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Posted on Sun, Oct 11, 2009 : 7 a.m.

"You Should Only Be Happy" ... making chili in a crockpot

By Mary Bilyeu

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I love crockpots -- really, I do! I don’t ordinarily like kitchen “toys”: I don’t own a food processor, I am terrified of pressure cookers after hearing my mother tell me about a nun at her boarding school who suffered burns when one exploded in her face, I consider bread machines to be a sacrilege, and I inherited a nearly useless Vita-Mix blender when I got divorced 3 years ago. (It didn’t go with my ex-husband, who actually loves the $400 monstrosity, because Jeremy and I still wanted to be able to make milkshakes … but it doesn’t even make them very well, not blending them sufficiently no matter how long you run it for.)

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Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear crockpots.

Mary Bilyeu, Contributor

But I love my crockpots, and have 3 different sizes -- Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear. I managed to get all of them in one day last spring, between the King of Kings Lutheran Church and Stone High School rummage sales. It was serendipity, because my previous crockpot, which had been purchased for $5 at a yard sale in my condo complex, was in need of life support after being used so many, many times. My total investment for the set? $7. (I should really be writing a blog about how to save money -- i.e.: creating outfits for less than $15 every day, thanks to the thrill of the hunt at thrift shops and sales, or which local Kroger features which Managers’ Specials at what time of day -- rather than about how to cook and bake and eat. But, true to form, I digress.)

So, back to the lowly crockpot … why do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love them because if I have the foresight to place some basic ingredients into the crockpot before I leave for work in the morning, I can come back to a home-cooked meal at the end of the day. I love them because they can turn inexpensive or tough ingredients into something sublime through the transformative process of slow cooking. I love them because the house is permeated with the aroma of comfort food as the crockpot works its wonders over the course of many hours. I love them because they can be used at parties to serve hot food that actually stays warm. I love them because I can make everything from pot roast to lasagna to oatmeal in them. I’m not sure I can go on beyond this, but any one of these reasons is enough for me!

So on a Saturday morning, as I putter around doing laundry and baking cookies for a friend and finalizing weekend plans, I can hear the crockpot calling. “You’ve got leftover ground beef, and 2 nearly empty jars of nacho cheese sauce, and the last few grape tomatoes from your garden, and some scallions, and a half-packet of taco seasoning -- an odd assortment of leftovers from various teenage guests and previous meals and dinner ideas that didn’t come to fruition. C’mon -- you know this is why I exist! Throw everything into the crockpot and let me work some magic.” And so, hearing the call of the kitchen and of food -- both entities that I rarely ignore -- I did as I was told.

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And you know what? The mélange of leftovers and a couple of cans of chili beans and diced tomatoes turned into something amazing! The house smells fabulous, I’ve got a meal that will keep me warm now that the chill of Fall is setting in, I’ve got enough food to freeze extra helpings for future emergency meals, I’ve got something delicious to offer to Jeremy and to his buddies if/when they stroll on home … and I barely had to do any work for all of this beneficence. How can crockpots not have a special place in my heart???

Mary Bilyeu has won or placed in more than 60 cooking contests and writes about her adventures as she tries to win prizes, feeds hungry teenagers and other loved ones, and generally just has fun in the kitchen. The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured next to the blog's title) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15, and is a wish for all her readers as they cook along with her ... may you always be happy here!

You can contact Mary at


Mary Bilyeu

Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 1:58 p.m.

Oh, Red Beans 'n' Rice is a perfect crockpot meal, as it's best when slow-cooked! (Kinda makes me wish I'd thought of it for today.) I have a quick recipe for it, using instant brown rice, but it's not quite the same....


Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 1:28 p.m.

Ooohh. I was thinking of red beans and rice for tomorrow night, but lamenting the fact that I didn't have time after getting home from an after-work appointment. Now I think I'll put the bean recipe in the crock pot in the morning.. Thanks for the idea!!

Mary Bilyeu

Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 9:49 a.m.

Peggy -- I didn't grow up with crockpots; my parents are the sorts who worry about leaving them unattended. But I couldn't live without them! I'm glad you're a member of the club now... :) What led to the change of heart? Jessica -- I, too, can sometimes be very OCD about my chili; I have one recipe in particular that I always make according to the prescribed regimen. But tossing in a bit of this and a bit of that is an m.o. that crockpots are just begging for!

Jessica Webster

Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 9:12 a.m.

I love it, Mary! I usually take my chili making too seriously, but there's a real place for just throwing the food into the crockpot and letting it do its magic!

Peggy Lampman

Sun, Oct 11, 2009 : 8:41 a.m.

Mary-I've always turned my nose up to crock pots until last year--I associated them with avocado shag carpets and lava lamps! But I'm totally on board with you now--they are fabulous, and now personally indispensable, cauldrons as your blog suggests! Thank-you! Peggy