Unofficial Slow Cooker Summer Challenge

For the last couple of weeks in the Boston area, it’s been a little hot and a little humid.  It hasn’t been bad enough to be considered a heat wave.  When I take my late evening walks, it’s actually quite comfortable.

But when it’s that time of day to cook a meal, the stove is the last thing I want to use.  This makes me a little sad as making soups and baking things in the oven tends to be my default cooking style.

(Grilling is not something I’ve done on my own.  However, I’m determined to change that this year.  I’ve dug out an old charcoal grill left by a previous housemate that I will finally clean out and use.)

So, I’ve been playing with my slow cooker some more and I’m going to try using it as my main cooking method this summer.  I might as well.  I’ll be working from home for the rest of the summer (and likely for the rest of the year).

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

I’ve done a sweet Italian sausage/tomato sauce/bell pepper recipe.  Most of this batch went to some friends, but I kept what I couldn’t fit in the container.  It was pretty good, and something I’d like to re-visit with some changes.  While I like Italian sausages, I am health conscious, and try not to eat a lot of sausages in general.  (Having said that, I do several pre-cooked sausages in my freezer right now because I can’t afford to be picky shopping during a pandemic.)  I think the next version will be to make my own meatballs and cook in the same sauce.

Quick breads actually do pretty well in a slow cooker.  The cornbread in the photo was a slow cooker recipe.  And this weekend, I made my favorite sourdough discard banana bread in the machine – it was delicious.

If you’d like to make my sourdough discard banana bread, take a 6 quart slow cooker and line it with parchment.  Drop the whole batter in.  Cook on high for 2 hours, with a tea towel lining the lid.  The towel makes a huge difference for making baked goods in a slow cooker.  It keeps any condensation from falling onto your product.

I’ve actually been slowly working on a rotisserie-style chicken in a slow cooker for the past year.  I think I’m finally getting the hang out it.

I have a lot chicken bones in the freezer waiting to be turned into stock.  I think I’ll try my sourdough recipe in the slow cooker (yes, the texture will be altered COMPLETELY but if it still yields a tasty bread, I won’t complain).  I’ll have to figure out a good vegetable side dish to make because I don’t always want a salad even though it’s the summer.  I will NOT be braising any cabbage though.  It’s fine in the colder weather but the one time I made braised cabbage in the summer, several flies found their way into my apartment.  I think that’s the one downside of slow cooking in the summer.  Flies will find their way to you depending on what you’re cooking.  The last two times I made chicken, a fly found its way into the house (although, one fly is still better than the several from the cabbage round).

I’ll also take this opportunity to revisit cookbooks I have (Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker and The Easy Asian Cookbook for Slow Cookers), but I’ll probably draw most of my inspiration from whatever I have available.

I guess we’ll see how it goes.

In case you missed it, my favorite banana bread recipe can be found here:

https://awesomesauceeats.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/how-to-stop-wasting-flour/

Simply Laura Lea, a cookbook review

“Simply Laura Lea” is the second cookbook by certified holistic chef, recipe developer and writer Laura Lea.  I remember perusing her first book and thinking that it looked gorgeous and sounded delicious, but I’ve never used her recipes before, not even from her website.  So I was happy to take the opportunity to cook from her newest book.

The book is divided into:

  • Beverages and Smoothies
  • Breakfasts
  • Bakery
  • Snack-itizers
  • Sides
  • Lunch and Dinner Entrees (subdivided into red meat, seafood, poultry, and veggie)
  • Soups and Salads
  • Desserts
  • Spice Mixtures, Dressings, and Sauces

 

Recipes get a helpful symbol to show if they are vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, keto-friendly, gluten-free, and/or paleo.  Another feature that I like is that the recipes mark if there’s a “secondary” recipe in it. For example, in the Breakfast chapter, there’s a recipe for Grain-Free Biscuits with Miso Mushroom Gravy.  The gravy is the secondary recipe. The ingredients for it and its instructions are still on the page, but if you’re ever interested in just making the gravy, you don’t have to look in the Breakfast chapter.  You can go straight to the Spice Mixtures, Dressings, and Sauces chapter. I think it’s a handy reference as sometimes I don’t like making a recipe where half of it is completely listed elsewhere in a cookbook.

