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Slow Cookers Can Mean a Quick Start on Healthful Food

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Slow Cookers Can Mean a Quick Start on Healthful Food

"The Healthy Slow Cooker (Second Edition): 135 Gluten-Free Recipes for Health and Wellness" by Judith Finlayson (Robert Rose, $24.95).

"The Best Diabetes Slow Cooker Recipes" by Judith Finlayson (Robert Rose, $24.95).

When can restricted diets be a delicious thing? When they are the subjects of healthy, innovative cookbooks by Judith Finlayson.

Finlayson, a million-selling cookbook author, uses the slow cooker almost as medicine, and has in "The Healthy Slow Cooker," with its gluten-free fare, come up with gems that rival her earlier "The Best Diabetes Slow Cooker Recipes."

If you've been looking for dishes to make your life easier, look no further than Finlayson's (also author of the "175 Essential Slow Cooker Classics" and a slew of additional slow cooker books) health-themed masterpieces. If your family doesn't know the titles of the books, chances are they won't realize you are sneaking high-fiber, fruit-and-vegetable-packed, lean protein-rich dishes into their diets.

In both, Finlayson first fills you up with plenty of slow cooker tips, such as finding dishes and pans that fit right into your stoneware or cooking a recipe overnight and then refrigerating until ready to serve.

The recipes are the stars, though. They are innovative concoctions, many of which you may have never dreamed could be made in a slow cooker. From the diabetes book, black bean-salsa dip is creamy with light sour cream and light cream cheese, spicy with jalapeno pepper, cracked black peppercorns, green onions and cilantro. A pumpkin date loaf emerges moist, dense and brimming with nutrients. Gingery pears poached in green tea is among the distinctive desserts. Plenty of old favorites for slow cookers, like stews, ragouts, goulashes, stroganoffs and casseroles also fill the pages.

Gluten-free specialties include leafy greens soup, miso mushroom with Chinese cabbage and coconut rice pudding with flambeed bananas.

What's to be most appreciated, though, is how Finlayson and her registered dietitian consultants have created proportions and ingredient mixes that create heavy lifting only for your fork, not for your body.

LEAFY GREENS SOUP

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 small leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns

6 cups homemade or store-bought vegetable or chicken stock (see Note)

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 / 2-inch cubes

4 cups packed torn Swiss chard leaves

1 cup packed torn sorrel, arugula or parsley leaves

Heavy or whipping (35 percent) cream or non-dairy alternative, optional, to taste, for serving

Yields 8 servings.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and olive oil.

Add leeks and cook, stirring until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, tarragon and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil.

Carefully transfer to slow cooker stoneware for a large (approximately 5-quart slow cooker; if you halve this recipe be sure to use a small, 2 to 3.5-quart, slow cooker). Stir in potatoes. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours, until potatoes are tender.

Add Swiss chard and sorrel, in batches, stirring after each to submerge the leaves in the liquid. Cover and cook on high 20 minutes, until greens are tender.

Working in batches, carefully puree soup in a food processor or blender. (You can also do this in the stoneware carefully using an immersion blender.) Spoon into individual serving bowls and drizzle with cream, if using.

Note: The nutritional analysis on this soup was based on using a homemade basic vegetable stock that had no added salt. Be aware that if you use a store-bought stock, the sodium content of this recipe will increase.

Nutrition per serving: 120 calories; 3.5 grams fat (1.2 grams saturated fat); 5 milligrams cholesterol; 475 milligrams sodium; 22 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 3.5 grams protein.

—"The Healthy Slow Cooker (Second Edition): 135 Gluten-Free Recipes for Health and Wellness."

GINGERY PEARS POACHED IN GREEN TEA

4 cups boiling water

2 tablespoons green tea leaves

1 to 2 tablespoons grated gingerroot

1 / 2 cup honey

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

8 firm pears, such as Bosc, peeled, cored and cut into quarters lengthwise (see Note)

Toasted sliced almonds, optional, to taste, for serving

Low-fat vanilla-flavored yogurt, optional, to taste, for serving

Yields 8 servings.

In a pot, combine boiling water and green tea leaves. Cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Carefully strain through a fine sieve into slow cooker stoneware. Recipe works best in a small maximum 3.5-quart slow cooker.

Add gingerroot, honey, almond extract and lemon zest and stir well. Add pears. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or on high for 3 hours, until pears are tender. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and chill thoroughly. Serve garnished with toasted almonds and a dollop of yogurt, if using.

Note: When poaching, firmer pears, like Bosc, should be used for best results.

Nutrition per serving: 130 calories; 0.5 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat); 0 milligrams cholesterol; 1 milligram sodium; 35 grams carbohydrates; 2.5 grams fiber; 0.5 grams protein.

— "The Best Diabetes Slow Cooker Recipes."

Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." She also writes the Creators News Service "After-Work Gourmet" column. To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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