Pros: Laminated cover; conveniently small; ringed binding lies flat when opened; crowd-pleasing recipes
Cons: Different recipes call for different sized slow cookers; no conversions provided for different sizes
I'm not Inspector Gadget, but there are two things in my kitchen that I cannot do without: my steamer and my slow cooker (more commonly known by the The Rival Company's trademarked name Crock-Pot). Slow cookers have an unfortunate reputation as being outdated and limiting. Nothing could be further from the truth. I use mine for everything from soups and stocks to the most mouth-watering-dizzolve-in-your-mouth roasts possible. You can even cook desserts in them, although I've never made the attempt.
Slow cookers are usually comprised of a thin metal casing (in which reside evenly spaced heating coils) and a crockery insert. The crock enables food to be evenly heated, the result being that food won't burn. Key to cooking with one is not to raise the lid, as steam is also utilized.
As slow cookers are not as popular as they once were, finding cookbooks featuring slow cooker recipes can be a bit difficult. One of the mainstays on my bookshelf is Natalie Haughton's "The Best Slow Cooker Cookbook Ever". Curiously, the subtitle "Versatility and Inspiration for New Generation Machines" is not part of the title of this book and, to my knowledge, never has been.
"The Best Slow Cooker Cookbook Ever" (hereafter known as simply "the book") impresses immediately. The book is compact in size, and the cover is sturdy and laminated, meaning you can keep it by your stove, as spills wipe off easily. Another well thought out idea is the hidden ringed binder inside, making pages lie flat when opened. This book was designed by someone who likes to cook.
The first eight pages detail different types of slow cookers and how to best use them. This includes help on choosing the best size cooker for your needs, and two pages of cooking hints and tips, making this a perfect book for the first-time user. The Contents pages are equally well thought out; each chapter heading is followed by a brief summary, as such:
CHAPTER EIGHT: DESSERTS AND BEVERAGES
Candy Bar Cheesecake, Holiday Steamed Fruitcake, Chocolate Bread Pudding, and Hot Mulled Cider are some of the cheesecakes, fruitcakes, bread puddings, and hot drinks paired with foolproof techniques to insure success.
Each chapter begins with a two page introduction offering still more ideas and advice. An eight paged index (in uber-teeny font) closes out the book.
The recipes within (see samples at end of review) offer decent variety. Nearly all are crowd-pleasing, offering tried-and-true ideas without being too familiar. Approximately 20 different stews and chilis comprise one chapter, ranging from the traditional ("Red Bean Chili"), to the unusual ("Layered Potato, Sauerkraut, and Beef Stew"), to the exotic ("Beef Stifado" - a Greek stew with cinnamon, cumin and lemon). Similar variety can be found in all chapters.
The only section that doesn't fare as well is the collection of Appetizers. At a slim 10 recipes, it feels like an afterthought meant for completists. There's really no point in waiting 3 hours for your slow cooker to combine Velveeta mexican cheese spread and salsa ("Chili Con Queso"), when your microwave can do the same in three minutes. No intensified flavor, as often happens in dishes prepared using a slow cooker, really happens in a simple recipe like this, and its inclusion (and others in this section) somehow diminish the book.
That's a minor fault. Another is that there is no nutritional information listed for any of the recipes. This is really a must in this day and age and, as the book has gone through twenty printings since its release in 1995, an update is in order. Other than that, "The Best Slow Cooker Cookbook Ever" remains relevant, and comes highly recommended. It's a welcome addition to any slow cooker lover's bookshelf and it's a great gift for someone who's just starting out (or simply curious).
The Best Slow Cooker Cookbook Ever
Author: Natalie Haughton
218 pp; Hardcover (with ring binding)
Published Oct. 1995, Harper Collins
List Price: $17.95
Chapter One: Appetizers and Snacks
Sample recipe: Curried Cheese Dip
Chapter Two: Soups and Chowders
Sample recipe: Buffalo Wing Soup with Pasta
Chapter Three: Chilis and Stews
Sample recipe: Chinese Beef and Vegetable Stew
Chapter Four: Chicken and Turkey
Sample recipe: Chicken with Figs and Lemon
Chapter Five: Meaty Mainstays
Sample recipes (largest section of book): Ranch-Style Brisket and Beans, Slow-Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage
Chapter Six: Meatless Main Courses
Sample recipe: Vegetable Paella
Chapter Seven: Side Dishes and Condiments
Sample recipe: Green Beans, Peppers, and Tomatoes with Balsamic Vinegar and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Chapter Eight: Desserts and Beverages
Sample recipe: Turtle Pudding