I have mad respect for Stephanie O'Dea. Not only does she own 14 slow cookers, but she's also the author of two New York Times bestselling slow-cooker cookbooks (with a third book just published!), and she's built her slow-cooker recipe site, A Year of Slow Cooking, to be an invaluable resource for those of us slow-cooker addicts.
This past week, she's been sharing some of her best tips, ideas, and advice for making meals in the slow cooker, and today we have the story of how she came to be the slow-cooker queen.
Do you remember your very first slow cooker?
When I turned 21, I was newly engaged to my high-school sweetheart. I decided that before I got married I should become "more domestic," and for a birthday present I asked my parents for three things I kept seeing advertised on television: a food dehydrator, a pasta machine, and a Crock-Pot.
Oh wow! How did that go?
I wasn’t a fan of the food dehydrator; it took too long to make the beef jerky I wanted, and even after a few days my bananas weren’t dried-out chips. I played around with the pasta machine for quite a while, but wasn’t enamored of my mushy homemade pasta and found the extruder terribly difficult to keep clean.
But the Crock-Pot? I still have it and use it regularly. I eagerly tested out all of the recipes that came with the little booklet and began experimenting with my own creations. I loved that I could make dinner all by myself for the family, and that I didn’t need to stay close by the stove or oven — I could leave the house to do my own thing.
So it was love at first 8-hour dinner!
Yes, and as a young wife and mother, I turned to the Crock-Pot again as a way to keep our monthly grocery budget in check. I could easily stretch an 88-cent bag of dry beans into quite a few meals, and I learned that the leftovers from our nightly dinners could be frozen for future meals or eaten for lunch the next day. I prided myself on finding a way to cook for the entire month on only $100 worth of groceries.
How did your family like all your Crock-Pot cooking?
Well, in 2006, my then 22-month-old daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease. At the time, Celiac and going gluten-free was nowhere as prevalent as it is today. I was concerned about packaged food and realized that the best way to ensure she had safe and healthy food was to cook all of our meals from scratch.
At first, I was pretty overwhelmed. I turned to my cookbook collection and scoured the Internet for advice and resources, but felt alone and frantic. And then I remembered my Crock-Pot. There truly is no easier way to cook than to dump all of your food into a machine, push a button, and walk away.
I’ve been slow-cooking pretty consistently for the past 18 years, but really have amped it up quite a bit after her Celiac diagnosis.
How did this turn into your writing career?
Because of my daughter’s health concerns, I abruptly quit working and needed to find a (legitimate) way to replace my income while at home. Again, I turned to slow cooking. I had done a bit of preliminary research on blogging and learned that there was some money to be made! I liked the idea of a recipe blog because the sites are very Google-friendly. I also was quite hesitant to put pictures of my children online, so didn't want my blog to focus on my family.
After a bit of wine during a Christmas party in 2007, I joked with my husband that since I didn’t really know how to cook — I just use my Crock-Pot — I should start a blog about that. And this is how A Year of Slow Cooking (formerly called A Year of CrockPotting) began.
When I first started my site, I didn’t anticipate thinking of new uses for the slow cooker; I thought I’d merely document my family’s dinners and their reactions. But after a few weeks I realized it just wouldn’t be healthy to eat pot roast or chili every night, and I needed to find a way to cook all of our family favorites with the slow cooker.
How did your career develop from there?
Throughout the past seven years, I have become more involved in the gluten-free community and now write for Simply Gluten-Free Magazine and have created GlutenFreeSearchEngine.com.
It is important that my daughter doesn’t think of her Celiac as a crutch in any way – it’s simply the way she needs to eat. I don’t think too hard about translating a traditional recipe to a gluten-free one — I just swap out a few ingredients and call it a day.
My tiny blog that I started with no money down on the kitchen table now gets well over 1 million visitors a month, and I have published my fourth slow-cooker cookbook. I truly feel as if I am living the American Dream, and I owe it all to my Crock-Pot.
If you are newly diagnosed as gluten intolerant or are new to gluten-free living and would like to learn more, Stephanie has written a short ebook called Going Gluten Free Without Going Crazy, which she'd love to share with interested Kitchn readers. You can contact her through her website or Facebook page in her profile link.