A lot of people think of crockpots as a) something gathering dust in the back of a cupboard or b) an appliance mainly suited for fall and winter. But with spring in the air, warmer evenings and more daylight hours, I’m finding the crockpot is a handy way to get dinner on the table in any season.
I recently had the chance to try out the Touchscreen Slow Cooker by Crock-Pot. This model has a number of great features.
- touchscreen controls give it a modern look and are easy to use and easy to clean
- cook food for 30 minutes, 20 hours or anywhere in between
- a Warm setting that the slow cooker switches to when your food is done. The Warm setting also has a timer which starts counting up (up to 6 hours) so you can tell exactly how late your husband was for dinner.
- glass lid that makes it easy to check on your dish without losing any heat
- stainless steel exterior that looks good on any counter
- silicone-wrapped handles that make it simple to take dinner to a potluck or a sick friend
- dishwasher-safe stonewear insert that makes clean-up a breeze
Although a slow cooker may seem like a fool-proof method to get delicious, tender, mouth-watering dinner on the table with little hands-on time, that’s not always the case. The wrong cut of meat, too much time or ingredients added at the wrong time can turn out dry-as-a-bone meat, watery sauce or overcooked veggies. Slow cooking should be easy, but the results need to be delicious too.
So I went to the pros. I went to the best. I went to the people who spent over $20,000 on groceries and 6 months of testing 1,500 slow cooker recipes to come up with the best chilis, tenderest pot roasts, and perfectly cooked pastas in the slow cooker. AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN.
I *heart* America’s Test Kitchen. It might be the nerdy, bow-tied host. But I’m pretty sure it’s how they test and adjust and retest and adjust a recipe until they ‘ve come up with – THE PERFECT RECIPE. And the science to explain why. Their website is loaded with all their uber-tested recipes with explanations (and often videos) about why they work. And what happened with they added one more tablespoon of butter or 5 more minutes in the oven. (Unfortunately, you have to pay to access the website, but they do offer a free 14-day trial.) They also have a free newsletter you can sign up for to grab some of their recipes, reviews and videos for free as well as the popular Cooks Illustrated magazine.
I’m not the kind of girl who wants to dump some frozen chicken breasts and a can of cream-of-something in the slow cooker and call it dinner, and so this book is right up my alley. Yes, they may take a little bit more work than your average dump-n-cook slow cooker recipes, but the results speak for themselves.
The book includes 200 recipes of soups, stews, sauces, sides, braises, chilis, casseroles and more. Many of the recipes involves 10-20 minutes of initial work from browning meat or aromatics to precooking especially hearty veggies. But what emerges 6-9 hours later is a dish full of flavor and perfectly done meats and veggies.
I cooked 5 nights in a row out of Slow Cooker Revolution and found it so nice not to have any afternoon dinner prep to do or 5 o’clock what’s-for-dinner freakouts. Some of my new favorites out of the cookbook are Vesuvio Chicken (pg. 83), Beef Burgundy (pg.63) and Baked Ziti with Sausage and Peppers (pg. 236). I love that each recipe includes a section called “Why This Recipe Works” where they explain the logic behind the ingredients, timing and method. Each page also has some kind of cooking, shopping or prep tip or an accompanying side dish recipe. The book also labels about 1/3 of the recipes as “Easy Prep” which involve less initial work when you’re short on time in the morning.
This spring and summer I’m planning on keeping my Crock-Pot Touchscreen Slow Cooker busy in my kitchen – so I don’t have to be.
Crock-Pot Touchscreen Slow Cooker ($129.99) available at www.crock-pot.com
Slow Cooker Revolution ($19.99 SALE) available at www.cooksillustrated.com and other book retailers