Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Off The Shelf: Slow Cooker Cookbooks

I found it difficult to review slow cooker cookbooks. Perhaps it's because I have the idea in my head that slow cooker recipes should be quick and simple, almost as if by magic a healthy and delicious meal should appear on my plate with no effort at all. The fact of the matter is, all good, healthy meals do take some kind of time. If it's not the time spent just before dinner is served, it may be the time spent getting a slow cooker meal ready early in the morning or the evening before. If I can reconcile myself to investing a little bit of time in a slow cooker meal, then there are some lovely cookbooks to make use of.

The Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss was the book I chose today's recipe from. It is a relatively new book, well laid out and filled with good pictures. The book contains 80 recipes divided between soups, stews, braises, classics, vegetables and sweets. You will find some outside-the-box recipes such as Chocolate Chicken Chili Soup and Espresso Braised Beef as well as classics such as Chicken Cacciatore and Herby Minestrone.

The cookbook is definitely aimed at people who like gourmet-type recipes, made with whole foods and no shortcuts. Many of the recipes are the type I would use on the weekend, rather than for a simple weeknight meal. I chose to try the Sausage and Tomato Ragu with Pasta. We all thoroughly enjoyed this meal and will look forward to having it again sometime soon.

(Art of the Slow Cooker)
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2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 pounds mild Italian sausage, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 tsp. dried)
pinch of ground allspice (I omitted this)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 c. flour (to make gluten-free, substitute a gluten-free flour blend)
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken broth or beef broth
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce

1 pound short pasta, such as penne, ziti, or rigatoni

Heat the oil in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the sausage on all sides, about 2 minutes per side, then transfer to a 5-to-6 quart slow cooker.

Add the onions, celery and carrots to the oil remaining in the skillet and saute until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, allspice, salt, and pepper and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the flour and stir until incorporated. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the broth, crushed tomatoes, and tomato sauce and stir to incorporate, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan to blend them with the sauce. Heat to simmering and pour over the sausages. (At this point I put the ragu in the fridge for the night and place it in the slow cooker in the morning.) Cover the cooker and cook for 4 to 5 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low.

Cook the pasta in rapidly boiling, lightly salted water until tender, about 10 minutes; drain and serve with the ragu.

Serves 4-6 generously.

I also enjoyed perusing the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking: Delicious New Recipes for Slow Cookers and Braisers. As with any Williams-Sonoma cookbook, this is a high-quality, beautifully designed cookbook. The introduction covers slow-cooking basics and prepares the way for the recipes contained in the book, including giving sample meal menus. The book covers vegetables, seafood, poultry, pork, beef & lamb and basic recipes.

I would say this cookbook tends even more toward the gourmet cook with such recipes as Savoy Cabbage with Pancetta, Celery Root with Chestnuts, Braised Artichokes, Braised Dug Legs with Port and Figs, and Thai Red Curry Beef. However, there are plenty of more down-to-earth recipes like Texas-Style Beef Chili, Italian Pot Roast, Beef Stroganoff with Mushrooms, and Spanish Chicken Stew. Once again it is a book I would use for weekend cooking more than everyday.