What A Crock!

By / Food / February 1st, 2011 / 2

As a happy newlywed (a role I have played unsuccessfully several times), I was extremely proud of my decked-out kitchen. Back in the old days, long before Chuck Williams of Sonoma migrated east, the homemaker in the know had a precious small appliance that was a time-saving miracle: The slow cooker.

Time-saving? The very thought is an oxymoron. The squat avocado green pot chugged away over a 12-hour period, cooking the living daylights out of a pot roast while fossilizing the carrots. But as a new bride, and later as a befuddled single mother, I considered the slow cooker an essential tool for getting dinner on the table after a long day at the office.

There wasn’t much magic to it. I placed all the uncooked ingredients into the pot, added the requisite amount of water and put a lid on it. The meat stewed in its own juices and was cooked all the way through, about the only kind thing you could say about it.  

My chubby little electric crock left me forever at a garage sale many years ago and I never thought about slow cooking again. That is, until recently, when my friend Joanie presented me with one for my birthday. To my delight, I discovered a brand new way to prep food for the slow cooker and it makes me wonder why I didn’t think of it before: Sear the meat and vegetables before adding to the pot. This is exactly what you would do if you were braising the meat in the oven, and believe me, it makes a huge difference. Try these recipes and see what I mean.

Italian Pot Roast
Serves 4 to 6

I recently attended the baptism of a rambunctious, dimple-faced dumpling named Zachary. Afterwards, we drove over to an Italian restaurant where we ate meltingly tender roast beef in a heavenly tomato sauce with a side of rigatoni. This is my version. I happen to have a jar of veal demi-glace from Williams-Sonoma that I used in the sauce. Adding a spoonful or two is optional.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 boneless pot roast, about 3 pounds
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can Italian style stewed tomatoes (398 ml)
1 can tomato sauce (398 ml)
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons veal demi-glace (optional)
1 bay leaf
500 g rigatoni, cooked

Season roast with salt and pepper. Heat oil and butter a large skillet. Over high heat, sear roast on all sides. Remove meat from skillet and place in slow cooker.

To the same skillet, add onion, carrots, celery and garlic (add a bit more oil if needed). Sauté over medium high heat for 5 minutes or until onion is softened, scraping up the browned bits.

Add stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine, demi-glace and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Pour over pot roast in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 9 hours.
Serve with rigatoni.

Try a Chianti Classico or a vibrant Barbera D’Asti.

French Dip
Serves 4 to 6

This was such a hit at my house that I had to make it again the next day. It’s delicious as a French dip; or serve it for Sunday dinner with mashed potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 bottom round roast, about 3 pounds
1 large sweet yellow onion (such as Vidalia), sliced
2 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 large carrot, peeled and cut in half
1 stalk celery, cut in half
Submarine Rolls

Season roast with salt and pepper. Heat oil and butter in a large skillet. Over high heat, sear roast on all sides. Remove meat from skillet and place in slow cooker.

In same skillet, sauté onions until soft and translucent (add a bit more oil if needed). Add beef broth, soy sauce and thyme. Bring to a boil. Pour over roast in slow cooker.

Add carrot and celery. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 9 hours. Discard carrot and celery. Slice roast and serve on submarine rolls. Provide each guest with a cup of sauce for dipping.

For something a little bit different, serve with an exuberant Beaujolais Nouveau.

Pulled Pork

This is a great stick-to-the-ribs meal for Hockey Night in Canada or anytime you’ve got a sports crowd in front of the telly.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 boneless pork shoulder, about 3 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Easy Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows) or bottled barbecue sauce
Hamburger Buns

Season roast with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet. Over high heat, sear roast on all sides. Remove meat from skillet and place in slow cooker.
Add broth, cover and cook on low 8 to 10 hours.

Remove meat. With two forks, pull meat into shreds. Mix with barbecue sauce. Serve on hamburger buns.

Easy Barbecue Sauce

1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp Dijon or yellow mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Add all ingredients to a large saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

Sports fans may want to chase pulled pork with Canadian beer, but you can also try an Australian Semillon.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Serves 6 to 8

This is an absolutely crazy recipe because it calls for Velveeta and canned soup and I am always scolding my mother for making dishes with Velveeta and canned soup. But a co-worker brought it to work one day and it reminded me of a tortilla soup I enjoyed at a Los Angeles restaurant. The recipe calls for Mexican Velveeta cheese. If you can’t find it, use regular Velveeta and add about 4 ounces of grated Pepperjack cheese. This soup is great served at a Mexican buffet or on a cold autumn night. Just don’t tell my mother you got the recipe from me.

4 cans cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup
1 soup can milk
2 cups half & half
1 box mild Mexican Velveeta Cheese
1 can hot spicy Mexican stewed tomatoes (398 ml)
1 can corn, drained (398 m)
4 chicken breast fillets, cooked & diced
6 pieces bacon, cooked and crumbled
Tortilla strips for garnish

Place soup, cheese, milk, half & half, tomatoes, chicken, and bacon into slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, stirring twice. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with tortilla strips.

A lightly oaked Chardonnay would complement the creamy, spicy, smoky flavour of the soup, as would a Pilsner.

Old-Fashioned Chili

This recipe is adapted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann (Harvard Common Press), a book I highly recommend for anyone interested in slow cooker cooking.

1 lb ground sirloin
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (398 ml)
2 cans diced tomatoes, with their juice (398 ml)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups beef broth
2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cumin

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the ground sirloin, onion, red pepper and garlic until meat is no longer pink, breaking up any clumps. Drain off the fat.

Transfer to slow cooker and add the kidney beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth, chili powder, oregano and cumin. Stir to combine.

Cover and cook on low for 8 to 9 hours, stirring occasionally. In the last hour, season with salt.

A full-flavoured South African Shiraz with lots of black fruit flavour is my choice for the chili.


Quench Food Editor, Nancy Johnson, minced, sliced, chopped, sautéed and sipped her way through George Brown College’s culinary program with a focus on food writing and wine. Nancy cooks by the code her Italian grandmother taught her: For the best results, always use the freshest, best ingredients. She writes for Ohio-based Wine Buzz Magazine and recently published a short story in Woman’s World Magazine. She is always on a diet.

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