An Inauspicious Start | Crock Pot Express Diary, Part 1

Tuesday Revews-Day

This is an entirely unsolicited, unsubsidized review of the Crock Pot Express and a few cookbooks relating to the appliance. While there will be Amazon affiliate links, that’s as far as it goes.


I know, I know, I’m a little late to the electric pressure cooker party. Mostly because my one experience with pressure cooking was mildly terrifying and I sent the thing back, even though it was well after the full refund period, because I had to hide behind a wall from all the rattling and hissing. #neveragain

Buuuuut, the week or so before Prime Day 2018, my rice cooker started showing signs of giving up the ghost. Now, sure, I’m perfectly capable of making rice on the stove, but I very much appreciate the convenience of my rice cooker and use it several times a month, so this was not good news. Add to that one of our slow cookers had definitely seen better days and we’d discussed upgrading to one of the programmable ones in the near future, and you have the final straw in my resistance to the lure of the new gadget.

Of course, ordering the damned thing wasn’t simple as Amazon could not even remotely handle the visitor volume and 15 minutes after the opening bell the site was already throwing up those lovely pups of Amazon like some consolation calendar pin-ups. I tried, over the course of several hours, to put the 6qt InstantPot that was on special into my cart only to have it disappear each time. Finally, figuring that it had already sold out and the app just wasn’t registering it, I looked around and settled on the 6qt Crock Pot Express. No, it wasn’t my first choice, but I am very comfortable with the Crock Pot brand (we own three slow cookers by them; yeah, we’re good), so it didn’t bother me too much that it wasn’t the other brand.

It did mean, however, that I needed to find some brand-specific resources to get me started, as so much of what’s out on the net it geared towards the other brand. And while the overall functions may be similar, I wanted to get my feet wet without having to do a lot of brand to brand conversions. There’ll be time enough for improv after I’m sure it’s not going to blow the Dollhouse to smithereens.

Putting my Kindle Unlimited subscription to good use, I borrowed three Crock Pot Express cookbooks to get started:

The Beginner’s Guide actually told me a lot of what I needed to know about using the Crock Pot Express and had a lot of great tips. I do recommend it, of the three, but with the usual caveats that seem to be needed with ebooks from Kindle Unlimited–a lot are self-published and, while I respect the work that goes into them (being a self-pubbed cookbook author myself), there are good ones and there are less good ones. Some information was repeated within the same section in a redundant sort of way that almost felt like it was compiled but not edited quite enough.

Says the woman who’s already written 500+ words and not gotten to the actual cooking yet. I point the finger at myself, too, folks. I get it.

At any rate, the Crock Pot Express arrived while it was still Todd’s week to cook. I unboxed it, flipped through the included guides, and let it sit until the following Tuesday, when it was finally time to face my pressure cooking fears and give this thing a whirl.

Day 1: Not Very Express After All

There’s something about having a new kitchen appliance to play with that makes me positively giddy–something I would not describe the last several months of meal preparation, so there’s that in that big ol’ box’s favor. (And speaking of the boxes, they’re the perfect size for doll rooms–provided I don’t have to return the cooker in them.)

I may have jumped into the deep end with the first two recipes I tried, tonight. First there was the Cheesy Leek & Kale Quiche (Stewart, 1).

Looks good, right? Too bad it took the stated 22 minutes in the CPE, then another 10, and then another 7.5 in the microwave before the center was finally set.

It tasted fine, once finally cooked, but the issue lies with the fact that the recipe failed to specify a cooking mode. Since we were using the steamer rack and pot-in-pot cooking method, I chose Steam for lack of a better option, and it may not have been the right one.

Unlike other cookers of this type, the Crock Pot Express does not have a full manual pressure cook mode (though three of the pre-sets–Beans/Chili, Dessert, and Soup–do allow pressure changes, and can be used as pseudo-manual modes). So I’m left to wonder if this was just poor writing or if Stewart nabbed the recipe from elsewhere and forgot to make the necessary adjustments.

The other recipe I tried was for novelty’s sake, really: a cake baked in a pressure cooker.

While not described as such, the Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake (Stewart, 485), is basically a “flourless” (it has 2.5 Tbsp of flour in it) chocolate cake. Unlike the quiche recipe, this one did at least specify a cooking mode (Beans/Chili), and a cooking time of 8 minutes.

It took three rounds of 8 minutes, and I wasn’t sure it was done even then, but I called it good enough and stuck it in the fridge to firm up. Turns out there’s a gooey-centered cake recipe in the booklet that came with the CPE and it called for 22 minutes on the Dessert setting. My first day using the machine and, yeah, I completely spaced that it even had a Dessert mode.

