Slow cookers are getting more and more popular, and it makes perfect sense with the family’s busy schedule.
I am reading “Cooked” by Michael Pollan — a Christmas gift from my friend Barbara Adler — and I was shocked, but not surprised, when I read that Americans spend only 27 minutes preparing any meal per day. I talked to my husband, Jim, whose mother never worked but spent many hours in the kitchen preparing meals, and if she was not doing that, she was quilting. I grew up with a mother who worked so her time in the kitchen was mostly on weekends. My sister and I cooked most of the meals during the work week.
It is wonderful, but now quite rare, to have the mother at home taking care of young children because so many go back to work after giving birth. But even if mom is at home, I wonder how much time she has to prepare a meal from scratch with all the household chores and taking care of the children.
Slow cookers were invented by Irving Naxon, inspired by his Jewish grandmother who cooked a stew called “cholent” for several hours. He created the Naxon Beanery All-Purpose Cooker, which in 1970 was sold to Crock Pot and the rest is history.
Not all slow cookers are created the same. Some run hotter than others and it is important to get to know your slow cooker and use your settings properly. Also, remember the meat and poultry must reach 140 degrees, the temperature at which bacteria cannot grow, within the two hours of cooking. It would be wise to check the temperature at the point to make sure you are safely cooking the meat. Placing frozen chicken and meat is therefore not advised as it may not reach that optimum temperature within that two hour window.
Cook’s Illustrated highly recommends the Crock-Pot 6 1/2 quart, with the All-Clad, 6 1/2 quart as second. As slow cookers all vary, they recommend getting to know your slow cooker as some run hotter than others. I used my Crock-Pot to keep chili warm during our recent Super Bowl party and even if I had it on warm, had to turn it off after half-time because it was burning at the edges.
We have always thought of using a slow cooker to make a pot roast, soup or a stew, but chicken can also be prepared in a slow cooker. Always use a low setting and remember that different cuts of chicken require various times. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts should cook for two to three hours; bone-in chicken breasts for three to fours hours; chicken thighs for four to five; drumsticks and wings for three to four hours; and ground chicken for two to three hours. So it would be difficult to have chicken for dinner if you plan to prepare it before you go to work in the morning and work eight hours.
Braised beef takes about eight hours on low setting so here’s a recipe you can prepare before going off to work in the morning.
Provencal-Style Braised Beef
In a microwaveable bowl, microwave for 5 minutes:
2 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 anchovy fillet, rinsed and minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Transfer to slow cooker.
Season with salt and pepper:
4 (8-ounce) beef blade steak, 1 inch thick
Nestle them into the slow cooker. Cover and cook until beef is tender, 8 to 9 hours on low or 5 to 6 hours on high.
When you get home, transfer the steaks to a serving dish, tent with foil to keep warm. Strain the sauce into a fat separator, let sit for 5 minutes, pour defatted sauce into bowl. Stir in:
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olive
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed.
Pour sauce over steaks. Serve.
A dessert can also be made in a slow cooker. Bread puddings will be moist and you can use stale local Portuguese sweet bread.
Bourbon Bread Pudding
Serves 8 to 10
Line slow cooker with foil collar and spray with vegetable oil spray. Whisk in a large bowl until sugar dissolves:
4 cups half-and-half
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
9 egg yolks
1/2 cup bourbon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 ounces stale Portuguese sweet bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
Let sit, pressing on bread occasionally, until bread is mostly absorbed, about 10 minutes.
Combine in a small bowl:
2/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
Transfer soaked bread mixture to prepared slow cooker, sprinkle with pecan mixture. Cover and cook until center is set, 3 to 4 hours on low. Let bread pudding cool for 20 minutes before serving.
This week’s Bamboo Hale’s country is Germany. Reservations begin at 11 a.m. and can be made by calling 934-2591. In addition, the European Standard menu will the offered.
Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question. Bon appetit until next week.