I must have a lot of faith in mankind. I truly believe that the latest cooking device that comes along will honestly make my life more organized and efficient — especially when having bouts of insomnia. Those infomercials in the middle of the night sound so convincing.
Years ago, before the grocery stores cornered the market on rotisserie chickens, the rotisserie oven was the hot item being shown on the infomercials. Known also as the “set it and forget it,” the advertisers showed chickens that you could roast on the spit right in your very own kitchen. Did they ever look beautiful — so perfectly bronzed, and juicy as could be. The self-contained oven was boasted as being not only easy to use, but also a breeze to clean.
I remember how excited I was to test out this new product; my family would be so impressed with the perfectly roasted chickens that I would carve up for them. As is the case with most everything in life, there were some glitches with this plan. For one, trying to thread the slippery chicken onto the spit rods was not easy, especially after rubbing the poultry with the savory olive oil, garlic and rosemary mixture. Thank goodness for the three-second rule, because more than once did it slide right off the counter and plop onto the kitchen floor.
Second, finding the right size chicken was challenging. Too big and it would hit the heating elements as it rotated; too small, and the skin would be stretched so tight on the rods that it would fall apart as it rotated. And those wings — they would never stay tucked in as promised, even after trussing the chicken with string, causing them to dangle dangerously close to the red coils and burn. When the chicken gods did cooperate, it was indeed delectable.
Then there was the clean-up; never quick. Suffice it to say that you’d be hoping it wasn’t your night for KP duty. It became fast neighbors with the bread machine, juicer and the George Foreman grill, all of which rarely saw daylight.
Truly, the advertisers of the rotisserie oven led us astray. It states right in the instruction booklet, “Please don’t take ‘set it and forget it’ literally.” In layman terms, that means don’t start your rotisserie and head out to the movies.
The rotisserie chicken, in its defense, can really save the day for you. They are great to have on hand, already cooked, ready to put in your favorite recipes: chicken enchiladas, tacos, Chinese chicken salad, to name a few. Maybe you should just pick one up from the market on your way home and call it a day.
The crock pot, however, is really the “set it and forget it” of small appliances. The beauty of this self-contained cooker is that you can start simmering your dinner in the morning before you leave for the day, without fear of burning down your house, and upon your return after a hard day’s work, you will have heavenly aromas of a home-cooked meal to greet you. For a second, you could almost believe that you have your own personal chef, Jacques, waiting to serve you.
Again, the glitches. The downfall with the crock pot is that it can require substantial prep work. You either have to concoct two dinners the night before — the one you are going to consume that night and the one for the crock pot — or assemble it in the morning before you head to work. For the morning-challenged like myself, this is a dismal prospect. The thought of getting myself AND dinner ready first thing in the morning is overwhelming. This could put me into stress mode before I even crawl out of bed.
A little bit of strategy could help make the crock pot more user-friendly. Finding a recipe that would not involve extensive prep work, chopping, sautéing and browning might make it more inviting to use.
This led me to think about the whole 30-minute-meal idea, which made Rachael Ray a very wealthy woman. I thought, what if I could come up with the 20-minute meal? After checking some websites, I found out that not only are there 20-minute meal plans, there are 15-, 10- and even five-minute meals!
This is where it got interesting — one person blogged that talking about “five-minute meals” with “healthy” in the same sentence is like an obese person reading about exercise. Really, who doesn’t have more than five minutes to devote to their meals? Food is one of the universal subjects that we all have in common. If we are not eating something, we are most likely thinking about what we will be eating next. I’m heading to the kitchen right now — all this talk about food is making me hungry.
There is an endless selection of slow cooker recipes out there to choose from. Here are two to get you started:
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
3-5 lb. boneless pork shoulder
1 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1-2 onions, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup water
Combine all seasonings in a small bowl, and rub evenly over roast. Put chopped onions and garlic in bottom of slow cooker, placing roast on top. Add water.
Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours until pork is very tender.
Place pork on large cutting board, and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Shred with a fork. Serve in soft buns with barbecue sauce and coleslaw.
Chicken with Garlic, Peppers and Artichokes
12 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 8-oz. package frozen artichoke hearts
1 red sweet pepper, cut into strips
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 can chicken broth
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. zested lemon peel
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken thighs
In a small skillet, cook garlic and onions in hot oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally,
5 minutes or until tender.
In a 4-quart slow cooker, combine the frozen artichoke hearts, 1/2 of garlic-onion mixture, sweet pepper, mushrooms, 1/2 of chicken broth, herbs and lemon zest.
Add chicken; spoon remaining garlic-onion mixture and broth over chicken, along with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours, or on high for 3-3 1/2 hours.
Serve over rice or couscous.
Note: I tried this with Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend, which is a blend of couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa. It soaked up the flavors of the broth and was very flavorful in itself. Garnish with lemon slices, capers and parsley if desired.