January 20, 2010 10:00:00 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Ever since the Rival Company bought Naxon Utilities 39 years ago and reintroduced its “all-purpose cooker” under the Crock-Pot name in 1971, Americans have carried on a love affair with their slow cookers.
The lidded countertop appliance afforded busy cooks the luxury of flavorful meals slow cooked to tenderness, unattended. Families sat down to pot roasts, and moms everywhere were spared a load of stress at the end of a long day at the office.
But look again. The slow cooker is much more than a glorified pot roast machine. This handy kitchen partner that cooks with moist, steady temperatures can be a serious piece of culinary equipment, capable of producing gourmet meals.
Lemon and dill salmon? Lobster bisque? Yes. Bacon-wrapped Cornish game hen? Chicken cordon bleu? Peking duck? Of course. Bananas Foster? Crème brulée? Yes, even those.
A year of slow cooking
All the recipes are revealed in “Make it Fast, Cook it Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking” (Hyperion, 2009) by Stephanie O’Dea.
In a premise reminiscent of “Julie and Julia,” O’Dea went into 2008 with a New Year’s resolution — to use her slow cooker every single day for a year and document the results on a personal Web site, crockpot365.blogspot.com.
“When I started my project, I didn’t expect that anyone would make the food I attempted. I figured people might tune in to read about the process, but I wasn’t expecting to come up with new uses or recipes for the slow cooker,” says the San Francisco Bay area resident in the cookbook’s introduction.
That changed on Valentine’s Day, 2008, when O’Dea produced a delicious crème brulée in the cooker.
“I was flabbergasted that a delicate restaurant-quality dessert could be made with very little effort in a slow cooker,” said the wife and mom, who has appeared on “The Rachel Ray Show” and “Good Morning, America,” among other TV programs.
O’Dea’s industrious year resulted in more than 400 pages of gluten-free, time- and money-saving recipes. Sure, there were a few flops along the way. Like the smelly hard-boiled eggs and rubbery bacon-wrapped scallops. But, through tweaking and testing, she (with some help from readers who sent their favorite recipes to try) persevered.
Broth to ... crayons?
“With (the slow cooker’s) help, you can stock the freezer with homemade broth, stock and cream-of-something soup,” she writes. “You can freeze your own cooked beans. You can make yogurt, granola and baby food.. ... You can even make playdough, crayons, soap and food gifts, such as spiced nuts and apple butter.” Instructions are in the cookbook.
And the energy-conscious might be interested to know that the average energy used for slow cooking is similar to “that of a desk lamp” — 75 watts on low and 150 watts on high, much less energy use than an oven or stove.
All the meals in the book and on the Web site were prepared in Crock-Pot brand cookers. O’Dea suggests 2-quart cookers if cooking for one to two people, or a 4-quart cooker for a family of three or four. The 7- and 8-quart cooker is great for large families or entertaining. Desserts and fondues work well in the 1-quart or smaller models.
“You do need to get to know your particular slow cooker,” she recommends. “Start easy. Don’t try out a complicated dessert or pasta dish, or blue cheese and steak roll-ups for one of your first slow-cooked adventures.”
A little practice with simple recipes will help determine how long things will take with your own cooker, altitude and humidity.
Joy in the kitchen
“Cooking should be fun,” O’Dea declares. “When preparing dinner becomes a chore and it’s no longer enjoyable, money is wasted ordering pizza or takeout. ... Some of our favorite meals have occurred when I just started opening cabinets and dumping stuff in the pot. I urge you to do the same. Play. You might just surprise yourself with what you come up with!”
“Make it Fast: Cook it Slow” retails for $19.99 and is currently available at Books-A-Million in Columbus and Barnes and Noble in Starkville. It may also be ordered at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and ecookbook.com, among other sites.
Enjoy the sampling of O’Dea’s diverse slow-cooker recipes included in today’s food pages.
3 cups chicken broth
8 ounces clam juice
One (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes and their juices
One onion, diced
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
One large leek (just the white part), diced
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning mix
1 teaspoon dried dill
Two lobster tails
1 cup heavy cream
Lemon slices, as garnish
LEMON AND DILL SALMON
One 12-ounce package fresh spinach
2 pounds salmon
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons dried dill
1/4 cup white wine
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
One 11-ounce jar apricot preserves
1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
(“This tastes so good everyone you serve will be astonished it was cooked in a slow cooker,” O’dea says.)
2 cups heavy cream
Five egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar (bakers’ or fine sugar is best)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup raw sugar
2 cups walnut halves
2 tablespoons salted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.