Deborah Schneider, executive chef-partner of SOL Cocina in Newport Beach, says that a trusty slow cooker can replicate the kind of authentic dishes that are patiently cooked in earthenware pots in Mexico.

Her new book, her fifth, “The Mexican Slow Cooker” (Ten Speed Press, $19.99) showcases irresistible dishes that traditionally cook for hours and hours at the back of the stove. Translated into using the slow cooker, the dishes boast flavors infused with the richness of chilies, herbs and vegetables, and in those that include meat, it is tenderized to perfection.

She says that a modern slow cooker, one that can be set to shift to the warm setting when the cooking is complete, can make us better cooks. And at the same time, they can relieve a lot of the fussy, time-consuming aspects of cooking.

And she should know. She owns six slow cookers: 2-quart, 4-quart, 5-quart, 5.5-quart, 6-quart and 7-quart. The 6-quart is the most versatile, and when testing the recipes, she ended up using it the most.

According to Schneider, the slow cooker works best when it is only half full.

“So it is much better to have a slow cooker that is a slightly larger one, than one that is too small,” she says in a tone that conveys both respect and adoration. I think it is fair to say that Schneider is mad about her slow cookers, with the exception of maybe the 2-quart beauty. She says it’s not big enough to be practical.

Caldos (stocks or broths) are very tasty and easy to prepare when made in a slow cooker. They can be the basis for hearty homemade soups, as well as used to add rich flavor to stews (guisados), salsas, moles, and rice. Unlike caldos made on top of the stove, you don’t need to keep an eye on them, fiddling with the flame to maintain the right temperature, a tricky setting that is just below a simmer.

In a slow cooker, it’s just a matter of cover and cook for eight hours. Put it on before you turn in and it will be ready in the morning. And the house will smell delicious.

And for all dishes made in a slow cooker, Schneider suggests that cooks check the seasoning at the end of the cooking. “This kind of cooking can affect the seasoning balance in different ways,” she says.  “The Chile Verde may need a squeeze of lime. The beef with chorizo and potatoes may need some chopped cilantro on it. And you may want to offer some optional hot sauce.”

Her favorite is Salsa Huichol, a thick orange hot sauce with a little habanero chili.

“The point is to think of your slow cooker as another cook in the kitchen, especially the new models that have the automatic warm settings; the old slow cookers cooked on low until the cows came home, but the new ones can be set to shift to warm when the cooking is complete,” she says leaving the hot sauce topic. “It’s remarkably versatile. It can be a rice cooker or a buffet server, or used to steam tamales.”

“And don’t be intimidated by the recipes (in the book). Half are super easy, the others require a couple of steps.”

Here are some favorites:

Chile Verde takes its name from three types of green chiles, which are combined with green tomatillos to make an olive-green sauce with a gently tart and spicy edge. Never overpowering, it’s a perfect match for the richness of the pork. For frying the pork, Schneider uses fresh (liquid) lard, called asiento, which she buys at Mexican markets. I asked her about using vegetable oil instead and she gave her approval, but said it wouldn’t have the same depth of flavor. She said not to use olive oil. All the ingredients go into the slow cooker hot, so the dish cooks in about 2 hours. This recipe is excellent with made with pork chops instead of diced pork. Serve it with rice, beans, and warm corn tortillas.

