Slow Cooker Cook Book Reviews

There are so many slow cooker cook books! I just borrowed a bunch from the library! I wanted to jot down some notes for a few of them.

Better Homes & Gardens Ultimate Slow Cooker book

better homes and gardens ultimate slow cooker book

Better Homes & Gardens Ultimate Slow Cooker book – see my more detailed review on this book. Bottom line, great photos for over half the recipes plus prep and cooking times are also included, along with nutritional data. But the book is unfortunately loaded with way too many recipes using “shortcut” ingredients like canned soup and jarred sauces. Not for me, but it would work for those that need quick prep time without using all homemade ingredients.

Make it Fast, Cook it Slow

make it fast, cook it slow

Make it Fast, Cook it Slow : the big book of everyday slow cooking by Stephanie O’Dea. Excellent book with recipes from appetizers to desserts. The book sits nicely on the counter, making it easy to read while cooking. Written by the “A Year of Slow Cooking” blogger, which means that all of the recipes are available online with photos and additional visitor comments. Which leads me to question why would you need to buy the book? It all depends if you like recipes in printed text or not. Check out the blog first and see if there are many recipes you’d like gathered together in one book.

The Book of Slow Cooking

book of slow cooking

The Book of Slow Cooking by Anne Sheasby. This is a really thin book, with interesting recipes; every recipe includes a finished dish photo, plus photos for three main steps. I like that she includes instructions for using smaller dishes inside the main crock insert. The introduction includes many helpful tips on slow cooker usage, including a great hint for adding cream or milk toward the end of cooking time to avoid curdling.

The recipes are all “from scratch” with none of the dreaded canned cream soup for an ingredient. She uses fresh ingredients! Yes, you can probably find a lot of similar recipes online for free, but it’s nice to have one book with classic recipes (ie pea soup) along with some unusual ones (ie fresh lemon sponge pudding). It’s certainly a great book for a beginner who needs some simple homemade slow cooker recipes. Awesome price at Amazon for a “very good” used copy. Under $3.50 including shipping.

Mary Engelbreit’s Fan Fare Cookbook

slow cooker favorites: mary engelbreit fan fare cookbook

I had never heard of Mary Engelbreit before, but it appears that she is a wonderful illustrator/artist. She is not a cook, so it seems strange to me that she has released a bunch of cookbooks, relying on friends and family to supply the recipe content. I borrowed the 120 Slow Cooker Recipe Favorites: Mary Engelbreit’s Fan Fare Cookbook from the library, and as I started browsing through the recipes, I felt a sense of deja vu. There is a whole chapter on chili…with 11 recipes….trouble is, how many chili recipes do you need? There’s Best Ever Chili, Tomatillo & Steak Chili, Grandmama Whynne’s Fall Foliage Chili, Green Chili Stew, Aunt Diane’s Chili, Aunt Jane’s Chili, Warm You Up Chili, Pork Chili, White Chili, Vegetarian Chili and Vegetable Chili. I just felt there were way too many similarities. It’s the same for beef stew: Best Beef Stew, Mouthwatering Beef Stew, Beefy Stew, Savory Stew, Jo’s Sweet & Sour Beef Stew, Slovenian Stew, Ms. Georgie’s Soup, Beefy Lentil Soup. It might have made better sense to limit the amount of recipes to only the best, but suggest alternative ingredients and cooking tips afterward. And be warned, there are many recipes using jarred tomato sauce, onion soup mix, and canned cream soup.

On a positive note, the book is hard cover with a spiral binding, perfect for reading on the counter while cooking. It has an old fashioned homey feel, like reading through your own family’s cookbook. But there are no finished dish photos, and trying to choose one recipe among pages of similar recipes might be confusing to some cooks. But it’s under $12 at Amazon, so it might be worth it for some, as long as the buyer realizes that they’re paying for a lot of similar recipes. On a side note, one of her other books Mary Engelbreit’s Fan Fare Cookbook: 120 Family Favorite Recipes can be purchased for under $7 at Amazon.

I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks; I like putting my own spin on a recipe rather than exactly following it. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

Better Homes & Gardens the Ultimate Slow Cooker Book

Better Homes and Gardens the Ultimate Slow Cooker book

I found a copy of the Better Homes & Gardens The Ultimate Slow Cooker Book at the local library.

The book includes 400 recipes, and 200+ great photos. Each recipe contains prep time, cook time, & serving information, along with nutritional data, which I really appreciate.

The book is paperback, but does not easily lie flat on a counter if you need to read the recipe while cooking. The binding seemed weak as well. I can imagine with usage, some pages actually might fall out.

