What's the best slow-cooking device/cookbook?
I am interested in efficiently (low cost and time) cooking lots of food in a way that leaves me with healthy/tasty leftovers I can eat throughout the week for lunch or dinner. I have heard about a lot of people using crock pots to do exactly that, and I'm wondering if there is a best "crock pot" or slow cooking device out there. It seems like I could just pick one up from the thrift store to get started, but I just wanted to see if there was a feature set I should be looking for. (Note: I do own a Zojirushi ricemaker, but it's REALLY small which has made it difficult to cook much more than rice with it.)
Secondly, is there a best crock pot cookbook? Or set of recipes? I'm particularly interested in protein and fiber rich meals, and I know slow-cooking is a great way to get through really thick pieces of meat.
Any suggestions, resources, or tips would be heartily appreciated!0
I haven't found a great slow cooker. There are cheap ones but most have this aluminum shell that never can quite get clean. So buy a cheap one with a removable stoneware liner or get the cuisineart monster as some friends have.
There is another technique worth experimenting with, especially for cuts of meat; Sous Vide is this fancy slow cook technique that is all the rage in modern gastronomy using expensive equipment. However it turns out you can fake it really cheaply; A digital cooking thermometer, a big pot or foam cooler and a big ziploc bag and hot tap water. See Sous Vide at home for $15 and other web sites http://www.beyondsalmon.com/2010/04/sous-vide-at-home-for-15.html Just follow the rules to avoid food poisoning and you can have a lot of fun.
I use my crockpot all the time. If you're looking to cook large amounts, it's really best to look at getting a large capacity slow-cooker (6.5 quarts or more). Two slow cooker cookbooks that I use a lot are "Slow Cooker Revolution" from the folks at America's Test Kitchen and "Cheater BBQ". Both have a ton of recipes and the ATK book has a lot of tips on the hows and whys of slow cooking in case you want to vamp on your own recipes.
The most versatile device I've found is a Cook's Essential pressure cooker. Midnightbox.com has these refurbished about once per month (including today, sunday 9/11/11), 4-5 quart, round or oval for about $40 shipped. They do slow cooking too and have a no-stick pot, so work as well as a crock pot but is easier to clean.. But they also brown, and pressure cooking is how you cook as fast if not faster than a microwave, but things come out juicy, not rubbery. I can put frozen chicken in with a marinate and in 25 minutes get delicious tender chicken out. It has a keep warm feature as well and can do things like steam rice. So you can do the real slow cooking, or get something nearly the same in a fraction of the time. I know someone who does really good pulled pork using one of these.
I have a friend who is not one to splurge on anything unnecessary for the kitchen, who has aquired a Thermos Thermal Cooker (http://www.amazon.com/Thermos-Thermal-Cooker-RPC-6000-Stainless/dp/B0036FK3UI/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1315782746&sr=8-9) and has become in a few short weeks a thermal cooker evangelist, going so far as to invite friends over to see her new cool tool. Here's the jist: heat the food on the stove top in one of the pots, then snuggle it into the cooker, and enjoy several hours later, or as your recipe calls for. My friend is kicking her crockpot to the curb in favor of this low-fi, low-energy alternative.
A little work with google gets you a lot about thermal cookers, which, of course, are far more widespread in areas of the world where energy costs more or is less available.
I've seen a demo and I'm saving my pennies. I use a hay box cooker from time to time, but it doesn't have nearly the efficiency of this thing.
I'd suggest a pressure cooker in combination with an induction hotplate; you get far better results than a slow cooker and is much quicker. Kuhn Rikon are the top of the line for pressure cookers that can achieve the "magic 15psi" (which no electric unit can get to) that cooks really rapidly and gives a more conventional flavour.
Good induction hobs can hold to a specific temperature so you can dial it in accurately each time.
Thermal circulators mentioned above are good but do have limitations; texture is often different and you cannot get any browning. There are some food saftey issues to consider and you have a pretty high learning curve to get the best result so it is not for everyone.
