I would really like to be friends with my crock pot.  Maybe the fact that mine is labeled RIVAL is getting in the way of that.

The problem is that we all want to use our slow cooker, but don’t want to fail a kitchen project because then you get 3 unwanted byproducts:

1) A crappy dinner
2) A dilemma in how dispose of the rest…because there are starving people out there.  But it would be wrong to serve something considered akin to garbage.  Like donating old underwear.
3) a  [c]rocky relationship with your crock pot

I’m perfectly happy cooking on my stovetop, but there is a small added satisfaction that comes with employing all of the appliances that you own.  Unfortunately, my slow cooker has been on probation since we’ve met.  I don’t trust her.  I just don’t know if she can perform to the caliber of the rest of my kitchen crew.  Sure, you can make a giant bathtub of queso or spinach artichoke dip for a small country, but I’d like to graduate from these 2 options. 

Secondly, i’m still not ready to have it running unsupervised for 10 hrs.  Even I shouldn’t even be unsupervised for 10 hours.

Bottom line: If the inventor of the crockpot knew how little we use our crockpots, he would cry in disappointment like a seasoned mother and say “did I not teach you anything?”

Well, I found a crockpot teacher.  Meet vegetarian Jennie Do.  Jen and her crock pot have a very healthy long-term relationship. Why should we regard her as the crockpot guru?  Well, crockpots are ideal for busy people and Jen…she’s busy.  She’s a beautiful, full-time working wife, she and her omnivore husband are entrepreneurs, and she parties like a rockstar and then gets up in the morning and does it all over again.  Somehow, she manages to make many dinners without being in the kitchen. 

Here were my questions…you will love how honest and cute she is!

Jen – What the H-E-double- hockey-sticks am I doing here? There are 5 buttons here for 4 hrs, 6hrs, 8 hrs, etc. How do I use this thing? 

You don’t need a fancy crock pot. Mine is a standard Hamilton Beach one that I got from Target. Probably less than $30 bucks. My sister has a super fancy one with lots of random buttons, but she only uses the same three I use (keep warm, low, and high). I think fancy crock pots come with timers and stuff, but to be honest, I throw everything in usually overnight, so the timing function doesn’t really do much for me. I’m also a lazy cook, so I don’t bother with too many gadgets. Technology kind of scares me, so warm, low, and high is all I need.

Overnight.  Yikes.  So, you can do that?

I leave the crock pot on unattended for hours. and hours and hours. Sometimes you have to keep adding broth if you leave it on low (since it may dry out), but if you leave it on keep warm, it’s just keeps your food and soups warm, which is really nice. I think it’s pretty safe. Our place hasn’t burned down yet, thank goodness (knock on wood!)  🙂

Can I use dry beans in a crock pot and expect good results?

I’ve used dried beans before for lentil soup. It works just as well as canned beans. You just need to make sure you wash the beans thoroughly before throwing them in the pot and add enough water/broth. Other than that, they cook just as well in the crock pot as they would in the stove. And you don’t have to watch it, which i love. 

So what about onions and garlic and stuff?  Do you really get the flavors of these ingredients without sauteeing?

I’m not too sure about the powers of the crock pot releasing flavors…I tend to just throw stuff in the pot and cross my fingers. I look at it like a magic pot, because something comes out that’s edible at the end of the day! Really, lazy cook is what should be emphasized here.

I am good with “lazy cook”.  We all need help on tough and long days!  Do you recommend any recipes for beginner crock-potters?

I’m no recipe writer, but have found many recipes we love.  I think my favorite go-to crock pot meal is black bean soup.  My husband likes to eat bowls and bowls of this, and I’m happy to make a big pot of because it takes about 15 minutes and it’s super, ridiculously healthy. You don’t have to fry anything up so there’s no oil and it’s just a bunch of black beans so you get a ton of protein. I can’t take credit for the original recipe – found the regular stove top version on allrecipes.com but I adapted it a little over time for my crock pot. My version is below.

**I tried Jen’s recipe below after talking to Jen and agree that this CrockPot recipe is tasty, healthy, and satisfying.  So much, that we have already made it two more times!**

Jen’s CrockPot Black Bean Soup
(from Allrecipes, directions adapted for a crock pot)

2 (15 ounce) cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups of veggie broth
1/2 jar of salsa  (1 cup)
1 10-oz can of rotel
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4th of an onion (diced)
1 bunch of green onions (chopped)
1 avocado (diced)
Shredded cheese
Sour cream
  1. Combine the beans, 1 ½ cups of veggie broth, salsa, cumin, rotel and onion into a blender. Blend until it’s smooth.
  2. Pour everything in the crock pot on high
  3. Leave for 2-4 hours – add reserve veggie broth if necessary
  4. Ladle soup in bowls, top with green onion, avocado slides, shredded cheese and sour cream.
Did you like the recipe above?  Try Jen’s favorite butternut squash soup next season!

Here’s the link to the one that I like to use as a base. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/butternut-squash-soup-ii/detail.aspx   

I’ve made this millions of times, and it’s really yummy and healthy since there’s no cream. The potatoes really make it creamy, so you get the texture without all the calories. I sub out the chicken broth for veggie broth and add about a teaspoon of nutmeg – really gives the nutty flavor that goes well with butternut squash. if you get the butternut squash cubes, it really cut down on prep time. Central market also has this frozen mix where you get onions, celery, potatoes and carrots, so you can use that as well to cut down on prep time. This is an example of a recipe where you can sautee all the veggies before throwing them in the crock pot. I usually cut the sautee time down to like, 15-20 minutes instead of the 40 minutes. Once they’re a little tender, i throw everything in a blender and then throw the mixture into the crock pot. The veggies will keep cooking in the crock pot, so it’s ok if they’re not fully cooked when you blend them. if you really want to cut down on cook time, you can throw all the veggies in the microwave for a little bit before sauteeing them. (real chefs everywhere are cringing as I mention cooking in the microwave, but hey…we’re busy modern ladies!). Also… being vegetarian it’s hard to go out and just buy pre-made soups and stuff or even get soups at restaurants. So I always try to find recipes where all you need to sub out is chicken broth because then you can instantly turn it vegetarian.