There was a time ― 30 or so years ago ― when a wedding shower would produce a half-dozen Crock-Pots, easy. "A bride's best friend," they were called. And now that all things '70s are cool again, electric slow-cookers are shedding their back-of-the-cupboard spider webs and rejoining the kitchen workforce.
Curiously enough, we need them now more than ever. The two-career, two-child, two-lessons-a-day family has precious little time to produce a wholesome, appealing dinner. And this reliable appliance can save the day. The claims it made three decades ago are true: With minimal effort, you can fill a slow-cooker with vegetables and meat or poultry in the morning, give it almost no attention thereafter, and it will produce a handsome meal in the evening. The cookers require no added fat and need only a small amount of added liquid to do their job because their tight-fitting lids trap the moisture as the foods simmer gently to tenderness.
We've put together a collection of homey dishes ― wine-simmered pot roast, lamb shanks with artichokes and olives, five spice pork, and more ― that show how versatile slow-cookers can be. Most of the recipes are designed for a 4 1/2- to 6-quart model; if yours is smaller, adjust ingredient amounts proportionately. For best results, the cooker should be at least half full. It must be kept covered to retain moisture and heat.
Cooking rates vary from model to model. But lack of precision is one of the beauties of this relaxed method ― 30 minutes to an hour one way or the other won't significantly damage the results; if a dish you've been cooking on high is ready before you want to serve it, just turn the cooker to low to hold the food.