Genius advice from a slow-cooker pro: double dinners

Standing beside the kitchen counter of her Dunwoody home, author Cynthia Graubart lifts two plastic bags from a slow cooker, an appliance with which she has had a long-simmering on-again, off-again affair.

First there was the avocado green Rival brand Crock-Pot that she pilfered from her mother to take to college in the early ’80s, only to discover that it made too much food and was a pain to clean. Then came the 6-quart cooker she used to make dinners for her husband and two children. After her son and daughter left for college, the empty nester didn’t banish the slow cooker, but she often found she had too many leftovers.

Behold the 3 1/2-quart slow cooker, the one from which Graubart is now removing a pair of pot roasts glistening in gravy. This smaller device was the inspiration for her new book, “Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes” (Gibbs Smith, $19.99) — which happened to hit stores just as she was savoring the 2013 James Beard Award she won for “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” (Gibbs Smith, $45), co-authored with her longtime friend and collaborator Nathalie Dupree.

After “Mastering,” which clocked in at 6 pounds, 722 pages, “Slow Cooking” is a return to simplicity and economy. But with 100 recipes for the likes of Cornish Hen in Port Wine and Fig Preserves, Smoky Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup and Mushroom Risotto, there is no shortage of flavor and sophistication.

Though the slow cooker has long been the province of the earthy cuisine that transpires when stews and soups are left to simmer gently day and night, Graubart imbues her pot with surprising versatility. While you expect to find recipes for turkey chili, hot cheese dip and chocolate fondue in a book of slow cookery (and indeed, they are here), Graubart gives us many ingenious and inventive applications.

She even devises a way for the slow cooker to work like an oven.

In her magic pot, banana bread is “baked” in mini loaf pans perched on a cookie cutter or Mason jar ring. Ramekins of vanilla custard are firmed in a bain-marie. Salmon is steamed in foil. Meatloaf is hoisted out of the pot in a foil “sling.” Even crunchy granola gets slow-cooker treatment.

“It’s the best device for cooking something unattended, and that’s a really liberating thing,” says Graubart, who rediscovered the slow cooker while working on the voluminous “Mastering.” But the family-size recipes were often too much for her and her husband, Cliff. So she scaled them back for two (and the occasional dinner guest). For larger gatherings, many of her recipes can easily be doubled. (However, because slow cookers retain so much moisture, she generally suggests increasing the liquid by half when cooking twice as much.)

As a person who likes to save time, Graubart also came up with a genius plan for cooking two meals at once.

For her so-called “double dinners,” she uses plastic slow-cooker liners (available in the grocery-store aisle alongside the sandwich bags and tinfoil) to make two dishes simultaneously. Bottom round roasts, flank steaks, pot roasts and pork tenderloins: All are sliced in half, placed in separate liners with the remaining ingredients and cooked in the same pot. One dish is meant to be eaten at once, the other saved for later.

This brings us back to the plastic bags that Graubart is gingerly untucking from her slow cooker, taking care not to spill the liquid.

Inside Liner No. 1 is Lime Pot Roast, a variation of Dupree’s now classic lemon-lime pot roast, which here calls for lime zest and juice, tomatoes, garlic and not much else. Inside Liner No. 2: Vinegar-Braised Pot Roast, seasoned with balsamic, rosemary and strong coffee.

I take a bite. Both are scrumptious.

While it’s smart to freeze a meal for later, imagine putting both these gorgeous pot roasts out for company. I plan to do just that, using a ginormous, three-sectioned platter that once belonged to my mother — with mashed potatoes in the middle. Add a salad or sauteed greens, and I’m done.

Since the dinners are cooked in separate bags, you may also mix and match proteins: perhaps a roast in one liner, a tenderloin in another. The double-dinner concept has been so well received that it spawned a sequel: Graubart is now finishing up “Slow Cooking for Two: Double Dinners,” due out from Gibbs Smith in the spring.

Meanwhile, I drool to think what I’ll fix next from her book. Will it be Peanut Chicken … Rosemary Lamb and Tomato Stew … or Chocolate Cake?

Since slow cookers are handy in places without proper stoves, I might take my baby on the road. RV cooking, anyone?

“My sister went to Wyoming this summer,” Graubart says. “She packed her slow cooker and the book, and she said coming in from hiking and having the meal ready was fantastic.”

Perhaps she oughta name that slow cooker Old Faithful.

Nice and slow

Here we offer four delectable dishes from Cynthia Graubart’s “Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes” (Gibbs Smith, $19.99). You can get two meals for two from the pot roast double dinner, savor the rib-sticking Kale and Kielbasa Soup on a cool night, and enjoy a fruit crisp made of fall apples. Careful not to burn your fingers by touching the hot pot, and don’t over-stir. (It releases heat and adds to the cook time.)

