Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fresh reviews: Joan Bishop's New Zealand Crockpot & Slow Cooker Cookbook

I recently had the good fortune of being sent Joan Bishop's New Zealand Crockpot & Slow Cooker Cookbook to review for Craving Fresh.

Joan Bishop has been working with slow cookers for more than thirty years, and has written several books on the subject. With this, her latest slow cooker cookbook, Joan has re-worked favourite recipes to suit modern slow cookers, which she has discovered cook a lot faster than older models.

In order to review the book, I first had to get a slow cooker. Once I had that sorted, I was able to get down to the business of recipe testing.

I tested about a third of Joan's dinner recipes. This may sound like a lot of work but actually that was just me cooking for the family. I really enjoyed the process because it gave us lots of variety at meal-time and ignited my love of slow cooking.

What I like about the cookbook
  • Joan Bishop's New Zealand Crockpot & Slow Cooker Cookbook is comprehensive, with 150 recipes packed into one small book.
  • The book features a wide range of recipes to suit all taste-buds, some based on traditional English fare, but many drawing inspiration from other cultures such as Thai, Indian and Mexican. 
  • Joan has divided her recipes up into the following sections: soups and stocks, vegetables, rice, vegetarian and pulses, chicken, sausages, mince, beef and venison, lamb, pork, desserts, breads, cakes and a few interesting extras like porridge. This makes it easy to find a recipe based on one main ingredient.
  • Header fonts in the different sections are colour-coded, so it's easy to find the section you want just by flicking through. For example, recipe names are purple in the vegetables section, orange in the rice section, green in the mince section and so on.
  • Each section starts with its own table of contents, so you can flick to the chicken section and then scroll through its table of contents to find the chicken recipe you want to make.
  • Recipe pages are well designed and easy to follow: Large heading at the top, smaller description of the recipe under that, numbered method down the left-hand-side, cooking times under that, bolded list of ingredients down the right-hand-side and number of serves under that (in the section's coloured font).
  • Most recipes are quick and easy to prepare (less than 20 minutes), and don't require you to brown meat before adding it to the slow cooker. This is a real bonus because it saves time and dishes.
  • Joan has included a description of each recipe, which I found helpful when I was choosing what to make as I got a sense of whether the end result would suit our taste-buds or not.
  • We enjoyed most of the recipes we tried. Generally speaking, the only failures we had were the recipes I tinkered with because I didn't have all the right ingredients. 
  • The recipes are family friendly, with nice flavours and nothing too spicy. Chilli is used, but subtly enough that our two-year-old didn't have a problem with it.
  • The cookbook features lots of beautiful photos (although not one of every recipe).
  • Joan has worked out individual cooking times for crockpots, slow cookers and speedy (modern) slow cookers. She has also given slow and fast options within those appliances depending on which setting you choose - low or high.
  • Lots of the recipes use chicken stock as a base. This is is fantastic for me because I make lots of chicken stock since it is both economical and nutritious.
  • With some of the recipes, Joan has suggested food to serve with the recipe, eg. mashed potato or rice. This is helpful when you're trying a recipe for the first time, or when you're lacking in meal planning inspiration.
  • Joan has included an information section at the start of the book with lots of useful tips for slow cooking, like how full the slow cooker should be when cooking, the difference between high and low, when to stir, etc.

What could have been done better
  • With some of the instructions, Joan takes for granted how much cooking knowledge her readers have. I think it would have been worth her while to explain some things more clearly - like what prepared chilli is. I had to assume it's a chilli that has had its seeds removed, but that wasn't spelt out.
  • In her meat-based recipes, the first instruction is always to prepare the meat and then set it aside while you prepare the vegetables, which need to go at the bottom of the slow cooker. It would make more sense to prepare the vegetables in step one and the meat in step two, so that there is no setting aside and everything gets prepared and goes directly into the slow cooker in the order it needs to. 
  • Some quantities are given in weight only. It would be useful if alternative measurements were given, like number of vegetables or cups, even if these aren't as accurate. (My scales are broken and I had to keep looking up measurement conversions online, which is a hassle.)
  • A few of the recipes call for canola oil, which is commonly mistaken to be a healthy oil. Better choices would be olive oil, tallow, coconut oil, ghee or butter.
  • Joan has written her recipes under the common assumption that all fats are bad, and so directs the skin/fat to be trimmed off meat and light coconut creams to be used instead of regular. What she doesn't realise is these fats are actually incredibly nutritious and healthy - so removing fat or using less naturally fatty ingredients is wasteful/less healthy.

In summary
I'm able to work around the few niggly things I've mentioned above and I'm really glad to have added Joan Bishop's New Zealand Crockpot & Slow Cooker Cookbook to my collection. I'm enjoying her recipes and finding the book easy to navigate around and follow.

I'm also enjoying the process of slow cooking in general, especially now that Joan has pointed out I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to get dinner started with new model slow cookers, which cook a lot faster.

If you're looking for a slow cooker cookbook, this would be a good one to get.

Where you can buy this cookbook
Joan Bishop's New Zealand Crockpot & Slow Cooker Cookbook can be purchased at a number of New Zealand book stores, including Whitcoulls, Paper Plus and The Warehouse. However, Bookish has done a price comparison and the cheapest place to buy it is actually online at Fishpond.


  1. nice review emma, I like your comments about tinkering (I never quite have ALL the ingredients) and fats/oils. At the suggestion of out butcher, we now add a soup bone or two to slow cooking meals, this adds flavour and gelatin :) I'm terrible with recipes (due to the tinkering) so I usually just throw in lots of herbs, wine and stock and its always edible.

    Just noticed that you changed you book widget, that's way better than the shelfari one.... better add that to the list of things for me to change on my blog.

  2. Hmm, I'm quite tempted to get a slow cooker now. And I'm very glad you pointed out the benefits of natural and saturated fats over canola oil. It drives me nuts when I hear nutritionists endlessly recommending canola oil in place of butter!

  3. Good review Emma. I may get this out from the library next autumn. I have a couple of slow cooker recipe books which will keep me going in the mean time.

    I love farmer-liz's suggestion to throw a soup bone in to slow cooking meals as this was something I had been wondering about doing to try to get those extra nutrients into meat dishes.


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