There are good slow cooker tips at the beginning of the book, but one of the most important tips was missing – how to convert the size of your crock to accommodate a smaller recipe or desserts. I would have liked to learn the best way to use a small baking dish inside the larger crock? Do you add water in the outer crock? Do you keep it dry?

One tip I don’t agree with is their recommendation for plastic liners for messier recipes, stating that they eliminate the need for harsh cleaning chemicals. Which is worse? Harsh cleaners or plastics that leeches toxins?! I’d rather apply a tbsp or two of olive oil on the inside walls of the crock than use a plastic liner. Or better yet if a recipe is that messy, it might be a better option to just bake it normally in a regular oven.

On that same note, some recipes do seem a bit excessive to cook in a slow cooker like nuts or dips but there are recipes for just about every conceivable food idea from appetizers to desserts.

A lot of the recipes are made with fresh ingredients, but unfortunately a large percentage utilize processed food short cuts like frozen meatballs, jelly, salad dressings, jarred sauces, and the ever popular canned cream soup. How hard is it to create a recipe using half/half or milk instead of cream soup?

I would have enjoyed more fresh and less processed ingredients in recipes such as Mexican meatball stew (pg 118). I don’t need a book to tell me to add canned Mexican stewed tomatoes, frozen meatballs, canned black beans, chicken broth, and frozen corn. I want to how to create a real Mexican stew using real spices and fresh ground beef. But that’s not what this cook book is about!

By the time I arrived at the Poultry chapter, I was discouraged and ended up skipping past most of the recipes. I was hoping to find something interesting in the last chapter for desserts, but as soon as I read the recipe ingredients for Fruity Rice Pudding on page 450, I knew I was doomed. Two packages of rice pudding mix with raisins and spices? Come on, how hard is it to put together rice pudding from scratch?

Of course, I understand the need for books that offer recipes that can be prepared in minutes. The majority of home cooks in the USA don’t mind using canned soup or jarred tomato sauce (hence the reason why this country is so unhealthy). So, this book is a good match for them. Some would argue that any kind of home cooking, even with processed foods, is still better than take out or TV dinners.

So all the “from scratch” home cooks, like me, can take a pass on this book, or better yet, find a copy at the library and pick and choose a few special recipes. I mean, they were not ALL bad. There were a scattered few recipes that I found in the breakfast and soup chapters that sparked my creativity:

Pg 78 Morning casserole
Pg 80 Ham Gouda potato bake – this one includes canned cream of potato soup, but I think it could be replaced by additional milk or cream.
Pg 105 Cha cha corn chowder
Ph 108 Soy ginger soup with chicken
Pg 120 Asian turkey and rice soup

I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks; I like putting my own spin on a recipe rather than exactly following it. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

Jamie Oliver’s Butternut Squash (or Sweet Potato) & Chorizo Soup Recipe

I borrowed a bunch of Jamie Oliver books at the library, and am currently reading the Jamie’s Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals and it’s a winner for sure.

The book is full of simple rustic recipes. I found so many ideas and inspirations!

I decided my first recipe from the book would be the Sweet Potato & Chorizo Soup (pg 131). It was suggested by Jamie and others online that butternut squash is a good replacement for the sweet potato, so that is what I used instead.

The soup was very tasty, and paired with some fresh homemade whole wheat bread with butter or melted cheese, you got yourself a complete dinner!

It’s difficult to photograph this soup and make it look visual appealing, but I did my best. As you can see, I left it chunky. I was too lazy to get out the blender/food processor, so I hand mashed it with a potato masher.

butternut squash & chorizo soup from jamie oliver's jamie's food revolution cookbook

From Jamie’s Food Revolution cookbook:
Sweet Potato and Chorizo Soup

Serves 6-8, you can easily adjust this recipe to make more or less servings. I used a small butternut squash and 2 small carrots with about 3 cups of broth, and it served 2 of us, with one leftover serving for lunch the next day.

carrots, onions, chorizo sausage, garlic, butternut squash and fresh parsley


  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1.75 lbs sweet potato or butternut squash
  • 7 oz of Chorizo Sausage
  • Small bunch of fresh parsley
  • 1.75 (7 cups) quarts of chicken or vegetable stock
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tsp (heaping) curry powder
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • fresh red chilies for topping (I omitted)

Cooking Instructions: ( See below for my personal notes and alterations)

  1. Chop carrots, celery, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes (or butternut squash), fresh parsley and chorizo sausage and mix all ingredients into a large saucepan. Mix in 2 tbsp of olive oil and the curry powder.
  2. Put the broth in a 2nd saucepan and heat until boiling
  3. Cook vegetables (on high) with the lid askew, for approximately 10 minutes or until carrots have softened but are still holding their shape, and the onion is lightly golden.
  4. Pour boiling broth into the 1st pot with vegetables and sausage and stir well
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until sweet potato (or butternut squash) is cooked through
  6. Season with salt and pepper
  7. Using an immersion blender, pulse the soup until smooth and top with a little bit of finely chopped chile
  8. Enjoy!

