Do you have time to cook? Then take time and do it slowly in a slow cooker. "Cooks all day while the cook's away," explains it all in the logo of Rival Crock-Pot, the original electric slow cooker appliance. When first introduced about 15 years ago, this gentle method of cooking "forever" in stoneware was conceived as crazy. It wasn't just for its wild name "crock-pot," but the idea was associated with going back to cooking in stone vessels in 7000 BC when you're in an era of fast automation, or instant this and instant that.
The concept is no longer wild and crazy. No longer surprising is that the pot has survived, thanks to those who still believe that slow cooking makes sense, particularly when you belong to the paid work force. What made these cooks swear by this long, slow cooking category?
No Need for Guilt or Worry
"The (paid) working woman, like myself, no longer has to feel guilty about not being in the kitchen all day because she can prepare a meal the night before or in the morning and not have to worry about it during the day," says Roxanne Whittenburg, manager of the Rival Home Economics Department in Kansas City.
"Another thing that I often hear from Crock-Pot owners is that there's such a nice feeling about coming home and smelling chili or pot roast cooking when they enter the house," she added. With its low wattage, the slow-cooker is an energy-saving appliance. Another economical advantage is that relatively inexpensive, tough cuts of meats can be used. Perhaps my favorite excuse for using the slow-cooker is my preference for the taste of long-simmered meats, including the less tender cuts. There's no comparison to the full-bodied flavor in the meats, stocks and sauces, as well as the tender, moist texture that you don't get from foods that are boiled on high heat.
The new slow-cookers from Rival possess charm and fresh appeal with their soft designs. They all have a removable stoneware container, which has a tremendous advantage over other models. First of all, the removable pot, which is dishwasher-proof, can be lifted out for cleaning. It is also microwave safe and attractive enough to serve at the table. And for those who don't have the time to bother with preparing the food in the morning before work, they can fill the pot with the dinner ingredients the night before, refrigerate it overnight, then simply set it in the Crock-Pot the next morning.
Some of the new designs available, with 5 1/2-quart capacity and wattage ranging from 120 to 200 watts, are: Almond (Model 3355), with a country pattern and coffee-brown stoneware; Ivory (Model 3351), with contemporary Euro-style design with a taupe liner, and the old-fashioned Crockery Blue (Model 3355) in creamy white with a blue floral pattern. The inner bowl has a blue glaze outside and natural glaze inside.
Also available are 3 1/2-quart sizes in Almond/Rose (Model 3150), White with Euro-style diagonal striping (Model 3150) and Crockery Blue (Model 3150).
The Rival Crock-Pot features a wraparound heating element. Instead of just providing heat at the base of the pot, which tends to burn the food, the heating elements are wrapped entirely around and cemented to the sides of the crock.
A common misconception about using slow-cookers is that it is difficult to adapt common or favorite recipes to them. In a way, using the unit actually makes food preparation simpler because it eliminates many preparatory steps such as sauteing or browning. Ingredients, even vegetables, can be added to the Crock-Pot at one time. In fact, because many vegetables actually take longer to cook than meat in the pot, they often need to be chopped or sliced. Milk, cream, yogurt or sour cream should be added during the last hour to prevent curdling; the same goes for ground herbs or spices, which somehow dissipate quickly. You can cook a roast without water on low heat, although a small amount of water is recommended for a tasty gravy.
Adjusting the Cooking Time
For timing, if a recipe calls for 35 to 45 minutes of cooking, allow about three to four hours on High in the slow-cooker or six to 10 hours on Low. The other important adjustment is the liquid; usually about half the recommended amount is needed because liquids don't boil away as in conventional cooking. For more product information, Rival provides a customer relations hot line: call (800) 624-4693.
Steaming is another type of cooking that is becoming widely popular because of the public's awareness of healthful and low-fat diets, and the beneficial usage of fresh vegetables. The Automatic Steamer/Rice Cooker from Rival, which has been experiencing success in the last couple of years, has just acquired a new see-through plastic lid.