The American Heart Association is the nation’s premier authority on heart health. The newest cookbook from the AHA library, American Heart Association Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, September 2012), proves that cooking healthy meals is just as easy as cooking unhealthy ones! We recently sat down with the AHA to chat about their new book and how to put healthy spins on feel-good family dishes. Make sure to check out the end of the interview for a recipe from the book!
The Recipe Club: Have you seen a resurgence of slow cookers? Why are they popular again?
American Heart Association: Yes, in fact, slow cookers are the number one appliance choice on bridal gift registries! Today’s slow cooker isn’t like your grandmother’s; it’s become a sophisticated appliance with digital time features and has much more versatility than the original models. Slow cookers have been gaining popularity for several years, as people have become more and more pressed for time and more budget-conscious. Slow cookers let you enjoy home-cooked meals with a minimum of hands-on attention. In many cases, you can simply leave the kitchen—and even the house—while your dinner is cooking.
Plus, you can save time by making large quantities of your favorite dishes and enjoying them for several meals. By using a slow cooker, you can save money on food and energy costs, too. You can use less-expensive cuts of meat, so you won’t need to spend an arm and a leg to enjoy a savory stew or roast. Slow cookers also can help you go green, since they require less energy than a traditional stove or oven.
Will older slow cookers still be useful in preparing these dishes?
Most older models will be fine, but some might not get hot enough to cook food safely. To test the cooking temperature of your device, fill the crock one-half to two-thirds full of room-temperature water and heat the water, covered, on low for 8 hours. Uncover and immediately test the water temperature with an instant-read thermometer. If it is lower than 185° Fahrenheit, foods may not reach an adequate cooking temperature quickly enough for safety and you should consider replacing your slow cooker.
What should someone look for when shopping for a slow cooker?
Slow cookers have come a long way, and they now offer a variety of features that home cooks might find useful. A removable crock makes cleanup easier; some are also dishwasher-safe. Some crocks can be used on the stove, making browning meats easier. Electronic controls are easier to clean than knobs. Many models feature programmable timers, as well as digital temperature probes to ensure food safety. No matter which features you choose, be sure to select a size and shape that best fits your needs. Round cookers are best for soups and stews, providing more even cooking; oval cookers may be needed for meat loaf or bread.
“Slow cooking is a great way to turn healthy ingredients into satisfying meals.”
How is a slow cooker a good appliance for heart-healthy cooking?
Slow cooking is a great way to turn healthy ingredients into satisfying meals. The slow process of cooking with moist heat at low temperatures produces succulent lean meats and poultry of falling-apart tenderness with little or no added fat—a great health bonus. Nutrition-rich vegetables often cook right in the crock with the protein source, so they’re more likely to be part of your regular meal planning instead of being overlooked or a last-minute afterthought. Slow cookers are excellent for cooking heart-healthy legumes such as lentils and dried beans, which are full of fiber and protein but often are underused. A slow cooker also makes easy work of preparing low-sodium, homemade stocks to use in other recipes, such as soups and other dishes. The slow cooker is also capable of gently cooking fish and seafood, steaming breads and desserts, and simmering complex sauces that can make a simple dish outstanding and heart healthy.
Shrimp and grits, turkey breast with gravy, bread pudding . . . yum! How are these comfort foods heart healthy?
All the recipes in American Heart Association Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook adhere to the nutritional guidelines recommended by the American Heart Association. Every recipe is accompanied by a nutritional analysis including calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, protein, and sodium. For example, one serving of succulent Turkey Breast with Gravy has just 155 calories, 1 gram of total fat, and 185 milligrams of sodium.
I love using my slow cooker in fall and winter months. Do people use slow cookers all year round?
Absolutely! Slow cookers don’t heat up the house the way the stove or oven can, so they’re ideal for summer use. Dishes ideally suited for warm weather include Salmon Fillets with Pineapple-Melon Relish; Jerk Pork Loin with Mango Salsa; Zucchini and Tomato Risotto; and Strawberry, Rhubarb, and Peach Crumble.
What about the mornings when I only have time to dump everything into my slow cooker and go?
While some of the recipes require more prep, such as preparing dried beans or browning onions before adding them to the slow cooker, nearly half of the recipes require only the most basic preparation, such as chopping onions or trimming the fat from meat. Those are indicated with a special icon so you can find them easily.
What are some tips to getting more out of my slow cooker?
Think beyond soups and stews. Your slow cooker can also be used to prepare a full range of heart-healthy foods, from appetizers to desserts. It can provide breakfasts such as Apple-Maple Oatmeal or Breakfast Hash Brown Casserole; breads, including Spiced Banana Bread; and even desserts: how does Decadent Chocolate Pudding Cake, Sweet Potato Bread Pudding, or Sugar Plum Pears sound?
“Think beyond soups and stews. Your slow cooker can also be used to prepare a full range of heart-healthy foods, from appetizers to desserts.”
What are some of your favorite recipes in this book?
Tastes vary, of course. But those who enjoy experimenting with ethnic foods will appreciate recipes for Thai Coconut-Chicken Soup, Indonesian Beef with Couscous, and East Indian Spiced Beans with Apricot Rice. Comfort-food lovers will delight in Shrimp and Grits, Country Chicken Noodle Soup, Coffee Kettle Pot Roast, and Simple Mashed Sweet Potatoes. And vegetarians will find plenty of options, too, including Jamaican Bean and Vegetable Soup, Smoky Red Bell Pepper Hummus, White and Greens Lasagna, Greek Lentils, and Spicy Vegetable Curry.
What are some of AHA’s tips on leading a heart-healthy lifestyle?
To maximize your health, we recommend eating a variety of vegetables and fruits; choosing high-fiber whole grains; eating fish (especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids) at least twice a week; including fat-free and/or low-fat dairy products; limiting saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol; cutting back on sodium and added sugars; being physical active; maintaining a healthy weight; limiting alcohol; and avoiding smoking.
Recipe from American Heart Association Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook:
serves 4: 1½ cups per serving
slow cooker size/shape:3-to 4½-quart round or oval
slow cooking time: 5 to 6 hours on low plus 30 minutes on high, OR 2½ to 3 hours on high plus 30 minutes on high
1 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added tomatoes, undrained
1 cup water (if cooking on low) or 1½ cups water (if cooking on high)
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 medium rib of celery, sliced crosswise
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
2 ounces lower-sodium, low-fat smoked ham, all visible fat discarded, finely chopped (about 1⁄3 cup)
2 teaspoons dried parsley, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1⁄8 to ¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 medium dried bay leaf
8 ounces raw medium shrimp, thawed if frozen, peeled, rinsed, and patted dry
1 cup frozen cut okra, thawed
1 cup uncooked instant brown rice
¼ cup snipped fresh parsley
In the slow cooker, stir together the tomatoes with liquid, water, onion, celery, bell pepper, ham, parsley, oregano, garlic, thyme, cayenne, and bay leaf. Cook, covered, on low for 5 to 6 hours or on high for 2½ to 3 hours, or until the vegetables are tender.
If using the low setting, change it to high. Quickly stir in the shrimp, okra, and rice and re- cover the slow cooker. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Discard the bay leaf.
Serve the jambalaya sprinkled with the parsley.
Total Fat 2.0 g
Saturated Fat 0.5 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.5 g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.5 g
Cholesterol 78 mg
Sodium 472 mg
Carbohydrates 30 g
Fiber 4 g
Sugars 7 g
Protein 14 g
1½ starch, 2 vegetable, 1½ lean meat