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Has anyone used a slow cooker?

 
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dory



Joined: 11 Nov 2007
Posts: 236
Location: Madison, WI

PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 10:24 pm    Post subject: Has anyone used a slow cooker? Reply with quote

Hi all,

I am thinking of buying a slow cooker. I am interested in making things like dried beans and even hominy. I might also like to try roasts in a slow cooker so as to not have to watch them, although they are not too much fuss. Then there are things like beets that take a lot of time steaming or roasting that are really tasty in summer, but that I avoid making because of how much they heat up my kitchen. I have a summer kitchen on the back porch where I enjoy baking, and could put a slow cooker there in hot weather.

My brother has been trying to talk me out of the purchase, saying that he had one and threw it away, since the food consistently turned out disgusting. He gave his slow cooker to Goodwill. However, my brother is an engineer and tends to follow directions to the letter. I have a suspicion that it is the recipes for slow cookers that are disgusting-- not the appliance itself. Has anyone here used one? What are your good/bad experiences. I am dying to know.

Dory
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msue



Joined: 18 Dec 2005
Posts: 368

PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 12:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dory, I adore my slow cooker. After using the original Crock-Pot for 20+ years, I finally got a 6.5 quart All-Clad. There is a big range in quality of available brands. My experience with the All-Clad has mirrored the very positive reviews I read about it before purchase. I've really loved using it for all sorts of things, but most especially I love coming home to something delicious after a long day at work.

I can recommend two books (both by Lynn Alley): The Gourmet Slow Cooker, and the Gourmet Slow Cooker, Vol. II. In the first book, she presents recipes from around the world, and in the second she focuses on regional dishes from the U.S. I've not yet been disappointed. Alley doesn't just plop all ingredients into the cooker and let them simmer all day - she usually recommends several stages or steps that add new depths to the flavors.

I also make various soups (current fave is chicken & vegetable) that really don't require a recipe. Once you've used it a few times, it becomes quite easy to create your own favorites.

Good luck in your exploration - if you get one, I hope it is a big success.
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CarlaH



Joined: 22 Jun 2008
Posts: 34
Location: South shore of Montreal, Quebec, Canada

PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 12:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Dory, I've had a slow cooker for some years now. In fact I recently upgraded to a larger model with a removable stoneware insert (makes cleaning much easier) and timer. I use it mainly for stews and ribs and can tell you that they turn out great - really much more tender than when done using the more traditional methods. I have several slow cooker cookbooks but seem to be using use one titled "Not your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook" by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman the most. If you do buy one I am sure you will not regret it.
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reynard



Joined: 08 Aug 2009
Posts: 1
Location: Cape Town, South Africa

PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2009 11:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dory

A different take on slow cookers: in our household they've been gathering dust in an outside storage cupboard for some years now. The cooks here (at least two of them competing for the kitchen at any time) much prefer a heavy pot on the stove-top and in the oven for braising and slow cooking.

If you're looking to dump ingredients into the pot and leave it unattended, a slow cooker/crock pot can be convenient. If you enjoy browning the meat at the start; reducing and finishing at the end; and generally being able to stir and taste along the way -- nothing beats a cast-iron Dutch oven or bistro pot.

You're right about many of the slow cooker recipes out there. Emphasizing convenience over quality and flavour, the results can be dire. (Dried soup mix, ketchup, and cans of soft drink are giveaway ingredients). Beth Hensperger, Lynn Alley and Rick Rodgers are altogether more sophisticated writers, but I still needed to experiment with the published recipes. Typically there was too much liquid, and over-long cooking times specified, resulting in a mushy consistency and dried-out meat. I guess it's all about the wide variations in slow cookers, and the ingredients used.

If you decide to stick with traditional braising, don't miss Molly Stevens' award-winning book 'All about Braising'. It has wonderful coverage of the principles: the ingredients, cookware, browning, fats, aromatics, deglazing and reducing, enrichments and finishes. And some deeply delicious recipes as well. A very special book that has a permanent place in our kitchen bookrack.

Happy slow cooking ...
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dory



Joined: 11 Nov 2007
Posts: 236
Location: Madison, WI

PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2009 5:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for all of your suggestions. I read them all with interest. I am particularly interested in cooking beans--especially types like garbanzos (chick peas) and black beans that need to be cooked for hours on the stove top. I would do braising only in hot weather, and in that case, I would brown the meat first. In winter I enjoy braising in a Dutch oven, because it warms the house and fills it with fragrant steam. I particularly enjoy adding a bit of pomegranate molasses to pot roasts after I tried a beef stew in an Iranian restaurant that used it for flavoring. It is really good and also perfumes the house beautifully! I mostly make the pot roasts for family members and parties. For myself (flexitarian) I would make mostly beans.

I think I will try.I may find it gathering dust in my garage as well, but I am going to give it a go.

Dory
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Sun Aug 09, 2009 2:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do not, repeat, no not, understand the facination people have with slow cookers. What I do understand, however, is why you see so many of them at garage and yard sales.

At one point in our lives, Friend Wife and I were both working long, fulltime days. Slow cookers, we thought, would be the solution. Result: We now have two of them that have been gathering dust for years.

In my experience, slow cookers actually work best if you are there to monitor what's going on. Otherwise no matter what you cook turns into the same old mushy potroast.

We tried numerous recipes, both published ones and ones we tried adapting. In no case did we find a single one that benefited from 8-10 hours in a slow cooker.

If I have to braise, I'll do it in cast iron or a tagine.

