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Photos by Erin Kunkel
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Richmonder Kendra Bailey Morris is a chef, food writer, former restaurant critic, Richmond magazine contributor, blogger and cookbook author. Her latest cookbook, The Southern Slow Cooker: Big-Flavor, No Fuss Recipes for Comfort Food Classics, came out at the end of August, just in time for the cool fall weather and school to start, making everyone's lives more hectic. We wanted to know more about how to cook a meal in a slow cooker (the appliance formerly and exclusively known as the Crock-Pot, not matter what the brand), and where Bailey's inspiration came from.
RM: Slow cookers — have you always used one? What's the advantage?
KBM: I grew up in a household with multiple slow cookers, and I still have my mom's old '70s Rival, which boasts a lovely brown-and-green color combo. It's totally old-school, and even after all these years, it's still kicking. I first learned to make grape jelly meatballs and Li'l Smokies in that thing [a recipe that's in The Southern Slow Cooker ]. Since I was raised in the Baptist church where eating is everything (since most everything else is forbidden), potlucks and covered-dish gatherings were regular occurrences. There's nothing better or easier than making something tasty in the slow cooker, bringing it to the dining hall, and then plugging it in next to the punch bowl and leaving it.
RM : What was your inspiration? Why Southern food?
KBM: It's funny — in my family, we never called it Southern food, and that's probably because our roots are more Appalachian by way of West Virginia and Southwest Virginia versus the deeper South. While we cooked the same stuff — grits, biscuits, country ham, pork barbecue, fried catfish — we just called it "country food" or, as my dad called it, "Appalachian peasant food." What we ate almost daily was inexpensive, using what was local from the farmers market or the vegetable garden. Nearly all of the recipes in the book are our family-heirloom recipes and are ones that we've been making on the stove or in the oven for as far back as I can remember.
RM: What's your favorite recipe in the book?
KBM: I feel like each recipe is my child, so I love them all, but if I had to choose one, it might have to be the chocolate-banana cheesecakes slow-cooked in Mason jars. It was a Hail Mary concept that surprisingly worked perfectly the first time I tried it in the slow cooker.
RM: Were there other surprises?
KBM: My granny's no-egg applesauce cake, which is even better when cooked in the slow cooker versus the oven (and I can't believe I am actually saying that). Oh, and I have a recipe for Thanksgiving-style turkey breast and cornbread dressing, both cooked together in the slow cooker, that is super-good and easy.
RM: Any big mistakes you made and tips for avoiding them for home cooks?
KBM: One of the biggest mistakes I learned while testing recipes is that not everything can be cooked on the low setting all day long. Some foods just don't hold up. For the life of me, I couldn't get a macaroni and cheese recipe to work. I tried it five times, and while edible, it didn't make the cut for slow cooking due to its weird, mushy texture.
RM: Can you recommend a particular slow cooker for folks? What's the most important thing to look for to ensure success?
KBM: My best advice for anyone looking to purchase a slow cooker is twofold. First, it's important to purchase one that is the right size for your family. I also highly recommend investing in a digital slow cooker [for temperature precision]. The Crock-Pot Countdown Touchscreen Digital Slow Cooker is one that I use all the time at home, and I love it. I also have a digital 6-quart All-Clad slow cooker that is a staple in my kitchen. It's a gorgeous, heavy stainless steel and cooks like a dream.
RM: What's up next for you?
KBM: Right now, I'm seeing all the craziness of my book launch through.