Chile Verde
Pork in Green Chili Salsa
Yield: 6 servings
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1 whole clove
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
10 tomatillos (about 12 ounces total), husked and washed
2 (fresh) jalapeño chilies, stemmed (use Serrano chilies if you like it spicier)
8 (fresh) Anaheim chilies, roasted, seeded, and diced, see cook’s notes
4 large cloves garlic
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons fresh lard or vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 large (fresh) poblano chilies, roasted, seeded, and diced, see cook’s notes
1/2 white onion, finely diced
1 cup water, Caldo de Pollo or diluted canned sodium-reduced chicken broth (1/2 cup canned broth mixed with 1/2 cup water)
1 dried bay leaf
Garnish: Mexican crema or sour cream
Cook’s notes: To roast chilies place on rimmed baking sheet about 6 inches below broiler element. Broil until charred, turning after top portion blisters and chars, to char opposite side. Cautiously wrap charred chilies in paper towels to cool. Cut in half and remove seeds and stem. Rub off charred skin with your fingers. I have an inexpensive coffee grinder that I use exclusively to grind spices. It works like a charm.
1. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin, clove, and peppercorns until fragrant, stirring frequently so they don’t burn. Let cool completely and grind in a spice grinder (see cook’s notes).
2. Place the tomatillos and jalapeños in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes, or until barely soft. Drain immediately and place in a food processor along with the Anaheim chiles, garlic, and salt. Pulse until smooth.
3. Heat the lard (or oil) in a large skillet over medium-high heat and, working in batches, brown the pork on one side without stirring the meat, then turn and brown on the other side. Return all the pork to the skillet and add the poblanos and onion and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the ground spices and cook, stirring, for an additional 2 minutes, until the spices are fragrant. Transfer the pork mixture to a 5-quart slow cooker.
4. Return the skillet to the stove and reduce heat to medium. Add the contents of the food processor to the pan and cook, stirring, until the salsa is thick and begins to stick to the pan. Add the water and bay leaf to the pan and simmer, stirring once or twice, for 5 minutes. Stir into the pork in the slow cooker, cover, and cook on low 2 hours, or until the pork is tender. Serve hot with a bowl of Mexican crema or sour cream alongside.
Nutrition information (per serving): 222 calories, 52 percent of calories from fat, 13 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 16 g carbohydrates, 11 g protein, 450 mg sodium, 2.6 g fiber
Source: “The Mexican Slow Cooker” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $19.99)

A different take on meat and potatoes, this easy, spicy guisado (stew) is made with chorizo, tender beef, potatoes, plenty of garlic, and spicy árbol chilies. Be sure to buy Mexican chorizo, which is a soft uncured sausage flavored with chilies, garlic, cumin, and marjoram. Beef chorizo tastes similar to the pork version, and both are available at Mexican markets and many supermarkets. Serve it with rice and warm flour tortillas, or use it as a filling for burritos. To reduce the spicy heat, cut back on the árbol chilies.

Carne con Chorizo y Papas
Beef with Chorizo and Potatoes
Yield: 6 servings
12 (dried) guajillo chilies, stemmed and seeded
2 (dried) ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
10 (dried) chilies de árbol, stemmed and seeded
6 cups hot water
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups peeled and diced red potatoes
2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 ounces beef or pork chorizo, crumbled
1/2 white onion, very finely minced
2 teaspoons whole dried Mexican oregano
1 cup water, Caldo de Pollo, or diluted canned sodium-reduce chicken broth (1/2 cup broth and 1/2 cup water)
Garnish: diced white onion, Mexican crema or sour cream
1. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chilies and toast on both sides, turning occasionally and pressing down with a spatula, until they soften and blister (do not burn). Remove from the pan. When the chilies are cool enough to handle, tear them into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Add the hot water and soak the chilies, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the soaking liquid.
2. In a blender, combine the chilies with the reserved soaking liquid, garlic, and salt and puree until perfectly smooth, scraping down the sides several times.
3. Place the potatoes in the bottom of a 5-quart slow cooker. Layer the beef over the potatoes. Crumble the chorizo over the beef. Add the onion and oregano. Pour the chilie puree and water over the meat.
4. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, stirring several times, until the meat is tender. The sauce might begin to separate, but this will not affect the taste.
Serve hot, sprinkled with the diced onion, and dollop with crema or sour cream, if you like.
Nutrition information (per serving): 333 calories, 60 percent of calories from fat,22 g fat, 6.7g saturated fat, 78 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 30 g protein, 862 mg sodium, 3.8 g fiber
Source: “The Mexican Slow Cooker” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $19.99)

Yes, I know there are a lot of ingredients in mole (pronounced MOH-lay). But the list is short compared to some recipes. In fact, the last time I made it I said I would never make this rich, thick, smooth, deeply-colored sauce again. It’s a wee bit spicy and a little sweet, filled with interesting tastes that are difficult to identify, but really scrumptious. Deborah Schneider convinced me that all you have to do is dump in the ingredients in the slow cooker and let it cook 4 hours, then puree the sauce. In fact, she says that they use this mole-in-the-slow-cooker technique at the restaurants (she now has a SOL restaurant in Scottsdale, AZ,  as well as Newport). If you are a fan of TV’s Top Chef Masters, you may remember when chef Rick Bayless beat the prestigious team of contenders with his 30-ingredient Mole Negro; this version has fewer ingredients. I went to Ranchito Supermarket in Westminster to buy many ingredients, but there are markets with Mexican specialty ingredients all over Orange County.

