Phyllis Good’s fame as a cookbook author came as a result of a happy accident.
In 2000, she and her husband, Merle, were looking for a new book for the catalog of their former publishing house, Good Books.
An author was late in producing a contracted book, and a substitute was needed relatively quickly.
Someone on their staff suggested a book of recipes for slow cookers (sometimes referred to by the brand name Crock-Pot).
“I said, ‘How many ways can you make beef stew?’ ” Phyllis Good recalls. “But one of our staff members said, ‘You can make recipes that are all parts of the meal’ in a slow cooker. So, we decided to try (a book).”
They sent letters to some trusted home cooks to see whether they’d be willing to contribute slow cooker recipes and tips.
“We got 1,800 responses for all parts of the meal,” Good says. “I had no idea.”
So she wrote the first of many cookbooks in her best-selling “Fix-It and Forget-It” slow cooker series.
On Tuesday, Good’s latest cookbook, “Stock the Crock: 100 Must-Have Slow-Cooker Recipes, 200 Variations for Every Appetite,” will be released by a different publisher — Oxmoor House Books, an imprint of Time Inc.
(Good Books was sold in 2014 to Skyhorse Publishing; while the Goods are no longer involved with the company, some of Phyllis Good’s previous cookbooks continue to be revised, updated and re-released).
Sitting at the dining room table in the Goods’ Walnut Street home in Lancaster city, with gingerbread baking in the slow cooker nearby, we asked Phyllis Good to talk about her new book and offer some tips for slow cooker cuisine.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How have things changed in slow cooking since your first cookbook came out in 2000?
The release of my (first) cookbook and the wild reception it got, while I’m proud of it, was also partially an accident. … It was at that moment that manufacturers had decided to redesign slow cookers themselves. I’m cooking with an oval, where the old ones were round. That’s not the shape of a beef roast or a whole chicken or a turkey thigh and leg. They are oval. And the other thing is that the old ones, you couldn’t lift the crock out. It was fixed to the electrical unit. Not convenient (to clean) at all.
What’s new in this book?
If you invite people over for dinner … the question always is, “What are your dietary preferences and restrictions?” And we all have people in our families and our friendship groups that are gluten-free, vegan/vegetarian, paleo-diet friendly, picky eaters, what have you. I thought, ‘I can adapt these recipes to allow people to customize them to fit (those preferences).’
You have recipes in your cookbook that you can make for two. What do people need to know about changing those?
In the case of a slow cooker, that does change the cook time. Maybe you do need less sauce, because it’s a very moist environment. You don’t have evaporation happening. So you have to adjust for that when you adapt the recipe.
How did you assemble the recipes?
These recipes were gathered from home cooks, and tested by home cooks. I asked them to test them on a group, if they can — their family, or have a group of friends in. It’s partly because I’m after all this wisdom that you don’t find in a manual that comes with your slow cooker. I built a brand-new list (of testers) for this book. My objective is to make it possible for people to eat around their own tables with their kids. And it’s so hard to do. So, what works for families? How are other people doing this?
What are some of your favorite recipes in the book?
The mustard-glazed ham (recipe below). And I really like the lasagna in a soup bowl. And I love the pecan squares; I do them with a chocolate variation.
What types of meat do well in a slow cooker?
What’s really wonderful is that a beef chuck roast does extremely well in a slow cooker. It’s marbled enough and it has enough collagen that as it cooks for any period of time, it starts to break down. It gets extremely tender and doesn’t get dry. I recommend chicken and turkey thighs as opposed to breasts for the same reasons. There’s more heft to them, and they have a higher fat content to them. … A chicken breast or a pork medallion, you don’t want to do them in a slow cooker for any length of time. They don’t have enough fat, and they become dry and brittle.
What are some other slow cooker tips?
If you’re going to put chopped vegetables (like carrots or potatoes) in, make sure they’re all about the same size. You can learn, too, to stage recipes. For example, there’s a great fish recipe (in the book). You put in wild rice and brown rice, and season that, and a pound and a half of green beans — fresh or frozen — and season that. You add some broth and let that cook for five or six hours. They’re going to get very nice and tender. When you get home, lay the fish fillets on top and put some almonds in. You can put whatever herbs you want on top. While you’re saying hi to the kids, changing your clothes and making a salad, that fish fillet is cooking for 15, 20 minutes max, and it will be just right.
Any other tips?
Add herbs and toppings at the very end (of the cooking process). That keeps that freshness, in terms of color and flavor and texture. And you can put uncooked pasta in. You have to be sure you have your ratios right so you have the amount of liquid you need for the amount of pasta that you have. It works extremely well.
Any tips for baking in a slow cooker?
It’s generally a good idea to use the handle of a wooden spoon to prop open the lid (because of the condensation). And when you take the lid off, it will still gather condensation. So do what I call a “swoop.” With a very firm, firm, fast pull of your arm, lift that lid off so you’re not letting anything drip. Sometimes you’re told to put three or four paper towels across the top of whatever you’re baking. In case anything drips on it, those will catch that. Or, just cover it tight and then leave the lid off for the last half hour (of baking).
Should you brown meat before putting it in the cooker?
There’s a whole debate as to whether you really need to brown hamburger or a pork roast before you put it in (the cooker). Are you sacrificing flavor if you don’t? I just tell people there’s an advantage. Let’s say I’m using sausage, and I brown that before I put it in the slow cooker. I cook off a fair amount of the drippings and fat, use a slotted spoon, lift it out, and then I have the meat and leave the drippings behind. That is a defensible reason to brown. But (if you don’t have time) people can choose.
What tip do you have about the cookers themselves?
You ought to learn to know your slow cooker before you put stuff in it and leave it alone for a day and hope it’s going to be all right when you get home. They’re like ovens. They all have their own personalities. … I say the first time you use it, do it when you’re at home. I give a range of cooking times. Check (the dish) at the earliest cooking time.
How has it been working with Oxmoor House, your new publisher?
It’s been a great relationship. They are so careful and so precise. They ask extremely good questions. Like the “make it for two.” I didn’t know if that was really practical. When you have a slow cooker, you want it to cook for a long time. … They said, ‘Yes, but a lot of people are retired and they can make it work.’ The hope is that this will become a series. When you start a new brand, you have to do all you can to cultivate interest in that. Being on QVC (on Sunday) was really a good step in that direction.
What was your latest QVC experience like?
I’ve been on 40 or 50 times. I love to do it. I’m an introvert, but when you need to you can find things within you you didn’t know were there. And I’m a teacher by training. And I really feel at home with them, because they’re very much not hard sell. … They tell you to (present) like you’re sharing over the backyard fence. David Venable was the host I work with, and he is just extraordinary. He loves food and he’s very knowledgeable. (You can watch some of Good’s QVC appearance at the network's website).
• “Stock the Crock: 100 Must-Have Slow-Cooker Recipes, 200 Variations for Every Appetite.”
• Oxmoor House, an imprint of Time Inc.
• Available: Sept. 5.
• 272 pages ($21.99).