Savvy Cookbooks: Slow Cooker Revolution (+ Slow-Cooker Pho)

Slow Cooker Pho

Somehow, my weekends have recently become more busy and jam-packed than my weekdays. On Saturday, for instance, I spent the morning at the Farmer’s Market, the afternoon visiting wineries for my freelance job, and the evening at a game night with one of Dan’s coworkers and his wife. On Sunday, we went to brunch with friends in the morning, and then I spent the afternoon and evening turning an entire bushel of tomatoes into crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. While batches processed in the water bath canner, I cleaned up around the house, caught up on some work, and started testing for one of my Brain Food 101 experiments.

Everything was fun, to be sure. But by the end of the night Sunday, I was in no mood to make dinner…and I didn’t have the empty counter or stove space to do so anyways. Luckily, I had been testing some recipes from Slow Cooker Revolution, from the people at America’s Test Kitchen, so I had pho all cooked and ready to go by the time dinnertime rolled around.

Last winter, when I was looking for a great slow cooker cookbook (this is the slow cooker I use), I flipped through lots of books that had the same focus on soups, stews and chilis, with the occasional meatballs or pasta dishes thrown in. But what drew me to Slow Cooker Revolution was the focus on explaining why the dishes work, and the more varied menu presented throughout.

The first few chapters focus on exactly what you’d expect: Soups, Stews, Braises and Chilis. But then, it branches out to Barbecue Favorites and More; Pasta Sauces; Meatballs, Meatloaves and More; Enchiladas, Tacos and More; Casseroles; On the Side; Eggs & Brunch; Desserts; and Basics.

Sprinkled throughout the chapters are full pages of advice on topics like choosing a good stock if you go with store-bought, using tomato products in the slow cooker, and how to keep your slow cooked chicken from drying out.

Each recipe’s headnote explains exactly why a recipe works, going into detail on what other methods or ingredients they tried before landing on this exact recipe. It makes it easier to figure out what tweaks or adjustments you might want to make.

There are also a ton of sidebars with smart shopping tips. Granted, some of them strike me as unnecessary – do we really need frozen chopped onions? Isn’t it easy to just chop a bunch at once and keep them in the fridge for later? But to each their own – if you’re really in a rush, I could see where that might come in handy.

I love that many of the recipes end with “Quick Tips” that are relevant for non-slow cooker cooking as well, like how to prepare leeks, salt-soak beans, or mince garlic to a paste.

Slow Cooker Pho 2

Unfortunately, a lot of recipes only call for 2-5 hours in the slow cooker, which may be great for weekends, but don’t necessarily appeal to the “set it before work and go” mantra that a lot of slow cooker enthusiasts abide by. When I was out of town for the Summit, Dan decided to test a slow cooker recipe, and struggled to find something that wouldn’t be done hours before he was done with his workday. He did end up making the Easy Taco Chili (page 121), though, and found it easy to follow along with the recipe…and the final chili was delicious!

So far, I’ve tested a handful of recipes from the book. Everything has been excellent, though I often choose to quickly saute the aromatics before adding them to the slow cooker, rather than microwaving them, as most of the recipes suggest. It only adds a minute or two to the prep time, and the cast iron skillet is so easy to clean anyways, that it almost seems simpler to saute them myself.

All in all, I like that the book has plenty of creative recipes and lots of tips on making better slow cooker meals. But, the fact that many of the cooking times are so short is definitely a downside. I give America Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution……. 

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Slow-Cooked Korean Short Ribs

Short-Ribs-2As summer approaches, I’m realizing that I need to shift my work schedule around. Rather than spending 30-60 minutes working out at the gym a few times a week, I’ve been biking to work with Dan in the morning (about 8 miles one way) and continuing on for another 5-10 miles before turning around and coming home. It is a much more enjoyable workout, but by the time I get home, shower and eat, it is often nearly 11a.m. when I am sitting down to work.

Plus, two of my closest local friends are teachers, and another is a vet who only works a few days a week. They’re often calling me up in the summer to go to the U-Pick farms, to teach them how to can, to experiment with recipes, to play tennis or to go hiking. I don’t want to turn down these experiences, so I often join them unless I have a particularly tight deadline. (And I’m lucky enough that some of them, like the canning and cooking, technically help my work anyways, giving me recipes for my blog and freelance.)

Short-Ribs-1Because of this, the work that I’d usually do during the day just isn’t getting done. So I’m learning to work in the evenings and weekends more, something I’m usually loathe to do in the name of work-life balance. I don’t want to end up every night and weekend — I’d miss out on time with Dan and my non-teacher friends who aren’t free during the day. But in the evenings when Dan’s gone for baseball practice or we’re just staying in to read or watch a movie, I’ll be catching up on work. And that’s fine…it will be worth it!
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