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Friday, September 16, 2011

Cook Book Look: "Slow Cooker Revolution" from America's Test Kitchen.

What is the 'revolution' in Slow Cooker Revolution?  It is that, with effort, a variety of outstanding meals can be prepared using a slow cooker.  Surprised?  I was.

After owning a slow cooker for years, I had concluded that it is of limited utility in making good food.  Yes, it worked great for certain cuts of meat.  For example, in a slow cooker the large amount of collagen in a beef roast is slowly and perfectly broken down, allowing the meat to tenderize and develop delicious flavor.  I've also successfully used my slow cooker to prepare apples when making apple butter, and in cooking certain side dishes such as beans.  Experiments preparing meals in a slow cooker beyond these areas have resulted in unimpressive dishes.  As a friend once remarked, "Everything out of the slow cooker tastes the same." Yes.  And that sameness could be summed up in one way:  Meh.

Enter Slow Cooker Revolution, produced by the fastidious team at America's Test Kitchen.  This book offers an array of recipes, suitable for a slow cooker, that taste fantastic.  I prepared four dishes from the book.  The first, Chicken Bouillabaisse, was outstanding even with my substitution of a dash of vermouth for the quarter cup of pastis called for in the recipe.  There were a few minor wrinkles in the preparation.  For example, the recipe calls for various vegetables, including minced garlic, to be sauteed in a skillet for 8 to 10 minutes.  Not only did the cooking time seem a bit too long, but in my experience minced garlic should be added only for the last minute or two of sauteing to prevent it from turning into burnt bits.  Additionally, the recipe called for 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  That is an enormous amount of chicken!  I used one pound and kept the remainder of the recipe the same.  It was great.  (The other three recipes I tried were without such wrinkles).

As you may have inferred from my experience with the Chicken Bouillabaisse, there are more ingredients and more steps in preparing many of the recipes in Slow Cooker Revolution than are typically thought of in slow cooker cooking.  The Chicken Bouillabaisse requires 16 ingredients, plus the sauteing and microwaving of different items before placing them in the cooker.  The Italian Stuffed Bell Peppers, which were the best stuffed peppers I have ever prepared, uses 15 different ingredients and also calls for use of the microwave.  Farm Stand Tomato Sauce - fantastic - needs 11 ingredients and use of a microwave.  Even the Irish Oatmeal preparation calls for an added step:  the oats are lightly toasted in a skillet with butter before being placed in the cooker.  (Yes, the oatmeal was great).  In other words, if your idea of slow cooker cooking is putting meat into the cooker, dumping a can of condensed soup on top, and then leaving for work, then this may not be the book for you.

However, if you look at the slow cooker as a tool, rather than simply a time saver, and are willing to put in more effort, then buy Slow Cooker Revolution.  The recipes I tested produced great tasting food.  I'm looking forward to trying more.

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