24 June 2014

A letter to my friend

Dear Deb,

I know I have mentioned this before but every time I pull my slow cooker out of the cupboard I think of you and smile as I remember your public declaration that slow cookers are not for you, coming a week after I got one for my birthday.  I was quite struck by your post, in part because I value what you have to say and also because it followed my efforts of splitting my corner of the facebook community in half as they debated the merits of slow cookers over slow cooking in cast iron - and also the suitability of a slow cooker for a birthday gift.  Well, dear Deb, we are about six months down the track so I thought I would let you know what I think the old slow cooker now.

First up, the slow cooker is not for the most part, in my humble opinion, a time saver.  Where we all I went wrong ten years ago was thinking you could just throw everything in it in the morning, turn it on and come home to a delicious dinner.  That was a recipe for bland, broiled meat.  Blah.

When I use it now I take the time to brown things and get the sauces going.  As I like to cook in bulk where I can, it has taken up to an hour of preparation, frying off and creating at least the beginnings of delicious sauces before I reach that point of lobbing it all into the slow cooker and turning it on. So for the most part I look upon it as an electric casserole dish.  I do like that I can cook a casserole slowly, over eight hours, turning cheap, tough meat into something glorious.  And I like that I can leave it on all day.  One could argue that you can just slow cook like that in the oven or on the stove top.  For me, I don't really like leaving my oven on and unattended all day.  But I don't seem to mind leaving the slow cooker unattended while I leave the house to do other things.  

I got my men to get me a big one in order to do the bulk curries and casseroles.  Consequently it is a big item.  It takes up a lot of room in the cupboard.  It's heavy.  It's a bit unwieldy to clean.  I confess that I do have to pick my time and psych myself up to use it.  But when the time is right, it's a great thing.  I have used it maybe ten times in the last three months.

I've tried soups but I don't think I'll persist with this method for soup preparation.  It takes a very long time for all that liquid to warm up.  I'm happy enough with my big pot and going a bit faster for soup.  I should say though that a friend gave me THE most wonderful pea and ham soup recipe for the slow cooker BUT when I served it up one up one member of the family loved it, one tolerated it and one thought he was being poisoned.  There was quite some theatre.  We haven't had a scene like that at the dinner table in months.  Maybe years.  It was almost worth it.  Almost.  The recipe is not dependent upon a slow cooker.  I could recreate it in my soup pot if I was feeling like some dinner time amusement again some day.  I think my clan prefer the minestrone style of soup.  It may be a texture issue with the blended soups...they're not that keen on pumpkin soup either.

BUT dear Deb there are three recipes that are to die for.  And the lovely Jane has put them all on her blog.  Three recipes that are delicious and have had universal appeal at our dinner table.  Recipes that had me inviting friends over for dinner the first time I cooked them, so confident was I of their potential for dinnertime happiness.

Pulled pork.   I have already given this one the three hip hip hoorays on this blog.  And research indicates that there are recipes out there for doing it from scratch but the bottle of marinade seems to do the trick very nicely.  And this is indeed one recipe where you can just lob the TWO ingredients in, press the button and go.

Lamb's equivalent of pulled pork.  Oh Deb.  This is glorious.  Not cheap.  But it is absolute deliciousness.  It could be done in an oven.  But it works really well in the slow cooker.  I browned the lamb when I made it.  Despite what I said about taking the time to brown things, next time I make this I won't be browning the meat.  And again, like the pulled pork, this is a throw it in and leave it recipe.

The third one is Jane's recipe for beef stroganoff.  It's great for a family dinner with veg or pasta or rice.  It's great for a church feast.  It's great for leftovers, for freezing and for giving away to a family in need.  It's great.