I've had a slow cooker, but never really used it. My pressure cooker and thermal circulator get used many nights a week.
175 Essential Slow Cooker Classics by Judith Finlayson. The recipes in this book are not simple, but the extra effort is worthwhile.
For example, the "Chunky Black Bean Chili" is some of the best chili I have ever eaten. It has around 14 ingredients, NONE of which are chili powder. Peppers, which are a key ingredient of chili, tend to become bitter when cooked for many hours. This recipe adds the peppers only in the last 30 minutes to avoid this problem.
So, these recipes are more complex than some, but the extra time and effort produce a better result.
By the way Finlayson recommends a low-tech sort of cooker consisting of a metal casing with a modest heating element, a stoneware insert, and a tight fitting lid. This is the sort that I have.
I think there is nothing to beat a Crock-Pot for ease of use (just dump the ceramic shell into the dishwasher). You can take any cheap cut of meat, stick it in the Crock-Pot with some sauce (barbecue, salsa, hoisin, curry, etc), and come back later to a tasty main dish. That trick works with beans, rice, and other grains/pulses, as well.
I own a pressure cooker, and you must attend to it, unlike a CrockPot. It's great for quickly cooking beans, for example, but I have to stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on it for putting the weight on, etc. The CrockPot, I can fill up before work in the morning, and come back to dinner.
I bought a 4 quart cheapie Rival at Target, but Consumer Reports recommends the Rival Crock-Pot SCVC604H-SS. Cook's Illustrated is bit more discerning, and recommends the Crock-Pot Touchscreen SCVT650-PS for $129.99
I have yet to find a crock-pot cook book that I like, but it's fairly idiot-proof. It's almost impossible to burn something in one. The only issue is a lack of flavor from cooking your seasonings to death, but you can add them right before serving.
Not an answer, but a question about an alternative method of slow-cooking: Can one use a cast-iron Dutch Oven in a lower temperature, conventional oven to replace a stand-alone, crock-pot-type device? If so, is there a time and temperature conversion chart out there? My internet search results on this issue are inconclusive . . .
Check out the SunOven at www.sunoven.com Or look up "solar cooking" for instructions to build your own. Works a lot like a crock pot and the energy cost is zero!
Yes and no. You can use an enameled, cast iron Dutch oven for similar types of cooking.
However, I wouldn't dream of leaving my stove or oven on all day while I'm away at work, whereas a Crock-Pot is safe to do so.
Furthermore, the lid on a Crock-Pot seals in moisture, but I've not found that to be true of my admittedly cheap Dutch oven.
A Dutch oven will cook faster, even at low temperatures. Here's a conversion chart.
I love my Le Creuset Doufeu. It's a 7.25 quart oval enameled cast iron dutch oven with a super-thick bottom and a well in the top. It works perfectly on the stove top over an almost invisible flame, and you fill the top with a quart of water, which keeps the temperature low and even. The top is REALLY heavy and seals perfectly.
It's expensive at retail ($267), but I found it for half that at a Le Creuset outlet.
Be aware that the pot and top are EXTRA SUPER HEAVY. Many women can't handle it.
But makes amazing braises. You don't have to brown the meat, and the best results come from using stock as the liquid. Put in a small amount -- 1/2" -- and no vegetables.
You can also use dutch ovens in the oven but I'd suggest:
When you get use to this kind of cooking you can start varying the vessel, I use a roasting pan with foil over the top to make this favourite.
Yes to the Dutch oven in the conventional oven. I've cooked pork shoulder at around 300 degrees and it takes about the same amount of time as in a crockpot (5-6 hours).
However, the crockpot takes far less energy and they are cheap as dirt. I got one at Target for around $17. I haven't bought a cookbook, but instead check the slow cooker blogs when I am looking for a recipe. http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/ and http://www.365daysofcrockpot.com/ are two, but there are more.
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