on September 11, 2013
I got this book two days ago and have already tried two recipes,the Garlicky Poached Shrimp and the Fudgie Brownie Wedges. Both recipes were amazing and highlight the fact that this cookbook has much more than the typical set-and-forget braises you find in most slow cooker recipes (though there are still plenty to satisfy). I was pleased by the number of soups which look bright and fresh.
I also appreciate that America's Test Kitchen listened to the complaints from volume 1. Volume 1 recipes required a good deal of prep and took much of the convenience out of using a slow cooker. As the "easy prep" volume, all recipes require 15 minutes or less of preparation. This is very convenient and means I will be cooking from this cookbook in years to come.
Given the choice between volume 1 and 2 I would pick volume 2. It is the unequivocal winner. You will learn to use your slow cooker in creative ways and get the convenience of a slow cooker mixed with ATK's near perfect recipes.
Update (11/16/2013): Since purchasing this book, I have made 17 of the recipes contained in the book. Of those recipes only one was a recipe I will not be making again (Tortellini with Creamy Wild Mushroom Sauce). The rest of the recipes are fantastic. These recipes came from various sections including desserts, recipes for two, casseroles, and appetizers.
In response to some comments which have criticized the use of convenience products and the nutrition of some recipes, please understand that this book focuses first on flavor and second on convenience. This book is balanced in its use of convenience products (only when necessary to prevent problems that plague slow cooking) and contains a fair balance of healthy and unhealthy recipes. Though many of these recipes stray from the typical 8-10 hour stews and use shorter cooking times (3-6 hours in some cases) also note that these recipes are designed for modern slow cookers which are often programmable.
In general, I stick by my five star review. This cookbook covers a much broader range of recipe styles than most and will change the way you think about slow cooking. In this book you will find everything from comfort food to vegetarian to cooking-for-two to dessert.
Here are some of the five star recipes I have tried:
Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Farmhouse Chicken Casserole
Thanksgiving Turkey Pot Pie
Quinoa and Vegetable Stew
Hearty Vegetarian Chile
White Chocolate and Cherry Bread Pudding
In Volume 2 of America's Test Kitchens "Slow Cooker Revolution", the recipes have been chosen for easier prep as well as being the usual hearty, American-style foods most of of want to see on the table, especially in the colder months. But some of the recipes are not what you'd expect in a slow cooker, such as fish or shrimp or chicken breast dishes that take about one to two hours. The prep is fast and then there aren't too many steps--even a stir fry goes into the pot. So when would you make these? Instead of 20 minute dishes after work, you'd have to wait a couple of hours. So these would be more suited to weekends for working people, or during the day for a busy at-home person, who didn't have time to stand over a stove. In a way, I find a 2 hour slow cooker dish not something I want to make, but there are some advantages.
For example, desserts. There is a carrot cake and chocolate cheesecake. If you want a cake in summer, you have to heat up the oven and no one I know likes to turn on the oven when the air conditioning is going. But a slow cooker on the countertop can act as an oven and keep the house clean and it's energy efficient. As to ovens, there's even a roast beef, again, you could make a Sunday dinner if you like roast beef (saving some for sandwiches, perhaps, the next day) but not heat up the house.
This is not "your mother's slow cooker" book. It expands what you can do with this appliance, even poach salmon and make cheeseburgers. Don't expect an entire book of six to eight hour recipes. This is more innovative, with ideas you may never thought possible in a crockpot. If you want more recipes to use the slow cooker, this is a great book. If you are looking for cook-ahead recipes that can run all day while you are at work, I'd probably look for a different book.
on September 11, 2013
Even though there aren't many recipes I'm excited about, I find the Test Kitchen tips invaluable. Things like "rather than cook aromatics and spices on the stovetop to bloom their flavors, we simply microwaved them for a few minutes"--brilliant. And that will improve all my slow cooker dishes. I also love learning what supermarket brands won the taste tests (e.g. Chaokoh coconut milk for savory dishes and Kame for sweet ones).
The authors mention the convenience of using a slow cooker for vegetable sides or desserts in order to leave your oven open for cooking something else, and if you typically run into trouble trying to bake many things at once (I do not), then maybe this will be helpful for you.
