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Slow & steady

In addition to making great-tasting dishes, wonderful appliance delivers winter 'air conditioning'

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THE festivities are over for another holiday season, and that means hunkering down and waiting out weeks of cold weather. For me, the best part of the cold weather is using the slow cooker. My kitchen smells good, and when I’m really cold I can hover over the thing, rubbing my hands together while I wait for the kettle to come to a boil for tea.

Vancouver chef Eric Akis has now added Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals: Recipes for Satisfying Mains and Delicious Sides (Whitecap, $25) to his ongoing series of cookbooks. I like Akis's cookbooks because when he says "everyone can cook," he means it. He writes in a way that is friendly for the novice, but incorporates both simple and very creative flavour combinations that will interest experienced cooks.

Cooking with the slow cooker is fairly straightforward, and I've covered a lot of the basics in this column, but one technique that can be tricky is getting a sauce to thicken in the slow cooker. Akis writes about that procedure quite nicely. He points out that many recipes suggest you thicken a recipe, such as stew, by pushing the food to one side of the pot and then stirring in a mixture of flour and water into the cooking liquid. Once this is added, you turn the cooker to high and wait. There are a few potential problems with that. First, you can break tender meat and vegetables into mush. Secondly, it might not thicken the way you want it (if at all). And third, you might be left with the flavour of "uncooked" flour in your dish.

To resolve this, Akis suggests putting the flour thickener in at the beginning. In some instances, he coats the meat with flour and browns it before adding it to the cooker. Other times, he will simply thicken a sauce on the stove top and then add it. And finally ---- the option I favour -- he blends the flour into the liquid ingredients at the beginning and it will thicken as it cooks. This always works for me; you just need to be sure you've completely blended your thickener into your liquid so you don't end up with any lumps. Start by adding a small amount of thickener to a small amount of your liquid, adding a little more each time until it is all blended in. Then, add the thickened liquid to the remaining liquid and mix thoroughly, after that, you should be good to go.

Here are three recipes from Eric Akis' Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals. You can find him online at www.everyonecancook.com

 

Romano beans with tomatoes, arugula and goat cheese

This Mediterranean-style bean dish is both colourful and flavourful with its spicy, emerald green arugula, sweet, rich red cherry tomatoes and tangy, cream-coloured goat cheese. Serve it with slices of focaccia or olive bread.

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Slow cooker time: 5-6 hours
Finishing time: 3 to 4 minutes

Two 540 ml (19 oz) cans romano beans, drained, rinsed in cold water and drained again

250 ml (1 cup) vegetable stock

125 ml (1/2 cup) dry white wine

18 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 medium green bell pepper, diced

1/2 medium onion, diced

Crushed chili flakes to taste

30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil

45 ml (3 tbsp) pesto

750 ml-1 L (3-4 cups) baby arugula

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

175 g (6 oz) soft goat cheese, crumbled

Place the beans, stock, wine, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, chili flakes and olive oil in your slow cooker and mix to combine. Cover and cook on the low setting for 5 to 6 hours, or until the tomatoes are quite soft. Mix in the pesto, arugula and salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes more, or just until the arugula is wilted. Top the servings of beans with crumbled goat cheese. Makes 6 servings

Eric's options: If you can't find romano beans, use white kidney beans in this recipe instead. Rather than goat cheese, try crumbled feta cheese.

 

Pork back ribs with bourbon, chipotle and maple

These ribs are falling-off-the-bone tender and smoky-tasting thanks to the chipotle pepper, and tastily sauced thanks to the bourbon and maple syrup. Serve this with baked potatoes, corn on the cob and coleslaw.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Slow cooker time: 8 hours

Vegetable oil for the grill

2 large racks of pork back ribs, each cut into 2-rib pieces

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

435 ml (1 3/4 cups) barbecue sauce

125 ml (1/2 cup) bourbon

125 ml (1/2 cup) unsweetened apple juice

60 ml (1/4 cup) maple syrup

60 ml (1/4 cup) fresh lime juice

1-2 chipotle peppers, finely chopped

Preheat an indoor or outdoor grill to high heat. Lightly oil the bars of the grill.

Season the ribs with salt and pepper. Grill the ribs for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until nicely charred but not cooked through. Set the ribs in your slow cooker, bone side down. Place the remaining ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour this mixture over the ribs. Cover and cook on the low setting for 8 hours, or until the ribs are tender. Makes 4 servings.

Eric's options: If you don't have an indoor or outdoor grill, enrich the colour of the ribs before setting them in your slow cooker by broiling them. Position an oven rack 15 cm (6 inches) below the broiler. Set the broiler to high. Place the ribs, meaty side up, on a nonstick baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil the ribs for 3 to 4 minutes, or until richly browned. Turn the ribs over and broil for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until browned on this side. Remove the ribs from the oven.

 

Sake soy braised beef short ribs

Sake is a Japanese-style wine made from fermented rice. It's not only lovely to sip, but also to cook with.

Preparation time: 35 minutes
Slow cooker time: 6-8 hours
Finishing time: 1-2 minutes

8 thick and meaty beef short ribs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

One 5 cm (2-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

125 ml (1/2 cup) soy sauce

125 ml (1/2 cup) sake

125 ml (1/2 cup) beef stock

125 ml (1/2 cup) water

60 ml (1/4 cup) packed golden brown sugar

30 ml (2 tbsp) cornstarch

2 green onions, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 230C (450F). Set the ribs in a single layer, bone side down, in a roasting pan. Season them with salt and pepper. Roast the ribs for 30 minutes, or until richly browned, then drain off any excess fat.

Spread half the onion, half the ginger and half the garlic in your slow cooker. Set the ribs into the slow cooker, bone side down. Place the soy sauce, sake, beef stock, water, brown sugar and cornstarch in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour this over the ribs, then sprinkle them with the remaining onion, ginger and garlic. Cover and cook on the low setting for 6 to 8 hours, or until the ribs are very tender.

To serve, set 2 ribs on each of 4 plates. Skim off any fat from the sauce, then taste and add salt and pepper, if needed. Top the ribs with some sauce and sprinkle with green onion to serve. Makes 4 servings.

Eric's Options: For spicy sake soy short ribs, add 10 ml ( 2 tsp) of hot Asian-style chili sauce to the liquid ingredients you pour over the ribs.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2011 D1

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