cooker (which probably remained food-free until we were properly joined in holy matrimony). First, once all the ingredients are in the cooker and the heat is on, leave it alone. Let it do its thing for however long it’s supposed to. The more you remove the lid of the slow cooker, the longer it’s going to take the food to cook. Yes, the temptation is great to just take a peek or get a little taste, but stay strong.
Also, if your mornings are rushed and you don’t have time to get a recipe together, do it the night before. Put all the ingredients into the cooker, cover the pot and put it — not the whole appliance, just the bowl — in the refrigerator. Take it out when you wake up in the morning and let the pot return to room temperature, then cook according to recipe directions.
French Dip Sandwiches
- 1 (4-pound) boneless beef shoulder roast
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 beef bouillon cube
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 10 sandwich rolls, kaiser rolls or hearty bread of your choice
- Provolone cheese
- Caramelized onions (recipe follows)
Remove and discard all visible fat from the roast. Place trimmed roast in a slow cooker. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine soy sauce, bouillon, bay leaf, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme and garlic powder. Pour mixture over roast and add enough water to almost cover roast. Use lid to cover; cook on low heat for 6-8 hours. (A thicker roast will take a couple of hours longer).
When the meat is fork tender, remove from slow cooker, reserving broth. Shred the meat. Strain the solids from the liquid and serve au jus or pour over the meat in the slow cooker.
Top each sandwich with a slice of cheese and some caramelized onions. Makes about 10-12 sandwiches.
- 1 or 2 large onions
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Heat oven to 375. Cut onions into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place in a glass baking dish. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar. Bake until onions are tender and are beginning to brown, for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Makes about 8-10 servings.
Georgia Ham and Cowpea Soup
- 3/4 pound shelled fresh (or frozen) cowpeas (blackeyed peas), rinsed and picked over
- 2 smoked ham hocks (or 1 pound cooked smoked ham, cut into small pieces)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 celery rib, chopped
- 1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
- 1 bunch fresh kale, trimmed from stem and torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place all ingredients in the slow cooker. Set the cooker to high and cook for 4-6 hours or until soup is hot and peas and potatoes are tender. Remove ham hocks, if using, and trim the meat. Return meat to the slow cooker and discard meat bones. Makes 6-8 servings.
- 1 1/4 cup cornmeal
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 3 eggs
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted
Heat oven to 375. Lightly spray two muffin pans.
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and whisk together. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, eggs and melted butter; whisk together. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.
Scoop or pour batter into muffin cups, filling 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 18 muffins.
Pot Roast Tacos
- 3 pounds shoulder of beef
- Olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 large onion, cut into wedges
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 can (28 ounces) San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 dried red chilies
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Corn or flour tortillas
- 3 cups shredded lettuce
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 1/4 pound cotija cheese or queso fresco, crumbled
- 2 limes, cut into wedges
Drizzle beef shoulder with a little olive oil, then season with plenty of salt and pepper. Set a large, heavy pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Sear beef on all sides until there is a nice brown crust, adding additional oil to the pan as needed to prevent sticking. Add onion and garlic to the pot; stir until they caramelize a little. Place beef, onions, garlic and any juices in the slow cooker. Set aside.
Return the heavy pot to the stove and over medium heat, pour in half a cup of water and deglaze. Scrape up the brown bits of leftover meat in the bottom of the pot. Pour all of this into the slow cooker once the pan has been deglazed.
Add tomatoes and juices, chilies, cumin, chili powder and 1/2 bunch of cilantro to the slow cooker. Turn to low and cook for 6-8 hours until the meat is fork tender.
Remove meat from the slow cooker and let rest until cool enough to handle. Shred the meat using two forks. Strain the liquid remaining in the slow cooker and discard the solids. Add enough sauce to the meat to keep it moist. Just before serving, add the vinegar.
Serve with warm tortillas and remaining ingredients. Makes about 10-12 servings.
Bread Pudding with Dried Fruit
- 1 loaf (or about 1 pound) of bread, preferably stale, cut into large cubes to make about 6 cups
- 1 quart half-and-half
- 4 large eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Pinch nutmeg
- 12 ounces mixed dried fruit (or the same amount of a single dried fruit of choice)
If the bread is not stale, toast it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together half-and-half, eggs, sugar, whiskey, vanilla, salt and nutmeg to make custard. Set aside.
Toss together bread cubes and dried fruit; place in the slow cooker. Pour custard mixture over the top and press down lightly until all the bread cubes are covered with custard.
Cover and cook on low until the pudding puffs and is just set, for about 3 1/2 hours. Remove insert from the slow cooker and cook on a rack for about 20 minutes.
Spoon pudding into bowls and top with whipped cream or yogurt and toasted pecans, if desired. Makes 6-8 large servings.