Slow cooker being reinvented as a cooking tool with fresh recipes
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TORONTO — The sometimes-derided slow cooker is being embraced by recipe developers who are finding it's capable of far more than just making pulled pork.
Although many home cooks have discovered that nothing beats the slow cooker for simmered soups and braised dishes like cassoulets and lamb shanks, the appliance can also be used as a tool for foods that require shorter cooking time such as omelettes and frittatas or side dishes like stuffed eggplant and vegetable-studded barley.
And many are surprised the low-energy gadget can be used for granola, chutneys, roasted garlic and beets, caramelized onions, cheesy dips and even sweet concoctions like pots de creme, dulce de leche and retro pineapple upside down cake.
Ricardo Larrivee, author of the new "Slower is Better" (HarperCollins), didn't realize he could prepare a moist flavourful turkey and holiday plum pudding in the slow cooker.
"The slow cooker takes you to different places in your kitchen. Use it as a tool, not only as a thing to do some long slow cooking," he says.
He includes a section in the cookbook on how to confit, the French method for cooking meats in rendered fat. Doing it in the slow cooker follows the same principle but is safer than using oil in a pot on the stove, he says. He uses the method for duck, lamb and even salmon.
"When chicken legs were on special I confit 20 of them and froze them," he says. "You thaw, remove the flesh and have a beautiful salad, casserole, vols-au-vent, crepes with sauce, sandwich."
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, one of three new authors of the Best of Bridge brand, notes decades ago slow cooker recipes called for up to 12 hours.
It was to accommodate women entering the workforce who could leave dinner bubbling away all day on the counter, but the food was often overcooked, adds co-author Julie Van Rosendaal.
In the new "Best of Bridge: The Family Slow Cooker" (Robert Rose), the recipes aren't designed to go that long.
"We tend to cook a little bit shorter. A lot of times we add pesto or fresh vegs at the end and that gives it a fresher feel. There's not a lot of those over-stewed (items where) it all just looks like a tomato meaty kind of thing and you're not sure whether it's a pot roast or goulash," says Chorney-Booth.
"Palates have changed. People prefer more texture."
Chorney-Booth and Van Rosendaal of Calgary, along with Sue Duncan of Vernon, B.C., devised 225 recipes that carry on the Best of Bridge tradition launched by eight female friends in a bridge group. The rule was recipes were to be easy and use ingredients people have on hand or can easily access.
"Bridge has always reflected the Canadian home cook and I think most Canadian families are cooking from all sorts of different culinary influences. I know I do," says Chorney-Booth. "We just wanted it to reflect the way people actually cook in 2016."
The new cookbook updates fare with simple Asian, Indian, Mexican, Italian and Portuguese dishes.
Gone are the days of including canned soups. The canned cream of tomato soup in Hamburger Soup — still their most requested recipe — has been phased out in favour of canned whole tomatoes and tomato sauce. Chorney-Booth thinks recipes calling for canned soup are out of vogue with people in their 20s and 30s and omitting them makes it easier to control the sodium content.
Larrivee, whose empire includes a magazine and cookbooks in French and English, a production company and cookware, finds the slow cooker great for taking the strain off a host who already has a full oven.
"If I can keep things on the counter I love it. When people bring things you can just plug it and leave it there."
The Quebec-based chef invites guests to bring filled slow cookers to potlucks. Contributions for an Indian buffet can include butter chicken and various types of curry. For tacos, salsa beef and refried beans can be on the menu, while game day wouldn't be complete without pulled pork and chicken drumsticks.
He also likes the forgiving nature of slow cookers when entertaining.
"A big part of the stress in the kitchen is the cooking part. You're scared of overdoing it or underdoing it. Friends are friends — some are late. You want to have fun. You take an extra cocktail, whatever, and all of a sudden you go, 'Gee, 20 minutes ago it was supposed to be perfect,'" he says. "Whereas with a slow cooker it doesn't matter."
Pots de cremes and other custard-based desserts turn out very well in a slow cooker because the low gentle temperature mimics a bain marie (water bath) and ramekins can be stacked inside, says Van Rosendaal.
With desserts like cake, however, don't leave them in longer than the time called for in the recipe. Lining the cooker with parchment paper helps the baking slip out easily.
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