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America's Test Kitchen is a 2,500 square foot kitchen located outside of Boston. It is the home of Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines and is the workday destination for over 3 dozen test cooks, editors and cookware specialists. Our mission is to test recipes until we understand how and why they work and arrive at the best version. We also test kitchen equipment and supermarket ingredients in search of brands that offer the best value and performance. You can watch us work by tuning in to our public television show, America's Test Kitchen.
The "new" name is "slow cooker" but most of us know the device as a "crockpot" because that's the name it was first marketed under a couple of decades ago. If you're like me, you got one because you thought, "Hey, I can put in the ingredients in the morning and have a tasty meal when I get home from work - cool". Then you found out that only certain recipes seemed to work well in the crockpot, er, slow cooker. You bought crockpot cookbooks, and found while many of them were beautifully designed with multiple and elaborate fonts, blank spaces for notes, line drawings of cute little collections of vegetables, the recipes either contained about 20 different ingredients or else the recipe required so much pre-browning, pre-sautéing, post-blending, post-broiling of the ingredients that it would just be quicker to cook the darn recipe once you got home from work.
I am really happy to say that "Slow Cooker Revolution" is the first sensible slow cooker cookbook in my collection of them. The book is very well designed. There is a page devoted to each recipe, and most recipes have a picture of the finished product. There is a list of ingredients, and from what I saw, everything there is available in my local supermarket. Each recipe starts off with a paragraph entitled, "Why It Works", in which the authors explain the choices behind certain ingredients or methods and why they work better than others. The recipes are clear-cut and easy to follow. Each recipe also an additional segment - either a "quick prep tip" or a "smart shopping" hint or an "on the side" short recipe.Read more ›
I'm a big fan of Cook's Illustrated . I get their flagship magazine and Cook's Country and watch both America's Test Kitchen versions faithfully on PBS. I'm also a frequent buyer of their cookbooks and have found many of my all-time favorite recipes in their pages.
Unfortunately, after making three of the recipes from "Slow Cooker Revolution," I'm not sold on this particular effort. All were OK, none spectacular, and, as far as I can tell, just about every one previously published. (A cheat often used by Cook's, but still annoying for its most loyal readers.)
My major complaint--and it seems to be in most of the recipes, not just the three I've attempted so far--is that Cook's takes what is best about the slow cooker, it's convenience (set it and forget it one-pot meals), and throws it out the window by requiring countless pre-cooking steps--far more than just browning meat or sautéing vegetables--that often dirty multiple pots, pans and bowls before you ever even get the ingredients into the slow cooker itself. There's also a good bit of post-cooking in many of these recipes, along with mid-cooking steps/additions that means you're constantly babysitting the slow cooker, even after getting the ingredients going. Not terribly practical for a device specifically designed to cook while you're not here.
If I'm going to use a dishwasher full of dishes, what's the point of dragging out the crockpot just to do the heating?Read more ›
So why another slow cooker book? Well, this is from America's Test Kitchen - some crazy organization that tries to find the best way of preparing all kinds of meals. Unlike other slow cooker recipe books, this one is more authoritative. For instance, unlike other slow cooker cookbooks, it gives recommendations for the "best" slow cooker - well, they did test seven of them, and set up a whole rack to have two dozen running for their tests. It also has tips for what brand ingredients tasted the best (what's the best barbecue sauce to use? maple syrup? canned tomatoes? corn tostadas?), or what shape pork loin to buy, or how to make a tidy burrito. Or how to make the recipes taste more "meaty" by using secret ingredients such as ... soy sauce! Interesting.
Each recipe starts with a description and rationale of why it's done this way ("Why this recipe works" section). For example, what tastes are important about the dish? How did they replicate the barbecue feel and taste for their ribs? How did they duplicate the key flavors of French Onion Soup or Cassoulet? What worked and what didn't? This is always informative and helps you understand the rationale behind the recipe.
Their goal was to include lots of "easy prep" recipes for the "time-pressed home cook", and these are identified as such in the chapter listings. Some require microwaving aromatics mixed with chopped onion, etc. to be mixed into the pot, or microwaving beef bones to add flavor. However, there are some that require more complex prep. The Chicken Gumbo, for example, has you preparing the roux first, by roasting and stirring the flour then baking it for 45 minutes. Others require cooking and whisking of certain ingredients before adding to the mix.Read more ›