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.

A Year of Slow Cooking

I borrowed the book “Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking” at the local library, and have started reading it. I’m exciting to learn more about using my slow cooker, and some of the recipes are so interesting. How cool would it be to make Creme Brulee in the slow cooker?!!! hahaa.

So, the author, Stephanie O’Dea started out with a New Year’s resolution to use her slow cooker every day for the year 2008. You can find more about Stephanie and the 365 project at her blog “A Year of Slow Cooking” Oh and did I mention that she’s a gluten-free home cook?!

She also has a discussion forum to learn more!

For those that want to follow her journey, start with her first post:

I absolutely love that she was such a newbie when she started. She used this experience to learn more about cooking and I find that so refreshing! Reading the comments posted from other readers are just as educational as her posts!

I think someone should create a new TV cooking show about slow cooking and slow cookers. It’s probably the only thing that hasn’t been done yet!

The only caveat I have right now is I need to test my slow cooker crock for lead. I’ll be picking up a lead tester at my local hardware store soon.

I’ll edit this post with a few of my favorite recipes.

One Day Cooking For Meals All Week

My days are getting longer at work, and then with afternoon errands, it’s been so stressful worrying about finding time for healthy weekday cooking. So, I took a tip from Rachael Ray’s new show, Week in a Day and decided that I would try cooking a bunch recipes on the weekend, making it easier to put together meals during busier days during the week. Plus, I need to fill our new chest freezer with some goodies!

So, today I set the oven on 300° and started cooking:

St Louis Style Pork Ribs

I rubbed some Arizona Dreaming seasoning from Penzey’s Spices on a rack of St Louis style pork ribs and slow cooked them on a roasting pan with rack. Thankfully, I applied a layer of aluminum foil on the bottom of the pan so clean up was a breeze!

They cooked for about 4 hours (300°), and then I raised the oven temp to about 375° to crisp them for a few minutes. Delicious and so easy.

Chuck Beef Roast

Next, I sliced all the outer fat off of a small one pound chuck beef roast (looked like a steak) and cut it into two pieces. In one of my smaller 2 quart cast iron covered pots, I browned each piece separately, then deglazed the bottom of the pan with a little bit of Merlot wine. I added both pieces of beef back into the pot, and covered with large chunks of onion, then poured some additional wine over the top. I let it slow cook (300°) for about 4 hours. I didn’t peek inside the pot, I just kept it covered and left it alone.

We ended up having it for our dinner tonight, and it was scrumptious. Tender and flavorful. Chuck rocks I tell you!!! It’s one of the best cuts of beef, it’s cheap and the flavor is outstanding! And so simple! I didn’t even have to add one smidgen of salt, pepper, spice or herb to the pot, and it develops into lusciousness. Just take the time to brown the meat first, deglaze, then add wine!

Chicken Drumsticks

On the stove, I browned 8 chicken drumsticks (two batches of 4 drums each) with some olive oil in my 4 quart cast iron pot. The chicken was reserved on a plate, while I started sauteing chopped onion, carrot, and some leftover purple cabbage. I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out the new bottle of three acre kitchen Balsamic Marinade I just bought from Whole Foods, so I poured a couple of tablespoons in, and deglazed the pan; it bubbled and reduced very quickly. Then I deglazed again with some Merlot wine, then added the chicken back into the pot, and poured more wine.

I placed the covered pot into the oven (300°) and cooked for hmm, I think it was about 2 hours or so. The chicken was falling off the bone, and I tasted a couple of tiny bits, and it was delicious. I completely cooled the chicken, vegetables, and sauce in a separate bowl, and then transferred into a large freezer bag to freeze for a later date.

Ground Beef and Leek Chili

On the stovetop, I browned a 1/3 pound of grass fed beef in my other 2 quart cast iron pot (I love my 2 quart pots, and I highly recommend this size for smaller 2-3 person families), then added in a couple of chopped leeks. Cooked down for a few minutes, then added poblano peppers (frozen from summer veggies), cranberry beans (also frozen from summer), fresh parsley, a carton of Pomi strained tomatoes and lots of spices and herbs.

That was also put into the oven along side the 4 qt pot with drumsticks, 2 quart pot with beef. The roaster with the ribs was on the bottom oven rack. It all just fit! Phew!

It cooked for about 1.5 hours or so, and then I cooled the chili completely; I transferred most of it into a quart sized freezer bag to freeze for a later date. I kept a portion in the fridge, enough for tomorrow’s lunch for either my husband or myself.

Transitional Whole Wheat Bread

I started my soaker and biga for a loaf of bread yesterday, following the transitional wheat bread recipe from Peter Reinhart. I removed the biga from the fridge this morning, and once all the pots were in the oven, it was perfect timing to start creating the final dough.

By the time the chili and chicken drumsticks were done baking, my dough had risen, was proofed and was ready to be baked, so I temporarily increased the oven temp to 350° and the loaf went into the oven.

40 minutes later, it was baked and I lowered the temp back down to 300° for the beef and pork ribs to finish.

Salad Greens

I was thrilled to find some local organic red and green leaf lettuce at Whole Foods at a bargain price of only 1.29/lb. I picked up 3 heads! The total cost was about $2.50, which equaled to one small head of green leaf from California.

I washed, spun dried, and bagged all of it, so now I have enough lettuce for a few dinner and lunch salads for the week.


Once everything was done cooking, I poured a cup of jasmine brown rice with 2 cups of water into one of the 2 qt cast iron pots, and in an hour or so, we were ready to eat tonight’s meal.

I think it’ll get even easier next time. I will be able to coordinate a little better, multi-tasking a bit more. But I feel so accomplished knowing that a big portion of the cooking for this week is done!

There is a portion of beef left over along with 2 servings of brown rice, so I have a plan to either make tomato beef sauce (with rice or pasta) or possibly some beef stew with rice, leeks and kale. I think I’ll probably go for the soup.

As for the rest of the week, we have pork ribs, chicken (enough for at least two meals), and chili. I have some beets in the fridge, and they will roast nicely with potatoes and/or a butternut squash. I think we’ll be good to go!

Beef Bottom Round Roast

Darn it! I defrosted a small bottom round roast for dinner tonight, and just stuck it in the oven following “roast beef” instructions I found on the web. I am so glad that I searched for “bottom round roast” just now, because now I’m seeing that it needs to be cooked low and slow! Darn!

I would have started cooking earlier this afternoon, had I known. I specifically asked the meat department associate at Whole Foods Market if this cut should be slow cooked. He said yeah, but you can also cook it like a roast…sooo that’s what I thought!

I’m so glad I found out before it was too late, because it would have been horrible! So, now we have to order take out, and I transferred the roast into my small cast iron and lowered the oven temp. I think it’ll be in there all night!