Review: The Best Slow & Easy Recipes
Every weekend, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it is incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.
This is another book from the Cook’s Illustrated editors. I reviewed their best of 2009 recipes book awhile ago. “The Best Slow & Easy Recipes” is a different beast altogether though and focuses on some of my favorite foods – foods like braises, stews, and roasts. They throw some sides and veggies in also just as a bonus.
Slow and Easy. While it may sound strange, I would totally recommend this book to someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to cook. The reason is that most of the recipes in this book require very little hands on work. Sure they require time hence the “slow” part. But you aren’t really doing the work, your oven is. You could bang out some chores while dinner is making itself.
As Mr. Kimball says:
“Slow isn’t hard. Slow isn’t complicated. Slow is walk-away cooking, it’s letting an oven do the work for you.”
Also, most of these recipes tend to be large. This means that there will be plenty of leftovers for future meals unless you are the Duggar family. (The Duggar family site is awesome by the way. I’m going to find out who designed their banner and hire them to do a Macheesmo redesign.)
Again with the Thoroughness. Much like their other book I reviewed, this book takes a scientific, methodical approach to the recipes inside. For example, on their Roast Bone-In Leg of Lamb recipe, they found that there was a huge range of temperatures that recipes recommended. Everything from 250 degrees to 450. To be thorough, they tried a version at 250, 300, 350, 400, and 450. You can be pretty sure that the recipe that is presented is going to be fantastic.
For most of the recipes in the book, they start by explaining the process they used to tackle that recipe. You could of course skip this intro and just get right to the recipe, but I find the journey of how they got to the recipe to be really interesting stuff. If it is a recipe including meat, there will almost certainly be some explanation on selection and cuts.
Oven-Roasting. The first chapter of the book works through some of the classic oven roasted recipes. Traditionally, roasting recipes will say to roast at 350 to 400 degrees, but a lot of the recipes here have brought that temperature down to 200 or 300 degrees. This means the food takes longer to cook obviously, but that can be good for flavor and moisture retention in the meat.
The chapter includes “standard” roast recipes like prime rib, leg of lamb, and fresh ham. They deliver some really fun and original recipes as well like a roast duck with port-cherry sauce and an oven-poached side of salmon. All in all there are 50 pages of recipes and tips and all of them look pretty spot on.
En Cocotte. I was excited to see this chapter as this is one of my favorite ways to cook these days. En Cocotte is a traditional French way of cooking food in a casserole dish. It is very similar to braising. The only real difference is that no additional liquid is added to the pot. I really enjoyed the few recipes in this chapter on how to make eggs this way. A short chapter compared to some of the others, but really interesting.
The Meat of the Book. The real meat of this book (ha!) takes place over the next two chapters. These cover chilis, stews, and braises. When I think of really slow-cooked food, these are the things I dream about. Beef chili, beef stew, beef carbonnade, beef short ribs… are you noticing a trend? There is lots of beef going on and I don’t have a problem with that.
But I would be disappointed to not find some new stuff also. I was pretty impressed when I saw a pork vindaloo recipe. Vindaloo is one of my favorite things ever. And slow cooked calamari stew? Definitely never had that before!
Again, not only will you find solid recipes in these chapters, but they do a really nice job of teaching technique using nice descriptive drawings and explanations.
Side dishes and Vegetables. These are clearly not the focus of the book, but shouldn’t be overlooked. There is some good stuff in these pages. I like these deals because they keep with that theme of letting the oven work for you. Roasted potatoes are standard but poached pears? Don’t mind if I do!
But it’s Summertime! A lot of the recipes in this book are things I think of when I think of Winter. Braised, roasted, slow-cooked dishes remind me of cold days and football. Not necessarily of spring time. But all is not lost! There are some fantastic things that are slow-cooked and ready for summer. One of the most summer-ready dishes in the book is their version of Carnitas. I can just imagine sitting out on the porch with a margarita and a few carnitas tacos. That would be the sweet life.
I really enjoy all of the Cook’s Illustrated books. In this one, not only are there over 250 awesome recipes, but there are tons of tips and product recommendations. All together, I think this is a fantastic book if you are looking to dive in to some of these low, slow, and delicious dishes.