Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Built for comfort, not for speed

Slow cooker delivers nutritious, good-tasting meals at an affordable price

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In a world where most families are feeling strapped for both time and cash, it's important to make the most of every dollar spent on food. On an emotional level, it's important to feel well-fed.

These days, when it comes to a sound menu, the most satisfactory pairing is comfort and economy. Toronto writer Judith Finlayson's latest cook book Slow Cooker Comfort Food: 275 Soul-Satisfying Recipes (Robert Rose, $29.95) sets out to achieve that happy balance.

Finlayson says the slow cooker is the appliance that meets the needs of busy families. "It's the most effective time-management tool that any cook can have," she says. "It allows you to be in the kitchen when you want to be."

Finlayson says that comfort food is something everyone can relate to in their own way, across all cultures. "It is feel-good food, but it's different dishes for different people," she says. "We all have access to basically good ingredients that we can put together and make into something delicious."

To get the most out of your slow cooker, Finlayson suggests reading your manual thoroughly and using the right-sized device. She has included recipes that could be halved and recommends a smaller slow cooker for those recipes.

Don't treat slow cook methods like "dump and stir cooking." Finlayson says to use real ingredients and to treat them well. "They do need certain standards of cooking," she says. Sauteéing foods like root vegetables before long, slow cooking caramelizes the sugars so that you're building on flavours.

In addition to its multicultural sensibility, Finlayson has included many dishes that are suitable for both vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as a "make ahead" feature that lets you prepare some recipes up to two days in advance of cooking. She has also highlighted dishes that can be used for entertaining, so you can share the comfort with your guests.

"I think that comfort food is particularly relevant today because we live in recessionary times, and high cost equals high stress," says Finlayson. "And that's a perfect fit with the slow cooker, which excels at cooking less-expensive ingredients.

"I call 'comfort food' a culinary haven in a challenging world."

Here are three recipes to try from Slow Cooker Comfort Food. You'll find a dessert, a vegan dish and an unusual mushroom stew.

 

Spicy peanut stew with tofu and coconut

(Entertaining worthy, vegan friendly, can be halved -- use a small 1 1/2 to 2-quart slow cooker.)

Serve this over hot rice.

Medium to large (3 1/2 to 5 quart) slow cooker

15 ml (1 tbsp) olive or coconut oil (Finlayson prefers coconut oil)

2 onions, finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 stalks celery, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

15 ml (1 tbsp) minced ginger root

5 ml (1 tsp) salt

2 ml (1/2 tsp) cracked black peppercorns

1 can (28 oz/796 ml) diced tomatoes with juice

500 ml (2 cups) cubed (1 inch/2.5 cm) sweet potatoes

500 g (1 lb) extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes

500 ml (2 cups) vegetable stock

45 ml (3 tbsp) smooth natural peanut butter

25 ml (2 tbsp) freshly squeezed lime juice

25 ml (2 tbsp) soy sauce

5 ml (1 tsp) Thai red curry paste

125 ml (1/2 cup) coconut milk

1 red bell pepper, diced

50 ml (1/4 cup) chopped roasted peanuts

50 ml (1/4 cup) finely chopped cilantro

1. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until carrots are softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil.

2. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware. Add sweet potatoes, tofu and vegetable stock and stir well. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours or on high for 21/2 hours, until hot and bubbly.

3. In a bowl, combine peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce and red curry paste. Mix well. Add to slow cooker stoneware and stir well. Add coconut milk and red pepper and stir well. Cover and cook on high for 20 minutes, until pepper is tender and mixture is hot. Garnish with peanuts and cilantro.

Make Ahead:

Complete Step 1. Cover and refrigerate mixture for up to 2 days before cooking.

 

Madame Saint-Ange's Peruvian cream

(Entertaining Worthy, Vegetarian Friendly)

Serves 4 to 6

4 to 6 tall ramekins or demitasse cups (see tip below)

Large (minimum 5 quart) oval slow cooker

60 g (2 oz) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

175 ml (3/4 cup) whipping (35%) cream

175 ml (3/4 cup) whole milk

5 ml (1 tsp) instant coffee powder, preferably espresso

50 ml (1/4 cup) granulated sugar

10 ml (2 tsp) corn syrup

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

2 ml (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract

Sweetened whipped cream

1. In a saucepan over low heat, combine chocolate and whipping cream. Cook, stirring, until chocolate is melted. Add milk and coffee powder, whisking well, and heat until mixture reaches a simmer and coffee dissolves. Remove from heat.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup and 25 ml (2 tbsp) water. Cook over medium heat, swirling the pot until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and cook, tilting the pot gently, if necessary, to prevent burning, until mixture turns a light golden colour. Remove from heat. Add 25 ml (2 tbsp) hot water and return to element until caramel is syrupy. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a bowl, beat eggs, egg yolk and vanilla. Add 125 ml (1/2 cup) of the chocolate mixture, whisking to combine. Gradually add remainder, whisking to blend.

4. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a 1 L (4-cup) measuring cup or mixing bowl with a pouring spout and pour mixture through it. Stir in caramel. Pour into ramekins or demitasse cups and cover tightly with foil. Place in slow cooker stoneware and pour boiling water to come halfway up the side of the cups. Cook on high for 1 to 2 hours (see tip below), until custard firms up and centres just quiver. Let cool, then place in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Tip

Six smaller ramekins will cook in about an hour. If you are only using 4, which will be fuller, expect cooking time to be closer to 2 hours.

 

 

Mushroom and wild rice chowder with corn

Can be halved. Use a small 2 to 3 1/2 quart slow cooker.

For vegetarians, substitute miso for the bacon (also see Vegan Alternative, below). Serves 6

Large (approx. 5 quart) slow cooker

15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil

60 g (2 oz ) chunk bacon, diced, optional

2 onions, finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 stalks celery, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

5 ml (1 tsp) salt

5 ml (1 tsp) cracked black peppercorns

5 ml (1 tsp) dried thyme leaves

125 ml (1/2 cup) wild rice or brown and wild rice mixture

1.5 L (6 cups) chicken stock, divided

250 g (8 oz) cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered

500 ml (2 cups) corn kernels

2 ml (1/2 tsp) smoked hot paprika, optional

1. In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add bacon, if using, and cook, stirring, until browned, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel to drain. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.

2. Add onions, carrots and celery to pan and cook, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, salt, peppercorns and thyme and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add wild rice and toss until coated. Add 500 ml (2 cups) of the stock and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes.

3. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware. Add mushrooms and remaining 1L (4 cups) stock and stir well. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or on high for 3 hours. Stir in corn and smoked paprika, if using. Cover and cook on high for 20 minutes, until corn is tender.

Vegan Alternative

Omit the bacon. Substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock and stir in 125 ml (1/2 cup) white miso along with the corn.

Make Ahead

Complete Steps 1 and 2. Cover and refrigerate mixture for up to 2 days before cooking.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 14, 2009 D1

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