The Denver Post’s Colorado Table food blog covers all things edible.
They can bake that popular Chex Party Mix that people love all the time but especially embrace during the holidays.
Go ahead and roll your eyes. Mark Bittman and Gordon Ramsay aren’t too proud to use slow cookers. Plus, slow cookers free up the stove and oven during high-traffic holiday cooking, and arguably are more wallet-friendly, to boot.
Many cooks love their slow cookers for the same reasons their mothers and grandmothers did: They can toss in the ingredients, turn a knob to High or Low, walk away, and come back a few hours later to a meal that needs only to be dished out and served.
“You put something in the slow cooker in the morning, go to work, come home, and it’s ready to go,” says Mandy Birks, who with her fiance, Stephen Daniels, runs the popular Crock Spot food truck.
In fact, the Crock Spot started when Daniels, then a bachelor living in New York City, received a slow cooker as a gift.
“He wanted to get the most out of one meal,” Birks said.
“He wanted to cook something, and then come home from work and for four days, eat the same thing, but in different forms.”
That concept later inspired the Crock Spot’s menu. During their first year, Birks and Daniels used slow cookers to develop variations of beef, pork, chicken, turkey and vegetarian dishes. As their business became more successful, they expanded to other forms of slow cooking, using the same slow-roast concept.
“We’ll roast meat up to eight or nine hours in the oven, nothing super-fancy, just optimizing natural flavors with salt and pepper,” Birks says.
“What flavors up our food are the sauces we add, and the different things we put in the bowls.”
Their modus operandi: Two kinds of grain or other base, often Thai jasmine rice and pearled barley but sometimes caraway potatoes or quinoa; four types of protein (including a vegan option, like lentils); and five sauces. Those include chimichurri, sriracha sour cream, boursin cheese, fresh herbed mustard, hoisin haberno, gado gado (an Indonesian peanut sauce) and Cuban mojo.
Adding sauce can change a basic roasted protein, like meat or lentils, into something exotic. In November and December, the Crock Spot sauce options also include cranberry-wasabi.
“We like the idea of offering something that’s traditional, with a little nontraditional twist,” Birks says.
That also describes many of the recipes in “Fix-It and Forget-It New Cookbook,” an update of Phyllis Good‘s series of slow-cooker guides. Good’s innovative slow cooker recipes include both yeast and dessert breads baked in a crock pot, roasting new potatoes, and oatmeal.
The Shoofly Loaf in “Fix-It and Forget-It” is a real revelation. Instead of pouring the batter directly into the slow-cooker liner, Good advises using a greased loaf pan, set on risers (like a small metal rack or canning jar rings).
Keeping the batter away from the sides and bottom of the liner eliminates the burnt-on-the-edges, raw-in-the-middle problem. The result is a moist, crumbly dessert.
Another revelation: Good’s King Turkey recipe. It’s perfect for anyone planning a Thanksgiving dinner for three or fewer diners. Chopped onion and celery go on the bottom, with a skin-on, bone-in turkey breast on top, then a cup of wine, a cup of chicken broth and some spices. (You could add potatoes or yams, too.) That’s it, and the result is tender and dewy.
Of course, using a slow cooker involves following a few rules.
Dense roots and vegetables, like carrots, beets and potatoes, should occupy the bottom layer, with more fragile ingredients, like cauliflower and broccoli, resting on top, or even added late in the process.
The cooking temperature must be 165 degrees or higher. (The Low setting on most slow cookers is about 200 degrees.)
Finally, n ever store or reheat food in a slow cooker. That’s a recipe for food poisoning.
Claire Martin: 303-954-1477, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/byclairemartin
Slow-cooker recipes From “Fix-It and Forget-It New Cookbook” by Phyllis Good
Makes 10-12 servings. Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 5 to 7 hours. Ideal slow cooker: 4-or 5-quart size.
5 to 6 pound turkey breast, bone-in and skin on
1 medium onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
Half-stick (¼ cup) melted butter
Salt to taste
Sprinkle of lemon pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup white wine
Wash turkey breast. Pat dry. Place onion and celery in cavity. Brush melted butter along sides and bottom of slow cooker. Place turkey breast with onion and celery in bottom of cooker.
Pour melted butter over turkey. Season with salt and lemon pepper.
Pour broth and wine around turkey.
Cover. Cook on Low setting for 5 to 7 hours, or until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees (make sure thermometer does not touch the bone).
Let rest for 15 minutes before carving.
Autumn Harvest Pork LoinMakes 4 to 6 servings. Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 4½ to 5½ hours. Ideal slow-cooker size: 5-quart.Ingredients1½ whole butternut squashes, peeled and cubed1 cup cider or apple juice2-pound pork loinSaltPepper2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and quartered
⅓ cup brown sugar¼ teaspoon cinnamon¼ teaspoon dried thyme¼ teaspoon dried sageDirections
Put peeled and cubed squash into slow cooker. Add cider or juice. Cover and cook on Low for 1½ hours.
Sprinkle salt and pepper on all sides of pork loin. Place in slow cooker on top of squash. Lay apple quarters around the meat.
Sprinkle everything with brown sugar and spices.
Cover. Cook on Low for 3 to 4 hours. At 3 hours, begin checking meat temperature by inserting meat thermometer into the center of the loin. The meat is done when the thermometer reads 140 degrees.
Remove pork loin from cooker. Cover with foil to keep warm, and allow it to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Then cut loin into half-inch-thick slices.
Serve topped with apple and squash. Pass the cooking juices, transferred to a small bowl or jug, to drizzle over the meat, squash and apples.
Shoofly LoafMakes 16 to 20 servings. Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 3½ to 4 hours. Ideal slow-cooker size: 6-quart oval.
Ingredients1 cup whole wheat flour1 cup all-purpose flour1 cup brown sugar½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened1 cup boiling water¼ cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses¼ cup mild baking molasses1 teaspoon baking soda¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon¼ teaspoon saltDirections
Combine both flours, brown sugar and butter until crumbly. Measure and reserve ¾ cup of crumbs for topping. Combine boiling water, both kinds of molasses, and baking soda in a heat-proof bowl. Pour water mixture over remaining crumb mixture. Add cinnamon and salt. Mix well into a batter.
Pour batter into a well-greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Sprinkle with reserved crumbs.
Place a small trivet or metal jar rings in the bottom of the slow cooker. Set loaf pan on top. Cover, propping open the lid with a chopstick or wooden spoon handle to vent.
Cook on High for 3½ to 4 hours, until a tester inserted in the middle of the loaf pan emerges clean.Carefully remove pan from slow cooker. Allow the loaf to cool inside the pan for 2 hours.
Slide a knife around the edges of the loaf. Serve directly from the pan, or remove carefully to leave the crumb topping intact
Apple Cranberry CrispM akes 8- 10 servings. Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 4½ to 4¾ hours. Ideal slow cooker size: 4-quart.
Ingredients3 cups apples, chopped and unpeeled2 cups raw cranberries ⅓ cup white sugar 1½ cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats (uncooked)½ cup brown sugar ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup chopped pecans
1 stick (½ cup) butter, melted
Whipped cream (optional)
In a greased slow cooker, combine apples, cranberries, and white sugar. Mix thoroughly to blend. Cover. Cook on Low for 4 hours. As apples and cranberries cook, combine the oats, brown sugar, flour, pecans and butter in a medium bowl. Mix until crumbly. Set aside.
When fruit mixture finishes cooking, scatter the topping over the hot fruit. Continue cooking, uncovered, for 30 to 45 minutes, until the topping is warm and beginning to brown around the edges. Serve warm with whipped cream.
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