Thursday, March 22, 2007

Not Like Vomit in Any Way That Really Matters

On a good day, I love to cook dinner. I start at 5:30 or 6, and I listen to the radio as I wash and chop and stir and eventually, by 7 or 7:30, dinner is ready and the house smells good and we eat and I don't have to wash any dishes. On a good day, all those things make me happy, not just the last one. On a bad day, I don't even get home until 7:30, I'm already hungry and exhausted, and I can't imagine anything I want to do less than wash and chop and stir. This has been happening a lot lately, thanks to all the work I didn't do while we were away and now have to catch up on.

So I got a crock pot, thinking it would be great to come home to a house that already smells good and where dinner is already ready. I got a 6-quart Rival, and one of the reasons I picked it is that I get to call it a crock pot without anyone saying, "Actually, it's just a slow cooker. Crock Pot is a trademark of the Rival Corporation." Okay, not even my friends are that pedantic, but still. It says Crock Pot right on it, and somehow that makes me happy.

What didn't make me happy is that it's no less work to make a good meal in the crock pot. It's the same amount of work on a different schedule. The first time I used it, I figured I'd chuck the stuff into it right after breakfast, get dressed and go to work. By noon, I was still in my bathrobe, still unshowered, still chopping and browning and deglazing. Which, of course, is just when my friendly and well-groomed neighbor rang the bell (Hi, Jenn!). She managed to conceal her surprise at my condition fairly well. At least I wasn't holding a half-empty bottle of wine. I figure every neighborhood needs someone to set the bar low, and I'm happy to help. I've always gravitated more towards one-downs-manship than keeping up with the Joneses anyway. You don't really worry about letting yourself go if you never had a firm grasp on yourself to begin with.

I finally got everything in the crock pot, got myself looking more like a respectable member of society, and left the house, and I admit that I did feel a certain satisfaction whenever I remembered that dinner was cooking itself as I worked. It was pretty much ready when I got home, and the house did smell pretty good. But it wasn't until two nights later that I realized the true value of the crock pot. Those slow-simmered, stewy dishes that the crock pot specializes in freeze really well, reheat easily in the microwave, and are generally tastier the next day anyway (and with the crock pot, you don't have to be home all day to monitor a burbling dutch oven). My giant crock pot made about six servings of curry when it was only about half full. So one dinner's worth of labor gave me three dinners (for our two-person household), and could have given me six. Not bad at all.

More for my own reference than as a recommendation, here's what I made, minus an ill-advised red pepper. I don't know what I was thinking. I don't like well-done peppers, and what did I think was going to happen to that pepper over seven hours? It wasn't inedible, but I won't slow-cook peppers again.

Crock Pot (or Slow Cooker, if you must) Beef Curry with Garbanzo Beans

two pounds stew beef, extra fat trimmed off, and very well browned
3 small onions, chopped and browned
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 15-oz cans garbanzo beans, drained
6 small carrots, chopped into bite-sized hunks
1 tsp salt
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp whole cloves
7 cardamom pods
3 bay leaves
3 tablespoons curry powder (or more to taste)
3 Tbsp flour and 3 Tbsp butter for beurre manié

Combine everything but the curry powder, cream, flour, and butter in large oval crock pot. Set it to cook for 7 hours on low. Leave the 2 tablespoons of butter out on the counter so it's soft when you get home. Once it's done, thicken it with a beurre manié, or however else you usually thicken things. Taste it, and add salt or hot sauce if it needs it. Fish out any cardamom pods, bay leaves, and cloves that you notice, but don't worry about finding them all. They just, um, add authenticity or something. Also, it's really hard to find them all. You're better off just warning people.

Either stir cream into what you'll serve tonight, or let people add their own at the table. I'm not sure how stable the cream would be through freezing and re-boiling, so don't add it to the whole pot if you're planning to have leftovers.

One last tip: don't serve this on a plate if your cat has been throwing up a lot lately. It's uncomfortably reminiscent of a certain kind of cat hurk. But, but, it tastes good! It's very nice! Where are you going?

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