My Extra Notes:

  • I keep a freezer bag of fresh parsley in the freezer. When I need some, I just break off a piece and chop it up. It works fabulously!
  • When I went shopping that afternoon, I couldn’t find many options for chorizo at the local Market Basket grocery, so I settled for Chipotle Chorizo chicken sausage from Al Fresco. I used to buy this brand of sausages before I became a more strict, clean eater, and they are not too bad. I will have to check at Whole Foods for better Chorizo options. I think the soup would also work using other precooked sausages or even uncured natural pepperoni or bacon.
    Al Fresco Chipotle Chorizo chicken Sausage
  • I don’t keep curry powder on hand, so I used a few shakes of Penzy’s Arizona Dreaming spice instead. It added mild heat.
  • I didn’t have any celery on hand either.
  • I heated the veggies on medium flame, not high as suggested in the recipe, and it took about 20 minutes for the carrots to soften. I mixed often.
    veggies and chorizo sausage ready to be cooked on stove
  • I didn’t boil the broth ahead of time (wasting another pot), I just poured it from the carton, over the ingredients.
  • Unfortunately I don’t have an immersion blender, and I was too lazy (and hungry) to dig out the food processor or blender, so I mashed the soup by hand with a potato masher. It was still chunky, but it all tastes the same, so whatevah! haha.
  • I might add a speck of fresh chopped chili peppers next time, as instructed in the recipe, but this time, I wasn’t sure how spicy hot the soup was, so I omitted the chilies.

Small Image I highly recommend Jamie Oliver’s book “Jamie’s Food Revolution” especially for newbie home cooks. It’s a back-to-basics rustic no fuss cookbook!

Peter Reinhart’s Transitional Whole Wheat Bread – Using a Bread Machine

Peter Reinhart Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor

I’ve been experimenting with bread dough, and have found that a long slow fermentation makes the most flavorful, delicious bread! I experimented with my own recipe, but wanted to keep exploring.

I’m all about whole grains, so reading Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor seemed like the next logical step!

I’m really not into hand kneading, even when authors say how easy it is. I have no patience for it, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I use my bread maker and I am very happy with it! I started with a one paddle Breadman, and recently purchased a West Bend 41300 Hi-Rise double paddle breadmaker, which I absolutely love!

Anyway, my first crack at his recipes (Multigrain Stuan recipe – page 102) was a semi-disaster, but I was so proud and happy to finally be working with a soaker and biga! Whoo hoo!

My second try at the same recipe was better. My soaker consisted of random amounts of cornmeal, barley wheat, wheat germ, oat bran, and wheat bran. The cornmeal gave it a pleasant texture.

Next, I tried the Transitional Whole Wheat sandwich bread recipe (page 99) and yum, it really turned out well.
Just look at the oven spring!

Awesome oven spring!

Continue reading “Peter Reinhart’s Transitional Whole Wheat Bread – Using a Bread Machine”

This Weeks Crush is Jamie Oliver

So this week I’m crushing on Jamie Oliver!

I just borrowed a bunch of his cookbooks from the library! I love his basic, free style of cooking, and he’s got a warm personality!

I don’t really remember hearing much about Jamie Oliver until I watched him on his TV series “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution“, but since our new FIOS TV offers a year of free use of a DVR, I’ve been recording all the espisodes of “Jamie At Home” from the Cooking Channel. He’s got such good simple ideas. I’m saving and savoring his episodes! And I’ve fallen madly in love with him.

here are the books I borrowed: (I’ll probably get more of the older ones once I’ve finished with these)

Medium Image Medium Image

Medium Image Medium Image

Medium Image

Organizing Recipes with Evernote – Online, Offline & iPhone

I’ve been busy as a bee, organized the mountain of recipe web pages that I’ve been saving during the last year or so.

Back a few months ago, I originally tried saving each recipe page as a pdf file on my hard drive in a categorized folder. It was very cumbersome, and although I could search for recipes on my laptop hard drive (albeit clumsily), it could be difficult to make my recipes mobile, to find and search on any other mode like the web or my iPhone.