At any rate, by the end of the night I was seriously wondering if I’d need to send it back. Is it the recipes? Is it me? Is it the machine?

Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Arctic Fire Could Use Some Warmer Characters

Everyday Adventures

(this post includes affiliate links)

In this book’s defense, I’m pretty sure I’m not the ideal market the author had in mind.

Also in it’s defense, the macho, daredevil, lady-killer, completely unapologenic character we meet in the very beginning of Arctic Fire (which elicited much side eye from yours truly) was probably meant to appeal to the stereotypical male media consumer of the fast cars and buxom babes ideal.

And it occurred to me, as I rolled my eyes yet again (dangerous, since I was driving at the time), that were it not for growing up with Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan (my two favorite Bonds, in that order) as the playboy secret agent and just picked up one of the 007 novels fresh, I’d probably be less than thrilled with that main character as well.

So all those caveats aside, I still had major issues with the characters in this book, which means I had issues with the book itself. I mean, you don’t want heroes that are too goody-goody and shiny, they’re boring and unrelatable. But if the warring factions of a story are only distinguished by the fraction of a smidgen of less bad one is compared to the other, it makes cheering for one side over the other a bit confusing and can make any ending unsatisfying.

So why did I spend the last 8-10 hours listening to Arctic Fire (Book 1 in the Red Cell Series, by Stephen W Fray)? Because I knew it would have enough action and tension to keep me interested during my drives without the excessive navel-gazing or moony romance.

From the “back cover”

Troy Jensen could do it all: he conquered the Seven Summits, sailed solo around the world twice, and even fought a bull in a Mexican slum on a dare. So when word comes that a rogue wave has swept Troy off a crab fishing boat in the Bering Sea and into a watery grave, his brother, Jack, doesn’t buy it.

Against his better judgment, Jack decides to quit his job as a Wall Street trader and head to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to investigate. Minutes after revealing his plan in his father’s New York City office, Jack is nearly run down in the street. He doesn’t think much of it at the time, but as he digs deeper into Troy’s disappearance, Jack unearths information about RED-CELL-SEVEN (RCS), a super-secret American intelligence group that has operated for forty years in almost total secrecy and with complete impunity—and its leaders intend to keep it that way at any cost.

An adrenaline-pumping tale of one man’s descent into a hellish underworld populated by terrorists, assassins, and very bad “good guys,” Arctic Fire explores the disturbing difference between doing what is good and doing what is right when it comes to protecting America from her greatest enemies.

Jack was a semi-likable character, flawed but open-minded compared to his more extreme father and brother (and friends). Okay, sure, he had the emotional maturity of a teenage boy, but still, he was attempting to do something akin to the right thing.

There was a chuckle when he told his pal he was going down to Florida to pick up a bartending job in The Keys to get away from his troubles–a little too much like Cocktail for me (which made me want to watch said movie again, except that I was afraid the nostalgia wouldn’t live up to the reality of a rewatch). And the love interest (obvious from the beginning), despite being a former cop, was more than willing to let a not-so-successful stock trader take the lead in their madcap race across the country with a rogue intel assassin on their tail. Yeah…

But the story also brought up some valid points. Most thrillers of this sort have their horrors safely removed from the reader by several degrees of not being in those professions, etc. that would put you into said dangerous situations. But as Jack asks his best friend, what about when it’s you they pick up to interrogate, even if you had nothing to do with anything, just because you know someone who might know something, not that you’d know, you know?

Where’s that line of right and wrong then?

The brutality of the scenes was bracing, but not unbelievably so. But the author stops short of gratuitous violence and gore, which I appreciate.

So while I’d probably give this story a 2 out of 5 (with 0 being couldn’t even finish it and 5 being oh-my-gawd-I-need-more-where’s-the-sequel), I sure as anything downloaded the next book in the series because yes, I wanted to know what happens next. With that said, had the story not been available as an audiobook on Kindle Unlimited (click here for a 30-Day Free Trial) I wouldn’t have spent actual money on it to find out. So, yeah, casual read okay, but not more than that.

Heard any good books, lately?

Three Book Habit

Everyday Adventures

In a recent discussion with other bibliophiles, I realized I have a bit of a book habit: one for my commute, one to read on my lunch breaks, and one to read before bed. Sometimes there’s overlap if I’m close to finishing one and just have to get to the end. But, yes, it’s completely normal for me to have three books going at the same time. Sometimes more, if there’s a research book I’m working my way through in spurts between more fun reading. I admit, part of the impetus is the 75 books I challenged myself to read by the end of the year–it’s good to have a goal, but I don’t think I’ll take up the challenge next year, I’m too competitive (with myself) and wanting to see the progress bar fill up makes me feel guilty if I choose to watch tv before bed instead of read, or even to flip through a magazine.

