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? Often the recipes I've read and tried seem like they'd be better served being made in a Dutch oven and then cooked in a low oven, thus saving multiple steps and plenty of dishwashing. Kind of defies basic cooking logic.
Sorry Cook's, I just can't recommend this one.
EDITED TO ADD: After seeing a trend with these reviews to dismiss negative reviewers as submitted by lazy cooks who just don't get it, I wanted to point out that I'm someone who sincerely enjoys the process of cooking, and a Slow Food devotee. I put a great deal of effort into using organically, locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients in my day-to-day life. I rarely, if ever, use ANY processed food. I bake bread from scratch several times a week. I would never even consider using a cake mix or a condensed soup base. Basically, I'm not really looking for shortcuts.
My problem with "Slow Cooker Revolution" isn't so much the prep, but the fact that the recipes, despite all the extra steps, aren't very good. If the end results were outstanding, I wouldn't really question what went into the creation, as many meals I happily prepare take hours and hours to complete. Unfortunately, that just isn't the case from what I've seen here, which seems to be Cook's effort to shoe-horn better, oven or stove-top recipes into a slow cooker with lackluster, at best, results. Does the multi-step beef stew recipe in this cookbook taste better than some meat and potato cubes tossed into the cooker along with canned broth and onion soup mix and left to sit for 12 hours? Most definitely! Does it taste as good as my favorite stove-top to oven recipe that requires approximately the same amount of effort? Nope. Not even close. The same with the turkey chili and short rib recipes I've tried. Other recipes, including Cook's traditionally cooked and previously published versions, are vastly superior to the results you get using the "Slow Cooker Revolution" way. And THAT is my problem with this cookbook.
I've long been of the theory that there is very little a slow cooker does better than a low oven and good cast iron pot. Nothing I've tried, or read, in "Slow Cooker Revolution," has made me think I'm going to be pulling my crockpot out of the pantry more than once or twice a year, at best.
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. They also recommend products in these segments that have been determined to be the best in their other test processes (if you've ever watched "America's Test Kitchen" on PBS you'll know the tests I'm talking about); I like that they name names of the products.
As I read through the recipes, I found myself thinking, "that sounds really tasty" and more importantly, "I can do that". The recipes include both standards and favorites, you know, the kind of food that you would actually cook at home (or order in a favorite restaurant) and that your family would actually eat. The recipes are not just reprints of older crockpot recipes; they have reworked some basics and created totally new versions of others. There is not a lot of elaborate pre-preparation in these recipes. Sensibly, they recommend using the microwave to pre-cook some of the vegetables to both make sure they'll cook thoroughly in the recipe and to release more of the aromatics into the recipe. We're talking like five minutes in the microwave, so that's no big hardship. Some of the recipes do call for browning or sautéing certain meats or vegetables; I suppose there is no real way to avoid that since the name of the game is adding flavor to a process whose innate nature would tend to lose the flavor of some ingredients due to the long cooking time. There are a number of recipes highlighted as "Easy Prep" - they are the ones that are basically "throw everything into the slow cooker and turn it on".
What I also like about this cookbook are the extras, the pages that highlight things you should know about the ingredients you're using, e.g. "All About Broths", "Pasta 101", "All About Beef", "All About Using The Microwave And The Slow Cooker", etc. Very useful. This cookbook is definitely going to be a keeper for me, and I might be buying some other copies for the other cooks in my family. This is a good and useful gifting item.
Warning!! Yes, this IS a long review, and getting longer all the time with each recipe I try. I apologize for this and am working on being less wordy in future reviews.
So What's the "Revolution"?
It's supposed to be about debunking several myths about slow cooking, showing us that:
1) Slow-cooking is not about dumping unprepared stuff into a pot nor about the belief that if you just cook something long enough and with enough other stuff, it will always be edible
2) Great results occasionally require more appliances than just your slow cooker
3) Some ingredients can benefit from additional preparation
Two Recipes I sampled right away:
First sampled recipe: -- Nutella Bread Pudding --
* How could I NOT try a recipe that uses this most divine gift to modern civilization? It's the sort of dessert that has to be preceded by weeks of an ascetic diet, as it boasts whole milk, heavy cream, and 9 egg yolks. But it illustrates the importance of prep work in slow-cooking: the challah bread cubes need to be "baked" in a low temp oven for 40 minutes. Had the untoasted bread simply been placed right from the loaf and into the pot, I think it would end up as a custardy mush.
