Kathy Hester believes in making meals healthier, one slow cooker at a time. Not only can slow cookers create delicious and nutritious plant-based meals for any number of people, they also create more relaxed and happy cooks with spare time on their hands. In this way, Kathy says, slow cookers can help create mental well-being as well as physically healthy food. Kathy is the writer and chef behind the blog Healthy Slow Cooking, and she’s the author of The Vegan Slow Cooker which came out in 2011, plus two more cookbooks coming out this year!
Allison Rivers Samson: How did you arrive at a vegan lifestyle?
Kathy Hester: I became vegetarian when I was 18, almost 30 years ago. It’s been 3 years since I switched to a vegan diet. It’s always been an issue of compassion for me and the more I learned about the horrible practices that produce milk and eggs it was easy to give them up.
ARS: Yes! My answer to “Why are you vegan?” is, “There’s no reason not to be!” Which came first, your vegan diet or your slow cooker obsession?
KH: Slow cookers have been my obsession since I was 21 and in grad school. I was a music major so there wasn’t much time to cook between classes, gigs and a side job, but I was far too poor to eat out every meal. Using my slow cooker, I fed 4 to 10 of my friends almost every night. I would tell each of them one ingredient to bring and I would use those ingredients in the slow cooker for the next day. Most of the dishes I made even then were plant-based and vegan.
ARS: Lucky friends. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever made (successfully) in a slow cooker?
KH: People are often surprised that I bake in my slow cooker. I live in North Carolina and the summers are hot – too hot to turn the oven on. I make focaccia bread, pizza, vegan pound cake, and pumpkin gingerbread. In my upcoming book, Vegan Slow Cooking for Two or Just You, I even bake a chocolate chip cookie for two in my 1 ½ quart slow cooker!
The trick to baking is to keep the condensation from dropping into the center of your cake. You can find yourself cooking and cooking while all you are doing is adding water to the middle. To get around this I fold a clean dish towel and put that between the lid and the crock to catch some of it. Then I prop the lid up on the handle of a wooden spoon to let some of the moisture escape.
I usually bake in a 6 quart slow cooker so I can put in a baking dish, but you can bake directly in the crock. Most crocks have hot spots, just like ovens; so, if you bake directly in the crock, turn it every 20 to 30 minutes so you don’t get a burnt spot.
ARS: Those are helpful tips. As a freelance writer I imagine you really enjoy writing your cookbooks. Has there been an especially challenging part of getting published? How did you deal with it?
KH: I was super lucky because my publisher found me. I had just started my vegan slow cooker blog, Healthy Slow Cooking, and they were looking for someone to write a vegan slow cooker book. All of my books are published with Fair Winds Press and for the last two I worked with an agent, The Lisa Ekus Group. I would not want to do another book without them, Lisa and Sally made the process so much easier and were always there to help me.
I have two new books coming out this year, The Great Vegan Bean Book in the spring and Vegan Slow Cooking for Two or Just You in the fall, but I’ve still never written a proper book proposal!
ARS: I’m excited to get my hands on your Vegan Bean Cookbook when it comes out; I am an ardent fan of homemade beans, so much so that I never eat canned if I can help it. Care to share your favorite slow cooker recipe that’s suitable for novice users?
KH: I would say all soup and stews are good for beginners. You need to know more about your slow cooker to make pastas, breads and casseroles come out the way you want them.
Here are a few links to easy recipes from Healthy Slow Cooking:
ARS: Those sound wonderful! What’s your favorite sweet treat? Do you have a favorite Allison’s Gourmet goodie?
KH: I have a huge sweet tooth and love chocolate and caramel in any form. I love your Butterscotch Pecan Caramels and the Orange Blossom Artisan Truffles – they are the best!
Thanks Kathy. Your recipe’s look delicious.
Now we want to hear from you! What vegan dish would you most like to learn to make in a slow cooker?