I get that these recipes are supposed to be quick (15 minutes of prep time), but I was disappointed to see that many of the recipes use processed ingredients like condensed soups and grocery store pre-cooked rice. This is old school crockpot and very unlike the other Test Kitchen books I love.
These recipes are also not very healthy or kid friendly. I know the book wasn't marketed that way, but I expect many of you looking for a quick prep slow cooker book are working parents like me who care about healthy as well as quick. (In this book, you can even see oil floating on top of most of the soups and stews, yuck.) Very heavy on heavily-spiced Mexican and Italian dishes; very light on vegetable dishes and vegetables in other dishes.
A lot of these aren't typical slow cooker recipes--but maybe that's because the cooking times are inconvenient. To wit, the general times are
Too long for: appetizers (2 hours--can't throw this in when you get home from work and have it ready before people come over dinner), fish (1-2 hours, when you could otherwise cook it in less than 1/2 hour), pasta (3-4 hours--when you could boil it in 15 minutes), dessert (3-4 hours when you could bake it in one and have it ready right after dinner)
Too short for: soups, chicken, casseroles, veggie dishes (between 2 and 5 hours--can't make these ahead in the morning)
... so the recipes will work fine for the weekend--except that that's not when I need quick prep or a slow cooker. And what you have left is some beef and pork, and fewer than 10 other recipes which will conveniently cook in 8-9 hours or less than one.
on October 3, 2013
I'm going to start this review with a disclaimer - I may not be the intended target audience of this book so that could be coloring my review.
Here's the deal, I love Cooks Illustrated and often purchase their books. I know they'll give me helpful tips and tricks and I can pretty much count on any recipe coming from them to be at worst, edible, to at best, fantastic. My husband and I are busy 9 -5'ers but it's really important to me that I cook and we eat dinner together most nights - which basically means I cook dinner 5 to 6 nights a week...although I don't do dishes :P
So with that being said, I'm always on the hunt for good recipes that aren't super insane schedule wise (i.e. 2 hrs of prep + 1 - 2 hrs of cooking) but I also don't mind doing a bit of prep work beforehand (30 - 45 min). I was a huge, HUGE fan of their first volume of slow cooker recipes - blooming vegetables and spices, using tapioca, making foil slings/collars = genius! The only thing I wished for the first volume is that it focused less on soups/stews and on more atypical sort of one dish mains and things of that nature. I still cook from that first volume.
When I saw they had a second volume I snapped it up. Ok, I get it, sometimes you definitely just want a dump and go recipe, especially when time is at a premium but I just don't know when I'll actually USE the majority of these recipes? Most of the recipes cook times range from 2.5 - 6 hours. Which means if I start it at 8 am before I leave for work, it'll be done cook at 2pm and then held on warm until 6 or 7? Most recipes do not take well to being kept on warm for that long. Don't get me wrong, they do have some longer cooking recipes but they're few and far between. And why would I get home from work at 6 to start a slow cooker meal and then have to wait until 9 or 10 for it to be done? At that point I'd just pull out a skillet or baking dish and go to town.
I guess I could use it on the weekends or for special occasions when I need an oven free but I just don't see myself using this book that much other than that. On the weekend is usually when I have the time to be a bit fancier and make food that actually requires a bit more prep. But that's actually going to take more planning on my part on the weekends, which I try to reserve for relaxing family time. So while my family's out having fun, I'm going to start a slow cooker and then go meet them knowing we're on a bit of a time frame?
The recipes themselves look like the standard CI fare - nothing earth shattering but just good food that you know will satisfy. And I'm sure they are a lot of people out there that appreciate the use of easy add and go convenience products. I still love the helpful tips sprinkled through if I'm ever adapting a recipe for the slow cooker myself.
Here's the audience I think would get the most use out of it:
- A stay at home parent
- People who work from home
- People who work part time
- People who have set nightly activities (i.e. if you get home from work at 5 and have to be at soccer at 6, you could throw in one of the shorter recipes and have it ready for when you got home at 8 or 9).
Unfortunately none of those really apply to me on a regular basis currently. Which is what led to my 3 star review. I think it'd be good for others (see target audience above) but unfortunately doesn't quite work for me and I probably won't use it that much.
