Okay this is much closer. Maybe even a rousing success. I finally sucked it up and bought a cookbook, "Slow cooker gourmet." And discovered the issue:
Always cook on low heat.
This changes everything. I was worried that cooking on low heat would be dangerous, all that "incubating bacteria" riff raff you read about in the textbooks. But not so. Bacterial risk is for <140 degrees (and probably much much less than 140 degrees). Low heat on a crock pot (at least on my itty bitty crock pot) is 160. Can't guarantee that it's steady. But it's better than boiling the heck out of everything which is what high heat does.
Anyway. I decided on pork spareribs with prunes. I know. I can hear the skeptics. But prunes are so misunderstood. They're amazingly sweet and when cooked they fall apart like overripe fruit. Pork thrives on that sweetness.
It came out wonderfully, better than I'd imagined even. The spareribs were fall apart tender and the sauce was rich with pork flavor but deepened by the prunes and onions.
The main key to this whole crock pot experiment is to accept two facts:
1. everything is better if you brown it first
2. expect to adjust the sauce after the long cooking
And that's it! I also think it might be a tad better if your crock pot didn't hold like a quart. Just might have to make a new purchase. Twist my arm.
Pork Sparerips with Prunes
(adapted from The Gourmet Slow Cooker)
1.5# pork spareribs or pork shoulder
1 Tbs peanut or vegetable oil
2 med sweet onions
3 cloves garlic
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup riesling
1 cup prunes (pitted)
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
Sprinkle spareribs with salt and pepper, then brown on all sides (5-10 minutes). Place sliced onions in pan, saute x 5 minutes or so, until wilted. Add garlic, saute a few minutes more. Remove from pan. Add chicken broth to pan with 1/2 cup riesling, cook down until reduced by half, scraping bottom of pan. Put ribs, onions, garlic in crock pot (try to have ribs on the bottom, not sticking out). Pour over liquids. Nestle prunes in between ribs. Put in thyme and bay leaves. Cook 8-10 hours on low heat (her recipe said 6-8, mine was barely done at 8, might depend on your cooker). Then take out pork and set aside. Put pan juices, including onions garlic and prunes into a pan. Add 1/2 cup riesling. Cook down until thickened, squishing the prunes to add their flavor. Add back pork and cook 5 minutes for flavors to marry. Serve.