slow cooker is a blast from the past, and a boon for the modern
recently I saw an article touting the top food trends of 2007.
First among them was slow cooking, which at first I thought
was a reference to the “slow food” movement, which was begun
a few years back as a resistance to fast food and a rescue
of local and regional traditions. Then I saw the illustration,
that of a squat ceramic cookpiece with a glass top, and I
realized in an ah so moment that this is the return
of the Crock-Pot.
Look back in your past, at least if you’re in your 40s, and
you’ll probably remember your mother extolling the virtues
of the Crock-Pot (which is a registered trademark; in cookbooks
and on Web sites, the device also is commonly referred to,
generically, as a crockpot). The energy crunch and recession
of the early ’70s gave my parents carte blanche to re-option
the ways of their Depression-era youth. Soon, our formica
counter in our kitchen was home to an unwieldy monstrosity
that we were warned to stay away from, and under no circumstances,
ever, were we to open the lid. Fear of imminent explosion
was enough to keep her ever-hungry brood away—no easy feat,
as we were usually furtively sneaking spaghetti sauce or chili
while either simmered away—but it also gave rise to our inherent
suspicion over both the device and whatever came out of it,
even if it did taste good.
When I struck out on my own, my mother gave me those three
devices every girl needs with which to conquer the world:
a coffee maker, a mixer, and a Crock-Pot. While the first
two wore out before long, the Crock-Pot sat in a closet, over
time joined by the many cookbooks Mom sent along to help me
use it. The books themselves were simply ghastly, unappealing
in their proud-to-be-low-budget way, and the recipes therein
were similarly awful-sounding. Lots of Velveeta, canned soups,
and powdered packets, as I remember, made up the bulk of the
ingredients list. At some point, I just threw the Crock-Pot
in the trash can.
Then, years later, here I am with four kids, two travel soccer
teams, a full-time job, a rule about home-cooked meals, and
very little time. My Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine
gave me the first idea, that perhaps ridding myself of the
Crock-Pot had been unwise. During the holiday season a few
years back, an issue included four recipes to be cooked in
what is now more commonly known as the slow cooker. (Besides
the trademark issue, this marketing shift may also reflect
that fact that the word crockpot sounds, well, silly. Or maybe
it’s the similarity to Betty Crocker.) Still, the device is
a large ceramic cooking pot, which is inserted into a sort
of canister, often decorated with Amish or ’70s-looking flowers,
though more and more is made of stainless steel. Today’s slow
cooker comes in different sizes, but generally speaking, it’s
a big, cumbersome piece of equipment.
So, I bought one. And while it made me somewhat nervous to
leave the device on, unattended, for up to eight hours, it
more than proved its mettle when our tired and famished family
returned late one night from a soccer game. There, in front
of us, was the handy slow cooker, its glass lid nice and steamy,
and all around us was the aroma of a very good dinner. Suddenly,
busy weeks with evening soccer games became cause for hauling
out the slow cooker; but while everybody liked the results,
I soon got bored with my four Everyday Food recipes.
Only very recently has it become somewhat easier to find recipes
for the slow cooker that I would even consider. By that I
mean recipes for the types of food I would normally make,
or, in my mother’s words, “fancy schmantzy.” In other words,
hold the canned cream-of-mushroom soup, etc. Slow cookers
are very good for turning lower-priced cuts of meat like beef
brisket or pork shoulder into amazingly tender, even elegant
dishes, but people of my generation aren’t necessarily adept
at translating a “regular” recipe to something that works
in the slow cooker. After asking several “old timers” (sorry,
sis) and other foodies for advice, I’ve determined that, in
translating a recipe for use in the slow cooker, the amount
of liquid needs to be reduced by almost a quarter, and fresh
herbs by half. Still, there’s the tricky timing factor.
While I continue to work that one out, I have been lucky enough
to begin finding better recipes in a variety of sources. Everyday
Food typically has at least one if not two issues per
year that contain a few, and the Food Network’s Web site lists
hundreds of possibilities. In sorting out what works and what
doesn’t, I find I’m getting closer to the source of what cooking
is about, about understanding the very nature of ingredients
and how they break down. Interestingly, my explorations with
the slow cooker have inspired me to reread whole sections
of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, especially those
that relate to how meats and vegetables break down with heat.
I’m constantly amazed at the utter simplicity of throwing
into the crock wedges of onion and potato, stewed tomatoes,
whole garlic cloves, rosemary, salt and pepper, and beef chuck,
turning the darn thing on, and coming home hours later to
a sumptuous stew. OK, full disclosure: With meats like beef
and pork, I prefer to brown first in olive oil atop the stove,
just because I like the looks and taste of the nice brown
crust that envelops. I sometimes do that with vegetables,
particularly if I’m doing a vegetarian main course. And with
regard to just pushing a button, depending on when my family
is going to eat, I might get everything ready to go, then
have my husband stop home from his nearby office to flip the
switch at the appropriate moment.
Regarding those vegetarian main courses, I lucked into a handy
cookbook for such recently, and began trying some of the recipes
out on my family. The black-bean chili and vegetarian lasagna
were remarkably moist and velvety, but some recipes were too
dry. Once again, my slow cooker is goading me into research—in
this case, figuring out how to add or replace the moisture
and flavors that, in other recipes, might come from the juices
of meat proteins. One part family cook, one part mad scientist.
A recent Gourmet magazine features an article by Jane
Smiley in which she writes about how her Crock-Pot inspired
her to use up odd tidbits of cheese and potatoes in her larder.
She, too, has made a few culinary missteps along the way,
but more often, has been happily rewarded by a meal fit for
a queen, with very little effort. Interestingly, I also recently
came across an article called “Fast Slow Cooking,” and had
to laugh—why would one wish to instill a misguided sense of
urgency in the art of slow cooking? While it was some sort
of urgency that brought me to the point at which I considered,
and then purchased, my slow cooker, its underlying purpose
has been to provide us with a richly deserved reward, combining
nurture and virtue with a big helping of yum, at the end of
a long day of doing other things. This is not your mother’s
Crock-Pot, but then again, in a certain very real sense, it
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Steakhouse (11 N.
Broadway, Schenectady) features selections from
the Finger Lakes-based Hosmer Winery during its
Wine Tasting Dinner at 7 PM on Monday (March 5).
The five-course dinner features five wines, beginning
with a crisp pinot noir to accompany Cajun shrimp
bruschetta. Ravioli Bolognese with a cabernet
franc and bacon-wrapped filet mignon paired with
a hearty Estate Red are among the courses. The
cost is $55 plus tax and tip. For more info and
reservations, call the restaurant at 374-0100,
or e-mail enjoyparisi at nycap.rr.com. . . . Remember
to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail
food at banilsson.com).
want your feedback
you eaten at any
recently reviewed restaurants?
Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...
address not required to submit your feedback, but required to
be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.
very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..