Reach For The Slow Cooker For A Warm Winter Dinner

Reach For The Slow Cooker For A Warm Winter Dinner

By Lee Svitak Dean, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS)

When important people who cook are asked what their indispensable kitchen tools are, the answers tend to be similar. It usually boils down to a chef’s knife and a heavy set of cookware, with a few random culinary gadgets, depending on who answers the question.

And, yes, those are the important tools of the trade, the mainstay of all good cooking.

I have them both. I am ready to cook at all times. Kitchen duty would be tough without those basics.

But here’s where some of us veer off along a different culinary path. We may be serious cooks, but we also wear the mantle of “busy,” and the prospect of dinner in process while we are away means we’re efficient cooks (and, I would argue, smart ones).

So I add “slow cooker” to that must-have list. (You may call it a Crock-Pot, which is a trademarked name that reflects the original. I officially have to stick with the generic label.)

But the slow-cooker necessity is more than having dinner ready when I walk in the door. I reach for this simple small appliance (one big enough to hold half a ham) because I have only a single oven and four stovetop burners. How else will I cook for a crowd when there are too many dishes to prepare? I reach for the slow cooker and breathe a sigh of relief.

Which brings me to my favorite dish for this low-heat contraption. Sesame Pork Roast serves as my standby in cold weather, as much for its enticing fragrance as for its tender meat.

This recipe has made the rounds of three generations of Svitak cooks and our extended family, it’s that good. And like all memorable recipes, it has a story.

Forty-plus years ago, my mother’s sister wrote down a recipe she heard on the radio. She was quite the adventurous cook and, with a home in California, always ahead of our Minnesota taste buds. As she often did with recipes, this one was passed along to my mother, who made it for company because it was far too exotic to serve for everyday.

And, yes, it was unusual for its time, with sesame seeds, soy sauce, ground ginger and curry powder all part of the mix (how un-Minnesotan was that in the early 1970s?).

The recipe had staying power, in great part because of its versatility. Need an unexpected (and efficient) dish for entertaining? Check. A reliable family dinner? Check. Different ways to serve it? Check (atop mashed potatoes, rice or noodles, with or without gravy). What about informal sandwiches, stuffed onto buns? Check.

I’ve also discovered that it’s a great recipe to adapt to ingredients I have on hand. Add more or less green onions, as you prefer. Experiment with fresh ginger instead of ground (but make sure you use a lot). I’ve prepared it without curry powder when I discovered, too late, I had none. Left out the sesame seeds on another occasion when I hadn’t planned ahead (oops). Despite my tinkering and occasional inept planning, the recipe works because, at its basic, it’s simply braised meat with seasonings.

For all these reasons, Sesame Pork became part of my repertoire and later for my daughters, who prepare it for guests these days because who serves a roast to company? Once again, it’s exotic.

As for the popularity of slow cookers, chefs Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller have demonstrated recipes in these not-so-haute appliances, though I have doubts that either of them has one stashed in a cupboard.

But when even they serve up braised meat for their guests, I know we’re in good company.


Serve 6.

Note: Basically a braised piece of meat, this roast is easy to prepare whether in a slow cooker or in the oven. When prepared in the slow cooker, the roast doesn’t need to be marinated in advance because the meat marinates during the all-day cooking time. But for ease of prep in the morning, it’s helpful to make the marinade the night before. From Come One, Come All/ Easy Entertaining With Seasonal Menus by Lee Svitak Dean.

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

3 or 4 green onions, sliced (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons ground ginger

2 tablespoons molasses (any type)

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoons black pepper

1 cup water

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 pounds pork shoulder roast

3 tablespoons flour for gravy, if desired

Toast sesame seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat until fragrant and slightly browned, stirring occasionally.

Place seeds in a bowl with the green onions, ketchup, soy sauce, ginger, molasses, salt, curry powder, black pepper, 1 cup water and wine vinegar; stir to mix thoroughly. Place meat in a large bowl and pour the marinade over the meat. If you are not using a slow cooker, marinate the roast, covered and in the refrigerator, for 2 to 3 hours or overnight.

To prepare in a slow cooker: Place meat and marinade in the slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for 8 to 9 hours or on high for about 3 hours. When done, the meat should be falling apart tender, easy to pull apart with a fork.

To prepare in the oven: Place the meat and marinade in a covered casserole dish, and let it cook at 300 degrees for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

To serve: Place meat over noodles, rice or mashed potatoes, along with pan juices or with gravy made from the juices. Or pull the meat apart and serve on buns for a variation on pulled pork sandwiches.

To make gravy: Pour pan juices into a 2-cup measure. Skim off fat, returning 2 tablespoons of the fat to a pan. If the pan juices do not equal 2 cups, add enough water to reach the 2-cup measure.

Whisk 3 tablespoons flour into the fat in the pan and cook over medium heat on the stovetop until bubbly. Slowly stir in pan juices and cook until gravy thickens, stirring constantly.

