"SLOW COOKER REVOLUTION," America's Test Kitchen, $26.95, 336 pages (nf)
Crock pots are convenient, but frequently the time saving comes at a price — namely taste. When taste and convenience blend and meld into a dinner worth eating, however, the cookbook responsible for this is well worth the purchase.
“Slow Cooker Revolution” by America’s Test Kitchen is such a book.
The editors of America’s Test Kitchen — describing most slow cooker recipes as “mediocre at best” — remodeled their premises to accommodate two dozen slow cookers that tested more than 1,500 recipes in a six month period. What resulted were 200 winners encompassing the usual soups, stews and chili, but also unexpected gems like French toast casserole, Spanish egg and potato tortilla, lasagna and its pasta relatives, and a world of food collection ranging from a spicy Thai-style chicken stew to French cassoulet, from Korean braised short ribs to Moroccan chili stew. There’s even macaroni and cheese.
The ingredients required are specific yet not unrealistic depending upon the complexity of the recipe. Examples are vinegar, sour cream, garlic, onion, spices, and beef and chicken broth. Minute tapioca, something not in the average larder, adds thickening to sauces; tomato paste mixed with the onions provides richness of flavor without the added step of browning the meat.
Asserting that “one cannot simply dump a bunch of ingredients into a slow cooker and walk away,” the editors also realize that most people turn to the appliance because they’re trying to save time. With this in mind, they rely heavily upon the microwave to perform initial prep work.
A potentially frustrating element of the recipes is the amount of beef or chicken or other meat product recommended to serve six or eight: Lamb vindaloo calls for a 4-pound boneless lamb shoulder roast; Mexican-style pork and Hominy stew 4 pounds of pork butt roast; Beef burgundy, 5 pounds of boneless beef chuck roast.
That’s a lot of expensive meat for stew, which is traditionally a dish that turns a little bit of cheap meat into family fare. Success, however, still results when cutting the meat requirements well in half. It’s obviously not what the recipe intended, but it’s affordable.
As an aside, the editors rely upon and recommend a particular slow cooker that retails for $129.99, but the $19.99 box-store special will deliver, as long as the cook keeps an initial eye on times and learns how his or her specific model works.
Minimal prep in the morning and a decent dinner in the evening — “Slow Cooker Revolution” is revolutionary indeed.
Carolyn Henderson is a freelance author and writer of the blog, Middle Aged Plague (www.MiddleAgedPlague.AreaVoices.com). Carolyn is also the manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art (www.SteveHendersonFineArt.com).