Here are some recipes I’d like to try:

  • Coconut Lime Macadamia Smoothie
  • Miso Mushroom Gravy
  • Oil-free Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars
  • Gooey Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
  • Blueberry Peanut Butter Crumble Bars
  • “Hot” Honey Cheddar-Stuffed Sweet Potato Skins
  • Sun-dried Tomato and Walnut Pate
  • French Dip Calzone
  • Sun-dried Tomatoes and Basil Falafel with Green Tahini Sauce
  • Buffalo Tempeh Wraps with Avocado Ranch Dressing
  • Sweet Potato, Peanut, Black Bean Burgers
  • French Onion and Kale Lentil Soup
  • 5-Layer Magic Bars

 

Seeing as my state was (and still is) under Stay-At-Home policy because of Covid-19, I was limited in what I could actually make.  It narrowed my scope down to the BBQ “Baked” Lentils recipe. The quotes is because the recipe gives instructions to cook in a pressure cooker or in a slow cooker.  There is no baking.

You start by mixing your own BBQ spice rub from coconut sugar or monkfruit sweetener, and spices like paprika and cumin. For the rest of the recipe, you use dried lentils, ketchup, molasses, and vegetable stock.  I did not need to make any substitutions for this recipe, but since I was running low on coconut sugar and I had some monkfruit sweetener randomly on hand, I went half-half.

I chose the slow cooker route as I do not have a pressure cooker, electric or stovetop (but if anyone wants to send one to me, I won’t say no – I’m open to do product testing).  It’s essentially a dump and cook recipe that takes about 3.5 hours to 4 hours on low.

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Gonna slow cook some lentils

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When it first finished cooking, I thought it was flavorful but a little too sweet for my liking.  But then as it sat, it somehow lost all its flavor. It was really bizarre.

I haven’t used monkfruit sweetener much so I don’t know how it behaves in cooking.  To be honest, most monkfruit sweeteners are erythritol with monkfruit extract blended in.  I bought it on a whim to make some diabetic friendly desserts and just never did. (FYI, the small bag in my kitchen is Lakanto.)  Real monkfruit, aka luo han guo, is a bit pricey and therefore harder to get. Lea does not make any mention about monkfruit sweetener affecting food flavor,  only that it’s been tested as safe, has no effect on blood sugar, and that she uses it in cooked foods as the heat helps with dissolving.

Since the other ingredients in this recipe are fairly normal and I’ve cooked with coconut sugar plenty of times, I think it was the monkfruit sweetener that ruined the dish for me.  At some point I’d like to try this recipe again with just coconut sugar and see how it tastes. (But that’s not going to be right now. There are more important things in life right now than restocking my coconut sugar.)

I originally served the lentils with some bell pepper and grana padano because I had them, but also because I thought the flavors would pair well enough.  But it was really messy to eat, so I’m not doing that again. And then, since I had leftover BBQ seasoning, I roasted some cabbage wedges lightly seasoned with it.  This worked out much better. I still thought the lentils were blah, though.

Not willing to admit defeat or give this book a bad mark based on one recipe, I went through the book again to see what I could make quickly with what was in my pantry.  Enter Lea’s recipe for Chamomile Ginger Turmeric Latte. Technically, I didn’t have almond milk in my house, but I went with the hack of 1 Tbsp almond butter blended with 1 cup water, and proceeded with the recipe.  And, OMG, I loved this drink. Somehow it never occurred to me that the flavors of almond and ginger pair really well together. The chamomile tea is to help tame the turmeric flavor, which I also approve of. (Am I the only one who thinks that the internet’s use of turmeric is excessive?)  

I loved this flavor combination so well that I’m trying to decide what other dishes I can use it in.  It also made my lentil disappointment an easier pill to swallow.

Overall book impression?  If you’re into healthy eating, I recommend it. I like that it’s not purely paleo, not vegetarian, not keto, etc.  It has a little of everything. It’s just approachable cooking to cooking with whole foods.

 

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Blue Hills Press for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  

With COVID-19 self-quarantine in effect, my scope of recipe-testing was limited.  Some modifications may have been made. I apologize that I could not recipe-test better.

 

Reference Links:

https://llbalanced.com/

https://www.simplylauralea.com/

https://www.bluehillspress.com/shop/simply-laura-lea-signed-edition

https://www.bonappetit.com/story/nut-milk-hack

Six Ingredients with Six Sisters’ Stuff, cookbook review

Cookbooks advertising minimal ingredient lists can really go either of two ways, right?  Either it’s minimal with little commercial products, or it’s heavy on the commercial products.  So, I didn’t know what to expect from “Six Ingredients with Six Sisters’ Stuff,” the latest book from sixsistersstuff.com.  I’m slightly acquainted with the recipe material they’ve posted on their website, but I’ve never done a deeper dive. Their website has a large collection of recipes but I guess I just never came across anything that really grabbed my attention.

The chapters in this book are pretty straight forward:

  • Main dishes
  • Side dishes
  • Desserts

… and that’s it.

