Anyone who knows me in real life or on Facebook knows that I adore my InstantPot and will proselytize on it’s wonders at the drop of the hat. I am the Kool Aid Man of the electric multicooker. As much as I love my InstantPot, it does not slow cook well, and I would be happy to use my slow cooker more often. I like my kitchen toys. When I saw Nicki Sizemore’s Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker: Reinvent the Slow-Cooked Meal offered on Netgally, I was excited to put my slow cooker back in rotation. This is an honest review.
Sizemore says she wants to refresh our love for the slow cooker by jettisoning the bland, watery recipes full of canned goods and replacing them with fresh ingredients and bold flavors. I personally have never used canned goods in my slow cooker cooking, but I am all for flavor packed meals that are also low maintenance. I picked out 5 different recipes to try. After being disappointed in the first two recipes I tried, I decided two was enough. I don’t have the money or patience to make more bad food.
One thing I like about Sizemore’s recipes is the way they are laid out. She breaks down ways elements of the recipe can be made ahead of time and then put together. I didn’t always make things ahead of time, but I followed the recipes as exactly as possible. I am not a trained chef, but I am a home cook who has cooked professionally and has a lot of experience cooking. I felt like Sizemore’s instructions are clear and would be easy for most home cooks to follow. If you do buy this cookbook, I recommend seasoning the food more aggressively.
Garlic-Lemon Whole Chicken with Fingerling Potatoes & Fennel + Parsley Pesto
I chose this recipe first because I liked the idea of cooking a whole chicken without the oven. I am the only person in the house who likes crispy skin, so the lack was not a deal breaker. I thought a fairly basic recipe would be a good place to get an idea for the overall quality of the recipes in the book. I hope I am wrong, because this was a disappointment.
The elements to this recipe were: herb butter, a 4 – 5 pound chicken sliced fennel bulb and fingerling potatoes, and a parsley pesto. I bought a barely 4 pound chicken, seasoned it with salt and pepper and made the herb butter. The butter had lemon zest, fresh garlic, fresh thyme and tarragon, and more salt and black pepper (I would make the butter again). I rubbed the butter under the skin, focusing on the breast and thigh areas, and then I put in the fridge over night. About 7 hours before I planned to serve dinner, I pulled the chicken out of the fridge and let it come closer to room temperature. No fingerling potatoes were to be had, so I used baby red potatoes. I sliced the potatoes and the fennel bulb and tossed them into the slow cooker with garlic cloves, thyme sprigs, salt and pepper and then some white wine. I nestled the chicken, breast down, into the vegetables, put of the lid and then turned the slow cooker to low as directed.
Five hours later, the chicken back and legs, which were facing up, did not look done, but the breast registered 165, so I pulled the chicken out. We let the potato and fennel continue cooking. and I made the parsley pesto. I love parsley pesto, so I knew this part would be good. The breast was tender and juicy, but the thighs and legs were too raw. We sliced off some breast meet and put the rest of the chicken in the oven at 375. In addition to the under cooked meat, the potatoes, fennel, and juices were very bland, and also watery. There was nothing lemony, garlicky, or herbal about the dish.
I wouldn’t make a whole chicken in the slow cooker again. I would make the recipe and cook it in the oven in a cast iron dutch oven. I think that would bring out a lot more flavor.
I hope next week’s turkey meatballs work better.
Turkey Meatball Subs + Spinach, Shaved Fennel & Parmesan Salad
Obviously, these did not become subs, and the salad didn’t happen. That’s fine, the recipe also suggested the meatballs and sauce could be served over pasta. That was my plan, but then we lost power after the meatballs were done, but before I cooked the pasta. As for the salad, my housemates thought it sounded weird and they weren’t going to eat it. They are now wary of fennel after last week’s flavorless, soggy fennel. I planned to saute the spinach with garlic and then make parmesean fennel chips (which only I would eat) but the power loss ended that plan. Fortunately, I had already baked a loaf of rosemary bread and made basil pesto.
This recipe was less of a disappointment than the Garlic Lemon Chicken, but was still a disappointment. So far we are two for two on dishes that come out bland and watery. I was concerned when the tomato sauce recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of Italian seasoning. It tasted like lightly seasoned tomato, which is ok, but not really what I wanted. The meatballs had a nice texture, but no flavor. All of the flavor in this dish came from the fresh pesto and the bread – which were recipes that came from elsewhere.
I like the idea of this dish. It’s a good way to cook turkey meatballs, which can get tough, but I would not use this recipe again. I had a lot of left overs and the meatballs were even more noticeably flavorless the next day.
I am disappointed in this cookbook. I have made meals in my slow cooker that were neither bland nor watery. I have used Lynn Alley’s The Gourmet Slow Cooker for years and never had a recipe turn out bland or watery. The ideas here are great, and I like the way she breaks down the recipes into do ahead steps. I wish the final products had been better. There is always the possibility that I picked the only two recipes that don’t work.