* The result? OmmMmmppfffGaaahh (that's OMG with my mouth full). Crazy good. Not as custardy as I feared with all those 9 egg yolks. Very company-worthy and a bit more sophisticated than your usual Betty Crocker bread pudding, but I suggest you serve it to company the day you make it. After refrigeration, it becomes really dense and much more intense. I followed the recipe EXCEPT for I used ½ tsp salt instead of ¾ tsp. Tip for future success: Challah loaves come in all sizes, so make sure you do your best to get the 14 ounces called for here. Bread puddings vary widely depending on the liquid-to-bread-to-egg ratio. This ratio of 4 cups milk/cream - 14 ounces bread - 9 egg yolks is perfection.
Second sampled recipe: -- Macaroni and Cheese --
* I chose this for two reasons: it uses canned soup (one of the few recipes to do so) yet promises not to end up tasting obviously Campbell-ized AND it calls for raw macaroni to be put straight into the pot. (Silly, but I do hate having to boil and drain pasta. BTW, if you want more slow-cooker recipes that use canned soups, check out Semi-Homemade Money-Saving Slow-Cooking: 128 Quick-to-Cook Meals.
* The result? Quite good, with a taste much like Stouffer's frozen mac & cheese and a very smooth, rich, and homogeneous sauce. I used the specific brands of macaroni elbows and two cheeses recommended by the authors, but I doubled the cayenne from 1/8 tsp to 1/4 teaspoon. Interestingly, although I used white cheeses, the result is very yellow from the canned cheddar cheese soup. And as the authors promised, there was no canned soup flavor or quality. In the future, I might use just 1 and 1/2 cans of cheddar cheese soup instead of 2; I actually like a bit less homogeneity in my mac & cheese.
Running Updates for more recipes as I try them ...)
3) -- BEEF BURGUNDY -- Pricey!!! Excellent flavor, but cubing 5 lbs of beef chuck roast (about $23.00 USD) was an ordeal. Tons of fat. When I was done, I had only 3 lbs of usable meat. Next time I might just go with a leaner, choicer cut of beef. Also, I used Merlot instead of the recommended Pinot Noir because that was all I had on hand. Great recipe, but more expensive and labor intensive than I care for.
4) -- CHICKEN CURRY IN A HURRY -- Um. Hmm. I think what I created today is more of a "Chicken In A Slurry". Very unappetizing appearance - a tad grainy, yucky color, extremely watery. No creaminess. I wish the authors had included the brand of coconut milk they tested with on the same page as this recipe, instead of 25 pages away for a completely different recipe. I just discovered this after it was too late, while trying to research what could have gone wrong. The taste? Oh dear. No depth of flavor, a bit harsh, and the minced jalapenos were still hard after 6 hours on low, floating about and adding a gritty ill greenness to the unpalatable yellow. I love curries; and I'd love to hear from anyone else who has tried this recipe. Looks like it is take-out tonight. Drat.
5) -- WEEKNIGHT BEEF CHILI -- Perfectly balanced in flavor and texture. I used leaner beef (93%) than the recommended 85%. I accidentally used 1 tablespoon of oregano (instead of 1 teaspoon) and I deliberately doubled the amount of minced chipotle chili in adobo sauce. Also, I added a couple of pats of butter in the last 15 minutes to "velvetize" the sauce. The technique has you mash up bread and milk with the beef; I did not mix it in well enough, as there were a few small pieces of bread floating in the final product. This recipe's a winner and a repeater. (Edit 12/25/2012; I have made this recipe at least 4 times since I started this review. Every time the chili turned out great and in one case pleased a crowd of 25 club members. It's great to have recipes you can count on.)