As an aside though, if CI ever wants to release a Slow Cooker Holiday/Entertaining Version (Mains, Grains, Starches, Veggies and Desserts I'd be all over that!)
on December 8, 2013
The "Revolution" of the first book was tested recipes that used REAL FOOD. Like other reviewers, I was disappointed by the number of recipes in this book calling for high-sodium processed foods like canned enchilada sauce, condensed soup, and taco seasoning packets. When I checked my impression by searching for the word "condensed", it did turn up in only 8 or 9 recipes. But those are recipes that I will never try.
Since one of the things ATK's research revealed in the first book is that most of the healthier, low-fat cuts of meat are ruined by spending more then 4 hours in a slow-cooker, I've confined most of my slow-cooking to weekends -- there aren't any weeknights when I can spend 15 minutes in my kitchen 3 or 4 hours before dinner time.
I've already bookmarked over 16 soups, stews and curries to try. There are also some very clever ideas, and combinations I haven't seen before that I want to try. I'm a little skeptical of using an aluminum foil sling in a tomato sauce braise...but I'm going to trust America's Test Kitchen and give their Italian meatloaf recipe a try.
About half of the recipes are cooked with potatoes, or suggest serving over noodles or rice. I would have appreciated some suggestions or guidance on vegetable side-dishes to make a complete meal.
The table of contents, indexing, and hyperlinking in this books seems better than in previous ATK cookbooks or most of the other cookbooks I've bought in Kindle editions. I love having the Kindle edition of cookbooks so I can double-check the ingredients in a recipe before I go into the grocery store, and ATK seems to be improving their use of this technology. If I could give them and extra half star for that effort, I would.
on October 15, 2014
If you tasted my cooking after using this book you'd think I'd been cooking for years. It's a good book for a beginner slow cooker since it not only gives the recipe but the "why."
- everything I've made from this book is tasty
- very little prep times
- very guy friendly
- large variety of dishes. I am trying vegetarian dishes that I normally would not eat, and they taste good.
- easy to understand
- I haven't had an issue finding any of the ingredients yet from my local supermarket
- extremely helpful explanations of why each recipe will work in a slow cooker. This knowledge can be transferred over to other dishes that are not in this book.
- helps me save money by purchasing food from the grocery store and making several days worth of meals
- some of the recipes are 4-5 hours. It's better to have 8+ hour recipes since most of us have the slow cooker to use while at work. Most people work well over 5 hours. Some of us over 10. So there is no way to cook some of these dishes during work...it'll be on the warm setting for several hours. I'm not sure how safe that is but I don't want to find out. It's the only con but it's a big one. As a work around I will make some of them on my day off, but nothing beats setting the slow cooker at night and waking up to a scrumptious smelling dish in the kitchen - 8 hours later.
I would say that about 95 percent of the recipes in this cookbook are of no use to me. The biggest reason is the brief cooking time -- most recipes are finished in under 5 hours, sometimes just 2 to 3 hours. I need all-day recipes that can withstand 8-10 hours of cook time.
In addition, the vast majority rely on precooking something in the microwave. I hate babysitting a microwave. I can see why they do it. Most of the precooking is to aromatics such as onions and garlic, which is supposed to enhance the flavor of the recipes. Crockpot cooking can be bland. If I try one of these recipes, I'll just cook the onions in a skillet. But I guarantee I won't try recipes like the roasts and stews, where you have to constantly check the internal temperature of the meat, or try to chop meat into smaller bits while it is in the slow cooker. Crockpot cooking is supposed to simplify your life. The editors' claim that these recipes take only 15 minutes of prep time doesn't hold up when you add more prep time throughout and after the cook time.
Another thing that doesn't work for me is the reliance on unhealthy ingredients such as condensed soups and cheese. I am maintaining a weight loss and will not cook with these ingredients. And, many of these recipes create a lot of dishes and bowls to be washed, because of the microwave step.
Beyond that, all I can say is... why use a crockpot for desserts? I wouldn't make any of these desserts -- cheesecake, creme brulee, brownies, etc. Brownies are the simplest thing on the planet. Why draw it out for a few hours? The same goes for the appetizers... dips? A slow cooker is just complicating matters. Especially when I see directions for making foil racks, collars and slings (more prep time!). Just turn on your oven, for Pete's sake!
