Slow-Cooker Cookbook Round-Up
Amazon.comThere are many slow-cooker cookbooks on the market -- perhaps more than there are dedicated to any other single appliance -- but many are really just stew cookbooks, slightly edited to accommodate the cooker. What makes a slow-cooker cookbook good? (1) Lots of recipes, since you already know how to make a basic beef stew and inspiration can sometimes run low. (2) A little extra care in the liquids department and an understanding of the variables that make a stew thick, thin, runny, or creamy: You can't make textural fixes at the end without going over to the stove, which negates the whole point of cooking with a slow cooker.
In truth, you don't really need a cookbook to get good use out of a slow cooker, if you understand slow-cooker technique. But that doesn't make it less enjoyable to browse through one...or seven or eight:
The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from around the World, by Lynn Alley (10 Speed, $19.99)
A slender, eclectic book organized by ethnicity. You wouldn't expect to find Curried Chickpeas with Fresh Ginger and Cilantro in the same book as Sopa de Ajo, Japanese-Style Braised Tofu, and Polenta Lasagna. Nevertheless, the recipes show every sign of being consistently well-conceived and carefully constructed.
Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking, Stephanie O'Dea (Hyperion, $19.99), and More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow (Hyperion, $18.99)
Minimalist, bestselling recipes from the author of the popular crockpot365 blog -- and many that go outside the traditional braises, stews, and soup--baked goods, desserts, even soap and air freshener! For the most part, they're of the dump-it-all-in-the-pot variety. O'Dea can't resist using the slow cooker for odd jobs, sometimes when it's not even the best tool for the purpose (does a coffee drink really benefit from 2 hours of cooking?) The sequel is smaller, but more focused.
Betty Crocker The Big Book of Slow Cooker, Casseroles, and More (Wiley, $19.95)
Yes, that's the title -- not a misprint -- but let's not get worked up about plural agreement. If you're looking for a slow-cooker book, this one will be a bit confusing, since the slow cooker recipes are scattered throughout the book. It makes an attractive package with easy recipes, but with its heavy reliance on packaged and processed ingredients, this is ultimately more an assembly-book than a cookbook.
Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes: 120 Holiday and Everyday Dishes Made Easy, by Laura Frankel (Wiley, $24.95)
For as long as the slow cooker has existed, observant Jews have turned to it to take over the Shabbat cooking. This collection of mainly Mediterranean recipes includes shabbat favorites like cholent and the Moroccan dafina, and leans heavily on savory flavors like mushroom and tomatoes.
Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever, by Diane Phillips (Chronicle, $24.95)
Is it really the best slow cooker cookbook ever? I can't be sure, but it's certainly one of the biggest. With over 400 recipes, Phillips' book is reassuringly diverse. It's a cook's book, clearly, with simple but effective techniques for improving flavor and texture (browning, pastes, thickeners -- and unlike most slow-cooker books I've seen, this one reminds you to salt at the appropriate time. That's a vital step in slow cooking, and one generally overlooked.
Slow Cooker Winners: 300 Easy and Satisfying Recipes, by Donna-Marie Pye (Robert Rose $24.95)
A mixture of the retro and freewheeling (e.g., "Bollywood Chicken loaf with Chutney Glaze"), this ample compendium is a well-illustrated grab bag. Pye likes to evoke a given country's cuisines with a few ingredients -- chiles and salsa for Mexican, say, Thai basil and hoisin sauce for Vietnamese. Sticklers for authenticity will blanch at these shortcut gestures, some of which work spectacularly; other recipes just get the job done in a hearty but uninspired fashion.
Slow Cooker Revolution (America's Test Kitchen, $26.95)
The folks at Cooks Illustrated are a godsend for the sort of cook who constantly asks "But why?" As in why should I splash in vinegar at the last minute? Why do I have to put this chicken in a foil packet? Why would I want mustard seeds in my chili? Extra tips, essays on technique, and honest photographs make this a better-than-average resource. The recipes are a mix: basic versions of slow-cooked formulae from around the world, and rustic oldies (corned beef hash, green bean casserole).
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