First impressions of this book?  The recipes are about 50% commercial product involvement and, of that, I think it’d be pretty easy to replace the commercial product with something homemade if preferred.  Just a barometer of what to expect, there are 7 mentions of taco seasoning, 4 mentions of Italian seasoning (not to be confused with Italian dressing mix which is also used in the book), 3 mentions of canned cream of soup, and 6 mentions of bbq sauce.  (Yes, I tried to tally. No, I did not re-count and verify.) So, that’s not so bad. And it’s not as if I’m anti-commercial products. I just don’t keep this stuff around with the exception of bbq sauce.

A handful of the recipes use more commercial products.  For example, the 5-ingredient turkey meatloaf uses Stove Top Stuffing Mix, and Lipton Onion Soup mix.  But then, there’s a recipe for lemon and dill salmon that is simply salmon, salt and pepper, butter, lemons, garlic, and fresh dill.  

Here are some recipes that I may try in the future:

  • Avocado Chicken Bites
  • Savory Slow-Cooker Turkey Breast
  • Turkey Tenderloins and Asparagus
  • Grilled Mediterranean Pork Kabobs
  • Pesto Salmon
  • Mushroom and Garlic Quinoa Bake
  • Easy Homemade Rolls

For this review, though, I went with the Smoky Slow-Cooked Pulled Pork which uses a lot of liquid smoke.  (Like half of the bottle of fancy liquid smoke that I got from HomeGoods that one time.) This recipe uses paprika, garlic powder, dry mustard, liquid smoke, pork shoulder, and bbq sauce.  The bbq sauce isn’t used during the cooking process, as it’s more for serving, so I didn’t worry about not having the full amount of bbq sauce. Everything else, I had in my pantry, and pork shoulder was on sale at one of my local markets so score!

Now, I may not sound overly excited for the book (that’s not a long list of recipes above that I want to try), but this pulled pork recipe?  IT’S FANTASTIC!

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Pulled pork ☺

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I kind of feel like the whole book was worth the pulled pork recipe.  I’ve used smoked paprika in the past to try to get some smoke flavor, but I never thought to douse meat with liquid smoke before.  I’ve certainly used liquid smoke before, but I’ve always been conservative about the amount used.  

For a pork shoulder that wasn’t actually slowly smoked, it’s a brilliant indoor version.  My only gripe is that the recipe says to “use a generous amount of salt and ground black pepper, up to 4 teaspoons each.”  I used 2 teaspoons each, and it was plenty. (I was using about 3.5 lbs boneless pork shoulder.) I think any more salt or any more pepper would have made the pulled pork less enjoyable.  

I served it with Trader Joe’s Organic Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce because that’s what I had on hand, but I think I would have been perfectly happy with just the liquid in the slow cooker.

Zero regrets, people!  And now I have delicious pulled pork for dinner all week.

So, I recommend this book with some reservations.  Your cooking style is going to determine how much use you get out of this cookbook, but I think there are, for me, a couple of hidden gems.

 

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Shadow Mountain for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is released September 3, 2019.

Reference Links:

https://sixsistersstuff.com

https://shadowmountain.com/product/six-ingredients-with-six-sisters-stuff/

 

The Prairie Homestead Cookbook, a cookbook review

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I received a review copy of The Prairie Homestead Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Heritage Cooking in Any Kitchen by Jill Winger.  By name alone, I was expecting a lot of comfort food recipes just because that’s what I tend to think of when I think of stereotypical American cooking. And while there are comfort food recipe in the book, I feel like the soul of this book is more about cooking building blocks, and taking the DIY route in the kitchen.

The book is divided into these chapters:

  • Country Breakfasts
  • Hearty Mains
  • Farm-Style Sides
  • Home Bakery
  • Old-Fashioned Sweets
  • Homestead Sips
  • Prairie Pantry Staples
  • Herbs and Veggies
  • Eggs, Milk, and Meat
  • Stocking the Larder

 

Here are some recipes that you can look forward to:

  • Baked Eggs with Cream and Chives
  • Homemade Bacon
  • Homemade Chorizo
  • Old-Fashioned Sausage Gravy
  • Wyoming Burger
  • Cheddar and Herb Meatloaf
  • Saucy Spiced Beef and Onions
  • Old Homestead Pie
  • Chicken Poblano Chowder
  • Parmesan Roasted Cabbage Steaks
  • Herbed Crescent Rolls
  • Sourdough Crackers
  • Old-Fashioned Gingerbread with Caramel Sauce

 

The Herbs and Veggies, and the Eggs, Milk, and Meat chapters of the cookbook are the homesteading chapters, chapters which I wasn’t expecting at all.  Herbs and Veggies are pretty much what you might expect. It’s an introduction to gardening outdoors, more with a focus on raised beds. I basically live in a city with very little land space so I don’t have much use for information that isn’t about container gardening.  The chapter finishes up with a vegetable growing guide, covering the most conventional vegetables that you’d find consumed in North America.

