I am so enjoying my ongoing conversation with my slow cooker.
It sits next to my stove and I glance at it frequently, wondering what we will do together next. I have many plans but proceed slowly so that I'm not simply cooking foods to give away.
Strangely, I have been disappointed by the cookbooks I've come across that address this intriguing method of cooking. I expected to find many good books for Crock-Pots and other slow cookers, but that has not been the case. Too often recipes seem to treat the appliance as a vehicle for low heat and nothing more.
I've wanted to see what it can do on its own, or nearly so. Do flavors unfold differently? Must you always saute everything before adding it to the slow cooker? Are some things actually better cooked in this way? What happens if I don't heat the liquid I add, as so many recipes insist I must?
I like what I've discovered. When you are making soup that calls for an onion or two, you don't need to saute it first. It will go through a rather gnarly period, like a teenager, but those rough flavors and aromas will mellow and eventually merge to create a beautiful whole.
Certain flavors -- I've noticed this especially with spices and with mushrooms -- blossom in a rich unfamiliar way, becoming beautifully complex. This is a thrilling development that hints of many delicious possibilities.
These recipes represent my current successes. And I'm happy to report that I'm not keeping any secrets; this time around, I have had no failures.
Of all my experiments with my slow cooker, this one has most surprised me. I made it late at night and awoke early to the most delicious aromas. The soup, which had been pale, nearly blonde, when I went to bed had turned a deep rich brown. The mushrooms had taken on an earthy savor, a dark and exotic flavor threaded through with a refined but powerful heat, the fingerprints of white pepper, which had, during the long night, blossomed in a way that was entirely new to me. So good was the soup at this stage that I nearly hesitated to touch it further. In the end I pureed it, added cream and Madeira and topped my first bowlful with creme fraiche and snipped chives. It was heavenly but I imagine there will come a time when I enjoy it in its earlier stage, roughhewn and absolutely magical.
Slow-Cooked Mushroom Soup
with Madeira and White Pepper