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Tammy Swift column: Recipes are mostly a crock

It's that ultimate rite of passage to Midwestern housewifedom. It is, of course, the purchase of your first crock pot. Sometime in my early 30s, I broke down and bought one. At the time, I used it solely to serve hot cheese dip during parties. I ...

It's that ultimate rite of passage to Midwestern housewifedom.

It is, of course, the purchase of your first crock pot.

Sometime in my early 30s, I broke down and bought one.

At the time, I used it solely to serve hot cheese dip during parties. I wasn't about to slow-cook a nourishing, overcooked stew for just my cat.

After all, I had grown up on slow-cooker meals. The 1970s were a glorious renaissance era for the crock pot. No young couple's life was complete without receiving three different crock pots -- in glorious shades of avocado, harvest gold and orange -- for wedding gifts.

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Crock pot cookbooks abounded, although they weren't really needed. For the most part, crock pot cookery was quite primitive -- consisting mainly of a bargain hunk of meat, a few shriveled carrots from the back of the vegetable crisper and some cream of mushroom soup.

I was determined not to follow in those soggy and flavorless footsteps. But sometime in my early marriage -- say, the second or third week -- I realized that the last thing I wanted to do after working all day was cook.

I invested in a new, extra-fancy crock pot, which could be programmed to cook anywhere from four to 10 hours. This seemed downright scientific compared to my old slow cooker, which had two cooking modes: "low" and "high."

I also invested in a slow-cooker cookbook, mainly because the barbecue brisket sandwich on the cover looked glorious. But after glancing through a few recipes, I was brutally awakened.

Crock pot cooking was no longer about dumping three ingredients in a pot; it, like everything else in the 21st century, had grown quite complex.

The "Brief" Beef Burgundy called for a whopping eight ingredients, including Burgundy wine and fresh portabella mushrooms. It also required that I "lightly sear" the beef in "extra virgin" olive oil (a regular virgin wouldn't do) before dumping it in pot.

Did I look like Emeril? Forget it. I dumped the raw stew meat in the slow cooker. Heck, it was going to cook for 10 hours; I didn't have to worry about whether it browned. Canned mushrooms would have to suffice.

And, because our jet-setting friends had guzzled all the Burgundy while embarking on our last truffle hunt, I dumped some really bad wine -- complete with screw-off cap -- into the brew. Voila! Brief Beef TJ Swan. With Cap.

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I found the book's other recipes equally disappointing: Chicken and Saffron Rice Soup (nothing saves the household budget like a spice that costs $14 an ounce), Sweet Beans and Rice over Polenta (A meatless crock pot meal? Blasphemy!) and Turkey Chablis (again requiring a fully stocked wine cellar).

But the Citrus Chicken was the last straw. At first glance, it sounded great. Then I realized I was supposed to toss a little cheesecloth bag of "Herbes de Provence" in the mix.

I don't know about you, but the last thing I want to do when getting ready for work is to pick fresh herbs from my southern France-themed garden and wrap them in a teensy, homemade shroud. I'm too busy trying to remember to wear pants.

Needless to say, the cookbook wound up in the "thrift store" box. I still use the crock pot though. In fact, we're using it this weekend.

What's on the menu?

Pot roast, served with potatoes, carrots and no apologies.

Tammy Swift writes a weekly column for The Forum. She can be contacted through e-mail at tsruse2001@yahoo.com

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