Stew season isn’t quite over yet: there is still time to get in a few last pots of chili before Spring and Summer arrive in full force. In the Northeast US, this weekend was a step back to winter- a 30+ degree drop in temperatures with enough wind to send us back to the closets for the puffy coats. There may even be snow! Which led us to some perspective in our meal planning, putting away the crackers and cheese and preparing something more hearty.
And that meant bringing out the slow cooker- but specifically, the new Cuisinart MSC-600 3-in-1 Cook Central. Traditionally, when you want to make your batch of chili or most other stews, the initial step is to pre-cook everything- especially the meat, onions, and vegetables, in a process called browning. But what if you didn’t have to use the cooktop, dirty a separate pan, and could simply heat, stir, and add everything else- that’s the promise of the MSC-600. Cook those rough cuts of meat longer, and they end up perfectly tender, like a pot roast or pork shoulder.
Slow cookers are certainly not new- your grandma probably had one. But Cuisinart is known for updating the classics as we’ve seen in the past. Their modern version adds some handy features, like far better temperature control and adjustability, as well as a 24-hour timer and a keep warm setting. Available in four, six, or seven-quart versions, we tested the middle of the range. Stainless steel holds up well to use and cleans up easily, but the non-stick coating inside seemed to be a little more fragile and easily scratched, so we’d suggest using wooden implements. The inside pan is dishwasher-safe though. And controls are simple- a few buttons allow you to change modes, set the desired heat level and a timer, and it’s all displayed in sleek easy-to-read backlit LCDs.
One small thing missing- it’s not programmable in any sophisticated manner. We would have liked to see a way to setup the ingredients and delay cooking for a bit, like you can with many rice cookers. To be fair, it’s certainly less necessary when you’re planning a long simmer, but could still be useful at times. A steaming rack is included as well, and for some kitchens it might be more convenient than trying to steam in a big stock pot, especially for larger vegetables like artichokes. The Cuisinart MSC-600 looks great on the counter, comes with an impressive three-year warranty, and is a solid addition to any kitchen that could use a little slowness on the countertop. Expect to spend around $150 online and in stores.