I’d all but given up on the process, until the other day when I re-discovered Evernote.

It just so happened that I was clipping an unrelated web page into the cool Mac app Evernote, and for some reason, I started reading the Evernote tips on my iPhone app, and it suggested organizing recipes using Evernote. YES! What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that!?

So, I started experimenting, and it worked just beautifully!

Evernote Makes it Easy to Save, Access, Search and Find Recipes

My recipes are saved to my computer hard drive, then synced online to my Evernote web account, and then to my iPhone. I can also save notes on my iPhone or any web browser, and all three will sync!

Besides the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, there are mobile apps for Android, Blackberry, Palm, Windows phones – check their downloads page for details.

Using the iPhone app, I can easily search for “giada pasta” and just my captured pasta recipes written by Giada De Laurentiis will pop up; so I can easily read them while in my kitchen, grocery store, camping, etc.

iphone screenshot - searching on evernote

This also means that anywhere I have internet, say at my mom’s house, I can log into my web account and access all of my recipes. Very helpful if I need to find her favorite oat bran muffin recipe!

Using the Evernote app installed on my hard drive, I can narrow the search even further. If I need to find only my soup recipes using chicken, I can search in my “soup” tagged recipes for the keyword “chicken” – I just love this!

It’s up to you how you want to organize your recipes. You don’t have to use tags, you can just create a new notebook for recipes, and start clipping. Searching will be just as easy, since Evernote scours through all the text content.

And it’s not just for recipes. Today, I captured a Meat & Seafood cooking chart, so I can easily check the cooked temperature for my turkey on Thanksgiving!

So, What is Evernote?

So, what exactly is Evernote?

It’s a Mac and Windows app that can “capture” and organize everything like web pages, images, screen shots, etc. It’s fantastic! Well, it’s fantastic for the Mac. I’ve tried using it on the Windows computer at work, and it’s a bit clunky and hinky, but it’s worth a try. Perhaps a better Windows solution would be the highly recommended Windows app called OneNote that I think has an iPhone app as well.

I have to say the best part of Evernote is it’s FREE, provided you stay within your monthly allotted file usage of 40mb 60mb. And as long as you refrain from capturing lots of photos or images, there should be no problem sticking to the monthly allowance. This month, I’ve captured almost 400 recipes and have used about half my space. I’m careful to edit out all the extra text, links, and images to save.

I’m not going to delve into the details on how to specifically use Evernote, as there is a great “get started” tutorial online, but there are a couple of little tips to mention.

For Firefox browser users, the Evernote add-on makes capturing from Firefox super easy. Once the add-on is installed, a little button is added to the toolbar. Just click the button and the current page is clipped and added to the Evernote software on your hard drive.

Don’t fret if you aren’t a Firefox user, check their web clipper downloads page to find the generic web clipper (bottom of the page). Just drag it to your browser link bar and when you want to capture a page, click it to save it to Evernote.

Once the web page is captured, you can then edit the page similarly as you would in any word processing app. Remove or add text, change formatting, etc.

After you’ve installed and set up Evernote, take a minute to click the “Trunk” button link on the top toolbar and download the Epicurious notebook which includes 10 delicious burger recipes to add to your account.

Evernote logo

I highly recommend Evernote for organizing anything, but for compiling recipes and cooking tips, it’s absolutely indispensable, and I think I’m going to love it more than any iPhone cooking app, because it’s customizable for my needs and includes only the recipes and cooking tips that I am interested in! And IT’S FREE!!!!

UPDATE December 19, 2010: I am loving Evernote even more! I have clipped all of my own recipes into the program, and it’s been wonderful to search for keyword(s) and I can easily find the recipe I want! And bravo to the folks at Evernote! They just increased the allotted monthly file space from 40mb to 60mb! I had no problem keeping under the 40mb, but this will be even better!

And keep in mind, you can also use Evernote for other interests and subjects as well. I keep a lot of my health topics in a separate notebook. Trip planning, Christmas gift lists, doctor’s notes, etc. The options are endless!

First Soaker and Biga!

Peter Reinhart Whole Grains

Well it was my first try at a soaker and biga. Whoo hoo!

I followed a recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor

I followed the Multigrain Stuan recipe on page 102. Actually I shouldn’t even be calling them recipes, (thanks Pen!) they are actually called “formulas”

I started out very well. I added a whole mess o’ grains and flours to the soaker. I mixed a combination of corn meal, barley flour, wheat bran, oat bran, oatmeal, and rye flour, added the salt, whole wheat flour, powder buttermilk and water. I kept it on the counter until this morning.