The only information in the Herbs and Veggies chapter that I personally found worthwhile is the homemade organic garden spray recipe.  It makes me willing to try growing kale again (which is pretty easy… until it’s infested with bugs which also happens pretty easily).

The Eggs, Milk, and Meat chapter is about raising chickens, cows, and goats.  While I could technically raise chickens where I live, I’m really not about to.  (Let’s be honest. I don’t even own house pets because I’m cheap and lazy that way.)  Nevermind cows and goats for a city girl like me. Since I have zero experience with raising livestock, I will be fair and refrain from making any comments or critiques. I don’t know how useful the provided information is, and I probably never will.

It was the homesteading chapters that I saw first when I first flipped through this book.  I doubted how much this book would be useful to me. But the recipes? Now that I’ve had time to ruminate over the rest of the book, I think the recipes themselves are useful to have.

I made the creamy tomato garlic soup recipe as my inaugural recipe.  As the warm weather eases into New England, I am suddenly hankering for soups and all things slow cooked.  I want to enjoy all of it as much as I can before it gets too hot to cook much of anything.

I was really happy with my results.  It’s a very rich tomato soup. The ingredients are: butter, onion, garlic, all purpose flour, a bit of sugar, dried basil, sea salt, black pepper, chicken stock, fresh/home-canned/commercial canned tomatoes, heavy cream, and cheese for garnish.  Swap the heavy cream with evaporated milk, and you have a very pantry friendly recipe. It’s almost too rich for me, so I’m thinking about swapping some of the butter for olive oil too. But the flavor and texture is good and comforting.

I thought I’d put the book down once I was done with my recipe test and move onto my ever-growing backlog of “to try” recipes.  But there’s something to be said about a cookbook with a lot of basic recipes, because I write this review, I have her simple roast chicken (using the slow cooker option) cooking now.

While everything in the book sounds reasonably tasty, it’s Winger’s more basic recipe that I’m more drawn to.  In addition to the roast chicken I’ve got going, I want to try the roast beef, the slow cooker pulled pork (which I almost made but ultimately decided to carry home a whole chicken than a pork shoulder), the cast iron skillet bread, and the cream of wheat (key ingredient?  Actual whole wheat berries).

All in all, I’m happy to recommend this cookbook.  It might not be for everyone, but it’s handy to have.

 

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Flatiron Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

 

The Easy Asian Cookbook, a cookbook review

True story:  Despite my love for all kinds of Asian food, I rarely cook any at home.  Also a true story: I love using my slow cooker.

(No, I haven’t jumped on the Instant Pot train yet, and I’m not sure if I ever will.  In the meantime, I really want to experiment with an air fryer. I will take sponsors.  lol!)

But if I can cook Asian food in a slow cooker, will I make it more often?  

If I’m to go by the recipe offerings in The Easy Asian Cookbook for Slow Cookers by Nancy Cho, the answer might very well be a resounding yes.

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There are so many pros about this book in general.  The author hasn’t confined herself to just Japanese, Chinese, or Korean dishes.  Sri Lanka, India, and the Philippines are also represented. There’s per serving nutritional information listed.  It’s pretty basic information, but if you just want the calories, total fat, protein, carbs, fiber, sugar, and salt info (which is what most people want), it’s there!  There’s also general allergy information at the top of each page like nut-free and gluten-free.

The book is divided into these chapters:

  • Asian Slow Cooker 101
  • Rice and Noodles
  • Soups and Stews
  • Curries
  • Vegetables and Tofu
  • Chicken
  • Meat
  • Dessert
  • Side Dishes and Salads

 

The recipes I want to try most:

  • Mushroom jook (kudos to the author for using the word “jook” as it appeals to my Cantonese heritage)
  • Black bean sauce noodles
  • Pumpkin soup (has ginger, curry, and cream in it)
  • Lentil soup (Indian inspired)
  • Red lentil curry (Sri Lankan inspired)
  • Filipino chicken curry
  • Simmer pumpkin

 

The recipe I decided to start with was chicken lo mein because I was missing my mom’s version, and the book’s version sounded like it might be close.  It’s got chicken thighs, chicken stock, garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, white pepper, bok choy, shallots, red bell pepper, scallions, cornstarch, and store bought lo mein noodles.

