Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Ode to the Slow Cooker

My three slow cookers (plus one rice cooker)
The slow cooker is the unsung hero of the kitchen. Once ridiculed for being the ubiquitous unused wedding present of our parents, the slow cooker is back in style and with good reason. It works while you.. sleep, jog, play with your children, work, run errands.. and did I mention sleep?

One of my favourite uses for the slow cooker is to make stock out of the bones from chicken or turkey or whatever we had for dinner. Throw everything in at night.. and strain when you wake up. How easy is that?

Eric Akis is the author of the Everyone Can Cook series of cookbooks. He is a professionally trained chef and food writer, as well as a food styling and recipe development consultant. He wants everybody to be able to cook for themselves and their friends or family, and wants them to discover how simple, delicious, and rewarding cooking can be. No to mention how much better it is for your health and pocketbook! 

Everyone Can Cook
Slow Cooker Meals
Recipes for Satisfying Mains and Delicious Sides
Eric Akis
Paperback, 192 pages

In his latest book, Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals, Eric provides lots of delicious Mains; Main Course Soups, Vegetarian, Fish and Seafood, Poultry, Pork, Beef, Veal and Lamb. Then he goes on to add some delicious sides for your slow cooker meals; Breads and Biscuits, Salads and Condiments, Rice and Pasta, Potatoes and Vegetables .

I quite enjoyed cooking from Slow Cooker Meals this week. The chill in the air makes this the perfect season for slow cooked meals. We had the Chickpea Vegetable Stew with Apricots and Raisins, a delicious vegetarian main with North African flavours. Beans with Canadian Bacon and Blackstrap Molasses because I have always wanted to make my own baked beans - so yummy! And the Pork Roast in Maple Whiskey Sauce - I love that Eric isn't afraid of bold flavours. I reduced the sauce at the end for a sticky glaze over my fall-apart tender pork. Although the slow cooker is great for veggies, it is also meat's best friend. The long, slow simmer makes beef and pork beautifully tender, especially the cheaper, tougher cuts of meat.

As you can see above, I have three sizes of slow cookers. Eric's recipes are for slow cookers between 4.5 and 6.5 quarts. I found the recipes easy enough to reduce for a smaller pot - as, more often than not, we are empty-nesters now. The recipes are well written, tested, and easy to follow. So dust off that slow cooker and get cooking!

Chickpea Vegetable Stew with Apricots and Raisins
preparation time • 20 minutes
slow cooker time • 6 hours
makes • 4 servings

This vegetarian stew is flavored North African–style with ingredients such as cumin, lemon and apricots. I like to serve it over hot couscous (see Eric’s Options).

19 oz (540 mL) can chickpeas, drained, rinsed in cold water and drained again
14 oz (398 mL) can diced tomatoes
14 oz (398 mL) can tomato sauce
1 cup (250 mL) vegetable stock
2 Tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8–10 dried apricots, thinly sliced
¼ cup (60 mL) raisins
2 tsp (10 mL) grated lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cumin
¼ tsp (1 mL) cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh mint, cilantro or parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the chickpeas, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, stock, olive oil, onion, carrot, zucchini, garlic, apricots, raisins, lemon zest, cumin and cayenne in your slow cooker. Cover and cook on the low setting for 6 hours, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the mint. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

eric’s options
If you’re not vegetarian, you could use chicken stock instead of vegetable stock in this recipe, if that’s what you have on hand or prefer. To serve the stew on a bed of couscous, place 3 cups (750 mL) of vegetable stock, 1 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil and 1 minced garlic clove in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil. Mix in 1¾ cups (435 mL) of couscous. Cover the pot with its lid, turn off the heat and let the couscous stand for 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork to separate the grains and then serve.

Beans with Canadian Bacon and Blackstrap Molasses
I do enjoy a big pot of baked beans. These beans are not actually baked, but they taste like they have been after simmering all day in my slow cooker with flavor-enhancing ingredients. I like to serve these sweet and smoky-tasting beans with tangy Buttermilk Biscuits (page 156).
preparation time • 45 minutes
slow cooker time • 8 hours
makes • 6–8 servings

2 cups (500 mL) dried small white or navy beans
1¼ cups (310 mL) ketchup
1¼ cups (310 mL) barbecue sauce
1 cup (250 mL) chicken stock
1 cup (250 mL) water or beer
¹⁄³ lb (170 g) Canadian (back) bacon, diced
¼ cup (60 mL) blackstrap molasses
¼ cup (60 mL) packed golden brown sugar
1 large onion, diced
1 Tbsp (15 mL) Dijon mustard

Place the beans in a large pot and cover with 10 cups (2.5 L) of cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat until the water is gently simmering. Cook the beans until just tender, about 45 minutes. Drain the beans well. Place all the remaining ingredients in your slow cooker and mix well. Mix in the beans. Cover and cook on the low setting for 8 hours.

eric’s options
Instead of Canadian bacon, use cubes of smoked turkey or ham. Or make the beans a vegetarian dish by omitting the bacon and using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Pork Roast in Maple Whiskey Sauce
As the pork slowly cooks and becomes very tender, it will be divinely flavored with the bold taste of whiskey, the sweetness of maple syrup, the tanginess of cider vinegar and a hint of spicy Dijon mustard. Create a tasty meal by serving this with Boiled, Smashed and Fried New Potatoes (page 201) and Broccoli with Lemon Zest, Ginger and Red Pepper (page 210).
preparation time • 25 minutes
slow cooker time • 7–8 hours
finishing time • 15 minutes
makes • 6 servings

2 Tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
3 lb (1.5 kg) boneless pork loin or leg roast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
¾ cup (185 mL) Canadian or bourbon whiskey
½ cup (125 mL) chicken stock
¼ cup (60 mL) maple syrup
3 Tbsp (45 mL) cider vinegar
2 Tbsp (30 mL) Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch
1 tsp (5 mL) dried sage leaves

Place the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Season the pork with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, add the pork to the skillet and sear it on all sides. Place the pork in your slow cooker. Add the onions to the skillet and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Place the remaining ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Stir this mixture into the onions, bring to a simmer and pour over the pork. Cover and cook on the low setting for 7 to 8 hours, or until the pork is very tender.

To serve, remove the pork from the sauce and set on a plate. Tent with foil and rest for 10 minutes. Skim off any fat from the sauce. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Slice the pork, plate it and top with the sauce.

eric’s options
Make maple rum sauce by replacing the whiskey with an equal amount of dark rum. Make honey whiskey sauce by replacing the maple syrup with an equal amount of honey.