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Slow-cooked

NJ author’s recipes take crock pot cuisine beyond cholent

Dena Price trying out recipes in her kitchen in her Marlboro home.
Dena Price trying out recipes in her kitchen in her Marlboro home.

 If you think slow-cooked kosher food begins and ends with cholent, get ready for a surprise.

In her new book, The Everything Kosher Slow Cooker Cookbook (Adams Media, November 2012), rookie author Dena Price introduces readers to a wide variety of literally slow-cooked food, including tzimmes, short ribs, hummus, eggplant “caviar,” and stuffed cabbage.

The Marlboro resident is determined to share the secrets of kashrut-keeping chefs while proving that “kosher” and “delicious” are not mutually exclusive.

“A slow cooker is perfect for the observant home cook,” said Price in a news release promoting the book. “Just before sundown on Friday, ingredients may be placed in the slow cooker, set on low, and left to efficiently and safely cook overnight and throughout Shabbat. A slow cooker allows the family to eat a hot and healthy dinner at a reasonable hour.”

Safety is the key benefit of a slow cooker, Price told New Jersey Jewish News. “I would be afraid to leave a pot unattended on the stove overnight or while I leave the house,” she explained. “What if the burner goes out? What if the pot boils dry and burns, or conversely, boils over? What if I am stuck in traffic?

“No such problem with a slow cooker,” she said. “Food gently cooks at a safe low temperature. An extra hour of cooking won’t hurt most recipes. Some slow cookers have built-in timers and can automatically drop down to a ‘holding’ temperature if you can’t get home in time.”

Nevertheless, Price doesn’t limit all her cooking to the slow-cook approach. As an active blogger before she wrote her debut book, she created and posted some 370 recipes of all kinds on Oh! You Cook! (ohyoucook.blogspot.com)

“Slow cookers are simply another tool in the kitchen,” Price said. “You wouldn’t bake cookies in a microwave, for example. You use the right tool for the right job. A slow cooker is perfect for food that needs to be cooked long and slow. A brisket cooked quickly at a high temperature would need a hacksaw to slice it; cook it for hours at a low temperature, however, and you can cut it with a fork.”

‘Basic tribal recipes’

There is irony in how the slow-cooker cookbook came into being. An editor at Adams Media discovered Price’s blog and approached her with the assignment. “I was given a very tight deadline of three months, so just about every evening after work found me cooking, writing, and/or taking pictures,” Price said.

In other words, the book about slow cooking was written in a hurry. And she did it while working at her full-time day job as a reference librarian at the Old Bridge Public Library.

Price, who was born in the Bronx, earned a master’s degree in library and information science at Rutgers. Married 35 years, the 59-year-old author and her husband, Rick, who has an accounting practice in central New Jersey, are long-time members of Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen. They are the parents of Sharon, 29, who lives in California; Marc, 19, a sophomore at Rutgers; and Ian, 24, who made aliya two years ago and is serving in the IDF.

Price told NJJN that she was not always an accomplished cook. “When I was young, my mother did virtually all the cooking,” she said. “I was ill prepared for the task when I got married in my mid-20s. My husband and I ate a lot of meatloaf and fettuccini Alfredo, the only two entrees I knew how to cook.”

When kids came along, Price said, she expanded her repertoire to broiled chicken or steak with some random herb or spice tossed on. As the kids grew older, chicken and steak gave way to other foods.

Graham Kerr, the original Galloping Gourmet, was one of Price’s early influences. She remembers watching him on television when she was in high school. “He made cooking look like fun,” she said.

Her real inspiration, however, came from Jenny Grossinger’s classic cookbook, The Art of Jewish Cooking. This is where Price discovered “basic tribal recipes.”

She said, “I bought myself a hardcover version, but still peek into my mother’s tattered soft-covered copy to read the notes scribbled all over the pages.”

Price finds it difficult to identify her favorite dishes. “That’s like asking which is my favorite child,” she said. She said her family likes to eat her creamed spinach, thinned with extra milk and served over pasta with parmesan cheese.

Price also loves dessert, especially rice pudding with cherry sauce, which she remembers as a comfort food from her childhood. “My mother spent years trying to recreate the taste,” she said. “Eventually, I took over the experimentation, but never got it just right. Then I tried it in the slow cooker, and that version came the closest to what I remember from decades ago.”

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