©2016 Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Every home should have a slow cooker. (Ron Sumners/Fotolia)

Honors Go To Many Cookbooks

Honors Go To Many Cookbooks

By Lee Svitak Dean, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS)

If it’s spring, the award season in the food world has begun. Last week the James Beard Foundation announced its winners in the cookbook awards, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals provided theirs a bit earlier. Both lists of best books serve as a serious prompt to head to the bookstore right now — and the kitchen soon after.


Cookbook of the Year: “Yucatan: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition,” David Sterling, (University of Texas Press)

Cookbook Hall of Fame: Barbara Kafka

American: “Heritage,” Sean Brock, (Artisan)

Baking and dessert: “Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts & Non-Wheat Flours,” by Alice Medrich (Artisan)

Beverage: “Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail,” by Dave Arnold (W. W. Norton)

Cooking from a professional point of view: “Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes,” by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns (Chronicle Books)

Focus on health: “Cooking Light Mad Delicious: The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing,” by Keith Schroeder (Oxmoor House)

General cooking: “The Kitchn Cookbook: Recipes, Kitchens & Tips to Inspire Your Cooking,” by Faith Durand and Sara Kate Gillingham (Clarkson Potter)

International: “Yucatan: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition,” by David Sterling (University of Texas Press)

Photography: “In Her Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Grandmas Around the World,” by Gabriele Galimberti (Clarkson Potter)

Reference and scholarship: “Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork: The Comprehensive Photographic Guide to Humane Slaughtering and Butchering,” by Adam Danforth (Storey)

Single subject: “Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes,” by Jennifer McLagan (Ten Speed Press)

Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian: “At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well,” by Amy Chaplin (Roost Books)

Writing and Literature: “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food,” by Dan Barber (Penguin Press)


American: “Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything,” by Donald Link and Paula Disbrowe (Clarkson Potter)

Baking/Savory or Sweet: “The Baking Bible,” by Rose Levy Beranbaum (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Beverage/ Reference/ Technical: “Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork: The Comprehensive Photographic Guide to Humane Slaughtering and Butchering,” by Adam Danforth (Storey)

Chefs and Restaurants: “Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes,” by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns (Chronicle Books)

Children, Youth and Family: “FutureChefs: Recipes by Tomorrow’s Cooks Across the Nation and the World,” by Ramin Ganeshram (Rodale Books)

Compilations: “The Great Outdoors Cookbook: Adventures in Cooking Under the Open Sky,” by Elaine Johnson and Margo True (Oxmoor House)

Culinary History: “Precious Cargo: How Foods from the Americas Changed the World,” by David DeWitt (Counterpoint Press)

Culinary Travel: “Cyprus: A Culinary Journey,” by Rita Henss (C&C Publishing)

Julia Child First Book: “Heritage,” by Sean Brock (Artisan)

Food Matters: “Citizen Farmers: The Biodynamic Way to Grow Healthy Food, Build Thriving Communities, and Give Back to the Earth,” by Daron Joffe with Susan Puckett (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

General: “Twelve Recipes,” by Cal Peternell (HarperCollins Publishers)

Health & Special Diet: “At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen,” by Amy Chaplin (Roost Books)

International: “Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die,” by Diane Kochilas (Rodale Books)

Literary Food Writing: “In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey,” by Samuel Fromartz (Viking)

Photography: “The Slanted Door,” by Charles Phan, photographed by Ed Anderson (Ten Speed Press)

Single Subject: “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry,” by Cathy Barrow (W. W. Norton)

Wine, Beer and Spirits: “Proof: The Science of Booze,” by Adam Rogers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Global Design: “A New Napa Cuisine,” by Christopher Kostow (Ten Speed Press)

E-Cookbook: “Tutka Bay Lodge: Coastal Cuisine from the Wilds of Alaska,” by Kirsten Dixon and Mandy Dixon (Alaska Northwest Books)

Jane Grigson Award: “Liquid Intelligence,” by Dave Arnold (W.W. Norton)

Design Award: “Relae: A Book of Ideas,” by Christian F. Puglisi (Ten Speed Press)

Judge’s Choice: “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day,” by Leanne Brown (Self-published)

Judge’s Choice: “North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland,” by Gunnar Karl Gislason and Jody Eddy (Ten Speed Press)

People’s Choice: “Vegetarian Dinner Parties,” by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (Rodale Books)

Cookbook of the Year: “A New Napa Cuisine,” by Christopher Kostow (Ten Speed Press)


IACP also presented its first list of Culinary Classic books, as well as an honor for a historical volume.

“Book of Great Cookies,” by Maida Heatter, published 1977, (Knopf)

“The Greens Cookbook,” by Deborah Madison, published 1987 (Bantam Books)

“The Making of a Cook,” by Madeleine Kamman, published 1978 (Atheneum)

“Greene on Greens,” by Bert Greene, published 1984 (Workman)

“The Taste of Country Cooking,” by Edna Lewis, published 1977 (Knopf)

Historical Cookbook Award: “Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera,” by Terence Scully, first published 1570 (University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division)

Photo: Elizabeth via Flickr