Fans of the popular TV show “This Is Us” all have their favorite heroes, and in recent episodes found a new villain: the slow cooker that caused a house fire responsible for the death of a beloved character on the show. The response was swift and severe. Fans posted on social media that they were throwing away their slow cookers and the company that makes Crock-Pots actually saw a drop in their stock. The anti-cooker backlash grew to a point that the stars of “This Is Us” made a special commercial during the Super Bowl to remind fans that slow cookers are actually safe, convenient and far more likely to make life easier than to end it.

Slow cookers have made big improvements since the 1990s time frame of “This Is Us.” Wi-Fi enabled versions can be controlled remotely and more precise settings produce a wider range of results besides soups and stews. In addition to the advances in technology, innovations like disposable pot liners are equally game-changing by reducing prep and cleanup time.

Even the new generation of slow cookers, however, still excels at the old favorites of soups and stews. The traditional U.S. Senate bean soup benefits from a long stretch of untended cooking time (the soup gets its name from its decades-long place on the U.S. Senate dining room).

Slow-cooking has always been the method of choice for tougher, and less expensive, cuts of meat. An Italian twist on slow-cooking produces a hearty pasta sauce made with pork and seasoned with fresh herbs.

Venturing away from the basic uses for the slow cooker can produce surprising results. Baking sweet cinnamon rolls takes only a little longer than in a conventional oven, though with a few modifications. Because slow cookers use moist heat, trapping the steam from the cooking process to create what is essentially a miniature steam oven, it’s necessary to remove that steam in order to produce baked goods that are dry and not gummy.

Although many slow cookers have vents for the option of releasing steam, they are rarely able to create a dry enough baking environment on their own. One of the most effective ways to dry the air in a slow cooker is to place a dish towel on the underside of the lid and tying the towel’s ends around the handle. This creates a trap for the moisture released during cooking and preventing soggy, gummy breads.

The lower heat in a slow cooker isn’t enough to produce the golden brown crust that is an integral part of the appeal of most baked food, but cinnamon rolls are an exception. Their direct contact with the bottom of the cooker, combined with plenty of sugar, results in a caramelized, dark brown layer. After cooking, the pan is flipped to bring the sweet glaze to the top, where it is then enhanced with a drizzle of icing.

Some TV fans might be reluctant to try baking in a slow cooker because it combines the two culprits in the “This Is Us” fire, the cooker and a flammable dish towel, but modern appliances are overwhelmingly safe, and the only similarity to the TV show is that they’re both about creating more memorable, relaxed time with friends and family.

Bernice Torregrossa:

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