Bibliobites in January: Life in the Slow Lane

Just a quick reminder that we will meet this coming Friday, February 26, at 11 AM in the Fireplace Room.  This month’s assignment was to cook something you’ve never cooked before!  I hope you’ve been spending some of our chillier days staying warm in your kitchen, cooking up some challenging recipes.  I can’t wait to hear about everyone’s adventures and (possibly) misadventures!

Here is a recap of our January meeting for you to enjoy:

Our longiImage of itemsh break over the holidays gave us plenty of time to try out all sorts of recipes from this month’s selection.  Author Phyllis Good is a one-woman cottage industry with several titles under the Fix-It and Forget-It banner; and another will be published this year.  Her books have sold millions of copies and are well-reviewed by users of every description.   So expectations were fairly high, and members approached their task with gusto.

……But we were all somewhat disappointed.  The adjective that could best describe most people’s reaction to this book is “lukewarm” (or if you want to get a bit fancy, “tepid”).   Some recipes were deemed good, but there were none that drew raves.  A few were absolute flops!  Though this book is nicely designed, with a clean layout and lots of beautiful photographs, it  didn’t win any converts to slow-cooking.  Specifically, chicken thighs in a soy sauce marinade were “mealy;” arroz con pollo had overcooked rice; the turkey cutlet was tender but used too much Worcestershire sauce; the broccoli, corn, and onion gratin had undercooked vegetables (when all other components were fully done); the chicken Parm and the ribs were “stewy” and didn’t have the distinct tastes that they should, and the pastitsio was a “gluey mess.”  On the other hand, the Asian pork roast “wasn’t bad,” and the mac and cheese was “pretty good.”

A few people tried making breads and/or desserts in their cookers, again with very mixed results.  The apple cake was “excellent,” and the cranberry-almond bread was “good but not great.”  The quick apple cobbler had a wet texture more like a bread pudding, which would be fine if that’s what you liked and wanted.  The yeasted corn bread was a complete failure– it didn’t rise at all and was inedible.  It was, however, enjoyed by the raccoons when they discovered it in the compost pile!

There was also some discussion about the cookers themselves.  Good tests her recipes exclusively with Rival Crock-Pots, and some thought that these cookers run on the hot side.  I recently bought a KitchenAid slow cooker, and it cooks quite a bit more slowly than my old Crock-Pot.  Therefore, recipes in this book, particularly the baked items, may suffer if they are made in a slower slow cooker.  Also some debated the usefulness of a slow cooker in the first place.  Many of Good’s recipes cook in 4 hours or so, so you can’t really fix it and forget it for a full day.  And a dish that cooks in 4 hours in a slow cooker can probably be made in an hour or so on top of the stove or in the oven.  In thinking about the timing issue after the meeting, I realized I use my slow cooker more for time-shifting rather than all day cooking (it’s like the DVR of cooking!).  If you are often out in the hours preceding dinner (carpooling, going to a class, working a later shift), it’s convenient to prep and start dinner in the early afternoon.  Then when you arrive home at 6 PM or later, dinner’s ready.  Sometimes you do need a recipe that cooks all day, but sometimes it’s more a question of when you’re out rather than how long.  Obviously there are as many other ways around this problem as there are cooks, but a slow cooker can be a useful solution for many.

So, we were unimpressed with this title.  What, then, is a better one?  Here are two of my current favorites:

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Not Your Mother’s…. is an older title but is a good basic book.  No pictures, though!  Slow Cooker Revolution is newer and, in typical America’s Test Kitchen fashion, contains exhaustive information along with reliable recipes.  Readers, what’s your pick for a slow-cooker book?  We’d  love to post your suggestions.