POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 5, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 3:08 a.m. HST, Feb 23, 2011
Soup is something you'd expect a slow-cooker to do well, but build on that by starting with your own soup stock.
Left to its own devices for 12 hours or so, a slow-cooker can turn a pile of bones — chicken, turkey, ham — and a few cups of water into a soup stock so rich and flavorful you could drink a cupful right out of the pot.
A couple of inexpensive ham hocks are the great beginnings of the best Portuguese Bean Soup you will ever make.
1 12-ounce package Portuguese sausage, in 1-inch slices
2 cups diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1 large onion, halved and cut in wedges
1 large potato, peeled and diced in 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced about 1 inch thick (about 2 cups)
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, with liquid
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
3 cups shredded cabbage
2 ham hocks (or a leftover hambone)
1 sprig rosemary
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (leaves and stems)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 cups water
Combine stock ingredients in 6-quart slow-cooker. Cook on low at least 4 hours (longer cooking is OK, so you can let it simmer overnight).
Remove rosemary stem from pot (most of the leaves will have fallen off). Remove ham hocks; debone, chop meat, discard large pieces of fat and return meat to pot. Add all of the remaining ingredients except cabbage. Continue cooking on low 8 to 10 hours, or until vegetables are tender.
Stir in cabbage and cook another 30 minutes or until cabbage is tender. Serves 10.
Note: If you don't have all day for this, or if you can't be home halfway through the process, just put everything in the pot at once and let it go for 8 to 10 hours. The stock won't be as flavorful, but what you don't know you can't miss.
A big, meaty beef or pork roast is a basic for the slow-cooker, which can tenderize the least expensive cuts of meat.
I've gotten the best results with fattier cuts such as pork butt, rather than lean tenderloins. Leaner cuts are more susceptible to overcooking, which can make a roast seem dry with a grainy texture, even if it's been simmering in a bath of liquid.
2 large onions, sliced
5 pounds pork butt or pork roast
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup mirin
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 finger-size piece ginger, peeled and minced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
Place onion in bottom of 6-quart slow-cooker. Place pork on top.
Combine sauce ingredients and stir to dissolve sugar. Pour over pork. Resist the urge to add more liquid; by the time it's done cooking, you'll have plenty. Cook on low for about 8 hours. If possible, turn meat halfway through.
Remove pork and let rest a few minutes before slicing. Remove onions to serving platter. Strain sauce into a measuring cup (you'll have about 4 cups) and skim fat. If desired, bring sauce to simmer on stove and thicken with a cornstarch slurry (1/4 cup cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water). Serves 10.
» Peanut butter pork: Use brown sugar instead of white and eliminate the mirin and ginger. Stir 1 cup peanut butter into the sauce.
» Miso pork: Stir 1/2 cup miso into sauce. Sake or awamori (Okinawan sake) may be used instead of mirin. Serves 10.
I was afraid I might end up with a pot of sticky, gluey rice, but what emerged when I experimented with making Spanish rice was a surprisingly light yet flavor-packed dish. Why? Slow-cooked rice doesn't boil the way it would in a rice cooker; it steams for hours.
If you ever need to make a huge amount of rice, the slow-cooker could be your solution. Use the same proportion of water to rice as you would with a rice pot; it will just take way more time.
By the way, despite its name I count Spanish rice as a local dish. Having it served to us in school cafeterias for generations has made it so.
Adapted from "Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook" by Phyllis Pellman Good (Good Books, 2010, $15.95)
1 pound ground turkey
1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
28 ounces canned diced tomatoes
8 ounces tomato sauce
1-1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1-1/2 cups raw rice (white, brown or a mix)
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
5 to 6 ounces Portuguese sausage, in 1/2-inch pieces
Saute ground turkey with onion and garlic until meat is lightly browned. Don't cook it too well done; it will finish cooking in the slow-cooker. Scoop into 4- or 6-quart slow-cooker. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, chili powder, soy sauce and rice. Stir well. Cook on low 4 hours.
Stir in vegetables and sausage. Continue cooking another 4 hours, until rice is tender. (If you cannot add the vegetables and sausage midway through the cooking process, add them at the beginning, but cut them into larger chunks so they don't disintegrate.) Serves 10.
A cup or so is enough unless you're working with dry beans or pasta. Some recipes require none (have faith, your food will not burst into flames). Almost anything you put in the pot will give off liquid, so if you start with too much, you'll end up with a wimpy, watery, insipid dish. Use the right amount and you have concentrated flavor.
Layer the bottom of your slow-cooker with sliced onions. Top with a 4- or 5-pound chunk of beef or pork, plus 1 or 2 cups of liquid and some herbs. Go away for eight to 10 hours. Red wine is a good fallback, but a sugar-soy-sauce or vinegar-soy mixture turns it Asian in flavor. And the onions are delicious, too.
You'll need a loaf pan or casserole dish that fits inside your crock, plus your favorite meatloaf recipe. My 6-quart oval slow-cooker fits a 1-quart round casserole dish, which holds about 2 pounds of ground meat, plus 2 cups of add-ins. Cooking takes about eight hours.
This is the perfect use for a hambone or turkey carcass left over from a holiday dinner. If you buy a lot of supermarket rotisserie chicken, throw the skeletons into the freezer; when you have two or three, get out the Crock-Pot. Cook the stock while you sleep, and the next day continue on to soup — on the stovetop or in the crock — based on any standard recipe.
If you try something and don't like the results, you can salvage the leftovers through the art of disguise. For example, shred a roast, douse it in barbecue sauce and serve it on buns. I turned a just-OK pork dish into summer rolls using rice paper wraps, and it went from blah into big hit.