Crock-Pots -- anathema in the status-conscious '80s -- ar making a comeback.
And devotees swear by them. Experts say that time demands of today's families, the emergence of the working mother and shrinking household budgets have helped revive the slow cooker
"Crock-Pot" is Rival's trademark for the slow cookers, which the company introduced in 1971. Crock-Pots account for 70 percent of the slow cooker market, according to a company spokesman.
Once as declasse as gingham in the White House, Crock-Pots are found in nearly two of every three American homes today, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.
"It's an easy cook style, and it's economical," says Barbara Neslen, a Sylva, N.C., nurse whose "Crock-It" (StarFeather Producers, $12.95) is in its third printing. Slow cookers cook foods at very low temperatures -- 200 and 300 degrees -- for anywhere from four to 14 hours. Most models heat from the sides, rather than the bottom. which prevents scorching and allows for more even cooking.
Ms. Neslen's cookbook contains easy, down-to-earth recipes that, often as not, adhere to the canned mushroom soup school of cooking. It's available by calling (800) 345-0096 (add $3.50 for postage and handling).
At the other end of the spectrum is "Ready and Waiting," by Rick Rodgers (Hearst Books, $20), which reads like haute cuisine for the slow cooker.
Mr. Rodgers found his friends either loved or hated the slow cooker. "Most of my friends have turned their Crock-Pots into planters," says the New York chef, because of bad recipes that produce watery, overcooked "mystery" meats.
Friends who loved their Crock-Pots knew how to apply the principles of good cooking, which is what he does in his cookbook. For example, many of his recipes, such as pork roast in orange sauce and Jamaican oxtail soup, call for browning meats before braising and making the cooking liquid into a sauce or gravy.
He also lets the slow cooker do what it does best: traditionally slow-cooked dishes, such as stews, chilies, warm desserts, smothered vegetables and pot roasts.
"Ready and Waiting" is one of three slow-cooker titles published last year. Sunset Publishing introduced "Sunset Crockery Cookbook "($8.99). And Crock-Pot maven Mable Hoffman penned "Crockery Favorites" (Fisher Books, $9.95), a follow-up to "Crockery Cookery" (HP Books).
Slow cooker tips
* Choose lean meats, and trim red meats well. Fatty meats will make your sauce or gravy unappetizingly greasy. But leave the skin on poultry until just before serving.
* Always skim off fat. You can skim off the fat that collects at the top with a ladle. A gravy separator also works.
* Cut root vegetables the right size. They should be no more
than 3/4 -inch thick. Place them at the bottom of the slow cooker where they will cook while the liquid is heating.
Source: Rick Rodgers, "Crockery Favorites"
Makes 16 servings.
1 pound pecan halves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
In a 3 1/2 -quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients. Cover and slow-cook on high (300 degrees) for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low (200 degrees) and continue to slow-cook, uncovered, for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Transfer the nuts to a baking sheet and cool completely before serving. Per serving: 225 calories; 23 grams fat; 8 milligrams cholesterol; 140 milligrams sodium; calories from fat: 88 percent.
Source: "Ready and Waiting"