We call ourselves a family. A tiny Welsh vegan with a passion for the environment. An Indian astrophysics major who is smarter than he lets on. A saxophone player who is prone to dissolve into fits of laughter at any given moment but is the pickiest eater I’ve ever met. Then there’s me, an aspiring psychologist who tries to cook one meal that pleases all of them. We have a Crockpot, which in the dorm room environment is an incredibly illegal device. There are a lot of things our Community Living Agreement says we’re not allowed to have, but if the college has taught me anything, it’s not how to derive multi-variable equations, but rather that rules are made to be bent. However, cooking in a Crockpot has some rules that are not subject to that axiom. A Crockpot is an amazing tool for cooking if handled properly.
The first thing you’ll want to ensure is that your Crockpot is large enough to accommodate the amount of food you’re making. In our case, we have a two-quart Crockpot. This is not sufficient for four people. The Travesty of the Chicken Tikka Masala taught me this lesson the hard way. There is no better way to anyone’s heart than through food. Our family had recently begun hanging out together and as a demonstration of my commitment to the group, I decided to prepare Crockpot Chicken Tikka Masala for one of the boy’s birthdays. It was his favorite meal and I was determined to make it just like his mother.
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Crockpots are good, but they can’t compete with “Your Mom’s Highly Specific and Carefully Timed Recipe for a Culturally Significant Dish.” I did my best to find a comparable recipe on Pinterest and whipped it together at my desk and left it to cook. A few hours later, I returned to my room to find a not-at-all suspicious smell of burning curry. I rushed to my desk to find the red sauce boiling over in the Crockpot, slowly creating a pool of sauce on the floor. I screamed, naturally. Here was our special birthday dinner, on our linoleum floor and threatening to set off the fire alarm. A roll of paper towels later, we had a quart of food and an only slightly-disappointing dinner. We have dreamed of upgrading our Crockpot to a six quart– or even an eight quart– but given its status as contraband and our limited storage space, we make do with our little one.
Most Crockpots come with multiple temperature settings and types of timers. It’s important to pay attention to these settings and what is called for in your recipe. It is for this reason that Crockpots are not inclined to be used for creative cooking. The temperature settings can be incredibly difficult to manage and timing must be carefully scheduled to ensure that dinner is ready at a reasonable hour. In the Case of the Undercooked Carrots, we attempted to be creative. Our resident vegan was craving glazed carrots and given the upcoming holiday season, I was feeling generous. I called my mother, a Crockpot extraordinaire, for a recipe. She assured me such a dish couldn’t be prepared in a short span of time.
I assured her she was wrong.
That’s the third rule of Crockpots: mothers are not wrong. They understand the subtlety of this art form. If they say it cannot be done, it cannot be done. I threw some carrots and water in our Crockpot and cranked the temperature up to high. Now, the essence of Crockpots is slow-cooking. One cannot boil carrots in a Crockpot in an hour, even on high. “High heat” on a stovetop is not the same as “High” on a Crockpot. They do not translate. A stove can boil carrots in an hour, the Crockpot will create a lukewarm soup with firm vegetables.
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I am under the firm belief that Crockpots are magical. Growing up, our beat-up white one was my working mother’s savior. She’d throw a roast in the Crockpot in the morning and I’d come home from school to toss a few extra ingredients in. My first experience with cooking was adding our own signatures of flavor to these dishes. Our favorite recipes were Crockpot creations: Salisbury steak, chicken Stroganoff, and chicken ‘n’ dumplings’. Good food takes time, and Crockpots enable that time without the need for constant attention. I’ve yet to master this art form, but that’s not to say it’s impossible.
My new family, as eclectic and diverse as we are, gather around our humble little Crockpot now and again. We’re relatively broke college kids with a penchant for good food and good company. We crave home-cooked meals like we crave knowledge. We desire to share our cultures– vegan, Indian, Pakistani, and Afro-American– with one another and we do so through food. I’ve realized what this Crockpot has done for me: it’s a slice of home in this new environment. It’s a way to simulate the meals and memories I had growing up as I now grow into a new life in college.
In conclusion, I would recommend the Crockpot to anyone who identifies with the following:
- is busy and needs a way to prep meals early
- has a large family
- misses a good home-cooked meal
- values deep, rich flavors
- is open to trying new recipes
- is comfortable with following directions
If you identify with any of these statements, give the Crockpot a try. The adventures and opportunities it presents are endless.
This Post Written By: Alexandra Wormley