6) -- BIG-BATCH BOLOGNESE SAUCE -- Ok, with a little editing. When I asked my husband what he thought of it, I knew this was not a stellar hit when he responded "What do YOU think of it?" It's a good recipe for really long cooking: 9 to 11 hours on low (5 to 7 on high). And the ground meat does NOT have to be pre-browned. But for 3 pounds of meat and 56 ounces tomatoes, the recipe suggests a mere 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme for herb seasoning. That's ridiculously tiny!! I used 2 teaspoons each of dried thyme and basil, and still the seasoning was not perceptible. My husband said it was more like Sloppy Joe sauce for pasta. Easy, yes, but not as good as the Bolognese I make on the stove-top.
7) -- BAKED ZITI WITH SAUSAGE AND PEPPERS -- Another recipe using raw pasta - yay! But the flavor needs a bit more zippiness; it's rather tomato-y and bland. Plus, I had to shorten the 3 hour (on high) cook time to 1 hour 45 minutes when the ziti started to get mushy. This might be a problem with my cooker, not the recipe. Calls for only 8 ounces of pasta, which I can't find in stores around me and seemed like too small a quantity for all that sauce, so I used about 3/4 of a 16 ounce box. Still, a good recipe to make on a weeknight to serve the next night. (I just put the whole crock in the fridge - who needs to dirty another storage container?
Other Recipes That Entice:
* Southwestern Breakfast Strata
* Pears Poached In White Wine
* Bachelor Beef Stew
* Tempeh Chili
* Spanish Cocktail Meatballs
* Lazy Man's Stuffed Cabbage
* Mashed Sweet Potatoes With Coconut Milk and Cilantro
* Parmesan Risotto
* French Toast Casserole
* Big-batch Caramelized Onions
What I Like About This Book:
1- The recipe variety and unusual combinations - I have at least 15 recipes flagged for "must try this".
2- The results!! So far I am very pleased with my first two samplings.
3- The approach - Every recipe fits on one page and provides just enough extra information and truly helpful tips.
4- Not a lot of canned soup used everywhere
* Minus 1: VERY few purely vegetarian recipes (I really wish veg dishes would become more mainstream even though I am a meat-eater)
* Minus 2: Preparation times are not identified. Since prepping is required for most recipes, I would like to see estimated prep-times listed at the top of each recipe. Usually, it might not matter to some cooks or for certain recipes, but in the case of the bread pudding I made, the bread cubes have to toast for 40 minutes in the oven. I need a reminder of info like this, especially if cooking for company the same day.
* Minus 3: The "revolution" might be a bit overstated. In the last year or two, I had already been exposed to these "new" concepts. BTW: The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World and The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Volume II, Regional Comfort-Food Classics are both fine examples of the need to prep ingredients properly. And as another reviewer pointed out, even the instructions that come with your slow-cooker are probably already in on this revolution.
I received a black and white pre-release copy as part of the Amazon Vine Program for review. This is the second book I received for free that I will buy when it is released so that I can enjoy the full color edition. That should speak volumes about a book that I received for free, yet I am willing to (and going to) pay for.
If the terms "crock pot" or "slow cooker" make you think just of pot roast and beef stew, this book will get you interested in your slow cooker again.
In my opinion, the real revolution here is in the interesting recipes and their ingredients.
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. Jerk chicken requires some steps in the oven to char the chicken after slow-cooking, and so do some other dishes, for the most impressive results. Some dishes require 5 to 20 minutes waiting or fiddling around with after slow cooking (some dishes make you create a little foil tent while waiting), so be aware of this when planning.
There are recipes for soups, stews, braises, chilis, barbeque, pasta sauces, meatballs, meatloaves, enchiladas, tacos, casseroles, eggs, brunch, side dishes, desserts, etc. However, something like Mashed Potatoes does take 4-6 hours to cook, so you may need to plan or have more than one slow cooker.
The recipes cover a wide variety of cuisines - Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Mexican, French, etc. - so you shouldn't get bored. This book is a great addition to your slow cooker library.
