Thursday, October 10

The Classy Crock Pot

I try to hate my crock pot.  Really, I do.  I shove it into the darkest recesses of the cupboard as if it's a source of shame.  I pile my more glamorous Le Creuset in front in a vain attempt to obscure it from view.  But somehow it always finds a way comfortably back onto the counter.  It simmers and bubbles faithfully, like it has for the last ten years, filling the house with intoxicating aromas that make our tummies rumble.  And, despite my best efforts to suppress it, it never fails to deliver a sumptuous meal to my ravenous family.  A crock pot holds no grudge.

I often ask myself, how can I hate something that manages to braise my food, for hours on end, at just the right temperature to draw out every last bit of succulent, savory flavor?  How can I hate something that can transform the toughest, most unpalatable cuts of meat into tender, melt-in-your-mouth morsels?  How can I hate something that has saved my butt more times than I care to admit over these last few, busy months?

I can't.  The truth is, I love my crock pot.  I love it from the bottom of my heart!  What I abhor is the idea of a machine cooking for me.  But I'm working on that, and I'm on a mission to prove that a crock pot meal doesn't have to be a goopy, unappetizing glop of sludge (because, let's face it, if you're not careful, that's what it turns into).  You really can make a classy meal in it.  All it takes is the perfect recipe, and a few finishing touches.

My grandmother was the queen of crock pots and, as there's no better way to cook a meatball than in the crock pot, naturally she was also the queen of meatballs.  Sweet and sour, barbecue, spicy Italian - she made them all.  As kids we visited her every Sunday.  "What's for dinner?" we'd ask eagerly, as we ran into her open arms.  "Oh, we're having a big Italian spaghetti dinner," she'd reply with pride.  And, though she wasn't Italian, she made some killer meatballs and gravy!  When she passed away I received her recipe collection - all 4 boxes, complete with an entire file devoted to nothing but meatballs.  While this isn't her exact recipe, it's a fusion of some of her favourites that I know she'd adore.

And while we're on the subject of crock pots, here's a line-up of six of my favourite crock pot recipes.  Always classy, always sophisticated.

Sunday Meatballs and Spaghetti

for the meatballs
olive oil
1.5 lbs ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
approx. 1/4 cup chopped, flat leaf parsley
salt and pepper

for the sauce
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1  28 oz can of organic, fire-roasted diced tomatoes (preferably BPA free)
1  8 oz can of organic tomato sauce
3/4 cup water
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
2  tsp dried basil

1 lb spaghetti
grated mozzarella and Parmesan to garnish
chopped, fresh parsley to garnish

Turn your crock pot to high to preheat.  In a large skillet, heat a drizzle of olive oil over med-high heat.  In a large bowl combine the garlic, bread crumbs, eggs, Parmesan, parsley, and approx. 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.  Add the ground meat and mix with your hands until just combined.  Form the meat into balls that are slightly larger than golf balls.  Place the meatballs in the hot pan and brown on all sides. (I like to let them get very brown, as it adds so much flavour to the finished dish.)

While the meatballs are browning, combine both cans of tomatoes, the water, and herbs in the crock pot.  As the meatballs brown, transfer them to the crock pot and nestle them neatly into the sauce.  When all the meatballs are brown, place the chopped onion and garlic in the pan.  Stir to deglaze the pan, and cook until soft (about 5 minutes).  Scatter the onions over the meatballs in the crock pot.  Cover and cook on low 6 - 8 hours.

When ready to serve, cook the spaghetti according to the package directions.  With a slotted spoon, remove the meatballs to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley, leaving the sauce in the crock pot.  Toss the cooked spaghetti with the sauce and transfer to a large platter or serving bowl.  Sprinkle the cheese over the pasta and serve with the meatball.

Some other classy crock pot recipes to enjoy:

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