Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Family Favorites Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Family Favorites
Author: Beth Hensberger
Genre: Cookbook
ISBN: 978-1558324091 (paperback)
Full Retail Price: $14.95 (paperback)

My Rating: 3 stars out of 5 = It’s Okay

Summary Statement: To Use All Recipes Author Requires 4 Sizes of Slow Cookers & One with a Timer

This is the fourth book the author has written about slow cooker (crock pot) cooking. I’ve not read the other books by Hensberger.

My purpose for reading and using this book is that as a mother of two kids who this season, are out of the house three or four nights a week I’ve found it hard to make our usual from scratch “slow food” recipes. We have begun resorting to take out food, pizza, sandwiches, fast boiled pasta or cold cereal for dinner too much lately. We’ve owned a crock pot for at least twelve years but have not taken the time or felt the necessity to learn to use it. Now is that time.

This title is about family favorites but the “not your mother’s” had me wondering what she meant. From what I can glean the author is referencing more healthy meals, especially since this is mentioned in the book’s subtitle. I note the inclusion of some soy products into formerly meat-only or cow’s milk dairy products, but am not sure if that is for a perceived health benefit? If so, perhaps the author should read the book THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF SOY by Dianne Gregg. However I’m surprised at the content of some of the dishes such as the French toast casserole that uses a combination of half and half and whole milk plus butter. Other recipes contain cheeses, so the inclusion of high fat cow milk products makes one question the “healthy meals” aspect. Some of the processed foods she uses as ingredients contain corn syrup instead of using homemade foods from scratch. I understand the challenge with wanting healthy food that is home cooked yet wanting to save time. But just as reheating processed frozen foods is home cooking of processed foods so is slow cooking when some products are clearly chemical filled or contain corn syrup.

Perhaps “not your mother’s” refers to non-bland, non-traditional American foods? I see some recipes are a bit more fancy, has more spices or are foods from foreign countries that are more modern (couscous or hummus or Thai recipes). Yet some are good old fashioned plain American foods like the Chicken Noodle Soup and the Crock Pot Roast. So to me the recipes cookbook seem like a mish-mosh.

Because I am new to slow cooking I really appreciated the introduction with basic information and tips. There is great information here that I think I can use to adapt traditional recipes to crock pot cooking such as which foods get bitter if added at the beginning and which break down over time. The section on cooking times and temperatures was helpful. For me this is the best part of the book.

A complaint is the author recommends for family cooking that we buy FOUR different sized crock pots for different meals. Some recipes use two crock pots per meal so owning two to use both at the same time is necessary. This was a let down as my goal was to use the one I already own to its fullest potential. Regarding pot size, a complaint is that the recipes do NOT contain conversions to use other crock pots. I hate the idea of buying three more crock pots just to try the recipes to see if our family even likes the dishes that the slow cookers can produce! Having to buy four different crock pots in order to make less expensive meals defeats the frugal aspect of this endeavor!

To test, I made one conversion of the French toast casserole and cut the recipe in half and used four layers of bread (not two). I assumed this would require an equal or longer cook time but in half the time the casserole was over the recommended internal temperature and was starting to burn on the pot. Due to the author’s choice to NOT include conversion ideas, so far I’m floundering with trial and error.

I also quickly realized that the cooking times will not work for our family’s schedule. After reading through the cookbook the necessity of having a crock pot with a timer so that it can cook on a higher temperature for a certain amount of time then be lowered to warm so it is hot but not overcooked when the family arrives home is obvious. This is touched upon on page 41 (not in the introduction where in my opinion it belongs). The solution is to buy a NEW crock pot that has a timer function. I’m not happy that to use slow cooking to its fullest in our family, I’ll have to buy a new slow cooker! I just checked prices and the cost of the slow cookers with decent timers are 2-3 times more than the non-timer models! Again, slow cooking seems to be more expensive than I’d assumed it would be!

I noticed by reading through some recipes that in some cases additional ingredient information or vital prep steps are in the introductory paragraph NOT in the body of the recipe. I have never seen this in a cookbook before! Usually all ingredients, possible substitutions and even garnishes are in the ingredient list itself and also noted in the directions, stepped out. Don’t skip reading the introduction paragraph!

To give a sense for some of the recipes that may help explain “not your mother’s” here are some: Hot Almond Milk with Saffron (Indian drink), Hot Tofu Artichoke Dip, Green Chile Slow Cooker Omelet with Warm Fresh Tomato Salsa, Thai Beef and Pasta Salad, Lynn’s Flank Steak Tostadas with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce, Vegetable Lentil Soup with Cumin, Coriander, and Lemon, Fresh Cream of Corn Soup (has silken tofu in it), and Chinese Apricot Pork Roast with Buckwheat Soba Noodle Salad.

There are no desserts in this cookbook.

A last issue with some of these family recipes is the fact that they have non-bland spices or are international dishes will refused to be eaten by picky eater children in the family. I realize that’s an issue with the kids not with the author but I’m just pointing it out since this is titled as a family cookbook.

I’ve tested some recipes. I’ll keep it short. The Ginger Ale tasted like a very spicy cayenne pepper soft drink and nothing like a commercial ginger ale I’ve ever tasted. My husband and two kids turned their noses up at it. I wonder if this syrup base would be better used to make a vodka martini cocktail (albeit only for adults in the family). The use of high chemical cinnamon bread, a non-pantry staple item that is expensive to boot, in the French Toast Casserole is disappointing. I’d like to have seen a conversion for normal bread we have on hand, and adding cinnamon. I tried the recipe and found it bland, needing more maple syrup for sweetener which we added on top. I shudder at the idea of ruining the taste of the gourmet and expensive Schraffen Berger or Vhalrona chocolate with the strong flavor of sweetened condensed milk (with corn syrup) and personally would prefer to use granulated sugar (organic or raw) as to me avoidance of corn syrup is one key to healthy eating.

The book does NOT contain illustrations of any kind. There are no color photographs to inspire or tempt us (other than the one on the cover).

I am left not feeling very empowered yet still itching to use the one slow cooker I own to its fullest potential. I guess that will take buying one or two other cookbooks from different authors who make more use of the round five quart slow cooker I own. I feel that to use this cookbook more, I need to spend more money on additional slow cookers and one with a timer to use the recipes in this cookbook and I’m not interested in investing money in that when I don’t even know if the dishes it can make are as edible as the usual food we are accustomed to eating.

I’m rating this book 3 stars = It’s Okay. Had this book not required four different sized crockpots and one with a timer I’d have rated it 4 stars = I Like It (even if I was not interested in every single recipe due to our family’s palate).

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program. I cannot resell the item for profit so its value to me is $0. I received no payment for publishing this review on Amazon.com.

1 comment:

hopeinbrazil said...

I'm sorry you had a negative experience with your crockpot recipes. Don't give up! There are lots of recipes (even whole blogs) on the internet for slow cooking. I use mine mostly for roasts and Brazilian black beans, but I love the convenience.