Sally Swift: What is your take on the slow cooker, previously known as the Crock-Pot?
Faith Durand: I think it's like your sous chef or your prep cook.
SS: I hadn't thought about it that way.
FD: It does the hard work while you're busy doing other more glamorous and exciting things in the kitchen. It's the little tool that just keeps on going in the background.
SS: If people are going to go out and buy a slow cooker, what do they need to think about?
FD: There are a lot of brands that are great.
Things that I would look for besides the basics, every slow cooker should have a low and a high setting, which are fairly standard temperatures. But the other thing that I look for is I like my slow cooker to have a warm setting as well, which most have.
Then also a timer, so you can set it to cook for a certain number of hours and then automatically switch to warm when it's done cooking. That's really what gives you the convenience factor. You can walk away and it'll turn itself off and turn itself on.
SS: Is bigger better with slow cookers, or what size is best when you're buying?
FD: Not necessarily. I know some people who have a lot of different sizes. I think I use a 6-quart slow cooker, which is good for a lot of things. But if it's just a household of one or two people and you know that you're not going to eat 6 quarts of whatever you're going to cook at any one time, you can get some smaller ones; those are often very useful.
However, the slow cooker is great to cook things for freezing, so keep that in mind as well. Don't just make one batch of beans -- make a lot of beans and freeze them for later.
SS: Traditionally people think about chili con carne and stewed meats. What about vegetables?
FD: There are a lot of vegetarian recipes you can do in the slow cooker: vegetarian chilis, vegetarian soups, all of those sorts of things. But when I think about vegetarian meals, I think more in terms of components. The slow cooker is a wonderful tool for making a big pot of beans, making a pot of vegetable stock overnight or even doing a batch of baked potatoes.
FD: You wrap them up, put them in the slow cooker and let them go.
SS: You're just essentially using it like an oven?
(Photo: Emily Barney / Flickr)
FD: I like to do steel-cut oats, first of all. I love steel-cut oats; they're firmer, they get a little creamy in the slow-cooker. You simply put them in overnight with milk or water, you can add spices, you can add dried fruit. You just set it on low, let it cook overnight and in the morning you wake up to a hot bowl of oatmeal.
SS: No pre-soaking with that?
SS: Tell me how you would do a vegetable stock, because vegetable stocks tend to be quicker for the most part.
FD: First of all, you could do a quicker vegetable stock. Let's say you want one for dinner in the evening, you start it at 10 in the morning, go away, it cooks for 6 hours, it'll be great.
But sometimes I like to do a deeper, richer vegetable stock with roasted vegetables, maybe tougher, harder vegetables. You can let that go overnight, 8 hours, 10 hours -- on low, of course.
SS: I don't think that we embrace really slow-cooked vegetables -- we're still very oriented toward liking our vegetables crisper rather than softer. What's your take on that?
FD: There are a lot of vegetables that benefit from long, slow cooking. Personally, I tend to gravitate toward those.
For instance, I love green beans when they've really cooked for a long time in that Greek-style way with some spice and some tomatoes. It gets silky and supple in that long, slow cooking. The slow cooker can help you do that.
(Photo: I Believe I Can Fry / Flickr)
FD: I don't do a lot of greens in the slow cooker, although I have been meaning to work with collard greens because collard greens need that long, slow simmer. They just make such a wonderful sauce that I think a long, overnight cook in the slow cooker, especially with a lot of aromatics and a lot of garlic, would be absolutely delicious.
(Photo: cogdogblog / Flickr)
FD: You can use the slow cooker to do the long, slow, steamy work of cooking down fruit into apple butter or pear butter. It's a fall chore, but it's a wonderful treat to have around. You just throw a batch of applesauce or apple puree into the slow cooker and let it cook for a long time. You're left with sweet, spreadable, creamy, fruit butter.
Sally Swift is the managing producer and co-creator of The Splendid Table. Before developing the show, she worked in film, video and television, including stints at Twin Cities Public Television, Paisley Park, and Comic Relief with Billy Crystal. She also survived a stint as segment producer on The Jenny Jones Show.