Thursday, September 13, 2012

From Bean Pot to Grand Madam Crock Pot

She was a hot little number back in 1971. Every now and again she re-emerges, dancing to a new tune, sporting techie gadgets, hot knobs, thrifty time-saving options and fashionable colours. Somehow, she never ceases to dazzle cooks who like a bit of slow-heat in the kitchen.
Forty-one years ago at the National Housewares Show in Chicago, Madame Crock Pot strutted her stuff for about $25.00 USD per unit. Everyone wanted to plug her in and take her out for a test drive. Being a savvy, slow-to-warm gal, she gained a reputation for being reserved and for her ability to tame and tenderize even the toughest and cheapest meats on the butcher’s block with her slow, simmering heat. Quite the opposite of a fiery, bra-burning gal, she and her sisters slowly cooked thousands of tasty dinners during the day while the Family CEOs (Mums) busted out of their domestic doldrums to pursue invigorating careers. What could be simpler than placing chopped veggies, a cheap cut of meat and some liquid into a Crock Pot and choosing  High or Low to get the job done? At the peak of her success, the company that conceived Madam Crock Pot received letters claiming she salvaged marriages, meals, and even inspired some enthusiastic customers to wax poetic about her virtues.

Madame CP posted sales of $2 million in her first year, then steamed things up a notch to $10 million one year later, then doubled her wares to $23 million in year three, totaled $57 million in year four and topped out at $93 million in 1975. She inspired buying frenzies and sellouts weren’t uncommon. Legend has it that one retailer had to cancel its advertising of a planned major promotion after its employees completely bought her out prior to the store's opening.

Quite simply, the 41 year-old, Madame Crock Pot transformed the way families cooked dinner in the 1970’s. She came to the rescue of many women who were entering the workforce in droves. I would even speculate that many women at the time probably didn’t want to upset the sacred family dinner hour or draw attention to the housework that might not be getting done while they were out at work. It goes without saying and should come as no surprise that a smart female home economist at Rival Industries pretty much invented Madam Crock Pot. Word has it, she experimented with a bean cooker called a Bean Pot and created an entire recipe book of delicious, gourmet dishes—with and without beans. The cooker's exterior was redesigned to give it a snazzy look, and the bean cooker was formally renamed the Crock Pot. Since then,  Madame Crock Pot has answered many families’ dinner dilemmas and I do believe Madame CP could have been the ’71 musical muse inspirations for James Taylor’s, You’ve Got a Friend, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Gordon Lightfoot’s, If You Could Read My Mind, or Three Dog Night’s, Joy to the World. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time some creative folk went goo-goo eyed over a home appliance! (For more about waxing poetic on a favourite home appliance, search “breadmaker” on my blog.)

In keeping with the Madam Crock Pot’s unorthodox reputation, I have chosen to post recipes that are a little out of the ordinary and beyond the meat n’ potatoes, stews and pot roasts. I hope you enjoy them!

Baked Apples with Cider Sauce
For a 4 to 5 quart slow-cooker

6 to 8 apples (Choose a firm apple-type like Northern Spy, MacIntosh, Spartan, etc) (No need to peel!)
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup raisins (or try another dried fruit like cranberries etc)
3/4 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp numeg
¼ tsp cloves
½ cup apple cider
2 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
2 tsp cornstarch

Core each apple almost to the base but leave the bottom intact. Slice off about ¾ inch wide strip of peel around the top of each apple.  If necessary, trim the base of each apple to make it flat on the bottom and to stay level and upright in the slow cooker.

In a small bowl combine: sugar, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Pack this mixture into the hollowed-out core of each apple. Place apples in slow cooker. Whisk together cider and butter and pour over apples.

Cover and cook on LOW for about 3 to 4 hours, basting several times. The apples are done when they are wrinkly and very tender.  Transfer apples to a shallow baking-serving dish and keep warm.
Whisk together 2 tsp cornstarch with 1 tbsp very cold water. (or, place cornstarch and water in a small jar with a lid. Place lid on jar and shake together until mixed.) Whisk this mixture into liquid in slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Drizzle over apples and serve.

Roasted Garlic Bulbs
For a 4 to 6 quart slow-cooker

6 plump garlic bulbs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried basil, or oregano, or Italian seasoning

NOTE: you will need a large piece of foil—large enough to create a loosely sealed packet to wrap around the garlic and easily fit into the slow-cooker.

