I have (almost) all of the Jamie Olivers, one or two Nigellas, one Pioneer Woman, one Martha Stewart, a Betty Crocker, a McCall’s, a Southwestern cookbook purchased at Rocky Mountain National Park gift store, a Sur La Table, one from the Nordstrom café, an Emerile Lagasse, and the list goes on. I barely use any of them. I mostly buy cookbooks for the photos these days, and not for the recipes.
It turns out most of the recipes I use were born out of the first three cookbooks I ever owned. None of the cookbooks have photos, but two of them have clip art depicting a variety of vegetables with occasional curls to depict steam.
The Rival Crock-Pot Slow Cooker Cookbook. It’s the book that came with my mother’s first Crock-Pot. After I’d moved out on my own, I was looking at the cookbook, and my mom came up behind me and said, “just take it.” I think she had most of the recipes memorized by then, or she had long ago discovered the secret that I’m just beginning to learn—we all have about ten dishes we make, and everything else is a step or two removed from those original ten.
Cooking isn’t that complicated. Writing about, talking about, photographing, and watching food on TV–that’s another story. All the things surrounding food—the stores, the gadgets, the discussions, the restaurants, the restaurant-grade kitchens–have become very, very complicated.
My husband and I like to go out to eat at nice restaurants and try different food. When we’re there, we talk about the restaurant and the food. We analyze it, we compare it, critique it, eat it. Always, the conversation at some point goes to ranking the current meal. Always, one of us notes that our most memorable, most enjoyable meals do not always (maybe, do not usually) coincide with the cost of the meal. The one time an expensive meal did rank among my favorites was in Maui. We ate at a beautiful restaurant called “The Banyan Tree” that was steps away from the ocean. I ordered the roast chicken with morels. I still think about those morels. They were buttery and they soaked up the sauce and held it in like a sponge, which is fitting. I realized many weeks after the meal the reason I liked it so much. Beyond the obvious beauty of the setting, the meal reminded me of a long-forgotten favorite meal of my childhood. My father worked with several men who went mushroom-hunting every spring in Michigan. When they had a really good trip, and there were enough morels to go around, they would give him a bag of mushrooms to take home. My mother would sauté them in melted butter, and the sponge mushrooms—which was all we knew them by back then—would soak up every bit of the butter, and the whole treat would melt in our mouths. I hadn’t had a sponge mushroom for over 20 years until that evening in Hawaii.
I still use the Crock-Pot Slow Cooker Cookbook. I have four other slow cooker cookbooks, but I keep going back to the original cookbook that came with our first Crock-Pot. It’s remarkably reliable. The recipes aren’t complicated, they are accurate, and if they were being marketed today, they would be called “Comfort Food.” In my home growing up, these dishes were never described as anything other than “supper.”
Here is one of the simplest, but best, recipes that originated from the cookbook, which I adapted. I like to make it when we have company and I know kids and adults will wake up hungry and want to eat right away.
old-fashioned oats (not instant)
2 apples, sliced
½ cup raisins or dried cranberries
Rub inside of slow cooker generously with butter. Use a 2:1 ratio of water to oatmeal (for instance, 4 cups water to 2 cups oatmeal). Cook on low for 8 hours. About a half hour before serving, stir in the apple and raisins or dried cranberries.