Going to pot…slowly

The slow-cooker is back, judging from the number of new-wave books out there using the appliance. I’m IMG_2920always surprised to meet people who don’t have one, because mine has saved many busy, stressed-out days. Toss things into it, add some seasoning and turn it on. Six to eight hours later, with no further involvement on your part, you have dinner. It’s like your mother snuck into the kitchen, made dinner, and left without commenting on the state of your house, your children or your job prospects.

Even minimalist cooks can bring something tasty out of a slow cooker – it turns sliced potatoes, chuck roast, generous shakes of chili powder and a coating of bottled barbecue sauce into a quite acceptable dinner. One thing to remember when using a slow cooker is that, because of the long cooking time, you will need more seasoning for flavor. And vegetables like potatoes take longer to get tender than meat, so put them on the bottom of the pot, where it’s hotter.

Author Kendra Bailey Morris draws on her childhood in West Virginia and her years in Richmond, Va. for her new book, “The Southern Slow-Cooker: Big-Flavor, Low-Fuss Recipes for Comfort Food Classics” (Ten Speed Press, $19.99).  One interesting twist in this book is that several of the recipes come with cocktail pairings – now that’s something you never saw in your Mama’s slow-cooker cookbook.

The recipes range from simple combinations to ones that require a little prep work before hitting the pot. But those show that a little effort pays off in raising the level of flavor above what you’d expect from a slow-cooker meal. Dr. Pepper Sorghum Roasted Ham rings so many Southern holiday bells: it has ham, uses a soft drink for cooking and includes sorghum. Until recently, sorghum wasn’t widely available, but now it’s regaining its place in today’s Southern cooking. Sorghum is made from sorghum cane, not sugar cane, and is lighter in flavor than its cousin molasses. Sorghum shows up again in Orange Sorghum Sweet Potatoes with Cornflake Topping, which would be a great new dish for Thanksgiving (and a low-effort dish, thanks to the slow-cooker).

Recipes range from breakfast to dessert. There’s corn pudding, buttermilk chocolate cake and even the slow-cooker apple butter recipe that I’ve heard tell of and long wanted to try. There’s a lot in this book for fans of Southern flavors to love…slowly.

IMG_2921Kathy Hester’s “Vegan Slow Cooking For Two or Just For You” (Fair Winds Press, $19.99) aims at one drawback of slow cookers: they prepare enough food for a horde. No matter how much you like your spouse’s bean chili, you don’t enjoy eating it five days in a row. Hester, who lives in Durham, created recipes using 1 1/2- to 2-quart slow cookers, because with the larger cookers, the cooking quality changes if you don’t fill them up enough.

Hester’s earlier book, “The Vegan Slow Cooker,” used the large-size cookers, but most recipes in “Vegan Slow Cooking for Two or Just for You” are new. As with the previous book, each recipe includes options to make them gluten-free, oil-free or soy-free.

Recipes go from breakfast to dessert and snack time (including a decadent hot chocolate). Hester has a great way of making vegan dishes exotic and intriguing. I will say upfront that there is no chance of me becoming vegan anytime soon, but the Creamy Veggie Curry, using a plethora of Indian spices, is tempting no matter what one’s dietary philosophy. And Corn and Basil Risotto might tempt the most ardent carnivore.

Food news roundup

Today’s News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) offers ways to think more creatively about the old slow-cooker. One author calls it “an Easy-bake oven for grownups.” The ideas sure are creative. Directions for smoking brisket in a slow-cooker sound doable. But to prepare creme brulee in the pot, you have to find a heat-resistant dish that will fit inside. And to make lasagna, you have to, basically, cook everything first. For me, the appeal of the slow-cooker is that I can toss things in it on a busy day and dinner comes out. But see if these ideas percolate with you.

The article is in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer as well, along with Kathleen Purvis’ plea for us all to relax about meal planning. Her no-stress ideas are here.

Because my friend Martha is a gigantic Avett Brothers fan, I have to mention “Lunch with Joe Kwon” in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.). He’s the one who’s not an Avett brother, with the cello and the food blog. Read more here.

The Salisbury (N.C.) Post explores the role genetics play in nutrition and weight. It’s like I’ve always said: I picked the wrong parents. Find your excuse here.

So, you have a blog and think you can be the next publishing sensation? It’s not as easy as “Julie and Julia” makes it look, so says the Austin American-Statesman, here.

I know it’s the day after Fat Tuesday and we’re supposed to be showing restraint, but that was before I hard of paczki. According to the Detroit News, they’re Polish doughnuts that are to Detroit what king cake is to New Orleans. Read more here.

Well, well – a trend that we had before the Left Coast. The San Francisco Chronicle says that fried pickles are popping up around the city. Read more here.

No green beer. Think authentic Irish when planning your St. Patrick’s Day meal this year. There are some ideas in the Kansas City Star, here.

Guy Fieri will have to find another way to pick up that takeout. His $200,000 Lamborghini (chrome yellow) was stolen in San Francisco, so says Eater.com. Must…fight…urge…to…snark…

 

Food news roundup

Great cooking runs in the family for Mildred Council, the founder of Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill, N.C. The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) has an article on food projects by her daughter and granddaughter here. Mama Dip’s has been offering fried chicken, fried green tomato biscuits and greens for 34 years.

Part-time carnivores, flexitarians – whatever you want to call them, more people are going meatless…sometimes. The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer says that eating habits aren’t either-or anymore. Reasons for occasional vegetarians include health and finances. Read more here. The article is also in The News & Observer.

Stop the presses – or the bytes, since we’re on the Internet here. Hot news from the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.): We’re drinking more wine. Well, you have to do something if you’re eating less meat. Read more here.

Being frugal didn’t start with the current recession. Food cultures all over the world have ways to use leftovers, and fried rice is a big one. The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal has tips on making the dish here. One secret: Don’t use freshly made rice.

I often sigh in relief when I remember, at the prospect of a busy day, that I have my slow-cooker. JanNorris.com has a great-sounding recipe for chicken with artichokes.

Root vegetable gratin anyone? LeitesCulinaria has your cheesy needs. I’m drawn to photographs of anything covered in crusty, browned, drippy cheese. The dairy-allergic Hub means I am so deprived. Drool.

Back to those plant eaters. The Portland Oregonian has slow-cooker recipes for vegans. Yes, beans. Read more here.

You may not want to look at these pictures of Paula Deen on the Today Show blog before eating. Note how she never spills a drop of that red wine.