Remove just the papery outer layer from each garlic bulb. Cut the tops off the bulbs to just expose the tips.
Arrange the garlic, with the hairy, root side down (cut-tops facing up) in a single layer on a large foil sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle basil on top.
Pull foil up and around the garlic loosely and fold the edges to seal the packet. Place the packet, flat in the slow cooker.
Cover and cook on low for about 2 hours. Bulbs are one when they smell fragrant, are tender to a fork and appear golden brown.
These roasted garlic bulbs can be mashed and frozen in small quantities for later use in soups, salads, pasta sauces, or as toppings for pasta, bruschetta or baguettes…the list is endless!
Caramelized Onions
For a 5 to 6 quart slow-cooker
These onions make a gorgeous addition to almost any meat dish and a wonderful topping for pizza, burgers, meatloaf or a veggie loaf. 

12 cups thinly sliced Spanish onion (about 4 large onions or 3 lbs)
¼ cup butter cut into ½ inch cubes
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp salt

Place onions in slow cooker. Top with butter, sugar, vinegar and salt. Mix just to combine.
Cover and cook on high about 6-7 hours, stirring about every one to two hours, until golden but onions are still moist-not BAKED.
Store in the fridge for 1-2 days or you may even freeze them for use later on.

Pearly Onions with Dried Cranberries
8 cups pearl onions (about four 284 g packages)
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp grated orange rind (or dried lemon rind will do)
1 bay leaf (tie a 15 inch length string to the stem)
 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 garlic clove, diced finely

1 tbsp cornstarch
In a Pyrex or oven-proof dish, place onions and cover with boiling water. (This will help to skin them!) Let stand for 1 minute and then drain and peel…this may take a little while to do!
In the slow cooker, combine onions, 1 cup of water, raisins, oil, vinegar, tomato paste, orange rind, bay leaf (Tip: tie a 15-inch length of string to the Bayleaf’s short stem then dangle the string out of the edge of the slow cooker so you can pull the leaf out later), salt pepper and garlic.
Cover and cook on low about 4-6 hours until onions are tender. Pull on string and DISCARD Bay Leaf!
Move onions to one side of the slow cooker. In a small bowl whisk 1 tbsp cornstarch with 2 tbsp water (or place these two ingredients in a small jar with a lid and shake together until combined). Whisk this mixture into the liquid in the slow cooker. Stir very gently to combine. Cover and cook on high until sauce is shiny and onions are coated.

Red Lentil and Carrot Soup with Coconut Milk

For a 5 to 6 quart slow-cooker
Serves 4-6 as a main course or 8-10 as a starter.
2 cups red lentils
1tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black peppercorns
a few drops hot pepper sauce (to taste)
1 28 oz can tomatoes, including juice
2 large carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 14 oz can coconut milk
thin slices or lemon
finely chopped cilantro
In a colander, rinse lentils thoroughly under cold water. Set aside. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until soft. Add garlic, turmeric, cumin seeds, salt, peppercorns and a few drops hot pepper sauce. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil, breaking up with back of spoon. Stir in carrots, lentils, lemon juice and broth.
Transfer mixture to slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours until carrots are tender and mixture is bubbling. Stir in coconut milk and cook on HIGH for 20-30 minutes, until heated through. When serving, garnish each serving with lemon slices and cilantro, if using.

Squash Soup (with Shrimp or Scallops, name your fancy!)
For a 5 to 6 quart slow-cooker

1 stalk lemongrass
(prepare a small sachet 3-inch square of cheesecloth and 12-inchstring to contain the chopped lemongrass in the slow cooker)
4 cups cubed butternut squash (half of a medium sized squash) Tips: to speed up the production, buy chopped squash sold in a plastic clamshell container from Costco in the produce section, or buy frozen chopped squash!)
2 cups chicken broth (use two-three chicken bouillon cubes + 2 cups boiling water)
1 tbsp red curry paste
6 thin slices of peeled gingerroot (place in the cheesecloth sachet with the lemongrass)
1 ½ tsp fish sauce
¼ tsp brown sugar

1 lb large raw shrimp or scallops (Tip: To be sure the shrimp or scallops are thoroughly cooked I prefer to cook the shrimp or scallops in a frypan, then add to the slowcooker mixture. Alternately, you could buy cooked shrimp or scallops and add.

