I did not lay on a couch or share all the food traumas from my childhood for this Slow Cooker therapy session with Stephanie O'Dea who recently published More Make It Fast, Cook it Slow (Hyperion). All recipes in the book are gluten free because one of her children has celiac disease. If this is not the case for you, tweak the ingredients slightly.
Since we are smack in the middle of National Thrift Week, it was the perfect time to talk slow cookers which allow you to be thrifty without turning into Scrooge and save without skimping on taste.
Slow cookers are a blank slate for me since I never used one so I had a covering the basics chat with Stephanie.
Q: Stephanie,what's the difference between Crockpots and Slow Cookers?
Crockpots is one of the brands of slow cookers that's been around for ages.
Q: Is there a Southern connection to Slow Cookers?
I don't know. In the Bay Area where I live most people who go the slow cooker route do it because they have busy schedules and after a long day the last thing on their mind is to worry about what's for dinner. With a little planning, they can get their meal going in the morning and it will be ready when they get back home.
Q: Can you suggest a few good value slow cooker models for people considering a purchase?
I use the Crock-Pot eLume and the Hamilton Beach Set n' Forget the most often. The full range of what I use can be found on my Amazon page.
Q: Would you recommend buying a used one at a thrift store?
Personally no, I do know people who bought their slow cooker in a thrift store. My main objections would be that they are not under warranty and also often older models.
Q: Since most dishes one does in a slow cooker simmer, is it as bad to lift the lid during cooking time as it can be to open the door of your oven while making a souffle?
Many old recipes warn you not to pop the lid open, it is more of an old wives' tale especially with modern cookers who are very good at heat retention. There is a guity pleasure in checking your dish while it's a work in progress. I am of the dip and taste school.
Q: Is cleaning slow cookers a challenge?
Not at all, with most current models the removable stoneware can be rinsed with soapy water and a sponge then washed in dishwasher. Some recipes will cake stoneware. In that case let it soak. One important thing to remember is not to plunge your hot stoneware into cold water. Let it cool off first.
Q: Can you get your slow cooker going and leave the house without worries?
Definitely, a NY Post article suggested that having a slow cooker on while out of the house is no more dangerous than not turning off your table light. The base gets warm but will not burn your counter. Remember to place your slow cooker in a clear spot on the counter away from any spray cans, plastic, papers, anyhting flammable, as a safety precaution.
Recent models are programmable and when cooking time is over they switch to a 'keep food warm' mode.
Q: Any near disasters to avoid?
I will share 3 of my own misadventures, bacon wrapped scallops, boiled eggs, fruit roll ups. Don't try.
Q: Others you had fun with?
I made soap, recycled bottom of candles leftovers to create new ones. Food wise I have fun making creme brulee or yogurts with it. I recommend it for soups like minestrone or beef aux carottes, boeuf bourguignon.
Q: Getting back to the thrift aspect of slow cookers, why does it work?
A basic element is that since food simmers for a while, cheaper cuts of meats that would otherwise be tough get tenderized. You can cook many bean dishes with it and with a full pot ready to eat you can feed an hungry group. Some dishes could accomodate up to 20 people.
Q: Last, if you want to get a dish started in no time before you head out, what steps will make it easier?
In my case, with 3 kids including a baby, having vegetables, onions and various other basic elents pre-cut and stored in freezer bags is a life saver. Make sure the bags you need are moved from freezer to fridge so they can thaw overnight. Start by warming up broth or stock you will use before throwing ingredients in the pot.
Thanks Stephanie for enlightening us
That's all folks!
(* illustration is Vegetarian Artichoke Pasta dish courtesy of Stephanie)