Texas Slow Cooker: the cookbook for busy people

“I became a real convert!” says cookbook author, food enthusiast, and Santa Fe resident, Cheryl Alters Jamison. Her just-released cookbook, Texas Slow Cooker, is testament to just how immersed she got in these cooking devices that make culinary life so much easier for busy people on the go.

She wasn’t a fan when the book’s publisher, Harvard Common Press, pitched the idea. She didn’t even own a slow cooker. “The one I had gotten rid of more than two decades ago was one of those old burnt orange ones from the 80s,” she shares. There was no insert and it was hard to clean. She also felt that “most things I made in it suffered from that gray meat and grayer gravy problem, and didn’t have a lot of flavor.”

Texas Slow Cooker - Cooking up a storm- three slow cookers going with a copy of Cooking Light on the counter, photo courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

Slow cooking up a storm- testing three recipes with a copy of Cooking Light on the counter, photo/courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

“So, what brought me to this?” she asks in the book’s introduction. A conversation she had with her stepdaughter Heather, busy mom to three Austin teenagers, sealed the deal. “Heather talked about how essential the slow cooker is in her life. It allows her to get a good meal on the table a few nights a week,” she shares. “An inexpensive appliance (you can get a decent one for under $20), that can help a family sit down to a wholesome meal, says Jamison, “I’m all for that.” She went out and bought three cookers, borrowed a few more and started checking them out.

Flying solo

Texas Slow Cooker - Cheryl Alters Jamison in her kitchen, photo courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

Cheryl Alters Jamison in her kitchen, photo, courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

For over 25 years, Cheryl had collaborated with her husband Bill creating their cookbooks. Their first, Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook, released in 1991, was followed by over a dozen more; four were James Beard Award-winners. Sadly, Bill passed away in 2015. The book was in contract before Bill became ill but now she was now on her own.

When asked how the process writing Texas Slow Cooker differed from their collaborations she said, “I had no one to bounce ideas off of, critique food with me, share the work load with, or share that feeling of accomplishment with when [the manuscript was] turned in.” She had to learn how to do it on her own. “I simply stared at the kitchen cupboards for a couple of months,” she says, “then had to pick myself up and seriously get to work.

Preparing to write Texas Slow Cooker

Texas Slow Cooker - Cochinita pibil wrapped in banana leaves, photo courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

Cochinita pibil wrapped in banana leaves, photo/courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

She began by researching everything she could about the subject, using books, magazines and other publications as well as the Internet. She talked to Heather and other slow cooker users and even to some who didn’t use them to find out why not. Her goal: to come up with recipes “at least as good as, but hopefully even better than conventional versions.” She gave a lot of thought to barbecue, a favored slow and low cooking style, popular with Texans as well as bain marie (water bath cooking) because slow cookers keep things moist.

She researched what slow cookers on the market and tried a number of them. She gives the pros and cons of each so you can purchase the one that fits your lifestyle. She shares insights about cooking with slow cookers as well as how to use the cooker itself. She even has tips for high altitude cooking (the recipes were tested at Santa Fe’s 7,000 feet above sea level altitude). She also includes helpful advice on adding flavor, texture and color to slow cooked food.

Texas Slow Cooker - Slow cooker Texas Sheet Cake, photoscourtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

Slow cooker Texas Sheet Cake, photo/courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

She discovered that slow cooker foods need an extra hit of flavor, “that deep umami kind of flavor,” so she ended up adding a little soy sauce, Maggi sauce (a sauce made from fermented wheat protein that has a deep, rich and salty flavor profile) or Worcestershire to some of the savory recipes. She discovered that flavors such as garlic and onion fade quite a bit, so she added more than she’d normally use. Another discovery: liquid does not evaporate so you can typically reduce the amount of liquid you would usually use by about half. She also added cornstarch or masa (corn flour used for tamales and tortillas) to some of the recipes to thicken their juices. “Chicken recipes do best on the low setting,” she notes, and “desserts do best on high.”

The book

Texas Slow Cooker - Chicken Tinga, a dish from south of the border photo courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

Chicken Tinga, a dish from south of the border, photo/courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

If you’re like most slow cooker users, you probably think that slow cookers are synonymous with pot roasts, stews and soups. Texas Slow Cooker takes it way beyond that. There are 125 recipes in  eight sections; A Breakfast to Kickstart Your Day, Starters, Tailgating Snacks and Soups, Chili and Stews (chile spelled the Texas way), Beef, Bison and Venison, Pork, Goat and Poultry, Gulf Seafood and Freshwater Fish, Beans, Vegetables and Other Sides and Desserts and Other Sides.

While most of the recipes are Texas-inspired, Jamison goes south of the border for some of her dishes such as chicken tinga (chicken cooked with tomatoes, chipotle chile in adobo and onions), cochinita pibil (a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán Peninsula that is made with Seville oranges, achiote paste and spices) and fajitas. She even goes to Vietnam for a skirt steak recipe, noting that there’s a “long history of Vietnamese settlement along the Gulf Coast, in particular.” Because of the German and Czech presence in Central Texas since the late 19th century, some of the recipes come from that culinary tradition.

Texas Slow Cooker - Butterscotch Blondies, photo courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

Butterscotch Blondies, photo/courtesy Cheryl Alters Jamison

She also adapted many dishes, from classic Texan to Tex-Mex, barbecue, Southern, Mexican and New Mexican; all things she’s regularly seen in frequent visits to the Lone Star State. She also adapted recipes from Texas Home Cooking and The Border Cookbook, two of her and Bill’s earlier cookbooks to work with slow cookers.

The hardest recipes to adapt for the slow cooker were the desserts. “They required rethinking science, not just art,” she says. “I ended up reducing sugar and fat in them, along with liquid, for best results.”,

What was her favorite thing to cook? “All of them,” she answers. But perhaps it’s the beef pot roast. Why? “It makes a comforting full meal with its vegs.  Cooking in the slow cooker is the perfect way to keep it moist while cooking it long enough to get super-tender.”

Whether you’re a busy working person or just want to go out for the day and have a hot dinner waiting for you when you get home, Texas Slow Cooker is a great addition to your cookbook collection.

the cover for Texas Slow Cooker photo courtesy Harvard Common Press

Author’s note: We first met Cheryl and Bill Jamison in 2004. I had an assignment to write about their new cookbook, Chicken on the Grill. Steve and I sat down with them in their lovely courtyard and talked cookbooks, grilling and smoking. We interviewed them twice more over the ensuing years. In 2014 we interviewed them for their latest effort, Smoke & Spice and our last chat was in 2015 for their second Rancho de Chimayó cookbook, Chimayó RANCHO DE CHIMAYO COOKBOOK 50th Anniversary Edition. It was always a pleasure.

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