Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Gift That Keeps on Giving

What is the true gift that keeps on giving?  A cookbook, of course!  When I was placing an order of Christmas gifts from Chronicle Books, I decided to buy a cookbook for myself.  I was tempted by many of them but ultimately decided on one that I thought I would use regularly and that would make part of my home duties easier.  Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever by Diane Phillips might not actually be the best cookbook ever but it's a very useful book with easy to follow recipes for one of the most underused appliances in the kitchen.

I don't think I've ever reviewed a cookbook before and I have to admit that it's because I rarely make recipes from them so I don't feel I can review them.  I buy cookbooks, spend an afternoon or two looking through them and daydreaming about better meals, and then promptly put them in the kitchen cupboard and forget that I even own them.  The only two that sit out on the counter are The Joy of Cooking (which I use to check on baking temperatures for sweet potatoes and trivial things like that) and Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook which I have actually used a good number of times.  But now I will need to find an accessible spot for this slow cooker book because I've used it twice and had great results so far!

The first recipe I tried was for Christmas and was the "Not-Your-Mom's Cranberry Orange Sauce".  Well, any homemade cranberry sauce is not my mom's because she's an Ocean Spray canned sauce devotee.  When she wants to class it up above and beyond the gel log, she buys the variety with whole berries in it!  So, this was a big experiment for me.  It was very easy to throw everything in the crock (berries, orange zest, sugar, orange juice and spices) and three hours later I had a beautiful sauce.  We ended up serving it both at Christmas dinner (the Ocean Spray can is still in the pantry) and at Christmas dessert where we spooned it over a vanilla bean bundt cake.  It was a bit tart for my taste because I'm a flavor wuss but Z and the husband loved it.  It was something that I would have never stood over the stove to make but putting the ingredients together and then walking away made it worth the experiment.

(my bread and the cookbook)

Then last night I made the cover recipe, "Old-Fashioned Beef Stew with Vegetables".  One of the true tests of any recipe is if your finished product looks like the picture in the cookbook.  I frequently fail that with my Martha Stewart baking book (although the flavor of the lopsided cakes is always exceptional) so I was very pleased to serve up my first bowl of this stew, hold it up next to the book and rejoice in their identicalness.  It tasted great too!  And because I didn't have to spend a lot of time watching the pot, I decided to make bread to go with the stew.  I made this oatmeal bread from the recipe on the King Arthur bread flour bag and it was absolutely delicious.  I will be making that more often now too!  The only issue I had with the stew recipe was that I didn't know the size of my slow cooker and even though I made a reduced-size recipe (because we didn't need 8 servings), it still barely fit in the pot and there was not really room to move things around in it.  That's my fault though and not the fault of the book.  Each recipe actually says what size cooker you should use.  When I buy a new one (which I want to do now), I will choose based on what size the recipes that I want to make are.

Next, I think I will probably try making a pork loin or tenderloin (I never make pork except for faux-Kalua pork roast) or maybe my own baked beans.  Do you have a favorite slow cooker dish?

Stuffing some bellies,

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  1. I have a crock-pot somewhere but I can't remember the last time I've used it. Don't feel bad if your cakes don't look exactly like Martha's -- they probably baked 20 or 30 for the photo shoot and chose the prettiest one. And doctored it up somehow so it would survive under the lights, etc.

    Now I am intrigued by your faux Kahlua pork recipe -- please elaborate!

  2. I too tend to collect more cookbooks than I use, recipes as well, I often clip them from magazines/bookmark online ones - but just occasionally I'll try something different - the latest new recipe I tried recently was for shortbread, just a spur of the moment one as I had some crumble mixture left over and wondered what else I could make with it.

    Homemade bread is wonderful, isn't it? I used to have to make fifteen pounds of breaddough formed into 15x 1lb loaves, every other day, by hand, for a job 21 years ago - pounding that amount of dough is an excellent way of getting rid of your aggression!

  3. I love crockpot recipes!!!! We actually use our slow cooker at least a few times a month. When things are just so hectic, nothing beats throwing everything together in the morning and viola . . . you have dinner ready in minutes when it comes time to eat! Some of my favorite recipes include Southwestern Chicken, going simple with meatballs, just cooking up some chicken to make bbq chicken sandwiches, to put on salads, or tacos or even using it in recipes for later in the week. It is just so convenient and makes my life so much easier!

    My hubby is the true cook in our family, and he loves cookbooks! He uses them quite often! I would really rather look at the pictures myself . . . unless it involves baking! Then, I may try it out!

  4. Slow cookers are my type of cooking ... just toss it in and forget about it. Too bad the others in my house tend not to like "mixed up food from one pot." Glad you're having such good results.

  5. I just bought ingredients for a beef stew and will be dragging the crockpot out. Hope it turns out as good as yours.

  6. Karen - I think the crock is an easily forgotten appliance but is certainly handy if you find the right recipes! My Kalua pork is just a 4-5 lb. pork roast with a teaspoon or so of liquid smoke and 2 teaspoons of sea salt rubbed onto it. About 20 hours in the slow cooker and you have a smoky, tender pork that is great for a home luau!

    Tracy - Oh, don't make me confess about the stacks and stacks of magazine-clipped recipes I have and never use! And I hope to make more bread going forward. It's so yummy! 15 loaves of bread at once is a big task though. :)

    Tif - I have never made bbq chicken in the slow cooker, only pork. I should try that!

    Jenners - I have good eaters in the house for the most part but Z hates potatoes and T hates most beans, which both tend to be in a lot of slow cooker recipes. I'll have to be very creative if I'm going to keep using this cookbook!

    Cozy - I hope it was good! I was never a big fan of stew when I was a kid but I don't think it had any herbs or seasonings in it, just some meat, veg and salt. This one had thyme and was delicious!

  7. My boss was a slavedriver! (But I developed a really powerful left hook! Kneading that much dough is an excellent upper body workout!)

    As a vegetarian I don't really do much in the way of slowcooking of meat, though in my previous job, because I had to cook meat dishes, I was always on the lookout for good casserole and other meaty recipes - I just used to get the other staff to check anything I'd cooked for seasoning and tenderness, or delegate it to them to cook it.

  8. Tracy - Strong AND resourceful ... good for you! :)