You may recognize Hugh Acheson from his bevy of acclaimed restaurants like Five & Ten, Empire State South, The National, and the Spiller Park coffee shops, his judging role on various permutations of Top Chef, or his award-winning cookbooks. But if you've really been paying attention, you've noticed that the Canadian-born and raised, Georgia-dwelling chef has been on a mission for home cooking education, starting from the ground up with his Seed Life Skills non-profit organization dedicated to teaching 21st-century students how to plan, shop, and cook their way to a healthier future. 

One of the easiest ways to get a hearty, healthy, homemade meal on the table is via a slow cooker, and with his newest book, The Chef and the Slow Cooker, Acheson aims to help people get there, one prep, set, and walk away recipe at a time.

Extra Crispy: I always think that using a slow cooker is like giving a present to future me, but I am not always great at planning ahead. What can I do to reset my brain and train it to think better?
Hugh Acheson: You need to think about food technique as LEGO. The cooker gives you pieces to assemble into a meal. It is amazing for stocks, which are a gateway to cooking from scratch. Love your freezer. Love your thighs, and your tougher muscles. Realize that the act of prepping, placing in the cooker, AND WALKING AWAY TO LIVE YOUR LIFE, is a beautifully sane strategy to live by. Start loving the prep, and adoring the finished results. 

In the book, there are pictures of you and your slow cooker engaging in various activities, like bathing and lounging in the yard. Are there any situations in which your slow cooker would be a risk or impediment?
DO NOT TAKE A SHOWER WITH THE SLOW COOKER. DO NOT BE INTIMATE WITH THE SLOW COOKER.  Everything else is fair game, just watch the cord. 

When you say “slow cooker,” does it have to be one of those fancy robot gadgets, or will the single-setting one my Aunt Snookie left me be OK?
I adore the simple ones, with a low and high setting. I get confused by the ones with too many buttons. 

What’s the best music to slow-cook to?
Anything that you enjoy. If it is James Taylor or Stryper, we may have to take a break from our friendship. 

I feel like slow cooker recipes tend to be huge, and yet there are only usually one or two people in my home. Can slow cooker recipes be adapted easily, or do I have to live with the vague sense that I am not living up to my appliance’s cultural expectations and am being judged?
If it says feeds four, cut it in half. The cooking time will be cut a bit too, but that's arbitrary. And love leftovers. I made kimchi chicken thighs the other day and a day later I made a sandwich with braised and then pan roasted thigh, fermented chile mayo, iceberg lettuce and tomato on sourdough toast. IT WAS AMAZING. 

Which single food goes through the most righteous transformation through its time in the slow cooker?
Shoulders or tongues. They love the low and slow. 

How can my slow cooker save me money?
Cooking from scratch saves money if you buy smart. I can spend $10 and feed four easily with a cooker. Try that at McDonalds.

Does my slow cooker like me?
No. It is an appliance. You can adore it, but it is noncommittal and relatively apathetic to your advances. It will do what you want it to though, culinarily. Please don't assume it wants to be your friend. 

What is the perfect slow cooker breakfast?
Shakshuka. 

Apple Cardamom Butter

  • Yields: 1 quart
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Hands-On Time: 1 day

I love apple butter. It is a breakfast staple in my house. The cardamom in this one adds a beautiful complexity and nuance that brings it to a new level. If you want to double the recipe and then jar it up for gifts, go right ahead . . . no one ever turns down the gift of apple butter.

Slow cooker size: 4+ quarts 

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat a slow cooker on the low setting for at least 20 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, peel and core the apples, then slice them thinly. In a large bowl, toss the apple slices with the brown sugar; set aside.

  3. Add the butter to the preheated slow cooker. Once it has melted, stir in the cardamom and whiskey.

  4. Add the apples to the slow cooker, stirring to combine everything. Cover with the lid and cook on the low setting for 18 to 24 hours, until a thick spread forms.

  5. Transfer the apples to a blender or food processor, using a slotted spoon to drain them of any liquid, and puree until smooth. Let the puree cool, and then store it in clean jars in the refrigerator.

  6. The apple butter will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or you could fully process it in sterilized jars according to the jar manufacturer’s instructions and have it be shelf-stable for up to a year.

Reprinted from The Chef and the Slow Cooker. Copyright © 2017 by Fried Pie, LLC. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Andrew Thomas Lee. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.