Slo-Cooker. Crock-Pot. Lifesaver. Whatever you call it, you probably already love your slow cooker for soups, stews, braises and the like. But there's so much more this countertop appliance can take on:
Steam buns and dumplings. Even molecular gastronomists like Grant Achatz love a slow cooker. Calling himself "the Crock-Pot's most unlikely champion," Achatz uses one to keep paella hot, to make savory custards and to cook Hawaiian-style pork. But perhaps his most genius idea is to use a slow cooker to steam dumplings and buns—bonus points if you take his suggestion to construct a rack out of lemongrass, ginger and banana leaves.
Serve hot punch or mulled wine. Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, authors of The Great American Slow Cooker Book (Random House, $25) and frequent entertainers, say, "If you're having a winter party, you need a slow cooker on your bar." They use it to keep a wide variety of hot cocktails, including mulled wine, Irish coffee and Tom and Jerrys, warm and smelling great throughout the night.
Make yogurt. Homemade yogurt is delicious and easy to make. If you don't want to fuss with the stovetop, do it in a slow cooker—use the "low" temperature to heat the milk, then wrap the turned-off slow cooker in a towel or blanket to incubate the cultures.
DIY double boiler. Stacy Walker, one of the owners of Happy Cakes Bakeshop in Denver, uses a slow cooker to melt and hold large quantities of melted chocolate for dipping. "We put the chopped chocolate in the slow cooker on low, allow plenty of time for melting and stir often," she says.
Proof yeast dough. In a drafty kitchen, finding a warm spot to let a batch of dough rise can be a challenge. Solution: Put an inch or two of water into the crock of your slow cooker, heat it on low then set a large bowl with your dough ball over the uncovered slow cooker. Drape a clean dishtowel over the whole thing and let it rise for about an hour. Use a thermometer to check the temperature, adjusting the cooker to the "keep warm" setting if it gets too hot (according to author Harold McGee, the ideal temperature for a fast rise is 80 degrees).
Fondue party! Why waste valuable cabinet real estate for a unitasking fondue pot when you can just use a slow cooker? Combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker and set it on high to melt the cheese (stirring occasionally), or make it on the stove and then transfer to the cooker to keep the molten mass warm.
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