Slow Cookers

by Laura on March 15, 2009

in Tools

My family wants great tasting food. Period. Of course I want that too, but I want more. I want to serve my family great tasting, healthful foods without much fuss. Sound familiar? That’s why the slow cooker has entered my kitchen.

The resurgence of the slow cooker in today’s kitchen can be attributed to a variety of factors, among them convenience, versatility and its ability to produce healthful, great tasting results.

For any of you who have visions of an orange and brown Crock-Pot® on you’re mom’s counter cooking up a mushy beef stew filled with many indistinguishable ingredients, wipe that image out of your mind. Today the slow cooker is (slowly) whipping up a Sweet and Spicy Australian Lamb Leg Tagine with Warm Couscous and Toasted Pine Nuts (recipe at end) along with a tasty Apple cranberry crisp for dessert.

Slow cookers are designed to cook a wide variety of meals, and as it cooks, it builds a depth of flavor into each meal it produces that doesn’t always occur during ‘fast’ cooking. Soups, stews and chili, which benefit from long simmering, are ideal to make in the slow cooker, as are puddings and casseroles, and the more well-known slow cooker recipes that include inexpensive cuts of meat.

The beauty of the slow cooker is that you can place the ingredients in the cooker in the morning, and when you get home, that meal is cooked and ready to consume.

No food to prep, no chance of having to deal with the possibility of forgetting to take something out of the freezer to defrost, no opening the refrigerator and asking yourself, “what should I make for dinner?”

And, for anyone who has dealt with the bewitching hour (or two) leading up to dinner time when the kids are rambunctious, tired, cranky, hungry and needy all wrapped up into one, the slow cooker is a convenient – and relaxing – way to prepare meals for the family.

For those families who eat at various times, the slow cooker keeps the food at proper serving temperature so that everyone can enjoy a great tasting, warm meal whenever they choose. (That is also why slow cookers are very popular choices when entertaining).

In my various reads about slow cookers, I have come across conflicting news about how much of a vegetable’s nutrients are retained in a slow cooker, with some sources saying it depletes all the vegetables of their nutrients, while others are on the opposite end. I thought I’d ask an authority, and queried about this over at Spring Switzerland, manufacturer of the Weil By Spring line of cookware, which includes a slow cooker. They forwarded to me Dr. Andrew Weil’s response to the topic, published on his website in December 2008 is as follows:

“Slow cooking does not destroy more nutrients. In fact, the lower temperatures may help preserve nutrients that can be lost when food is cooked rapidly at high heat. What’s more, food cooked slowly often tastes better.”

He adds, “I recommend slow cooking to those who say that the biggest barrier to healthful meals is lack of time. New versions of the crock pot have programmable functions that allow you to put fresh, healthy, organic ingredients into them in the morning and have a delicious soup or stew ready to eat when you get home.”

Slow cooker’s come in varying styles and sizes. It is important to choose one that has a large enough capacity for your family, but also enables you to make meals ahead of time for freezing. Aside from choosing the appropriate size, Teri Haymer, president of Spring Switzerland,  says it is important to have “Programmable cooking times on high and low up, as well as programmability for a minimum of 12 hours and up to 20. Also essential is the keep warm feature, which allows you to keep the meal at proper serving temperature for an extended period of time.”

She emphasizes Dr. Weil’s comment on how slow cooking can even help you cut grocery bills “because you can use inexpensive ingredients such as dried beans that have been soaked overnight, rather than costly canned beans. There is no end of healthy recipes that lend themselves to slow cooking.”

Don’t have slow cooker recipes? Well, in addition to the numerous cookbooks available, as well as the plethora of recipes discovered through a simple Google search, Haymer notes that “Most recipes can be modified for use in a slow cooker; especially if there is enough liquid in them.

If there is not, you simply will have to add more. Remember, she adds, “Soups, stews and braises work very well, but even desserts and casseroles can be made in a slow cooker.”

“Convenience and ease of use” are the main reasons the slow cooker is becoming popular once again, says Haymer. “People are eating at home more, and they want to be able to cook good meals, as quickly as possible. The slow cooker is a time-saving measure, in cooking as well as it saving time in clean-up.”

 

I definitely agree with her!

Happy (slow) cooking

 

Sweet and Spicy Australian Lamb Leg Tagine with Warm Couscous and Toasted Pine Nuts

Serves 4-6

Source: Australian Lamb/Meat and Livestock Australia

 

1 Australian leg of lamb, boneless

 

SPICE MIX (divided)

 

•  1 teaspoon ground cumin

•  1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

•  1 teaspoon ground ginger

•  1 teaspoon ground coriander

 

TAGINE

•  2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

•  salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

•  1 onion, chopped

•  1 leek, white part only, sliced

•  2 medium carrots, chopped

•  1 ½ cups chicken stock or broth

•  ½ cup raisins or sliced dates

•  2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped

•  1 pear, diced

1. Trim lamb and dice into bite-size pieces

2. To make spice mixture, combine the cumin, cinnamon, ginger and coriander and divide in half.

3. In a medium pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over high heat, add the lamb and half the spices and season to taste. Cook, stirring, until browned all over. Transfer lamb to slow cooker and drain any fat from pan.

4. Heat the remaining oil and spices in the same pan over medium heat until aromatic, about 20-30 seconds. Add contents of the pan chicken stock, raisins, pears, onion, leek, carrots and tomatoes and stir well. Cover slow cooker with lid and cook on low for 8-10 hours of high for 4-5 hours.

5. Spoon lamb tagine over the hot couscous, sprinkle with the almonds and serve.

Suggested Accompaniments: cooked warm couscous, and ¼ cup toasted almonds or pine nuts.

 

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