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 The 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 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 to 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 Best 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.
For a post-thanksgiving recipe from Finlayson’s book go to mauidish.com