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Crockpot can be huge help with holiday meals
By Deborah Pankey | Daily Herald Food Editor

Duck confit and sauteed apples dress up Cauliflower-Apple Soup.


George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Duck confit and sauteed apples dress up Cauliflower-Apple Soup.


George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

A slow cooker makes easy work of mashed sweet potatoes.


Courtesy of Wiley

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Published: 9/16/2009 12:01 AM

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Chef Laura Frankel will demonstrate contemporary versions of classic recipes from "Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes: 120 Holiday and Everyday Dishes Made Easy" at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20, at Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies, 610 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.

Attendees will receive samples, cooking tips and ingredient advice and a signed copy of the new cookbook.

$50 ($45 for Spertus members).

At 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, Frankel will conduct a family-friendly Hanukkah cooking class. Students will learn how to make (and get to taste) crispy latkes, flavorful aranccini (rice balls) and decadent sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).

$25, $12 for kids (members $20 and $10, respectively).

Register at (312) 322-1773.

Laura Frankel commutes into Chicago to work full time, takes care of her family and was looking for a way to create luscious dishes for the fall Jewish holidays without spending every spare second in the kitchen.

The tool she needed was right there on her counter the whole time.

"I've used my slow cooker for years for meals during the week," says Frankel, chef of Spertus Kosher Catering at the Spertus Institute in Chicago and author of "Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes" (2009 Wiley). "So many families have both parents working or running the kids around and schedules colliding in the fall. I realized what I needed for the holidays was already on my counter."

High-quality ingredients and some attention to prep work elevate slow-cooker cooking from monochromatic blobs to holiday-worthy fare for Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year that starts at sundown Friday, Sept. 18 - or other holidays throughout the year.

"For a holiday meal, you're going to take a day or two of prep," she says. "You do the active cooking (chopping vegetables, browning), then the crockpot takes over for passive cooking."

"As a chef, my favorite technique is braising; it tests a chef's mettle," Frankel says. "I call my crockpot my sous chef; it's my braiser."

Braising is the technique of browning meat then cooking it in a low oven for a long time to maximize flavor and tenderness. Frankel says pitfalls include drowning the meat in a flavorless broth or not browning it enough.

"It can be heartbreakingly good, or it can be like a stew with one single texture," she says. "Grilling anyone can do. To braise is to have soul."

Browning meat and vegetables on the stovetop or even oven-roasting them before adding them to the crock holds an important flavor key.

"The way you elevate food is to start with browning," she says.

Veal shanks, wearing a light coating of flour, herbs and porcini dust, sear on the stove before simmering on low with tomatoes, mushrooms, leeks, carrots and fennel for a festive holiday dish. Chuck roast soaked in a garlicky marinade caramelizes on all sides then stews with a gravy of beer, onions, roasted garlic and crushed gingersnaps.

This is true not just for the main dishes in her book, but for the soups and side dishes as well.

Parsnips spend time in a hot oven before combining with sauteed shallots, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes) in a slow cooker to create an earthy, creamy soup. Frankel lightly browns cauliflower and apples before blending them with white wine, chicken stock and fresh thyme for Cauliflower-Apple Soup. Even bow-tie pasta gets browned in a sauce pan to create Kasha Varniskes, a savory complement to brisket.

All the recipes in her book are designated as meat or dairy or pareve (containing neither meat or dairy), so cooks can create menus based on Jewish dietary restrictions.

Frankel, who herself follows the kosher rule of not consuming meat and dairy in the same meal, says she particularly enjoys Wild Mushroom Stroganoff, a combination of fresh and dried mushrooms swimming in a sherry and sour cream sauce. Because it contains no meat, she can follow it with a dessert made with butter or other dairy products.

"I like a good dessert; I like butter," Frankel says. "Having a killer mushroom dish, I don't lack protein and I get to eat dessert."

That said, Frankel doesn't neglect desserts among the 120 recipes in the book. She suggests Poached Fruit Compote made with end-of-season stone fruits, apples and pears to top a Rosh Hashana honey cake.