Double Dinner: Lime Pot Roast and Vinegar-Braised Pot Roast

Hands-on: 15 minutes

Total time: 8 hours, 15 minutes

Serves: 4 (each roast makes 2 generous portions)

This recipe shows off Graubart’s clever concept of cooking two separate dinners at once. Slow-cooker liner bags are the trick.

Lime Pot Roast

1/2 of a 2-pound to 2 1/2-pound chuck roast


Freshly ground black pepper

Grated rind of 1 lime, no white attached

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or bottled lime juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup beef broth

1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

1 small (14 1/2-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

Place chuck roast in the bottom of a slow-cooker liner bag. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add lime zest, lime juice, garlic, beef broth, Italian seasoning and tomatoes to the bag on top of roast and set aside.

Vinegar-Braised Pot Roast

1/2 of a 2-pound to 2 1/2-pound chuck roast


Freshly ground black pepper

1 small onion, sliced

1/2 cup strong coffee

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 sprigs rosemary, or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed

Place chuck roast in the bottom of a slow-cooker liner bag. Sprinkle liberally with salt and black pepper. Add onion, coffee, balsamic vinegar and rosemary on top of roast and set aside.

Place both liner bags, side by side, into the slow cooker. Drape each liner (closed) away from the other, extending over the sides of the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

When ready to serve: Place two large serving dishes next to the slow cooker. Remove cover and using pot holders or oven mitts, carefully transfer each bag to its own serving bowl. Open the liner, and allow contents to cool slightly. Remove meat from the liner using tongs, and transfer to the serving bowl. Pour juices over the dish.

Repeat with the other dinner. Before serving, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Note: If you wish to save one of the dinners for later, place in a resealable plastic freezer bag, label and freeze. If you plan to eat it within a day or two, you may store in the refrigerator in a closed container or resealable plastic bag.

Adapted from “Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes” by Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs-Smith, $19.99).

Per serving (Lime Pot Roast): 582 calories (percent of calories from fat, 55), 44 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 36 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 132 milligrams cholesterol, 1,026 milligrams sodium.

Per serving (Vinegar-Braised Pot Roast): 496 calories (percent of calories from fat, 66), 36 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 36 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 132 milligrams cholesterol, 116 milligrams sodium.

Kale and Kielbasa Soup

Made from ingredients that are easy to find at the grocery store, this stew-y soup calls for turkey kielbasa. Feel free to try other kinds of sausage.

Hands-on: 10 minutes

Total time: 7 hours, 10 minutes

Serves: 2 plus

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 sprig fresh rosemary, or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, or canned diced tomatoes

7 ounces turkey kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch slices

1 to 2 cups chopped fresh kale


Freshly ground black pepper

Grated or shredded Parmesan cheese, optional

Coat the inside of a 3 1/2-quart slow cooker with cooking spray, if desired. Add the beans, onion, garlic, rosemary, chicken broth, tomatoes, kielbasa and kale. Stir well to mix. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours. When ready to serve, remove rosemary sprig, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Top individual bowls of soup with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Adapted from “Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes” by Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs-Smith, $19.99).

Per serving, based on 2: 339 calories (percent of calories from fat, 19), 31 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fiber, 8 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 97 milligrams cholesterol, 967 milligrams sodium.

Apple Crisp

Hands-on: 15 minutes

Total time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Serves: 2-4

This crisp is easy and delicious and stays warm in the pot until you are ready to serve it. Preferably with ice cream.

2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped

5 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar

Pinch of ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Vanilla ice cream for topping (if desired)

Coat the inside of a 3 1/2-quart slow cooker with cooking spray, if desired. Add apples to slow cooker. In a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, cornstarch, ground ginger and 1/4 teaspoon of the ground cinnamon. Sprinkle over apples. Drizzle lemon over ingredients and stir.

For the topping: In a small bowl, stir together the flour, the remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, brown sugar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and the nutmeg. Using fingers or two forks, work the butter into the flour mixture until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over the apples. Top with nuts.

Cover and cook on high for 2 hours. Test to be sure apples are tender. Uncover and cook to crisp the topping, up to 30 minutes. Serve warm, topped with ice cream if desired.

Adapted from “Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes” by Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs-Smith, $19.99)

Per serving (without ice cream), based on 2: 614 calories (percent of calories from fat, 45), 5 grams protein, 83 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 32 grams fat (9 grams saturated), 31 milligrams cholesterol, 122 milligrams sodium.