This is THE ONE if you are thinking of buying a slow cooker cook book. Actually, this is much more than a cookbook. This book is completely logical, clearly written, with a well-thought-through page layout, and is visually delightful.
There is very useful information on different types of slow cookers, how to determine if your cooker works "hotter" or not from others and very simple keys to success, besides all the mouth watering recipes (200 of them!). Every page makes it worth the asking price. We got so hungry reading the recipes that we quickly made the cranberry sauce. Wow! The best sauce we have ever had and so easy!
There are 13 chapters separated into various types of foods; e.g. Pasta sauces, "on the side", soups, chilies, casseroles and even desserts. Each recipe includes why the recipe works and some kind of tip such as "smart shopping" which includes a description and picture of an ingredient. This is especially helpful to home cooks who might be unfamiliar with ingredients like curry paste--what it is, where to get it, and what to look for in purchasing it.
There are also dozens of "quick prep tips"--pictures such as trimming blade steak, shredding meat, bruising lemon grass, etc. Many recipes include a very suitable "on the side" dish. There are several full page descriptions with pictures to explain techniques developed by the authors such as making foil collars and slings when cooking some items, correctly cooking pasta, all about herbs, carving a chicken and all about chicken in the slow cooker and the most handy of all, "all about beef" which describes all the types of cuts of beef and the best use for them.
In our home, we have been huge fans of slow cookers for a long time and believe we are quite capable as cooks. We know a lot of different ingredients, terms, tips, have dozens of cookbooks etc. but, if we had to choose only one cook book to save in a disaster THIS IS THE ONE!
on September 29, 2011
Great book! I've made about ten of the recipes, and all ten have been delicious (more details to follow). Why only 4 stars?
1) You can't do the breakfast recipes unless you have a programmable slow-cooker, as most of these take only 4 hours (unless, of course, you want to get up at dawn to start the cooking).
2) Many of the recipes have a bit more prep than I'm used to with a slow cooker, and some have some finishing steps as well. Results are very yummy, though!
Here's what I've tried:
1. Homey Chicken Stew -- my least favorite, because the leftovers tasted bland, but it was delicious the day I made it. Uses basic ingredients. Potatoes & carrots are given a head-start in the microwave so they'll be tender when finished.
2. Chickpea Tagine - WOW! So many great flavors in one dish! I made a few changes: I used only one box of frozen artichokes (to cut the cost), one bell pepper instead of two (it was all I had), and used regular yogurt, which I strained to make thicker. This is a winner!
3. Chicken in a Pot -- simple and tasty -- the crockpot alernative to roasting. If you want a cooked chicken to use for other dishes, however, this is not the best recipe, because of the flavor infused by the white wine. For chicken salad, for example, it's better to roast a chicken, or poach some pieces.
4. Mape-Glazed Pork Loin -- very good flavor; you will, however, have to patiently reduce your liquid to get a thick "glaze."
5. Pork Pot Roast -- another winner. Very tender, flavorful and delicious. I just used a Boston Butt, and didn't tie it. It was fine that way.
6. White Chicken Chili - mixed results, but I think I was to blame. I was afraid to use 4 jalapenos, and only used one. I see now that this chili needs the flavor from them (if you like milder chili, use at least two. I also tried to add uncooked beans that I had soaked, instead of canned beans, thinking there was enough time. Oops! I then added more water (for the beans to absorb), and ended up with watery chili. It was much better the next day, when the beans had finally cooked through and softened. This was good spooned over tortilla chips.
7. Beginner's Pulled Pork -- very very good, and super easy. We had company for dinner, and everyone loved it.
8. Shredded Barbecued Chicken -- also easy and delicious.
9. Meatballs and Marinara -- tasted great, but was more work than I wanted. The meatballs had to be sort of pre-cooked in the microwave before they went into the crockpot. I had to do this in three batches, and it was messy.
10. Everyday Shredded Beef Filling - Another "easy prep" recipe. I served this as suggested, on a tostada, layered with refried beans, feta cheese & cilantro. Yum!
11. No Fuss Brown Rice -- turned out perfectly.
This is a hard review for me to write because I *love* America's Test Kitchen. I am a long time fan and have been very happy with every other cookbook I've bought from them - normally, their recipes are amazing.