The one thing that makes this book worthwhile is the "Smart Shopping" section, where, as always, America's Test Kitchen rates name brand products. But, overall, my take on this book is that if this is a revolution, let's go back to the status quo.
on November 29, 2014
I bought this book with reservations, I read the reviews and was worried that there would be issues due to the amount of 'pre made' components. So yes there is discussion of sauces etc you can buy to use to make a dish, but these don't seem mandatory to me. There is discussion of sauces you can buy, if you don't want to do this then you can always make a similar one. The recipes are clear and easy to follow and there is a discussion with each that plans why the recipe works. Also if you read the start of the hook there is explanation about why some decisions have been made (such as splitting and curdling with cream sauces). It's not a perfect book, there are limited recipes in some sections and quite a few similar ones, but it's an interesting read and the recipes work
on February 23, 2015
I love this cook book. I am fan of the slow cooker, but all of the recipe books I had found before produced bland meals. You know the kind, everything tastes more or less the same, everything is a little overly soft... in short, not appetizing at all. Here, while it's true there are a fair number of soups and stews (hey, who doesn't like a good stew!), there's also a wider variety including, pork loin, steaks, whole chickens, and BBQ ribs (which I made last night for the first time and were excellent). Truth be told, I gravitate toward the stews since I find them diverse and flavorful. Plus they freeze well, making them perfect for lunch at work. To date I've made roughly 25 of the recipes and still have another 10 or so that I want to try. With the exception of one, results have all been excellent. I also appreciate the authors' efforts to shorten prep time by microwaving onions and seasoning. You could probably do this over the stove just as easily and quickly, but I appreciate the tip and not having to clean a pan.
I've read the complaints that the recipes are unhealthy or use processed ingredients. I don't find this to be the case at all. If a recipe calls for something I am not a fan of, I simply select a replacement (e.g., cook my own rice instead of using precooked, soak my own beans instead of using canned, make my own broth instead of store bought). I don't view those substitutions as a failure of the recipe, but rather simply one of choice and convenience. And these recipes are so well composed, that even my fiddling with substitutions doesn't change the excellent outcome.
With each recipe, ATK explains why it works and includes product reviews, which is an added bonus that improves my skills in the kitchen and makes the chore of shopping a little less onerous. Enough of a fan, that I bought another cookbook in the series. An easy 5 stars.
on December 19, 2013
Let me start by saying that I am a HUGE fan of Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen. I'm a long-time subscriber to the magazine and have been watching the TV show since it began 14 years ago. I have many of their cookbooks, including the first "Slow Cooker Revolution", and have always been happy with how the recipes turned out. So when I saw that this second volume was being published, I pre-ordered it. Now I wish I had waited until people started posting reviews; I probably would not have bought it.
There are some do-able recipes here, but I don't like that a lot of the recipes are calling for processed convenience food items such as canned condensed soups, jarred Alfredo sauce, and pre-cooked Minute rice. My husband is allergic to some chemical in those canned soups, and has problems with other food additives, as well, so I have to be careful as to what ingredients I use. Canned tomatoes and beans are not a problem, though. I was really surprised to see all of this processed food crap in an ATK book, as I have never seen them cook with this stuff in the magazine or on their TV shows. It got to the point where I was surprised not to see Velveeta as in ingredient in lieu of real cheese. (I have seen this in other slow-cooker books). As for pre-cooked Minute rice, yeah, I want to spend 4X as much as real rice for a product that has all of the flavor of a roll of toilet paper. I don't know what their tasters were smoking that day, but Minute rice processes all the flavor out of what once was perfectly good rice. No thank you!
They claim in the book that using canned creamy soups and jarred Alfredo sauces are the "only" way to cook a creamy dish in a slow cooker without having the cream break down. Maybe so, but to me, this means that some things just aren't meant to be cooked this way. If they can't be done without processed crap, they are not worth doing. Sometimes it's just better to cook this stuff on the stovetop or in the oven.
Nice try, ATK, to try to create a slow cooker book that had minimal prep time. And I'm sure that people who don't mind using those sodium and chemical laden condensed soups and sauces will appreciate this book. But it's just not for me, and I wanted to add my voice to the others who have said the same things about this book.