Pioneering Marriage's Culinary Frontier: Re-Discovering the Crock Pot
An appetite heartier than a 2 quart slow cooker
In college, I had a small crockpot which I often used to make sure I had a warm meal waiting at the end of the day. Cooking this way was tastier, healthier, and took less time than going to the campus dining hall. Trekking through snow or rain in rural upstate NY, to stand in line for mediocre food, at a lukewarm buffet, and eat in an over-crowded cafeteria filled with 18-22 year-olds who decided "I'm in college, now, I can wear pajama pants in public" just didn't appeal to me. I found a lot of slow-cooker recipes for couples to be helpful, as I could have enough for dinner for myself and leftovers for the next day. Once I met my boyfriend (who is now my husband!) and his appetite surpassed the capabilities of my small crock pot, my slow-cooker use tapered off for a while. He would come over at dinner time and we would go to the dormitory kitchen or my now-mother-in-law's kitchen, to make a larger meal for us with the stove or oven (as he did, and still does, manage to have the appetite of 3 grown men without gaining an ounce no matter how much he devours... I just wish I shared his metabolism!). I still used my little slow cooker on occasion, but found myself using it for things like overnight breakfast casseroles during exam week, oatmeal with dried cranberries on a busy class day, or bread puddings on a cold day with a thesis to work on. It was not until years later when we were married and living in a house in the midst of a remodel that I re-discovered the potential of this little gem.
The Lost Years
It was not until a few years after college, after 2 apartments, a wedding, and buying a house, (and graduating to a much larger slow-cooker!) that I re-discovered the beauty of the slow cooker. Had I not been working 11-hour days when we lived in our apartment (meaning almost 12 hours that I would be away from the slow cooker without a way to check on it or stir it), I might have re-discovered it sooner. Once we bought our house (an old farm house in the midst of a re-model, with a 100 square foot kitchen/laundry room while our actual kitchen was under renovation), I was working 9 hour days and living much closer to work. I found that while my husband and I would arrive home from work at about the same time, I wasn't seeing much of him! I'd be in the kitchen making dinner, and he would go out to the garden, or work on a house project, as he has NO interest in cooking (besides taste-testing, of which he has deemed himself the "quality control manager").
On the days I made dinner in the slow cooker, I could be out in the garden or working on a project with him instead of in the kitchen alone. I started experimenting with new recipes, and cooking in the slow cooker much more frequently. When you walk in the door after the slow-cooker has simmered all day, you can immediately smell that dinner is ready. Which, as it happens, is an excellent incentive for hubby to stick around the kitchen for a bit, rather than disappear to the garage or garden without me "until dinner" as soon as he'd come home. We have more time together, which has done wonders for both our morale as we work on the house we've jokingly nicknamed the "Money Pit," and motivation to work on gardening and house projects together.
I have always enjoyed cooking, and still like experimenting with new recipes without the slow-cooker on weekends when I have more time, but during the week the use of slow-cooked meals has helped immensely with giving me more time with my hubby after work. There is no shortage of "dump meals" and slow-cooker recipes available online, which have given us a lot of variety for foods I might not have otherwise had time or patience to make after work using the stove-top or oven (for example, stuffed cabbage rolls). They can be prepared in advance on the weekend when you have time, and refrigerated or frozen until the weekday you need them, then dumped into the crock-pot to cook in the morning, and be ready to eat when you come home. Many are all-inclusive meals, and other are meat entrees that can be paired with a quick side dish (like steamed or stir-fried veggies).
I have on occasion had 2 slow cookers going side to side, one containing the main course, and the other cooking squash such as acorn, butternut, or spaghetti squash to serve along with the entree.This is also a helpful solution to cooking in a cold old farmhouse, when company is over for a large dinner. Keep chicken wings warm in the crock pot while pizza bakes in the oven, keeping one pot for mild wings and the other for hot wings (just remember to label which is which for company!). Or, keep mashed potatoes warm in one, while a whole chicken roasts in another over a bed of carrots, celery, and onion. I never bother with slow-cooker liners, I just spray the crock with vegetable oil or olive oil (depending on what I'm cooking) before adding anything to the pot, and I never have a problem with anything sticking.
There are nights I have made a dinner with the oven or stove-top, only to find out hubby will be home late from work, likely after I will be asleep. Out comes my handy miniature slow-cooker from my college days, on the "keep warm" setting with his dinner in it. No guessing what leftovers from the fridge to re-heat, or having to wait to assemble and re-heat it before eating after a long day; he appreciates it immensely!
I wish you the best of luck in your culinary adventures! Let me know in the comments below whether you have found similar value in slow-cooking for both your schedule and your sanity!