Friday, January 3, 2014

Book Review: Slow Cooker Revolution Series

These past weeks, I've been going through my tagged list of cookbooks to read and found these two on the list. Given the titles, I expected some mind blowing and earth shattering ways to use your slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Revolution and Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2: The Easy-Prep Edition from America's Test Kitchen appear to promise just that. I used to read Cook's Illustrated quite religiously but found a few problems. Those problems that lead me to stopping my subscription are similar to the ones that I found with these books.

What I Like

The approach of trying different techniques, ingredients and brands without regard to tradition and dogma can be refreshing. Likewise, the recipes often have notes on what the testers and recipe designers were trying to achieve. It helps to understand their choices and can allow the veteran cook some latitude when they are trying to achieve or accent a different aspect of the recipe.

The timings tend to be accurate with notes on why they won't be. This is especially important when you are looking at non standard or non homogeneous cooking equipment like a slow cooker.

What I Didn't Like

The obvious one is that most of the recommended and tested brands are American. This means that there is very little relevance to me as a Canadian. The goodish news is that the recommendations sometimes come with descriptors that help define what was desired for the product. Unfortunately, without looking at the whole review, we are left taking ATK's word that this product choice  is best. I guess you could always search out the reviews in Cooks Illustrated or on their website. Still, not for Canadians.

The second is that very few of the recipes are useful for someone leaving the house in the morning and coming back at night. Many of the timings are well off the 8 hour mark with a note that chicken should never be cooked over 6 hours. I'm not leaving my chicken in a slow cooker with a timer for two to four hours before turning on. It seems... unsafe somehow. Those recipes seem to be fine for a weekend but I'm often available to turn on a braise and leave it simmer anyways. Not sure what is the difference.

And another thing...  a lot of the recipes use the microwave as a way to short cut time and provide a softer flavour especially for aromatics such as onion. Yeah, it's a way to develop flavour and I guess it is an innovation at best. But if you are doing all this other preparation and then throwing it into a slow cooker and claiming that it is shorter prep, then I am not so sure. I can't figure out what the is time and preparation savings from a traditional method.

The books on the whole fell short of the revolution moniker. I much prefer Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook for revolution. It introduced me to making cakes and stuff in the cooker. It also provided guidance on how to convert standard recipes into slow cooker recipes. I have lent this book to a beginner cook with great accolades. Not that ATK's are bad but they fall short. The two ATK books often share the same hints and similar recipes instead of providing templates and guidance. These are really recipe books rather than something more.

For people who just want a good wing recipe or a decent dip recipe then go ahead. For anyone wanting to be wowed and amazed by their slow cooker, just pass. No one ever gets fired for buying Microsoft and no one will be disappointed with ATK's recipes.

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