Worth the wait

BOOKMARK

BOOKMARK: New books extol the ease, convenience and flavor of slow-cook recipes

January 07, 2009|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,liz.atwood@baltsun.com

A monthly series of cookbook reviews on a theme

If you aren't using that slow cooker that's probably sitting in the back of your cupboard, Phyllis Pellman Good has more than 1,000 reasons why you should.

Her latest tome for slow cooking, the Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook (Good Books, 2008, $29.95), is a compilation of 1,400 recipes culled from five cookbooks in her popular Fix-It and Forget-It series. The series has sold nearly 10 million copies since its debut in 2000, and Good says one reason why the books are so popular is that they aren't intended for folks who dabble in cooking as a hobby or a whim.

"The audience I have in mind is those who have to cook every day of the week," says Good, who lives in Lancaster, Pa.

All of the recipes in the books come from home cooks across the country, so they have been tested in real-life situations. Geared toward novices or those who face feeding the hungry family at 5 o'clock, the recipes are simple and usually require little advance preparation before the ingredients are placed in the pot. The recipes leave little to chance, specifying the size of slow cooker that works best, estimating the time the dish will take and providing clear, step-by-step instructions.

Good's previous slow-cooker books were no-frills affairs with simple line drawings and spiral bindings that made them easy to prop open on the kitchen counter. The new book is a bit more upscale, featuring a hard cover and color photography. "We wanted to do something that felt a little more substantial. Perhaps as a gift," Good says.

The book features about half of the recipes that have been published in the Fix-It and Forget-It series. Good says she selected her favorites and those that had received positive reviews over the years.

The recipes range from cheese dips to chocolate cake and are organized into 12 chapters. The index helpfully lists not only the names of the recipes, but also ingredients, so if, for example, you have some dried apricots on hand, you can look in the index and find eight ways to use them.

While Good's slow-cooker books have been immensely popular, she says she came to appreciate the advantages of slow cooking only after she and her staff began planning the first cookbook in the series. Good solicited her contributors for slow-cooker recipes and was amazed when she received 3,000 responses. "It was a total revelation," she said.

Those looking for more inventive fare, however, may wish to turn to the Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss (Chronicle, 2008, $24.95), which features 80 recipes for dishes such as Seafood Caldo With Chorizo and Duck With Red Wine, Wild Mushrooms and Forest Herbs. Unlike Good, who emphasizes how easy slow cooking is, Schloss points out that the method is not effortless.

The recipes in his book are divided into "simple everyday" and "spectacular entertaining." The ingredients lists, even for simple fare, can be extensive and the preparation time can be considerable. Typically, the recipes call for precooking - browning meats, marinating, toasting and grinding spices, etc. The Barbecue Pork and Beans, for example, calls for soaking dried beans overnight. In Good's book, the beans in a similar dish are canned.

The Sausage-and-Tomato Ragu With Pasta dish I tried was hearty and full of flavor, but every ingredient was cooked before going into the slow cooker, which raises the point: Why use a slow cooker at all?

T he Best Slow & Easy Recipes by the editors of Cook's Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen, 2008, $35) takes the middle ground in how much effort to put into slow cooking. This book contains 250 recipes, not only for the slow cooker, for also for roasts, stews, braises and other slow methods.

The authors describe the recipes as "uncomplicated cooking that's worth the wait."

As fans of Cook's Illustrated know, recipes include instructions that tell you not only what to do, but how and why. The weekend chili recipe I tried was prefaced with 1 1/2 pages of explanation for why the recipe is as it is.

But the folks in the kitchen keep real life in mind. They concluded that browning the meat before putting it in the cooker didn't add appreciably to the flavor and that canned beans work just fine. Texas chili aficionados will quibble with the presence of the beans at all, but I found the thick, flavorful chili the perfect dinner on a cold winter night.

GIVE-ME-MORE BARBECUED RIBS

(makes 6 servings)

Ideal slow cooker size: 6-quart

4 pounds pork ribs

1/2 cup brown sugar

one 12-ounce jar chili sauce

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon hot sauce

Place ribs in slow cooker. Combine remaining ingredients. Pour half of sauce over ribs. Cover. Cook on low 8 to 10 hours. Serve with remaining sauce.

From "Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook," by Phyllis Pellman Good

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