27 September 2011

In praise of slow cookers

I have a confession to make: I don’t like cooking all that much. I strongly believe that I fall into a large, silent majority or take-out and frozen dinners wouldn’t be as popular as they are. But, as I make my income designing stylish and sensible kitchens for my clients, you might find this revelation surprising. It’s actually not, though… Hear me out on this.

Every client I’ve ever partnered with for their kitchen project has a different approach to meal creation and delivery. Some, like me, cook as little as possible to sustain themselves. Some revel in the culinary arts. Some cook the basics to maintain the health of their families. Some love baking.

My strategy is always to pair the best components and layout with that client’s cooking preferences, food storage needs, home style and budget. Not everyone is a Top Chef, and not everyone wants or needs the same kitchen gear.

My favorite appliance is the slow cooker. (Like Kleenex or Coke, slow cookers are often called Crock-Pots, a brand name for one popular manufacturer of these countertop appliances.) I’ve made delicious, healthy stews and meals for decades in a series of slow cookers I’ve owned from different companies. Over the years, they’ve gotten bigger and more feature-rich. I have a few in my sights for future purchases!

My current model has a terrific “keep warm” setting that turns on automatically when my selected cooking time has run out. This means I can turn it on in the morning, run around all day, and if I’m not home by the end of a six-hour entrĂ©e, it’ll keep my food warm when I’m ready to enjoy it, without over-cooking it. This is flexibility at its best!

Friends have questioned why someone who won’t run the dryer or dishwasher when she leaves the house would feel comfortable letting a cooking appliance run on the countertop all day. Here's why: I don’t have pets to chew on the cord and cause an electrical fire. I don’t have kids at home to burn their fingers on a hot appliance. My countertops are stone and aren’t going to melt from the ultra low heat generated by the slow cooker. I don’t overfill it and run all of my recipes on a low setting, so there’s no danger of the contents boiling over. Finally, while there’s no flame involved, I still keep the area around it clear of paper or fabric. I’m pretty confident that unless I get a defective machine, I’m pretty safe.

Here’s a very similar model to my current Crock-Pot brand slow cooker, which I bought at Target when I moved to San Diego last year. It was my post-marital hedge against the evils of fast food, frozen food and starvation -- as my ex did almost all of the cooking. This low-cost lifesaver has superbly addressed my desire for low-carb, low-fat and easy-to-prepare dishes. Its insert is dishwasher-safe, but it takes up so much room that I'd have to run (and empty) the dishwasher that much more often to accommodate it. I did use slow cooker liners with it until the box ran out, but that seemed like a ridiculous, eco-killer indulgence.




I spotted this Cuisinart slow cooker at Crate & Barrel last year. I like that it includes a bakeware rack, (to address my rare baking urge), and is also programmable, though four quarts is a bit small for those of us who like to freeze extra servings for future use.



This Breville is the Lexus of slow cookers, which I admire every time I walk into a Williams-Sonoma. Its nonstick insert can go in the oven for roasting or on a burner for browning, and is easy to clean afterward. (Chances are, I'm not going to use it for browning or roasting, but it's nice to know I can if I ever turn into someone who loves to cook.)

This large, seven-quart baby also has a dual setting that lets you start high for faster cooking, then switch to low for the classic slow-cook approach. One feature this luxury model appears to be missing, though, is the auto-warm setting. Maybe when I’m ready to upgrade, it will have been added in.



Here, by the way, is my favorite recipe for Slow Cookers Italian Herbed Chicken.



It’s healthy, delicious and super-fast to prepare. It was created by the McCormick spice company, but I’ve never found their preferred packaged seasoning mix in any of my local stores, so I shake-shake-shake my bottle of Italian Seasoning very liberally into the pot, add rosemary and a few bay leaves and it tastes great. I'm considering some variations with beef and sweet Italian sausage to keep things interesting.

Here are a few of the slow cooker cookbooks I own, though I often find recipes I like online, as I did with the one above. You can click on any of the book covers to read more about (or buy it) online.













PS: My second favorite cooking appliance is the microwave oven I use to reheat my slow cooker creations.

6 comments:

  1. I'm right there with you, Jamie!

    I use my slow-cooker for all manner of things(most famously football season baked beans and mac & cheese).

    The only drawback to my cooker is that I've no place in my kitchen for it... has to be stored elsewhere. :-(

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  2. That is a big :-(, Nick! Mine is one of only four c'top staples. My toaster oven, knife block and paper towel holder are the others. And the knife block may give way to an in-drawer version in the future, too.

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  3. Great post, Jamie! May I suggest chicken sausage as you experiment. This one is my fave and it's less calories and fat than regular sausage. http://www.alfrescoallnatural.com/FlavorDetails.aspx?ID=9778

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  4. With beef and sweet Italian sausage is what keep things interesting.

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  5. Thanks! My Dad also votes for beef. I'll probably try both.

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