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 12, 2011
I wanted to give this 3 1/2 stars, but since I can't go halfway, it gets three from me.
I wanted to get back to slow cooker recipes thanks to the insanity of some of our afternoons and evenings, with varying degrees of kid activities. I am a stay at home mom, so the 4-6 hour cook time for many of the recipes (and ALL of the chicken recipes are 4-6 hours) didn't bother me too much. Ultimately, though, it seems that it would be easier to just cook my regular recipes early and warm it sufficiently when it's time to eat. There are, however, gems that make this cookbook worth considering.
Ingredients: I liked the fact that the book didn't have a wealth of recipes relying on processed "cream of _____" soup. What I had more trouble with was finding some of the ingredients in a regular grocery store, and I live in a major city. Garam Masala? I ended up having to make my own, after trips to different stores and a lot of frustration. For the pulled barbeque recipes, I can say that nowhere, in several grocery stores, did I find a boneless pork butt roast. I could find bone-in ones, and that cut was typically at least $15 (more than I want to spend feeding 4 people). I substituted another cut of meat. Generally, many recipes were quite expensive (the rubs for some of the BBQ recipes call for 1/4 cup of sweet paprika), and I could honestly make something similar, more quickly, and that tasted just as good or better for less money. Additionally, it seemed that the hints and tips for some of the ingredients (which dry white wine worked best, for example) were hidden away on other pages without reference. As another reviewer said, the expectation was that you'd read the entire book cover to cover before making anything. However, that's not how most people use cookbooks.
Taste of the recipes: There were some gems and there were some lumps of coal. I loved the creamy tomato soup and Nutella bread pudding. The beginner's pulled pork was tasty and fed a crowd very well. The white chicken chili was delicious. The curry recipe that I tried was okay, but didn't live up to expectations. I didn't care for the texture of the meat in recipes that called for a panade to keep the ground meat moist, and this occurs in quite a few recipes (a panade is whole milk and bread mashed into a paste and then worked into ground meat). I haven't liked any of the 3 pasta sauce recipes that I've tried. The cranberry sauce was very disappointing, made too big of a batch (unless you were feeding 30 people), and was honestly unnecessary, considering how quickly cranberry sauce can be made on the stove, and with better results. One of the bigger disappointments was the French Onion Soup, which ended up too thick and rich (Apple butter? In French Onion soup? Seriously?) for what French Onion Soup should taste like.
Size of the recipes: Most recipes were huge, feeding 6-8 people. That might appeal to some, particularly those who like to freeze leftovers for another day. We just aren't one of those families. So for most recipes (really, do I need enough pasta sauce to coat 3 lbs of pasta?), the size was a drawback for us. I think this book would have been better if it could have provided some guidance on scaling recipes down for use in the smaller slow cookers (different cook time? liquid adjustments?).
Preparation: What to say about preparation needed for the recipes? Yes, it's more than you might think, especially when that prep comes at the end (not having to do anything at the end is the whole reason I want to use a slow cooker!). However, I have seen worse. I will say that they do attempt to overcome this with many recipes being labeled as "Easy Prep", and utilizing a microwave to soften and blend aromatics. There are some tricks, such as using a food processor to mince your garlic and onions (pulse only for the onions!!).
I did like many aspects of how the cookbook was laid out. I liked the "Why it works" explanations, as well as the hints on things like foil collars (never really thought about where the heating element was located and how that would affect a recipe!). Ultimately, though, I rate a cookbook on how many recipes I will or won't make again, as well as how many recipes look good on paper, only to fall flat when served. Hence the 3 star rating.
on September 8, 2011
I should have realized from the cover photograph that this cookbook is NOT a slow cooker foods cookbook, but rather a cookbook of foods whose recipes have been altered to work in a slow cooker. Personally, I was hoping for a cookbook that was a book of the best recipes actually for slow cookers and not 'how to make lasagna in your slow cooker.' There isn't anything necessarily wrong with the cookbook, and I'm sure over the years I'll find particular recipes I really enjoy making, but overall I was hoping that America's Test Kitchen had found the very best version of all the meals particularly suited to a slow cooker.
There are some up-sides to this cookbook, however. For instance there are a ton of great recipes for side salads, advice on how to purchase the correct cuts of meat (and alternative names so if your butcher doesn't know what the cut is you have a better chance of figuring it out), great photos and a very diverse offering of recipe choices. I just wasn't really excited about having directions that called for microwaving vegetables and things prior to using them in the recipe. I guess I'm a little more traditional in my kitchen.
I recommend Lynn Alley's The Gourmet Slow Cooker to anyone who is looking for great meals that are "supposed" to be made in a slow cooker.
There isn't anything new or revolutionary about this cookbook or the recipes. First of all, there's nothing new about sauteing or microwaving aromatics before adding them to the slow cooker or making lasagna, or using foil packets in the slow cooker, etc. Most of the these things are usually in the user guide that comes with the slow cooker. They're even in my Rival Crockpot cookbook which is over 5 years old. So I'm not sure what drastic changes that have been made to revolutionize slow cooking. This is just another slow cooker cookbook. It's okay, but if I was looking at it in the bookstore, I wouldn't purchase it because it isn't offering anything more than the ones I already own.
