Slow Cooker Smoked Turkey and Noodle Soup Image by: Slow Cooker Smoked Turkey and Noodle Soup
CL: Do you have advice for someone who's new to slow cookers?
EB: Slow cookers are one of the easiest appliances to use: There's just the lid, the stoneware insert and the housing. A slow cooker only uses as much electricity as a 100 watt bulb, which is why it's such a fabulous thing. You can put it on, go out to a movie and come back to a hot meal.
For someone that's new to them, there's no big inititation period – you can leap right in. There are no special techniques necessary to get going.
CL: Can any recipe work in a slow cooker?
EB: If you're changing a favourite recipe to a slow cooker version, you will need to cut the liquid down by about half, because there's very little evaporation in slow cooking.
This means you don’t necessarily get the same flavour concentrations that you might have from other cooking techniques, so you might want to work with juices or stocks – something that's got a little more flavour than water. A little wine, a bit of cider, or a little bit of beer – that will give you a nice flavour.
CL: I have a huge slow cooker, but I live alone. What recipes do you recommend that freeze well?
EB: A lot of slow cookers are coming in a larger size; some hold as much as 7 or 8 quarts. The kinds of things that work well for the freezer are stews, curries, and pulled pork recipes. There are beautiful beef Short Ribs with Mushrooms and Red Wine Sauce that freeze very well.
A reader told me she had made the pulled pork and that made one dinner for her family, one dinner for the freezer and then a couple of lunches for her teenage sons. That's exactly the kind of thing you want to use your slow cooker for.
CL: What's one of the simplest slow cooker recipes for someone who never remembers to organize 12 hours in advance?
EB: Most of the slow cooker recipes now cook in a lot less time than 12 hours. Generally speaking, chicken takes about four hours, so it's a good choice for a person who is short on time. Both Saucy Mushroom Chicken and Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic take 4 hours.
Beef recipes take longer; more likely around 5 to 6 hours. If you don't have a lot of time, there are soups that take less time and some of them are quite hearty.
The other thing that's really fast is fish. Salmon, or any other white fish, takes about an hour and a half to cook. We have one salmon recipe in my cookbook - Canadian Living: The New Slow Cooker Collection, and it's a great, fuss-free recipe that's very nice if you're entertaining.
CL: What are some surprising things you can make in a slow cooker (besides soups and stews)?
EB: Slow cooking's not just about soups, stews and pot roasts!
You can make hot drinks, like Red Cranberry Mulled Wine, or you can make various kinds of dips, like the White Bean and Garlic Spread. You can even make desserts, some of which only take 2 hours.
There are also fondues and that sort of thing that you can make that are lots of fun when friends are over. If you're going to be entertaining, there's a lovely brisket that you rub and marinade overnight, and is more of a special occasion thing.
CL: Why should we brown meat before putting into the slow cooker?
EB: You can just put everything in the slow cooker, but I think you'd be robbing yourself of an essential experience. When you brown meat first, there's a reaction between the protein and the carbohydrates, called the Maillard reaction. This reaction creates a wonderful flavour that you get in the edge of a steak or in a really good broth.
While not every recipe in the cookbook calls for browning, a lot of them do and it's recommended because of how much better the dish will taste.
We also often soften the vegetables before putting them into the slow cooker because they will become more mellow and give up their flavour. Interestingly enough, some root vegetables take longer to cook than meat.
CL: I've heard we shouldn't peek at the food while cooking. Will it really affect the end result?
EB: Everytime you peek it takes 20 minutes to compensate. You have to peek every once in awhile – to turn a pot roast over, or to rearrange and give a quick stir – but it's not recommended that you dilly-dally with the lid off.