And so to the $64 question.  Given what I know now, would I still get one given my time birthday again?  Well, I think yes.  I would maybe opt for the smaller version next time, although that wouldn't allow for leftovers.  I don't use it all the time.  But when I do I'm pretty sold on it.  Which is in no way meant to pressure you into asking for one for your birthday.  If you don't have a lot of space in your kitchen or you don't like to have an appliance that you only use occasionally I wouldn't get one.  And be warned too - not all recipes for the slow cooker will be as delicious as these three.  I have had some epic fails as well.  I am learning to know what will actually work and won't end up tasting like broiled, bland blahness.  It's not my favourite thing in the kitchen.  But unlike the one I bought ten years ago, I won't be giving this one away.  It has earned its spot in my kitchen.

Hope you are well and that you have great school holidays. 

Love Meredith xx


Karen said...

I think that this letter pretty much sums up my thoughts on slow cookers as well. Not the wonder device that the wide world of the internet sold it to me as, but still helpful nonetheless. (And we have enjoyed pea and ham soup in ours. And I don't worry too much about the browning on the stove first....)

Meredith said...

Hello Karen!!!!!!!!!
So nice to hear from you. I hope you too are well.
"Not [a] wonder device...but still helpful nonetheless." The perfect summary.

Deb said...

Meredith! Thank you so much! What a great review of the whole slow cooker debate. I have to admit, I've seen that pulled pork recipe and I do long for it. I am quite taken with the "leaving it on all day thing" because I too am a bit iffy about having an oven on while I'm out. Often, I work in the afternoon and not the morning so in that sense it would make sense to take some time to make a decent meal in the morning and then have it ready when I returned home. Not necessarily time saved but time better arranged if you like. So now you have me re-thinking the whole caper all over again. Or maybe I just need to borrow The Concert Pianist's slow cooker again so I can try the pulled pork. Maybe that will settle the matter for me.

Meredith said...

Deb - definitely borrow. Try the pulled pork. And the lamb. The lamb is amazing. And then see. Sounds like a good solution.

Sarah said...

I feel the same! It's great that you don't have to cook dinner in the evening, but they do involve organisation and preparation (including remembering to defrost the meat).

Meredith said...

Yep, I think if you have some time in the morning they are great. Most of my mornings are pretty full so it does take a bit a planning. But then I have read (was it Jane or was it friend who gave me the pea and ham soup recipe...) that she often does her prep in the evening, lets it cook overnight and then in the morning divides it into portions for freezing, leaving out the serve for the evening to be reheated at dinner time. That's pretty clever. Of course, no need with the pulled pork. Even I can manage to sling a lump of pork and a bottle of marinade into the said device before heading out. All good.

Sarah said...

Ah now that's a good idea!

Meredith said...

It's a fantastic idea. Seemed pretty obvious once I had it pointed out to me...but none the less I needed to have it pointed out to me. But it works for me.
Hope it works for you too.

simone r said...

I use the slow cooker when I want that righteous feeling of "Ha! I've got dinner sorted and it's only 9am! Take that, world!" I give myself a big high five and spend the day basking in my own amazingness.

But I spend heaps longer on slow cooker meals than other meals. It's not a time saving device. The main function of the slow cooker is to make you feel epic.

Jenny said...

Great summary. I have had to conquer the watery casseroles issue which keep tripping me up and turning me off them. I got the tip of adding a bit of dried lentils to soak up the moisture and it worked. I haven't loved the taste of the food I cook, but my family eat them. And I really, really like that I can prepare the meal in the morning because I am pretty much tired from about 2pm everyday of the week.

Meredith said...

Yes Simone, I hear you. The slow cooker certainly isn't a quick fix. And you do feel just a tiny bit epic...you're right.

And Jenny, I have found this time around that I just don't put in lots of liquid. There seems to be lots of recipes that don't include the "fill to the line with liquid" step nowadays. I was pretty scared the first time but it seems to work.

Go us! Domestic legends.

Sarah said...

Haha Simone. That's so true, I do feel like a bit of a legend when dinner is sorted in the morning.
Also if you're out for longer than 8 hours then you're not home to turn it off. I haven't burnt anything in a slow cooker yet - that's a talent I don't want. ;)