About the only use for them that makes any sort of sense to me, and even that is problematical, is for things like tomato sauces and apple butter.
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dory



Joined: 11 Nov 2007
Posts: 236
Location: Madison, WI

PostPosted: Sun Aug 09, 2009 11:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I bought an inexpensive on (too much risk to get a high end model) and am trying it now. I actually don't plan on leaving it on unsupervised for 8-10 hours in the house. My idea is to have something that doesn't heat up the house too much in summer. We have air conditioning in our bedroom only and my 90 year old house with radiators makes installing central air tricky. I use all kinds of unusual methods to produce edible food in summer. I am presently cooking beans. I am going to add vegetables to make a soupe au pistou, but haven't added them yet. The idea is to cook the beans without constantly checking them, and to have something portable I can stick on the back porch on hot days and not have to be running out to check on it. I already make everything from roast vegetables to zucchini bread in my portable oven, and in very hot weather put my rice cooker outside too. The cookbook I got recommends browning everything that you would usually brown before putting it in, and not "dumping" everything in at once. MY beans are half cooked and I plan to add veggies in stages to avoid having a disgusting mush. Some golden beets are in, and the carrots will go soon. Towards the end I am going to brown some onions, mushrooms and zucchini (ah yes, the eternal problem of the August garden) and add them just before the pistou. The good thing so far is that even though I have had to bring the slow cooker inside due to intense thunderstorms (Our back porch is uncovered) the cooker is not boiling away and filling the house with steam. A quick sauté to caramelize ingredients will not make me as hot as standing for hours over a hot stove. I agree with the issue of dumping in raw ingredients and leaving them all day. The results are probably disgusting. I will find out and report back if I can produce good food by being more careful in my use. I feel a bit guilty about buying a slow cooker at Walgreens that was probably made by child labor somewhere, but I was so incredibly unsure of my experiment that I did not want to spend tons on a deluxe model if I was not sure I would like the results.

Dory
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dory



Joined: 11 Nov 2007
Posts: 236
Location: Madison, WI

PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 6:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ok. I did it. The first meal in the slow cooker. It was not an extreme success with the family, but not because of textural issues. I just had one of those run of the mill cooking disasters that happen to all of us some of the time.

I put some chick peas in to cook. After two hours I tasted them, and they were softening nicely, but were bland, so I put in some chicken soup base, and a can of finely diced tomatoes. We have had a very cold summer until the last week which has been stifling, and there are no fresh tomatoes to be had in Wisconsin. MY husband and I tasted the chick peas and he said "I might eat this if I were in a high school cafeteria." Ok. He is Mr. PIcky. No artificial ingredients for him! I thought the chick peas tasted salty, icky and artificial as well. I took out 2-3 cups of the stock and added water and a little white wine-- obviously not enough. I then added carrots, potatoes and potatoes, and did the second stage of cooking. (My idea of the slow cooker is to be able to leave it unattended-- preferably outdoors-- in-between food additions, but not to put all ingredients in at the same time-- for me that is asking for unidentifiable mush. At the end I sauteed onions, garlic and lots of garden zucchini. I then made a pistou (basil and olive oil, normally garlic as well, but I prefer garlic cooked) and stirred it in. The results? Basil flavored greasy dishwater with chunks of vegetable matter floating in it.Mr. Picky did eat some, although he made rice and only sprinkled a few chick peas on top of the rice. He looked like he was living in a prison camp, and being forced to eat rotten potatoes or flour with maggots. Needless to say he did not touch the ample leftovers, which I made edible with the addition of more salt, rice wine vinegar, , more wine, herbes de Provence, and out of desperation (I am NOT a ketchup cook) a tsp of ketchup. Actually the results, if unorthodox were pretty edible compared to the original dish. However, due to my three stage cooking plan, the textures were ok, and because the cooker did not quite come to a boil, my house stayed cool, even though I had to bring the cooker in due to thunderstorms. The problem I had was with seasonings-- not with other aspects of the cooking. MY big, huge, enormous mistake was to use soup base-- in real, detectable, quantities to make up for the bland chick peas. If anyone has eaten at Tim Hortons (a Canadian doughnut and fast food chain), my soup tasted remarkably like their vegetable soup-- that is before I removed all of the stock and entered the dishwater stage. In fact my finished soup even tasted a bit soapy-- although this may have been the power of suggestion.

My verdict? Despite the kitchen disaster, I will try the slow cooker again, but this time be more careful with seasonings. However, I do not think I will ever use it as a dump and cook appliance. I think it is useful to make one, long-cooking element of a dinner, such as beans or a large pot-roast, and then add quicker cooking ingredients at the last minute, or, perhaps, an hour before serving. I am glad I made the purchase, because it is a fun toy to play with. I think I will use it more in summer than winter, because of my cooking on the back porch regimen.

Dory
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David



Joined: 30 Sep 2004
Posts: 1855
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dory I'm actually glad you had such a disaster! It made for some very very amusing reading. Good attitude! Battle on and thanks for the creative expression
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dory



Joined: 11 Nov 2007
Posts: 236
Location: Madison, WI

PostPosted: Thu Sep 10, 2009 12:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi all,

I want to report that I am successfully using my slow cooker now. What I have done so far is make pot roast. A few hours before I want to eat I sear the meat on high heat until it is brown and crispy, and then deglaze the pan with a mix of water and white wine. I put the meat in the slow cooker and add water to come most of the way up the roast. I then add a little tamari and pomegranate molasses. I add potatoes and vegetables during the last hour of cooking. The only problem I have is that the meat can get a bit too tender-- so it disintegrates with a fork. This would be perfect for something like pulled pork sandwiches, or the Caribbean dish ropa vieja, but it is hard to cut in neat slices-- including the eye of the round roast I made this week. The flavor is fine, by the way. However, I am glad to use the slow cooker for what I wanted it for-- to cook on my back porch in warm weather for hours unsupervised. By using the instructions I found in my slow cooker cookbook, that is to brown meat before putting it in, and adding ingredients in stages, I am avoiding the dreaded uniform mush.

Dory
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