Mole Negro
Yield: 6 servings
5 (dried) chilies negros, stemmed, seeded
3 (dried) guajillo chilies, stemmed, seeded
2 large (dried) ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded
1 (dried) chipotle chilies, stemmed, seeded
1/2 white onion, diced
5 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 large tomatillos, husked, washed, diced
1/2 firm banana, peeled, cubed
2 tablespoons whole almonds
2 tablespoons raw peanuts
1/4 cup sesame seeds, plus additional for garnish
1/4 cup seedless raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole anise seeds
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cups Caldo de Pollo, or more as needed (can substitute canned sodium-reduced chicken broth diluted – half water, half broth)
6 chicken breasts or 12 thighs, skin-on, bone-in (about 4 pounds)
1 tablespoon crushed Ibarra Mexican chocolate
1. Place all ingredients except the chicken and chocolate in a 5-quart slow cooker. Set chicken on top. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, or until chicken is tender but not falling off the bone. Remove the chicken. If you like, you can remove the skin and bones now, or you can serve it as is (which is the traditional way) while you finish the mole.
2. Transfer contents of cooker in several batches into a blender. Add chocolate; cautiously blend on high holding lid down with a pot holder on high speed for several minutes, until perfectly smooth. Check the seasoning; moles should taste slightly under-seasoned and never salty.  The mole should be thick and very smooth. For a velvety texture, pass the sauce through a food mill to remove any remaining skins or fibers (I pureed in batches in a Vita Mix high speed blender and didn’t need to strain) . If necessary, add a little water or broth to thin the sauce to a coating consistency. To serve, liberally ladle the mole over the chicken, then lightly dust with the sesame seeds.
Nutrition information (per serving): 324 calories, 44 percent of calories from fat, 16 g fat, 6.7 g saturated fat, 54 mg cholesterol, 7 g carbohydrates, 29g protein, 542 mg sodium, 3.9 g fiber
Source: “The Mexican Slow Cooker” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $19.99)

Caldo de Pollo

Chicken Broth
Yield: makes 12 cups
1 small carrot, peeled, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 large white onion, diced
10 sprigs fresh flat-leafed parsley or fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 large clove garlic, halved
2 dried bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 (dried) ancho chili, stemmed, seeded, toasted, see cook’s notes
3 pounds meaty chicken wing tips or backs and necks, or chicken pieces
12 cups water
Cook’s notes: To toast chili, heat a heavy cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add chili to dry pan and press down firmly with spatula until chili blisters and softens, being careful not to burn it. Turn chili over and repeat.
1. Combine all ingredients in a 6- or 7-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Remove lid, turn off cooker, and allow broth to cool and settle for 30 minutes.
2. Set a colander over a large bowl. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, carefully lift all the solids from the cooker without scrapping bottom and drain them in the colander. Use a ladle or large measuring cup to remove the remaining broth from the cooker and pass through the colander. (Be careful not to disturb any of the small bits on the bottom; these will make the broth cloudy. Pour the last remnants of the broth and the bits on the bottom into a separate container and discard.) Do not press down on the solids in the colander, but allow the broth to drain on its own for 15 minutes. Once it has stopped dripping, discard the solids in the colander. Let the broth cool to room temperature and then chill. Before freezing it or using it in a recipe, remove any layer of fat that floats to the surface.
Nutrition information (per 1 cup serving): 250 calories,  45 percent of calories from fat, 12g fat, 6.1 g saturated fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 35g carbohydrates, 5g protein, 407 mg sodium, 2.8 g fiber
Source: “The Mexican Slow Cooker” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $19.99)

Thank you to Cindy Yamanaka for her beautiful photos!

Want to go to an event with Deb Schneider?

WHAT: What’s Cooking at the Library with Chef Deborah Schneider

WHEN: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Central Library Friends Room, 1000 Avocado Avenue, Newport Beach

COST: $20 per person, per program

INFORMATION: 949-717-3800 or visit