Since I have the book, I made a couple of the recipes and they were good. I made a scaled down version of the Thai-Style Chicken Soup in my 4 quart slow cooker, and the Asian Ribs in my 6 quart slow cooker. The soup had enough fish sauce for me with the first addition, so I didn't add it at the end. The Asian Ribs were good, but I would recommend low sodium soy sauce or if you use regular soy sauce, omit the salt in the recipe.
The recipes in the book are 6-8 servings. I don't see it mentioned in the book, but you'll need a 5 quart or larger slow cooker to accommodate the recipes.
A much better slow cooker cookbook is Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger.
on January 1, 2014
The pros: no canned soups or weird processed foods, which is how I prefer to cook. I've made a few recipes (Beef & Barley Soup) and the Turkey Lime Chili. Usually, ATK recipes are fool-proof, but I had to tweak both of these a bit (which I blogged about).
The cons: If you are looking for crockpot recipes that takes 5 minutes to open cans and throw it and race off to work-- this isnt it.
Solution: I make the crockpot recipes the night before, as there can be some searing involved. Since my slow cooker has a removable insert, I put the recipe in the fride (once all the prep work is done). Right before leaving for work, I remove the dish, put it into the slowcooker and turn it on. Dinner is ready.
Bottom line: I don't like to cook with processed foods, so I accept that scratch cooking always takes a bit more time. I like the slowcooker for slow braising less expensive cuts of meats, that do well over long periods of cooking time.
on March 16, 2013
Loved the idea of throwing a bunch of stuff into a crockpot and just letting it go. Thought this would give me some good recipes like that but it doesn't. With most of the recipes, there is some prep work to do, such as browning on stovetop before and sauteing veggies/herbs. If you have the time to do it ahead, like the night before, then the food is really yummy. But if you want to dump and go, this isn't the book for you.
on January 21, 2013
Slow Cooker Revolution is a good cookbook, and I definitely recommend it if you have a slow cooker or are interested in getting one. To be realistic, however, it's not quite as good as Cook's best work (e.g., The New Best Recipe, The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook). It's true that the recipes require more work than typical slow cooker recipes. Anyone who is familiar with Cook's Illustrated won't be surprised by this, and it's not a fair criticism. If you're idea of cooking is to put a hunk of raw meat into a pot along with a can of cream of mushroom soup, this isn't your cookbook. Some of the recipes are excellent (e.g., the braised brisket). Others are good but could use some tweaking (e.g., bbq baby back ribs; they tasted great but fell apart when I tried to move them from the slow cooker to a baking sheet to brown). My complaint is that some of the recipes in this cookbook just aren't very good relative to Cook's usual standard. The ground turkey taco filling was pretty bad and making a better version in a skillet would have been quicker and easier. So overall, the cookbook is well worth getting and experimenting with; you will probably learn to some tricks and some recipes that you like. But I wouldn't quite call it a "revolution."
on June 28, 2014
I'm not particularly reviewing this cookbook which is top shelf — precisely what one would expect from America's Test Kitchen. I'm reviewing the person who bought this cookbook naively expecting magic. The reason why I have two slow cookers is because I'm trying to free myself from the labors of cooking. I want something as convenient as fast food but nutritionally superior. I want to throw some natural ingredients in the pot in less than 20 minutes, turn it on and let dinner cook itself. After the book arrived, I studied the recipes and couldn't believe what I was reading. For most, there's more work involved at both the front end and serving end than I spend cooking a traditional meal on the stove or in the oven. Yeah, it's nutritious and tastes gourmet but at what personal price?
I don't know about you but after decades of being responsible 24/7 for healthy, nutritious meals for my self and family, I'm worn out. I love my crock pot because it gives me a small break from the never-ending cycle of feeding responsibility, cutting my work in the kitchen by half or more. Throw it in the pot, you're done. This cookbook is scrumptious but Cooking for Dummies it's not. Moral: Consider your goals before your taste buds. The book gets 5 stars, I get one.
on November 23, 2013
Great reading cookbook, but soon started to realize is that the recipes are many many prep steps for slow-cooker. Their second book is more to the kind I have been downloading from amazon. Real slow-cooker preparations and variety. But have to admit, there is only so many recipes for cooking this way. Bought both books in paper back this time. Nice size for reading. Little tid bits at bottom of pages are very interesting. Will use this book for weekend or those 'don't have anything else to do days' when I have the time to devote to long number of steps getting into cooking pot.
on March 29, 2011
Okay, I am just going to get it out in the open before I say anything else. I have not actually made one recipe in this book. The recipes look delicious and as other reviewers have mentioned there is some prep work involved which I am okay with. My problem with the book is that I consider a good slow cooker recipe to be something that I can start before I leave for work in the morning and eat when I get home. The majority of these recipes cook for 4-6 hours, so let's do the math. I prep my food and start the slow cooker at 7:00 am when I leave for work in the morning, the foods cooks for four hours which would be until around 11:00 am, and then sits on warm until I get home from work at 6:00 pm. That is a cook time of four hours and sitting on warm for seven hours. I just worry that food sitting on warm for that amount of time is not going to turn out quite right. So then I thought well I could use the recipes in the slow cooker on the weekends but that defeats the purpose of my original thought of using the slow cooker to have a delicious home cooked meal waiting for me when I get home from work. As a side note, most of the recipes are "real" recipes that looks like they just changed the cooking times to adjust from using the oven to using the slow cooker.