But this cookbook is completely pointless.
The whole advatage of the slow cooker is that the food is quick to put together and "leave it to cook" while you go about your day. That is really the ONLY advantage to using a slow cooker - otherwise, you just pull out your regular pots and pans and do it the "normal" way.
This book completely does away with that whole advantage. Almost every single recipe calls for "pre-cooking" [parboiling, blooming, poaching, etc] some of the ingredients with another method [in the microwave or on the stove top or in the oven] before you put them in the slow cooker. Many of the recipes also call for "browning" the finished dishes off under the broiler at the end too. A majority of the recipes also require you to come back and add certain ingredients at certain times during the cooking process, so you would have to be constantly hovering over the slow cooker through the day.
The amount of prep work for most of the recipes is complicated too. Sometimes you have to cook one ingredient in the microwave while you parboil another ingredient on the stove and also do some special preparation for the meat so it isn't too mushy, for example... I mean, it is just a LOT of different steps that make the process of cooking dinner entirely too complicated.
Why would anyone do this? I did not find a single recipe in this book that I would try - yes, they all look delicious [and I'm confident that they ARE delicious, based on my experience with America's Test Kitchen recipes] but I could make every single one of them more easily, more quickly, and much more efficiently on the stove top or in the oven. Why would I dirty up all these other prep tools and dishes AND my slow cooker?
What is the point?
Using this book will take up more of your time, give you many more dirty dishes to wash, will take longer than any conventional recipe, and will be much more complicated than any "normal" slow cooker recipe. This cookbook is the WORST of both worlds and totally negates any advantage using a slow cooker would give you.
This one is a dud. I'm sorry to say it, but it is true.
I typically use my slow cooker once a week during the cold months. But like many, I found slow cooking to be a double-edged sword. After a quick preparation in the morning, you have a hot dinner ready to serve when you get home from work. But while slow cooked meals can be satisfying, they can't be called delicious. I've never had anything out of a slow cooker -- mine or anyone else's -- that rivals what you can eat in a restaurant. I got this book because it promised to provide the "secrets" of making slow cooked meals truly extraordinary.
The book starts out with a chapter on "Slow Cooker 101" which includes a few basic tips, then launches straight into the recipes. The "secrets" come in the form of very useful "All About" pages, which are scattered throughout the book, but are not listed in the Table of Contents. Clearly, the authors expect you to read this book like a novel, from the first page to last, gleaning useful tidbits as you go. But most people use cookbooks like dictionaries, pulling them out to look specifically for one thing or another. Everything you should know about what's unique about successful slow cooking belongs in a single chapter; finding useful information shouldn't be like going on an Easter egg hunt.
Another potentially useful feature is an ingredient review listed with several of the recipes. If you want the best vegetable or chicken broth, they steer you towards Swanson's. But many of the recommendations are specialty items, not commonly found in your average Podunk grocery stores. Which is fine for readers living in or near major cities, but there should be a national brand listed as a "next best" for everyone else.
The way recipes are presented is another annoyance. Most cookbooks list major ingredients such as meat first, and spices last. That's handy when you're deciding whether to try a recipe, and also when you're preparing your shopping list. Most also list an ingredient twice if you're supposed to use some at one point, and some at another. But here, ingredients are listed in a random order, and listed once. So if it specifies six tablespoons of sugar, and you get to the point where you need to add sugar, you need to look closely and see if you're adding all six, or just three now and three later.
So, the mechanics of the book are frustrating at best. How about the recipes? Here the authors take the traditional "fast and easy" slow cooker methodology and do a 180º. These recipes take quite a bit of preparation time, sometimes the night before (cutting meat and adding dry rubs), sometimes the morning of (frying onions, garlic, vegetables, &c), and sometimes before the meal is served (preparing sauces or gravies). If spending an hour filling your kitchen with fried food odours and then cleaning up before you head off for work sounds a bit daunting, then this book probably isn't for you.
