With a long weekend ahead of eating, chances are you’ll put something together in the kitchen. One of my favorite culinary appliances is the slow cooker (aka the “crock pot”). It may sound like lazy business to you, but cooking with the slow cooker can be as easy or as complex as you like. Just ask Chad Metcalfe, who won the Maui 2011 Crockpot Cook-off with a crispy skinned roast duck with Asian-style sauce.
In preparation for Thanksgiving’s multitude of thankful meals, I recently checked out the new book 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson, recently released in its second edition with new recipes. Finlayson added a healthy twist to the book, apparently realizing that peoples’ tastes and diets are changing and that even vegans and vegetarians are turning to the crock pot to make delicious meals.
“Recipes weren’t terribly sophisticated and relied on a lot of canned ingredients, which were, for instance, high in sodium,” Finlayson wrote of the 1970s, when slow cookers were introduced. “I felt that there was a market for a more ‘upscale’ slow cooker book that included recipes that were more international in scope and that reflected contemporary tastes: dishes like French Onion Soup, Carbonnade, Osso Bucco, and Lamb Shanks, in addition to traditional chili and bean recipes.”
I was pleasantly surprised with the book’s large supply of pictures and well-laid-out recipes. Each recipe has a side bar that inlcudes tips for better preparing and utilizing ingredients – if you can make it ahead, halve it, if the recipe is vegan or vegetarian friendly, what size slow cooker you need and so forth.
The first recipe I tackled was the Pumpkin Soup with Shrimp and Lime. I liked that the shrimp was added at the end so this dish works for vegetarians, too. To keep it local I used Kabocha from Kula Fields’ delivery service, and all of the herbs and tomatoes as well came from Maui as well. Also to keep it vegan I used vegetable broth and swapped out the cream it called for with canned coconut milk. The resulting soup was rich, flavorful and a big hit for my family.
Finlayson really knows what she’ doing. When I asked her for tips about cooking fish in the slow cooker (no easy task), she said, “Add it at the end, and be very watchful of the time. Bite size pieces of fish take about 15 minutes on high after being dropped into the bubbling dish.”
In the book, Finlayson prefaces each recipe with a brief introduction that states where the dish comes from, how to serve it best and/or changes you can make. Some recipes do require a bit of prep work, or call for part of the recipes must be cooked on the stove (you’d be amazed at how fancy a crock pot meal can get). Chapters include discussions of grains and sides, beans, soups, desserts, fish, seafood, vegetarian favorites and appetizers, along with meatier chapters on poultry and pork.
I really appreciated that Finlayson tested all the recipes in her book, and has a tester that retests. When she added the healthy recipes, she developed them herself, then tweaked them until they were perfect.
The 150 Slow Cooker Recipes came through for me. It’s a book that will expand my crock pot repertoire with some new side dishes as well as a few seafood and vegetarian mains. It’s also inspiring me to try a couple other tricks besides just dumping a huge cut of meat in the pot.
Tired of turkey soup? Try this with your leftover turkey:
Two-Bean Turkey Chili
This tasty chili, which has just a hint of heat, is perfect for family
get-togethers. Add a tossed green salad, sprinkled with shredded carrots, and whole-grain rolls.
Medium to large (31⁄2 to 6 quart) slow cooker
4 cups cooked pinto beans (see Tips)
1 tbsp oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ground cumin (see Tips)
2 tsp dried oregano
1⁄2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
Zest of 1 lime
2 tbsp fine cornmeal
1 cup chicken or turkey broth
1 can (28 oz/796 mL) tomatoes with juice,
2 lbs skinless boneless turkey breast, cut into 1 kg
1⁄2-inch (1 cm) cubes (see Tips)
2 cups frozen sliced green beans 500 mL
1 tbsp New Mexico or ancho chile powder
dissolved in 2 tbsp (30 mL) lime juice
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 can (41⁄2 oz/127 mL) diced mild green chiles
1 jalapeño pepper or chipotle pepper in
adobo sauce, diced, optional
1. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and celery and cook, stirring, until celery is softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add cumin, oregano, peppercorns and lime zest and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add cornmeal and toss to coat. Add broth and cook, stirring, until mixture boils, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice and return to a boil.
2. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware. Stir in turkey, pinto beans and green beans. Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours or on High for 3 hours, until turkey is tender and mixture is bubbly. Add chile powder solution, green and red bell peppers, mild green chiles, and jalapeño pepper, if using. Cover and cook on High for 30 minutes, until bell peppers are tender.
Can Be Halved
If you are halving this recipe, be sure to use a small (2 to 31⁄2 quart) slow cooker.
Toasting the cumin seeds intensifies their flavor. Stir the seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder and grind.
You’ll need about 3 cups (750 mL) cubed turkey breast to make this chili. You can also use leftover turkey. Use 3 cups (750 mL) shredded cooked turkey and add along with the bell peppers.
Add the jalapeño pepper if you’re a heat seeker; add the chipotle in adobo sauce if you like a hint of smoke as well.
For this quantity of beans, cook 2 cups (500 mL) dried beans (page 74) or use 2 cans (14 to 19 oz/ 398 to 540 mL) pinto beans, drained and rinsed.
Complete Step 1. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. When you’re ready to cook, continue with the recipe.
[Excerpted from The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, Second Edition by Judith Finlayson. Photographs by Colin Erricson © 2011 Robert Rose Inc. HYPERLINK “http://www.robertrose.ca” www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.]
About Jen Russo
I write lifestyle and culinary columns for MauiTime. I love being a Maui girl and adore my big family. Dedicated food taster, blogger, internet fanatic, and Maui and Hawaii specialist.