Friday, December 7, 2007

Crockpots are great

Man, crockpots are great.

Crockpots are a rare "quadruple crown:" simultaneously cheap, healthy, time-efficient, and environmentally sound.

Every crockpot recipe we've tried so far follows the same pattern:
  1. Throw a bunch of vegetables, spices, and maybe some meat, into the crockpot
  2. Stir it
  3. Set it to cook for 8 hours on low, or 4 hours on high
Aside from a couple simple rules, like leaving it closed the whole cooking time, and not under- or over-filling it, you can pretty much experiment with whatever ingredients you want.

It's cheap because recipes tend to be mostly inexpensive vegetables, and the slow cooking process makes inexpensive meats more tender and flavorful than other forms of cooking. It's possible to make an entire recipe out of stuff from the produce section (plus spices), and you can "get away" with using a lot of cheap ingredients like potatoes or canned tomatoes. We tend to get about 10 servings per recipe, so the cost per serving is pretty low. Leftovers are great, which helps us avoid eating out for lunch. And crockpots themselves are cheap; about $20 new, and perennially available at thrift stores and garage sales.

It's healthy because it's a low-impact way of cooking from scratch and incorporating lots of vegetables. I'll readily admit that home-cooking a healthy meal every day of the week is impractical for a lot of people, myself included. A typical crockpot recipe takes 20-30 minutes to prepare and makes enough food for several meals. Also it's easy to mix and match ingredients, so we've been substituting low-fat and "superfood" ingredients when possible.

It's time-efficient because you get so much food for so little effort. What's more, the cooking can happen unsupervised, so you can start a recipe before you go to sleep or before you leave for work, and wake up/come home to a hot, cooked meal.

It's environmentally sound because, again, you can use a minimal amount of meat. When you cook from scratch it's easy to use all organic food, and you waste very little packaging. Finally the crockpot throws off much less waste heat than an oven or range.

So far we've found a few recipes we really like, and only one that was truly bad. Our favorites include Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken, Chickpea and Apricot Tagine, and Chicken and Dumplings. Next time I want to try a Manhattan-style salmon chowder filled to the brim with "superfoods," and I'm embarking on a quest to fine-tune an authentic New England clam chowder to soothe my Yankee homesickness. We'll see how that goes.

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