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Published October 18, 2011, 11:30 PM

Doeden: Slow cooker a kitchen friend

Every time I pull my slow cooker out of the hall closet, I lament my decision to give up my old crock pot.

Every time I pull my slow cooker out of the hall closet, I lament my decision to give up my old crock pot.

When I got married, the Rival Crockpot, introduced to the purchasing public in 1971, was changing the way women cooked. Every home cook wanted the new small electric kitchen appliance that “cooks all day while the cook’s away” as advertised. My husband and I received several as wedding gifts.

We kept one of those stoneware slow cookers – a basic crock interior with a clear glass lid, and a bright red-orange exterior.

That old Crockpot prepared many meals for us over the years, usually an inexpensive beef roast that would cook until it was so tender and succulent, it would fall apart as it was removed from the crock.

The only venison roast I ever prepared was cooked in that Crockpot. My brother-in-law shared the cut of meat from a deer he had hunted that season. I’d never cooked wild game in my life, but I was a newlywed and anxious to please my venison-loving father-in-law. I decided if the slow-cooker worked for beef roast, it would be a satisfactory way to cook venison. I’m not sure how my kind father-in-law was able to choke that tough, stinky meat down, but he cleaned his plate. As he and my mother-in-law left our house that evening, I was hoping it was the pie I served for dessert he would remember and not the venison from the crock pot.

The slow-cooking workhorse was perfect for chili dip on game days and meat for French dip sandwiches on hot summer days. A couple of times, the glass lid broke. We replaced it rather than buying a new Crockpot.

A couple of years ago, I was enticed by a slick and shiny new model of the slow cooker. The glass lid had a handle that didn’t get hot. The inside crock was removable for easy washing and drying. It had three temperature settings. I bought it. My dear old crock pot that held so many memories went to the Goodwill store.

I regret giving up my old kitchen friend. My new slow-cooker with three temperature settings is still too hot when set at the lowest temperature. The roast that used to cook all day is done in just 4 hours in my new cooker. It doesn’t get juicy. It doesn’t fall apart when I transfer it to a platter. It burns chili dip. French dips don’t taste the same. But I keep experimenting, trying to find a meal that will cook to perfection in my newer model.

I finally found one.

Slow Cooker Pork Chops and Kraut simmered to tenderness in my slow cooker for only four hours. Some might choose to lay the raw meat into the crock with sauerkraut. I like to sear the chops, sealing in the juiciness. After removing the golden chops from the skillet, I use the flavorful fat left behind to sauté onion, green pepper and garlic before adding the sauerkraut. Seared pork chops are sandwiched into the crock between layers of the vegetable-studded kraut. A douse of apple cider adds flavor and moisture to the pork chops and kraut as they simmer in the crock. The secret ingredient in this meal is sour cream that is stirred into the kraut just before serving. Sprinkle each serving with chopped dill pickles and serve up the Pork Chops and Kraut with boiled potatoes.

It’s an old-fashioned meal made in a new-fashioned slow cooker. Newer isn’t always better, but I can make it work. This cook just can’t be away all day while the evening meal cooks.

Sue Doeden is a food writer and photographer from Bemidji, Minn., and a former Fargo resident. Her columns are published in 10 Forum Communications newspapers. Readers can reach Doeden at food@forumcomm.com