Silly the things we do to ourselves, right?

But otherwise I’m just generally a voracious reader. Always have been.

image via GoodReads

image via GoodReads

June’s conquered titles:

  • The Gemini Effect*
  • The Dead Key
  • The Coffee Legacy*
  • Dragon’s Triangle
  • The Confederacy of Heaven*
  • Kitchen Confidential
  • I Am Livia
  • Down the Rabbit Hole
  • Contagious*

(remember, the asterisk means it was an audio book)

I’m starting to catch up to the backlog of Kindle First books, so it’s lucky that I got an email about trying out Kindle Unlimited for a month. Granted, at first I thought I wouldn’t let it go past the 30 days because the books I searched for weren’t available through KU. But then I started to browse and found books that I’d never gotten around to reading (like Bourdain’s book) as well as others I was looking forward to reading, having read earlier books in the series.

What I was most excited about, though, was the narration feature on many of the titles. I don’t know if this was a product of Amazon purchasing Audible or not, but I’m loving it! Frankly, Audible’s $14.99 a month that only got you one book credit a month never seemed like a good deal to me, and hoped that the recent acquisition might mean Prime members would have free access to audiobooks. But for $10 a month you can get Kindle Unlimited, borrow up to 10 titles at a time (not per month, just at once, unless I misread), and download the narration, too. I was, at first, worried about what the streaming audiobook would do to my data usage, but it doesn’t appear to be doing anything untoward–just the initial download–and I can plug my phone into the auxiliary jack in my car the way I do my iPod and plug the phone into the car charger, as well, to prevent running the battery down to and from work. Though the replay isn’t perfect (occasional skips, that sort of thing), it certainly opens up many more titles to my commute entertainment–definitely worth $10 a month, at least for now!

A few notes about a few of the books I read or listened to this month:

I liked that the main character of The Dead Key was neither a perfect specimen or a burnout with a lucky streak–she was believably middle of the road and very likable. The time shifts in the book are handled quite well, and I was well-hooked throughout the book, wondering who all was really in cahoots with who, and where the missing “treasure” really ended up. I Am Livia had me thinking (mostly fondly) of my 4 years of high school Latin classes. Books like this would have been great helper materials when getting ready for competitions; great jumping off points for history lessons!

Contagious is part of series of books from the twisted mind of Scott Sigler. Ages ago I’d listen to a few of his podiobooks but, apparently, many have been reworked since then, a result of his signing with Crown Publishing. Good for him! I started with Contagious, remembering fairly well the events of Infection, and have Ancestor cued up next on my iPod. I remember parts of Ancestor, I believe, but knowing that they’ve undergone a revamp I’m going to give it a new listen to see if what I remember is still valid. But I needed something lighter before I could move onto more stories from him–a 7 year old as the big bad, in its strange and believable way, is a lot to take in. Though I’ll admit I was picturing a Chibi Usa-like figure as little Chelsea Jewell. Listen to it and, if you watch Sailor Moon, you’ll see what I mean. From a Q&A included in the podcast I’ve learned that all of his books seem to exist in the same universe, which makes me curious about his other titles.

Finally, Down the Rabbit Hole. I was a fan of Girls Next Door when it first aired and one of the reasons I liked it because it was fun and light on the drama. I followed the careers of Holly, Bridget, and Kendra for a while after they left the series (and the last season with Crystal and the twins was really not worth watching) and was happy to see them all doing what they set out to, more or less. I wasn’t as big of a Kendra fan, so I didn’t read her book, but when I heard Holly had written one, I thank ebooks for their instant gratification potential and devoured the book over a couple of days. Reading about the behind the scenes stuff makes me want to go back and watch the show again (I have the first three seasons on DVD) with new eyes. The only disappointment was how quickly she glossed over her relationship with her current husband–there were some rumors flying around when they were first together, and it would have been nice to get her take on that period, the way she delved into the Criss Angel months as well as her years at the mansion. I can see why she might not want to do so, but it did feel rushed at the end.

I’ve been catching up with my binge-watching as well. Wayward Pines is getting quite interesting, now that we know what the big secret is. I’m grateful that the recent season of OITNB not only continued to give us more background into the backstories of various characters (dude, I was actually sympathetic to Pensatucky!) but also managed to show some growth for Piper, namely that of a spine. I was so tired of her whiny attitude, the fact that she’s got a bit of steel to her, now, makes me look forward to Season 4, whenever we get that. And I finally watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and was surprised at how much I enjoyed the silliness of the first several episodes. But then we got to the trial plot line and amusement turned to absurdity, and I’ve never found the absurd that entertaining.