Cookbook Review: Slow Cooker Revolution: The Easy Prep Edition

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned I was going to be reviewing a cookbook that we just bought from America’s Test Kitchen on easy prep recipes for the slow cooker. I picked an array of recipes: a casserole, stew, main meat dish, dessert and a side to try out and see if they lived up to their easy prep designation, while still tasting great. I laid out my experience with each one below, but overall, the recipes I tried were flavorful and easy to prepare, making dinner planning and preparation a breeze.

As a stay at home mom, this book worked really well for me as there were several recipes that I could quickly prepare during mid-day nap time, or in the late afternoon while my toddler plays with his trucks by himself. Most recipes take less than 20 minutes to prepare and none required a pantry full of ingredients, making grocery shopping easy. Most recipes made enough for dinner that night and, at least two lunches or dinners. However, if I was working outside the house all day, this book offered up far fewer recipes that take 8-9 hours to prepare, with most needing anywhere from 3-6 hours.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for busy families, but particularly for working part-time or stay at home families. I know that I’ll be referencing this cookbook frequently!

Below are the recipes I selected and cooked, along with a synopsis of my experience making each of them.

Lemony Chicken and Rice with Spinach and Feta

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Recommended Cook Time: 4-5 hours on low

My Cook Time: 4 hours 45 minutes on low

Finish Time: <10 minutes

Prior to cooking, I was initially wary about the use of precooked, packaged Minute Rice, which America’s Test Kitchen found was necessary to get the right consistency in the casserole dish. Also, once I added the ingredients and turned the slow cooker on, I worried about the lack of any liquid. With about an hour left of the cooking time, the edges were browning too much, so I stirred in a 1/4 cup water as I wanted to make sure it didn’t burn.

This dish was really easy and quick to finish up and we thought this dish had good flavor. I think I would even add just a little more lemon juice to punch it up a bit more, but the flavors worked really well together and the half and half and feta added a nice creaminess to the rice. I was actually pretty happy with the consistency of the rice, and wouldn’t have guessed it was precooked and packaged, but my rice connoisseur husband thought the rice was a little too broken. Overall, we liked the bright flavors of this dish and felt it was a really good casserole dinner dish.

Would I make it again?: Yes

Moroccan Beef Stew

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Recommended Cook Time: 9-10 hours on Low, 6-7 hours on High

My Cook Time: 7 hours

Finish Time: <5 minutes

The recipe calls for 4 pounds of sirloin beef tips, which I had a hard time finding. I asked the butcher at the grocery store and he said it is not a popular cut so they rarely carry it, but recommended using sirloin steak instead. The only catch is the higher cost of sirloin, so I opted to only purchase 2.75 pounds. However, even with less meat, the stew was really very meaty. The only other changes I made was to use smoked paprika, instead of regular paprika and I used 1.5 pounds of carrots instead of 1 pound called for in the recipe.

The husband and I really liked this dish and even our toddler ate a serving of the chick peas and carrots. The flavor of the stew was complex, even with just three spices, and the figs added a really nice sweetness to the sauce. I think this was an easy dish to put together and was really filling and delicious on a cold, rainy night. By the end of the cooking time, the cubed sirloin had kind of shredded a bit, adding to the stew-like consistency. When I make this again, I might experiment with using stew meat, a less expensive cut, to see if that is a good substitute. Additionally, I would reduce the amount of meat to 2 pounds and add an additional can of chick peas as I felt the stew, even with less meat than called for, was just too meaty.

Would I make it again?: Yes, definitely

Individual Chocolate Fudge Cakes

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Recommended Cook Time: 1-2 hours on Low

My Cook Time: 2 hours on Low, 30 minutes on High

Finish Time: None

I was pretty skeptical that the slow cooker could produce a good chocolatey, cake-y dessert but I was wrong. This dessert turned out really well and was slightly fudgy in the middle, kind of like a lava cake.

However, mine took quite a bit longer to cook than stated in the recipe as after 2 hours on low, the cakes were still raw in the middle. An additional 30 minutes at high finished the cooking process. The recipe calls for 6 ounce ramekins, but I think mine were 8 ounces, so that could have made a difference.

We only ate two of the four desserts one night, but they easily reheated in the microwave at full power for one minute and stayed fudgy in the middle.

Would I make it again?: Yes

Hoisin-Glazed Pork Tenderloin

Prep Time: <5 minutes

Recommended Cook Time: 1-2 hours on Low

My Cook Time: 2 hours 20 minutes on Low

Finish Time: <10 minutes

This one was a tricky recipe for me in that it was difficult to judge when the pork was cooked through. I used a meat thermometer, as recommended in the book; however, when I measured the pork just above 145° (the book’s recommended cook temperature), the juices that ran out when I pulled the probe out were still quite pink so I left it to go another 20 minutes. In hindsight, I should have pulled it earlier as the pork ended up a tad dry, so I should have trusted the thermometer’s reading.

Also, when I added the ingredients after removing the pork to rest, they made a much thinner sauce than a glaze. No doubt that the flavor was still good as we spooned it over the sliced pork (and used a side of vegetable fried rice to soak up the rest of the sauce!), but mine wasn’t very glaze-like. Still, my Chinese husband gave it two thumbs up for authentic flavor and I liked the combo of flavors as well.

This was a good recipe for me to put in the slow cooker a couple hours before we wanted to eat it and made for a quick weekday dinner, but the short cook time may not be conducive for working parents who need a 8+ hour cook time.

Would I make it again?: Yes, and trust the meat thermometer.

Braised Artichokes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Recommended Cook Time: 8-9 hours on Low or 5-6 hour on High

My Cook Time: 9 hours on Low

Finish Time: 5 minutes

Growing up, my parents would have candlelit date night dinners at home (with 5 kids at home, babysitters were expensive!) and my Mom would make us something to eat earlier and send us off to watch tv while they enjoyed their fancy dinner. Often on those nights, I remember her making steamed artichokes for us kids. It felt like such a fancy treat to dip each artichoke leaf in melted butter, then run them along your teeth, removing the fleshy insides of the petal, with melted butter running down our chins.

It has been years since I had artichokes this way so when I saw a slow cooker recipe for braised artichokes, I had to make them. Although it is listed as an ‘easy side’, I feel they work best as an appetizer as you kind of want to devote your time to working your way through the artichoke without your other food getting cold. The recipe calls for a simple garlic-lemon butter dip, which paired even better than the melted butter from my childhood.

But, while this was a fun, nostalgic treat for me, my husband was not as thrilled. He was new to eating artichokes this way, and while he thought the flavor was good, he just felt it was a lot of work for so little flesh from each leaf. I definitely understand his point, but it was fun for me to relive a childhood memory.

Would I make it again?: Maybe, if I’m looking for a solo trip down memory lane.



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