February 25, 2013

An Unquenchable Appetite for Slow Cooking

The title for this post came from me looking at my thesaurus for a better way to say, "I'm currently hooked on cooking in my slow-cooker" - passion, ardor, enthusiasm . . . appetite. When you read reviews on slow cookers, there's some people who absolutely do not like this style of cooking. And even in evaluating Slow Cooker cookbooks, which I'm glad for people's comments, there too, is a variety of viewpoints. Now I'll give you my two-cents-worth.

My new slow cooker

I had to get a new crockpot. My old one for years and years was a 4qt - probably Rival brand. I wanted a newer bigger one. I got a CrockPot brand. I love the larger oval sizes. That one's insert cracked - it's a fine line. I could have been using it without noticing . . . but then Monte washed it and noticed. I'm still planning on writing them, hoping for a new FREE insert. It probably cracked from my continual use of placing the insert in a cold spot when warm and then putting it back into the base and heating it too hot right away. Or could a frozen chicken (which I do a lot on high) cause it to crack when turned on to High to start the process quick? I'm going to be more careful about all that from now on.

I really am attracted to the brands that eliminate the sauteing step in another utensil - but it looks like they are all anodized aluminum (for non-stick). I stay away from aluminum. Breville has a new Fast Slow Cooker - both a slow cooker AND pressure cooker, but I don't see anywhere the specs on the insert being stainless steel. I bought a Hamilton Beach Set and Forget slow cooker, but returned it. Nice idea: probe insert hole and handle clasps for taking places and no spill. But no specs on what the lid is made out of for that no-spill feature. I cooked a meal. Ok, it's new, so new smells to cook off. The smell, and too, the taste in the food? Rubber! It should be silicone AND should say something! Anyway, I now have a Cuisinart and am really liking it. It has an extra setting - most have warm, low, and high - this one also has simmer. And too, when I wanted to switch from high to low or whatever, it would be like starting over in adjusting the time. The Cuisinart keeps the time you originally set and switching the temp level doesn't alter the time.

When you read all the Slow Cooker talk, you'll keep hearing: "It cooks hotter". They did change that feature from the old crockpots - worry over bacteria growth if too low temps. And as to that sauteing and/or browning extra step? It often does enhance the finished dish's flavor, but it's not always needed. The extra steps is what I read the complaints on for some cookbooks.

I almost bought a highly praised cookbook, but decided to read the reviews. One person commented on too many ingredients that were pre-packaged and canned. And then there's those people who want the ease of just dumping in already prepared ingredients with no extra steps . . . "An easy meal at the end of the day, isn't that why we're using a slow cooker?" Here's a picture of the cookbooks I settled on. If you were to choose one? Get the America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution. I've mentioned before my love of Cook's Illustrated recipes - I started getting the end of the year bound editions from the start (1993) and occasionally get the newest index for them all. This slow cooker cookbook is just another quality book from them. (A sidenote: I get seasonal emails from Christopher Kimball the Cook's Illustrated founder, editor, and host of America's Test Kitchen. He writes about the idyllic life in Vermont's countryside where he lives. Stories of family doings, farming, hunting . . . I like reading them. Almost the same slow life, warm feeling when reading farmer Wendell Berry's books.)

Slow Cooker cookbooks

Another reason for pulling out the slow cooker more and more is our pastured grass-fed meats. When the majority of our meat was elk I used the slow cooker a lot, or slow cooked in the oven. Grass-fed meats, without the fat marbling that grain feeding produces, need slower lower cooking temps - and the slow cooker is producing great tasting meals! These books even have some great dessert ideas I'm wanting to try too.

So far out of the Revolution book I've done several meals: like chicken thighs with the addition of chard near the end of cooking time for 30 minutes on high, and pork steaks with the addition of collard greens and black-eyed peas. These had you saute onion, celery, and garlic, etc, using some broth and/or wine to rinse out the pan. EVERYTHING has been awesome so far. And often there's suggestions for a side dish addition which we've really liked too. Like Polenta with an Italian-Style Pot Roast. None of the above meats were first browned - only sauteed initial veggies- and usually an umami, a savory taste, like a bit-o bacon or tomato paste.

What's cooking now? Chicken In A Pot. I sauted up chopped onion and garlic. Added 1 tsp of tomato paste and 1 Tb flour and used about 1/3-1/2 cup of wine (you could use some of that as broth) to clean the skillet into the slow cooker. Then set the whole chicken on top of that mixture, salt and pepper the chicken (from past whole chicken cooks, I also like to sprinkle on some garlic and onion powders). Oh . . . I guess I'm supposed to add some thyme and bay leaves, so I better go add those. This will cook on low for 4-6 hours. They always suggest cooking with the breast down for best moist flavor.

My old crock pot with a sage, bread-stuffed rolled flank steak

Shared with: Simple Lives Thursday, Chicken Chick, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, A Better Mom, Hearth and Soul Hop, The Gathering Spot, Homestead Barn Hop, Nourishing Treasures, Traditional Tuesday
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