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Mess in place

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I made the recipe as closely as possible.  Ultimately, I had to cut back on the shallots and scallions, and replace the bok choy with napa cabbage.  I also had to make the noodles separately the day after making the sauce and chicken, because of time (but also because someone… aka me… forgot to pick up noodles earlier that day).

Overall impressions, the sauce is really good.  It’s a bit salty on its own, but once mixed with the noodles, it’s perfect.  It does remind me of something my mother might make. The chicken was also really good.  I’ve made some Asian inspired sesame and garlic chicken in the slow cooker before that I wasn’t totally won over by.  This one? I’m happy to make it again in the future.

But!!! There’s a lot of sauce and noodles in this recipe!  I think I could scale down both and up the amount of veggies.  That’s just me nitpicking, and me trying to cut down on the amount of simple carbs I eat.  For other people, the sauce-chicken-veggie ratio might be perfect. I’m not that person though.  I ended up adding more veggies as I needed to when I ate a serving. And because it made a lot, it was a good meal prep option for dinner this past week.

I am definitely recommending this book if you want to make more Asian flavored dishes and/or want to experiment with your slow cooker.  I was more than satisfied with my first recipe attempt.

(Sorry I don’t have a flip through video of this cookbook – the copy I have is a .pdf file, not a hard copy.)

Disclaimer – I received this book from Rockridge Press for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker, a cookbook review

My most recent cookbook acquisition is Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker, which I was pretty dang excited about.  I appreciate a good slow cooker recipe, but the only other slow cooker cookbook I have is America’s Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution.  I have used the ATK book, but probably not as often as I should.  Amazingly, I feel like the recipes in each book are different enough that the books complement each other in my cookbook collection.

9780307954688

The good things about Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker:

  • Good variety of recipes.  The book is divided into these sections: meat, poultry, seafood, meatless, side dishes, breakfast, sweets, and stocks/sauces.  There is a decent global feel to each of the sections.  For example, chicken section includes the following recipes: chicken tagine, Tex-Mex chicken and beans, chicken mole, Hainanese Chicken, and Ethiopian Chicken Stew.
  • Every recipe comes with a photograph.
  • Most of the recipes are not intimidating.

The (possibly) bad things about this book:

  • Some of the recipes require stove top cooking as part of the prep work.  In the boullabaisse recipe, you have to soften in a skillet the vegetables, aromatics, and then cook down diced tomatoes.  After all that, then you get to load up the slow cooker.
  • This might just be me being greedy, but I’d prefer if most of the sections had a few more recipes.  The meat section has a little over 30 recipes.  The poultry section has 18 recipes, 4 of them are duck recipes, and only 1 recipe is turkey related.  The breakfast section only has about 9 recipes.

Honestly though, I have high hopes for this book.  I made the chicken korma recipe this past weekend.  Overall, I was very pleased with the results.  It was a little unusual for a chicken korma recipe since it involves cashew butter and almond butter (it does mention that you can blend up nuts instead of getting the nut butters), but I think it does add to the texture of the korma sauce.

Disclaimer – I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post.  

Reference Link:

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/215168/martha-stewarts-slow-cooker-by-from-the-kitchens-of-martha-stewart/

kimchi fail so let me try amazake instead

It’s hard to see, but the radishes in my dongchimi had some color change.  Everything smelled fine, but I wasn’t convinced so I didn’t eat it.

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Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 7.17.04 PM

Both photos were after I drained out the liquid.  Before I drained it, it looked like this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 7.17.15 PM

That’s a lot of life going on in there.

I haven’t had the energy to buy the ingredients again.  But I still wanted to work on some fermentation so I decided to try my hand at amazake.

Amazake is a drink made from sticky rice and koji grains.  Koji are rice grains that have been inoculated with the bacteria you would use to make miso soup and other Japanese fermented products.  Amazake, like yogurt, needs a certain temperature range to ferment.  It was the primary reason why I never bothered to make it.

Last week, it occurred to me that I had access to a couple of sous vide products which could make DIY amazake possible in my house.  So, it’s currently doing its thing in a slow cooker hooked up to a Codlo device.

This is what determination looks like:

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 5.31.44 PM

It’s not the most thought-out set-up, but that’s what I get for not planning ahead.  What you see is a 3qt sauce pan (with the rice and koji) set into a 4.5 qt oval slow cooker.  The sauce pan was too tall, and the handle was in the way.  So, I resorted to covering it with aluminum foil.

I am ridiculous, I know.

This also won’t be done until about 10pm because cooking the rice and then cooling it took me longer than I had anticipated.