2 tbsp fresh basil for garnish

Smash the lemongrass with the top of a knife blade along the stalk to bruise it, then cut it into 1 inch lengths with scissors or a knife. Place the lemongrass in the 3-inch sachet of cheesecloth. Add 6 slices of gingerroot to sachet, then tie up like a pouch with string and leave a long piece to dangle outside of the slow cooker.
In slow cooker, combine squash, coconut milk, chicken broth, curry paste, fish sauce and brown sugar.
Add sachet of lemongrass and gingerroot and push down to bottom of liquid to soak into the mixture. Cover the slow cooker and cook the soup on LOW for about 4-6 hours.

Meanwhile cook shrimp or scallops and refrigerate.

Soup is done when squash is very tender. Pull on string and remove sachet of lemongrass and gingerroot. Using an Immersion stick blender, blend the soup in the slow cooker to smooth out any chunks of squash.

Stir in shrimp or scallops into soup mixture. Stir in, or garnish with 2 tbsp fresh basil.


Blue Plate Chili

Serves 4-6
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb lean ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
1 28 oz can tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
½ cup condensed beef broth, undiluted
1 19 oz can red kidney beans drained and rinsed
1 green bell pepper

In a non-stick fry pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add beef and cook, breaking up with wooden spoon, until no longer pink. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meat to slow cooker bowl.
Reduce fry pan heat to medium. Add onion and celery and cooking, stirring often. Add garlic, chili powder, caraway seeds, salt and peppercorns and cook for one minute. Stir in tomatoes and beef broth and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add beans and transfer to slow cooker.
Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours.. Add green pepper, increase heat to high and cook for 20 minutes, until tender.

Hot Chocolate
For a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker

12 one-ounce squares of pure Semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (Tip: Most 225g pkgs contain 8 squares, so you will need boxes and have 4 squares left over to create chocolate shavings!)
7 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
Place chocolate and milk in the slowcooker. Cover and cook on LOW for about 4 hours until steaming hot. Use an immersion blender or whisk to blend the mixture until it is frothy. Stir in vanilla. Serve in mugs, top with shipped cream if you like and add a few chocolate shavings for decoration. Move over Bombshell Barista. If it’s just the two of you, add a drop or two of Baileys to steamify the romance!

Pear Crisp with Dark Rum or Amaretto Liqueur
For a 4 to 6 quart slow-cooker
8 ripe pears
½ cup raisins (if using rum) or dried cranberries (if using Amaretto)
¼ cup sugar
2 tbsp white sugar
¼ cup dark rum (if using raisins) or ¼ cup amaretto liqueur

1 cup crushed gingersnap cookies or crushed almond cookies (Italian style Amaretto cookies work well)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup cold butter cut into small ½ inch cubes

Peel, halve and core pears. Cut into even slices about ½ inch thick. In a big bowl, combine pears, raisins or dried cranberries, white sugar and rum or Amaretto liqueur.

In a small bowl, mix together topping ingredients: crushed cookies, flour, brown sugar and white sugar. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture looks likes small peas.  Sprinkle over the pear mixture in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours until fruit is tender.

NOTE: This recipe can be baked in the oven using an ovenproof baking dish large enough to hold the fruit to about a 1-inch depth. Bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes or until fruit is tender and topping is golden.

Chocolate Mud Cake

Serves 8 (3 quart cooker is ideal)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips
1 cup white sugar, divided
½ cup cocoa, divided
1 tbsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup fat free milk
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 ½ cups hot water
Vanilla ice cream
Spray slow cooker with cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.
In a large microwave able bowl, melt butter and chocolate and microwave. Mix well. Whisk in 2/3 cup white sugar, 3 tbsp of cocoa, vanilla, salt, milk and egg yolk. Add flour mixture. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Pour batter into slow cooker. Spread evenly. Whisk together remaining sugars, remaining cocoa, and hot water until sugar is dissolved. Pour over batter in slow cooker. Do not stir.  Cover and cook on high for 1 to 2 hours. The cake will be very moist and floating on a layer of molten when done. You’ll know it’s done when nearly all the cake is set and its edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pot. Turn off slow cooker and remove lid. DO NOT let the lid’s condensation drip on the cake! Let cool 25 minutes before spooning into individual bowls and topping with ice cream or frozen yogurt.


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