The Biga was just as easy to mix. I used my bread machine, and mixed the whole wheat, instant yeast and water. Shaped it into a ball, and allowed it to rest in the refrigerator until this morning.

This morning, I warmed up the Biga for a couple of hours, then, along with the grain soaker, I cut it up into smaller chunks with my pastry cutter.

This is where I went astray. I mistakenly read the wrong section on the page, and thought there was 3/4 cup of liquid. oops. That was the Biga! So, for the final dough, I poured water and the rest of the ingredients into my bread machine and let it knead. Hmm, it looked awfully soupy and that’s when I realized my mistake! Ugh!

I had to add a ton more flour, I kept adding and adding until it finally looked normal. I figured since it was so messed up, I better allow the machine to go through its paces. I kneaded for 10, then rested for 20, then kneaded again for 10.

Then I removed the dough and let it rise in a bowl near our wood stove for about 60 minutes. There was really a lot of dough, so I figured it might work better as two loaves; I divided the dough with my pastry cutter, and shaped into loaves.

After baking and cooling, I started slicing for tomorrow’s lunch sandwiches. Eh, not so good. The crust came apart from the crumb. Oh well. I had a few bites of crust, and it was surprisingly alright, considering the salt and sugar flavor was diluted from all the extra flour.

I’m not giving up, and will definitely try again. It was a great learning experience, and a mistake that I will probably not repeat again! haaha!

Influx of iPhone Cooking Apps

Wow, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of new cooking iPhone apps! Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon.

Cook’s Illustrated (free)
Gordan Ramsay
Rachel Allen
Mario Batali – on my wish list!
MasterChef Academy
Free version – How To Cook Everything
Apple Recipes

Plus the ones that have been around for a little while:

How To Cook Everything (Paid)
20 Minute Meals Jamie Oliver – I have this one on my wish list
Martha Stewart Everyday Food
Rachel Ray Tasty Bites
170,000+ Recipes Big Oven
Betty Crocker
Women’s Day
All Recipes Dinner Spinner
Weber’s on the Grill
The Photo Cookbook

Cookbooks on the iPhone/iPad are really a wonderful medium. It’s interactive, you can include video, timers, shopping lists, etc. I think the future is looking bright and it’s only just begun!

How To Cook Everything iPhone App – Free Version

Just saw that there is a FREE version for the Mark Bittman “How To Cook Everything” iPhone App.

It’s called “How To Cook Everything Essentials“. The app includes 103 basic recipes that Mark Bittman considers “Essential,” plus reference information and features from the complete app. Timer, shopping list, etc

I was lucky enough to purchase the paid version at a low discounted price of $1.99 back in June. They offer it on sale every few months on holiday weekends, so if you want a bargain, keep checking the price. It’s a fantastic app – read my full review. I think it’s worth the $5 full price!

I’m downloading the freebie app now and I’ll update after I compare both apps side by side.

Williams Sonoma Muffins & Quickbreads Book Review

I found the cook book Muffins & Quick Breads (Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library) at the library a few weeks ago; After browsing through the pages, I found so many awesome recipes I wanted to try. A lot of the recipes were lower in sugar, and I really loved that!

I searched for it on Amazon and was thrilled to find a used copy for less than $4. Yay! It was from a 3rd party seller, but “fulfilled by Amazon” which means it qualified for free shipping if your total order was $25 or more. There are lots of other 3rd party sellers also selling used copies for under $5 (including shipping).

I ordered it immediately! It arrived fairly quickly, and it was in very good shape. I couldn’t even tell that it was a “used” copy, it only had a few blemishes on some of the pages. Nothing big.

The big thing I did notice was that it was an older version than the copy from the library. I compared each page, and I did find some discrepancies in the flour weights (2 cups should be 10 oz or 315 grams) along with a few other ingredients like raisins. It wasn’t very difficult to hand corrected a lot of the recipes. So, all in all, I am very happy with the book.

I highly recommend this book if you are into muffins and quickbreads. Because I was so impressed, I found other older Williams Sonoma books from the library. I didn’t find any that made me want to order as quickly as this book though.

I did enjoy the Soups book as well as the newer Muffins book from 2003, but the recipes were much more sugary. I still am keeping several in mind for a future order.

The first recipe I baked was Blueberry Muffins (pg 36). Check out my recipe details. Yum!

I’ll be baking more recipes as autumn and winter move on!

I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks; I like putting my own spin on a recipe rather than exactly following it. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.