Getting Crocked: [I want a] Dinner With a Slow Hand

You're rushing out the door toward a 10-hour work day. You've got kids to carpool and clients to court. You'll spend your day being nattered at, while the phone rings off the hook, the e-mail overflows and the fax machine belches out reams of things that need your immediate attention. So who has time to think about dinner?The solution is as close as your Crockpot. If you can find 15 free minutes, you can fix a dinner that tastes great and makes your house smell good. Throw it together in the morning before you run out the door, or put it together the night before, keep it in the fridge, and take it out and turn it on before you're off to another corporate takeover.The easiest dinner imaginable: Pour a cup of water into the bottom of the crock. Scrub and quarter a couple of potatoes. Scrub or peel a couple of carrots and cut into chunks. Slice an onion. Throw the veggies into the pot, top with a cut up chicken or any cheap cut of beef. Sprinkle the top with a package of dry onion soup mix, and pour a can of cream of mushroom soup (which becomes a sort of gravy), undiluted, over the top. Put on the cover and leave it on low till dinnertime.For easy vegetable soup, start with stock, water with or without a boullion cube, beer or tomato juice. Then add chopped fresh, frozen or leftover vegetables, which might include potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, celery, corn. Sprinkle in seasonings. A can of chopped tomatoes makes a nice addition, as does a can of beans, whether pinto, kidney, black or garbanzo. For starch, add a handful of rice, lentils or barley. If you want to thicken your soup into a stew, add two of the starches. Then, cover and cook on low all day. It never tastes the same way twice, and the leftovers taste even better.Spaghetti sauce is another breeze. Start with a big can of whole tomatoes. Squish them, or chop them in the blender and pour into the Crockpot. Add lots of chopped garlic, oregano, basil, a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Chop a big onion, a bell pepper and some mushrooms and stir into the mix. You can add diced zucchini or yellow summer squash. Augment with a few squirts of whatever hot sauce is handy. Cook some sausage, any type, and stir it in. Fresh tomatoes are an incredible addition. While the spaghetti cooks that night, add some sliced olives (Calamata are my favorite) if you go for that sort of thing.If you're up for something special, Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic is fabulous. You won't be overpowered by the garlic; it mellows as it cooks.Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic 6 chicken legs; 1/4 t. cinnamon 6 chicken thighs; 1 c. fresh parsley 40 cloves of peeled garlic; 2 T. olive oil 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped; 1 t. dried basil or tarragon dash salt, pepper; 1/4 c. cognac 1 c. dry white vermouth, white wine or chicken brothCombine all ingredients in the crock. Then, take one unusual step: Cover the pot tightly, with a piece of aluminum foil under the lid. You don't want any steam to escape. Then cook it on low all day. Serve this with mashed potatoes so there's something to soak up all the wonderful juices.If you don't luck into a Crockpot at a thrift shop or yard sale, you can get a decent model at any department store for under $20. Most of them come with a starter booklet of recipes, and you can always comb the library or used bookstores for crockpot cookbooks.And when some Goober or Gomer starts nattering at you during your hectic and frantically busy work day, you'll be able to smile with the inner peace that belongs to those who don't have an Aunt Bea, but still know there's a warm dinner waiting for them at home.

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