Americans are known throughout the modern world for their love of new technology in the mechanical and electronic realms. Any piece of equipment or tool that can do the job better and faster is immediately embraced and touted. So who could have predicted the success of a kitchen appliance that does the job more slowly? -From Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, page 1-
I decided to live life in the slow lane this weekend, cooking from Beth Hensperger’s wonderful cookbook – Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook. I became an instant fan of Hensperger when I began using her Bread Machine Cookbook: The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook. I have yet to find a bread recipe there which isn’t delicious…and my copy of the cookbook has worn edges, food dripped pages, and sprawling notations throughout.
Hensperger collaborated with Julie Kaufmann to write her Slow Cooker Cookbook: ‘We found the slow cooker style of cooking is designed to complement the way we live- it is time conscious, economical, energy conscious, and reliable. We cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients, and we could cook the same dishes as easily for a dinner party as for a family supper.‘ The authors begin by giving a history of the slow cooker – noting that the Rival company developed this new appliance in 1971, marketing it as a tool for the working woman who wanted to serve her family homemade food despite her long hours away from the home. Slow cooking actually has its roots many years before Rival made it appealing to busy women – the technique of putting many root vegetables and tough meats in a burning fire pit (sometimes for up to 24 hours) to tenderize and meld their flavors was used by indigenous people in prehistoric times. Slow cooking is moist-heat cooking – cooking foods in a closed environment to utilize hot liquid in breaking down plants with lots of fiber, or meats with lots of connective tissue.
Among other things Hensperger and Kaufman provide information on shapes and sizes of slow cookers, temperature settings, high altitude cooking, and guidelines for adapting conventional recipes to slow cooking. All the information is organized for quick reference. The cookbook is broken up into sections including porridges to soups to rices and grains to main courses (by type) to desserts, jams, butters and compotes. Each recipe specifies the size of cooker best suited to the recipe as well as setting and cook time to be used.
I decided to cook from several sections of the cookbook: From the Porridge Pot; The Slow Cooker Soup Pot; Poultry, Game Birds, and Rabbit; and Slow Cooker Puddings, Cakes, and Breads. For all the dishes (except the oatmeal and tapioca pudding) I used Rival’s large Smart Pot (model #3850) which allows the cook to chose high or low setting and set a timer. It also has a warming feature.
Orange Hoisin Chicken (page 271) combines orange juice concentrate, honey, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, fresh ginger, garlic, sesame oil and frozen boneless chicken breasts to create a delicious meal. The ginger and garlic meld together for a subtle, yet delectable flavor. The recipe indicates that sprinkling toasted sesame seeds on top of the chicken is optional – but I would strongly suggest following this step as it adds a wonderful nutty flavor to the dish. Toasting sesame seeds takes only a few minutes in a dry fry pan, and is well worth the effort. I paired the dish with American Basmati and Wild Rice (Safeway Select brand) which complimented the dish without overpowering it. I also whipped up a simple, baby green salad with Italian dressing. This is a dish I would make again.
Friday was a cold, breezy day in Northern California – the perfect weather for soup and a loaf of hot, homemade bread. Minestrone Soup (page 63) uses a good amount of fresh vegetables: yellow onion, carrots, celery, zucchini, and Swiss Chard. It also requires canned red kidney beans, frozen baby lima beans, fresh parsley, a can of whole tomatoes, canned (or homemade) chicken broth, some type of macaroni or shell pasta (I used cappelletti), and a dry red wine. It gently cooks for about 8 hours (times may vary according to your machine) and fills the house with a mouthwatering smell. This recipe required the vegetables (except for the Swiss Chard) to be sauteed before being added to the pot. The result was a delicious, flavorful soup. I accompanied it with one of my favorite recipes from Hensperger’s bread machine cookbook: Sour Cream Rye (page 139). This bread is very moist and is a perfect addition to any vegetable based soup. This meal was delicious with a glass of BV Pinot Noir (which was also the wine I used in the recipe).
My husband and I woke to hot Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal (page 28) on Saturday morning. I prepared the recipe the evening before and let the cooker cook all night. This was my first experience with my small Rival slow cooker (model #3215) which does not have a choice of settings nor a timer. I wasn’t sure at what temperature I was cooking – and as it turned out, the cooker got very hot causing the oatmeal to stick to the bottom. The porridge was just okay – a little too bland for my taste. If I were to make it again, I would first spray the cooker with nonstick, butter flavored spray and add more cinnamon.
For dinner, I prepared Slow Cooker Lemon Chicken with Potatoes and Mushrooms (page 285) which is cooked on a high setting using a 4 pound broiler chicken, lemon, paprika, parsley, onion, garlic, soy sauce, Yukon Gold potatoes and fresh mushrooms. This recipe had a mistake in it (maybe two mistakes) in that it failed to tell me when to add the mushrooms. I decided to add them on the top along with the potatoes. It also did not indicate that the potatoes should be halved or quartered…and since they were small, I simply put them in whole. This turned out to be a mistake as they did not cook through. At 3.5 hours, I removed them, halved them and returned them to the pot. Even still, they were a bit undercooked at 5 hours (a half hour PAST the estimated cook time). Despite this, the meal was actually very flavorful and the chicken was done perfectly. The onion and lemon flavors melded beautifully and gave the dish an elegant taste. I would make this dish again, but would quarter the potatoes before adding them to the pot.
For dessert, I cooked Tapioca Pudding (page 432), an old favorite from childhood. Once again I used my small slow cooker, but this time (as advised in the recipe) I sprayed the inside of it with non stick vegetable spray first. The pudding was absolutely delicious topped with whipped cream. It made four small servings, which my husband and I consumed all in one sitting!
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed cooking from this cookbook. There are many recipes I did not try, but which I marked to make at a future date. A sampling includes: Corn Chowder (page 70), Cream of Artichoke Soup (page 73), Lazy Day Braised Pot Roast (page 316), Roast Pork With Apples (page 359), Fresh Raspberry Bread Pudding (page 437), and Chocolate Bread Pudding (page 438).
As with Hensperger’s bread machine cookbook, this is one I can highly recommend.
*NOTE: Clicking on the photos will enlarge them.