I tried three of the recipes to see if the results would justify the extra work. The first was simple, "Mashed Potatoes": "creamy, velvety soft, and with a buttery finish". You simply cut up 3 pounds of potatoes, add 1.5 cups of water, and mash 4-6 hours later. At least in my slow cooker, the water didn't cover the potatoes, and all the potatoes that were covered mashed up wonderfully. Everything above the water line came out raw and hard. Maybe the authors assumed that everyone would know to add more water than specified, but if so, it was a very poor assumption to make. If it weren't for the crunchy bits, the result would have been pretty good.
Next came "Braised Brisket and Onions": "slightly sweet onion gravy paired perfectly with the meltingly tender brisket." Although there was some preparation involved, the results were amazing. This is far and away the best beef I've ever tasted out of a slow cooker, and well worth the effort.
Finally, "North Carolina Pulled Pork": "succulent, smoky meat, and tangy vinegar-based sauce." This required the least prep time, only a simple rub, and in the morning you just chuck everything into the slow cooker and turn it on. Boiling down the liquid at the end took a while, but no real effort. The result though was a mediocre pork that tasted strongly of the rub spices, wasn't very smoky, and utterly failed to wow my family.
I'll continue to try recipes from this book; the brisket convinced me there are some true gems to be found. But as a reference on how to best use your slow cooker, this book is less than totally useful. And unless you're prepared to invest far more time in your slow cooker than you're used to, you won't find the recipes to be very useful either.
on December 13, 2011
I read quite a few of the negative reviews before buying this book. I totally understand their complaints of doing a lot of prep on the front end. It seems they feel that Slow Cooker recipes should have very few ingredients and no real prep. I get that and respect that.
However, for us that's not an issue. We love to cook. We don't mind working in the kitchen if it means a great tasting meal... hence our extensive collection of America's Test Kitchen cookbooks. My issue has been that while I've owned a Slow Cooker for years I NEVER used it because the majority of Slow Cooker recipes out there resulted in pretty crummy food.
Thankfully I have the time in the morning to do the prep of blooming spices or precooking some vegetables in the microwave. Yes, it results in dirtying a few extra dishes (which might be dirtied in regular cooking, too) but I found that while stuff was cooking in the microwave I was able to still make progress on other parts of the recipe so no time was "wasted."
We have two middle school kids in multiple activities, I am training for a half marathon & triathlon and my husband for an Ironman. Our weeknights are CRAZY busy. This cookbook gives me a way to cook good food but to do it in the morning rather than relying on take out or really simple convenience type foods at night.
For those who want very few ingredients and no prep, this is probably not the book for you.
For those who are competent in the kitchen, like to cook but would rather do it in the morning than at night... perfect!
For moms whose lives basically explode once the kids get home from school and find cooking while helping with homework, shuttling kids around town and are basically dragging at night I strongly recommend this book.
I'm a little torn about giving this recipe book even a 4 star rating however I have to admit that at the very least, the recipes do come out great.
That said, when I seek out recipes for my Slow Cooker I'm typically looking for convenience, with the understanding that the trade off will be less then gourmet results. When I first received this cookbook (long before any comments had been posted about it), I had high expectations that the author had somehow managed to maintain the convenience factor of crockpot style cooking while also pulling off amazing end results.
In this instance, you get delicious results but the convenience factor is lacking when you take into consideration the necessary prep work often required for these recipes (quite a bit of cooking done 'outside' of the crockpot) and that the total crock pot time for many of these dishes fall short of a typical work day by 2 or 4 hours. Maybe useful if you live nearby the office and can run home on your lunch break to do all of the prep work, start dinner and make it back to the office in time - but - then you're forgoing your lunch in order to make dinner, which isn't all that convenient either.
Overall, I like the recipes... I suppose my issue is simply that I don't see the value of using a crockpot for most of them when you can get the same end results using standard methods of cooking. The crockpot actually becomes the 'inconvenience' when you consider the additional pots/pans that you've already dirtied from the prep-work (of which you can often simply use to continue cooking the entire meal in) and that traditional cooking methods for some of these recipes (oven or stovetop) would yield better timing results for already busy mom's on the go.