Beyond the pot roast:
December 18, 2006
When his boss asked him to oversee a slow-cooker recipe contest, Steve Shipley braced for the worst.
As a chef and director of culinary relations at Johnson & Wales University, Shipley had low expectations for this 1970s kitchen throwback. He figured he was in for countless unmemorable pot roasts and stews.
But after testing 100 recipes in two days, he was convinced he needed his own slow cooker. He now owns five.
“I didn’t feel you could be creative with those,” says Shipley, who is based at the university’s Providence, R.I., campus. “But I was amazed with what these people came up with.”
That’s because despite a staid reputation, the slow cooker is a versatile tool that performs in surprising ways. Recipes ranging from breakfast to dessert abound online, and cookbooks dedicated to the subject flow regularly from publishers.
Shipley appreciates slow cookers for their do-ahead applications. Especially for parties and large dinners, he frequently will brown meat on the grill the day before, then let it finish slowly in the pot the day it is served.
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He is most impressed by nontraditional applications, including many he saw while judging the recipe contest. Some entrants used the cooker to temper chocolate to make peppermint bark, or to slow simmer chutney.
That creativity also has impressed the editors at Taste of Home magazine, which is driven by reader-developed recipes.
Some people use them to keep food (such as mashed potatoes and stuffing) warm and free up space in the oven or on the stove, says Diane Werner, the magazine’s food director.
Similarly, smaller slow cookers can double as fondue pots filled with cheese, chocolate and marshmallow toppings, or be used to serve warm drinks (such as mulled cider), Werner says.
And slow cookers really shine at baked goods where a moist consistency is desired, such as steamed puddings and cakes.
It’s not just cooking that’s easier. Newer slow cookers have removable dishwasher safe pots. Some companies even sell plastic liners designed to cover the pot, reducing cleanup to tossing the liner in the trash.
In their recent book “Slow Cooker” (Oxmoor House, 2006, $17.95), the editors at Cooking Light magazine offer a number of tips for safe and satisfying cooking, including:
• Dried beans can take longer to become tender if salt, sugar or an acidic ingredient are added at the start of cooking. For best results, cook the beans until tender, then add those ingredients.
• Dairy and seafood can break down during long cooking. Dairy should be added during the last 15 minutes of cooking, and seafood during the last hour.
• Vegetables such as carrots, onions and potatoes cook more slowly than meats. They should be placed in the cooker under any meat to give them the most contact with the sides and bottom of the pot.
• Keep perishable ingredients refrigerated until ready to use. Because slow cooking doesn’t heat the ingredients as quickly as conventional methods, such ingredients otherwise could remain at room temperature for too long.
• Cook meats on high for the first hour. If that’s not possible, substitute two extra hours on low for the one hour on high.
• Frozen meats should be fully thawed before adding to the slow cooker.
• Don’t use the slow cooker to reheat leftovers; they won’t heat up fast enough to be safe.
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Looking for some nontraditional uses for your slow cooker? Consider these recipes for apple bread, which more closely resembles a gooey steamed pudding than a bread; spicy cashews, which are perfect for a party, and overnight oatmeal.
• • •
Cooking spray with flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
11Ú2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
1Ú4 teaspoon salt
1Ú2 cup packed brown sugar
2 T. cooking oil or melted butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1Ú2 cup applesauce
1Ú2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1Ú2 cup warm water
Coat two 1-pint (or four half-pint) straight-sided, wide-mouthed canning jars with cooking spray. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, apple pie spice and salt. Make a well in the center, then set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, oil, eggs and applesauce. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Stir in the walnuts.
Divide the batter between the prepared canning jars. Cover the jars tightly with greased foil (greased side in). Place the jars in a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker. Pour the water around the jars.
Cover and cook on high for 13Ú4 to 2 hours, or until a toothpick or long wooden skewer inserted near the centers of the cakes comes out clean. Remove the jars from the cooker and place on a wire rack. Cool for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the bread from the jars. Serve warm.
Makes 12 servings.
(Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens’ “Slow-cooker Meals,” Meredith Corp., 2006, $9.95)
• • •
(Start to finish: 1 hour 45 minutes)
2 cups raw cashews
1 teaspoon chili powder
1Ú2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1Ú4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
In a 31Ú2-quart slow cooker, combine the cashews, chili powder, cayenne and cinnamon. Stir to mix well. Cover and cook on high for 11Ú2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes, or until the nuts are nicely toasted.
In a small bowl, combine sea salt and olive oil. Add this to the nuts and stir well. Transfer the nuts to a serving bowl. Serve hot or cool.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
(Recipe from Judith Finlayson’s “175 Essential Slow Cooker Classics,” Robert Rose, 2006, $24.95)
• • •
(Start to finish: 8 hours)
11Ú4 cups rolled oats
1Ú2 teaspoon salt
4 cups water
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup dried fruit (such as raisins, cranberries or cherries)
1Ú2 cup maple syrup
In a 31Ú2 quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or overnight. Stir well and serve.
(Recipe adapted from Judith Finlayson’s “175 Essential Slow Cooker Classics,” Robert Rose, 2006, $24.95)